Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reading Nathan Long's "Elfslayer

"Elfslayer" opens in Felix Jaeger's father's Altdorf mansion. After twenty years, Felix and Gotrek have returned to their starting point chronicled in William King's short story, "Geheimnisnacht."

Jaeger's father has a mission for his errant son. The old man is being blackmailed by a Marienburg pirate named Hans Euler and he wants his son to retrieve the incriminating papers. Felix balks at the assignment but he finally agrees to help his father. Meanwhile, Gotrek is down in the dumps, literally, drinking himself into a torpor. As we know from the previous novel "Manslayer," Gotrek missed the evil invasion of Archaon and his chance to face a daemon.

Long quickly alerts us that this novel will be a return to old haunts and a reunion with missing friends, allies, and enemies. It is also a novel replete with Longian themes--drowning, shipwrecks, imprisonment, feckless women, jealousy, bravery, and deception.

Before Felix and Gotrek leave Altdorf, they are attacked by unknown assailants. We soon learn that an old enemy has decided to seek revenge. With the assault, Gotrek begins to awaken from his stupor and the action begins. The two travel to Marienburg pursued by assassins to meet Euler. Felix discovers another enemy in Euler and the plot, as they say, thickens. Before Felix can resolve the problem with Euler, old allies arrive. The wizard Max Schreiber, accompanied by a sorceress and an Elf, offer Gotrek the opportunity to face his glorious end. Felix is torn between serving his father or honoring his oath to Gotrek to be present at his death. He, of course, chooses to stand with Gotrek and they set set off on a quest to save the Empire with Schreiber.

The relic they seek is also being sought by Dark Elves. The action then turns to the sea. From this point, Long engages in what I can only call a melange of Jules Verne steampunk and Sabatini swordplay. He brilliantly describes an underwater city, the Black Ark of the Dark Elves, and the horrors of Dark Elf magic and ritual.

Long has concocted a nightmarish stew of villains and seamlessly presented them to us in a Sabatini-like thriller. He is one of the best writers at the Black Library and I challenge you to find a clunky sentence in the 412 pages of the novel. He ties up all of the plot threads nicely by the end but, of course, he leaves enough plot hanging that we anticipate and yearn for the next chapter of the novel.

Without giving too much away, Long convincingly presents dwarves, skaven, and dark elves. Additionally, never before have we seen a black ark described in such sinister detail.

As you might guess I highly recommend the novel. Not only is it an exciting book but I would postulate that it takes the Gotrek franchise in a new direction. Although Long is a student of William King he is refining King's themes and characters. This observation brings me to the explanation of my title for this review.

The figure in the carpet, as Henry James would say, in this novel is the seesaw. When Felix is up, Gotrek is down and when Gotrek is up, Felix is down, literally. The only time Gotrek is animated is when the likelihood of death and mayhem is near; Felix appreciates the tranquil moments, which in a Gotrek & Felix novel, are very brief indeed. However, Gotrek is the dark submerged animator of the series. It is his strength and resolve that drives the action. Long is aware of this and he consciously builds on it and structures the plot around the "humors" of the two characters in a clear and convincing way.

Finally, if you like this novel, I would suggest Gav Thorpe's "Malekith," Graham McNeill's "Guardian of Ulthuan," William King's "Trollslayer" and "Skavenslayer," and Long's Blackheart Trilogy.

I might also add, that the novels of Sabatini--"Captain Blood" in particular--might also interest you.

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