Sunday, 11 August 2019

REVIEW: Realmslayer - Part 1: Spoiler Free


Now owing as much to the fact that I'm overseas on holiday as the Cities of Sigmar battletome not having been released yet, here's another microwaved TGA post, this time in two parts - a review of Realmslayer by David Guymer, the Gotrek Gurnisson Age of Sigmar audio drama released by the folks at Black Library at the end of last year, followed by a recap of what happened in ahead of Realmslayer: Blood of the Old World and Ghoulslayer, the new Gotrek audio drama and novel set for release alongside his incredible new miniature next month.

I'd been pretty apprehensive about Realmslayer when it was first announced, as as fantastic an actor and personality (and all round lovely human being), Brian Blessed is I'd never imagined Gotrek as sounding anything like him (probably in a large part by measure of Bill King having always said that Gotrek was intended to sound like his very Scottish grandfather, and my exposure at a young age to a suitably gravely Yorkshire Gotrek making a brief cameo in the 1995 video game Shadow of the Horned Rat); and hadn't been massively into David Guymer's previous Gotrek and Felix novels, particularly Gotrek's characterisation and seeming lack of attachment to Felix in Kinslayer and Slayer, despite having been adventuring with him for 20+ years by then and having been shown to hold him in high regard under previous authors; and his three novels being short on the series trademark humour.

In hindsight I'm actually grateful for these misgivings, because I was pleasantly surprised on both counts. Brian Blessed gave an excellent performance that I very quickly came round to, and while I still think he was miscast based on how I'd personally read Gotrek, there's nothing I can remember in any Gotrek and Felix novels or stories by Bill King or anyone else that go into any particular detail on how Gotrek's supposed to sound, and so any hang ups I've got on how I think he should sound are entirely subjective. The plot and dialogue of the audio drama were both excellent and very funny; and without giving anything away Gotrek... feels like Gotrek, and is shown to value and miss Felix an appropriate amount, more than being simply annoyed that he's not there, putting my previous concerns about David Guymer to rest.


Over the course of the audio drama's four (roughly hour long) chapters Gotrek emerges in and proceeds to go on a rambunctious romp through the Mortal Realms, encountering new companions and villains and at least one other returning character from the old setting (more on this behind the spoiler cut), that probably feels the more like a Bill King story than any Gotrek and Felix story since Redhand's Daughter. By the end of the drama Gotrek's new Age of Sigmar status quo (or at least the state he's in and who he's travelling with ahead of The Bone Desert, anything can happen in the Mortal Realms...) are firmly set up.

Realmslayer has a fantastic sense of tangible danger that the post Bill King Gotrek and Felix books (and Giantslayer) lacked, with the earliest Gotrek and Felix stories (found in Trollslayer) feeling very visceral and real, with the duo feeling like a pair of mid level WFRP characters, able to be killed, damned mutated or at least loose an eye to a stray arrow with a little bad luck. Post Daemonslayer it was obvious neither Gotrek or Felix was going to die, or change very much, with the pair having become very pair of hugely likeable, but very static characters, with Gotrek having some great mystical destiny that was never going to be resolved and having warmed up to Felix, and Felix having toughened up significantly; but King had introduced a solid supporting cast of friends and foes, who could evolve or unexpectedly die (in Ulrika's case, both?). The post King books were largely well written but became formulaic, with anyone who wasn't Gotrek, Felix, a surviving member of King's supporting cast (Max, Snorri, Malakai Makaisson), or an established Warhammer special character expected to suffer a grim and perilous fate (Kinslayer and Slayer being the exceptions here, having been written to tie up the saga!). Realmslayer completely avoids this pitfall, placing an overconfident but purposeless and unfamiliar Gotrek in situations that quickly force him to adapt and develop, and a likeable new set of companions and foils who's stories have some surprising twists and turns - the possibility of the new setting is a welcome breath of fresh air for the series and I can't wait to speed through Blood of the Old World and Ghoulslayer when they hit.

As David Guymer mentioned in this interview with Track of Words, Gotrek is very much an old-timey WFB grognard begrudgingly getting to grips with the new setting, complaining about dwarfs riding "wingless runt dragons", Teclis status as a god, and even the quality of the eggs he's served at a Freeguild outpost. Gotrek still unabashedly calls dwarfs and elves "dwarfs" and "elves", to the confusion of many of the characters he meets (though it's pointed out by a returning character from his old adventures that he only calls dwarfs dwarfs because that's what humans called them, causing Gotrek to point out that he's spent enough time around humans that he'd actually grown to like them, which is a nice touch and reflected in other parts of the story) It's an innovative and hilarious angle to take, and without giving too much away a running theme of the book is Gotrek getting around his existing preconceptions of the very tightly defined conducts of races and factions from the old WFB setting, and the more free flow nature of AoS, where much more is likely to surprise you.

The slayer in happier times

The quality of the audio drama was probably the best of the already high GW audio dramas I'd previously listened to, with the large cast lending themselves excellently to differentiating between characters from from factions that had been assigned distinct accents (Yorkshire Fyreslayers, sub-Saharan Adasan Freeguild). Noteworthy shoutouts to Brian Blessed himself, giving as energetic and thunderous performance as anything else you've ever seen or heard him in, and the amazingly horrible helium/coffee screeches used for the skaven, on par with Shadow of the Horned Rat's skaven voices, and a welcome step up from the disappointing skaven-who-were-vocally-orcs-with-the-occasional-repeated-verb from Total War: Warhammer 2.

Audio is the perfect medium for a story centred on Gotrek without Felix (Gotrek's mindset not exactly lending itself to being the main POV character in a novel), and Guymer and the drama's producer have done a great job capitalising on that, with the slayer on bombastic, sarcastic form. Realmslayer is the perfect listen for an old WFB or Gotrek and Felix fan who's stayed away from AoS since launch and does a great job of introducing the new setting (with only a few cursory Google image searches needed to find out what a Fyreslayer or Tzeentch Arcanite looks like). I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in Gotrek, dwarfs or AoS, and would easily call it Black Library's best AoS output to date.

Realmslayer is 100% free if you haven't signed up for a 30 day free trial with Audible yet. Pick it up today! If you've already read Realmslayer and want to remind yourself what happened before diving into Blood of the Old World and Ghoulslayer, then head on over to Part 2! (warning: contains a lot of spoilers)

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