Monday, 16 December 2019

QUICK REVIEW: Hamilcar: Age of Enlightenment (short)


Gracing the Black Library's annual advent calendar today is Hamilcar: The Age of Enlightenment, a short story staring (and told by) Hamilcar Bear-eater, David Guymer's rambunctious Stormcast Lord-Castellant turned Knight-Questor. With a blub promising a featured role for Settrus, the obviously-made-out-to-be-Settra Lord-Celestant, who'd triggered the Longbeard internet in February this year when he'd appeared as a misfiring Easter egg in Guymer's novel, Hamilcar: Champion of the Gods, I was definitely curious enough to pick up Age of Enlightenment and get more information on such a controversial take on a classic WFB character.

Apart from the supposedly offensive Settrus pages after they went viral, I've yet to get round to reading Champion of the Gods, or Hamilcar's most recent appearances, having only encountered him in his debut in the Hallowed Knights audio dramas from the very early days of AoS, and the short story The Hardest Word. I'm familiar enough with the character to know that he can be boiled down to John Falstaff-but-a-Stormcast, with a light glaze of Space Wolf benefiting an Astral Templar. As with Hamilcar's previous solo stories, Age of Enlightenment is told, unusually for a Black Library story in the first person, with Hamilcar's exaggerated sense of self importance and bluster providing a very wry, almost tongue in cheek take on the setting reminiscent of GW's older house style, making for a comfy, pleasing read - Hamilcar being unable to bring himself to care to tell the difference between Morghast Harbingers and Arcai was a personal highlight.

The story opens in Ghur, with Hamilcar finding himself joining a combined army of (mostly CoS) Order, lead by Settrus and his Stormhost, contesting a recently Necroquaked up Stormvault in Ghur against a (mostly Nighthaunt) Death army. Excelsior Warpriests, and something called "Greywater greatcannons" are mentioned, though I'm pretty sure this is more creative license than it is a preview of coming or returning attractions. Hamilcar is accompanied by two companions (presumably from previous adventures), Nassam, a sort of Middle Eastern Greatsword-come-retainer, and Aeyegar, an aetar, which as far as I could tell is a sort of monster sized eagle.


Escorted to Imperishable field command, Hamilcar is met by Settrus, who certainly looks the part, decked out in hieroglyph encrusted armour, with asp trim, and a skull coloured mask featuring no visible pupils - though it is noted later on that he fights with a warhammer, not a khopesh, and wears a standard-issue Sigmarite Warcloak. Settrus states "The Imperishables yield to no one. We will outlast Death", but for the most part seems pretty subdued, choosing to put down Hamilcar by appearing more interested in the battle map he's studying than admonishing him. The two Stormcast are already familiar, having fought alongside each other before, and Hamilcar notes the Imperishables particular reputation, and that he has no idea who or what they were in life. Hamilcar is also initially nervous, as his soul is in an altered state, with the Six Smiths and Sigmaron pursuing him, presumably for study - I'm guessing owing to his previous adventures, though it doesn't factor into the story.

On hearing about the Stormvault being fought over, Hamilcar immediately resolves to slip out and crack it open himself before Nagash's minions can get their hands on it, and on getting there, encounters Ansira, an incredibly venerable priestess of Sigmar, who's faith is the only thing that's continued to power the vault's Penumbral Engine since the Necroquake shook it up. Ansira mentions the Stormvault containing a powerful weapon, but before Hamilcar can make a move to claim it and end the conflict single-handedly, the vault's walls shake, and the Mannfred von Carstein (described as "Mortarch of being a pain in my neck" after previous encounters with Hamilcar) rocks up as the surprise leader of the undead army and starts raising havoc. Settrus quickly catches up at the head of a Thunderhead Brotherhood of Liberators and Judicators, and they and Mannfred's Carstinian Blood Knights (on foot no less) start going at it.

When Settrus announces his name Mannfred flinces for a second, before laughing it off, punching through Settrus' chest, and bemoaning why Sigmar would call a Stormcast something so silly; denouncing Settrus as a liar and thief, and stating that if he were fighting the real Settra he'd be dead already. Mannfred namechecks the weapon hidden in the Stormvault as "the Witchblade of U'hor" (cool name, no relevance to anything else), which Settrus declares that Sigmar decreed shall never be wielded, and proceeds to throw himself into the Penumbral Engine (already established as being powered by faith), commanding Mannfred to die. Lightning pours across the chamber, and Ansira observes that Settrus isn't strong enough to survive this, Hamilcar rebuking that Settrus is the strongest soul he knows, before Settrus promptly tears apart into nothingness leaving Mannfred incapacitated and howling with pain, and the rest of the undead evaporated.


Hamilcar stops to observe that Settrus is very, very definitely dead in a can't ever be reforged sort of way, before advancing on Mannfred, halberd raised, though in his closing narration isn't hesitant to say exactly what happened, implying Mannfred got away. Ansira resolves that the battle outside can be won, and resigns herself to keeping the Stormvault hidden for the rest of forever, and the short comes to an end.

Coming from a publisher so keen on ambiguity, there's only a slim amount to be found in Settrus' nature (I mean Mannfred likes to lie and manipulate, but tell the real Settra he's a fake and he's not going to believe you), and I've gotta wonder if this was a response to vocal fans who'd kicked off after their favourite classic character had been brought into the AoS as everything he hadn't previously been, and as part an army that for a number of them at least embodies what they most dislike about the new setting. Games Workshop have become very good in recent years at recognising that every character or faction is probably somebody's favourite (yes even you Markus Wulfheart), and to not job them for the sake of shaking thing up, or to prop up more popular armies or characters. While a Settra who's been reforged to the point of mild-mannered subservience, robbing him of everything that made him Settra, and making you question the point of having gone to the trouble might be a compelling examination of the cost, yield and morality of the reforging process, it's not much fun to have as part of the canon for if you're a Tomb Kings fanatic.

Marneus Calgar going all Luther and becoming easy prey for the Chaos Gods after being left behind to look after Macragge while Guilliman continues to dote on and go on crusades with his new Primaris kids, eventually turning Ultramar into a new Eye of Terror, gutting Abaddon to take his spot as Warmaster is probably more interesting than anything that happened in the Vigilus books for anyone who's not particularly invested in either of those armies or characters, but for someone who's the opposite (I've heard there are a few Ultramarines fans out there), it's probably grounds to start looking for a new hobby.

I'd bought Age of Enlightenment on a whim, curious to see how David Guymer would expand on Settrus, who'd previously courted so much controversy when originally introduced as an almost throwaway line, and was hugely impressed, not only with Settrus' handling, but also Hamilcar's character, and the breath of fresh air of the unique style it's written in. On the strength of this short story alone, I'll definitely be adding Champion of the Gods and his other appearances to my backlog of AoS stories to catch up on (though it's a long one, so I don't know soon I'll be reading them...). At £2.49 (or your local equivalent) there's very little reason not to pick it up, whether you're looking for an introduction to Hamilcar, explanation of Settrus, or just a distinctly good AoS set short story.

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