The Warlock Sagas: Instruments of War is one of three initial publications by Privateer Press’ new e-book outfit. Specifically, it’s a story for their Hordes miniatures game, telling an origins/coming-of-age story for Archdomina Makeda, a prominent character in the tabletop game as well.
I struggled a bit to get “into it” at first, possibly because I know nothing about Warmachine/Hordes. The book does offer a highly readable, compelling picture of Skorne culture, however. The action keeps coming. And somewhere at the half-way point, the story grabbed me too, making me care about what would happen to Makeda and her conflicted quest for … honour, I guess?
Makeda, Supreme Archdomina of House Balaash, is known throughout the Iron Kingdoms for her leadership of the mighty Skorne Empire, but it was not always so…
Before the coming of the Skorne Empire to the west, Makeda was little more than the second child of a great house, but through her will, determination, and adherence to the hoksune code, she rose above all others.
#1 – The Format
I don’t read a lot of ebooks (and my better half wasn’t happy with me stealing her iPad for this). With the default font-size, it counts 95 pages, though a lot of it is art (see above), maps of both Immoren and the Skorne Empire up close, author-information and imprint, a five-page index for Skorne vocabulary (which I highly welcomed as a newb) and ads, leaving ~50 pages of story.
For 3 1/2 quid, reading SkullislandX isn’t cheaper than reading Black Library exclusives.
#2 – The Story
The story launches with a familiar theme. A noble house. Two children. One is the heir to the throne, but a bit rotten. The other – Makeda – committed to duty and the good of her house, but ultimately, reluctantly, forced to confront her wayward sibling and take matters into her own hands.
The “twist”, of course, is that House Balaash of the Skorne Empire isn’t a pastel-coloured fairy kingdom, but a pretty nasty place and society. The story grows more into its own towards the half-way point, as it goes beyond the “good sibling” vs. “bad sibling” framework and gives Makeda some room to display her ruthless side.
I did struggle a bit in the first half of the story. Lots of weird names, weapons and descriptions – for a WarmaHordes newb obviously. It also seemed as if the author wanted to squeeze in a “typical Hordes-battle” towards the beginning, which alternates with the (IMO better) scenes of young-Makeda and her elder brother receiving brutal lessons at the hand of their grandfather.
Yet I really started enjoying the book the further it went:
- There’s a tightly written, botched assassination attempt on Makeda. A highlight of the book!
- A cool scene of Makeda discussing with her grand-father why “peace” is a despicable word. Skorne as twisted villains (following their own twisted logic) at its very best.
- A highly cinematic final duel, well written and great fun to read.
#3 – The Setting
Even more than the story, Instruments of War truly succeeds at bringing the warlike people of Skorne to life. As a novel depicting a miniature wargame setting (and one I didn’t know jack about), Instruments of War clearly succeeds in doing just that.
It certainly got me browsing all those Skorne miniatures to see what all those Titans, Cyclopses, Bloodrunners, etc.. that pop-up throughout the story are all about. The cultural mix of rigorous Samurai-inspired martial tradition, blood magic and “Dark Eldar”-style pain-cults works (under Larry Correia’s pen) to create a society both vile and fascinating.
Having started here, I would welcome a bit more reading on the twisted ways of Skorne.
#4 – Verdict
The Warlock Sagas: Instruments of War is a strong opener for Privateer Press’ foray into fiction.
It reads well, the action keeps coming, the characters are fun and unique. Most importantly, it gives a highly readable account of Skorne society.
On the downside, it’s not cheap for what you get (why do I feel I need to write this in almost every wargaming-book-review I do?) and – for me at least – takes powering through a few confusing pages before the story is on a roll.
Ultimately, it’s a highly enjoyable story with a few fine scenes that make Instruments of War well worth buying and reading, even for people not looking for a Skorne or Hordes-story in particular.