Gotrek & Felix, first omnibus by William King

Remember when I said I hate trilogies and series?  Gotrek and Felix get a pass — at least the William King ones do (he wrote the first six of these novels, and others were added to the series by Nathan Long, which I can’t speak for).  My brother who does not read quite as much as I do recommended these to me some time ago, and when I found two omnibuses, containing all six of the King books, I figured I should give them a go.  The first omnibus contains Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, and Daemonslayer.  The characters face the titular monsters, of course, as well as many other standards of the Warhammer world, while traveling widely and delving into several ‘dungeon’ environments.

I really like the Warhammer fantasy world, or at least I did back in the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was  occasionally playing Warhammer — both the miniatures game and the roleplaying game — and  buying lots of White Dwarfs and Citadel minis.  I’m less familiar with it now, but the original setting was grim and dark, and mixed quasi-historical stuff with gonzo fantasy stuff.  The Gotrek & Felix books really do these themes justice, I think.  There is humor, and extreme violence, and horror; the places and people give a sense of history without ‘information overload’; the characters are interesting without be overwrought; and while the two heroes can’t very well be killed off since it is an ongoing series, you get a sense of dread & doom as they lose friends, lovers, and even body parts.

The Warhammer world is basically a pastiche of R.E. Howard (quasi-historical swords & sorcery), Michael Moorcock (themes of law vs. chaos as forces personified by gods and monsters), and Tolkien-influenced Dungeons & Dragons (elves, dwarves, orcs, etc.), but it is a pastiche that also tries to weave these elements together coherently, and set them in a sort of alternate Earth.

My brother described the Gotrek & Felix books as being like the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, not as well written but with more action and more monsters.  I can see his point.  The characters are a sort of “odd couple,” and much of the humor comes from their interactions, although where Fafhrd and the Mouser tend to be on fairly equal footing as central characters in Leiber’s work, in the Gotrek & Felix books, Felix is really the central character while Gotrek is always described as Felix sees him rather than from his own point of view.  This works quite well, since Felix is the human character and Gotrek is a dour and taciturn dwarf who would rather not talk about his past.  Using Felix as the main point of view also helps allow the author provide background information in small chunks, as he either remembers things he’s learned in university or is told about them by other characters.  Felix is the son of a wealthy merchant family, and studied in a large university until he was expelled for dueling.  Gotrek on the other hand is a dwarf Trollslayer — a disgraced or dishonored dwarf sworn die fighting trolls or other monsters to expunge his crimes.  Many of the adventures the two embark on stem from Gotrek’s search for a worthy foe; they are also outlaws because Felix incited a riot and Gotrek slew Imperial troops, saving Felix’s life.  After that, the two became inseparable as Felix agreed to record Gotrek’s feats and doom.

Each book is more or less a self-contained adventure, and is broken into chapters which at least for the first two books could easily be read as independent short stories, which might be another reason my brother thought of the Nehwon stories.  The plots, adversaries, and minor characters all provide decent inspiration for gaming, and the books made me want to revisit the Warhammer Fantasy world, which of course was the publisher’s intent.  However I think William King rises above the formulaic genre of “game tie-in fiction” for the most part.  Perhaps he has to name-check various Warhammer characters and places, but he uses them to drive the story and, dare I say, the character development of Felix and Gotrek.  It would be easy enough to have a pair of cardboard characters travel the Warhammer world making pit stops at places and events tied to Games Workshop products; to his credit William King really lets the Warhammer world serve the stories, rather than the reverse.  Although the Warhammer world was created by Games Workshop as ‘fluff’ to sell miniatures, books, and games of casual violence, in King’s hands the Warhammer world seems interesting and even compelling on its own merit.  The casual violence and sense of doom (which made the setting so appealing to teenage boys, the customer base of GW) are treated in a surprisingly adult and humane manner by King.  There are very few ‘redshirts’ who exist just to be killed by monsters; each character and casualty is given a bit of personality, aspirations, or relationships that make their ends tragic, and Felix often feels regret after killing even the most hideous mutants.  As genre fiction goes, the Gotrek and Felix novels (so far) are excellent.  Frankly I’d put them on the same shelf as R.E. Howard or Michael Moorcock without a twinge of guilt.

Published in: on March 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This sounds familiar – was one of these chapters/short stories also published in Ignorant Armies,one of the early Warhammer anthologies? I seem to remember a doomed dwarf and his chronicler following a black carriage to a hilltop where they fought a bunch of mutants. I never got into warhammer (Chainmail and Knights and Magic were my mass battles rules of choice) but I liked that anthology quite a bit. Definitely rose above genre fiction. Now I will have to go re-read ti – and track down the novels you mention.


    • Yep — that is included in Trollslayer.

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