Fans of Black Library’s Warhammer novels may be familiar with the four-way contest for Karak Eight Peaks, as previously handled in Skarsnik (by Guy Haley, concerning the titular goblin boss) and Headtaker (David Guymer). Following on from his previous novel taking on the insane skaven warlord Queek Headtaker, David Guymer now gives us a novella-length story showing things from the dwarf viewpoint. It’s their city that’s being contested after all, so it’s about time we got their point of view.
Given the title you might feel safe in assuming that High King Thorgrim Grudgebearer would be the main protagonist in this story, however that’s not really the case. The backdrop to the story is Gorfang Rotgut’s attack on the dwarf hold and King Belegar’s struggle to defend his home against the combined strength of Gorfang’s orcs, Skarsnik’s goblins and Queek’s skaven. We see the conflict of personality between Belegar and Thorgrim in their differing approaches to pretty much everything, but the star of the show is in fact Belegar’s queen, Kemma. Despite her advanced pregnancy she puts her male counterparts to shame with her supreme level of bad-assery, and provides both a mirror to hold up against Belegar and an interesting insight into the role of the female in dwarf society.
Being a novella it’s only about 120 pages long, so there’s not a huge scope for going into lots of detail or a complicated plot. What we get is a nicely paced snapshot of the wider conflict with just enough action to keep the plot moving forward to its inevitable conclusion. Perhaps to try and crowbar a bit more of Thorgrim in we get a few excerpts from the Book of Grudges as framing devices, which are quite interesting but are a little hard to understand at first (they benefit from a quick re-read after the end).
Overall it’s a satisfying addition to the two existing novels covering the wider story. It’s a shame that we only get a novella given that the other two are full novels, but hopefully we’ll see some more of the dwarf characters either in a novel of their own or maybe another novella. Highlights are a couple of action scenes that really play to the strengths of the dwarfs, as well as one or two scenes from the viewpoint of the greenskins which suggest Guymer has got a really good grip on the fun/fear ratio essential to any good portrayal of Warhammer orcs.