Published in early 2014 before anyone had even an inkling of just how much Warhammer was about to change with the world-shattering End Times arc, Rob Sanders’ book Archaon: Everchosen sets out to tell the full story of the Everchosen of Chaos, the driving force behind the single biggest change in Warhammer’s 30+ years. From humble (and fairly grim) beginnings to his life as a templar of Sigmar and the events that turn him to a darker path, we watch as one man’s fate is manipulated for sinister purposes that will see the world drenched in blood.
Make no mistake, this book is bleak. Even by Black Library standards. The first half especially paints a truly grim picture as events are carefully shaped and guided in order to further the plans of Archaon’s hidden daemonic benefactor. Acts of courage, determination and faith are undone, hard and often disturbing choices swept aside by a dark destiny that would see a good man corrupted and turned from purity to bitterness and anger. Despite the bleakness, it’s a fantastically-told tale full of everything that makes Warhammer great – heroism, sacrifice, the harsh reality of lives lived in the shadow of Chaos, and of course a healthy dose of bone-splintering violence. It’s paced brilliantly, with strong characters and a strong sense of forward motion as events lead up to the inevitable fall to Chaos.
Sadly it’s at that point that the book starts to lose its way. Where the first half is exciting, well-paced and full of narrative forward motion the second half begins with a too-rapid change in Archaon’s personality and soon becomes bogged down in trying to cram too much into too short a space. Whether the decision to tell so much of the story in a single novel was the decision of author or publisher, that’s where the problem lies. The first half would in fact make an absolutely wonderful novella, which could have been followed by a full novel telling the tale of Archaon’s wanderings through the Chaos Wastes and the challenges he faced to prove himself to the gods. Instead this single book tries to cover a massive period of time, but in doing so loses focus and turns from a character-driven tale to Chaos-by-numbers. Some of the longer action scenes are great fun, and at times the drive of the story picks back up a bit, but overall it feels rushed and imbalanced.
It’s such a shame given that the first half is such a good read, but much of the second half is paced strangely, glossing over events that deserved more focus and dwelling far too long on Archaon railing against the manipulation of the Chaos gods. It feels very much as though Sanders began writing with a series in mind, then partway through had to change and cram everything into a single book. The first half alone makes this worth reading, but ultimately it feels like a missed opportunity.