The accompanying novel to Games Workshop’s first Warhammer : End Times background book (see the review of Nagash here), The Return of Nagash comes from the prolific pen of Josh Reynolds. It follows Mannfred Von Carstein and Arhkhan the Black as the two rivals forge an uneasy alliance in order to bring about Nagash’s reincarnation, each of them for their own, wildly differing, reasons. Accompanying or opposing these two legends of undeath are some of the most famous characters in Warhammer, from Heinrich Kemmler and Krell to Ungrim Ironfist, Eltharion the Grim, Morgiana le Fay and Volkmar the (also) Grim; the stage is well and truly set for the first stages of the world-spanning, cataclysmic End Times.
Therein lies the problem. The End Times as a concept is truly vast, reshaping the Warhammer map as races rise and fall, and heroes and villains from across the spectrum get involved. That’s all well and good in a background book, but a single novel can’t hope to cover everything that’s happening; Reynolds wisely keeps his focus on Mannfred and Arkhan, but by the nature of the story he has to include a huge number of other character arcs and tie everything in together. All things considered he does an excellent job, but there’s no hiding the fact that there is simply too much ground to cover, with all sorts of events skipped over and just alluded to, and plot strands that ultimately don’t feel as though they really fit in with the main thrust of the story.
The problem of scale notwithstanding, there is plenty to enjoy here. Reynolds sets the story up well before keeping events ticking along at a good pace, rotating chapters for each viewpoint character and gradually bringing (more or less) everything together towards the end for a satisfying finale. This kind of tie-in story runs the risk of being predictable, but while there is a certain sense of inevitability (given its title, and the fact that this is the End Times), there is enough plotting, backstabbing and infighting among the assembled undead to keep things interesting. With previous experience writing Warhammer vampires, not to mention his own supernatural fiction (see The Whitechapel Demon), Reynolds has a really good grip on the dark, drily humorous undead, and while the forces of light are well drawn it’s the vampires in particular who steal the show.
Ultimately it’s a shame that this couldn’t have been the first part of a series to tell the full story of this first End Times chapter, as without the need to cram so much into such a short space this could have been outstanding. As it is, it’s an enjoyable book and a solid start to Black Library’s involvement in the End Times. While it’s probably worth getting hold of the background book to get a full picture of events, the novel certainly adds a bit more narrative flesh to this part of the story.