We’ve seen Nagash rise and Altdorf fall, and now it’s the turn of the elves to get involved in the events of the End Times. Accompanying the Khaine background book comes The Curse of Khaine by Gav Thorpe, which follows Malekith, the Witch King of the dark elves, as he leads his entire race in battle against his high elf cousins. It’s the natural continuation of his long-running arc as in the chaos and confusion of the End Times, Malekith sees the opportunity to finally claim what he sees as his birthright, although along the way things don’t quite end up how he expected.
Fundamentally this is a good story, following remarkably close to the events of the background book – for fans of the elves this is one big ‘oh wait…what?’ moment, with plenty of the big named characters involved in unexpected ways and with surprising developments. We start to see the scale of the End Times again, and the importance of the elves to the wider story arc, and we begin to get an idea of what’s to come later on in the series. The problem is that for all of the excitement in the events unfolding, as a novel it all just feels a bit thin and under-developed. Events progress at a quick pace but with so much happening there’s very little time for Gav to get under the skin of the characters and look closely at their motivations, so it all becomes a little formulaic.
Take Malekith, who is very much the focus of the story – on the one hand he comes across as driven and haunted by past failures, and his loathing of just about everyone else is fun to read, but on the other hand it feels like a missed opportunity to really delve into not just his anger but also the effects of six thousand years of constant pain and self-loathing. We get occasional glimpses of that, but all too often things are dominated by his bizarre relationship with his mother, Morathi, while other characters get so little attention as to just feel one dimensional. Even with Tyrion, very much Malekith’s opposite and adversary in the story, there’s little in the way of explanation for exactly why he does what he does.
With the elves suffering from the curse of Khaine, this book sadly falls foul of the curse of the tie-in novel. Where The Return of Nagash suffered for having just too much to cover, here Gav does an admirable job of telling a really complex story, but unfortunately that comes at the cost of character depth and development. It’s a solid, if not exceptional, book, and for fans who only follow events through the novels it at least covers the relevant events. For the full picture of what happens and why, however, the background book is the place to look.