For the fourth Warhammer End Times background book, the focus is on the skaven as they attempt to put aside their traditional backstabbing and double-dealing, and work together for once. Emerging from their tunnels all across the world, they lay siege to the lizardmen cities of Lustria, the remaining cities of the Empire and the scattered dwarf holds in the mountains. In typical skaven fashion however, things don’t turn out to be so simple; the grey seers are in disgrace, Verminlords are getting personally involved in the various plots and plans, and both the dwarfs and lizardmen are determined to make the skaven pay for every victory.
At first this starts off a little slow, the opening stages of the invasion of Lustria bogged down by a bewildering array of skaven and lizardmen characters and events that, while interesting, rather fail to excite in comparison to those of the previous books. Things pick up once the story moves to Karak Eight Peaks, and the continuing saga of the three-way war between Queek, Skarsnik and Belegar, but it’s not until perhaps halfway through that the pace really picks up and the big events start rolling. An unusually successful skaven plot, easily the most bonkers idea in the whole End Times saga to date, signifies the tipping point after which things get really dark for the rest of the world. After that, the big reveals keep coming; some come as surprises, others less so, but there’s no doubt that this is continuing the End Times theme of serious death and destruction.
Clearly an ambitious book, looking at the impact of the End Times on not just the skaven but a whole swathe of other races, it’s an admirable attempt to cram in as much as possible. It suffers a bit in terms of pace though, largely as a result of trying to cover quite so much. Some parts are really well done, and it’s great to see both the involvement of Skarsnik and the exploration of the Verminlords and their relationship to the Council of Thirteen. Other parts are less successful, not least the inclusion of Thanquol himself, who despite being the title character actually gets rather short shrift.
It’s now no surprise to see such high standards of presentation as there are here, but this does feel like it suffers in places by comparison to its predecessors, not just in pacing but in terms of the standard of writing as well. It’s not poor, just not as good as the first three books. That being said, once it gets into its stride and the heads start rolling (and the earth shaking), it provides an enjoyable, satisfying continuation of the End Times. Particular highlights are the conclusion of the Karak Eight Peaks strand and the sense of sorrow that lies across the dwarfs as a race, and also the sheer mind-boggling craziness of what happens in Lustria. The next book will need some seriously big events to compete with this.