The Warhammer End Times series of novels gets its 4th instalment with Guy Haley’s The Rise of the Horned Rat, accompanying the Thanquol background book and exploring the skaven’s involvement in the series. In a similar way to The Fall of Altdorf this avoids trying to cover everything that happens in the background book, instead focusing on the ratmen’s all-out assault on the dwarfs. Queek Headtaker returns to the war-torn Karak Eight Peaks to finally cast out his great rivals, Skarsnik and King Belegar, while the all across their realm the dwarfs see only darkness and death. In the shadows, pulling strings, lurk the daemonic Verminlords.
Having already explored the story of Karak Eight Peaks in his novel Skarsnik, Guy Haley is the obvious choice to tackle this book. He manages once again to really get under the skin of these characters, whether looking at Queek and Skarsnik’s awareness of their ageing bodies, or Belegar’s growing acceptance of his fate, and creates a powerful story with characters that you feel genuinely engaged with. Of course this is the End Times so things don’t go well for a great many characters, and there are some genuinely emotional moments, perhaps the most surprising of which involves Skarsnik – it’s testament to Haley’s grasp of the greenskins that he can wring this kind of response from a goblin.
As ever with the End Times books there’s a compromise to be made between maintaining pace and narrative sense, and fitting in as much of the wider story as possible. Here the balance is pretty much spot on, with the majority of the major incidents at least touched upon, while Haley adds depth and detail to the smaller moments that help create a compelling, characterful story. There are still the occasional moments where there’s a sense that you’re missing something important happening elsewhere, but they’re few and far between. Unlike the previous novels, if anything this one actually adds to the story told in the background book.
The End Times series is utterly massive in scope, not just in terms of the incredible events taking place but also the depth of Warhammer history that it draws upon. There’s no doubt that this particular book benefits from the reader having already read the previous Karak Eight Peaks stories, as they add an extra layer of pathos to what’s happening, but it’s not essential. Fundamentally this is a well written, well paced story full of strong, vividly-drawn characters, that stands on its own as a great book and is probably the best of the series so far.