Warhammer is dead, long live Warhammer! That’s right, the old Warhammer is gone and in its place is Age of Sigmar, and Black Library have got straight in on the action with Chris Wraight’s latest novella, The Gates of Azyr. This is a whole new chapter for Warhammer, set thousands of years after the events of the End Times, with endless scope for brand new storytelling. Running to the usual 120-ish pages, the book introduces the new Stormcast Eternals led by Vandus Hammerhand and the Khorne forces of Khorgos Khul, as Sigmar’s forces make their first strike into the Realm of Fire and finally strike back against the armies of Chaos.
It’s quite a big ask actually, to introduce not just new characters but an entirely new setting, giving readers enough to go on to be able to enjoy and feel involved in the story without knowing all that much about the brand new background. There’s no attempt made to cover the events between the death of the Old World and the start of the Age of Sigmar, instead Wraight concentrates on the here and now to make sure the story is streamlined and focused, so that it works as a standalone piece. He does a fine job of it, giving characters as much depth as could be expected in such a short page count, and crafting an exciting, engaging story with all the hallmarks of Black Library.
Importantly, Wraight also manages to find a balance between a story that will be familiar in style to long-term Warhammer fans but at the same time feel suitably new and distinct as befits the Age of Sigmar backdrop. The new Stormcast Eternals come across as fresh and interesting, with plenty of mystique and secrets yet to be revealed, while their Khornate foes are more familiar yet possessed of a slightly different edge due to their newfound dominance. What feels most different though is the setting, in the Realm of Fire, a ravaged land whose people are scattered, ragged and on the brink of collapse. It’s darker and edgier than most settings in the Old World, and helps give the story that little more identity as something new.
So this novella needed to do two things – to function as a standalone story, and to offer a first glimpse of the Age of Sigmar and what that means. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Wraight’s pedigree, it does both of those things, not to mention setting the next part of the story and introducing a little intrigue into events already. In a sense it’s a shame that the first Age of Sigmar story couldn’t have been a full length novel, to really delve deep into what’s happening, but as an introduction this does very well indeed.