Since the introduction of the Age of Sigmar, Black Library’s Warhammer output has been mostly shorter format releases, in the shape of short stories, novellas and audio dramas. War Storm, book one of the Realmgate Wars series, is the first full-length novel to be released for Age of Sigmar, except…it isn’t. While it’s packaged as a single book, it is in fact three novellas combined into one volume, from Nicky Kyme, Guy Haley and Josh Reynolds. Each novella follows a different Warrior Chamber of Stormcast Eternals in the early stages of Sigmar’s campaign to retake the mortal realms from the forces of Chaos.
First up is Borne by the Storm by Nick Kyme, which picks up the story where Chris Wraight left it at the end of The Gates of Azyr. It sees Vandus Hammerhand leading his Hammers of Sigmar deeper into the realm of Fire in search of the Khornate warlord Korghos Khul, determined to face him once more despite an ominous vision of his own demise. Events move rapidly on, Kyme introducing a couple of new characters to complement the familiar faces, but the fast pace can’t disguise what is essentially a by the numbers story. It’s perfectly serviceable but relies too heavily on standard Warhammer tropes and a straightforward, linear plot, and struggles to add much depth to many of the characters. It has its moments, and does give a little insight into the mysterious Ionus Cryptborn, but overall it just lacks for a spark that would raise it above generic join-the-dots fantasy action.
Guy Haley’s Storm of Blades is a more characterful tale from the off. With brand new characters to introduce we get an enjoyable introduction looking back at the previous life of Thostos Bladestorm, the Lord Celestant of the Celestial Vindicators, and a first sighting of Tzeentchian sorcerer Ephryx and his wily daemonic master Kairos Fateweaver. Thostos and his men have been sent to the realm of Metal to find allies amongst the duardin (dwarves to you and me) and chafe at the constraints of their mission until Ephryx brings them to battle, while the sorcerer seeks to use their arrival in his realm as a catalyst to move his own plans forward. While it’s not Haley’s finest moment, suffering slightly for the lack of established context and relevance that’s an inherent problem with Age of Sigmar stories, it’s an enjoyable romp and sets things up nicely for one of the next major arcs in this first introduction to the new Warhammer setting.
Josh Reynolds provides the third and final novella with The Gates of Dawn, introducing a third set of Stormcasts in the shape of the Hallowed Knights and their Lord Celestant, Gardus. The Hallowed Knights are sent to the realm of Life to retake a Realmgate from the foetid forces of Nurgle, but after initial successes they find themselves assailed by a force too powerful for even the Stormcasts to face alone, as the greater daemon Bolathrax manifests and sends his endless plague legions into battle. Right from the outset Reynolds just seems to be having fun with this, throwing all sorts of disgusting monstrosities against the pristine Stormcasts and generally causing havoc, balancing all of the carnage with some unexpectedly thoughtful and nuanced characters in the shape of Gardus and his fellow Lord Celestant, Zephacleas. It’s the most engaging and enjoyable of the three novellas and feels immediately more relatable than the other two, perhaps bearing a closer resemblance to Warhammer stories of old, and does a good job of combining all the essential elements of a fun, satisfying story.
So it’s a mixed bag then, with three novellas that each feel quite different despite essentially having the same purpose – to start expanding the Age of Sigmar out and showing readers a bit more of what to expect. Kyme has probably the toughest job, following on from The Gates of Azyr, and the first novella does feel a bit basic and uninspiring, which is a shame. Things pick up with Haley’s novella, which does a good job of setting up events to come, while Reynolds has perhaps the most success with a rip-roaring, thoroughly enjoyable novella to round things off. Overall it’s maybe not the inspiring beginning to the series that the brand new Age of Sigmar setting deserved, but it’s a decent start. In the Limited Edition hardback format, it’s also a genuinely beautiful book with a really smart, unusual binding that shows off the artwork on the endpapers to great effect.