The second novel-length Age of Sigmar release from Black Library, and the second title in the ongoing Realmgate Wars series, Ghal Maraz combines novellas from Josh Reynolds and Guy Haley into a single volume. Both novellas follow on from the stories in War Storm, moving the wider Age of Sigmar story arc a little further forward as the Stormcast Eternals continue to make inroads into the Mortal Realms. Specifically it follows events taking place in the realms of Ghyran, where the forces of Nurgle blight the realm of Life; and Chamon, where the legendary weapon Ghal Maraz has been located.
Josh Reynolds’ War in the Hidden Vale starts things off, picking up where The Gates of Dawn left off with Gardus lost in the Garden of Nurgle and Lord Castellant Grymn leading his remaining men in an attempt to contact Alarielle and forge an alliance against the forces of Nurgle. Meanwhile the varied champions of Nurgle plot and scheme for their lord’s favour, watching their carefully laid plans ruined by the approaching Stormcasts. Essentially more of the same from Reynolds it’s another entertaining romp of a story, expanding upon the key Stormcast characters while bringing in some delightfully disgusting and contrary characters in the Nurgle champions. While there’s nothing new or especially different, that’s perhaps not the point given that what there is here is a straightforward, enjoyable story.
The Eldritch Fortress then sees Guy Haley combine the threads of Vandus Hammerhand and Thostos Bladestorm as Sigmar sends his Stormcasts in force to lay claim to Ghal Maraz and return it to its rightful owner. Standing between the Stormcast and their prize is the sorcerer Ephyrx, the daemon Kairos Fateweaver, and a whole host of foul chaotic foes, Ephryx’s magic in particular confounding them at every turn. Haley has plenty to play with, from Vandus’ unexpected, troubling visions to the increasingly distant and withdrawn Thostos, and does a good job of pulling together multiple story strands while weaving in enough invention and excitement to keep the reading interested. It does feel as though he’s having to cram a bit too much into too short a space though, and there’s a definite sense that the story is rushing a little in places.
As a whole this is an enjoyable, if not exceptional book, and one which definitely feels as though it’s the middle section of a bigger story – or rather the middle sections of two bigger stories. Both novellas are worth reading, each continuing its own storyline in interesting ways, but with The Eldritch Fortress suffering for having too much to fit in a short space, War in the Hidden Vale is arguably the more successful of the two. Perhaps the one thing they both have in common is the conflict that seems to underpin all of the current Age of Sigmar fiction – on the one hand there’s still a bit of a lack of depth and character compared to the old Warhammer stories, but on the other hand there’s a great sense of the authors being able to build the foundations of something totally new. So it’s a mixed bag overall, but definitely worth a read if you’re following the Age of Sigmar arc.