Book four in Black Library’s Realmgate Wars series for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, Call of Archaon is a collection of eight short stories by David Annandale, David Guymer, Guy Haley and Rob Sanders, each contributing towards a single wider story arc. Between them they tell the tales of three champions of Chaos, chosen to compete for the honour of joining the Varanguard and to fight beside Archaon himself. Each one the followe of a different Chaos god, they follow their own paths to the inevitable final showdown, manipulated all along by the unseen hand of Archaon’s subject, the Many-Eyed Servant.
Serialised (single author) novels from Black Library have been hit and miss, but this sort of structure works much better, allowing the different authors to put their own spin on things and share a few characters around without being constrained by a single linear narrative. Results are varied but across the eight short stories there’s a clear sense of Age of Sigmar’s breadth, from the range of characters – not just the champions and their warbands but their foes as well – to the variety of locations available to explore. There’s also just enough connective tissue between them that even the early stories, long before any of the champions meet, clearly feel like they’re part of the same bigger picture.
As with all the Age of Sigmar books to date, action figures heavily in all of these stories. The type of story varies, but perhaps half allow enough space for really interesting character development, getting underneath the skin of these characters beyond the generic power-specific stylings for Khorne, Nurgle and Tzeentch (no Slaaneshi champion here). Guymer and Haley particularly impress, adding enjoyable depth to both Copsys Bule (Nurgle) and Ushkar Mir (Khorne), and it’s a shame that Guymer only has a single story in the collection as Beneath the Black Thumb is excellent. Sanders’ stories all focus on Orphaeo Zuvius (Tzeentch) who comes across with the least depth, but they’re still enjoyable enough from an action perspective, while Annandale does a solid job of picking up Bule’s arc and covering the action-packed finale.
Unsurprisingly, where this book is strongest is when the characters can really develop beyond being in the thick of battle, and when the authors take advantage of the freedom that the Age of Sigmar setting offers to show some really interesting locations and challenges. The stories with the simplest, most linear plots – one battle after another – are where it suffers a bit, along with the occasional over-emphasis (as is often the case) of the Khorne and Stormcast archetypes. It’s certainly not perfect, but overall it covers a fair amount of ground and offers enjoyable variety by virtue of the four different authors. It might have been nice to see more made of what each champion really hoped to get out of their goal, beyond just glory (only Haley really explored that, with Mir), but there should be something here for everyone.