The fifth Black Library novel to accompany the Warhammer End Times background books, Josh Reynolds’ The Lord of the End Times finishes the series off on a high note, as the events of the End Times reach their inevitable conclusion. It follows the few remaining mortal heroes as they battle to survive against the endless hordes of Archaon, harnessing their powers and attempting to work together despite age-old grievances. From the streets of Middenheim to the glades of Athel Loren and back again, the Incarnates and their allies fight not just for their own survival, but for that of the world itself. As this is the End Times, things look bleak.
Given the incredible events described in Archaon, the temptation might have been to try and fit all of the amazing set pieces and battles into the novel, but instead Reynolds has stripped his story down to just a few of those events and focused on really bringing the characters to life. Beginning with the siege of Middenheim (actually from Thanquol), there’s a breathless sense of escalating carnage and time running out as the book progresses, with events skipped over as ruthlessly as characters are killed off. It’s a risky decision actually, with some huge battles and powerful character arcs relegated to just a couple of sentences of exposition, but it’s an essential one as well. There would simply have been too much to cover otherwise; there’s a definite sense that this ought to be read after the Archaon background book to get the most out of it, but this way the story rockets along at a pulse-raising pace while crucially still giving characters time to develop and breathe.
It’s the way Reynolds captures the voices of these characters that makes this such an enjoyable read; the events taking place are so jaw-droppingly epic that it could easily have ended up as a glorified battle report, but instead there’s a real sense of pathos in so many of these characters, from the strangely human vampires to the stoic acceptance of the dwarfs (typified by the wonderfully-voiced Gotri Hammerson); even those on the side of Chaos come across as much more than just one-dimensional villains. He gleefully throws in characters from across the depth and breadth of the Warhammer canon, from his own creations such as Dubnitz and Goetz to old favourites like Dechala, Wulfrik and Arbaal, with even the White Dwarf himself cropping up; hardcore Warhammer fans will love spotting the cameos, and they somehow add to the sense of scale of what’s happening in the story. The use of Canto the Unsworn as a lens through which we see Archaon is particularly effective, allowing us to see things from the Chaos perspective while still maintaining the Everchosen’s mystery.
By focusing so closely on just a few moments amidst all the chaos, the little details of how characters act and interact manage to add even more depth to what the background book covers, and it’s a delight to see a little more detail around certain character arcs and plot strands. While it’s very much constrained by having to tie in so closely to the background book, and some readers might begrudge the lack of focus on certain events, at its heart this is just a brilliantly entertaining novel. It’s like a normal Warhammer novel turned up to 11, ending the series on a massive high note, and credit to Reynolds for gathering everything together and creating such a great book out of the mix. As for what comes next for Warhammer…who knows?