Josh Reynolds’ Age of Sigmar novel Black Rift was initially published in eight short story-length instalments under the Black Rift of Klaxus banner, before its subsequent release as a combined volume. However it’s read, it details the battle for the crater city of Uryx fought by the Stormcast Eternals of Lord Celestant Orius Adamantine and the Khornate warlord Anhur the Scarlet Lord. Orius and Anhur have a personal connection, having fought side by side to protect the city in their previous lives, and while Orius believes he has backed Anhur into a corner, the Scarlet Lord plans to open a gateway to Khorne’s realm and ascend to daemonhood.
The episodic nature of its publication means that Black Rift is split cleanly into eight chunks, each one dealing with Orius and his Stormcasts reaching a different landmark in the city as they delve ever deeper in search of Anhur. Along the way we gradually get to see more of the backstory for Orius and Anhur, and are introduced to the various champions on each side – Orius’ Stormcast lieutenants and Anhur’s Gorechosen. The Stormcast champions are each clearly defined (although their men still suffer from the confusing class names – can anyone remember the difference between a Decimator and a Protector, for example?) and reasonably interesting, but the Gorechosen steal the show as they bicker and jostle for power, and Reynolds seems to have more fun with them on the whole.
Black Library clearly wanted each constituent part to be a standalone story, which means each one is jam packed with pitched battles and epic duels around which the dialogue and character development has to fit. As a result each section is fast paced and full of action but that structure causes problems for the overall flow of the narrative – a novel doesn’t normally need to reiterate what’s happened every fifty pages or so, and it all just feels a bit stop-start. Away from the action Reynolds wisely focuses his efforts on Orius and Anhur, whose history drives the whole story, but so much time is spent on the battles that there simply isn’t quite enough left to really flesh out the rest of the characters, which is a shame as the quieter moments are often the most enjoyable.
Serialised novels are nothing new, even for Black Library, but it’s an interesting choice here given that the Age of Sigmar setting is so new. There’s a really good story in here, but it’s undoubtedly let down by being told in this way – specifically by each episode having to conform to the Black Library standard of always being full of action. A little less action and a little more room to breathe, and this would have been much better. It’s still enjoyable, Reynolds doing his best to keep the battles inventive and delivering some entertaining characters, but the pace just isn’t quite right – especially right at the climax – and it lacks a little coherence throughout.
If you want to read a review of each instalment, you can find them all here: