The fifth book in Black Library’s The Realmgate Wars series, Wardens of the Everqueen by CL Werner is the first actual novel, after four collections of novellas or short stories. Following on from Josh Reynolds’ novellas in War Storm and Ghal Maraz, this continues the story of the Hallowed Knights in the realm of Ghyran, as they fight to protect the Everqueen, Alarielle, from falling into the hands of Nurgle’s champion Torglug the Despised. Embarking on a long and perilous exodus from Ghyran alongside uneasy allies in the sylvaneth, the Hallowed Knights are plagued by Torglug’s forces at every turn.
It is undoubtedly satisfying to read a full Age of Sigmar novel, even a short one like this (254 pages in hardback). There’s just more room for characters to grow than in a novella, and we see that in both the main protagonist, Lord-Castellant Grimn, and the antagonist Torglug. Grimn is a bit more human than many of the Stormcast we’ve seen before, wracked with doubt about his suitability for the task, and missing the reassuring guidance of the fallen Lord-Celestant Gardus. Torglug, on the other hand, is bullishly confident and makes a powerful, surprisingly characterful antagonist. Werner’s choice to give him an unusual verbal mannerism is enough to instantly mark him as something a little different, and as the story progresses we’re gradually granted a little insight into what drives him, and what made him the character he is.
The book starts brilliantly, the first couple of chapters immediately suggesting that there will be more to this than endless battles and slightly bland Stormcast. As it progresses it becomes clear that this early promise is partly maintained, especially with Grymn’s mounting sadness as the Stormcasts’ losses mount, and the changing relationship between the Hallowed Knights and the sylvaneth, but only partly. The journey becomes something of a slog, bogged down in battle after battle, and while the overall arc allows Grymn, Torglug and co. to develop, the plot becomes a little repetitive. There’s sufficient pace for it to never slow down completely, but then the climactic finale feels a little rushed, and it becomes clear that either a little more time at the end or a little less fighting in the middle would have benefited the story as a whole.
Pacing notwithstanding, perhaps the biggest problem here is a couple of strange plot choices which rather undermine the achievements of the Hallowed Knights and feel a little cheap and underwhelming. They don’t spoil things too much, but do leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth, despite the undoubted spectacle that they provide. Overall, though, this is pretty satisfying, and certainly feels like the most cohesive story so far in the series. Five books in, it’s pretty clear that the two factions here – the Hallowed Knights and the forces of Nurgle – are the most interesting of everything that’s been explored so far. Don’t be put off by the short length, as this is a solid story and hopefully a sign that the series will continue to grow in confidence and interest.