As the title suggests, Josh Reynolds’ Age of Sigmar novel Skaven Pestilens – available as a standalone novel or within the Legends of the Age of Sigmar omnibus – focuses on the disease-ridden skaven of the Clans Pestilens. Taking place in the realm of Ghur, the plot revolves around the machinations of Verminlord Skuralanx, who manipulates two rival plague priests into attacking Shu’gohl the Crawling City in order to retrieve one of the Thirteen Great Plagues on his behalf. Standing in their way are Zephacleas Beast-bane and his Astral Templars, and the natural skaven inclination to treachery and deceit.
Skaven are always fun to read about, and Reynolds does a good job here of playing up their most entertaining aspects…which largely means their constant bickering and backstabbing. The three main skaven viewpoint characters – the plague priests Vretch and Krug, and Skuralanx himself – are constantly looking for opportunities to betray or otherwise take advantage of each other, while the Stormcast have a much simpler objective – to kill the skaven and free the Crawling City. Speaking of which, the world building is typically impressive – a city built on a giant, always-in-motion worm is pretty cool, and the sort of thing that you could only really get in Age of Sigmar. Can’t imagine that working in the Old World.
There is quite an old-school Warhammer feel to this when the skaven take centre stage, and the plotting, backstabbing and general bickering is great fun. There’s a nice variety amongst the characters, too. The Stormcast, however, are an interesting inclusion as they draw the focus away from the skaven, meaning it ends up feeling more like a Realmgate Wars novel with skaven antagonists than a book primarily about the skaven. The Beast-bane are interesting characters, Zephacleas especially, but it’s hard not to wish this had been a purely skaven story without the distraction of the Stormcasts. They also bring a straight-line focus to the plot, which drags a little when it, and the Astral Templars, get bogged down in battle after battle. An unexpected third party shows up to add a little extra flavour to proceedings, but in hindsight they might have been a better choice all along than the Stormcasts.
In the end this is still an enjoyable story in its own right, and does a good job of highlighting the Clans Pestilens – either as a somewhat nostalgic reminder to existing fans or a solid introduction to new readers. It works best when it’s fully focused on the skaven, and suggests that a purely ratman-centric story from Reynolds would be a thing of joy, but it also continues to add to the depth of the Mortal Realms as well. If you’re a fan of Stormcast action scenes then there’s even more to enjoy, but if not there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the old-school skaven backstabbing.