Book nine of the Realmgate Wars series, Mortarch of Night was originally released as eight audio dramas (four by Josh Reynolds and four by David Guymer) before being rolled up into this novel. Although really two stories, the overall narrative is Sigmar’s attempt to negotiate a new alliance with Nagash, focusing mostly on one stormhost – the Hallowed Knights, specifically the Bull-hearts led by Lord-Celestant Tarsus and Lord-Relictor Ramus. Venturing into Shyish in search of the Great Necromancer, the Hallowed Knights forge an uneasy alliance that will have profound consequences, while Nagash himself appears…unhappy with the intruders into his realm.
Written as eight audios which had to work as standalone stories as well as part of a whole, this doesn’t quite sit together as an actual novel. There’s a lot of repetition as characters and events are regularly reintroduced, and also LOTS of fighting – it works alright in audio, but without the SFX and voice cast it drags a bit in prose. Part of the problem is that the two main protagonists – Tarsus and Ramus – don’t have a huge amount to do besides fight, shout, occasionally call down the lightning when things get tight, and generally grumble about not trusting vampires and, conversely, trusting to Sigmar. When they do get to stretch a bit it’s much more satisfying, but that just doesn’t come quite often enough.
Reynolds’ half (the first four sections) is helped by the inclusion of Mannfred von Carstein (yep, he survived the End Times), who’s deliciously slimy and always entertaining, and there’s some great dialogue as he plays off against Tarsus and Ramus. What’s more, each section begins with a powerful, brilliantly-written monologue from Nagash, which even in prose are a pleasure to read. Guymer’s half, in contrast, suffers for a relative lack of Mannfred. Instead we get a too-brief cameo from the brash Lord-Castellant Hamilcar of the Astral Templars, but largely there’s a lack of real depth to the characters. Alongside yet more battles and a rather slow plot, it’s just not hugely interesting until the much-improved final instalment, when another unlikely ally makes his mark, Mannfred returns, and the plot finally picks up.
In order to really work as a novel this could have done with each instalment being trimmed down, especially some of the exposition and lots of the fighting. Where the Hallowed Knights have space to interact with their allies and enemies away from the main body of the fighting, this works much better, and it would have benefited from more of that and less of the by-the-numbers action. It’s all entertaining enough on a surface level, but it just doesn’t quite hang together as a book. When it’s good it really is fun, but there’s not quite enough of that. Instead, it’s probably best off going with the audio dramas, which while still not perfect are a little more enjoyable.