Harking back to some of Josh Reynolds’ earlier Undead-focused Warhammer stories, Nagash: The Undying King is an Age of Sigmar novel set in the Mortal Realms long before the actual Age of Sigmar. Available as a Warhammer World-exclusive hardback before its Christmas Day 2017 e-premiere release, it looks at the Rictus clans of Shyish, Nagash-worshipping human tribes being driven out of their lands by the inexorable forces of Nurgle. Tamra ven Drak leads what remains of her clan north in search of survival, following two of Nagash’s Mortarchs whose plans she finds herself increasingly bound up in.
Right from the off it’s clear that this isn’t your normal Age of Sigmar novel, both in terms of the time period, set during the Age of Chaos, and the characters – the third-page appearance of Tamra’s brother beautifully sets things up, while the range of characters is teasingly reminiscent of old-school Warhammer. It could almost be a clash between Vampire Counts and Bretonnians, except the brave knights are in fact the Order of the Fly, plague-ridden noblemen following a twisted chivalric code, and the downtrodden villagers wield their own potent necromancy in defence of their ancestral lands. Throw in some familiar names like Nagash, Arkhan and Neferata, and you’ve got a fascinating story that’s perfect for Reynolds’ style.
The viewpoint flits mostly between Tamra and Sir Festerbite of the Order of the Fly, though Nagash and his Mortarchs get their share of the narrative as well, Nagash in particular almost stealing the show with a blend of absent-minded omniscience and towering, furious arrogance. While the plot revolves around the Nurgle invasion, the fractured Rictus clans and the build up to an action-packed siege, it also provides Reynolds with a fascinating opportunity to delve into nature of Nagash and the realm of Shyish, looking at the Rictus’ relationship with death and necromancy, some of the history of Shyish, and the state that Nagash is in at this point. He’s cleverly drawn as a sort of dark echo (precursor, potentially) of the Stormcasts, unable to truly die but slightly changed each time. There’s inventive, entertaining action aplenty, but the characters and the worldbuilding are the highlights here.
Plot-wise it’s pretty straightforward in overview, but there’s lots of interesting stuff going on within that. The multiple viewpoints work to keep the pace up nicely, while allowing us to spend enough time with the characters to get a sense for both sides. The Order of the Fly aren’t just generic antagonists, but rather a well-fleshed out, strangely sympathetic bunch who under other circumstances would make a great focus for stories of their own. As it is, they contribute towards a strong, satisfying story that’s as dark and black-humoured as you’d expect from Reynolds, and which continues his trend of exploring newly-revealed parts of the Mortal Realms to great effect. With a few clever links to Reynolds’ The Hunt for Nagash audio dramas, and masses of intriguing backstory for the setting, this is a must for any Death fans…and pretty much any Age of Sigmar fans.