Art: Adrian Smith
Dan Abnett lives and works in Maidstone, Kent. After graduating from Oxford, he worked for a while as an editor
of comics and children's books before turning to writing full time. In the dozen or so years since then, he has
written for such a diverse range of characters -- including Scooby Doo, Thunderbirds, Conan the Barbarian,
the X-Men, Johnny Bravo, Batman, Rupert the Bear, Dr Who, Mr Men, The Terminator and Postman Pat -- that he is
now clinically bewildered. He created the popular series Sinister Dexter, which he continues to write,
along with other strips, for 2000 AD, and has recently helped rejuvenate the Legion of Superheroes for DC
||A review by Nathan Brazil
Copyright © 2004 Nathan Brazil
'History was being shaped at such a rate it could be witnessed. This was not the Long, placid drip of time that transmuted destinies so
slowly that its progress was imperceptible to those living through it. This was a moment struck out hard and hot on the anvil of fate.'
Riders of the Dead is the story of two young men, Gerlach Heileman and Karl Reiner Vollen, who begin as vexillary and clarion in
a company of Empire demilancers. Heileman is drawn as a typically arrogant son of a noble, whose future is all mapped out. Vollen,
on the other hand, is from a noble family whose heritage has been lost. He owes his position to favour, and his family are in
service to the Heilemans. What they have in common is their training, and firm belief that the forces of Empire will easily repel
the invading armies of Northern savages; the Kurgan hordes massing near the city of Zhedevka. It is at this point
that the lives and destinies of Heileman and Vollen veer off in radically different directions.
What sets this book above the steaming pile of sub-standard fantasy, is the author's ability to produce eye-level, entirely
convincing battle scenes, across three different cultures, and an entire continent. Dan Abnett is a world creator; the kind of author
whose settings and backgrounds are of equal interest and importance to the plot as the main cast and ultimate goal. No time is wasted
in setting Heileman and Vollen moving through blood and chaos, where they rapidly discover that real war is not the set piece military
manoeuvres they'd expected.
Not by a very long way. The big problem is an enemy which fights to a different set of rules, and it isn't long before all hell has broken loose.
'There was nothing he could have done. Nothing any man could have done. The North was a primordial torrent, in the form of
flesh. He could have no more stopped it than raise up his hands and halt the giant clouds that sailed, sedate as galleons, across the oblast heaven.'
The conflict is between three main factions. On one side is the Prussian like, militaristic Empire, ruled by Karl-Franz, and their
Kislevite allies, who are a rougher, semi-nomadic people, based on a Slavic-Russian model. Opposing them are the Kurgan, an unruly
grouping of religious tribes, whose brutal lifestyle and methodology are more like a terrifying cross between the Vandals and the
Aztecs. As the story unfolds we encounter characters with memorable, evocative names, such as Zar Blayda, Ons Olker, Von Margur and
Rotamaster Beledni. In order, these are a black-armoured Kurgan chieftain, a scheming Shaman, a blinded Empire Knight with supernatural
sight, and the grizzled leader of a hardened Kislevite warrior band. It is also noteworthy that many of the lesser characters get to
play key parts, and are not there just to make up the numbers.
'"Words are power." Said Uldin.
The action is fast paced and frequent, but allows for some skilful character development, dry humour,
and savage lessons in the life of a soldier. Its relentless pace is rarely and obstacle,
but does occasionally produce a few holes. For example, at
no point in the changing lives of Heileman and Vollen is there time for any meaningful reflection on the girlfriends, siblings
and parents who are lost to them. Also, the sensational is almost always given precedence over smaller battles, so don't expect
too much deep thought. But these criticisms are not something that will bother Abnett's principle target audience; Warhammer
enthusiasts who want sprawling, highly detailed military campaigns. For anyone who doesn't belong to the club, there's more than
enough here to provide an entertaining, above average read. This was my first novel by Dan Abnett, but it won't be my last.
"No, Kurgan. Knowledge is power. Words are just a way of getting it."
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading,
writing and throwing chips to the seagulls.
Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.