BL Publishing (411 pages, $7.99, 2008)
Reviewed by Bill Ward
Every race or culture in Warhammer has fairly clear antecedents — Dark Elves are reminiscent of Moorcock’s Melnibonéans, Orcs and Goblins have their ultimate roots in Tolkien, and human societies like the Norsca and Kislivites have obvious historical counterparts. But it’s almost odd that the Bretonnians, a society modeled on Medieval France, have received as little attention as they have because, when most people think of secondary world fantasy, it is Medieval Europe that immediately springs to mind as the foundation for such worlds. Not so in Warhammer, which overwhelmingly focuses on the territory of the Empire, a society modeled on the Renaissance principalities of Germany.
But with Knight Errant, Anthony Reynolds sets out to give the Bretonnians their due, with what is obviously the first book of a planned series chronicling the adventures of a young knight named Calard. Calard is the first son and heir of the Lord Garamont, castellan of Bastonne, one of the primary dukedoms of the realm of Bretonnia. Bretonnia is patterned on Medieval France, with similar names, chivalric code, heraldry, emphasis on mounted combat, and feudal structure. But this is also the world of Medieval romances such as the Song of Roland and Le Morte D’Artur, complete with a Lady in the Lake, magic weapons, and knights who have sworn to quest for the Holy Grail.
Calard and his half-brother Bertelis are Knights Errant, young knights who have not yet become fully-fledged Knights of the Realm of Bretonnia. The book opens with them arresting a group of peasants for thievery and poaching, and immediately it is obvious that Reynolds does not plan to gloss over the class divisions of this feudal society, but rather make them a rich element to his story and the development of his characters. Bertelis, impetuous and entitled, is only slightly more horrible toward the serfs of his realm than is sober and serious Calard, and both come across very convincingly as young noblemen with their heads full of tales of chivalry and adventure and not a question in their mind as to their proper place on the social hierarchy.
But Warhammer is all about adventure, and Calard and his brother are soon plunged into a major campaign to repel an invading army of Orcs from a neighboring kingdom. They see their first combat, learn a thing or two about the duties of war and the realities of tactics and logistics, and rub shoulders with important and famous lords and knights from across the realm. But the Orc invasion turns out to be the least of their worries, as they soon discover the forces of chaos in the form of beastmen — think goat-headed satyrs with big axes and a taste for human flesh — are also on the move against Bretonnia. Couple that with an assassination plot against Calard, as well as one against his father, and the rediscovery of his long lost sister who is a priestess of the Lady of the Lake, and you have a fast-paced tale with enough action and intrigue to always keep the reader guessing up until the very end.
By the end of the book the stage has been set for a sequel, and it’s plain that Calard will grow from callow youth to mature and lordly knight over the passage of time. While, like most media tie-in fiction, Knight Errant shows some signs of hasty writing, the energy and natural story-telling ability of Reynolds comes through on every page to create a fast-paced adventure with never a dull moment.
A slightly different version of this review originally appeared in Black Gate Magazine #13
BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.