Curse of the Necrarch
BL Publishing (410 pages, $7.99, 2008)
Reviewed by Bill Ward
The world of Warhammer Fantasy borrows heavily from many sources, everything from Tolkienesque dwarves and Da Vinci-inspired machines, to Moorcockian chaos creatures, a Renaissance-era Holy Roman Empire, and monsters straight out of Dungeons & Dragons. But, maybe because it’s been around for so long or because it’s been so successfully added to over the years, the Warhammer world blends all these outwardly derivative elements into a setting that works very well — both as the backdrop for their fantasy game and as a surprisingly rich source of sword & sorcery and heroic adventure style dark fantasy fiction.
Steven Savile is one of the most skilled writers working in the Warhammer stables, and showcases his abilities nicely. Savile is primarily a horror writer, and his Warhammer fiction is imbued with a healthy dose of the morbid and the dreadful without ever forsaking the golden rule of Warhammer fiction – namely, putting the action first. Curse of the Necrarch is a standalone novel, but it matches nicely with Savile’s other Warhammer books in that its all about vampires and their undead minions.
But these vampires are not Bela Lugosi in a tuxedo, nor are they the sexy-chic goths of today’s urban fantasy. Instead they are withered, rotting, monstrous things, more akin to Murnau’s Nosferatu than Rice’s Lestat. Curse of the Necrarch opens with a confrontation with one such powerful Necrarch vampire, as Felix Metzger, hereditary Lord of Kastell Metz, meets his doom while defending his lands from an invading force of undead.
Fast-forward 500 years and Reinhardt Metzger, Felix’s descendant, faces a similar problem. The undead are on the march again, led by a different Necrarch, one searching for a lost artifact that will create a new breed of undead. The story moves between these two poles, Metzger organizing the defense of his homeland and finally taking the fight to the undead, and the point-of-view of the triumvirate of vampires that oppose him, Radu, Casimir, and Amsel, that spend as much time attempting to manipulate and betray one another as they do ransacking human lands in the hopes of finding their powerful artifact.
For a fairly simple story, Savile packs a lot of punch. For one thing Metzger is a man in late middle age and, though still of near super-heroic prowess in battle, he and his comrade-in-arms Kaspar Bohme convincingly embody aging fighters who must rectify their duty and honor with their abhorrence of the pain and suffering of war. Savile also delights in highly creative tactical use of his undead villains, and anyone who likes a good battle will get a kick out of how the devious vampires deploy their undead minions underwater to create an ambush, or create suicide troops by setting zombies on fire and having them march upon the foe. And where Savile really shines, which should come as no surprise, is in the language of decay and dread that evokes the nastiness of a gory scene, the strangeness of an undead construct, or the horrible alieness of the vampires themselves. That Savile eschews easy cliché when dealing with his vampires, zombies, and skeletons, shows that he takes this work as seriously as his other fiction, and its little wonder he’s won a reputation as one of the Black Library’s best authors.
If I had one disappointment with Curse of the Necrarch it was the extremely rapid ending of the last few pages, which really did feel like a race to bring things to a close to fit within a certain word count. But I would recommend this novel to anyone that likes dark, hard-edged fantasy, and is perhaps looking for something a little different and has not yet ventured into the world of Warhammer.
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.