I offer my opinion on Josh Reynolds’ first contribution to the multi-author Gotrek and Felix series, entitled Road of Skulls. Published by Black Library, this is the thirteenth addition to the flagship series of the Warhammer Fantasy Universe.
Gotrek and Felix race to the dwarf hold at Karak Kadrin, finding it besieged by one of the grand armies of Chaos under the command of Warlord Garmr. When King Ungrim Ironfist speaks of the legendary 'Road of Skulls' and of the hated foe's attempts to open a portal into the Realm of Chaos, Gotrek senses that a great doom awaits him - though it may not be the one he would choose for himself. As the king's own son leads his army of Slayers to fulfil an ancient prophecy, it seems that Garmr's hour of victory may be at hand...
Warhammer Fantasy is an awesome world to return to every now and again with the wealth of stories that Black Library have to offer, even if it’s been shoved to the side as of late in favour of the more popular, sci-fi orientated Warhammer 40,000 Universe. There are still some great offerings to be had from Warhammer Fantasy though, as Road of Skulls, the thirteenth novel in the popular Gotrek and Felix series, which was first written by William King (for the first seven novels) and then Nathan Long (for novels Orcslayer to Zombieslayer). It’s also the first Gotrek and Felix novel not to have ...slayer as the title, with it also being fairly accessible for new or lapsed readers, as I had fallen behind having only read the first Volume of stories and the Anthology.
Any Warhammer Fantasy fan will most likely know the plot of Gotrek and Felix by now – it’s arguably the most popular series in that setting. Gotrek is the dwarf, the slayer – and Felix is the man who chronicles his quest to find his doom. It’s a great partnership that has managed to keep going for over thirteen novels (as well as short stories and audiobooks), and with Road of Skulls, the series manages to keep maintain that fresh and exciting feel that made Gotrek and Felix so enjoyable in the first place as this novel takes the main protagonists to the dwarf hold at Karak Kadrin, where it is under attack from Chaos Warlord Garmr, who attempts to use the Road of Skulls to create a portal to the Realm of Chaos.
The main characters relationship continues to be present and effective. The chemistry between Gotrek and Felix is interesting and the quest for Gotrek to meet his doom continues to be the main focus of the novel. With Reynolds being a new writer on this book fans do not need to be disappointed because this still distinctively feels like the Gotrek and Felix that readers will be familiar with from the William King days. (I can’t comment on the Nathan Long stories as I haven’t read them). The side characters are given various levels of attention as well, which gives readers plenty of time to get to know the dramatis personae. Whilst this book is mainly focused on action, there are plenty of good character moments within and with Reynolds making their stories compelling, the book feels fresh and exciting and not just a boring retread of stories that have come before.
The pacing is pretty good and there is never any moment that drags. I kept reading the next chapter after I finished one, even though I told myself that I’d stop reading there. The book reminds us that Gotrek and Felix are not invincible characters and there may be a time when we have to say goodbye to them, with that level of unpredictability always present – even if coming to this book late, I knew that they would not meet their fate in this series due to the fact that there were future novels released. Like most Warhammer stories in both the Fantasy and 40k settings, you can tell that there probably isn’t going to be a happy ending for these two especially when the central premise is focused around Gotrek finding his own doom. He’s not the kind of character who’ll take a ‘happy ever after’ ending – he’ll want to go out fighting the biggest and deadliest creature that the Warhammer Fantasy Universe has to offer. Time will tell if that’s the case, though, as I’m sure that there are plenty of novels left in these two yet.
Even if Road of Skulls may be completely disconnected from the events of the main series, it is still something that should be worth checking out – fans of the series will probably have done so already as I’m a few books late, but for those of you who have fallen behind like myself this is a great place to start reading get back on board – and as a result of this, I can’t imagine that it’ll be very long before I return to the next Gotrek and Felix novel.