Crowded Bookshelf: Digging up the past


‘Nagash’ trilogy book review

By Duncan Fingarson, Columnist

Readers of my previous columns will know that I’m a fan of Warhammer 40,000, Games Workshop’s more popular science-fiction setting. But I’ve yet to talk about anything from their Warhammer Fantasy setting, which I also love. It’s got a lot of the standard fantasy archetypes—dwarves, elves, humans, halflings, most of which have some sort of unique spin on them—but it’s also got a few things that are all its own. Where else can you find a race of megalomaniacal magitech Ratmen? The setting predates Warhammer 40,000’s creation, and has a long and detailed background filled with mythic heroes and villains. This is the focus of Mike Lee’s Nagash trilogy.

Nagash is hugely important to the fantasy setting. He’s the creator of the art of Necromancy, and could well be considered the setting’s biggest villain. I’ve always found him to be a tremendously interesting character, and he features significantly in the history of my two favourite factions out of the Fantasy setting. He’s the driving force behind the fall of Nehekhara (think Ancient Egypt) and arguably comes closer than anyone to actually defeating the Skaven (the aforementioned megalomaniacal Ratmen). However, he was not always hugely powerful, nor did he always stay that way.

The first book, Nagash the Sorcerer, covers the parts of Nagash’s life where he still counts as human. He starts out as the high priest of Nehekhara, but he dreams of being king. Nagash is a schemer and he secretly learns magic from captured elves before launching a coup, murdering the rightful king and plunging the land into darkness. Never satisfied with the power he does wield, Nagash builds the Black Pyramid in an effort to gather more. Much of the book is focused on the conflict between Nagash and the holdouts of the old empire, the brave few willing to fight him. Ultimately he is forced to flee, though he leaves the empire nearly in ruins behind him when he goes.

Book two, Nagash the Unbroken, deals with the aftermath of Nagash’s fall and his establishing of a new power base. His choice of home leads to conflict with the Skaven over Warpstone, a magical mineral that both sides want to control. Back in Nehekhara, the lore that Nagash left behind is still causing trouble. Thinking the sorcerer has been defeated, some of his old servants have tried to gain power of their own, and, without a common enemy, much of the already-damaged empire is embroiled in political manoeuvering. This is the shortest, and probably the weakest, of the three books, but it does its job well of setting everything up for book three.

Nagash Immortal launches into things right where book two ended, with a massive invasion by the Skaven. Once again, things are split between multiple plot threads as a new king rises in Nehekhara, one capable of finally uniting the many people who live there. Unfortunately, he’s also the last king the empire will ever see. All of Nagash’s machinations come to a head and the sorcerer sees himself revenged upon the land of his birth. This is probably the best of the three books, and the character of Alcadizzar, the last king of Nehekhara, is likeable and easy to cheer for even when you know he’s predestined to lose everything he loves.

I really liked this trilogy. Lee tells the story of one of the most influential characters in Warhammer history very well, though I might be biased towards the novels thanks to so much screen time being devoted to my two favourite factions. Nagash is dastardly and unstoppable, a larger-than-life villain everyone can love to hate, and the plot is well thought out. The biggest weakness of the trilogy is that it could be very hard to get into for someone entirely unfamiliar with the Warhammer setting. If you’re not already a fan, then the books are still good, but you’ll probably get a lot less out of them than I did.

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