I read the Warhammer Fantasy novel “Drachenfels” way back during the mid nineties. It might even be my first proper fantasy novel ever! That’s why, amongst other reasons, I hold this book very near to my heart. I remember buying it somewhere in a supermarket. The name “Warhammer” on the cover wasn’t new to me since this was after I bought the Warhammer Fantasy 4th edition starter box.
Fantasy horror novel
Author: Kim Newman (pen name: Jack Yeovil)
Publishing Year: 1989
set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting; part of a trilogy
Detlef Sierck, the self-proclaimed greatest playwright in the world, has declared that his next production will be a recreation of the end of the Great Enchanter Drachenfels – to be staged at the very site of his death, the Fortress of Drachenfels itself. But the castle’s dark walls still hide a terrible secret which may make the opening night an evening to remember! Storming dark fantasy with the vampire femme-fatale Genevieve!goodreads
Now, nearly 30 years later, I’ve read the book again, out of pure nostalgia.
It’s a fantasy horror story of Count Drachenfels, a very old Vampire Lord, older than the Chaos Gods, and some archetypal, but unlikely heroes. There are, for example, a noble fighter, an assassin, a dwarf, and less commonly, a female vampire. This gang sets out in the beginning to defeat the evil Lord. As expected, not everything went according to their plan… That’s how the novel begins, after an extensive timeline of the Warhammer World.
After that epilogue, the reader is then drawn onto another timeline in the future, were you learn about the main character, the anti-hero, Detlef Sierck, an imprisoned theater director, dreaming of creating his lifetime master piece, a piece so magnificent in scale, the world has never seen before. As expected, he will get his chance…
And that’s when the main story begins, and when it becomes, let’s say, less expected, as the plot goes on.
The whole story is narrated in the 3rd person and in the past tense. There isn’t much dialogue overall. The book itself as well as the in-time theater play are structured as a theater play with prologue, and five acts divided into very short chapters). I really liked the parallel story lines of “real” person and corresponding actor. At one point the story on stage seamlessly flows into the prologue narrative, which I think was brilliantly done. I even started flipping back and forth at that moment.
Something typically 80ies and 90ies were these final pages briefly telling you, the reader, what happened to each character after the main story.
The Warhammer world, at the time, the book was written, was not yet fully fleshed out. The ideas, the framework was there, but the author seemed to have free hand on how to tackle the setting and how to write his novel. It is based on the Old World, but loosely interpreted.
All the locations were already pretty much in place. There are even three, more or less detailed, maps of that part of the Old World and the Empire, the story takes place in.
You got to love all these German names of the many Empire characters in the book.
The Chaos Gods are also briefly mentioned. There’s talk of Khorne, the God of Blood and Nurgle, the God of Pestilence. But there’s also Khain, God of murder. There is no mention of Tzeentch and Slaanesh. Yet.
Drachenfels doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a constant light-hearted and silly overtone to it. That’s obviously done on purpose. Thus, everything, including violence, is taken into a different, fictional context, purely for the honest sake of comedy. And that’s what’s actually achieved quite masterfully in this novel. Violence is ultimately relativized, becoming an integral humorous constituent conveyed in the novel. Of course, I don’t endorse violence in real life.
Take for instance the old, retarded king playing with toy soldiers on his miniature battle field, asking his “General”, a tin soldier in his pocket, for advice on his next move. Basically the author makes fun of the main audience of the book: the Warhammer players.
Besides, this book is nothing for the easily offended. To me, in our current over-sensitive and over-entitled society, it feels kind of liberating reading it. And I found myself chuckling at times. The author, and hence Games Workshop, doesn’t give a shit about the main male characters slapping hysterical women in their faces to “calm them down” and inbred midgets. And yes, even making fun of our kindred: miniature wargamers. The fictional Warhammer World wasn’t yet that grimdark place it later became, but a rather silly and absurd place. Think a bit of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, who painted Warhammer miniatures in real life and even wanted, at a time, to write Warhammer novels. Fun fact!
Besides being funny and politically incorrect, this book oozes with gore. You’ll come across are arms being violently ripped off, guts and blood raining from corpses being torn apart in the air by demons. Bones are breaking in hundreds of pieces. And skin is ripped off and put back back again. Oh, and there is this particular thing about eyes being constantly ripped out! And swallowed?
What do I think of the book, after having read it again, after so many years? It’s not a very long read. It’s not a complicated one either. That’s, maybe, why I think the story flows quite fluidly. The plot unfolds in a fast pace over a series of acts and, very, short chapters. Each chapter leaves you with a new, albeit small, cliffhanger. It’s one of these books that you don’t want to put aside. A real page turner, basically. Finally, it’s a creepy, and rather gory pulp fantasy horror story with a good amount of humor, action, mystery and suspense. And what’s not to like about this?
All in all, the book doesn’t take itself too seriously and the humorous tones even shine through in the most dark and horrific moments.
If you come across the old-school Warhammer Fantasy novel “Drachenfels”, don’t hesitate. Buy it. Read it. If possible, in one sitting. You’ll probably get hooked and keep flipping page after page up to the epic denouement.
What other Warhammer fantasy novel after Drachenfels?
The story can be read as a standalone one. If, however, you’d like to continue the story line, there is a sequel called “Genevieve Undead”. I’ve read it in the past, but I don’t really recall what it was all about. That book, as well as “Drachenfels” seem to be part of a more extensive series of novels, which I haven’t read.