Warhammer Adventures: Realm Quest – Book # 1 (of 3)
Synopsis: Raised as a slave in the Darkoath camps of Aqshy, Kiri dreams of a better life. Of a city of wonders, the place of her birth… Lifestone! She despairs of ever reaching it until a fateful day arrives when her barbarian captors are attacked by Sigmar’s noblest warriors, the Stormcast Eternals. Seizing her chance, Kiri flees through a mysterious realm gate that takes her far from the fiery lands of Aqshy. She arrives in the realm of Ghyran and finds the city of Lifestone. But a curse lies on this place, withering its noble spirit. Her path leads her to a special group of children who, like her, are realm-marked – the prophesied saviours of Lifestone. There’s Thanis, the fighter; Alish, the inventor; Kaspar; the sneak and Elio, the healer. But dark forces are allying against the children and will do anything to stop them achieving their destiny.
Over the past few years, Games Workshop has focused more on making its tabletop games more accessible to a younger audience – recognising that a significant proportion of its fans enter the hobby at a pre-teen age and go on to become lifelong fans. Initiatives such as budget-friendly starter packs (Storm Strike) and a weekly partwork collection (Warhammer Conquest) ensure that the game itself is more welcoming and affordable, but the books published by Black Library can be intimidating with its huge tomes, dense continuity and the adult themes dominant in the novels. As a result, Games Workshop has developed the Warhammer Adventures series of books which act as entry points to the Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40K universes, telling stories with child protagonists that introduce them gradually to the dense mythology that surrounds both games.
The Realm Quest series of books focuses on the medieval fantasy setting of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and are written by Tom Huddleston. Centred on a group of chosen children with mysterious birthmarks, the novel showcases the conflict between Order and Chaos across the mortal realms through the eyes of its young protagonists. This first novel focuses on Kiri, a young slave who manages to escape the brutal realm of Aqshy to follow an uncertain destiny in the realm of light alongside other chosen champions. Huddleston uses Kiri to introduce readers to the world of the Age of Sigmar, as well as her future companions, and as a result much of this first book involves setting up mysteries and characters. It may seem relatively basic and straightforward to more experienced readers, but it feels like an appealing read to the book’s 8-12 year-old target demographic.
Huddleston’s descriptive prose is accompanied by illustrations from Cole Marchetti and Magnus Norën, which certainly helps the reader visualise the fantastical world and its characters. I particularly liked how the illustrations were used to underscore emotional beats such as the death of Kiri’s mother and the climactic battle against the Skaven. Huddleston packs in some exhilarating action sequences into the novel, with the promise of more dramatic and intense battles to come. The sequence where the Skaven invade captured the horde mentality of the rat creatures and provides the book with a striking cliff-hanger that will encourage children to read the next instalment of the collection. Huddleston also seeds some intriguing mysteries regarding the motives of certain characters, creating a more morally-questionable narrative than first appears.
As I read City of Lifestone, it reminded me of the classic Dungeons & Dragons cartoon which also sought to make an adult hobby accessible for a child audience. As with that cartoon, this novel features archetypal characters – a healer, a mechanic, a pugilist and a thief – and there’s also a mysterious master who guides the children, yet leaves them to solve the problems for themselves. While I can understand why some Warhammer purists may consider these books to be a dilution of the dark, adult fantasy world that they love – it should be viewed with similar affection as that Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, as a way to make the hobby accessible and enjoyable for children. These books are ideal for older Warhammer fans to pass on the love for the franchise onto sons, daughters, nieces and nephews – with a bevy of characters for children of all types to identify with.
While I do enjoy collecting Warhammer, I have never really identified with the mythology and expanded universe materials – often seeing them as complicated and hard to penetrate. Despite its position as a children’s book, City of Lifestone actually made the mythology of the Age of Sigmar more accessible for me and encouraged me to seek out more information on the mortal realms. My only real criticism was that the novel ended rather abruptly – to the point where I was convinced I had actually skipped to the end of the eBook. Huddleston managed to create an intriguing central mystery, teasing readers with hints of prophecy but focusing more on developing his core cast of characters. While this first book felt somewhat sanitised and family-friendly in places, I hope that future instalments adopt a more Tolkien-esque feel and put the characters in a greater sense of peril. There is certainly hints of greater conflict and danger, so I suspect that this first novel was merely an introduction before things get more intense.
Games Workshop have really invested in this project, even enlisting Billie Piper to read the audiobook versions of the stories. I really hope it pays off for the brand and introduces a whole new generation to the hobby – perhaps a special game or miniatures featuring characters/scenarios from the book might create another entryway for children to get hooked on the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar game. Stripping away the Warhammer connection, City of Lifestone is a refreshing entry into children’s fantasy fiction and the perfect “gateway drug” into medieval fantasy.
Score – ★★★ ½
Warhammer Adventures: Realm Quest – “City of Lifestone” is currently available in paperback on Amazon, or as an eBook from Amazon Kindle. An audiobook version is available for free on Audible, if you sign up for a free 3-month trial.