Warhammer Adventures: Realm Quest – Book # 2 (of 6)
Synopsis: When their master, Vertigan, is kidnapped, Elio and his friends are determined to try and rescue him. Using a powerful artifact, they forge a magical doorway into a forbidding underground world teeming with Skaven ratmen! Hopelessly outnumbered, Elio, Kiri, Alish, Thanis and Kaspar must use all of their cunning if they are to find Vertigan and escape alive…
Aside from a change in primary protagonist, “Lair of the Skaven” continues immediately from the aftermath of the first book in the Warhammer Adventures: Realm Quest series, “City of Lifestone” – a fact that required me to re-read the final couple of chapters of that novel to refresh my memory on what had happened previously. That said, author Tom Huddleston does a great job at re-establishing the characters and their central mission throughout the course of the novel. It helps that, unlike the previous novel, “Lair of the Skaven” is relatively self-contained and doesn’t dwell too much on world-building and introducing characters. There is a sense of completeness to this novel that felt missing in “City of Lifestone”, and it almost feels like the two books would have been better served joined as one complete adventure.
Whilst “City of Lifestone” was told through the eyes of newcomer, Kiri, who acted as a cypher for the reading audience being introduced to this world, “Lair of the Skaven” is instead largely Elio’s storyline, and he offers a fresh perspective on events as the insecure leader attempting to rescue his mentor from impossible circumstances. Huddleston establishes the character succinctly in a flashback prologue before placing him in the role as a reluctant leader, filling in the vacuum left by the missing Vertigan. I was impressed at the level of character development that Huddleston managed to cram in this short novel, and there is certainly a level of growth seen in the character – much like how outsider Kiri eventually learnt to trust her new friends in the first novel. I hope Huddleston continues to rotate the protagonists amongst the rest of the child heroes, especially the roguish Kaspar, who has some of the best moments in this adventure.
Once again, the novel is supported by fantastic illustrations by Cole Marchetti and Magnus Norën, which help the reader visualize the fantastical underground labyrinth of the Skaven. The artwork really helped punctuate the action sequences, and it was always a treat to turn the page and see one of the pictures capturing the intensity of the events occurring on page. I really enjoyed Marchetti and Norën’s interpretation of the Skaven, and how feral and bloodthirsty the giant rats looked. The book also introduces the giant Deepearth Delvers, another piece of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar lore introduced in this novel that is brought to life perfectly in illustrated form. The artwork in both the Realm Quest and Warped Galaxies series enhance the stories so much, and make it even more accessible for younger readers to enjoy.
“Lair of the Skaven” benefits from a tighter, singular narrative than its predecessor as the action takes the form of a single quest. It also spotlights the Skaven packlord, Kreech, who is a strong antagonist for the series and gives the novel some real momentum towards the second act. While the series’ ongoing plot threads involving Vertigan and the mysterious female witch are largely put to one side in favour of an old-fashioned “dungeon raid”, the novel actually reads much better as a result. Huddleston adds another cliff-hanger ending that feeds directly into the next chapter, “Forest of the Ancients”, which moves the story away from the Skaven and promises to explore different races within the Age of Sigmar universe.
Packed full of action and exciting set-pieces, “Lair of the Skaven” is an entertaining read for both adults and children alike. Huddleston develops his core cast of child heroes perfectly, crafting individual personas for each of them that will resonate with younger readers. The series is pitched perfectly at its 8-15 year-old demographic, yet there is something nostalgic about reading these novels as an adult. It reminds me of the classic Fighting Fantasy novels, crafting simple yet engaging fantasy adventures using familiar tropes from the genre. A definite improvement on the first novel, “Lair of the Skaven” is a must-read for fans of the Realm Quest series, and solid adventure in its own right.
Once again, I applaud Games Workshop for stepping outside of its comfort zone and engaging with a fresh demographic – providing an inclusive and accessible entry-point for those wanting to learn more about the Age of Sigmar.
Score – ★★★★
Warhammer Adventures: Realm Quest – “Lair of the Skaven” 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.