Warhammer Adventures: Realm Quest – Book # 3 (of 6)
Synopsis: As Elio lies stricken under a powerful curse, the only way his friends Thanis, Alish, Kiri and Kaspar can cure him is to venture into the Forest of the Ancients. Rumour tells of a race of healers who dwell there, the mysterious tree-folk known as the Sylvaneth, but are they allies or enemies…….?
This third Warhammer Adventures novel in the Realm Quest series moves away from the deadly Skaven to showcase another race from the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar universe – the regal forest-dwellers known as the Sylvaneth. Travelling via airship to the mysterious Forest of the Ancients located just outside of the city of Lifestone, our merry band of child heroes seek the help of the tree-folk to cure Elio from his affliction. The dense forest setting contrasts nicely against the underground caverns that played home to the events of the previous book, whilst encapsulating that traditional fantasy atmosphere familiar to readers of J.R.R Tolkien’s work. With faeries, dryads and sprites dotted about the forest, “Forest of the Ancients” possesses a more magical tone than its predecessors, with a sense of enchantment reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
As with the previous two books in the series, the story is told from the perspective of one of the heroes – in this case, the tough yet insecure Thanis, who must overcome her fear of new environments and the outdoors to lead her friends to safety. This decision to allocate each book to a specific hero is extremely effective, allowing the readers to find out more about each character whilst advancing the plot along. It is similar to how LOST would theme each episode on a particular survivor, using flashbacks and events on the island to explore each character. Author Tom Huddleston develops his characters nicely, and it is great to see some of the background behind Thanis’ decision to join Vertigan and his group of marked heroes.
While “Lair of the Skaven” was a slight diversion from the series’ main plot, “Forest of the Ancients” explores some of the plot threads first laid out in the initial novel, “The City of Lifestone” and begins to reveal more about the prophecies of the rune-marked heroes. Huddleston has drip-fed readers clues about what is actually going on, maintaining some mystique about our heroes’ true purpose by keeping the knowledgeable Vertigan out of reach. Despite the lack of adult supervision, our five heroes have proven themselves quite sufficient and there are some great moments of ingenuity where our protagonists succeed against the odds. Whilst they do have back-up in the form of the Sylvaneth, Huddleston ensures each character receives a moment in the spotlight to demonstrate heroic traits.
The novel is extremely fast-paced, and to be honest, it could have benefitted from a slightly larger page count and some more exploration in the forest. That said, the action sequences are intense – especially given the seemingly insurmountable odds that our heroes face. Huddleston channels his inner-Tolkien in these moments to deliver some excellent scenes that recall the helplessness of the hobbits whilst good and evil clash swords and shields. There’s even a hint of a Gollum-esque turncoat in the ranks as one character appears to be corrupted by the forces of evil. Huddleston’s writing is first-class and extremely engaging, speaking directly to the novel’s target audience of 8-12 year-olds without sacrificing subtlety or narrative complexity. The inclusion of illustrations from Cole Marchetti & Magnus Norën enhance the story tenfold – their simple, yet effective artwork helping to paint the visuals in the mind’s eye of the reader.
If you’ve enjoyed the previous volumes in this series, “Forest of the Ancients” is more of the same and works brilliantly as a whistle-stop tour of the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar universe and its eclectic mix of races. Judging by the high-stakes (and high-rise!) cliff-hanger at the end of the novel, it seems that the next group to be put under the microscope will be the Duardin, more commonly known as Dwarves. Warhammer Adventures hits the right spot as a young adult entry-level introduction to the hobby, crafting an engaging adventure that showcases the core elements of the universe – such as: realm gates, mass armies and the opposing forces of Order and Chaos. A wonderful taster to the addictive “plastic crack” that is Warhammer, this is a brilliant foray into high fantasy and definitely deserves to reach a wider audience.
Score – ★★★★
Warhammer Adventures: Realm Quest – “Forest of the Ancients” 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.