The Age of Sigmar is Games Workshop’s successor to Warhammer Fantasy, and I know close to nothing about either. My experience with Warhammer Fantasy is the few hours I’ve spent playing Total War Warhammer and so far with Age of Sigmar, I’ve built some of the models and organised the folder that comes with a Mortal Realms subscription. However, as more cool models arrive in the post, I want to understand who these little ghosts and knights are and why they are so darn angry with each other. This is where the novel Soul Wars by Josh Reynolds comes it as it centres around the conflict of the Nighthaunts and Stormcast Eternals. As somebody who almost zero context and understanding of this expansive, complex Universe I found it to be a great place to start. Let’s take a look at why.
Admittedly one of the main reasons I found Soul Wars such a great start is that the two factions you get from the Mortal Realms subscription are Nighthaunts and Stormcast Eternals. If you decide to start your Age of Sigmar adventure elsewhere, then you might not get the same level of enjoyment from the book. However, with that said this is still an enjoyable story that delves into the lore and setting of the Age of Sigmar. So even if you collect Skaven or Seraphon, you will still get a certain amount of understanding and context to the Universe.
But what is Soul Wars about? It is pretty much exactly as it sounds, as it revolves around the war between Nagash, the Lord of Death and Sigmar, the God-King, as they fight for control over a tomb of souls. Each wants them for their own purposes and amongst this, we spend a lot of time with various Stormcast and servants fo Nagash including Nighthaunts and other undead.
Before this book, my exposure to the Stormcast made me think that they were quite boring. As an equivalent to Warhammer 40k’s Space Marines, they didn’t appear to have the depth and darkness of the bolter wielding juggernauts. There wasn’t the black rage of the Blood Angels or the traitor legions who went over to Chaos. Instead, they all seemed to be goodie goodies like the Ultramarines, which I always found incredibly dull. And while Soul Wars didn’t give me any reason to doubt my initial assessment, there is certainly more to it than I first thought. While the Stormcast are the definitive ‘good guys’ they are also fractured souls that have had their memories stripped from them to do the bidding of Sigmar. Soul Wars focusses heavily on that price and the idea of whether they are free while also digging into what happens when the Stormcast start to uncover the memories of their previous lives. All of this is seen through several eyes at different rankings and postings and it builds together to provide an insight into these demigods that made me want to spend more time with them. And that is high praise as I wasn’t looking forward to the Stormcast parts of this book.
On the other hand, I was hyped for the Nighthaunt sections. Out of the models I’ve been getting via Mortal Realms, the Nighhaunts are by far my favourite. This meant I was looking forward to finding out more about who they were and delving deeper into their lore. And Soul Wars doesn’t disappoint. We get to see various Nighthaunt units and some of the other factions that fall under the banner of the Grand Alliance of Death. We even get to spend some time with the Lord of Death himself, Nagash. For the most part, we follow a Stormcast soul turned Nighthaunt and this bounces off the ideas of freedom, purpose and memories of past lives like on the Stormcast side.
The Stormcast and Nighthaunts are two sides of the same coin and Soul Wars gives you a great insight into why this is the case all wrapped in a great introductory story the wider Age of Sigmar narrative. From here you could delve further into either faction from a great foundation. And if you now wanted to explore other factions, then the titular Sigmar won’t be such an enigma either.
Now that isn’t to say I think this book is perfect. In fact, I think many of the Stormcast characters don’t justify the amount of time we spend with them. There isn’t quite enough character development for the pages and it can feel like not a lot of actually happening. This makes some of the Stormcast characters fall a little flat and reduce them warriors who hit things and not much more. That being said, Soul Wars goes a long way to humanising them.
I’m glad I started my Age of Sigmar journey with Soul Wars. It was good enough that I feel ready to explore further and it gave me a great insight into the two factions I’ve started collecting. It didn’t get my world on fire the same way my first Warhammer 40k novel did (but few Warhammer books can top the Horus Heresy opening trilogy), but don’t let that put a dampener on you getting started with Age of Sigmar. If nothing else remember, all is one in Nagash.
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