Monday, July 21, 2014

The Butcher of Khardov - Dan Wells

First of all, I've never been a big fan of role-playing games. I don't have anything at all against them, mind you. I only played once, but I had a good time. However, over the years I've read and enjoyed quite a bit of gaming-related tie-in fiction, and Dan Wells' novella THE BUTCHER OF KHARDOV certainly falls into that category.

This is based on a game called Warmachine (I think; I got a little lost on the publisher's website), which takes place in a universe that's a combination of steampunk and late middle ages historical fantasy. The characters have primitive firearms, although they still fight with swords, lances, shields, armor, etc. But they also have giant fightin' robots powered by a combination of steam engines and magic. Now I don't know about you, but I find that pretty cool.

By flashing back and forth through the life of a warcaster—somebody who can control those robots, called warjacks, with his mind—THE BUTCHER OF KHARDOV tells the story of a notorious massacre that takes place in an otherwise minor border skirmish between two of the countries in this universe. This is the first thing I've read by Dan Wells, and he's got a good hand with the action scenes, as well as characterization, and does a really good job on the setting. Too often with game-related fiction, you almost have to be an expert on the source game to understand what's going on, but that's not the case here. I'm not real fond of the technique of jumping around in the timeline of a story (I admit, I'm more of a Point A to Point B to Point C kind of guy), but it's not too distracting here and I still got caught up in the yarn Wells is spinning.

THE BUTCHER OF KHARDOV is nominated for a Hugo Award this year in the Best Novella category, the first piece of tie-in fiction to achieve that honor, as far as I know. I'm not sure I'd vote for it, if I were voting, but I really did enjoy it a lot and think it's well worth reading just as an epic fantasy novella even if you have no interest in the game. There are quite a few stories and novellas set in the same universe, and I plan to check them out.

1 comment:

Jack Badelaire said...

Interesting. As a role-playing gamer and wargame player as well, I'm always curious about the tie-in fiction. I read a ton of D&D tie-ins when I was in high school, and I've read dozens of the Games Workshop Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 books - all a lot of fun.

WarMachine is certainly an interesting game, with a cool premise, but I'm not sure how well it'd sustain a fictional world - I guess well enough to win a nomination! One of these days I'll have to check this out.