When Games Workshop hurled Warhammer Fantasy millennia into the future, into the Age of Sigmar, the controversial decision closed the book on one of the most beloved heroic fantasy series in recent memory. Dwarven Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson’s search for a heroic death on the battlefield ended in cataclysm—without his death or the epic song promised by his Remember and companion, Felix Jaeger. Or so we thought.
For, many thousands of year after the world split into the eight Mortal Realms, Gotrek returns in Realmslayer, an audio drama written by David Guymer. For the first time in his adventures, the Slayer wanders the world without his ever-present companion, Felix. Gotrek mourns his lost human friend, long dead in the millennia since the cataclysm of the End Times. But when Gotrek learns of the Stormcast Eternals, human heroes plucked from the very moment of death by the god Sigmar to serve in his war against Chaos, the Slayer sets out in search of Felix. For no man known to Gotrek Gurnisson was more heroic than Felix Jaeger.
Gotrek’s search carries him through the Realm of Fire, into a conflagration of dwarves obsessed with fire and gold; Chaos cultists, rival princes scheming for thrones, a dwarfen loremaster who thinks Gotrek is the dwarfen god returned, a dark elf assassin, and the endless schemes of the Chaos God Tzeench. To get to the nearest chamber of Sigmar’s immortal heroes, Gotrek will have to do what he does best—hack a path through the servants of Chaos.
Games Workshop’s Black Library pulled out all the stops for Gotrek’s return, hiring Brian Blessed to voice the Slayer. A veteran of Shakespeare, Disney, I, Claudius, Flash Gordon, and Star Wars, Blessed’s boisterous and booming voice is perhaps the only voice more dwarven than John Rhys-Davies portrayal of Gimili in The Lord of the Rings. As a result, Gotrek in the audio drama matches the larger-than-life portrayal found in the books. Yet Blessed’ restraint keeps Gotrek’s grumbling, grudges, and exuberance from falling into parody or hamminess. Realmslayer is worth a listen for Blessed alone.
With such an overwhelming presence in the cast, care must be taken by the other actors to not be overshadowed. In Realmslayer, the supporting cast stepped up to the challenge of sharing the stage with Blessed. Even the bit players fill their roles with sincerity and enthusiasm, without the ironic detachment expected of modern fantastic and geek-friendly performances. Particular standouts are the Joe Shire as the African-inspired Prince Jordain of Edassa and Penelope Rawlins as the waspish dark elf assassin Maleneth.
But a cast can only be as good as the script, and David Guymer’s script for Realmslayer is average at best. Sure, heroic moments abound, full of bloodlust and grim resolve—and plenty of opportunities for Blessed and Shire to bellow rousing speeches in the face of Chaos monsters. However, Guymer has been leading the transition away from Gotrek and Felix as Warhammer’s answer to Fafhrd and the Gary Mouser, instead recasting the heroes in the mold of epic fantasy, much to the series’ detriment. This process continues in Realmslayer, with the opportunity to reforge Gotrek into the Age of Sigmar mold. As a result, Gotrek spends much of the story as a fish out of water, completely alien to the new setting. This does allow a convenient entry point for newcomers to the tangled lore of Age of Sigmar and the Mortal Realms.
However, Gotrek is also used as an audience surrogate in a more meta manner. Age of Sigmar is still controversial in Warhammer circles, as it shattered a beloved fantasy version of Earth. As a result of the new setting—and Games Workshop’s search for more marketable and copyrightable terms than elves and dwarves—many of the once familiar elements of the original Warhammer Fantasy have been clad in new, unfamiliar names and terms. Gotrek spends much of Realmslayer grousing about the changes between the World-that-Was and the current Age, with the Age of Sigmar often found wanting. To the newcomer, Gotrek may come across as a surly oldtimer who prefers the world back in his day. To those more familiar with the Age of Sigmar debates, Gotrek echoes many a complaint against the new setting and game. Although used for levity or character building, these complaints are never dismissed or belittled in story, showing a rare level of respect to fans not present in many franchises.
Realmslayer is an enjoyable audiodrama carried by the performances of its cast. Like all things Warhammer, the audiobook is expensive at full price, but it is well worth an Audible credit.