This three day weekend was spent at a lake house in North Carolina. I was afforded a chance to get some exercise, some sun, drink a little and get some reading over with. Oh, a piece of advice. If you ever see a guy you would call a joker go fishing, don’t turn your back to him…
Over my time there, I finished Dead Winter by C.L. Werner, and wrapped up 75% of Sandy Mitchell’s Death’s City, the second of the Blood on the Reik trilogy. Both of these books take place in the Warhammer universe.
Death’s City, like it’s precursor Death’s Messenger is the closest thing you will ever get to Young Adult literature from the Black Library. The second book is an immediate continuation of the events of the first, following young hunter Rudi and his magically gifted friend Hanna, as they escape the clutches of Witch Hunter Gerhard.
The books are written from the third person but always at the perspective of Rudi himself, which has allowed Mitchell to maintain a sense of mystery as Rudi tries to find out the enigma of his birth. The plot flows along, as Mitchell invents new twists and turns to keep it moving, light and breezy. But the young adult elements enter the book as Rudi deals with teenage pride, his wax-and-waning attraction to Hanna and just trying to make a living as a teenager despite the hardships both of life itself and caused by those pursuing him.
Dead Winter was something very different from C.L. Werner’s usual work, and the results are amazing. Dead Winter is the first of a trilogy (always a trilogy) that is a Warhammer Fantasy take on the Black Death which swept through Europe during the years around 1350. Thus, it manages to be a rebellion story, a natural disaster tale and a spy thriller all in one.
Dead Winter is one of the Time of Legend series, centered around a critical, historical event in the Warhammer universe which numerous other works mention and reference without going into any great details. Werner seems to take a cue from A Game of Thrones, but in a different manner. Where as George R.R. Martin invests entire chapters to the point of view of a single character, Werner instead expends one or two pages on a character before shifting to someone else within the chapter. The result is a kind of ‘serial flash fiction’ approach that builds to something awesome and then shifts immediately after the plot twist.
And there are more than a handful of characters to follow, such as the lowly rat catcher Walther, Priest of Morr Frederick van Hal, Prince Mandred of Middenheim and a Reiksknecht named Erich. And those are only the humans, as the other half of the conflict involves a plague ridden Skaven (rat-man) priest named Puskab Foulfur.
Each of these characters have their own separate story lines which indirectly connect and relate to the plague that sweeps the Old World. The Skaven start the plague, intent on weakening the human-held Empire before invading. Their timing is nearly perfect too, as the humans are too busy rebelling against the current Emperor, Boris ‘Goldgather’ Hohenbach. But other than spreading the plague and engaging in espionage and sabotage against the humans, the rest of the Skaven are involved with their own infighting.
The story ends as the rebellion fails to stop the Emperor but sows the seed of a second wave, while the Skaven experience a power shift in their council of thirteen. All this while other historical elements are laid bare, preparing the story for an even greater conflict to come.
Perhaps the only weakness of the book was the sheer number of introduced characters in the beginning. The earliest chapters open with meetings amongst not one but two major political bodies, bringing a horde of names that aren’t thrown around during this book but are likely to be important in the later installments. A Horus Heresy style personae dramatica listing of names and titles would have gone far to alleviate the problem.
Finally, there’s Mad Men. Satellite issues kept me from watching the season finale “Waterloo” until yesterday night. Spoilers follow.
I have to say, the entire episode seemed to be about showcasing Don Draper’s maturity. In almost every way, Don faced off against challenges and problems that the old Don would not have handled with the grace that he did this episode. From turning down Meredith’s advances, to handling the end of his second marriage, to dealing with Jim Cutler. At the last minute, he brought that wisdom to Ted Chaough, saving the man from walking the very path he had.
The last scene, where the recently departed Bert Cooper appears in a hallucination to give us a song-and-dance number, seems to carry a sinister message. For many seasons, we’ve seen the quiet hints of death, death, death tap dancing for us, from Lane Pryce’s suicide to Betty’s cancer scare to finally Cooper passing away. If this farewell had been strictly for us and not something Don had witnessed, it would have come across as a cheeky send off.
But no, Don watched it unfold. A smiling, happy and now dead Bert Cooper informing him that the “best things in life are free,” is a most ironic notion for a man who invested his life in the pursuit of money. As I write this, it hits me. Mad Men, episode 1. The death drive, a point which Pete used to try and get a cigarette client. Bert was Thanatos. Now it makes sense… we’re coming full ouroborus. You haven’t seen the end of the snake’s tail yet… but you’ll taste it soon enough.