So I finished “God King,” and I enjoyed it immensely. The battles were fantastic, the outcome was interesting even though I already knew how it was going to end (and that’s always good but not always acheived by authors trying to tell ‘the full story’ of something we already know).
I absolutely left me wanting more. There were so many characters involved by the end, and Mr. McNeill didn’t try to wrap it all up in a nice neat bow. He left some things open and I feel that is a sign of a mature author. Life rarely ends up with all the loose ends tied up and a sweet little “happily ever after” at the end. Orson Scott Card is a master at this. He tells a satisfying story that leaves the reader satisfied, but with enough threads left to write another story (or two).
I do have some criticisms of the book, however. The world we are in is sort of a “proto-Empire” and in it there are some things that will crop up that we will recognize. There is a group that shows up on the scene in book three that seem to be the great-grandsire of the flagellants, for example. The problem is, we are about 2500 years before the Warhammer world we are playing in. I say it’s a problem, but it’s more of an author’s difficulty. It’s hard to show us something that will become “something else” in about 2500 years. There’s a balance between being blatant and being too subtle. I think Graham McNeill did a good job with this, however there were times when I was reading that I thought I saw flashes of the future and wasn’t sure. It could totally be that I was reading into it, or it could be that Mr. McNeill was erring on the side of caution and going with too subtle over too blatant. I think that is actually a good thing. The story doesn’t require these flashes into the future of the Empire, so if they go unnoticed it’s far better than if I get beat over the head with them. (If anyone want’s an example of someone who took an existing world COMPLETELY fleshed out and wrote a compelling and convincing prequel, try Brian Herbert’s prequels to Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series. Well done considering the balance he needed to strike since his story would lead up to only a few generations before “Dune.”)
My other criticism is actually more of a personal preference and not something that’s wrong with the book. It’s called “God King,” and the whole story centers around Sigmar, but he’s not in the book all that much. Now, that absolutely follows the theme of the story. Sigmar is creating the Empire…something that will be self sustaining, something that is bigger than him. In its earliest incarnation, Sigmar had to forcibly hold the Empire together. In the final book, he can’t be everywhere at once so even the least friendly of the Empire’s leaders are forced to put aside their differences and become unites. It is a theme in most battles in the book, including the final battle, and it works. It works well. I am just so fascinated by Sigmar himself that I wanted more of him. Of course, the parts in which he takes center stage are not only fantastic, but they serve to thoroughly drive home exactly who and what Sigmar is.
Don’t let these criticisms fool you. I loved this book. Upon reflection, it might be the best of the Time of Legends books so far. We see Sigmar take a people unwilling to trust each other and unify, and force them to live together. More importantly, however, we see those same people go from unwilling, to grudgingly accepting this newly founded Empire, to growing to the realization that Sigmar’s dream is their one best hope for survival and finally embracing it. At the end, Sigmar’s dream is realized and that’s the true point of the series. It’s not about Sigmar simply becoming Emperor and defeating the worst foes of his day. It’s about Sigmar forging an Empire that doesn’t need him as Emperor to survive. It’s the dream of the truly selfless leader. He’s not only creating something in order to be remembered, nor is he simply creating something akin to a family business, or a familial dynasty. Sigmar has taken the Empire itself, every man, woman and child and made them all his heirs, made them all his children. The acts of heroism and selflessness in the final battle are not just exciting bits designed to thrill the audience, they are inspiring flashes that show us proof not only that the Empire will survive, but also how noble humans can actually be. The Empire isn’t simply Sigmar’s legacy. It’s his gift to his people. It’s a promise for a better, safer future for each and every one of them. It’s a story that is entertaining, touching and uplifting all at once.