Wrestling With Shadows*

* a no-Prize for knowing the reference.

With signings underway, it seems a good time to talk a bit about Shadow King. Let’s get the basics out of the way. Shadow King is a Black Library novel in the Time of Legends series, part two of The Sundering trilogy. As I may have explained before, The Sundering is not a purely chronological trilogy, each of the three novels overlaps in the timeline but tells a different part of the greater story.

Shadow King goes back a few decades from the finale of Malekith and continues for about fourteen years after the end of that novel. While Malekith (and the third book Caledor) have a huge canvas of history, Shadow King is in many ways a far more intimate tale set against the epic backdrop of the elven civil war. It concentrates on the infighting between the factions in Nagarythe, most of which happens ‘off-screen’ in Malekith.

One criticism levelled at Malekith is the pace of the ending, which sweeps across a large part of the build-up to civil war so that it concentrates on the most pivotal moments of Malekith’s long life. Hopefully the reasons for this will become clear from reading Shadow King, which fills in a lot of the blanks – similarly there are parts of the story that will only be told in Caledor. So while each book is a standalone read, the entire picture becomes visible only after reading all three novels.

Another change from Malekith is the length. Shadow King clocks in at 150,000 words, half as long again as the first volume. As well as allowing me to delve deeper into the story of Alith Anar, this also enabled me to spend a bit more time with some of the other characters. Most notably, Malekith’s lieutenants Yeasir and Alandrian get more page-space to tell their own stories but there are still some great cameos from Morathi.

Rather than go into the plot in detail – you can read the book for that – I’d like to spend a little time on the development of Alith Anar’s character. The titular character, Alith Anar has been a popular figure in Warhammer since he was introduced roughly a decade ago. When conducting my research, I found that despite this popularity there is very little known about him, much of which are details of his exploits after the events of The Sundering. I was lucky enough to be planning the earlier incarnation of The Sundering trilogy while Adam Troke was writing the latest High Elves army book, and he was good enough to put a little bit more about the life of Alith into the history section (mostly Adam’s ideas, I hasten to add). As with all of the events of the Sundering, Alith’s life is a few moments pinpointed in time that I had to link into a character narrative.

Some of the deeds attributed to the mysterious Shadow King are quite contradictory. On the one hand, Alith Anar is a bitter, dark figure, intent on revenge against the Druchii. On the other hand, there is an element of the trickster about him – he gets up to all sorts of hi-jinks such as dancing with Morathi the sorceress at one of her grotesque soirees. It was these two sides to Alith’s personality that I found intriguing.

By the nature of their emotional sensitivity, there is a sort of bi-polar quality to Warhammer elves, which sees them enjoy the heights of happiness and suffer the depths of woe. As Alith’s world falls apart during the events of Shadow King, I took this to the extreme, to the point that the character becomes two distinct but connected personalities. The first is Alith himself, filled with rage and resentment becase of what has happened to him. The other is the Shadow King, a more frivolous yet still dark persona. The Shadow King and the myths that surround him become Alith’s ‘coping mechanism’ for the tragedy that has befallen him. If Alith’s actions seem inconsistent it is because there are two parts of his pysche at odds with each other.

One of my favourite scenes is later in the book, quite low-key and short but I think emblematic of Alith’s descent. For reasons you’ll discover when reading, Alith is forced to confront his own mortality, which is at odds with the immortal legend of the Shadow King. Fuelled by too much wine, the results are dramatic and highlight the fragility of Alith’s character and the dichotomy that sits at the heart of his personality. It’s a moment that reminds the reader that for all that he has done, Alith is (in our terms) a vulnerable young man who has had a terrible burden of responsibility forced upon him.

I feel that Shadow King is one of the most complete novels I have written, a benefit of the extra length. It has comedy, tragedy and romance, and the experience of writing it has greatly helped me take another step along the path of storytelling – something that was very useful when it came to writing The Crown of the Blood. I’ve railed in the past against doorstep trilogies, and in principle I still hold that much modern fantasy is over-stuffed and long-winded. At 522 pages Shadow King doesn’t quite reach doorstep proportions, though I am aware that I am teetering on the precipice of hypocrisy if any of my future novels get any longer!

Anyway, Shadow King is great, go out and buy it! And if you like, come see me at one of my signings over the next weeks. If you have any questions or such, please leave comments and I’ll see if I can answer them.

Published in: on December 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm  Comments (13)  

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m reading Shadow King at the momemt Gav and am loving it, just a quick question I saw on BL website a book called Aenarion and I was wondering what this was. Is this the audiobook you were talking about ?
    Thanks for any reply.

    Like

    • Hi Niall,

      Yes, Aenarion is a Time of Legends audiobook. Hope you enjoy the rest of Shadow King!

      Like

  2. I’m about 300 odd pages into the book and enjoying it immensely.

    “I feel that Shadow King is one of the most complete novels I have written” is so far :).

    Enjoyed the first appearance of the dragon in the battle by the marshes a lot, and the way the Raven Warrior/messenger (I’ve just blanked the characters’ name, sorry)is written is very good.

    One thing I would suggest is that you might want to push Bl for a High Elf sourcebook akin to that they have released for the Dwarves. having reread Malekith before starting this book I’m more familiar with the pantheon of the Elven Gods but, oddly in my opinion, they are or seem less well known or developed compared to the dwarf gods.

    I suppose, in a way, this is quite fitting for the Empire centric flavour of much of the old world.

    Like

    • As I’ve mentioned before, I really enjoyed working on Grudgelore and would be happy to do other books in a similar vein, but there doesn’t appear to be much desire for that sort of thing from BL at the moment.

      Like

  3. bah, humbug.

    I’d buy it at least…. that would be a small print run though.

    Looking forward to Crown of Blood.

    Like

  4. Wrestling With Shadows is the Brett Hart documentary. I watched that pissed once. I was going to make a rude joke about the title but I’ve decided I should respect the family friendly nature of this blog.

    Like

  5. Mmmm I am really looking forward to the 19th,GW chelts signing day,tomorrow in fact and I am so SO gonna be there,just thought I’d say.

    Like

  6. Need to drop by some bookshops/check online, but being down in NZ I suspect it’ll be a wee bit longer before I get to read this, which is annoying because “Malekith” was awesome and I’d really rather read it *right now*.

    In that sense you might consider your works in high personal demand; “Shadow King” and “Raven’s Flight” are extremely high on my reading list for 2010.

    I think this impatience isn’t helped by reading the interesting insights of the author. Bah humbug!

    Like

  7. First of all, this is the first of your books I have ever read, but after reading the first 300 pages I’m hooked. I’ll have to get my hands on Malekith soon.

    I’m really enjoying the story and you have made Alith Anar into a fantastic character. That goes for the rest of the Anar family to, I was especially fond of Eoloran though.

    Looking forward to Caledor as well.

    Like

  8. Is the Sundering a trilogy? Will Caledor be the final book in the series?

    Like

    • Hi there,

      Yes, the Sundering is a trilogy and Caledor will be the final book. That doesn’t mean that’s all there will be though! I’ve just submitted the Aenarion audiobook to the editors and in due course I expect the Sundering to be compiled into an omnibus edition with additional material – most likely some further exploits of Alith Anar. I’m also quite keen on doing something with Tethlis the Slayer at some point if that can be worked out with BL…

      Like

  9. Hi Gav. Firstly I would like to congratulate you for the wonderful story you have created, although theend leaves you eager to know more about what happens between Malekith and Anar.

    Well, I am a little curious and would like to pose you some questions concerning my favourite character in all the Warhammer world.

    1) Did you get some inspiration or idea from the campaigns of Ulthuan.net? There for around 4 years we have reenacted the Sundering, the War of the Beard… in a series of linked campaigns. In the first he druchii won the Sundering and in the end Anar became the Everchosen of Chaos. I loved how VictorK wrote there the character of Anar and thought it would be impossible to give his character the same bitterness he gave it, but you did it. Thanks for the book.

    2) Is Anar alive in the time present? If so: how? Or is the title of Shadow King passed from one heir of Anar to another?

    3) Some time ago a story was published in the Whit Dwarf in which Eltharion and Anar guided an Asur army to Naggaroth. In the end, that ledt unsolved. What happened finally with the attack against Naggaroth and the unsolved fight between Eltharion and Shadowblade?

    4)In that same story Belannaer came to summon back the army to Ulthuan but ELtharion did not return. However it was implied that Anar heeded the call of the Phoenix King. Yet in your book, it shows his disregard for the Phoenix King. How are that 2 difeerent attitudes possible?

    I hope my ENglish is good enough as I am Spanish, and it isn´t my native tongue.

    Hoping to read more from you: Narmo.

    Like

    • Hi there,

      1) Did you get some inspiration or idea from the campaigns of Ulthuan.net? There for around 4 years we have reenacted the Sundering, the War of the Beard… in a series of linked campaigns. In the first he druchii won the Sundering and in the end Anar became the Everchosen of Chaos. I loved how VictorK wrote there the character of Anar and thought it would be impossible to give his character the same bitterness he gave it, but you did it. Thanks for the book.

      It sounds like VictorK and the campaign organisers were drawing on the same parts of the existing background as I was. Although there is very little detail about Alith Anar’s life, what there is gives a very strong flavour of his character and the sorts of things he would get up to. I think that is the appeal of the Shadow King – he is such a strong character, but with mystery and space for players to create their own stories with him. The best characters are those that leave a strong impression whilst leaving lots of room for players and writers to expand the tale for themselves.

      2) Is Anar alive in the time present? If so: how? Or is the title of Shadow King passed from one heir of Anar to another?

      Nobody knows! The question one should ask is by what means would Alith still be alive after all of that time, bearing in mind other exceptionally long-lived elves such as Morathi, Malekith and Ariel are so infused with magic of one kind or another, they can barely be regarded as elves anymore. Could strength of will and hunger for vengeance be enough to sustain Alith over the millennia, or is his possible longevity related to the ‘pact’ he made with Kurnous allow him to continue his fight whilst there are druchii to be hunted? 🙂

      3) Some time ago a story was published in the White Dwarf in which Eltharion and Anar guided an Asur army to Naggaroth. In the end, that left unsolved. What happened finally with the attack against Naggaroth and the unsolved fight between Eltharion and Shadowblade?

      The purpose of that background from around the Storm of Chaos was to set up the Warhammer world upon a pivotal moment, allowing players to carry the story forward in their own battles and campaigns. So, there is no answer to that question – I deliberately chose storylines that were unresolved because I feel tey add a dynamic to the background that players can interact with, rather than simply being stories handed down from the games developers to the masses. In short, players can fight a battle with Eltharion and Shadowblade or Malekith and Alith Anar to find out for themselves…

      4)In that same story Belannaer came to summon back the army to Ulthuan but ELtharion did not return. However it was implied that Anar heeded the call of the Phoenix King. Yet in your book, it shows his disregard for the Phoenix King. How are that 2 different attitudes possible?

      There will be an episode in the third book, Caledor that sheds more light on the relationship between the Phoenix King and Shadow King… I know, I’m a tease!

      I hope my English is good enough as I am Spanish, and it isn´t my native tongue.

      Hoping to read more from you: Narmo.

      Your English is certainly good enough, Narmo. Thanks for your comment and questions.

      Like


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