Gloomspite, by Andy Clark, Black Library: 2019, UK
The short version: Gloomspite is a really good disaster movie-esque story with elements of body horror that will make even the strongest of stomachs turn.
An audio recording of this review can be found on the Casual Hammerer YouTube Channel.
Overall Gloomspite was not quite the novel I was expecting but I would still recommend reading it if you are a Gloomspite Gitz fan. Fair warning though: If you were expecting a story told from the point of view of the Gloomspite Gitz, this is not it. Instead Gloomspite focuses on a band of Grand Alliance Order adventures called the Swords of Sigmar. A group that has seemingly stepped out of an Age of Sigmar: Soulbound roleplaying game campaign and onto the pages of the book. (In fact if you are planning on running a Soulbound campaign, this book is perfect inspiration to create a city based story with constantly raising stakes.) Every member of the Swords of Sigmar has a unique ability or function within the group and they all butt heads with each other when the story requires it. You get a sense of the their history and bonds despite only spending a relatively short amount of time with them.
The book follows a pretty tight three act structure and sticks to delivering a mostly predictable but entertaining ride through what it is like to experience the Gloomspite Gitz laying siege to a city. The plot is a riff on mid-90s disaster movies where the Gitz are the destructive forces instead of a volcano, storm or earthquake. All the genre hallmarks are there:
- The government officials who ignore the warnings.
- The people just trying to keep the peace as the world falls apart around them.
- The reluctant heroes stuck in the middle, deciding between their obligations and running away to safety.
The major difference is that instead of it being a global problem the action is contained to the city of Draconium in the Realm of Fire. It uses these familiar tropes to give readers a great Age of Sigmar spin on the disaster story. You come to care for the main cast as they reluctantly come to terms with what they have to do to win the day. It has even left me wanting to see further adventures of the Swords of Sigmar set both before and after the events of this book. They are a great lens to view the novel’s story through.
The story itself has quite a slow start and you’re introduced to a lot of characters throughout which can make it hard to follow at times. Just as you are getting to learn who the various members of the Swords of Sigmar are you are thrust into the city of Draconium and its large cast of guards, citizens and nobility. All needing to be remembered to get the most out of the story. However, there is a good reason for this because it allows the book to do its thing: Kill a whole bunch of people in grizzly and gruesome ways. With the cast slowly getting whittled down as the Gloomspite Gitz make their presence known to the citizens of Draconium and enact their plan. The first half keeps you engaged with the gradual build up of tension to the Gitz attacking. The sense of dread is palpable at times and once the Gitz strike at the story’s midpoint all hell breaks loose. After this point the book shifts gears considerably and the work done in the first half really pays off as things repeatedly go from bad to worse. The stakes and danger ever increasing all the way to the tense and exciting conclusion.
Once the fungus hits the fan each of the Gloomspite Gitz units gets a moment to shine in their horrific glory. There are even a few variations on what you know thrown into the mix. With one new unit type included in the book that I’m hoping is added to the plastic army at some point. They are 100% Gloomspite Gitz material while also being completely different from the rest of the army in a really cool and horrifying way. A new monster type that really hits home how dangerous and horrible the Gloomspite Gitz can be when they attack a city.
The emissary of the Bad Moon himself, Skragrott The Loonking is part of the story. Sadly his inclusion more of a glorified cameo than anything else. Still, his character is a lot more fleshed out for me from reading the couple of chapters he is a part of. He is a really interesting hero for the Gloomspite Gitz and I hope to see his character explored more in future Black Library stories. This book left me wanting and needing to see more of him, Especially his cruel and unusual schemes.
One thing that really stands out as both a highlight of the book and a warning of sorts are the fungal and body horror elements. At several points in the book the mood shifts as Andy Clark goes into horrific stomach turning detail about the effects of the fungal nature of the Gloomspite Gitz’ power. The effects of the Bad Moon are ever present across the story, its leering gaze seemingly peering at you through the text on the page. Each new encounter with a Gloomspite Gitz unit is accompanied with some colourful detail that will make you squirm. There are strange growths, unknown alignments, puss oozing from wounds and disgusting insects aplenty. One scene in particular, featuring Skragrott caused me to take a prolonged break from reading the book because it got to me so much. This is a good thing by my standards, I enjoy bit of horror but if you’re at all squeamish or are triggered by body horror maybe give this book a miss. If you enjoy the grim, slimy, creepy crawly side of horror. Pull up a chair because this is the book for you.
Like I said at the start of this review, this wasn’t quite the book I was expecting. I thought I wanted a book from the point of view of the Gloomspite Gitz or at least duelling point of view. Thankfully Andy Clark knew better and decided to tell a story that focuses on the truly terrifying aspects of the army. Something that can only really be achieved by making them a destructive unknowable enemy. The lack of empathy this book garners for the Gitz makes them something to be feared. When they strike Draconium it is sudden, destructive and scary because you have so many questions along with the heroes. The book does not kick off some epic new series or reinvent the wheel of Warhammer fiction but damn is it a compelling read. You want to find out what disgusting thing will happen next and are never disappointed by turning the page. Just don’t read it when you’re about to eat because it might put you off your meal.