It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to visit Skull Island for a fresh expedition. Skull Island – Privateer Press’ e-publishing label that introduced me to the excellent wordage of the likes of Dave Gross, Chris A Jackson and Miles Holmes, on top of in-house wordsmiths the likes of Douglas Seacat, Aeryn Rudel and William Schick. Namedrop, namedrop… I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with each of these talented authors, and it’s always a good time to delve into the the fluff and lore of the Iron Kingdoms. Every tale, be they a full length novel or a dozen pages as part of an anthology novella, unfolds new layers of the world of the Iron Kingdoms and with it, enriches our own overall experience.
I had the opportunity today to read Richard A Knaak’s Face Value. This was my first introduction to Knaak’s writing, and I can honestly say I’m looking forward to reading his other Skull Islands offering, Wyrmbane. Frankly, this surprises me a little. I’ll confess that Cryx is one of the factions that interests me the least in Warmachine & Hordes, which in no small part stems from my years playing undead armies in Warhammer, before I left Australia. I’ve done my time in the crypts, and when I first started playing Warmachine there was simply no interest in more hordes of skeletons and the like. For a short story to have me interested in reading more of the writer’s same work is a good thing. For it to have me interested in reading more when the next book is a novella centered around one of the Lich Lords? Well, that’s just bonza.
Face Value introduces us to the Skarlock Thrall Grendov. The Skarlock Thralls are largely autonomous servants of their lords, bound to do their bidding – the word Thrall isn’t just for funsies – but wheres most of the hordes of the undead are mindless automatons, the Skarlocks are the right hands of their masters, and need to have a degree of intellect in order to carry out the wills of their lords.
Grendov stands out even among Skarlocks in that he retains more than just some intellect. He also has elements of his living personality – not to mention the face he wore when he was alive, now gruesomely hooked to his grinning skull as he tries to cling to some semblance of the man he was – and the consciousness to question of his master Venethrax’s wishes, even if he dare not voice such questions out loud.
Grendov knows he holds a position of particular power in the Scharde Isles, one that grants him significant freedom and autonomy at the discretion of Lich Lord Venethrax, but when he discovers a captured soul from his past, his loyalties are tested. Will he risk the wrath of his master – and by that, his very existence – in the name of a long lost love? Just what – and who – would he be willing to sacrifice for an emotion he can barely remember?
Face Value introduces the reader to the Nightmare Empire of Cryx and its denizens, and sets the stage for the story to come. With the children of Toruk on the move, Lich Lord Venethrax will be calling on those in his service to unravel the mystery ahead and deal with one of the greatest threats in the known world. This short story deals with conflicted loyalties, the value of a measure of freedom, and tosses in a necrotech who thinks he’s funny, that I really hope turns up in Wyrmbane. A short read, but well worth the price of admission.
You can get Face Value and Wyrmbane directly from Privateer’s online store as ebooks, put them on your phone or tablet, and take a bite out of the Iron Kingdoms.