768 pages, The Black Library, ISBN13: 978-1844165100
Fantasy is at its best when theres a few rough edges on things, and Nathan Long’s aptly-named Blackhearts omnibus is a perfect example. With a cast of unrepentant (yet sympathetic) villains and a series of nightmare scenarios full of twists, turns, and rampant episodes of backstabbing-for-fun-and-profit, Long creates a thoroughly engaging storyline that more than fills the three books (and two short stories) that comprise this omnibus. In his introduction, Long alludes to the obvious similarities between his trilogy and The Dirty Dozen – condemned military prisoners offered a nebulous pardon in return for performing suicide missions – but those similarities are only skin deep. The diverse characters who make up the titular “Blackhearts” are unique individuals, and their conflicting personalities and quirks make for some fun (and occasionally tragic) character interaction in between the requisite pulse-pounding action sequences.
As with most of the Black Library’s tie-in output, action is paramount (plot-over-plod), but Long manages the not-so-easy trick of making the reader care about these largely disposable characters with only a limited amount of space to work with. Also, his deft use of several ongoing subplots help to fully flesh out the thoroughly unpleasant world his characters inhabit. And it’s a world that is familiar to any aficionado of Games Workshop’s output, but Long doesn’t stint on the backdrop as some writers might be tempted to. Instead, he incorporates as much of the “local color” as possible into things in order to firmly anchor his contribution into the greater meta-story-arc of the Warhammer Fantasy Universe (which is no bad thing, because as fantasy universes go, it’s an fleshed-out one).
All in all, Blackhearts: The Omnibus is well worth the cost, and I recommend it to any fan of dark fantasy.