A Warhammer novel by Dan Abnett
In the Chaos-infested wastes, two Empire soldiers find that the strongest of friends can soon become the bitterest of enemies. As they race towards a final cataclysmic showdown the fate of their souls will be sealed forever.
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It's an exploration of friendship, rivalry and Chaos set in the wintry lands of Kislev, a truly unique example of Warhammer storytelling that could only have come from the pen of Dan Abnett.
BLACK LIBRARY HALL OF FAME: JANUARY 2017
"Riders of the Dead is a superb piece of military fiction. It’s also a great Warhammer story and a great fantasy epic, but what makes it so truly memorable for me is the immense detail of the martial setting – the close attention paid to every part of a soldier’s life, the smells, the tastes, the hundreds of little cultural notes that make up a real, living, breathing world.
As he did on the other side of the fence with Gaunt’s Ghosts, Dan showed just what was possible working within the Old World – taking the essential spirit of the Warhammer universe and running with it as far as it’ll go. There are battle scenes here that still linger in my mind – fast-paced and horrific, but never simple, always orchestrated and intelligent. There are factions – northmen, Kislevites, Imperial state troopers – all vivid, differentiated and given a life and a heritage of their own.
After the opening salvos, the story divides, following two main protagonists as they’re drawn into counterpart alien cultures – a Kurgan warband and a Kislevite company of lancers. Both are utterly compelling. In particular, I remember loving the depiction of the oblast – the empty plains of Kislev, right on the margins of the known world, into which the Empire vexillary Heileman is drawn: 'The land was a flat, featureless prospect to all compass points, the sky an immeasurable arch beneath which he felt no more significant than a pin stick. There was no direction except forward … As time followed the rhythmic lurch of the horse, hour after hour, he came to a sobering revelation. The oblast had not diminished him; it had simply showed him how he truly was.'
The world of the Kurgan is equally carefully drawn. This is a Chaotic environment, one replete with terror and barbarism, but it works. It’s coherent. As in the very best Black Library fiction, we can see how this universe might function, and how the madness and the daemonic might be underpinned and sustained.
Of course, Riders was written a long time ago. Even before the End Times shook things up, some elements of it had drifted out of canon, so it doesn’t pay to try to shoe-horn it into the wider setting-narrative too hard. But the continuity details are less important, to my mind, than the core rightness of the depiction. This is real Warhammer, as hard-edged and gritty as it ought to be, fleshed out and made full-blooded by a master of military fantasy."
– Chris Wraight
In the Chaos-infested wastes, the strongest of friendships can easily be manipulated into the deadliest of rivalries. Far to the north of the Empire lies the dreaded Chaos Wastes, a dark landscape permeated by the corrupting magic of Chaos and home to the servants of the Dark Gods. Standing between this gateway to hell and the civilised world lies the frozen land of Kislev, bastion against the rising tide of evil. Two Empire soldiers get their first taste of battle as they join the campaign to repel the savage Northern Tribes. As the winter draws in, the last major battle sees their destinies thrown into turmoil as circumstances tear them apart and throw them onto opposite sides. Such is the mutating power in this dark and terrible land that the strongest of friends can soon become the bitterest of enemies. As they race towards a final cataclysmic showdown the fate of their souls will be sealed forever.
Written by Dan Abnett