Review: Luthor Huss by Chris Wraight

Posted by DarkChaplain at 4/10/2012
Being the latest entry to the Warhammer Heroes series, I was quite thrilled to read more about the Hammer of Sigmar, as name-giving character Luthor Huss is called by some. Even more so because the novel's author is no other than Chris Wraight, whose Swords of the Emperor duology in the same series has already blown me away. Wraight managed to not only make the Empire appeal to me, but also present a genuinely interesting and extensive plot that was not yet covered by existent background material, which made it all the more exciting to read.

With my earlier excitement in mind, I went ahead to read Luthor Huss. Can the prophet of Sigmar himself follow the footsteps of Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Kurt Helborg and provide another solid, satisfying tale set in the Warhammer world?

The Story:
"Witch hunter Lukas Eichmann investigates a series of bizarre murders, which ultimately lead him into the haunted depths of the Empire at the head of an army of fanatical warriors. In the Drakwald Forest, Luthor Huss, warrior priest of Sigmar, battles to free the denizens of the forest from a plague of the walking dead. As their fates entwine, the two warriors confront a threat that will decide their future, while Huss must face a secret from his past if he is to survive and embrace his destiny as the Hammer of Sigmar."

General Information
Map of the Empire
Although it should be clear by now, Luthor Huss is a Warhammer novel. It is a story about Faith. Indeed, Faith is the leading theme throughout the whole novel, and despite not knowing much about Warhammer, if there's a tiny bit of interest in how people deal with their trust in higher beings, this story might really appeal to you.
Set in the Empire, the biggest human civilization in the Warhammer Fantasy world, you get all the usual medieval themes, though less of the noble side of it than in The Red Duke, but more of a poor, miserable, hopeless point of view. The story is dirty, bloody and full of worship. If you can't cope with religious themes in fiction or reading about a good share of gore, you might reconsider picking it up.
But if you love dark fantasy the way I do, you'll love this book and its deeper themes.

‘We will show them the path of valour. We will expose the lie that there is no answer to the prayers of the faithful, and demonstrate with our body, mind and soul that there is but one liege-lord for mankind, one master of our destiny and one hope for the redemption of us all, and that is the Lord Sigmar Heldenhammer, the Blessed, the Mighty, the Undefeated.’

— Luthor Huss, Chapter 10

Structure & Plot
As all Warhammer Heroes novels do for the most part, this book focuses on Luthor Huss, Warrior Priest of Sigmar, who founded the Empire thousands of years in the past and is venerated as a God by the people of the Empire. Luthor Huss, having been self-exiled from the churches of the Empire's capital, disgusted by the political schemes of his peers, is a wandering priest, smiting the enemies of man wherever he encounters them. Wielding his mighty warhammer with skill, precision and burning faith, Huss himself is inspiring the people around him to greater deeds in Sigmar's name.

The book mainly follows two storylines, or better, two characters and their workings towards a goal they can only reach together. Only in the last quarter do witch hunter Lukas Eichmann and Luthor Huss meet, up until then they both follow the same taint on their own, uncovering a complex tale of heresy to the reader. While Eichmann tries to get to the core of the cults he has recently uncovered and follows the trail into the Drakwald, which lies at the heart of the Empire and is home to the vile beastmen, Huss fights to protect the villages at the border of the forest, or at least cleanse whatever taint remains. Following Luthor is a peasant girl, rescued from the ruins of a village ravaged by the undead, as well as a mad peasant who lost his mind over the horrors he has witnessed and recovers his hope throughout the book. Both play a vital role in the story, and also to Huss they are important, dealing as strong devices for plot and character development. Little do these characters know about the evil they would eventually reveal. The core of the heresy lies in the middle of the Drakwald, and to face it, Huss will have to face his past first.

Throughout the story the reader encounters Huss's memories, which reveal his path from beginning his life as a priest as an apprentice of his old master and end with his leave from the temple he called home after uncovering that even the servants of Sigmar are not infallible. Indeed, while not as clearly structured as the flashbacks in The Red Duke, these glimpses at the youth of Huss are a strong aspect of the book, and show us the origins of the prophet of Sigmar - innocent, pious, strong in body and mind - and also tell us about his inner thoughts on the world he would swear to protect. The otherwise silent and distanced hero thus grants the reader a more in-depth look into his character, psyche and faith.

There's not a single doubt that Luthor Huss tells a story about faith, first and foremost, however. Faith is a strong thing indeed, and Chris Wraight expertly shows just how it affects people, both positively and negatively, how it inspires them to unknown heights and how losing one's faith may crush his very existence. It is a story about people dealing with faith in their own ways; from witch hunters pursuing those who turned from Sigmar, the priests preaching His word, the people clinging to their miserable lives, looking to the Gods to lend them guidance, or even the zealots who have nothing left, nothing to lose, and pledge their bodies and souls to their Lord.
Wraight shows us the matter of faith from a lot of different, yet intertwined angles, crafting a coherent tale that is both tragic and inspiring, proving the very point why faith is a very important thing in the Warhammer multiverse, and should never be neglected. They're just as important to Warhammer as sword and magic are, or the heroes wielding them.

Final Words & Verdict
I genuinely enjoyed Luthor Huss from the first to the last page. I didn't find any chapter that unnecessarily dragged on, or didn't get to the point. In fact, it drew me in so easily, I felt bad whenever I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore or had other things to do than read (I almost read it while cooking easter lunch). Especially the religious aspects the book touches are impressively well written and mind-provoking. How is man supposed to deal with despair, the loss of hope and faith? What makes them believe? What brings them to embrace damnation?

Much like The Red Duke, Luthor Huss provides the reader with plenty of material to study the great character we've known for many editions of the tabletop game. In fact, Luthor Huss is once again featured in the 8th edition armybook of the Empire in Warhammer Fantasy, but did not get a new model (yet?). His background section in the armybook also does not match up completely with the novel, but if you ask me, I'd take his final test before becoming a full-fledged priest in the novel much superior than the version of the armybook. Rest assured, these minor inaccuracies are neglectable, and I'd rather think that they're due to deadlines rather than oversight. I'd also like to point out that this novel is set before the Storm of Chaos and the coming of Archaon the Everchosen of Chaos Undivided. There are some clever hints and references especially at the end of the book, that make me hope for a successor-novel, as Huss has yet a vital part to play.

Chris Wraight once again earned my deepest respect with this recent contribution to the Warhammer Fantasy world. It lived up to my expectations, and even better, it exceeded them. For the first hundred-or-so pages, I really did not know where the story would lead to, as it gradually built up the setting and cast, but at no point was I lost or lacked the excitement to go on reading.
While the stage is rather the Drakwald rather than the cities of the Empire, I thought Wraight really pulled it off to make the old forest appear just as dangerous and deadly as it is supposed to, beastmen or not. The way the men dealt with the fear of being close to the treelines, or even venture into it, was both realistic and unnerving, even more so than the living dead attacking the human settlements.
This sets the story into contrast to the Swords of the Emperor duology, as they played mostly in open field or cities, showing the human, civilized side of the Empire instead of the animalistic and frightening aspects normal folk has to deal with, apart from the big cities and the protection of armies. However, it appears that Chris can do both justice, and this makes him the ideal candidate to write more about the Empire of Man.

Dear Black Library, if you want to do the Empire justice, please invite Chris Wraight to write more books about it.
If his name is on the cover, I'll buy it - not because of blind fanboyism (although it might have a minor role in it), but because his stories feel alive, right and to the point. He clearly knows what he is doing, and it shows. I clearly recommend picking up Luthor Huss, especially if you are tempted to pick up the Empire's 8th edition armybook.

As if Sword Guardian wasn't enough already to get me reading the Sigmar trilogy, the next thing I started after finishing Luthor Huss was Heldenhammer - I'm quite curious if Sigmar will be worth the Empire's faith. Looks good so far!

Luthor Huss on the Black Library Website

About the Author
DarkChaplain is a big nerd who spends too much time reading and thinking about books, organizing them on his ever-growing shelves, and yet increases his backlog by the month. DC is also an avid Gamer and owns more PC games than he'll ever be able to play. He is certainly spoiled for choice!
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain

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