New Slaves to Old Darkness, or, What if King Arthur was Evil?

Other Thoughts on Writing Scourge of Fate

Back in December I wrote about the Chaos-tainted inspiration behind my latest novel, Scourge of Fate (out today here!). In brief, I have always been enthralled by the decades-old literary tradition that makes the forces of Chaos in Warhammer Fantasy so unique. I love the idea of “normalising” the mortal servants and warriors of Chaos, establishing just how their societies and cultures work, and how they philosophise about the all-powerful, nebulous beings they worship. It’s not enough to just be a spiky, black-armoured warrior after all, because unless you’re truly far gone down the Path to Glory, even the spikiest have to eat, drink, talk and sleep. What is it like to deal with the more mundane aspects of life in the Realm of Chaos? In short, does the Varanspire have a bakery?

That article can be found here. I’m following up with a sequel today though, not just because Scourge of Fate is getting its hardback release, but because there’s still more to be said about the inspiration behind it.

When I was a child my mother bought me Tales of King Arthur, illustrated by Rodney Matthews. It remains to this day a wonderful book, full of lavish artwork depicting a host of stories from Arthurian legend – the Sword in the Stone, the Lady in the Lake, the Knights of the Round Table, the Green Knight, and many more. I read it from cover to cover over and over, so much so that my mother maintains to this day that I am Arthur reborn. The tales it told had a strong impact on me growing up, and segued very effectively into my love of 5th edition Warhammer Fantasy, which hit not long after.

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There are many fascinating aspects to the tradition of Arthurian tales, unsurprising given many of them are eight centuries in the making. I was especially intrigued by the powerful, baleful presence of the ‘Black Knight’ trope in a lot of those legends, the dark-armoured warrior who arrived unannounced and with sinister intent. Such a character probably holds responsibility for my early infatuation with the Warriors of Chaos. When it came to writing my own first fantasy novel, I really wanted to not only emulate that in the Warhammer setting, but to get behind the great helm, if you will – find out who this brooding warrior was, where he came from, why he did what he did.

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The similarities between Rodney Matthews’ style and that of early Games Workshop artists like Wayne England made it easy to get into both.

The initial pitch for Scourge of Fate was therefore quite simple – what if King Arthur was a Chaos Knight? Luckily my editor loved the idea, and much of the rest of the plot rolled from there. I deliberate aped aspects of classic Arthurian legend, from a jousting tournament (in this case between the Nurgle knights of the Order of the Fly and the Silver Knights of Tzeentch, both classics from the setting of the World That Was), and the escalating quest style that sees the antihero, Vanik, setting out to prove himself and getting caught up in a lot more than he bargains for. On a less subtle note, there are also lots of name drops relating back to Arthurian stories. Caradoc, a Knight of the Round Table, for example, becomes Sir Caradoc, Varanguard of the Seventh Circle, the Bane Sons. Caelia, the Faerie Queen and mother of the Faerie Knight, becomes the leading daemonette to the Court of the Seven Virtues, etc. Oh, and there’s a talking sword, of course. And Merlin is a Gaunt Summoner.

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Fun Chaostifications of Arthurian tales aside, Scourge of Fate also owes inspiration to my more overarching passion for military history. Although I’m an Early Modern historian (roughly, 1500s to early 1800s) first and foremost, I’ve done a fair bit of work on medieval warfare throughout my University studies, and have always enjoyed medieval historical fiction like Bernard Cornwell’s Grail Quest series. Pitching into my first Fantasy novel provided a valuable pace-changed from the six previous Warhammer 40,000 books I’d writen – there were no more bolters or vox transmissions, no hololithics or battle barges in high orbit. I got write about something I’ve always wanted to cover, a straight-up medieval-style pitched battle. I had a chance to weigh in in with the axes and the swords and the maces, the blood and the mud and the rain, the rotting-egg stink of gunpowder and the thunder of a full, knightly cavalry charge. I loved every second of it.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little behind-the-curtains peek at the thought processes that went into writing Scourge of Fate and, if you buy the book itself, I hope you enjoy that as well. It was certainly the sort of story I’ve had on my mind for a while, and getting to realise it was a privilege.

Glory to Archaon, the Knights of Ruin and the Eightstar!

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