The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Hugo Nom)
Posted July 24, 2014on:
This is the story of how a monster known as The Butcher came in existence. And it’s got a nice little hook at the beginning: big scary crazy guy walks into a bar, and treats his axe as if she’s a flesh and blood woman. Good hook, followed by tight pacing, we’re off to good start!
All monsters start out as little boys, and as a youth Orsus always felt he was to blame that he couldn’t save his family. Conveniently, he grows up to be about seven feet tall, and he’s got the right combination of body strength and gullibility to be a basic gang thug. The fantasy narrative jumps back and forth in his life, from that horrible day in his childhood when his family was killed in front of him, to his employment with a criminal organization, to the loss of his wife, to his ordering of a slaughter at a border village, to his judgement day in front of the queen.
I think it’s great that tie-in fiction is showing up on the Hugo ballot, but in all the ways that matter, this story just didn’t work for me.
Orsus will pretty much do anything to ensure he can be violent with little to no consequences, and the violence simply became too much for me at a certain point. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read plenty of violent fiction, and I’m usually okay with it, but part of being okay with ultraviolent is understanding *why* the character is doing what they’re doing. you’re buying in to the character’s mentality, sympathizing with them. And i never bought in to Orsus, I never felt like I got inside his head enough to sympathize with what he does during the story. Okay, yes, I understand that he blames himself for his family being killed, and that he blames himself for horrible things happening to his wife. But beyond that, there wasn’t any “there” there. The guy just didn’t have much of a personality and I didn’t find his story to be very compelling. There had to be something else going on here that I was missing.
Feeling lost and confused, I did some research. Turns out this is a tie in piece for the Warhammer 40K library. Dan Wells has been into Warhammer for a long time, and had been invited to write an origin story for Orsus, a character who is a fan favorite. I’m sure if I was into Warhammer 40K, this story would thrill me. Now, if someone would just write a decent origin story for Liet Kynes and get it on the Hugo ballot, I can be one of those people cheering for a story that will have most readers scratching their heads in confusion.