Title: Mathias Thulmann: Witch Hunter
Author: C L Werner
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 28th Oct 2008
Source: Private Collection
In the grim medieval Old World, the dreaded witch hunters are feared above all others. These tyrannical individuals are tasked with hunting out evil throughout the towns and villages, using whatever means they find necessary in order to destroy those foolish enough to all with the Dark Powers. Counted amongst the most zealous of the witch hunters is Mathias Thulmann, whose ruthless and legendary exploits are recounted to terrify the citizens of the Empire.
Picking up such a monstrously large tome during the Easter Holidays was a mistake! Not one that impacted my enjoyment of the book, but one that hindered any sense of progress for the fleeting amount of time I was able to put into it.
Mathias Thulmann: Witch Hunter is a collection of three short stories and three longer novels, depicting the chronicles of the titular character; Mathias Thulmann. Set in the captivating world of Warhammer Fantasy – a setting that has been axed since the initial publication of these books and is currently awaiting rebirth – which is a rehash of various historical cultures that clash with one another in grim and gothic ways.
The central character, Mathias Thulmann is a Witch Hunter, a zealously pious figure set about to ruin the lives of those that stray too far from the God Sigmar’s path. Whatever heathen form they take; Witch, Vampire, Skaven (ratmen) or Necromancer.
The short stories, at the front of the book, set the groundwork for the larger novels to follow. Elaborating on central enemy figures and what makes them so significantly evil. We’re shown various atrocities against Sigmar in the form of Herr Doktor Weichs, a man hellbent on using Warpstone to cure the ailments of the human race; a pretty bold move considering Warpstone is the solidified energies of Chaos. We’re introduced to the role of the feral vampire; Strigoi and also some of the more depraved Witches that Mathias Thulmann has to face off against. On the side, we’re introduced to some of the other characters that reappear further down the line in the bulk of the novel. Mathias’ gold and ale obsessive henchman Streng and some of his other less savoury co-workers
A Choice of Hatred
This short story is the first in the book, it gives a detailed insight into the mind of the main characters; why they do what they do, who they are and the difficult choices that they have to face throughout their careers. Thulmann has just sent a Witch to her death during his hunt of Docktor Weichs, and hellbent on revenge a young noble challenges the Witch Hunter.
I found A Choice of Hatred to be a captivating starting point for the book and a stellar introduction to the characters, their world and what drives them. It’s a perfect grounding for the rest of the book to follow. The story itself was interesting and eventful in its own way giving the reader time to ponder the motivations of each of the characters.
After the work in A Choice of Hatred, Thulmann is on the road, answering a summons from his higher-ups. After requisitioning space on a travelling coach, the journey turns perilous for all on board.
While the previous short story set the groundwork for the over-arching stories to follow, Meat Wagon felt like a bit of an authors flex in regards to writing something self-indulgent. I am most pleased that they did because this short story was pure, horrific joy!
Meat Wagon is a thrill ride of gothic horror that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Witch Work is the background story that the larger novels use as a starting point. It focuses more on the investigation side of Witch Hunter work carried out by Mathias and brings the three short stories back round to focus on where things will be heading throughout the rest of the novels.
All three short stories give a good indication of what to expect throughout the bulk of the novels. Questions of morality, horror and good old-fashioned investigation work; as well as tensions between characters, dry humour and all-around, good entertainment.
The main plotline of Mathias Thulmann: Witch Hunter follows Mathias and his henchman, Streng, on the hunt for a wickedly evil book called Das Buch die Unholden. The first book; Witch Hunter has Mathias and Streng investigating the mysterious, ritualesque murders in the town of Klausberg where he butts heads with former Witch Hunter and noble of the town.
Also seeking the diabolical book is the Necromancer Carandini and Sibbechai an ancient vampire. Both of which loath working with one another and play a deadly game of ‘one-upmanship’ which adds a fair level of entertainment to the otherwise seriousness of the grim tale. These two are masterfully written and highly enjoyable throughout the novel; almost as much as Mathias and Streng themselves. They offer a balance to the novel while giving the Witch Hunter and his henchman something to fight against.
The two lead characters, Mathias and Streng, have a wonderful relationship between them. They are parallels apart – one being a religious zealot the other a skirt-chasing, drunken lout. They work well together as characters because of the differences between them. The banter they share is an entertaining relief against the seriousness of the plot.
Witch Hunter is a multi-layered set of novels and nothing is ever as simple as it seems. How Werner has crafted this tale is ingenious and as the books progress the levels of complication get higher and higher. I took particular enjoyment in guessing where certain threads of the complicated story were leading only to be thwarted and tricked by something unexpected.
What I took a lot of pleasure from in the novels was the diversity in races involved. While the focus is on the human aspect of the Warhammer universe, there’s also a lot of page time and hints towards other cultures too. Araby is mentioned in passing a fair few times and the Necromancer Carandini has the living had of a dead Tomb King in his possession. It makes the setting feel richer as a whole and well rounded to have these little nuggets of information presented.
As the stories progress the enemies change and aside from the usual Witch and Vampire, we’re also shown new foes such as Chaos. Witch Finder, the second novel in the series, has particularly disgusting scenes involving the Chaos God of Nurgle – which are stomach-churningly vivid, again, my praise for Werner in his descriptions of the grisly, ghastly stuff that other authors may shy away from. It introduces more characters, some of which remain throughout the rest of the series and paints a bigger picture of the Empire – where the books take place. Adding new layers to the already intertwining plot; closing some threads off abruptly while leaving more strands to be picked up later.
The first novel is the longest of the three and the one I found most enjoyable. Thulmann as a character is certainly darker in his approach to Witch-Hunting and lets nothing stand in his pursuits. Streng is a man that is an expert at torture and gets a kick out of his work. As the novels progress, I found the characters turn from dark anti-hero material and more noble than self-righteous. Especially when working with other members of the Church of Sigmar who are infinitely more pious and zealous than Thulmann ever was – it’s an odd position to be in; believing that a central character will do anything to execute the will of Sigmar (And has indeed done some terrible things) only to have them change their stance further down the line – I suspect the changing point was the introduction of Silja Markoff in the second book and the blossoming attempt at a romantic sub-plot. I am always intrigued to the changes a stern, dark character goes through just because a woman becomes involved. I felt like Thulmann forsakes the better, darker and ultimately, more interesting aspects of his character due to ‘falling in love.’
The last of the three novels, Witch Killer, has the main characters, now accompanied by other characters as they’ve been slowly introduced, leaving the town of Wurtbad in pursuit of the book. They come to the village of Wyrmvater and the plot thickens to involve the dastardly Skaven. I must credit Werner in his depictions of the ratmen and the knowledge he imparts about them as a race. Their mannerisms are well described and they come across as much more than simple men that happen to be rats. I took particular enjoyment from the latter half of this book where the Skaven came to the fore.
Most of the story arcs within the book come to some sort of resolution. Aside from one. Which I am somewhat disappointed with. I like my books to resolve and come to a decent conclusion. With a franchise like Warhammer, I can understand why there’s always something left open-ended; so that there can be more to come. But, it feels a bit of a slap in the face to have read 700+ pages only for it to end with a ‘But wait… there’s more to come.’ Only, Warhammer Fantasy/Old World has pretty much ended and the more to come probably won’t.
I did have a lot of fun with this book, the characters within, the setting, the drama and how the plots surrounding each set of characters interweaved with one another. I do have some very small gripes, however. Using the term portal, instead of door. Use of orbs for eyes and there was a sneaky ‘letting go of a breath they didn’t know they were holding’ within the pages. I also found I was told things more than once; the fact that Thulmanns weapon had been blessed by the Grand Theogonist, for example. I am assuming that this is because I read this as an anthology, rather than the separate books, but it’s never nice to have things over-described and being ‘treated like an idiot.’
A well rounded story that involves a vast richness of the Warhammer Fantasy setting. A swirling plot that spans three novels that (mostly) comes to a decent conclusion. Strong side-characters with well presented personalities. Fantastic lead character that starts off superbly but is dampened somewhat by the influence of a romantic sub-plot. Great descriptions of setting and emotions.
CL Werner has recently published a book for the Cursed City setting, which I’ve recently downloaded to my kindle, if it’s anything as dark and gritting as (some) of this novel is I will be one happy reader!