Title: Cursed City
Author: C L Werner
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 10th April 2021
Source: Private Collection
Ulfenkarn is a city of nightmares. Its vampiric rulers have indulged their bloodlust in every shadow-clad alley, turning the once-proud metropolis into a charnel house. Already crushed beneath the tyranny of Radukar the Wolf and his Thirsting Court, a spate of vicious murders plunges the mortal inhabitants into fresh terror. Emerging to uncover a connection between the attacks is an unlikely group of heroes: a vampire hunter from Carstinia, a slum-born vigilante, a ruthless wizard, and a soldier who is the last survivor of her noble bloodline. Arrayed against them are the undead monsters that thrive upon Radukar’s gory regime. But a daring search for answers turns into a fight for survival when the Wolf himself descends his Ebon Citadel and joins the carnage in the streets…
When a series of vicious murders rock the vampire-ruled city of Ulfenkarn, an unlikely group of heroes – a vampire hunter, a vigilante, a wizard, and a soldier – must discover the truth even as the city’s dread ruler takes to the streets and the bloodletting increases.
After reading Witch Hunter by the same author and enjoying the look and feel of Cursed City, the board game that this novel ties into, I thought the book would be a good fun read. Alas… the book, like the fate of the board game, was cursed – the boxed game rapidly went from being ‘around forever’ to ‘sold out limited edition’ in less than a week. Yikes!
Cursed City is a tie in book for the Games Workshop boxed game of the same name. Set in the partially human, partially undead city of Ulfenkarn, heroes rise up to face the tyrannical leader of their ill-fated town, Radukar the Wolf, a master vampire and all round nasty. Facing off against the overlord of Ulfenkarn is Emelda Braskov, last of her noble line. Gustav, a vampire hunter. Amethyst Wizard, Morrvahl and Loek, vigilante.
What’s interesting and well written about this book is the setting. Cursed City is a well described, bleak place and C L Werners writing style lends itself well to darker themes. The aspects that are explored within the setting are brilliantly imagined, deep and paint very vivid imagery for the reader. The world-building is second to none; the hierarchy of key-characters, the feelings of fear in each of the every-day citizens and the base descriptions of buildings and their role in both present and future are absolutely fantastic. It gave me a clear vision of Ulfenkarn and it’s place in the wider Mortal Realms. It made for some captivating reading and the desire to discover more about the setting is strong. The contrast between the living and undead elements of the city were brilliantly written and added an enchanting element to the story – this aspects of the story kept the pages turning and I was eager to constantly discover more about this corner of the Mortal Realms.
However, this is pretty much where my praise for the book ends. The characters felt rather lifeless and flat. I understood their motivations from their initial mention; this was then hammered into me throughout the rest of the novel. Yes, I know Emelda desires revenge on the vampire menace that’s corrupted her home-town, it’s been mentioned several times now. Combine that with the over explaining of thoughts and doubts that link towards other characters and the whole thing becomes rather a dull read. The only thing I remember the vampire hunter, Gustav, doing is fiddling constantly with his Sigmarite necklace and dithering about being uncertain telling everyone that ‘They’re not yet ready’ to face Radukar. Morrvahl, was the most interesting character of the lot, but it’s never really explained what his motivations for becoming involved with the other heroes are and his role in the novel turned from interesting protagonist to ‘get out of jail free card,’ where he felt too conveniently placed on more than one occasions. Saving the other heroes or answering questions with his ‘assets’ in place of well-considered plot. Considering I throughly enjoyed the characterisations in Witch Hunter and Cursed City follows similar, grim themes, I was saddened that this was the case.
The plot itself felt sloppy and ill-considered. The characters, both protagonists and antagonists are investigating the murders of a mysterious Baron Grim. We’re shown the investigation from both perspectives and while initially, this is thoughtfully written; being shown the opinions on the murders and the citizens of Ulfenkarn from the heroes and Radukars points of view added an extra step to the world-building element of the book. Sadly, it all got a bit over-written. Partway through the story, Radukar uncovers the truth behind these murders while the heroes are kept in the dark. It made me believe that Radukar was somehow wrong in his discoveries and there was something more to be revealed. Only for that thread to fall flat on his face and it actually go no further. This generally made it all feel over-explained and disappointing when the ‘big-reveal’ happened as we’d already read about it. There was no intricate weaving of plot or masterfully written mysteries here. Just a lot of running about not solving anything or getting anywhere while point out the obvious or things that we already know through another characters perspective.
As previously mentioned there was a lot of ‘we’re not ready yet’ hesitation in facing off against Radukar from the heroes. This ended up in them doing a lot of running away in order to fight again another day. I was reminded of Scooby-Doo episodes or cartoons where characters end up running through doors and down alleyways generally creating a humorous, chaotic mess of themselves. But, it didn’t make for an entertaining read. Not when combined with the flatness of the characters and the over-explaining of the plot.
Overall, I found this a disappointing read due to characters that lacked any real depth beyond their surface thoughts. It was a real shame as the city if Ulfenkarn was so well considered and the struggle of everyday citizens of the city were came across brilliantly. Sadly, I don’t think Cursed City will be something that’s continued by Games Workshop/Black Library (Hopefully, I’m proven wrong) as the board game is no longer available and this book was a bit of a flop.
A rambling plot that never really got off the ground. Characters that hammered in the basics about them too many times in replace of giving them any real depth. Repetition of key-plot points made the big reveals a drudge. Yet, set in a marvellous and well-written setting with fantastic world building.