Drachenfels

Drachenfels was, I think, the first novel Games Workshop published, and the first I read. It also led me to read a lot of Kim Newman’s work, such as The Quorum. Drachenfels was written under his pen-name, Jack Yeovil, to distinguish it from his non-corporate IP work.

I think when Games Workshop first commissioned writers to make novels for them, they assumed it would be similar to the TSR approach, which seems to have been that you transcribed a Dungeons & Dragons adventure game. Generally, writers and readers thought a similar tide of bilge would be produced, so it was a great surprise to many that the books that were produced were actually pretty good. At the time, I didn’t have the reference points to realise quite how much Newman was pastiching.

For example, to me Orson Welles was, if anyone, the bloke who voiced Unicron in Transformers : The Movie. I didn’t understand that Detlef Sierck, hero of the book, is a version of Wells with a vampiric girlfriend and a sword. I was just expecting a transcription of a tabletop role playing game.

Instead, Newman made a murder mystery, a farce about theatre, a statement about mutants and prejudice and also a story about a vampire who’s not just an Evil Monster, long before anyone else had thought about that, and he managed to persuade people this was an authentic Warhammer novel, to the point that the background of the game was tweaked to be consistent with Drachenfels, rather than the other way round.

He also did an awesome switcheroo. The book starts with a plucky band of adventurers slaying the evil wizard in his castle, and then goes forward 25 years. Rather than the climax being the end of the adventure, that was just the start, and there’s all sorts of shenanigans to follow.

There were swathes of the book I’d forgotten since the late 1980s. I remember the perfect last line, but lots of the imagery and subplots I’d forgotten. (Or they’ve subtly extended the book since then, just like an extra few wings being added to Drachenfels’ castle while we weren’t looking….) I’d remembered some things too, like the actress vomiting between scenes in the play, so some stuff sticks with you. What I like most is how well engineered the whole book is. Every character is well made and the plot proceeds at a good pace, but with little in the way of action until the big denouement. Plays within plays, egocentric loons and vampires – really, what is there not to like?

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