Cover Image: Dark Harvest

Dark Harvest

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Member Reviews

Absolutely brilliant. Dark Harvest is brutal and utterly addictive. Reynolds has, once again, crafted a tale that is riddle with intrigue, suspense, and balls to the wall action and horror. Simply incredible.
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Continuing on with my journey to read and review all of the Warhammer Horror titles being released by Black Library, I now come to a novel I’ve been looking forward to for a long time – Josh Reynold’s Dark Harvest, set in the popular Age of Sigmar setting. Why was this particular novel one of my most hotly anticipated titles of 2019 once it had been announced? Well, the new Age of Sigmar setting does intrigue me to a certain degree, especially now that it’s been around for a few years and Black Library have helped flesh it out with various novels, short stories and anthologies. But the main reason was the author himself – I’ve been a fan of Mr Reynolds for quite a long time, ever since I first discovered him through another Warhammer novel – Knight of the Blazing Sun, a fantastic Old World Warhammer novel that, while sadly out of print, is available on Kindle. His mastery of atmosphere and keen eye for engaging characters caught my imagination, and I subsequently began to pick up his titles whenever I could, both those published by Black Library and from other publishers. I particularly enjoyed his Royal Occultist series of novels and short stories, which blended cosmic horror with the occult detective genre in an incredibly enjoyable way, and as such wasn’t surprised to see his name appear in the first tranche of Warhammer Horror titles when they came out. His novella The Beast in the Trenches in The Wicked and the Damned triptych was a fantastically grim and often surreal journey, and demonstrated an instinctive understanding of how to write pure horror in the Warhammer 40k universe, and how to clearly differentiate it from the standard grimdark nature of the setting.

Given all of that, you can perhaps more clearly understand my anticipation for Dark Harvest, especially when that incredible cover art by artist Maxim Kostin was finally unveiled: dark, shadowy and brimming with menacing imagery and iconography, it deftly sets the tone for the tale to come, and especially Greywater Fastness, the geographical area that the tale is set in and around. For you see, the Age of Sigmar setting is one of deep contrasts – Sigmar and his heralds have returned to the Old World, drastically reshaped by the End Times and its apocalyptic aftermath, and brought light and faith and security to many areas. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are now safe from the depredations of Chaos and the many other races that inhabit this world; but far more are still living in darkness, or at the very best toiling away in the shadows and the twilight, waging their own bitter conflict just to stay alive in a hostile world.

One such area is Greywater Fastness, a fortress-city perched on the very edge of (human) civilization that seems to be perpetually in conflict with the environment surrounding it, and the Sylvaneth lurking within the forests that draw closer every day and have to be beaten back with blade and gunpowder. Reynolds creates a setting that’s an instant classic here, within a few pages developing a living, breathing city whose very existence is paid for in blood, soil and bodies on a daily basis. There’s no sunlight breaking through the thick, grey, rain-clogged clouds, the soil is bitter and only grudgingly grows anything, the rain is endless, and yet humanity clings on despite all of that, waging an endless war just to survive. The atmosphere Reynolds builds up draws you in rapidly until you feel like you’re right there in the blasted, Sigmar-forsaken lands, inhabiting a city on the knife-edge, populated by desperate citizens, guarded by the brutal Greycaps, and never at peace. There’s a sense of claustrophobia and a general deep-set sense of fatalism in a place where Sigmar’s return to the mortal realms means little, if anything, to the average person.

That includes the protagonist of Dark Harvest, Harran Blackwood, a man who isn’t exactly in a great place life-wise when we start the novel. Blackwood is another engaging protagonist from Reynolds, the first-person narrative of the novel demonstrating his skill as a writer and his way with words. As an example, take this section of the novel’s opening paragraph: “My back ached, and my head was ringing like a duardin smithy. I could taste last night’s mistakes in the back of my mouth, and my skin had that greasy, gritty feeling that comes from too many baths in water barrels.” In just a few sentences we’ve gained some insights into Blackwood’s character and circumstances, and discovered that he’s a blunt, forthright character who’s also endlessly quotable. Blackwood is a protagonist who perfectly suits the surroundings in both character and temperament, a former warrior-priest of Sigmar who’s forsaken his vows for mysterious reasons and has instead found employment as a sell-sword and knee-capper for a local thug. However decades later he’s summoned by a coin, a simple token that brings him outside of Greywater Fastness and travelling to the Wald, a village even further from Sigmar’s light and well within the territory of the Sylvaneth – and even darker and older deities. Blackwood is a brutal, hard-nosed cynic ready to kill a former friend if it means staying alive for a little longer, and yet despite that Reynolds is such a good writer that I found myself enjoying Blackwood, his cynicism and single-minded sense of purpose growing on me as the book progressed.

There’s a mystery to be solved here, one that Blackwood has some context for (but not all by any means) and which Reynolds deftly draws out and then builds upon as the novel progresses. As Blackwood travels to the Wald and discovers a community that seems suspiciously retrograde and cult-like even for the Age of Sigmar setting, Reynolds wields atmosphere and tension like an expert, using them to subtly build up the inherent horror of Greywater Fastness and the Wald, and the things that are hunting him in the shadows and the foliage even as he is hunting a former friend. Everything is used – smells, sights, even taste: everything becomes exaggerated and unsettling under Reynold’s pen. Particularly evocative is the malice of the swamp and the forest, and the utterly alien and unknowable nature of the Sylvaneth and their kin; their mocking laughter, their hatred of humanity, the fact that they’re aeons old and have forgotten more than humanity will ever know. The Wald is under siege from the Sylvaneth, and yet also managing to live in a curiously symbiotic relationship with them under a distinctly feudalistic system that’s beginning to fray and break at the edges even as Blackwood arrives. It’s a claustrophobic, tense and insular community that doesn’t welcome outsiders; and while that might sound clichéd, Reynolds gives it so much depth and colour and complexity that it breaks out of the tropes that might have restrained it.

At times, Dark Harvest struck me as a Warhammer version of Apocalypse Now expertly blended with The Wicker Man – a bitter, cynical ex-warrior venturing into the unknown depths of the jungle and swamp on a mission he doesn’t really understand and through an environment that actively wants to kill him for his very existence, only to encounter an isolated community rife with secrets and living a strange, ritualistic existence that has this darkly ethereal edge to it. It’s combined with fantastic, three-dimensional characterisation that results in an engaging and even sympathetic cast, where even bit-part characters feel fully fleshed-out, their role fully considered and plotted. The Sylvaneth, the tree-people, come across as genuinely alien in nature and form, and deeply, disturbingly unknowable. Every time they appear, or lurk in the woods and the edges of the swamp, I couldn’t help but grimace slightly – Reynolds really brings them to life and makes them resonate as a constant, ever-present background threat that intertwines with the main plot-line. Plus there’s that central mystery, which is unspooled a bit at a time, always dragging you further in with Blackwood and his few allies, to the point where I became so gripped by it that I couldn’t stop reading, picking up the book at every opportunity until I’d finished it in just a couple of days.

To me, Dark Harvest is the perfect example of what Warhammer Horror seems to be striving for – talented authors allowed to utilise the settings to their full, horrifying potential without being tied to the requirement to advance a specific meta-narrative or highlight a new model or setting. The focus is purely on the Horror aspect of the imprint and that is as it should be, as it therefore allows authors like Reynolds to unleash their full potential without being held back by any other requirements. Fast-paced, engagingly written and absolutely awash with a dark, sinister and foreboding atmosphere, Dark Harvest is a brilliant slice of horror set in the Age of Sigmar universe, and I really, really want to see more of this from Mr Reynolds.
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Summary: This story had all the classic elements of horror. The decaying, decrepit town was of course present, as were the hostile, unhelpful inhabitants and the secret cult. So were the troubling dreams had by our main character, the dread visions caught at the corner of the eyes. But these elements, unsurprising and almost token in their predictability, were woven very effectively into a compelling narrative that kept me faithfully turning the pages. They provided a journey that is likely to be of great interest to people who crave this kind of horror in a non-urban setting.

Prose: Perhaps one of my favorite elements in the book was the prose itself. The author manages to capture and paint a vivid picture of the story events and the dreariness of Wald in a way that really made the place pop in my mind. It sure made for an enjoyable read. The word green was utterly ubiquitous, but I suppose could not be helped. 4/5

Plot: As mentioned above, the particular elements of the plot fall on the table almost as a matter of course. This by itself is not necessarily a bad thing, though at times it did feel a bit too by-the-book other than the fact it was taking place in a fantasy setting. There was a points that soured my enjoyment of the story, however. (view spoiler) 3/5

Pacing: The story felt a little plodding near the beginning. Though Harran is a very interesting character and viewpoint for most of the story, the very start of it felt a little too studded with banal introspection. 3/5

Characterization: The characters were without a doubt the most enjoyable aspect of this story, alongside the prose and the world-building. Harran, specially, and I can't help but wonder if we'll see him again in another book. 4/5

World-building: Though this was the first book I've read set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, I feel like the author did a particularly excellent job in providing flourishes of memory of Harran's previous life to embellish his present situation and his character as a whole. The same goes with the information he provides regarding the different creatures and the setting. 4/5

Final Score: 3.6/5 rounded to 4/5.
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A sinister, atmospheric tale of old gods and lost faith in the grey swamps of Ghyran. Once a warrior priest of Sigmar, now reduced to scraping a living as hired muscle, Harran Blackwood finds his quiet life in Greywater Fastness rocked when he receives a message which stirs up painful memories from his past. Setting out with violence in his heart, Blackwood travels to the squalid town of Wald to seek the message’s sender, but finds a deeper and older darkness lurking in the wilds.

It's maybe not as out-and-out horror as you might expect, but there’s a lot to enjoy in a rare Warhammer story which doesn’t involve Chaos, and in which the antagonists are as much wild forces of nature as anything else. It could have done with digging a bit deeper into Blackwood’s past, which is intriguing but a little nebulous, and a little more in the way of consequences for the fact he’s able to see the (properly creepy) little gheists haunting the swamps of Ghyran, but there’s nevertheless an evocative sense of darkness to the setting, the cast and the overarching narrative. If you like your Warhammer stories to feel old-school, atmospheric and properly grim, this should be right up your street.
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Loved the gothic nature of the horror.  The author was very descriptive and I love how he fleshed out the characters and the environment. Both seemed believable to me. Would highly recommend this to a friend or family member.
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When I saw the beautifully dark cover for Dark Harvest and Josh Reynolds listed as the author, I knew I had to get my hands on this. Josh is one of those authors that seems incapable of providing anything less than a four or five star read for me. Just has such a deep, gritty way with telling stories in the Warhammer universe.

Dark Harvest is part of Black Library’s ‘Warhammer Horror’ genre. I’m not sure if the fact that I kind of feel it isn’t any different to the dark stories that they used to publish or that maybe I just have a thick skin in this delicate era we live in, but I didn’t find it very horrory. That being said, I have been reading the dark fiction put out by the Black Library since I was about eleven. So it takes a lot to make me shiver.

The basic story is one of an ex-warrior priest (Harran Blackwood) turned bitter drunk. Instead of swinging his hammer in the name of Sigmar, he now thrusts his knife in the name of any man willing to pay coin enough for his service. He’s a leg-breaker, a debt-collector and all-around odd job man for those of less honest backgrounds. He receives a letter from a friend begging for help and, due to a past that Blackwood would prefer to keep buried, he decides this friend needs to be removed. After all, his continued existence relies on people not knowing where he is, let alone who he is. And this old friend knows both.

He travels off to the depths of the swamplands in search of said friend and gets embroiled in troubles not his own along the way. The story is told in first person narrative and in Harran’s own gritty, un-polished way. It made me think of the Raven’s Mark series by Ed McDonald. Harran Blackwood is very similar in mannerism and speech/thought as Ryhalt Galharrow. So, if you are a fan of that series, you just may appreciate the bleak and grim style of Dark Harvest. Much like Galharrow, Blackwood has that ‘Not too fussed if I die, so I’ll just do what I want’ mentality.

If I was to have one complaint about the novel as a whole it would be that I felt it was perhaps a little too long. Some of it could have been done at a little quicker pace and it left me wondering if they were going for higher word count rather than a better reading flow. If I was to have a second it would simply be that some of the things that happen near the end made me a tad annoyed. More so because I just didn’t want them to happen than for any negative story reason. So that was entirely a bitter personal choice.

There are certainly some things you don’t see coming in this book which keep the reader on their toes. I do hate it when a novel is too linear and you could practically write the plot yourself. Thankfully, at no point does Dark Harvest suffer from that fate.

Josh does a good job of setting the scene and bringing the surroundings to life. After a while of reading, the damp, soggy confines of the boggy swamp permeate your mind and you often feel that murkiness as though it’s in the room with you. 

All in all it’s very well-written and certainly worth a read if you like your grim fantasy. I just think it could have benefitted from less padding.
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I was pleasantly surprised, I wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did! I was instantly into the story and connected to the main character. I haven't read any other Warhammer books (I'll probably have to look up more now) but I didn't find myself getting too confused, there are a lot of unfamiliar places and creatures but the author does a really good job of slowly filling in your knowledge of the world without it being too much. The main character Harran is a easy character to root for, he's one of those men that act like they don't care and are out for themselves but you see that this is just a façade and he has a very intriguing back story which is slowly revealed as the story goes on but I still found myself wanting to know more. The atmosphere was creepy and dark, the plot of a isolated village in a swamp and hostile locals with dark secrets really drew me in. The side characters were interesting and complex as well, I especially liked Gint, he brought some banter and I enjoyed watching his and Harran's interactions as they slowly got to trust each other. Overall a good little creepy read for winter time.
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