Wulfrik, by C.L. Werner (of Brunner the Bounty Hunter and Grey Seer fame) is an installment in the Warhammer Heroes range of novels by Black Library, which, as you can probably tell from the name, are a series of novels which center around the various Special Characters from the Tabletop Game itself (yes, Warhammer existed long before 40K was a glint in the collective eyes of the execs at GW).
Set in the savage, Chaos-tainted Northlands of the Warhammer world, Wulfrik tells the saga of the eponymous hero — the legendary Chaos Champion, Wulfrik the Wanderer of the Sarls. Cursed to an eternity of violent battle at the capricious whims of the Dark Gods of the Norscans for a proud, albeit drunken, boast, the dark warrior now sails the seas of the world in search for the most vicious adversaries to pit his sword-arm against that he might prove his strength before his infernal masters. As his legend grows, raiders from Norsca and even further afield come to pledge their swords to his warband, hungering for the chance to fight alongside one so favoured by the Gods, and in the hopes that they might catch some of his greatness.
Yet in his deepest heart, Wulfrik despises his curse, and despises even more those who think it a blessing and the Dark Gods who have brought him to such an end. His greatest wish to break free of their chains and return to his own personal quest for kingship over the Sarls and for the hand of his greatest love, Hjordis, daughter of Viglundr, king of the Sarls and Chosen of Tzeentch. Yet the king's ambitions drives him to bargain the princess away to secure an oath of peace and alliance with the barbaric Aeslings, the traditional enemies of the Sarl tribe. When a shaman of the Kurgan tribes, Zarnath, comes from the East seeking an audience with the Chaos Champion, promising to devise for him a ritual that will free him of his curse in exchange for various artefacts of dark origin in the possession of even darker races, the Wanderer, against the advice of his bondsmen, agrees to slay the Kurgan's enemies. The lure of freedom driving him on to test his considerable might against the greatest challenges he has ever faced. But the World-Walker finds that the greatest perils lie not in the curses of Gods, nor behind the hilts of bloody swords, but in the hearts of those far closer to him.
This novel provides examples of:
- Anti-Hero: Wulfrik, is a hero in Antiquity's sense of the word as he's a man who accomplishes great things. On the subject of morality, he is, for the most part, an exemplar of what the Norscan race stands for — strength, dominance, conquest, war, honour, courage and destruction.
- Animal Motifs: Wulfrik has a bit of a wolf motif, in case you couldn't guess from his name being Old Norse for 'power of the wolf.' Though he primarily got his name from his birth-mutation (Chaos mutations tend to be common amongst the Norscans as a result of the winds that blow down from the Chaos Wastes in the north) being that his teeth are unnaturally strong and sharp, much like those of a wolf. A lot of comparison is drawn between his habits (primarily his movements in battle) and those of wolves, as well.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: Wulfrik, most significantly, being an Exalted Chaos Champion. But Sigvatr, Viglundr, Skafhogg and Helreggin also fit.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: King Viglundr, a Chosen of Tzeentch, God of Magnificent Bastards, has a reputation as being a great warrior, having the earned the right of succession and the favour of his father by breaking the necks of his brothers in ritual combat (upon reaching full manhood, he sent his father to the burrow the same way). Subverted however in that despite being a great warrior, Viglundr's preference for scheming and negotiation earns him the scorn of "true warriors" such as Wulfrik, who sees Viglundr as a shadow of his predecessors.
- Averted by Prince Sveinbjorn, who despite being Aesling royalty (the Aesling are considered the most savage and strongest of all the Norse tribes) is a sniveling coward and weakling more at home with hopping bed to bed than swinging an axe in the thick of battle.
- Wulfrik, mildly. Njarvord much more so. The guy gets very restless if he hasn't killed something in the last hour.
- Freaner, the deranged Chaos Lord, bears a whispering Daemon Axe that drives mad all who hear it.
- An Axe to Grind: Many, many Norscans favour massive battle-axes in combat. But the cake goes to Njarvord. Along with the limbs of the guy who handed it to him.
- Badass Army: The Norscans.
- Badass Beard/Beard of Barbarism: EVERYONE. The only Norscan who doesn't have a beard is Broendulf, who is mocked and harangued as "Broendulf the Fair" by his shield-brothers, who never miss an opportunity to mock him for his girly cheeks. Strangely enough, he actually turns out to be as capable as any other veteran of Wulfrik's crew.Njarvord: "You should grow out your beard! It gives the wenches something to hold on to!"
- Badass Crew: Wulfrik's warband, though they lose a lot of men in the attack on the Chaos Dwarf's fortress.
- Bad Dreams/Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Wulfrik gets guidance from the Dark Gods about where he should go next in this form. A vision of his own death is what really kicks the plot off, though.
- Barbarian Hero: Wulfrik.
- Barbarian Tribe: The Norscans in general. But the tribes primarily involved with the plot are the southerly Sarls, from whom Wulfrik hails, and the comparatively more nasty, northern dwelling Aeslings.
- The Berserker: Wulfrik used to be this before he was cursed by the Gods, and often misses the rush that comes from losing oneself to Khorne's fury, but as a cursed Champion of Chaos, he knows he cannot throw away his life as recklessly as before lest the Gods become angry with him. That said, in times of duress, Wulfrik slaughters and lashes out in a manner which author often compares with a wolf.
- Njarvord plays it straight.
- Freaner, the debased, deranged fallen Chaos Lord, can only fight in this manner.
- Black Knight: As Chaos Champions in general are essentially giant Vikings in intimidating armour; Wulfrik, Helreggin, Freaner and presumably Torgald likely would have fit this description.
- Cool Sword: Wulfrik has several massive blades of black steel sheathed about his person. Just in case he loses one. His main weapon is a massive sword upon the hilt of which he has tethered the skull of a rival Chaos Lord.
- Death Seeker: A Norscan ideal, since the real world is a but an illusion created by the Chaos Gods in order to test them. But on a more personal level, some dialogue implies that Wulfrik may have been this at some earlier point, in the hopes that death might have liberated him from his curse.Agnarr: A man may forge his doom.Wulfrik: I have tried...
- Dirty Coward: Sveinbjorn and Zarnath, also known as Ludwig Stossel.
- The Dung Ages: The Empire, despite being essentially the Holy Roman Empire in the throes of Industrial Revolution, still has some traces of this, being essentially a medieval society. The first thing the Norscans scent while in Imperial lands in the mixed reek of crops and manure.
- Fiery Redhead: Wulfrik.
- Grim Up North: Norsca is this, and the Norse love every single moment of it.
- Horny Vikings: The Norscans are essentially a race of psychotically violent Vikings who are possessed by demons.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold/Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Wulfrik, depending on your interpretation. He is very much the sort of hero that historical medieval Norsemen would have celebrated.
- Low Fantasy: Admittedly so, despite the fact that this book centers around Chaos, it reads more like a work of historical fiction than actual Fantasy. Wulfrik's powers are his incredible strength and skill at warfare, not magical arms and armour or spells. There is magic used in the story, but it's very rare and very unwieldy, be. The magic only really gets out of hand by the third act, but even then most of the combat is decided by sword-arms.
- Noble Savage: Played with. C.L. Werner realizes that barbarism is a loveless condition and that Chaos is a pretty nasty villain, but as he's done before with his Chaos Powers books, Chaos's followers are presented as humans. The Norse are brutal, cruel, occasionally downright sadistic savages who idolize violence and death, but at the same time, there's a lot in their culture worth admiring — From its masculine virility, piety, respect for mental and physical strength, unbreakable bonds of loyalty and family, sense of duty and self-sacrifice, the Chaos worshiping Norse tribes sometimes seem far more noble than the deceitful, decadent civilized nations to their south.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Almost every race in Warhammer is this to some extent, but the Norse are the most intense about it.
- Rated M for Manly: A Warhammer novel about the Norscans written by C.L. Werner? Yeah, you better fucking believe it.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Viglundr, for his own benefit, though he states at one point that he also wishes the best for his people. Wulfrik as well.
- Skeletons in the Coat Closet: Wulfrik's Chaos Armour is literally swathed in the skulls and bones of his kills. So much so that he has the entire skeletal torso of a man tied to a sharpened poll attached to his back. It basically functions as a short-hand for 'do not fuck with.'
- Sorcerous Overlord: The Thegn of Dronangkul, Khorakk, whom Wulfrik burns in alive one of his own contraptions. And also Zarnath. Kinda.
- Villain Protagonist: Wulfrik.
- Warrior King: King Torgald, who led the Aeslings in their Great Offscreen War against the Sarls, was this, having been willing to lead his men in the front line, unlike Viglundr. Averted by his son, who is... not one to fit such a description.