What would you do if you woke up one day and discovered that everything you thought was silly superstition and nonsense was real and you were the only thing standing between evil and the rest of Humanity?
Thea Ghandour, the unlikely pot-smoking heroine who continuously laments her lack of a sex-life, and a less-than-intrepid and equally unlikely band of fellow Hunters have been trying to answer that question since they found each other. Heralds of the Storm opens on one of their self-imposed missions, just outside the lair of a vampire, one of “the greatest predators ever to walk the earth.”
Don’t read Heralds looking for an introductory romp through the world of the Mummies, no matter what the back-cover blurb says. The story revolves around the conflict and manipulation between the Van Helsing Brigade (as Thea calls the group of Hunters), walking dead man Maxwell Carpenter and their mutual enemy, leaving the Mummy aspect largely unexplored and completely unexplained. Intentional? Probably. The story ends without closure; it was obviously written with the trilogy idea already in place.
Heralds will make more sense to readers who are already at least passingly familiar with White Wolf’s World of Darkness, especially from the Vampire angle. Some of the more noticeable leaps of logic are easily resolved by reference to the wider setting but require previous knowledge of that setting to make sense. The idea of the Masquerade from Vampire — that any notice of the supernatural by the mortals is a threat to the existence of the vampires and should therefore be concealed — is the obvious answer to Thea’s question “And why would they cover up something about us?.” Without that background, the reader is simply left with half an answer and the question never comes up again.
One of the most entertaining aspects of the Hunter group is that they could be lifted from any random gaming table. They are the epitome of the typical dysfunctional player-character gaming group; they can’t get along with each other but they still usually manage to accomplish what they set their minds to (after much arguing). While these characters are accessible to the reader precisely because of their familiarity, that same familiarity allows them to slip in and out of two dimensional predictability.
The text of Heralds stretches to be overly colloquial in an attempt to portray the Hunters as normal everyday folks, leaving awkwardly wordy spots in an otherwise well-written story. The attempt to portray the Hunters as Jane and Joe Average is admirable, but not very accurate. These are, for the most part, not just normal people. Like most player-character groups, they are normal people with funky powers pitting their funky powers against the funky powers of other supernaturals in a vain attempt to save the world. The continuous recourse to traditional methods, such as Internet searches and camera surveillance and the fact that they at times fail do far more to paint the characters in an everday light, successfully keeping the Hunters from becoming a Buffy-verse rip-off.
All in all, Heralds of the Storm is superb game fiction — and an excellent first novel for Andrew Bates. If you’ve got some background in the World of Darkness and you’re just looking to relax for a couple hours, this is one you definitely need to pick up. If you have no experience with Vampire, Hunter or Wraith, however, you should come back to this one later. The story itself is highly readable and will make perfect sense, but some of the auxiliary details will be lost if this is your introduction to the World of Darkness.