Large Man with Dead Body: Who's that then?
The Dead Collector: I dunno, must be a king.
Large Man with Dead Body: Why?
The Dead Collector: He hasn't got shit all over him.
-"Monty Python and the Holy Grail"
And while the joke had been made before, that's Warhammer Fantasy in a nutshell; a world in which shit not only exists, but in which player characters can actually take up a career in its collection. (No lie. You can now, as of Forges of Nuln, start your adventuring career off as a Dung Collector.)
The Career Compendium is a compilation of every career created for the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play - it's a player resource, so that you can browse through and pick up whichever career strikes your fancy - everything from the low trades that you would never see in Dungeons & Dragons (Dung Collector, Lamplighter, Mate, Sheperd, Man Covered In Shit) to realistic professions of the Middle Ages (Barber-Surgeon, Noble, Minstrel, Noble With Shit On Him) to careers that are closer to the prestige classes of D&D's 3rd edition (Daemon Slayer, Estalian Diestro, High Priest, Knight of the Blazing Sun, Knight of the Blazing Sun With Shit On Him).
What makes Warhammer Fantasy so brilliant is that it doesn't paper over all of the little people most fantasy games ignore. It's just as easy for the chimney sweep or the embalmer or the friar to get involved with an adventure against the forces of Chaos as it is for the fighter or the mage. The brilliant thing about the career system is that it allows you to get an instant snapshot of a particular place in the social makeup of the Warhammer world - that's not just some anonymous peasant snivelling to you about Skaven, it's a bonepicker who's worried that his children aren't safe in their shack near the dump. It's not just an anonymous whore rolled up on a chart; it's a camp follower who used to be a cult initiate until she fell in love with a Elven ranger who strung her along until he ran off and dumped her in the baggage train of Sir Oswald, who cares very deeply about his own glory and little else. By reducing people to their careers, it allows the emphasis of how every human being contributes to being part of a society, rather than how adventurers stand apart from the common breed. Everybody is the common breed.
So, then, you can look at the Career Compendium less as a list of material grabbed from various sources and more as a diagram of the Warhammer world's social structure. Every single career, no matter how minor, contributes an extra piece to the puzzle.
The other thing that I like about a book like this is that it encourages you to find out more about the actual history that they're drawing from. One of the best thing about role-playing, to my mind, is its ability to encourage you to find out the historical precedent for stuff - the flagellants derive their origins from 14th-century religious hysteria, peaking during the Black Death. I keep wishing for a rough bibliography of the sources that they used to generate the Warhammer world - probably equal measures Michael Moorcock and the benefits of the British public schooling system.
Of course, one of the drawbacks of the Career Comependium is that it's borrowing material from books that describe specific areas. For instance, the Dung Collector is a job that you can pretty much imagine being done anywhere in the Empire - and if you'd like to see the kind of power than a dung-collecting enterprise might wield, go check out Samurai Executioner, where the proto-Yakuza use their shit-collecting duties as a weapon, or read The Big Necessity, about the history of sewage treatment or lack of same. Some of them, like the Estalian Diestro - a Princess-Bride style fencer, complete with witty barbs and named strategies for fencing - are described with enough detail that you can pick up on the general idea of it.
On the other hand, there's a lot of careers that feel like they're missing a lot of information that would otherwise be present. For instance, a lot of the careers from Realm of the Ice Queen rely on material presented in that book to be usable, unless you want to be a Winged Lancer who's got really drunk and wandered all the way over to Middenheim somehow. The same holds true for some of the Hedge careers, who seem violently at odds with the tone of the Warhammer universe - but they're described in Shadows of the Empire.
There's adventure hooks and additional information including with each career, which ranges from the relatively banal to the genuinely interesting - famous people within that career, career slang, that sort of thing, coupled with a pair of adventure hooks. Most of them are pretty useful for a short session if you get caught up, and the additional information provided is some nice fluff; not worth buying the book for, but a nice benefit to have.
The art, I should note, is by and large fantastic. I first encountered Pat Loboyko's artwork in Changeling: The Lost, but he apparently has been doing a lot of work for the Warhammer universe, and he's becoming the new Ron Spencer in the sense of a guy whose artwork can do no wrong. That being said, though, I keep thinking that his artwork feels just a hair off-model from the Warhammer universe - it's evocative, the characters are blinged out with gothic/medieval jewelry like twelve-year-olds after they raided the jewelry store, there's plenty of dirt and missing teeth - but somehow they just feel too clean, too precise to fit the traditional Warhammer tone. They're excellent depictions, but they lack the pungency and observed detail of some of Warhammer's better illustrations. It's fantastic art, it just doesn't feel quite right, for some reason. That being said, the other artists of the book do an excellent job, and it's entirely possible that the illustrations that I'm attributing to Loboyko actually belong to other artists with a similarly detailed style.
It would also be nice - although probably quite complicated - to come up with a chart that indcates your potential progress through the career system, so that you could figure out what career path you'd have to follow in order to become a Witch Hunter, say. I am doing this without the benefits of owning the core book, though, so perhaps that's not an issue when actually being played. That being said, the level of quality in this book is enough to convince me that I need to go own the corebook anyways.
Long story short: It's a utilitarian product, probably too expensive, but still evocative and useful for the GM and/or player who has money to spare. My only regret is that there's no miniature line available to represent some of these interesting character types.
[5 of 5 Stars!]