The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
This novella is available on Audible, so I listened to it on my commute.
Spoilery thoughts behind the link.
No, I could not do better myself.
From the title and the cover art, I was expecting a violent story. I wasn't wrong.
This story was mostly lots of violence, with a little bit of story stringing it together. And that story was sad. In other words - very much not my cup of tea. The rapid-fire switching back and forth between different points in the story's timeline also felt disruptive to me.
I wanted to know more about the world, beyond the violence. There were occasionally glimpses of things that interested me, but then they were gone.
The ending didn't make any sense to me at all. This was clearly a dangerously crazy person. He had killed not only that entire village, but he had killed an entire bar as part of a hallucination, and we have to assume he's killed a lot of other people as well in delusional rage. Why would the queen decide to employ him? Why on earth would she immediately jump to the conclusion that this was someone she could use and trust, who wouldn't turn on her and hers? And his madness completely fled when she said she could use him? No - not believable to me.
That was my initial reaction.
Then, my sister sent me this link, where it describes the Warmachine figure called the Butcher of Khardov. Same name, same image as the cover art, same character, same axe name, same world. Dated 2010. REALLY funny. That explains a LOT of what bothered me about the story. In that light, the lots and lots of violence strung together with a little bit of story makes perfect sense - it's my understanding that that's what the game is all about, wars and fighting and bloody violence with a little bit of story stringing it together. And of course he couldn't die for his crimes at the end of the story. I'm disappointed, though, because it turns out most of the things that I found interesting in the story are not the author's creations at all. He did create the tragic backstory of this war game piece. Confirmed when I found this blog, where Dan Wells explains his love of the character and the creation of this novella. Everything else (and some elements of the backstory) seem to come from the Warmachine game.
For what it is, a story lovingly exploring the tragic and violent backstory that created a really vicious favorite character in the game, it's really not a bad story.
I'm struggling with this one. This story is competing with completely original works which are entirely the authors' own creations. I should probably do a little research on the other stories to confirm that just to be fair!
My initial thought is that a largely derivative work such as this cannot be judged on equal footing with completely original novellas. I don't know if this means that a new category should be created, or whether it just means that I don't think this story qualifies for a Best Novella award. I'm leaning towards the opinion that a story up for a Best Novella Hugo Award should be much more the author's own creation. There's a lot of gray area here - I'm going to have to think about it some more.
Up or down ballot (note for myself): either MIDDLE, fairly well-told story that isn't my cup of tea; or DOWN, I do not think this is an appropriate entry for this category. I'm still thinking about this one. If anyone is reading this, what do you think? Do you think a work that is largely derivative should qualify for a Best Novella Hugo Award on the same footing with completely original works of fiction?