Ravenwing by Gav Thorpe. Book review(0)
The Black Library, P/B, £8.99
Reviewed by Steve Dean
According to the blurb, the Ravenwing stand apart from the rest of the Dark Angels Chapter. I don’t know why, maybe they smell funny, or have disgusting personal habits. Whatever the reason, Annael joins their ranks and learns some secrets about his chapter, secrets the plebs in the lesser ranks haven’t been told about.
These particular space marines ride into battle on huge motorised and armoured bikes, fitted, of course, with big guns. The ultimate phallic symbol in a world of such images.
So, the biker marines tool up and head off to war, ostensibly to wipe out a cult and some green skins, but secretly to deal with the “Fallen”, Dark Angels that have “fallen” and turned into chaos marines, and thus expunging the chapter’s shame.
What follows is an ironically pedestrian stroll through a battle. The fact the space marines are riding huge bikes with massive guns on the front seems to have been forgotten. The bikes are mentioned but don’t really contribute to the fighting, apart from the odd throb of an engine and screech of tyres.
This book could have been so much more, with the bikes becoming characters in their own right, participating in original battles not usually associated with the macho but foot-bound marines. It could have been a fast-paced action thriller, with blood and engine oil spilled in equal amounts. Instead we have an unoriginal and very wordy story, slow paced and not at all what it needs to be. There are too many scenes of people just talking, mainly about nothing we care about. The action, when it comes, is boring and predictable. In other words, too much blah and not nearly enough vroom!
Unfortunately, this is only book one in the Legacy of Caliban trilogy. I for one am not looking forward to wading through the treacle of Mr Thorpe’s prose once again, never mind twice.
Blood of Aenarion by William King. Book review(0)
The Black Library, H/B, £17.99
Reviewed By Steve Dean
Tyrion and Teclis are elf twins, one a great warrior, the other a powerful…wizard…wait, haven’t we seen this before? The warrior looks after his brother the mage, who is usually ill?
But anyway, this story begins with the twins in their younger days, just before they come into their powers. They are taken to the Phoenix King’s court to be tested by priests to see if they carry the curse of Aenarion, as they have the titular blood of their ancestor.
Meanwhile, a daemon banished by Aenarion long ago has returned and has sworn to avenge himself by wiping out every one of his living descendants.
The book is divided into two main threads, the story of the boys’ journey and the emergence and growing power of the daemon. The first thread, as the boys meet and greet relatives and strangers, is a deadly dull wander through a landscape peopled by two dimensional, predictable and boring characters. There’s no spark at all, no life or spice. It’s so predictable it’s like you’ve already read the book a dozen times.
The daemon’s thread is little better. There is action here, but it’s mostly bloodthirsty descriptions of the vile acts perpetrated on his victims in unnecessary and quickly tiresome detail.
I must issue a spoiler alert here, as I am about to describe the ending.
When it comes, the ending, although written in the same monotone, has the twins killing a daemon that has just munched its way through hundreds of elite guards like they were the toast soldiers you have with a boiled egg. The warrior keeps it at bay, while the mage communes with a god and channels its power. Not the steady learning of skills for these boys, oh no. One day it’s practising with a tutor, the next god-like powers to kill an almost invulnerable daemon. As this is book one of a trilogy, I really can’t see how the author is going to top that.
Overall then, dull, clumsily written and unoriginal. How this got by the chief accountant, sorry, editor, I don’t know. And two more volumes to come, oh my!
The War of Vengeance – The Great Betrayal by Nick Kyme. Book review(0)
The Black Library, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Steve Dean
Before men came onto the scene, dwarves and elves lived in peace and harmony, sent each other flowers and never forgot an anniversary. Then, along came an outside party, ambushed a few dwarven caravans and framed the elves, and suddenly it’s all-out war.
There are one or two attempts to prevent the war, a few dwarfs and elves who try for reconciliation, but no one listens, and that’s it, thousands of years of trade and prosperity flushed down the gardarobe.
And that, pretty much, is it. There are some characters in it, kings and sons of kings and common folk, some messing about with an airship and an, as yet, unexplained journey into a dungeon. The characters are barely two dimensional. There isn’t much more to the plot than I’ve explained, and there’s page after page, chapter after chapter, of blah. How the author has managed to make such a momentous event so dull I don’t know, but done it he has.
And talk about holes in the plot, some of them are large enough to fly a dragon through. For instance, elves are supposed to be smart, but not one of them can work out they are being set-up. The blurb actually says the two races have been ‘stalwart’ allies for thousands of years, yet they leap at each others throats at the slightest excuse.
If you went through the book and took out the words ‘elf’ and ‘dwarf’ and replaced it with ‘a person’ no one would notice. This might as well be two armies of blancmanges fighting for all the races are given any flavour.
This is the first book in a planned trilogy, if I was BL I wouldn’t bother with the other two. This is also one of those ‘Time Of Legends’ books, a series that has so far failed to deliver a single decent novel.
I don’t know what’s happening over at the BL offices at the moment, but quality has gone through the floor. It might be time to send the accountants back to their profit-and-loss spread sheets and get a proper editor into the novels department.
Dark Vengeance by C.Z.Dunn. Book review(0)
The Black Library, H/B, £12.00
Reviewed by Steve Dean
Company Master Balthasar, it says here, leads his Dark Angels space marines to the planet of Bane’s Landing to stop the chaos marines of the Crimson Slaughter calling forth a demon from the Hellfire Stone. (Come on peeps, I know you can’t call them Daisypink Fluffynuggets, but all this macho naming surely isn’t necessary?)
Balthasar and his men are soon battling against Kranon the Relentless and his buddies, and in desperate need of reinforcements.
Overall, the book succeeds in what it sets out to do. Although fairly short, it works well, with good action scenes, a fast pace and some character development, although not a great deal of the latter. It’s no more or less than one elongated scene, one set piece told in detail. Ideal, I would say, for getting those strange creatures called today’s youth into reading, maybe.
Despite what it says on the back cover, this isn’t a novel, but a novella, less than 40,000 words by my estimation. The book also ties in with a game scenario of the same name.
The only thing stopping me fully recommending this book is the price. (Note to Black Library: there’s a recession on you know.) Yes it’s a hardback, but at 12 quid it’s definitely too much. You can get a full length paperback novel for £8, so in effect, you’re paying 4 quid for two pieces of cardboard.
Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill. Book reviewComments Off
h/b, the Black Library, €25.00, blacklibrary.com
Reviewed by David Rudden
I don’t know how many Horus Heresy books the Black Library intend to release (and with the success of the series, I don’t dare to speculate) but as the series seems to move into a new phase of the narrative the plot is getting darker and more interesting. I had mentioned in a previous review that I felt that book after book dealing with the reactions of different characters to the series’ central conceit (gloried prince of galactic empire turns against his father) was getting a bit old and luckily the conflict seems to be evolving.
‘Angel Exterminatus’ (now holding the title for the most metal name of a book so far in the series) is the story of uneasy allies Perturarbo of the Iron Warriors and Fulgrim of the Emperor’s Children in their hunt for an ancient and terrible weapon. There’s a nice contrast in the leading characters and their legions, though I feel it’s hampered by McNeill’s constant need to reference himself every five pages. We get that all the books are connected and no-one is enjoying the in-jokes as much as you are.
The triumph of the book is the characterisation of Perturarbo. I’m a big fan of watching how the writers take the characters of the primarchs (monolithic as they stand in the mythology of the other Black Library books) and make them human. While there have been some missteps in this, revealing Perturarbo to be a quiet soul who simply wanted to be an architect and scholar is brilliant. I found myself really feeling for him by the end and could have dealt with a lot less of some of the other aspects of the book (the uncharacteristically jolly Iron Hands scientist for one) in order to focus in on this.
My only other problem with the novel is McNeill’s habit of dialling the nonsense up to eleven. Different BL writers deal with describing the mind-bending ways of Chaos and far-flung technologies in different ways but McNeill tends to just loose the hyperbole dogs until you’re honestly not sure what is going on. It’s that Lovecraftian trope of ‘distances to make a man go mad, dizzying infinities far too big for any human mind to contain’ which works in moderation, but after a while it just comes across as confusing.
That said, there are a lot of great little touches in the novel and there’s a twist that in retrospect I should have seen coming but didn’t (the best kind) and it’s worth a read. I’d just wait for the paperback.
The Siege Of Castellax by C. L. Werner. Book reviewComments Off
p/b, the Black Library, €12.50, blacklibrary.com
Reviewed by David Rudden
One of the things I look forward to when reading the Space Marine Battle series is how the writer is going to put a new and interesting slant on the Marines in question. Each of the eighteen legions is supposed to have their own personality, after all. Aaron Dembski-Bowden did a great job in making the Night Lords sarcastic, bitter and hollow. I had always thought the Space Wolves silly until Dan Abnett’s ‘Prospero Burns’ characterised them as surprisingly complex tribesmen with a mandate for extreme brutality and Chris Wraight’s idea of the Thousand Sons are self-despising philosophers on the path to monsterhood was excellently done.
Unfortunately that’s what C. L. Werner’s ‘The Siege of Castellax’ is desperately lacking.
The plot itself is generic fare; the forge planet Castellax is under siege by the innumerable ork horde and the bickering forces of the Iron Warriors legion must band together to face the threat while pursuing their own machinations and so on and so forth. I could forgive the basicness of the plot if the prose sparkled; Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s ‘Helsreach’ is almost the exact same set-up and it was excellent, but aside from one noticeable exception the Iron Warriors here lack personality and the kind of imaginative cruelty you want to see from millennia-old crusaders of evil.
The book is also lacking a strong enough antagonist. There are two, but one is barely mentioned and the other is completely wasted. These books live and die by their villains and I wanted something a lot meatier here. I think there’s a lot that could have been expanded on here but it’s an opportunity missed.
It’s not actively bad at anything it tries to do, and the subplots involving the Iron Warriors’ beaten-down slaves are actually pretty good (there’s one chase through a tunnel which is particularly atmospheric) but unfortunately like too many of the Space Marine Battle Series, this doesn’t have a lot to recommend it past mild curiosity.
The Imperial Infantryman’s Handbook by Graham McNeill and Matt Ralphs. Book reviewComments Off
Reviewed by Steve Dean
This slim format book contains the Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer and the Imperial Munitorum Manual, previously available separately, as well as a small selection of prayers for the solider in need.
The Imperial Munitorum Manual starts us off. This has nine sections, covering such things as the history of the department, an example of regimental raising and structure, in this case the Cadian 91st, the requisitioning of equipment, the proper use of this equipment and what to do if you break or lose it. (Don’t admit it would be my advice!) And some forms to fill in for all of the above. There is also some very good advice about not being rude to the Munitorium staff.
The Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer has six chapters covering everything the soldier needs to function and hopefully stay alive. There are section on regulations, equipment recognition, tactics, medical advice, and most importantly, enemy recognition.
And finally we have the section on prayers to the Emperor when things go pear-shaped. My favourite is Incantation for the Maimed, I lost a limb, but I gained faith. For I survived! Count your blessings, that’s what I say.
Throughout, there are some one-page monochrome illustrations, some simple line drawings, and some funny, deliberately amateur sketches of tactical situations.
Overall, it’s well executed, (pardon the pun) by turns humorous and horrifying, in that you could see this being a real document. This is the sort of thing you would expect the upper-class officers to come up with during the first world war.
This is an interesting volume, full of detail and tiny writing, but really only for fans of Warhammer 40k. The biggest turn off for me is the price. 18 quid for what is essentially a pocket diary is massively overpriced. If you do buy it, please carry it in the pocket over your heart, so that, in time honoured tradition, it can stop the bullet that would have killed you.
Perfection by Nick Kyme. Audiobook reviewComments Off
Reviewed By Steve Dean
The world of Vardask, it seems, has been invaded by the Emperor’s Children Chaos Space Marines. If this wasn’t bad enough, another bunch of baddies, the World Eaters of Khorne (not to be confused with eating corn, which wouldn’t be very bad at all) also arrive and set about causing trouble and death everywhere. Among the carnage, several champions of the Emperor’s Children are killed in mysterious circumstances. The surviving EC naturally suspect the WE bunch of these heinous crimes and war looms…err…some more.
The story kicks off mid battle, which is described in graphic, bloodthirsty and quite unnecessary detail. Then continues with more of the same. The murders occur amid this carnage, although how the characters separate the bodies and the causes of death is beyond me. What? Someone’s been chopped to bits on a battle field? Murder!
It’s performed well by the cast, Gareth Armstrong, Jane Collingwood, Chris Fairbank and David Timson, and narrated by Jonathon Keeble. There’s some original music, sound effects and all the usual stuff, none of which improves the actual story one iota.
I must admit to falling asleep while listening to this. I was reclining in my boudoir, headphones on, and was lulled into a momentary sleep by the sheer dullness of the tale. It sounds like a battle scene from a longer work, the ending is fairly easy to guess and overall is dull, pointless and the action sensationalised. The characters are cut-outs from the villain shop and I didn’t really give a damn what happened to them, during or after.
So, then, overpriced nonsense. You can get a decent paperback for the money, and still have bus fare home.
Horus Rising by Dan Abnett. Book reviewComments Off
Reviewed by Sandra Scholes
In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, this is the very start of the Horus Heresy that marks a turning point in the Emperor’s reign. After the immortal emperor has led his armies and created a golden age of discovery, he leaves his son, Horus in charge of his greatest crusade, and his promotion to Warmaster should have made him proud of his favourite, yet Horus steers from the righteous path and this is where the story gets interesting.
For those who have read his other novels, Dan Abnett has the ability to create an atmosphere in an instant, and draws the reader into the situation with the greatest of ease. He has the story told by an unlikely person, leading readers to believe that Company Captain Garviel Loken will relate it, but even that is a bluff. The story became one of the most unexpected events in the history of the Luna Wolves, and will never, ever be forgotten. As one of a staggering twenty-five novels in the Horus Heresy series, Horus Rising is the beginning of discord within the ranks.
Dan is also the writer of New York Times bestselling novels Prospero Burns and Know No Fear and has more than a keen grasp of the Warhammer novel series. In the book, Horus is appointed to the role of Warmaster yet he desires to fight. He is prevented from doing so as he is considered too precious to lose being one of the Emperor’s sons. He loathes not being a part of the war and sees the Emperor keeping him out of the action as a question of his abilities as a warrior. Horus is a proud and cocky type who expects the respect he gets, and Dan creates the interest in that character.
The hardback comes as a collector’s edition complete with four commissioned black and white illustrations, an author afterward and details of new novel, Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill. Dan’s afterward is an intriguing look behind the scenes of his novel, for both the making of it and the hope that the fans enjoyed it. Even though he is a professional writer, he still wonders whether the fans will take to his books, and whether he portrayed the characters correctly. There is a gradual development of the story that drip feeds information to the reader in a clever way. He has penned three other novels in the series, and it is understandable as he has a real feel for the characters and atmosphere. Characters such as Loken, Ekaddon and Horus are brought to life along with other Warhammer novels, Dan can convey a lot, and continues to be one of the most prolific writers of the series, and I for one can’t wait to read another.
Neferata The Blood of Nagash by Josh Reynolds. Book review(2)
Reviewed by Sandra Scholes
After The Rise of Nagash trilogy by Mike Lee, Josh Reynolds, author of The Master of Mourkain, a Blood of Nagash short story, this is part of the Time of Legends series. Nagash is dead and the kingdom of Lahmia has crumbled to ruins, leaving only Neferata, a queen whose people are strewn across the desert wasteland. She is forced to take whatever blood she can find from the animals she comes across in the hope she can raise a new empire once again. Her life has been turned upside down and she has a need to take control as only others can slow her down. What makes her different from Nagash is that she has the sense of reason and sanity he didn’t, but that is a trait that can slip from her grasp easily enough.
Neferata is the aftermath of Nagash’s attempted rule, and his legacy has been left in her hands. She has a lot to live up to, and has to get the kingdom back the way it was. The story tells of what she has to do to re-build her kingdom from the ground up, and the difficulties in trusting Ushoran who could betray her so easily. Readers will get to feel the pain Neferata tolerates, how far her people have fallen and how hard it will be to bring a new branch of her people to its former glory. There is plenty of soul searching for the character, and a lot of blood to be had if she can stomach where she gets it from, but essentially it is uncertain if she can reach her goal on her own. Ushoran and Arkhan prove to be thorns in her side, and can be her undoing if she allows it. The story is well paced, and contains some amazing sections of dialogue that are at times heart stopping.
Josh Reynolds sets the story off with Neferata barely surviving the wastelands of her world. It is only her drive to succeed at all costs that can get her to realise her goal of dominion just as Nagash had a thousand years before. There is no doubt that this, like the other Nagash novels is dark, filled with deathly imagery, blood thirst and fierce fights for domination. First she has to contend with Arkhan whose master was Nagash. Arkhan is still searching for willing servants for his master, but Neferata isn’t about to submit. She is made of stronger stuff and doesn’t want to ally with anyone she sees as a potential threat, but it looks like she might not have much of a choice. It is more a case of her against the world where she encounters other undead, and dwarves, but it is the Strigoi vampires who would give her what she has wanted for a long time.
Neferata proves that she is a strong woman, not just a queen who has the ability to show her strength to her people. For a darker, blood curdling read, delve into and feel the danger of the undead as only Josh can write it.