Chosen of Khorne by Anthony Reynolds. Audiobook reviewComments Off
Reviewed by Sandra Scholes
From the start of Chosen of Khorne, Sean Barrett sets the scene for the entire seventy minute production. You get to feel how old and weary some of The World Eaters are, and how they are supposed to fight even when their flesh and bones have already given up. You also get a feeling they have journeyed a long way to get where they are, and are tired as a result. As a listener, your mind fills in the blanks in the narrative perfectly, and each voice actor can convey their particular character well. Sean tells of the risks they take to become the best, and the competition they have with the other combatants.
There is no doubt that each scene from the ten chapters has an eerie presence, as well as evoking the pain and gore of their actions. The production is plagued by endless footsteps, dramatic action and screams of insanity fill the air. The cover art shows an arena filled with spectators and proud warriors who have been in several wars, all intending to fight for Khorne, hoping he will let them fight along with him, but in chaos’s heated plane, only a chosen few will be able to live to see their victory become a reality.
Two warriors unite hoping to gain a sure victory, but for Argus Brond, a berserker of The World Eaters. His joining with Khorne might cause more trouble than it is worth. These men are a unique group of warriors who bathe in the chaos from the days of the Horus Heresy and have the anger of berserkers. On following Angron, they have modified their brains with neural implants that make them more aggressive, making them invincible in battle.
Brond and Maven give the impression that they have been modified as their voices emit an almost sinister, animal tone which fits in well with the descriptions of those who have been exposed and taken in by chaos in the graphic novels. They can be defined as creepy and sinister, and that goes to create an even better atmosphere for the production. Brond has his own idea of what he wants to do, and so has Maven, and they try their best to tolerate each other’s company during the time they are together around Khorne. The narration alone is enough to remind some of the original War of the Worlds audio play, and has the same level of impact on the listener.
Horus Rising by Dan Abnett. Book reviewComments Off
Review by David Rudden
So this is where it started.
Twenty three books in and the ‘Horus Heresy’series have become the Black Library’s flagship series. The accolade is deserved for the most part as the majority of the books have been strong, at least as good as anything else BL produces and with the added fan service of dealing with the conflict that basically sets up the 40K universe. It’s a little hard to imagine what reading these is like for a newcomer; there are enough in-jokes and winks to current 40K lore that I definitely wouldn’t recommend these for a newcomer to the Black Library. But ‘Horus Rising’is the book that starts it all, and for a novel tasked with not only world-building but subverting an already-built-and-familiar world, it does a pretty good job.
So to summarise: it is the 31st millennium, and everything is just lovely. The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and humanity is out there kicking the universe into shape, led by the Emperor of Mankind. (Handy he was already called that, really. Parents clearly had high hopes.) If you’re familiar with the grim, everything-is-skulls-and-wrong tone of the Black Library then this might seem a little incongruous to you, but that’s natural. This is a very different universe, and it’s characterised by the hopeful nature of its characters until…
Until everything goes to hell.
And this is what I like about the ‘Heresy’series. In the other 40K books everyone is resigned to doom and the only victories are pyrrhic. In ‘Horus Rising’, under Abnett’s keen eye for detail and strong characterisation, we are shown how things are meant to be had not humanity been… well, humanity. ‘Rising’gives you a lot to take in, but you never feel overwhelmed. There are some excellent set pieces and concepts flying around, and a real sense of the characters being lost as things start to go wrong. There are a few problems with the novel; the ending is a bit of an anti-climax, except for the last line of the book (which probably won’t make a whole lot of sense to new fans either) but the plot just kind of trails off. This is very clearly BOOK ONE of a long series, but I think with the sheer amount of already established canon to choose from they could have chosen a slightly ballsier introduction to the Emperor’s soon-to-be-traitor son.
(Sorry, spoiler. Although they’ve sort of given it away already)
This book’s a foundation. A starting point. And that’s fine, but you’re going to have to read on to get a completely satisfying experience. Which I guess, having read the other twenty two books in the series, is no bad thing.
Swords Of The Emperor by Chris Wraight. Book reviewComments Off
There are two full-length novels in this weighty tome; Sword of Justice and its direct sequel Sword of Vengeance as well as two short stories.
In Sword of Justice, the emperor sends his champion Schwarzhelm to the city of Averland to find out why they haven’t yet elected a new leader. When he arrives, he finds a city mired in legal procedures, the populace on the edge of revolt, and Orcs on the rampage all over the shop. When he starts having bad dreams, he leaves the city in pursuit of the Orcs. Could all this be part of some grand plan by the forces of Chaos? You bet your sweet bippy it is.
Sword of Vengeance carries on the tale, and without giving too many spoilers, we catch up with Schwarzhelm, his aide Verstohlen, his erstwhile rival Helborg and the other assorted major and minor characters.
Each novel stands on its own, and could be read separately, but obviously they are better as a pair, like cheese and toast. And there’s something for everyone here. Bloody battles, bitter back-stabbing, ‘orrible Orcs and sneaky shenanigans by the cart load. The pacing is just right, the characters well rounded and complete, the heroes suitably heroic, the baddies very bad indeed, and a great climax to end it all.
And if a heroic climax is not enough for you, there are two short stories to properly finish it all off. Both good, and which show the two heroes, Schwarzhelm and Helborg, as two quite different characters.
Overall then, a fine example of its kind, great writing at a great price.
Ulrika the Vampire: Bloodforged by Nathan Long. Book reviewComments Off
Reviewed by Sandra Scholes
Some stories are filled with horror and dread, while some have an atmosphere about them that seems to suit the subject matter at hand. In Ulrika the Vampire Bloodforged, Nathan Long continues his story with a sequel telling the life of Ulrika, a vampire who did no want to be so, but who strove to be a better vampire than she once was. Though Ulrika is a vampire, she is not one of the bad kind, and most regular vampires don’t take steps to tame themselves the way she does, but in her case, she has to as she doesn’t want to attract an angry mob of humans who might bay for her head. The vampires along with Ulrika have their own willing victims who lend their blood to them, so they do not have to kill senselessly.
When Ulrika visits Praag, she finds a dangerous presence there, a Slaaneshi cult that threatens to destroy all they have come to know. Interestingly enough, there is a lot to be discovered about how vampires operate in this novel, as when humans are made into vampires, they have to undergo certain changes afterward. The usual ones apply, teeth, and eyes, but they also get the newborn vampires to change their appearance, dye their hair or blonde it, dress it in a different way and change the clothing. The countess also organizes them to go under different names, and this is necessary cover as they do not want anyone to find out these men or women have become vampires.
Ulrika as a vampire often feels walled-up and stifled by Gabriella and the other vampires. She wants to be free of their oppression, but dare not go against the wishes of her mistress. She had fondness for a man she was supposed to make her blood slave, or as they are called in here, swaine, but Ulrika preferred him as he was before. Ulrika is naturally defiant and curious but she does have a point as to going out of her mistress’s house; her mistress denies freedom of most of her vampires, yet she and trusted members of the Lahmian order are allowed to accompany her wherever she goes on business. To this end, Ulrika is prevented from living what she considers a full life, even when Gabriella promises that she will have the freedom she desires later. By the sound of it, it will be many years later, and she isn’t prepared to stay in the house while she goes crazy. Even the promise of young men whores to feed on and women to entertain them is of small consolation for the newly made Ulrika who still maintains that a coffin is still a coffin no matter how you try and dress it up.
The whole matter of swain is in dispute with her, but not the others; in fact only one other vampire sees eye to eye with Ulrika, Famke. Vampires in her court enjoy the benefit of swain, they can be fed upon at any time, but Ulrika finds them repulsive, they have their appeal to others when they fawn over their mistresses, but she would rather they had their own minds and personalities.
Gabriella’s reluctance to let Ulrika have her friend, Famke around her, and the fact she keeps her inside is enough to make her want to escape, but where will she go if she does.
It is great that the front cover depicts Ulrika in her riding garb, a gift from Gabriella, She looks so fierce, and fearless. The background image of Kislev also makes it an interesting piece of artwork by Winona Nelson.
Bloodforged is an eerie sequel to a very atmospheric and haunting first book. This novel has timing, presence, pacing, atmosphere and horror in abundance, yet you can understand why the characters act the way they do.
Ulrika the Vampire: Bloodsworn by Nathan Long. Book reviewComments Off
Reviewed by Sandra Scholes
In the previous volume, Bloodforged, Ulrika had managed to leave the confines of the countess and her gilded minions, and enter a life where she called the shots. Though she feels free, she also feels the hatred toward those like her, and she knows she will forever be watching her back for enemies. While on her travels, she also sees the plight of others, even those who are being burned at the stake and aren’t vampires at all, but believed to be witches. She has the hidden need to go to their aid, but dare not as she might also be killed. She is a fierce fighter when she wants to be, but she is no fool.
One character who spent a lot of time in Bloodforged is Stefan von Kohln, he had warned her of the bloodshed that would befall her former mistress, Gabriella, and every vampire in the empire if she did not act to help prevent it. There has been a great deal of bloodshed already, vampires beheaded, hung on gibbets, entire villages burned to the ground on a mass scale. She sees on her return that Stefan had been right with all he’d said, but even he wasn’t who he seemed to be. The cause of all the deaths is clear, witch hunters and vampire hunters have taken a stand against all that they see as unholy, and for Ulrika her life could not be any more in danger than it is now.
Bloodsworn has a plot that starts fast and just continues to excite the reader with movie style thrills of ritual burnings, encounters in dark alleyways, and saucy brothel talk. The action is unwavering, and the dialogue carries the story on to its final conclusion. Unlike in Bloodforged, when Ulrika returns, she is met with nothing but death and destruction, hoping she can find her mistress and Famke alive, though images of them being decapitated or worse do run through her mind.
The hope that vampires and humans can co-exist isn’t an issue in this last novel in the trilogy, as it isn’t possible due to the threat of the witch hunters and vampire hunters swarming the Empire. Once the reason for the killings is discovered, they realise that they have to kill the Emperor, Karl Franz as it is rumoured he is infected with a strain of deadly pox too. Also, the rumours are mentioned that the pox is being spread by undead seductresses, but there is no real evidence to back this up.
It could be argued that in the last two books a lot has been said about keeping Ulrika a virtual prisoner in the countesses house, yet why did she let her live in the first place if she couldn’t be a free roaming vampire like some of the others. I know the answer is that she is considered too young to be let out into the world, but she has seen so much already, so when she returns to the countess in order to help her in the up coming battle, why would she want to imprison her again when she is so willing to fight for her.
What readers will come to find is that Ulrika can’t be imprisoned, or kept in a gilded cage as one of the chapters suggests. She is a free woman and needs her space. Despite the countess wanting her head for her betrayal, she is prepared to end the war for them in the hope that vampires can live in a certain state of peace and harmony.
Nathan Long has done the difficult task of stringing together three novels and keeping them as good as the next in the series. This he has accomplished, and unleashed a new style of fantasy horror that is a credit to its genre.
Orion: The Vaults of Winter by Darius Hinks. Book review(1)
Reviewed By Steve Dean
Each spring, Orion, forest-king of the Athel Loren wood elves, is reborn to rule and protect his kingdom. This year, something is wrong, he has been cursed, something is rotten in his core. If that wasn’t enough, outsiders, in the form of bull-headed chaos beings, have invaded the realm and seem to have inside help. Some of the defenders mobilise to face the threat, mainly the elite shadow-dancers, but the main army is left idle because the rulers don’t believe the wood is in any danger. Meanwhile, the distracted Orion stomps around the woodland in search of answers from a variety of beings, good, bad and neutral.
I know what you’re thinking, “damn, wood elves again!” but this time we have something different. These elves aren’t your noble, high and mighty Tolkienesque beauties, with fresh pixie dust in their underwear. No, these are snobby, arrogant and deluded individuals, divided by class and status. And the wood itself is a living thing, filled with spirits who have their own agenda.
Overall, this is mythic fiction as it should be, a high-magic, high adventure, with flawed, believable characters, a good story line and a decent, fast pace.
I will certainly look forward to reading book two when it comes along.
Treacheries Of The Space Marines edited by Christopher Dunn. Book reviewComments Off
TREACHERIES OF THE SPACE MARINES edited by Christopher Dunn, Black Library, p/b/ €10.50, http://www.blacklibrary.com/
Reviewed by David Rudden
The fourth in a series of anthologies focusing on the Space Marines, ‘Treacheries’ focuses rather unsurprisingly on the darker side of humanity’s defenders. (‘When Space Marines Go Wild’ was discussed as a title, and then dismissed) Anthologies like this are always hit-and-miss; for every gem you come across, there’ll always be a lacklustre, by-the-numbers effort. Unfortunately with ‘Treacheries’, the bad far outweighs the good.
The majority of these stories are forgettable, the details blurring into each other a few moments after you’ve finished reading. There’s also a couple of reprints and the text of an audiobook, which is nice I suppose if you’re not a huge fan of audiobooks (which I’m not) but which also strikes me as a bit lazy. A few of the stories are entertaining; Matthew Farrer’s and David Annandale’s are solid, and Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s is good if you haven’t already shelled out for the audiobook or MP3. Anthony Reynolds’ story sees the return of two relatively vintage Black Library characters, which I was pleased to see if only for nostalgia’s sake.
My pick of the bunch would have to be Farrer’s; it’s got an imaginative voice and has a touch of humour as well. However the fact remains that for the price this is a very patchy affair. I’d read three of the stories before and only one of the rest was in any way interesting. Give this one a miss.
Pariah: Book One Of The Bequin Trilogy by Dan Abnett. Book reviewComments Off
Reviewed by David Rudden
I’m not going to lie, when this book appeared on the review list I snapped it up so quickly my left mouse-button broke in half. This is a follow-on to two of the best trilogies the Black Library have ever produced, incorporating some of its best-known characters and written by (arguably) their most consistently good writer. The ‘Eisenhorn’ and’ Ravenor’ trilogies are what got me into the Black Library; they’re full of strong character development, clever pacing and some excellent action sequences combined with Abnett’s ability to eke real horror and imagination out of the 40K universe.
So. Expectations running at an all-time high. I want daemonhosts. I want psyker battles. I want small-scale grit instead of grand-scale gore.
I don’t get either.
What we do get is a slow and measured introduction to a brand new story. Where the first ‘Eisenhorn’ and ‘Ravenor’ novels were self-contained after a fashion, this is very much the first book of a longer story. Abnett is in no rush to explain things and this suits the voice of the novel, which is still first-person but very different from the voices in either ‘Eisenhorn’ or ‘Ravenor’. This works for the novel; there’s a purposeful step taken away from what’s gone before.
I won’t go into the plot because this is a novel rewarded by the slow reveal of information, the twists and the turns. It starts quite slow, establishing the world and a whole new cast of characters, and at times this became trying. If you were looking for Eisenhorn vs. Ravenor, (which in fairness is the tagline) you’ll need to trawl through a lot of scene-setting first. However, about two-thirds of the novel through the reader is hit with a lot of plot points very quickly and while Abnett handles it skilfully enough that we end up feeling confused along with the main character rather than at odds with them, don’t expect closure when the final page turns.
There’s a lot to love about this novel. Abnett lets his imagination run wild and there’s some great characters and villains, combined with some very unexpected turns. I can honestly say I have no idea where this trilogy will end up and that’s a very good thing. I’d be very interested to see how much more confusing the book would seem if I didn’t already know about the Cognitae and the inquisitors in question, and there’s also a surprise reference to another of Abnett’s books that muddied the water further. You’ll get the most enjoyment out of the novel if you read ‘Eisenhorn’ and ‘Ravenor’ first, but I can almost guarantee after reading ‘Pariah’ that you won’t be able to help yourself anyway.
Fear to Tread by James Swallow. Book reviewComments Off
FEAR TO TREAD by James Swallow, The Black Library, p/b, €11.50, http://www.blacklibrary.com/horus-heresy/fear-to-tread.html
Reviewed by David Rudden
One of the strengths of the Horus Heresy BL series is that they can take battles and characters that previously only existed as bullet points in codex timelines and flesh them out into proper stories. There’s a lot of material here, and potentially dozens of different viewpoints, aside from also (eventually) depicting the single most important event in the whole canon.
And it’s that ‘eventually’ that’s forming the problem.
I’ve written before that the HH series does a nice job of setting aside the typical grim nature of the 40K universe and focusing on the early days, back when most of human civilisation wasn’t on fire. Knowing how things are going to turn out, it’s gut-wrenching to watch characters blindly walk into mistakes, to see all the missteps and betrayals play out in front of you. However, there is a limit on this, and ‘Fear to Tread’ is teetering on the brink of it.
The book focuses on the Blood Angels Legion and their primarch Sanguinius, who are in safe hands with author James Swallow, who has been almost exclusively dealing with the Angels for the last few years. This is probably the best Angels novel Swallow has written to date; there are some excellent characters (my favourite being two of the main antagonists and their endless bickering) and some quite sinister moments, even if Sanguinius is a bit lacking in character. It’s said roughly every two paragraphs that he is special, and angelic, and wonderful, but he’s not half as well characterised as some of the other HH characters.
My other main problem with this novel is that we’ve dealt with the idea of a loyalist primarch being exploited – walking into a trap – managing to escape/is severely inconvenienced before, and it’s getting slightly old. It can be ignored when the story is especially essential to the Heresy or if it’s very well-written (see ‘Prospero Burns’) but the series as a whole made a misstep when they rushed through Horus’s fall and then took a step backwards to tell everyone else’s story. ‘Fear to Tread’ is a serviceable novel that at times is very entertaining, but in the wider scheme of things it comes across as filler. Yes, a couple of important plot points are nailed in place for later, and this is the only real canon early Heresy event for the Angels that’s been previously mentioned, but the basic plot of ‘Of course we trust Horus, he definitely isn’t evil, hang on, BETRAYAL’ is getting old, especially combined with the basic Blood Angels plotline of ‘must control blood-thirst.’ (Part of me wonders whether including the mad desire to drink blood in a legion of ubermensch was really a good call on the Emperor’s part.)
If you’re a particular fan/collector of the Blood Angels or you’re looking for something to tide you over until the next HH release, then you’ll enjoy this. Just don’t expect it to soar.
Luther Huss by Chris Wraight. Book reviewComments Off
LUTHOR HUSS by Chris Wraight, The Black Library, p/b, €10.50, http://www.blacklibrary.com/all-products/luthor-huss.html
Reviewed by David Rudden
I’m not as big a reader of the Warhammer Fantasy series as I am of their far-future line, but occasionally if an area I’m particularly interested comes up or if it’s a book by one of my favourite writers I’ll give it a shot. The whole setting has a rather interesting dark-Germanic-Tolkien feel to it, but I haven’t really been pulled into a series since the Malus Darkblade books a few years ago and so I wasn’t approaching ‘Luthor Huss’ with any expectations.
This outlook was rewarded as, though ‘Huss’ is a solid novel and I don’t really have any complaints with it, it wasn’t the most memorable of books. It follows the training and crusade of Sigmarite priest and core canon character Luthor Huss and its intersection with the investigation of Witch-hunter Eichmann, who ended up being an altogether more interesting character in the end. Eichmann reminds me of Inquisitor Glokta in Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The First Law’ trilogy; a man jaded by digging in the filth of humanity, burnt out by the evil he must do to keep humanity safe and beyond that, pure. The opening scenes, where the weary witch-hunter seems to be cracking under his vocation, numbly torturing one heretic after another while being curtailed by his own superiors’ politics, are some of the most fascinating in the book.
Huss’s parts, while more action-filled and typically Black Library, are a lot less interesting. There is one great twist at the end which I definitely didn’t see coming and got a gleeful little snigger out of me but in the end it’s the supporting characters that are the most interesting here; from the survivors of devastated towns to mercenaries to those who grew up around the uncompromising fanatic Huss.
The set pieces are impressive, if pulled from standard fantasy fare and Chris Wraight’s writing is reliable as always. There’s nothing stopping me from recommending this book; it’s just not as inspired as Wraight’s other work or other books in the Black Library. An entertaining read when you’re already a fan or want to read something solid from the fantasy side of things, but not unmissable.