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.
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.
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.
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.