Review: ROBOUTE GUILLIMAN by David Annandale (Black Library)

The first in a new series focusing on each of the Emperor’s Primarchs

Long before the coming of the Imperium, the realm of Ultramar was ruled by Roboute Guilliman, the last Battle King of Macragge. Even after learning of his true heritage as a primarch son of the Emperor of Mankind, he strove to expand his domain as efficiently and benevolently as possible, with the XIII Legion Ultramarines as his alone to command. Now, facing a rival empire on the ork-held world of Thoas, Guilliman must choose his weapons carefully – otherwise his dream of a brighter future could be lost forever.

It’s no surprise to regular readers of CR that I’m quite fond of the Horus Heresy series. I was both surprised and pleased, therefore, when Black Library announced a companion series — one that would comprise one novel for each of the Primarchs, loyal and traitor, set before the Heresy. Given recent developments in the WH40k game universe, it’s perhaps not surprising that the series would kick off with Roboute Guilliman. And it’s a very strong start, too. Continue reading

Reviews: A MEMORY OF THARSIS and ARGENT (Black Library)

Josh Reynolds, FABIUS BILE: A MEMORY OF THARSIS

Seeking fresh resources for his experiments, Fabius Bile ventures to the forge world of Quir to trade with its ruler. Lady Spohr demands unusual tribute, however, and not only the deal but also Bile’s very existence could be forfeit if he fails to please her.

Reynolds has been doing a fantastic job bringing Fabius Bile to life on the page. Among the most established of WH40k Chaos champions, there were times when he seemed a little bit of a cartoon. Reynolds’s version, however, is anything but — and A Memory of Tharsis is a great introduction to the character.

Reynolds manages to do two things with this short story, and he does them very well. First, he clearly and effectively locates Bile in the overall renegade/traitor ‘society’: he is an outcast amongst outcasts, reviled and respected, his talents feared and highly sought-after. Second, Reynolds reminds us that Bile is still an Astartes. Despite his physical ailments and weaknesses, he is still a martial force to be reckoned with (even if it is with the aid of a bespoke cocktail of battle stimulants). Best of all, the author does this without resorting to clunky info-dumping, and allows the events and story to show the reader why Bile’s reputation is justified.

This is a great short story, and a fantastic addition to Bile’s growing story. I really hope there is more to come. A Memory of Tharsis is out now, as is the excellent first Fabius Bile novel, Primogenitor.

Also on CR: Reviews of Fabius Bile: PrimogenitorEnd Times: The Return of Nagash and End Times: The Lord of the End Times

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Chris Wraight, VAULTS OF TERRA: ARGENT

Interrogator Luce Spinoza’s hunt for a traitor brings her to Forfoda and into the company of the Imperial Fists. Unearthing a den of corruption, Spinoza learns what it means to fight alongside the Emperor’s Angels, and vows to prove herself worthy of this honour or die in the attempt.

Argent is the first story in Wraight’s Vaults of Terra, a new series focused on the work of the Inquisition. It introduces readers to Interrogator Spinoza, a character who promises to be an interesting guide to the shadowy operations of the Imperium’s ruthless enforcers. The tale is framed very nicely, as a post-battle report. Spinoza is recounting to her boss the events of a recent raid conducted alongside the Imperial Fists, and explaining how it is she came to be incapacitated with two shattered arms. As Reynolds managed in A Memory of Tharsis, so too does Wraight, who packs in a lot of information and colour into a pretty short story. We get a good feel for the characters, their place in the WH40k universe, as well as how they see their roles. The action is very well written, and supports the story perfectly.

After finishing this, I can definitely say that I am looking forward to the first novel in the series even more than I already had been. Argent is out now. The first full-length novel in the Vaults of Terra series, The Carrion Throne is out next month.

Also on CR: Interview with Chris Wraight (2011); Reviews of Battle of the FangScars and The Path of Heaven

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Quick Reviews: Two Black Library Audiodramas

David Annandale, THE BINARY SUCCESSION

Even as the Imperium faces the renegade Legions of the Warmaster, the ruling Council of Terra is becoming paralysed from within by increasingly petty bureaucracy. Fabricator General Kane has seen his fellow Mechanicum adepts dismissed again and again by the High Lords – with his traitorous predecessor Kelbor-Hal still at large on the Red Planet, the political status of the tech-priesthood remains ambiguous. New alliances must be forged from the old, if Mars and Terra are to survive the final battle.

Performed by: Gareth Armstrong, Steve Conlin, Penelope Rawlins, Toby Longworth, Ian Brooker, John Banks, Luis Soto, Antonia Beamish, Cliff Chapman.

This was pretty cool. I wasn’t sure what to expect, not usually going for titan-focused fiction. The first thing one notices is the quality of the production: an excellent, fairly large cast, all of whom deliver great performances; and the plentiful, good sound-effects and music do a great job of enhancing, not distracting from the story. (This is a real strength of BL’s audio-dramas in general.) I think the only things that took some getting used to were the voices of the members of the Mechanicum — a couple were so tech-distorted that they came across like irate Daleks. It does fit, though.

As for the story? Very good. I enjoyed seeing the politics behind the Mechanicum, as they maneuvered for better status among the High Lords. The characters are interesting, their interactions realistic even if they themselves are so (mechanically) alien. I’d certainly be interested in listening to more audio-dramas featuring them, or reading about them in ‘regular’ fiction formats.

If you’re a fan of the Horus Heresy series (especially the Mechanicum-related fiction), then I’d certainly recommend this. A very good Black Library audio-drama.

The Binary Succession is out now, published by Black Library.

Also on CR: Interview with David Annandale (2012); Guest Post on “My Favourite Novel”; Reviews of The Carrion AnthemThe Damnation of Pythos

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Gav Thorpe, ASURMEN: THE DARKER ROAD

It is said the Phoenix Lords arrive on the eve of great moments… Guided by fate, Asurmen the Hand of Asuryan comes to the craftworld of Ulthwé. At the behest of the head of the seer council, he joins the warriors of Ulthwé and the young seer Eldrad on a quest to the Crone Worlds in search of the oracle Hiron-athela. It is believed that this being holds an artefact that could safeguard Ulthwé’s future, but in order to obtain it the eldar must travel a dark road…

[Performed by Gareth Armstrong, John Banks, Steve Conlin, Toby Longworth, Penelope Rawlins and Genevieve Swallow.]

I keep forgetting to read Asurmen: The Hand of Asuryan, which I’ve had for years. The Eldar were the first WH40k army I thought was interesting. I remember reading the Codex multiple times, back in the day, and the Phoenix Lords in particular caught my imagination and attention. The Darker Road is a really interesting short story, and I enjoyed seeing how the Elder “work” together. Thorpe’s done a great job of writing interesting, alien characters who are nevertheless relatable. He includes plenty of Eldar-traits, without info-dumping, as well as some good Chaos shenanigans.

As in The Binary Succession, though, there were times when the voices came across as a little too-techno-distorted (for my taste). Not a major issue, but I think it could have been toned down a bit without ruining the story.

If you’re a fan of the Elder, then I highly recommend you check out this audio-drama. Interesting, well-performed. It also reignited my interest in reading The Hand of Asuryan. The second novel in the Phoenix Lords series, Jain Zar: The Storm of Silence, is due out in May 2017.

Asurmen: The Darker Road is out now, published by Black Library.

Also on CR: Interviews with Gav Thorpe — 2011 and 2016; Reviews of The Curse of KhaineDeliverance LostAngels of Caliban

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Interview with JOE M. McDERMOTT

mcdermottjm-authorpicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Joe M. McDermott?

That’s who I am when I write fantasy novels. I’m going by Joe M. McDermott, these days, in part because I am tired of people I have known for years calling me “Jim.”

Your new novella, The Fortress at the End of Time, will be published by Tor.com in January 2017. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

Larry Nolen, of OF Blog of the Fallen, recommended a book to me, that I loved, and which led me to another book, which I also loved. The first book was The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, an old Italian Surrealist anti-war book. On the Amazon recommended page, there was also a fascinating book called The Opposing Shore by Julian Gracq, a French classic of SF. I loved them both, and thought about how they were better military fiction than the military fiction I was reading, because it was more about dealing with the idea of the military, the way the bureaucracy and culture press down on the soul and psyche, than about any great acts of violence. In fact, what little violence occurs is often absurd, abrupt, and misinterpreted by everyone in power. I thought about taking some of those ideas into deep space, not just imaginary cities. The isolation of space, and the way a deep space colony would push down on everyone’s mind, would be, I thought, an interesting update to the ideas presented by these old European classics of the early and mid twentieth century. Continue reading

Guest Post: “So You Want To Write Military Science Fiction” by William C. Dietz

dietzwc-authorpicSo you’d like to write a military science fiction series. Good. You came to the right place. I’ve written some, and would be happy to share my secrets, the first of which is to understand the true nature of business that you hope to be part of. No, it isn’t the book business. What you’re planning to do is join the entertainment industry.

In addition to books you’re going to compete with movies, TV, and social media for eyeballs and dollars. Oh, and while you do that, pirates will steal your stuff, fans will give you one-star reviews because “the book costs too much,” and Amazon will offer cheap used copies right next to the new ones. And guess what? You won’t make a cent off them. Continue reading

Interview with BENNETT R. COLES

colesbr-authorpic2Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Bennett R. Coles?

Thanks for having me on the site. Who am I? Well, for starters I’m a military SF author who’s been lucky enough to have a shot at the writing big leagues. I served fifteen years as an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy and got to do a whole bunch of cool things – driving ships, firing missiles, leading boarding parties – that served as rich inspiration for writing. I live in Victoria, Canada, with my wife and two sons, and when I’m not writing I run a small publishing house called Promontory Press.

Your next novel, Ghosts of War, was recently published by Titan. As the sequel to Virtues of War, how would you introduce it to a potential new reader? And what can fans of the first expect from the sequel?

Ghosts of War is a stand-alone novel that picks up the tale of our heroes from Virtues of War and primarily explores this question: what happens to young men and women when they come home from war for the first time? How do they reintegrate into “regular” society, and how do they deal with their own emotional trauma amongst people who can’t possibly understand? Ghosts of War is a character-driven story with a plot that is propelled forward primarily by drama and intrigue. It still has military action and loads of suspense, but fans of Virtues of War shouldn’t expect a carbon-copy repeat of the relentless pacing of Book I. Continue reading

Review: THE PATH OF HEAVEN by Chris Wraight (Black Library)

WraightC-HH-PathOfHeavenThe White Scars decide their part in the Heresy

For too long had the Vth Legion ranged out beyond the sight of the wider Imperium, remaining ignorant of the Warmaster’s rebellion and the war that inevitably followed. Only once their primarch, Jaghatai Khan, had satisfied himself that the path before them was just and true did the White Scars choose a side, taking the fight to the traitors on every front. But, four years later, the Legion’s unfettered spirit has been broken by relentless attritional warfare against the Death Guard and the Emperor’s Children – the Khan’s Stormseers must find a clear route to Terra if they are to take part in the final, apocalyptic battle.

This novel follows on from Wraight’s Scars, finally bringing the White Scars back front-and-centre. There’s a lot going on in the story, on both sides of the Heresy, and, true to the White Scars’ nature, it’s fast-paced. I enjoyed this a great deal, and it may be Wraight’s best novel to date. Continue reading