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

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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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

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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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

Quick Review: GARRO — WEAPON OF FATE by James Swallow (Black Library)

swallowj-hh-garroThe formation of the Knights Errant, and the start of a new religion…?

From out of the shadows of the Silent War, a hero emerges. Clad all in grey, an errant warrior of the Legiones Astartes kneels before the Regent of Terra, and accepts a solemn new duty – Battle-Captain Garro, once commander of the Eisenstein, now Agentia Primus of Malcador the Sigillite. From the desolation of Isstvan to the halls of the Imperial Palace itself, he stands as a paragon of loyalty and protector of the innocent, ever ready to strike back at the traitorous allies of the Warmaster. But Garro is walking a path of his own, one that may lead him to question his own place in the Imperium… and what if he, too, should falter?

This book collects a number of James Swallow’s Nathaniel Garro stories. (Swallow confirms that there will be more, in his Afterword.) Those stories that were originally released as audio dramas are presented in expanded prose versions, with additional scenes and woven into a chronological, continuous narrative. The book ends with the momentous Vow of Faith, originally published as a limited edition novella. For fans of the Horus Heresy series, this is a must read. Continue reading

Quick Review: ARHIMAN SORCERER by John French (Black Library)

FrenchJ-A4-AhrimanSorcerorAhriman’s planning something twisty…

Ahriman, greatest sorcerer of the Thousand Sons and architect of the Rubric that laid his Legion low, continues to walk the path towards salvation, or damnation. Searching for a cure for his Legion, he is forced to consider – was the great ritual somehow flawed from the very beginning? The answer may lie within the mysterious artefact known as the Athenaeum of Kalimakus, a grimoire of forgotten knowledge that is reputed to contain the exact words of the lost Book of Magnus… or, perhaps, even a transcription of the primarch’s deepest and most secret thoughts.

I’ve enjoyed all of French’s Ahriman fiction: he does a great job of adding layers to the character, and presenting him as a conflicted, ambitious, and driven actor in the WH40k universe. Ahriman: Sorcerer, while suffering a few middle-book issues, is a good continuation of his story. Continue reading

Quick Reviews: EXTINCTION and FATESPINNER (Black Library)

Two new Chaos Marine short stories.

EXTINCTION by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

The Sons of Horus are hunted by their brothers…

The Horus Heresy is over. The traitorous Warmaster is dead, his allies defeated, and the Sons of Horus are a dying Legion, fled now to the furthest reaches of the galaxy… and beyond. First Captain Ezekyle Abaddon, always among the most devoted and bellicose of his brethren, is now set adrift – who will rise to claim the title of Warmaster? Who will lead them in their long war for vengeance? And will that hallowed champion of the Ruinous Powers be able to reunite the old XVIth before they embrace extinction?

This is an interesting short story, continuing Dembski-Bowden’s growing Black Legion story. This one is set shortly after the collapse of the Horus Heresy, and is made up of a series of vignettes: in each, Sons of Horus legionnaires are being hunted down by their former brothers (traitors and loyalist). Abaddon doesn’t feature as much as I had expected, but he makes an interesting appearance at the end. Extinction doesn’t move the story along too much, but it’s a good piece to keep our interest high in advance of the next novel in the series, Black Legion. [If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading The Talon of Horus, which started the series with a bang.]

Extinction at Black Library, Amazon (UK)

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wraightc-wh40k-fatespinnerFATESPINNER by Chris Wraight

The Thousand Sons be tricksy…

In the underhive depths of Rigo V, the Sorcerers Ramon and Phaelius of the Thousand Sons seek proscribed knowledge. They are hunted, these witches, by the Rune Priest Thorskir who has tracked them across the length and breadth of the galaxy. At last after an arduous search, Thorskir has found where his prey will be and means to end them. But the plans of those allied to the Great Architect of Fate are not so easy to unbind and a secret lurks beneath Rigo V, one that has been long in the devising, a twist of fate and a plan so foul it is worthy of Tzeentch itself.

This is an interesting story. I’ve always liked the Thousand Sons Legion, and Fatespinner has everything one could want from them: daemons, sorcery, a great twist. Wraight’s writing continues to get better, and this is perhaps one of his best short stories. I would certainly be interested in reading more stories (short or novel-length) featuring Ramon and Phaelius. An excellent, highly recommended story — all fans of WH40k fiction should read it, and it’s a must for fans of Tzeentch and the Thousand Sons.

Fatespinner at Black Library, Amazon (UK)

Review: THE MASTER OF MANKIND by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

dembskibowdena-hh41-masterofmankindThe battle for the Webway

While Horus’ rebellion burns across the galaxy, a very different kind of war rages beneath the Imperial Palace. The ‘Ten Thousand’ Custodian Guard, along with the Sisters of Silence and the Mechanicum forces of Fabricator General Kane, fight to control the nexus points of the ancient eldar webway that lie closest to Terra, infested by daemonic entities after Magnus the Red’s intrusion. But with traitor legionaries and corrupted Battle Titans now counted among the forces of Chaos, the noose around the Throneworld is tightening, and none but the Emperor Himself can hope to prevail.

This was probably one of my most-anticipated novels of the year. Each of Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s contributions to the ever-expanding Horus Heresy mythos to date has been superb: The First Heretic and Betrayer are particularly stand-out novels in an overall-excellent series. So, when it was first announced that Mr. D-B would be taking on the story of the Emperor himself…? Well, how could I not be excited? Unfortunately, this novel didn’t work for me on almost every level. Continue reading