The Dark Coil (part three)

Hey everybody,
After more than a year’s hiatus, I’ve found my way back to the Dark Coil series, and the novel Fire Caste. Peter Fehevari is without a doubt one of my favourite Black Library authors, and I had been looking forward to getting round to his debut novel for quite some time – to the point where I don’t really know why it took me this long to read it, if I’m honest!

While calling the Dark Coil a series is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, because they don’t really follow one another per se, but instead weave in and out and around each other, Fire Caste follows on from the short stories Out Caste, and A Sanctuary of Wyrms, set on the dense jungle planet of Phaedra. It’s not a death world per se, though nobody really understands why the Imperium and the Tau are so bent on possessing the planet given its lack of strategic value. The story is told through the 19th Arkan Confederates, a regiment of the Imperial Guard who are still haunted by the insurrection they have fought on their own home planet, and the Commissar Holt Iverson, a man haunted by the ghosts of his past in a very real way.

I think any type of synopsis just wouldn’t do this book justice, really. The story explores the haunted past of the Arkan Confederates, who are easily as well fleshed-out guardsmen as the Tanith First and Only, and takes quite a horror twist on the 41st millennium while doing so. We also have that situation mirrored in the current warzone of Phaedra, where the incumbent Guard regiment, the Lethean Penitents, have become corrupted by the world and the taint has seeped into their culture. It’s all just disturbing enough that it’s part-horror, not full. 

I’ve read many summaries of the book that have talked about how this novel is not a typical 40k story, and there are many layers to unfurl in a slow-burn narrative. It’s not your average Guard story, and it most certainly isn’t a Tau story, despite what you might think from the title. True, the Tau do feature, but the focus is really on the Guard regiments. There are a couple of set-piece battle scenes that are very enjoyable, starting with the Guard going up against Vespid Stingwings, then against the Kroot, and finally Sentinels vs Crisis Suits. Each of these scenes is quite wonderfully done, and shows the varying degrees to which the taint of Phaedra has affected each of the sides in the battle. The Tau auxiliaries fight more ferociously, the Guard themselves become almost deranged; it truly does show the horrors of war but seen through that tint of 40k good stuff.

Perhaps the most overt Tau scenes are those that feature the water caste diplomat O’Seishin as he attempts to convince Colonel Cutler of the merits of Tau philosophy. I do like the way that the Tau ideology is explored here, and how in many ways it does present almost the perfect counterpoint to the Imperial dogma. Maybe I’m just easily led, but you have to wonder why more Guard regiments don’t just switch sides more often!

For all that I liked it, though, I did actually find it quite hard going at times. I think it’s perhaps the prose – you can’t just sit down and have the story wash over you, you have to really concentrate on the narrative as it twists and turns around. It’s just beautiful, though, and a highly worthwhile read.

Years later, the war between the Tau and the Imperium had petered out, and reduced to skirmishes between the factions left. Abandoned might be a better term, for supplies had been withdrawn and both sides seemed to just leave Phaedra, along with whatever personnel were still on-world. The Adeptus Mechanicus of the Iron Diadem, a faction not really explored in the novel proper, take centre stage in this short story follow-up to Fire Caste, as we see more of the warriors of the Machine God and their side of the war with the Tau. 

Despite the conflict having tailed off to nothing, the Skitarii cohorts are tasked with a mission by the Magos Caul who has been in charge of the Iron Diadem facility, and so the forces of the Omnissiah storm the Tau stronghold within the Coil. There is a skirmish between the vessels of the Skitarii and a Hammerhead tank, after which the Skitarii begin to advance upon the Tau fortress, only to be the targets of a Broadside battlesuit. The Skitarii Alpha beings a quartet of Ironstrider Balistarii to bear, and the Tau respond with Crisis Suit backup. However, the Skitarii are still able to breach the fortress and a single trooper is able to achieve the mission objective, recovery of a human captive who himself appears close to death. The captive has an iron circlet around his head, and when he is taken to the Magos, all becomes clear.

The Iron Diadem is a void ship that requires a Navigator, and Caul has discovered such a mutant on-world. The man tells the Magos that his third eye was removed “for the Greater Good” and Caul, in anger, crushes the circlet, only to be instantly killed. The story ends with the Navigator’s simple admission, “I lied”.

I really liked this story, as well. I suppose that’s the theme with Peter Fehevari’s works, but he’s such a good author I can’t help but enjoy it. There are so many hints along the way, as we see the Tau/AdMech conflict from the side of the Skitarii, that you have to wonder just where the Magos got so much raw material for his cyborg army. One trooper shouts out “the Omnissiah condemns!” in a blatant call-back to the earlier novel, and one of the Ironstrider riders seems to recall a former life that might have been at the helm of a Sentinel. Something that I found particularly interesting was the fact the Skitarii Alpha muses that her face must be hideous as she is encased in a “puzzle box” mask. Did the Adeptus Mechanicus basically comb the battlefields of the earlier war, and reuse Tau and Guard casualties indiscriminately? Very interesting, and very grim-dark!

I don’t know what the Tau are protecting behind their bulwarks, but the scene inside the Phaedran temple, with bodies kept barely alive yet hooked up to some apparatus at the top of the structure was very horror-movie. I find myself hoping there is more to be read about Phaedra, as I want to know more about this stuff going on!

All in all, another thoroughly enjoyable read! 

I think there’s only the novel Requiem Infernal left to read now, though I could be wrong. I’m certainly hoping that Peter Fehevari continues to explore the Dark Coil for a long time to come!

The Horus Heresy: Eye of Terra

Eye of Terra

Last month, I made it to book 35 in the Horus Heresy series, the anthology Eye of Terra. It had been an unspoken goal for me to make it to this book before the end of 2022, but that wasn’t to be. Never mind! With this one behind me, there are now just 18 books left in the series, which is quite something really. At least after this point, there are more novels than anthologies for a bit – perhaps a reflection of the fact that the series initially exploded in popularity and therefore was catered to with all manner of shorts, but over time reader lethargy has led to fewer of these things needing to be collected up.

Anyway, let’s take a look through what’s inside here! 

The Wolf of Ash and Fire is a short story that involves Horus and the Emperor fighting side by side (as depicted on the cover), as told through the eyes of first captain Abaddon. I liked this story, I thought it was reminiscent of ADB’s Black Legion somehow. The Luna Wolves are going up against Orks and take the fight to them on a scrap-moon that itself is also highly reminiscent of The Beast Arises! Luna Wolves and Custodes fight side by side, and nobody is really a baddie, which was nice to see.

I think anybody reading this anthology would be principally interested in the novella Aurelian, however. This story seems to take place during The First Heretic, and deals with Lorgar’s wanderings within the Warp. The character development we get through this 130-page mini-epic is astounding, and I really enjoyed it. In all honesty, I was a bit confused by the timing of this story, because it deals with Lorgar’s wanderings which I thought happened before Isstvan V, though it begins with Lorgar realising that Fulgrim has been possessed, which of course happens after the dropsite massacre. To be fair though, the timeline at this point is an absolute shambles, with stuff seemingly taking place between paragraphs, let alone between chapters of the novels. Suffice it to say, though, as a character piece about Lorgar, this one is tremendous.

It’s a shame that this one comes so early within the anthology, because a lot of the stories after it have pretty much melded into insignificance, if I’m honest. There are a few about Iron Hands, and Iron Warriors, some about Ultramarines (I think), but none of them has really stood out for me. Another ADB short, The Long Night, was interesting for furthering the development of Sevatar during his imprisonment by the Dark Angels, that one was curious as it had him in psychic contact with one of the ship astropaths, and showed him to almost care about her. However, Sevatar has always been one of the more complex Night Lords characters on the books.

I think, overall, this book is pretty symptomatic of the majority of the later Horus Heresy books overall. There are a couple of stand-out moments, but everything else is just meandering nothingness that has almost been published “because”, and not due to any kind of actual story need. Yes, it’s fun to see the origins of the Sanguinor, but do we really need another throwaway story about it? Why not incorporate that into a Blood Angels novel and make that book all the richer? Rather, Black Library have stretched the narrative to the point where it is now lace-thin, and people like me have paid £7.99 for a book that only a quarter of which is any good. I don’t think this is the fault of the authors, as they’re doing the best they can, but it’s the general premise of “let’s do a story about World War II – we’ll start with the in-depth biography of Churchill’s nanny’s aunt’s window cleaner”.

For me, the Horus Heresy has been jerking along since book five. The opening five books is one continuous epic, but over the course of the next thirty, I would be pushing it to say that just eleven of them do anything to move the story along (I realise I get a lot of flak for my views on Mechanicum, so I suppose it should be a round dozen!) Recognising that we have eighteen legions of space marines, plus the Mechanicum, plus stuff like the Custodes, and the twists and turns with stuff like the Remembrancers and whatnot, there is a lot of ground to cover, but I really do feel like it’s a story that should have gone six feet wide, not sixteen feet.

Looking ahead to the next ten, we have some very intriguing titles coming up, and at least a couple of novels in there that I am very excited for. Praetorian of Dorn (I think) involves the Alpha Legion, we’ve got Master of Mankind and we have Garro, which I’m hoping will give us some very good storytelling. In the end, 2022 wasn’t too bad for getting back on track with the Heresy, so I do have high hopes that I can continue that, and maybe get through the next ten books before the end of 2023! You never know…

Horus Heresy: Pharos

I’m getting there… book 34 in the Horus Heresy series is done with now. Just 20 more to go!

While he has written a few short stories set during the Heresy, this is Guy Haley’s first full-length novel in the series. As we could have expected from his short story A Safe and Shadowed Place, the book pits the Ultramarines against the Night Lords under the command of Krukesh the Pale, and his subordinate Gendor Skraivok. The Night Lords have observed the regular energy pulses from the Pharos on Sotha, and understand it to be of value to the XIII Legion, so in turn decide to take it. Especially when they realise that it is intentionally guarded by a token force to hide its importance.

We’re never really told what the Pharos is, perhaps because neither the Ultramarines nor the Iron Warriors war smith who is helping them really know, either. It is strongly implied to be of Necron origin, however, with the inner construction seemingly of Blackstone.

There are many battles between the Night Lords and the Ultramarines as the war for control of the Pharos sees Krukesh take possession of it, only to finally be thwarted by war smith Dantioch, who overloads the system when Krukesh is attempting to beam himself aboard the VIII Legion flagship Nightfall to take control of the wider Legion. However, the massive energy surge has far-ranging consequences when it is felt by none other than a Tyranid hive fleet…

I really wanted to like this book. I thought it would be great to see what Guy Haley can do in this time period, as he has written some of my favourite Warhammer novels over the years. However, it felt quite a bit like there was a bit of a brief that he was writing to, which in turn led to some stuff being here for the sake of it.

At its core, the book is a Night Lords vs Ultramarines story, but being set in Imperium Secundus, we have several scenes that also include Sanguinius as they attempt to further that storyline, but nothing really comes from it, and it almost feels like filler when you consider the gap between The Unremembered Empire and this one. It’s been over two years since I read that book, as well, which has compounded the problem!

We also have many scenes of gratuitous torture and violence, which is of course the way that the Night Lords wage their war. I’m not trying to be squeamish or anything, but it did get a bit too much at times – I wasn’t actually sure if it was meant to be almost a parody, but it really was all too much. The character of Skraivok actually muses on this in the second half of the novel, as he reflects on how the Legion used to use their terror tactics to win, rather than just for the sake of it. It’s interesting to me, though, because of all the Space Marines Legions, the VIII are perhaps the most bizarre. Unlike many of their traitor brethren, who fell to Chaos to gain power, the Night Lords are said to have always been like this, and the Heresy merely allowed them to shrug off that veneer of respectability. It’s almost like they never fell to Chaos, they just stopped pretending to be real soldiers. Another layer on top of that, of course, is how Curze hates his own Legion, and abandons them almost the first chance he gets. All of this is interesting because it makes a pre-Heresy Night Lords Legion quite difficult to imagine, in many ways.

However, in the short stories by ADB such as Prince of Crows, the Legion has sparked my interest. Here, they seem to fall into the trap of generic renegade chaos marines, without much to make them stand out.

Another part of that “by the numbers” plotting is Roboute Guilliman, sadly. He also feels like he was included simply because the story takes place within the borders of Ultramar, and he doesn’t really do much to excite me. Guilliman in Know No Fear is an awesome entity in the very real sense of that word, but here he kinda gets on my nerves. Maybe because nobody has managed to write him as well as Dan Abnett did.

The story of the Night Lords’ invasion of Sotha, with all of its gruesomeness, is actually pretty good. I wish we learnt more about the Pharos itself, although I think we may do so in Haley’s book on Belisarius Cawl. Some of the extraneous bits could perhaps have been left out, but I suppose they’re here to remind us that this is part of a series.

Things are definitely dragging on now, and I as much as I wanted to get a bit further before the year is out, I do kinda feel like I need a break before yet another anthology…

Horus Heresy: War Without End

Hey everybody,
After what feels like an age, I have now finished War Without End, the 33rd instalment in the series. It’s another anthology, in what feels like a very grindy, middle of the road space within the overall storyline. I don’t really have anything against short story anthologies, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of the time with the Horus Heresy, these stories can be very hit and miss, and they rarely seem to advance the overall storyline.

There are some interesting inclusions in here. I think the stand-out for me is The Laurel of Defiance, which is an Ultramarines story centred on Lucretius Corvo (who will go on to found the Novamarines chapter after the Heresy is over and done with). It’s a great story that shows us the Ultramarines as the statesmen and politicians they are meant to be when all war is over, and Corvo’s own feelings on that are quite interesting, to say the least! We see the Ultramarines during an awards ceremony, and Corvo reflects back on the action that got him there, where he and his legionaries took down a Word Bearers’ possessed Titan.

Allegiance, by Chris Wraight, is another good entry, although I did struggle a bit to get through this one. It shows a Thousand Sons legionary who has not turned from the Emperor, being rehabilitated into the White Scars legion. Around that main storyline, we see the continuing purge of the disloyal White Scars following the Scars novel, where several legionaries attempted to introduce warrior lodges in the same manner as the Sons of Horus.

In terms of continuing the storylines from previous novels, Gunsight brings us back to the assassin Eristede Kell following his failed mission to kill Horus in Nemesis. I really liked that book, contrary to a lot of popular opinion, it seems, and I really liked the way this story let its madness unfold as well. The ending was quite a surprise, too, but along the way I think it was really cool to see how the menials and the serfs of the Warmaster’s legion have reacted to his treachery.

Another story that deals with the goings-on within the Vengeful Spirit is Twisted, which follows the Warmaster’s equerry Maloghurst as he is hounded by a daemon. This builds on some of the threads from the Vengeful Spirit novel, specifically Maloghurst’s dabbling in the Warp and his creation of the Luperci. It’s an interesting story because it shows us the influence the Davinite cultists are having on the Sons of Horus, and while the whole heresy is undoubtedly traced to Horus and his lust for power, you do get the feeling here that actually these cultists are perhaps almost more to blame for the whole thing, with their corrupting influence on the legiones astartes. Interesting stuff!

Among these are stories about the Alpha Legion, Dark Angels and Iron Hands, among others, as well as the little people of the galaxy. There’s a story about the lodges on Davin that acts as a prequel to The Damnation of Pythos, another book that I know not a lot of people like. There is a story from Graham McNeil that ties in to his Vengeful Spirit and the Titan lords featured in that book, which was all a bit convoluted at first, but interesting in its way. We also have a Night Lords story that acts as a prequel to the next novel, Pharos. I had been enjoying how the Night Lords were just peppered through several novellas so far, as we follow the Thramas Crusade almost as a side event, but sometimes, these stories are just too gruesome.

Overall, there were some interesting stories here, if you’re really invested in the massive sprawl of the Heresy as a series, and you’re following along all of the various plot threads and such. I have to say though, at this point in the grand scheme of things, it feels like we’re just stuck with nothing really going on, and it is all starting to become really stale. Yes, it is enjoyable to see these slices of life of the serfs aboard the Vengeful Spirit, or seeing the flashbacks for Captain Corvo the Titankiller, but there is a very definite sense, for me, of “just where is this going?” I sometimes wonder if the Heresy has got too large a cast, although this was perhaps unavoidable given that all eighteen legions have a starring role. There is just too much ground to cover, unfortunately, and the pace of things now that we’re in the 30s is really starting to show.

Next up is Pharos, though, and I have a hope that this one will begin to point us in the right direction again. Fingers crossed, and all that!

The Damnation of Pythos

Hey everybody,
Today I’m continuing to catch up with the books that I’ve been wading through of late, and will be taking a look at The Damnation of Pythos, the 30th book in the Horus Heresy series! 30 books in already – man, it doesn’t seem at all like these things are dragging on…

Be warned – here be spoilers!

The book features what I think is our first showcase of the Iron Hands Legion since the series began – for sure, they’ve been in it since the start, but never as the stars of the show. The sons of Ferrus Manus were one of those Legions that were utterly decimated at Isstvan V, along with the Salamanders and the Raven Guard, and the survivors here are ragged group of all three. Led by Captain Atticus of the 111th Clan Company, the group is drawn to the death world of Pythos in the Pandorax system. There, their astropath Rhydia Erephren discovers a block of psychically-attuned black rock referred to as “the anomaly”, and cannot explain its presence. The space marines are set upon by the weirdly carnivorous beasts of the world, and begin to make a formal settlement on the world while they properly regroup.

After a battle with the Emperor’s Children, where the Iron Hands are able to extract some measure of retribution against the III Legion for their primarch’s murder of Ferrus, the Iron Hands return to Pythos to wait out a Warp storm, during which they are greeted by thousands upon thousands of junker-style ships that appear to be coming to Pythos to settle. The world continues to extract a toll on the civilians, who seem weirdly unfazed by the attacks by the massive native saurians. Meanwhile, the Legion serfs on the planet are being afflicted by nocturnal terrors, with many killing themselves in the grip of madness.

While the colonists are building their settlement, a fissure opens in the ground, revealing a submerged structure that the Iron Hands explore, only to discover it full of carnivorous maggots the size of a man. Things come to a head when Captain Atticus orders a lance hit directly on the ruins site from his flagship Veritas Ferrum, only for it to somehow be deflected back at the ship, destroying the Legionaries’ only way off-planet.

The colonists are soon revealed to be expatriates from Davin, and working to bring about the presence of the daemon Madail into realspace. The daemon’s presence then allows for a cavalcade of lesser daemons to pour forth from the Warp gates within the ruined structures under the surface, and Erephren is barely able to send a warning to Terra before the Iron Hands are completely overcome.

In the epilogue, the message is received by the astropaths of Terra, but the clerks there are unbelieving of such “mythology” and consign it to the piles of thousands of other unread messages.

It took me a long while to get into this book. Whether that was because of real life intruding on things, or something else, who knows. I did find David Annandale’s style a little too off-putting though, as well – the way that a short burst of action would be accompanied by, sometimes, a page and a half of introspection and tangents. But after I was about halfway through, I think I managed to get into it and stuff.

There is a very real sense of dread that is slowly unravelled as the book moves on, as well. After the initial furore of the native fauna of Pythos is seen, we get several nights of utter dread when something is clearly not right – it’s a wonderful way of building up the atmosphere, especially as these moments are seen through the eyes of the Legion serfs, the general humans who help the Legion. While the world also has an effect on the space marines, being transhuman they are somewhat able to shrug it off – especially when we’re talking about Iron Hands, whose motto is “the flesh is weak” and seek to replace their body parts with cybernetica.

I don’t think I’ve felt the need to put a spoiler warning on a Horus Heresy novel for quite some time, as the books all feel fairly dull as regards massive surprises go. However, the revelation that the colonists come from Davin was quite staggering, especially because of the simplicity with which it was announced. It’s a shock to us, the reader, because we know what happens in False Gods, but it’s almost irrelevant to the Iron Hands serf who learns it with us. I really liked that call-back, and I’m intrigued by the idea that we might not be done with the planet of Horus’ downfall yet.

As I alluded to earlier, though, the narrative of the Horus Heresy does seem to be getting really diluted at this point. I really enjoyed Vengeful Spirit, because it was a bit like a return to the principal narrative that had been left off sometime around book 5, but once again here we’re having a story that, while fairly decent in the end, didn’t honestly feel like a Horus Heresy novel for the most part. The little skirmish with the Emperor’s Children was the closest we got, and that only took up about 50 pages.

It’s a really intriguing book though, and I really liked the way that the tension is built up throughout, with the focus on the dread of what is out there. I don’t think I’ve read about many death worlds in 40k before now, so it was also pretty good to see just how bad some of these things can be! The finale was a bit ridiculous and over-the-top, to the point where I did struggle to picture what was going on for the most part, but this isn’t Shakespeare, I guess, so we’re just along for the ride!

Warhammer Crime: Bloodlines

Hey everybody,
It’s been more than a week since I finished this bad boy, so it’s definitely time that I got down my thoughts on the blog here! Warhammer Crime is the second subset of Warhammer novels, following the Horror imprint that made its debut in 2018. Warhammer Crime came along in 2020 with Bloodlines by Chris Wraight, which was a huge draw for me, for a number of reasons. First of all, of course, Chris Wraight is one of my all-time favourite Black Library authors, and while I do love a bit of the crime (stories, not actual crime), I thought this could be a great vector to introduce my wife into the world of 40k, as she reads almost exclusively crime fiction.

Bloodlines is, at its most straightforward, a missing persons story, following the Probator Agusto Zidarov as he follows the trail of a wealthy industrialist’s son. The search takes him into the underground pharmaceutical trade, and includes a fairly hefty dose of industrial espionage and politics along the way. That’s how I kept selling it to Jemma, but to date she hasn’t taken the bait. But you never know!

The novel is set on the world of Alecto, mainly in the hive city of Varangantua. There is a very strong Necromunda vibe here, for sure, and I had a lot of serious call-backs to the Ravenor books, which is probably the closest we’ve had to Warhammer Crime up to this point. Zidarov is basically the Warhammer version of a detective, so he’s a bit of a different breed to the Enforcers that we’ve also seen in novels. I found it interesting to see the emphasis placed on this being pretty much a police procedural, and the aspects that make this 40k were almost down-played, which makes me think this could be to allow the book to appeal to the widest possible audience. For sure, the references are there if we want to notice them – I mean, the major plot point of the pharmaceutical trade involves rejuvenat treatments, which we know of course from so many 40k novels (including those Ravenor novels), and of course we see folks armed with laspistols and autoguns. But you don’t need to know what any of these things are to enjoy the book – interestingly, I’d say we actually learn more about the rejuvenat process here than we’ve ever learnt in mainstream 40k.

There is some wonderful world-building here – this is one of those sci-fi books where none of the food or drink is familiar, you know? It weirdly helps to ground the book in the realms of the more mundane, though, and made me realise that we’ve never actually had a 40k book like this before. I suppose the emphasis has always been on the battles and the insane stuff, even with Ravenor we get those glimpses into the downtime that folks have, but here there is almost a family drama playing itself out for us in the middle of the investigation, with Zidarov and his wife worrying about their daughter’s desire to join the Astra Militarum. It was interesting, to me, because again, we don’t need to know what this means in the context of the 40k universe for it to have an impact – it was very much two parents worrying about their child getting shipped off to die on some distant battlefield.

It was very well written, with a fantastic feel of the classic noir detective story throughout. You could almost imagine Zidarov sat behind the frosted-glass door with his name on it, smoking a cigar while brooding on the case. No femme fatale here, but maybe that’s being kept for a later book, you know? Interestingly, the book is described as “An Agusto Zidarov Novel” as if we’ll be getting more, so hopefully there is something in the works for that, anyway!

Warhammer Crime

Varangantua is apparently the setting for at least a few more books in the subset, though, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the next one, Flesh and Steel, by Guy Haley. Another Black Library veteran, it sounds like this one might be a bit more 40k-y, as it features a probator working alongside the Adeptus Mechanicus. It’s on order, anyway, so I’m sure it won’t be too long before I’m back here with my thoughts on that one, too!

Path of the Renegade

Path of the Renegade is the first of the Path of the Dark Eldar trilogy, something almost sacred among us denizens of the Dark City, as it is one of the scant novels that actually deals with the Dark Kin in anywhere like detail. I’d not read the book before, but it was getting to the point where it was almost embarrassing for me to have not read it!

The story deals with the plot of three Archons against the tyrant Asdrubael Vect, the current ruler of Commorragh. Central to the story is Archon Nyos Yllithian, whose plan to overthrow Vect involves reviving one of Vect’s early nemeses, El’uriaq, the self-styled emperor of the dark kin. In order to do so, Yllithian conspires with the haemonculus Bellathonis, acquiring a “pure heart” in the form of an Exodite Worldsinger. The plan works too well, El’uriaq being so charismatic that he manages to overtake Yllithian’s plans.

While there is an intriguing storyline of plots and more plots against Vect, the novel mainly seems to serve as a vehicle to showcase Dark Eldar society, with the story strung out across these major points of interest. We get to see life in the twisting catacombs of a haemonculus coven, the thrilling fights in the arenas of the wych cults, and so forth. It almost feels a bit like a parody, as we have these huge set-pieces interposed within the narrative. Even when the story really gets underway, we still seem to slow down as we get to see this sort of showcase, and it can be quite tedious.

I suppose it didn’t help that I read this book in its re-issue as part of the Path of the Dark Eldar omnibus, which was seemingly riven with spelling mistakes and dropped words. My overall feeling is that it was a little bit disappointing, though I suspect that part of that might be due to having seen it hyped on the Drukhari facebook page for so long.

Having now read it, though, I feel that Nightbringer was a much more interesting Dark Eldar novel than this one…

Black Library catch-up

Hey everybody!
It’s day four of my posting-every-day in celebration of 800 posts here on my blog, and today I thought I’d talk about some books along the Warhammer theme – got to keep it all neat and current, after all!

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First of all, I can’t believe I didn’t write up a blog for this one! After the second book in the series, I wasn’t sure if I would still enjoy Gaunt’s Ghosts, as I thought it was a little less than wonderful, but thankfully I was proven wrong with Necropolis!

Set on the planet Verghast, the story involves the clash of two huge hive cities on the world, Vervunhive (still loyal to the Emperor) and Ferrozoica (since fallen to the Dark Gods). Gaunt and the Tanith First and Only arrive to bolster the local militia of Vervunhive, amidst a gruelling siege from the forces of Chaos.

The book is actually really good, with some tremendous set-piece battles taking place. While planetary politics aren’t always the most exciting, it was an interesting change of pace for me to see a battle taking place amid the industrial politics of Vervunhive, and the city leaders jostling for power and money amid the war going on around them. Dan Abnett is obviously a firm favourite for many, myself included, and it felt very much like this book was a lot more firmly on track than the collection of short stories that comprised the second book.

The book, like pretty much all of Abnett’s writing that I’ve encountered thus far, features much that is both grim and dark, and that helps to give Warhammer 40k its distinctive gothic feel. Notable for me is the hive leader, Salvador Sondar, who is perpetually encased in a neurocasket and conducts his dealings with others through servitor-puppets that are decomposing on their wires.

In some ways, the plot reminded me a little of Warriors of Ultramar, although the storylines do diverge quite dramatically. There is something of the feel of impending doom as we wait for the besieging enemy to attack, and it helps somewhat that the story is never told from the point of view from the Ferrozoicans – much like with Graham McNeill and his Tyranids. Even the turning point of both stories involves infiltrating a massive control structure of the enemy…

Anyway! It’s a wonderful book, quite creepy in parts, but incredibly visceral as Abnett usually is with his war stories. Definitely one to seek out and enjoy if you can!

More recently, I read the fourth story in the Space Marine Conquests series, Of Honour and Iron. As with all novels in this series, it deals with the arrival and integration of the Primaris Marines into the regular infantry of the various (currently First-Founding) Chapters of Space Marines. I’d have thought the Ultramarines would have been more receptive to them, given that they were created on Guilliman’s order, but even here, there is mistrust from the regular Marines.

We get Genesis Chapter in this story as well, the first of the Ultramarines’ successor Chapters, and the guys that I had decided to paint up my own Primaris Marines as following the release of Dark Imperium last year!

The story involves Ultramarines and Genesis Chapter fending off an attack by an Iron Warriors warband – at the time, I’d just finished Dead Sky, Black Sun, so felt like I was continuing to read the same story! Clearly there is a lot of bad blood between the sons of Perturabo and those of Guilliman… The Iron Warriors are searching for something among the hive cities of Quradim, a world garrisoned by the Genesis Chapter, and the same world where the Ultramarines, led by Chaplain Helios, arrive on a special mission for Guilliman. Turns out, years ago there was a cache of virus bombs deposited there, and Guilliman wants to use them to kill off worlds to deny them to the Ruinous Powers in a bit to drive back the Cicatrix Maledictum. Or something like that. The Iron Warriors obviously want them to cause havoc, and something of a race across the planet takes place.

I felt like this was very much a story-by-numbers, for the most part, with the Iron Warriors coming across more like stock-villains than anything else. It was cool to see the Genesis Chapter having such a large role, for sure, and I do like seeing the larger 40k storyline advancing, though I similarly feel that it was a little bit pointless, and these books exist more to show the Primaris integrating into the regular Marines Chapters than anything else. (It doesn’t hurt GW to be able to point to these and say, “look! The Ultramarines/Dark Angels/Space Wolves/Blood Angels have now accepted the Primaris Marines into their ranks! Now buy these battle force boxes!”)

So what’s next from Black Library?

Coming up in February is the story of a female Commissar, Honourbound, which looks like it might be quite good. Notably, it’s a female Commissar who doesn’t feel the need to strut about topless or less. At the minute, I’m enjoying anything that involves a Chaos Cult, so it definitely ticks some boxes for me!

Uncompromising and fierce, Commissar Severina Raine has always served the Imperium with the utmost distinction. Attached to the Eleventh Antari Rifles, she instills order and courage in the face of utter horror. The Chaos cult, the Sighted, have swept throughout the Bale Stars and a shadow has fallen across its benighted worlds. A great campaign led by the vaunted hero Lord-General Militant Alar Serek is underway to free the system from tyranny and enslavement but the price of victory must be paid in blood. But what secrets do the Sighted harbour, secrets that might cast a light onto Raine’s own troubled past? Only by embracing her duty and staying true to her belief in the Imperium and the commissar’s creed can she hope to survive this crucible, but even then will that be enough?

Definitely one to keep an eye on, anyway!

Also coming in February is the final novel in the Horus Heresy series, The Buried Dagger, which will draw the series to a close with both sides poised on the brink of Terra. At least, I think that’s where they’re poised. We’ll get to see Mortarion damn his Legion to perpetual infestation, while an insurrection on Terra erupts in advance of Horus’ forces. It sounds like it’s going to be quite explosive, I have to say, and definitely one of those novels that should stick in the mind.

I’d been expecting to see more in the way of Space Marines Conquests books on the horizon, but there’s nothing on the Upcoming page just yet. We do have the Corax novel in the Primarchs series coming out – that’s a series that I haven’t found myself being quite so invested with for the time being, as none of the stories have sounded like they’d really wow me, so I’ve only picked up three of the volumes for the time being – Perturabo, Lorgar and Jaghatai Khan, as they’re all Primarchs that I’m interested in. If they ever do a Horus novel, I’ll likely pick that one up, and I’ll also likely be interested in an Alpharius book, but I suppose we’ll see!

As it is, I still have rather a lot of Black Library novels waiting for me on the shelf, not just Horus Heresy entries but a lot of the books that were released sort of to advance the storyline. I think I’d like to get to some of those, and also continue along with Gaunt’s Ghosts while I’m on this Chaos Cults kick!

For the time being, I’m reading the short story Skitarius, which is inspiring me to continue with painting my Adeptus Mechanicus miniatures – make sure to come back tomorrow for a painting progress update blog!

Fear to Tread

This is a Horus Heresy novel that I’ve had on my shelf for a very long time now, back from when I had just gotten into the series and was excited to find out more about it. I honestly don’t know why, but the Blood Angels kinda fascinate me as a space marine chapter – I don’t own an army of them, and have no intention of doing so, but I’m still weirdly drawn to them. Space Marine Legions all seem to have their counterparts between loyalist and traitor, but the Blood Angels, while they’re more commonly compared with the World Eaters for their assault-focus and brutal efficiency in close combat, are also similar in so many ways to the Emperor’s Children in their artistry. I suppose they don’t pursue things to absolute perfection, but there is a strong link between the two… and I do rather enjoy the Emperor’s Children in a lot of ways!

At any rate, Fear to Tread is the 21st novel in the Horus Heresy series, and is the first to truly follow the Blood Angels to the exclusion of all other Legions. While Sanguinius did pop up all the way back in Horus Rising, he’s here very much at the centre of things. We follow the Blood Angels as they battle the weird alien menace known as the Nephilim, before Horus then sends the legion to the Signus system with the report that there have been Nephilim sighted there. Horus has also learnt of Sanguinius’ dark secret, that of the Red Thirst, and hints there may be the answer to that problem held on the planet Signus Prime.

The Blood Angels travel there, but instead find that the system has been truly taken over by the forces of Chaos: there are droves of daemonettes along with bloodletters under the leadership of the bloodthirster, Ka’Bandha. The Blood Angels are joined on this expedition by a small coterie of Word Bearers sent by Horus, and another small band of Space Wolves sent directly from Malcador the Sigillite. As it turns out, Malcador has sent the Wolves out to all Legions, as he suspects that more may have turned from the Emperor in the manner of Horus and Magnus.

The war does not go well, as Sanguinius is seemingly defeated in single combat by the bloodthirster, prompting a shared madness of the Red Thirst to break out among his sons. The fighting is particularly brutal, especially among Amit and the Fifth Company (later the Flesh Tearers), who actually kill the Space Wolves while in the grip of this madness. Sanguinius is revived when a band of former librarians goes against the Edict of Nikea to bring him back psychically, and he manages to defeat the daemons with the help of the apothecary Meros, who sacrifices himself to a Chaos ragefire that had been intended to consume Sanguinius himself.

Fear to Tread

While there is nothing inherently bad about this book, I found it incredibly hard-going, and took over a month to wade my way through. I’ve noticed this with the last Blood Angels novel to pass under my nose, Devastation of Baal, which makes me wonder if it’s something about this particular chapter that I just can’t seem to gel with! I find it odd, though, considering – as I mentioned earlier – I do actually like the idea of and the lore behind the Blood Angels…

There are quite a few nods to other Horus Heresy novels, particularly the opening trilogy (the lone survivor from the planet Murder, brother Targa, was originally part of the ragefire that created the Red Angel, a daemon later presented to Horus by Erebus). Obviously, the use of the Space Wolves as the Emperor’s executioners also harkens back to A Thousand Sons, and the novel ends with Sanguinius arriving at Ultramar, which leads into the plans of Guilliman to set Sanguinius up as the head of the Imperium Secundus. It’s handy reading the novels in publication order, I feel, as things like this are a nice way of tying up the narrative.

Ultimately, I feel that not a lot happened in this book, and that it was essentially filler for what is already becoming a massive series. The whole point of the book is to test the Blood Angels, and attempt to bring the legion over to Chaos. Horus decides to eliminate Sanguinius lest his brother replace him as Warmaster, but none of that works. Yet the novel plods its way across more than 500 pages to do so. A lot of it just felt like padding, somehow, and I think it could have done with a trim.

I also haven’t really been convinced by Horus’ turn from the light of the Emperor in a lot of the novels where he directly appears, but here especially, his readiness to kill his brother seems to come out of nowhere. I think this is made especially glaring in that Horus and Sanguinius appear fighting side-by-side in the prologue; they have a very close relationship anyway, but not enough has been made of the break on Horus’ side, it just seems to be too much of a jolt. I know Horus is meant to be the bad guy, but sometimes (like here) he just comes across as evil for the sake of it.

It was good to have the Blood Angels and Sanguinius centre stage, but I do feel that a lot of the middle novels of the series tend to draw things out a bit too much.

The Devastation of Baal

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Well folks, it took me long enough, but I’ve finally made it to the end of this book! That’s not to say that I wasn’t enjoying my time on the Blood Angels’ homeworld during a Tyranid attack – the book is actually really good, with some tremendous action scenes, as well as being quite thought-provoking.

I think the main reason I found this heavy-going at times was just how arduous those action scenes can be. We get about 200 pages of space marines fighting Tyranids, and it did become a bit much after a while. There is enough peppered throughout to keep interest, don’t get me wrong, but I just found it difficult to want to return to that melee day after day.

Another reason why I found this to be quite heavy-going is the simple fact that I’m not that big of a Blood Angels fan. For sure, I enjoy the sons of Sanguinius as much as any other casual space marine fan, but I’m not overly interested in them to the exclusion of all else. And I think this is a major point for this book – if you’re a Blood Angels fan, you’ll absolutely love it. There’s nothing but wall-to-wall red armour where everything is named something to do with blood. We get a lot of Commander Dante, and learn what it’s like to be the oldest-living space marine of the Imperium.

So, the story is basically the attack on Baal from Hive Fleet Leviathan, in what often feels like a follow-up to the Shield of Baal series from 2014. Oddly, though, while it does feel like a follow-up, a lot of what is referenced comes from the campaign books, and not another novel, which just feels a little disjointed to me! Anyway, after a long preamble where the various successor chapters of the Blood Angels gather to accept Dante’s leadership, the Shadow in the Warp descends and the Tyranids begin their attack. After a gruelling battle, where Baal and its moons is basically devastated (well, it’s in the title…) the xenos are beaten back and Guilliman shows up with loads of new Primaris Space Marines.

A lot of people have already been talking about how Guilliman saves the day yet again, and have voiced their complaints that the novel falls down because of the over-use of this device. However, I have to say that I don’t really share this view. True, the Tyranid attack stops and the Indomitus Crusade shows up, but it doesn’t truly feel like Guilliman actually defeats them. Dante and his combined Blood Angels forces do the vast majority of the fighting, and Guilliman himself actually ascribes the victory to Dante. Instead, Guilliman really only shows up for the clean-up. The main turning point comes when Cadia falls, light-years from Baal, and the Cicatrix Maledictum basically destroys the Hive Mind’s synapse long enough for the Tyranids to actually be beaten back.

Leaving entire chapters-worth of Primaris marines behind does feel a bit like a forced ending, of course, as we essentially have the Blood Angels updated for 8th Edition. Now you too can field countless droves of Primaris marines in your Blood Angels army, because Guy Haley told you it’s what happens! Seriously, it’s not the worst way of bringing this development into canon. There is an interesting scene near the end between Dante and Gabriel Seth of the Flesh Tearers, where Seth calls the Primaris replacements for the marines, and their lack of the genetic flaws of the Blood Angels means that, while they may wear the colours, they will never be true sons of Sanguinius. Which is an interesting way of looking at things, to be sure.

Dante’s reaction is similarly thought-provoking, as he seems to have a bit of an epiphany whereby his attempts to preserve the Chapter almost cause Baal to be lost to the xenos. It makes the reader question whether space marines are too caught-up in their own past glories, and whether they really are willing to lay down their lives in service of preserving the Imperium. It’s a subtle point, but I really found it intriguing.

Of course, fans have been endlessly discussing the scene between Dante and Seth, and whether there will be a civil war between the old marines and the new. While we’ve been seeing fractures already like this, I don’t think GW is going to go down this route too much, as I can see it causing further problems with the integration of the product line. People already hate them, it seems, so why encourage that divide? Doubtless, it would be interesting, but I don’t foresee anything too much just now.

Anyway, overall this was a good book, and fans of the Blood Angels will of course love it more than anyone!