Know No Fear

Hey everybody!
I’ve been busily reading my way through a few excellent novels of late, so thought it might be time to come here and share my thoughts with you all! First up, it’s time once again to return to the Horus Heresy, and finally get to meet the Ultramarines properly at book 19: Know No Fear!

This novel is basically the start of the famous Battle of Calth. Famous, I suppose in the main, due to the boxed game from Games Workshop back in 2015, which brought plastic Mk IV Space Marines to gaming tables the world over. The battle between the Ultramarines and the Word Bearers has gone down in Warhammer 40k history as one of the most personal, the enmity between the two legions running so deep as to be utterly irreparable. Let’s take a look…

The book reads rather like a disaster movie, as we see the Ultramarines massing at the Calth shipyards for what they think is a joint crusade with the Word Bearers. It has been more than 40 years since the Emperor sent Guilliman’s legion to chastise the sons of Lorgar on Monarchia, and as with everything he does, Guilliman just thinks he was doing his duty and took nothing personally. Lorgar, however, has never forgotten the humiliation he received at the hands of the Ultramarines, and in some respects it can be seen as having caused the entire Horus Heresy. At any rate, the Word Bearers are definitely not about to join forces and fight alongside the Ultramarines…

The book builds tension until about a third of the way through, where a ship crashes into one of the orbital platforms above Calth, and all hell breaks loose as the Word Bearers open fire on their fellow Astartes. Guilliman first thinks it a mistake, that the Word Bearers had thought themselves under attack and, paranoid after Monarchia, have immediately opened-fire on the Ultramarines in self-defence. But no, it doesn’t take long for the Ultramarines to realise that the Word Bearers are hell-bent on the destruction of their legion. Unfortunately, the noosphere has been knocked out by the attack, so vox traffic is halted. With no way to coordinate their defence, thousands of Ultramarines are killed.

However, the Mechanicum and the Ultramarines resistance soon manage to turn the tide, and Guilliman himself just about manages to thwart Kor Phaeron’s plan to annihilate his legion, but the Word Bearers have already unleashed several bombs on Calth’s star, causing terrible radiation poisoning of the planet, and driving the war into the catacombs and arcologies.

know no fear

I really wanted to like this book. Dan Abnett is, of course, a fan favourite, and I had been looking forward to seeing the Ultramarines properly in the Horus Heresy. However, I felt it was a little bit drawn out in terms of the initial impact of the Word Bearers attacking the orbital platforms, then it seemed to end quite abruptly, with an epilogue set long after the subterranean battle had ended. It was a bit of an odd one, and I can’t quite bring myself to say it was that great a book. I mean, Horus Rising was wonderful, and Legion is one of my all-time favourites, so I suppose I was expecting more. I don’t know.

I did enjoy the disaster-movie-feel that a lot of the novel had, and I think it was done really well to sustain that over the course of almost the whole novel. The initial cataclysm and subsequent scattered resistance was really good, though I think I would have liked to have seen more from the Word Bearers’ perspective.

It’s also worth noting that the novel is told in the present tense, which I always feel makes me read it faster than I would otherwise. Instead of chapter sub-headings, we have the “mark of Calth”, the time-stamp of each action described within said chapter, in relation to the initial attack of the Word Bearers. It gave the novel an added sense of urgency, which I think works really well alongside the disaster-movie approach.

It’s nice to see Guilliman in the Heresy at last, and I enjoyed seeing the Ultramarines at war en masse. A lot of people write Guilliman off as boring, but I’m always fascinated to read about him and his incredibly tactical brain. He’s written as being the tactical genius of all the Primarchs, and that comes out here when we see him digest dozens of battle reports at once, to form a plan of attack within minutes, while everybody is stood around him looking vaguely dumb. Some personality quirks – such as his preference for using a stylus – are carried over by the Dark Imperium novel, which I also enjoyed. He’s definitely a more interesting character than people give him credit for, and I think anybody who is bashing on the Ultramarines should take the time to read something like Know No Fear, to see how effective and badass they can actually be!

All in all, I think I was expecting more from the novel, so felt a little let-down, but still enjoyed a lot of things about this book. Probably not one of the stand-out books from the series, but definitely not one to pass over!

Ghostmaker

Hey everybody!
Earlier this week, I finally finished reading my way through Ghostmaker, the second novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. I won’t deny, it was a tough slog to get through this one in the end, not as good as the first, but get through it I did… let’s take a look…

Back to the Ghosts tonight! #Warhammer40k #GauntsGhosts

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The novel is set on the world of Monthax, as the Ghosts are preparing to fight another onslaught of Chaos Cultists. However, the actual story of this action doesn’t really begin until about 100 pages from the end. The majority of the novel is taken up with reminiscences from several key members of the regiment, tied together with a couple of pages of Gaunt walking the trenches and reassuring his men on the eve of battle.

We get to see Gaunt arrive on Tanith for the founding ceremony, and the Chaos invasion that ultimately destroyed the world. We see extended flashbacks from Major Rawne, Mkoll, Larkin, Corbec, and others, which somehow manage to interweave among each other as well as helping to inform the final story section, where the Ghosts storm a ruined building on Monthax and find a small group of Eldar from Craftworld Dolthe, who are trying to seal a webway portal to which the Chaos cultists are so desperate to gain access.

While the structure of a series of reminiscences like this is quite a tried and tested formula for telling a story, I found that it irritated me the longer it went on in this particular instance. I generally don’t read the synopses on the backs of novels like this, but had somehow caught sight of the fact that the Ghosts were going up against the Eldar, and so was looking forward to seeing that – as a result, every time I read about something else, I felt somehow cheated by it. The book isn’t a bad one, and fans of the series no doubt will appreciate the character portraits that emerge as we get to see more of individual Ghosts, but I felt that the endless flashbacks got in the way of a story that I wanted to read.

And that’s the great shame about Ghostmaker, for me. I know that, ultimately, the novel isn’t really about the Tanith vs Eldar battle, but the final chapter that actually details the fight is actually really interesting, and I wish that there had been some way of peppering these flashbacks into the narrative while throwing the focus instead on the “present” story.

I think I might have another break before making it on to Necropolis, anyway!

First and Only

Hey everybody!
I think I’m slowly getting somewhere with the new house after The Great Move 2017 – still waiting for someone to come fit a new kitchen, but these things can’t be rushed, it seems… Anyway! I have the internet again, which is a joy, as trying to write blogs on my phone is a nightmare, so less of that now!

While waiting for everything to fall into place and whatnot, I’ve been reading a few things I’d been putting off for a while. Sure enough, they’ll no doubt all make their merry way onto this here blog in due course, as I ramble inanely for a while, but today I wanted to talk about the Gaunt’s Ghosts series that I’ve just started to read anew, starting with the opening novel, First and Only.

YEAH! #Warhammer40k #GauntsGhosts

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This book series, by the venerable Dan Abnett, was originally published all the way back in the mists of time known as the 1990s, and I have memories of picking my way through it sometime after starting work in the early 2000s. Not really being a 40k enthusiast at the time, I didn’t really get a lot out of it, and it’s therefore small wonder that it had been the first and only 40k novel that I read for about a decade.

However, I’m back now, and I’ve been buying up the books in the series ready for my glorious return to it! Ever since Horus Rising, I’ve always had a real soft spot for Dan Abnett, and look forward to starting any of his 40k novels with gusto.

First and Only is the introduction to the Tanith First & Only regiment of the Imperial Guard, led by Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt. The novel is told in pretty much linear fashion across six Parts, each separated by a single chapter entitled “A Memory” that usually then foreshadows something in the subsequent Part. The structure is quite novel, to me, as I don’t really think I’ve read a full-length novel told in the same manner.

The story follows the Tanith regiment, nicknamed Gaunt’s Ghosts, and their rivalry with the Jantine Patricians as they take the forge world of Fortis Binary, which has been tainted with the warped powers of Chaos. After the battle, Commissar Gaunt comes into possession of a memory crystal that provides the catalyst for the main thrust of the story. Gaunt and his Ghosts become pawns in the ambitions of Lord General Dravere’s efforts to become Warmaster of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, and the Ghosts eventually learn that the crystal holds information that could provide the tipping point for Dravere’s bid for power.

Dravere is helped along the way by the Inquisitor Heldane, who has appeared since in Abnett’s Eisenhorn trilogy (for me to know – he may also be elsewhere, of course, but I was excited to see a familiar face pop up!). I thought the handling of the antagonist group of Heldane and Dravere, and the Jantine Patricians, was actually quite interestingly done – the story pits the Imperium against Chaos, but Heldane and Dravere aren’t truly on the side of Chaos, yet remain viable threats to Gaunt and the “good guys”.

While this is definitely military sci-fi, there’s also the sniff of a spy thriller around the central act, and I particularly enjoyed the almost le Carré-like inclusion of Gaunt’s spy-friend Fereyd. There is definitely a lot going on in the book, and once I’d managed to get into it, I have to say that I really enjoyed it and devoured the story in no time. (It helped that I was stuck on a train for a couple of hours on Friday).

I have to say, though, it did take me quite some time to get into the book. Quite early on, we’re introduced to what feels like the entire regiment, and it felt like a lot to take in. As time wears on, however, it’s relatively straightforward to keep track of who everybody is, but having a cast of 20+ people from the off, and trying to keep them all straight in my mind, did prove a little difficult at first!

But that’s a minor quibble. The book is fantastic, with a really well-told, cinematic story that is totally worth picking up. I know a few people who re-read them every so often, and I can definitely see myself joining those ranks as time goes by!

Hereticus

Hereticus Dan Abnett

I’ve made it to the end of the Eisenhorn trilogy! I finished Hereticus at the weekend and, while I’m going to try to avoid major spoilers here, some might be inevitable as I discuss just how insane this book gets! I mean “insane” in a good way, of course! Let me explain…

The book takes place about fifty years after the second, but has significant ties to both of the earlier books that really helps to tie everything into the overall storyline, which I kinda wasn’t expecting, but was a nice touch. Eisenhorn is officiating at a heresy trial when he learns the man who killed his old friend Midas Betancore is on the same world. He sets off with his team in pursuit, but discovers an Imperial Titan waiting for him, and is forced to use some of his more dangerous skills to vanquish the war machine.

During the battle, several of his colleagues are injured, so the team retires to Gudrun and Messina in order to recuperate. Unfortunately, a co-ordinated strike against Eisenhorn’s entire organisation is then launched, leading to a massive chase across the planet. Eisenhorn realises that Pontius Glaw, the disembodied cultist from Xenos, is bankrolling the mercenaries who are hunting him down, and teams up with his erstwhile protege Gideon Ravenor to finally put an end to the Chaos worshipper.

I have to say, I wasn’t as much of a fan of this book as I was of its predecessor. I think the protracted chase sequence that forms the core of the book, while it has a lot to commend it, felt a bit weird for a Warhammer novel. I mean, it reads a lot more like Murder on the Orient Express, somehow, but I do appreciate how Dan Abnett really fleshes out Gudrun as a planet, with distinct locations and geography. I’ve read so much science fiction where planets are largely one-dimensional entities, whereas here we have a planet that feels like a planet, which was really novel!

I can’t write any kind of review of this book without mentioning the body count here. As I said, Pontius Glaw sends mercenaries after Eisenhorn’s entire retinue and, while I thought that Malleus had enlarged the group around him almost unnecessarily, it was still absolutely shocking to see how so many of these people are stripped away from him. However, it doesn’t end with the attack on his estate, and I found myself genuinely distraught when certain folks kicked the bucket! Again, I’m really trying to avoid spoilers, but there are two deaths in particular at the end that I was really upset by! A testament to the writing, right there.

Final thoughts on the trilogy

I’m really glad I’ve read these books, as they seem to be seminal works from the 40k universe. My enjoyment of them was somewhat uneven, though at their best, these books really are amazing. I love the way Abnett weaves so many elements that we’re used to primarily from a gaming perspective into a genuine cohesive narrative that transcends mere game tie-in material. I think I still prefer the Ultramarines novels as the best of 40k novels, but these weren’t half bad overall, either!

Malleus

Malleus Dan Abnett

Malleus is the second book in the Eisenhorn trilogy, and I have to say, I really enjoyed this book a lot more than the first! The book picks up a century after the first, with Inquisitor Eisenhorn still hunting out the enemies of the Imperium. At first I felt a bit cheated by this huge change, as I’m sure there could have been plenty of story to tell in the intervening years, but anyway. His team has changed, inevitably, with Bequin now heading up a ‘Distaff’ of psychic blanks, and the young Interrogator, Gideon Ravenor, who will later go on to have his own trilogy.

The story is really good, and follows the trail of the demonhost Cherubael, who we met briefly in the first book. During a triumph celebration, a massive attack is launched in order to free a group of 33 psyker prisoners – or more accurately, one alpha-plus psyker known as Esarhaddon. The plot thickens due to the fact Eisenhorn is implicated as a heretic following a transmission from a fellow inquisitor where Cherubael suggests he and Eisenhorn are working together. The trail for Esarhaddon leads Eisenhorn to Cadia where, just as it seems things might be going to plan, the Inquisition catches up with them and places him under arrest. He escapes and begins to implement his plan against the demonhost, resulting in a climactic battle. The epilogue is absolutely incredible!

I wasn’t entirely sure about Xenos, but Malleus is such a great book, I’m now completely sold on this series! One of the most enjoyable sections of this novel was that spent with Eisenhorn at home in Thracian Primaris, where we see something of the more ordinary life of the Inquisitor. The whole sequence with the triumph was nicely done, and I have to say, I felt a little thrill at getting to visit Cadia!

Indeed, something I’ve found myself appreciating about this series more than any other so far is seeing the little bits and pieces that I’m familiar with from the 40k universe realised in an actual narrative form – and a grown-up narrative, at that. I mean, we know about Nurgle and Slaanesh, and Cadia and the Ordo Malleus from the game, you know? But seeing how someone with Dan Abnett’s flair for storytelling puts all of these pieces together into a brilliantly cohesive story is really quite magnificent!

I had been reading these novels interspersed with the Powder Mage trilogy, but I’ve decided to move directly on to Hereticus now, so I’ll be back with my review soon!

The Beast Arises!

Sunday evening is going pretty great!

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In a change to my original intentions of getting back to the Powder Mage trilogy, I decided to read the first book in The Beast Arises series at the weekend, as I’d heard it was a quick read, so thought it’d be good to see what it was all about before I then went in for the larger tome. I have to say, I thought it was pretty great!

The story is relatively straightforward, dealing with the Imperial Fists prosecuting a war against the xenos race labelled “Chromes”, after their shiny exoskeleton, on the planet of Ardamantua. It is the 32nd millennium, and while the Horus Heresy is in the past, its echoes continue to be felt. This is something I really liked about the book, actually – despite having only read nine of the books in the chronologically earlier series so far (though, obviously, knowing how it all ends!), I thought it was really nice to see all the little nods to that era. Something I particularly liked was how it feels almost-mythical, when Primarchs led their Legions into battle, and the like.

The plot on Ardamantua has a lot of general battle scenes, and while I’m not generally a fan of the Imperial Fists, I still thought they were generally quite interesting. For the first half of the novel, though, I found the situation on Terra much more interesting, as we see the political manoeuvrings of the High Council and the like. I’m a sucker for political stuff though, so it was kinda expected!

There’s a weird kind of disconnect roughly in the middle, where the Council agrees to dispatch a relief force of Imperial Fists to the planet, emptying the Imperial Palace of the honoured sons of Dorn, and they arrive six weeks later, where the planet is massively changed. Completely by chance, I put it down at this point, so it wasn’t exactly an issue, but I thought it a bit odd. Anyway, the relief force eventually meets up with the entrenched marines down there amid a massive gravitic storm which, it turns out, is being caused by the arrival in-system of a huge Death Star Ork battle station. The planet is overrun with the greenskinz, and they pretty much wipe out all of the Imperial forces both on the planet and in orbit. Luckily, however, word is sent to Terra before they are entirely overrun – sent to the High Council, though intercepted by the Inquisition. So I’m looking forward to the further power-play between these two factions, I have to say!

This book was pretty good, anyway – it’s less than 250pp, so a real quick read, which perhaps makes the price of £12.99 a bit steep. However, I enjoyed it, so I can’t complain too much or too loudly! I’m not an Imperial Fists fan, but it was nevertheless interesting to see the big yellow guys – as the historical defenders of Terra, they are a huge part of the lore, after all.

Something that I have to commend it for, however, is the incredible sense of expectancy that is created by the fact that the series was publicised as being the story of a huge Ork invasion, but we don’t see them until almost the end. Knowing this somehow creates a huge tension as you read as, because you’re just waiting for them to show up and stuff, but the marines are still fighting weird metal-insects (which seem to be a favourite Dan Abnett enemy!)

It was a really good start to the series, anyway – not as strong as Horus Rising for the Horus Heresy of course, but that book is pretty much the gold-standard for any kind of sci-fi multi-book series for me. Definitely worth checking out, anyway!

But now, I really am going to start reading The Crimson Campaign

Xenos

Xenos Dan Abnett

At the weekend, I read the first book in the Eisenhorn trilogy by Dan Abnett, Xenos. It was a pretty good book, though I have to admit right off, I don’t think it was as great as the Horus Heresy stuff I’ve read from him so far. That’s a difficult judgement to make, so I’ll try to expound upon it…

The book is told in first-person from the Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn’s perspective, and many times feels a bit like a memoir as he breaks the fourth wall (if such a concept can exist in books) to address the reader directly. Overall, I think I liked the style of this narrative, though there were times when I thought it was a bit weird – I think there were a couple of instances where plot twists were described that Eisenhorn clearly knew of the twist, but the first-person narrative came across like he didn’t. I’ve not read that many novels with unreliable narrators, but still, it somehow didn’t really do it for me, if I’m honest.

The plot of the book is fairly wide-ranging, its breadth being fairly shocking if I’m honest! It starts with Eisenhorn hunting a Chaos cult-leader as he engineers some nefarious scheme, but the subsequent investigation takes him on a planet-hopping journey on the tail of more cultists of Slaanesh, and even a couple of Emperor’s Children marines!

There were odd moments where the plot felt a bit, not rushed per se, but it certainly flew by in a manner I wasn’t quite expecting. Along the way, we get to see some of the inner workings of the Inquisition, but in the main this is more of an action novel as we see Eisenhorn on the trail of the Chaos cultists, who are trying to recover a powerful artifact called the Necroteuch, a book serves more as a plot device than anything else. The cultists are carrying out some archaeological research, recovering artifacts of the saruthi xenos race, in order for them to trade for the book. When Eisenhorn thwarts their attempts, the Inquisition believes the matter is over, but Eisenhorn soon discovers that the cultists are attempting to recover a copy, so the Ordo Xenos unites to prevent them, along with a full kill team of Deathwatch marines. They eventually do so, uncovering a traitor in their midst and finally eliminating the last of the cultists.

It’s a good book, don’t get me wrong, it’s just no Horus Rising, which I think I expect almost every Warhammer 40k novel to be these days! The story of an Imperial person going after Chaos cultists who are somehow involved with xenos artifacts is something of an old one, I feel, but it’s still worth a read. The fact that it’s first-person meant I got through it fairly quickly, too, which is a bonus!

As I stated in the last novel review blog I did, I’m reading this trilogy and the Powder Mage trilogy interspersed, so it’s on to The Crimson Campaign next, then I’ll return to Malleus soon!