Harry Potter

Hey everybody,
So for my blog’s birthday week this year, we’re exploring the wizarding world of Harry Potter, that magnificent series of seven books by JK Rowling that has held so many of us enthralled since the late 90s. With 500 million copies sold, the Harry Potter series is the most successful book series of all time, with the first book in the series clocking in at 120 million copies alone.

Where the hell do I begin with this?! The series needs no introduction, that’s for sure – and I’m not even going to try to provide one! I’m going to proceed with the assumption that anybody reading this is familiar with the story and the characters, as otherwise I’d probably be here all week on this one blog…

The story follows the put-upon orphan Harry Potter, as we move from his life full of drudgery with his aunt and uncle, through his discovery that he is, in fact, a wizard, and the start of his life at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In the wizarding world, Harry is quite the celebrity, as the one who caused the downfall of the Dark wizard Lord Voldemort when he was only one year old. Nobody knows quite how that happened, though Harry was left with a lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead.

As we follow Harry’s discovery of the world he previously knew nothing about, we learn about the world at the same pace Harry does. Critically, the story is told from Harry’s point of view almost exclusively, allowing certain information to be kept from us until necessary. Most importantly, we don’t understand what it means that Harry has that peculiar scar on his forehead until we get to the final book of the series.

Along the way, though, we learn about the magical world and encounter some of the many peculiarities. One of the most entertaining aspects of the series is comparing and contrasting the magical world with our own, and seeing all of the various substitutes for things that wizards have come up with. A lot of this is shown to us through Harry’s best friend Ron Weasley, who comes from a long line of wizards. As a native to the world, we’re guided through a lot of the more mundane aspects of life at Hogwarts through him. The pair are also friends with Hermione Granger, who was born to non-magical parents but has read every scrap of information that she can find about magic, providing another vector for information to us, the reader.

However, learning about the magical world in general comes somewhat secondary to learning about the mystery surrounding Harry’s life, and the events surrounding his parents’ deaths. As the series develops, we get more information, building up an irresistible puzzle that is only finally solved at the conclusion of the series. Additionally, the series is notable for growing at a pace with its audience, so the 11-year-old who picked up the first book would have matured into an adult by the time of the seventh book, and the storyline grows correspondingly darker and more mature as a result.

Harry Potter

The first three books, while getting progressively darker, nevertheless have something of a lighthearted tone as they start out. I think it’s quite clear to see that, despite the quite fearsome imagery that is described, say, during the Forbidden Forest or the final encounter with Professor Quirrell, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a children’s book. The story is fairly timeless, as we follow this neglected child in his Cinderella-like transformation into a famous wizard, and see him move from a miserable existence to actually enjoying himself and his life among the wizarding community. It’s quite light-hearted, full of gloriously British humour, with bags of adventure and excitement thrown in. While it quite obviously is part of something larger, it’s also one of the more satisfyingly-complete stories in the whole saga.

As can be expected, book two then begins to delve a little bit deeper into the wizarding world, as we see the dark underbelly of things like House Elves, and begin to explore the more shady side of life when we learn about the so-called purity of magical blood. Turns out, the magical community is a lot more bigoted and prejudiced than the first book would have us believe. Of course, there’s still plenty of humour along the way, and despite it all, there’s still a happy ending.

To my mind, it isn’t until the oppressive atmosphere of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that we begin to feel like this isn’t a series of books that is meant purely for children. We still get the comical descriptions of the Dursleys, and plenty more besides, but this is the story where things begin to turn a little dark. The Dementors being physical manifestations of depression is quite a chilling idea, and having these hooded figures with rotting flesh gliding around the school as protection against the notorious mass-murderer Sirius Black leads to quite a grim picture. However, this book is also my absolute favourite of the series. Harry learns so much about his own past, and there’s more than just that abstract sense of “I’m a wizard, I belong here” – instead, Harry feels that pull in the same way that we do, being by now quite invested in the series. Having that connection to his past, first with Lupin, and then with Sirius, it’s the first time that I think we get the sense of really feeling quite at home in this alternative world.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire begins to change everything. It blows the landscape open by introducing the concept of magical education outside of Hogwarts, to say nothing of providing the central turning point of the series by seeing the return of Lord Voldemort to a physical body. The books kept getting longer, and book five is by far the longest of the series. Continuing the theme of expanding the wizarding world outside of one London street and a boarding school, we get to visit both the main centre of magical healing in the UK, and the Ministry of Magic itself. Even book four managed to confine itself, for the majority of the story, to the school; I could be wrong, but I do believe that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has more of its action take place outside of Hogwarts than does within those walls. The storyline, by this point, has gotten pretty huge, but at the same time, we begin to get some significant answers to questions that have been in the background for a while now. While, after five books, A Song of Ice and Fire has gotten so unwieldy as to be ridiculous, Rowling manages here to both refine the story that she’s telling while allowing it that expansion room – the result is nothing short of spectacular, and it continually baffles me how people can say these books are no good.

Harry Potter

The final pair of books feel, somehow, the most adult of the series. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince shows our intrepid hero engaging in some fairly heavy stuff at this point, as Dumbledore begins to really hone him into the weapon that he needs him to be. We also continue that theme of getting answers, as we learn a great deal about Lord Voldemort’s past in an effort to find his weaknesses. We’ve now had six books that have managed to tell a phenomenally detailed, well-constructed and, to top it all, thrilling adventure story that proves, at this point, to basically be one long story split across six books.

If it can be said that the wheels came off this story anywhere, I feel that it is with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Up to this point, as I said, the story is wonderfully linear, despite its epic scope, and you can look back from book six and see quite clearly how things weren’t so much set up, but have just come to be, with a sort of realistic inevitability that is the envy of any author seeking to produce a series of books like this. But then we have the final book, and right away we’re thrown into a story where wandlore is suddenly much more important than we have been given to believe, and an in-universe fairy story is almost the crux of the whole plot.

Now, I’m not trying to say that I dislike book seven – despite it having almost a completely different feeling to it, and there being some ropey parts in the middle where the plot slows down as the heroes try to decide what their first move ought to be, it still manages to provide quite a good closure to the previous six books. I just find myself wishing that we’d been better-prepared for it, somehow, you know? If only Ron had had some cause to compare an adventure to “one of those old Beedle stories”, or if Ollivander had expounded a little more on “the wand chooses the wizard”. It would have helped, I feel, these elements to have felt a little less like they’re tacked-on as a plot device to bring about the resolution to the series.

We do get some element of the importance of wands during the fourth book, when we learn that brother wands will refuse to fight one another. We also know that both Ron and Neville never had much luck with their hand-me-down wands. But the whole thing about ownership and allegiance seems a little too out-of-the-blue somehow. If only Ollivander had said, back in his shop, something along the lines of “your wand will give you its allegiance, though it can switch that allegiance if lost in battle”. I don’t know, but something… The fact that wand lore is so important in the final battle just feels too abrupt, and – dare I say – convenient.

I should hasten to say, however, that I don’t think the ideas of wand lore, or the Beedle stories, are bad. I just think we ought to have had some hint sooner. The idea of horcruxes was given to us in book two, after all – we just didn’t recognise it for what it was. Having merely “the wand chooses the wizard” being the setup for the finale just needs to have been further explored beforehand, in my view, for it to not feel tacked-on.

But hey, I’m just a guy on the internet…

I feel as though I’m beginning to sound too harsh here. The problem, for me, is that the story has been so well-crafted, with such believable characters, and such a phenomenal sense of realism that, perhaps inevitably, we have come to expect such great things from it. The laws of this magical universe have always allowed for things to make sense, as much as you can say a work of fantasy can do so. The plot, while not obvious from the outset, makes sense when you look back on it from the conclusion.

Harry Potter

I’ve read these books so often now, they’re really very much like old friends to me, and re-reading them always feels like something of an event for me. The first five books feel as well-known as the back of my hand, whereas the final two, being a little more recently published, are a little fresher to me. Being so familiar with the storyline, I enjoy reading the books to revel in the details, and ponder all manner of what-if situations – something that tends to rankle with my wife, who is herself a much bigger fan of the franchise than I am! I suppose it’s a problem with the richness of the universe JK Rowling has produced, though – with this much depth, the questions get correspondingly more in-depth. I mean, do Scottish students attending Hogwarts really need to travel to King’s Cross to take the train to Scotland?

I’m just so much of a fan of these books, that I suppose it’s inevitable that I’ll end up picking on these tiny details, and wanting to know more!

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Black Spire (a review)

I finished reading Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire last night, in what was possibly a record for me right now, as I’d managed to read a novel in less than a week! If I’m honest, I wasn’t entirely enjoying this book, but I knew I wanted to have it finished in time for Easter.

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The book is almost a sequel to Phasma, as the central character is once more the Resistance spy Vi Moradi. Working on General Leia’s instructions, she heads out to the remote world of Batuu shortly after the Battle of Crait, in an effort to establish a base and recruitment ground there. As a partner, she is given her erstwhile nemesis from the earlier novel, Captain Cardinal, now having begun his rehabilitation and going by his given name, Archex.

The duo crash-lands on the planet, and have their supplies stolen by the local gangster’s thugs, and so Vi gets herself a job at the local scrapyard, sorting junk, in an effort to earn enough money to buy it all back. The first part of the novel is really quite schmaltzy, as everything goes well for her, and all of the locals are either positive or, at worst, indifferent to her. We get to see the locals at Black Spire Outpost, and tour the local sights in a manner
that underlines how the book basically ties into the experience at the Disney Resorts in Anaheim and Orlando.

However, the First Order is tipped off to her presence on the planet, and send Lieutenant Wulfgar Kath down to capture her. Vi’s efforts to recruit the locals to the Resistance do not go down too well at first, but over time, as the oppression of the First Order makes itself known, the tide begins to turn. While the Outpost never formally comes out in open support of the Resistance, they are nevertheless able to establish their base in some ancient ruins, and some of the local farmers begin to drift in as part-time recruits, at least.

As I said at the beginning, I didn’t really enjoy this book. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it an awful lot more than Phasma, but I felt like the fact everything just went so well for Vi made it feel like it was pitched at a younger age range, as condescending as that might sound. I was trying to get this point across when I discussed it with the other half; Star Wars rarely has things going right for people, and so I’ve come to expect there to be some conflict, and a lot of stumbles and road blocks. However, once we’ve dealt with the crash, Vi meets some really helpful locals, who are almost sickeningly altruistic, and my preconceptions about what Star Wars is led me to expect a pay-off that never came. Once I was over that initial reaction (well, it took me to get to roughly the middle of the book before I could get to that stage!) I don’t think I disliked the book as much – it read so much better as a young-adult novel than a more adult novel, if that makes sense.

Along similar lines, this book also suffers from quite a lot of “movies-only” syndrome, whereby a lot of the references only refer back to the movies, often inappropriately. For instance, the Outpost cantina serves a bewildering variety of drinks, a couple of which have really bizarre names: the Fuzzy Tauntaun and Dagobah Slug Slinger spring to mind here. Sure, they’re fun and no doubt they’re sold in the theme park, but within the context of the universe, Dagobah is supposed to be a planet only a select few people know about, while Hoth is so far off the beaten track that Tauntauns may well have no meaning to the wider galactic public. It’s such a nitpicky point, I’m almost abashed at bringing it up, but it’s something that I always find myself railing against when I’m reading, because it goes against that suspension of disbelief.

My only other gripe with this book, then, was the way that the First Order is portrayed – but I don’t think that was anything to do with the author, so much as the way the organization has appeared since 2015’s The Force Awakens. We still don’t have any real substance for them as a group – they’re there as the antagonist, and there are hundreds of tiny little moments of playground-style bullyings and venalities, but there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to them other than being a group for our intrepid band of heroes to go up against. Sure, back in 1977, all we knew about the Empire was that they were the bad guys, but Tarkin’s talk of the Imperial Senate gave them a gravitas – we knew that the Empire was the established government, albeit a tyrannical regime that needed to be fought against. We’re now well into the sequel universe but we’ve still not seen anything beyond the shady “there was once an Empire, they retreated into the Unknown Regions, then the First Order appeared, but it was really Palpatine’s ploy all along”. It’s a problem that I’ve whinged about before, of course, but I feel like we now desperately need more of those gaps filling between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. We need to see more of what went on in the Unknown Regions; we need to find out what those secret storehouses on Jakku were all about, and we need to get more info about the New Republic, and how that all fits together. The Hosnian incident, referred to a couple of times in the book, lacks a lot of punch, I think, due to the fact we don’t know enough about that side of the galaxy.

But as I say, that’s a problem with Star Wars in general right now, and not specifically with this book!

Black Spire Outpost has obviously changed since I last checked in there, during the new Thrawn trilogy, and seems to be thriving as a result. There are several interesting mentions, including Hondo Ohnaka apparently taking up residence there, but also the scrap merchant that Vi works for, Savi, who is said to be a friend of Lor San Tekka, and his workers all seem to have some affiliation, however loose, with the Church of the Force idea. I’d like to see that explored more, and get some real meat on those bones! Vi finds a couple of items amid the junk that seem to be really potent Jedi artifacts (is one of them a holocron?) that makes me wonder where Savi is getting his junk from.

The novel ends with the First Order arriving in force at Batuu, with none other than Kylo Ren in orbit in a Star Destroyer. Now, I feel like this is very strongly setting up a sequel, though I believe it’s also tied quite strongly to the theme park experience, so maybe there’s something there that I’m missing. However, combined with the stuff about Savi, I feel like there’s more story left to be told. Despite not being the biggest fan of the book, I’d still like to see if there is more that we can expect to see here!

The Unremembered Empire

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Last week, I finished reading The Unremembered Empire, the 27th novel in the Horus Heresy series. I’ve not read one of these books since Betrayer back in the summer. In real time, there is the short story anthology Mark of Calth to check out, as well as the Salamanders novel Vulkan Lives, though I’ve decided to leap over some of those novels that don’t really hold any interest for me and keep ploughing through the main storyline. (That said, I might come back to some of the short stories, we’ll see!)

In the weeks and months after the invasion of Ultramar by the Word Bearers, Roboute Guilliman has sought to create something of a haven for the Imperial loyalists in the five hundred worlds. Since the planet of Sotha has seen the mysterious Pharos xenotech that has almost replaced the Astronomican as a light through the Ruinstorm, principally squads of Salamanders and Space Wolves, the latter sent to shadow Guilliman and censor him if he proves to be disloyal.

After an attack on the Ultramarines’ Primarch by shadowy members of the Alpha Legion, Guilliman reveals his plans to provide an Imperium Secundus centred on Macragge, but he is incredibly reluctant to sit on the throne himself. However, when he is about to reluctantly take up the mantle of regent, none other than Lion el’Johnson arrives with near-Legion strength Dark Angels, following the light of the Pharos. Guilliman finds it difficult to trust the Lion, however, due to his almost compulsive keeping of secrets, one of which proves almost disastrous for Macragge, as Konrad Curze is revealed to have hidden on the Lion’s ship.

Curze and the Lion aren’t the only Primarchs to descend upon Macragge, however, as not only Vulkan arrives, insane following his torture at the hands of Curze, but also Sanguinius and his Blood Angels, fresh from their battles in the Signus Cluster.

Curze runs amok in Magna Macragge Civitas, over a night of hell for the combined Ultramarines and Dark Angels forces, though he is sent into the Warp by the Perpetuals John Grammaticus and Damon Prytanis, who have arrived on the planet to fulfill the wishes of the Cabal by killing Vulkan, furthering their plans to allow Horus to win the war and for Chaos to burn itself out: if Vulkan is not present to help defend Terra, this will be easier. Guilliman proclaims Sanguinius as the new Emperor, as the Primarchs agree to immediately forget about this whole episode if it is proven that Terra and the Emperor still stand firm.

The Unremembered Empire

I’d fully expected to really enjoy this book. Dan Abnett is of course a fan favourite, and I really enjoyed Know No Fear, the last time he wrote about the Ultramarines. I don’t know whether it was just something as straightforward as the fact the cover had me expecting Sanguinius to show up for more of the book, but I just couldn’t get into it as much as previous books. There’s a lot going on, for sure, and Abnett covers a lot of ground between following up with Vulkan, bringing the Lion and Curze as well as then Sanguinius into the five hundred worlds.

We actually have a lot of Guilliman and the Lion, which was actually quite interesting for the most part, as we see the pair of them grow to almost-trust each other as potentially the only two Loyalist Primarchs remaining in the galaxy. I find it interesting that the Lion is a consummate secret-keeper in a period of time when we don’t have the whole baggage of Luther and the Fallen yet. It’s just part of his shtick, I guess. I’ve not read much of the Lion yet in the series, having avoided much of him after Descent of Angels, but this was a really welcome return to him.

Guilliman was much more of the statesman that we have come to expect from Ultramarines at large, with a surprising lack of the tactical/strategical brilliance we saw in Know No Fear. At least, that was my feeling! He’s still a much more interesting character than a lot of people would have you believe, of course, and his role in the book as the architect of the Imperium Secundus was really fitting overall. Maybe that’s where his strategic thinking comes in, though? Hm.

I think the highlight of this book, though, is probably the night of terror wrought by Curze throughout Magna Macragge Civitas. It’s a study in terror tactics, and I was really impressed at how relentless the pacing was. We do get inside of Curze’s head, and see how he is driven by his visions, and that sense of invincibility that he has, having seen his death already. However, for the majority (the entirety? I can’t remember) of the night, we’re seeing things from the eyes of others, which gives a real sense of the danger going on.

There is almost a Shattered-Legions sense from the book early on, when we see White Scars, an Imperial Fist, Iron Hands and Salamanders all converge on Macragge – only to discover that there is an Iron Warriors warsmith in charge of the Pharos! However, this is quickly pushed into the background as we focus on the Ultramarines and Dark Angels. Rightly so? I don’t know. They do make something of a reappearance later on, of course, but it feels a bit like a lost opportunity. For sure, the ending does feel almost rushed, with the denouement with Sanguinius being proclaimed Emperor coming almost as an afterthought…

I realise that I’m being quite critical of this book, but I suppose that’s only because I was hoping for so much from a Dan Abnett novel, and his previous offerings in the series have been pretty solid. I think it’s a pretty well-known fact by this point, however, that the Horus Heresy series does slacken off a little bit in the middle, as we’ve got so much ground to cover. Having 18 Legions pretty much all as important as each other is a tall order, though, and things do broaden out considerably in order to cover every corner. I think it does begin to tighten back up, though, as we get into the 30s, so hopefully there’s not long to go before we get back into the realms of the good stuff.


I think I said this about a year ago, but I want to get back into reading the series, and see if I can make some decent headway into it all. Two more novels have recently been released in paperback, bringing us up to fifty-one paperbacks now available. Gulp! I’ve definitely got some catching up to do, but at least I’m at the halfway point of the 54-book series!

Dark Imperium: Plague War

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It’s taken me almost a month to finish reading this book, but I feel like I need to point out that I haven’t been dragging my feet because the book is bad – far from it, it’s a really great 40k story in what I’m coming to think of as the “iconic” mode, as opposed to all of the throwaway stories that I’ve read in the past. But, as I’ve said already, I’ve been moving house, so time has been at a premium!

Plague War follows on from where Dark Imperium finished off, with the stage set for a Guilliman vs Mortarion showdown. In many ways, Plague War is a much better book, as it doesn’t really come with all of the baggage of the new edition that its predecessor had. Rather than reading the book to find out what would be in store for the new Primaris range, we can instead enjoy it on its own merits, and while I think I’ll most likely re-read them both when the inevitable third part comes along, I do think that the second act is definitely stronger.

The first couple of hundred pages feel like they are very deliberately setting the scene for the showdown on the planet Parmenio, presenting us with a number of small vignettes focused on several major characters to the story. We meet Frater Mathieu, who has settled much more into the role of Militant-Apostolic to Guilliman, and is continuing his schemes to make the Primarch a true believer in the divinity of the Emperor. We follow the Guard, as always, alongside some Sisters of Battle as they investigate the presence of a potential Imperial Saint in the city of Tyros, who first appears at the turning point in the battle against the forces of Nurgle. We meet several of Nurgle’s daemons, we catch up a little with Mortarion, and we also get to catch up with the Primaris marine Justinian Parris, who is seconded to the Novamarines following the events of the earlier novel. It’s all a little bit of a jumble – Guilliman himself doesn’t even appear until well over 100 pages, to take delivery of a curious strongbox.

While Mortarion is cooking up something particularly disgusting on Iax, which we got some clues about in book one, his feint on Parmenio is intended to bring Guilliman to his knees, and so the main portion of the book deals with the battle there. There’s only so much disease, filth and ichor that I can really take, but nevertheless, I felt it was somewhat toned down compared with previous Nurgle-centric novels. The Novamarines manage to destroy one of Mortarion’s clocks on the planet, which means that when the daemonic incursion takes place, the Neverborn are at a distinct disadvantage, due to the lack of any Warp power on Parmenio. They still put up a good show, of course, and Guilliman is almost destroyed by Mortarion’s scythe Silence, but at the crucial moment, the Battle Sisters bring the Saint onto the field of battle (defying Guilliman’s express orders) and her mere presence manages to send most of the daemon’s back to the Warp. Mortarion escapes to fight another day, calling out to his estranged brother to follow him to Iax and pretty much setting up the third novel, and the Imperium forces are left to gather their thoughts and their dead.

The fairly ambiguous end sees Roboute Guilliman open the strongbox, and begin to read possibly the only remaining copy of Lorgar’s Lectitio Divinitatus.


I said before, this is a much more enjoyable novel than Dark Imperium, and I suppose part of that has to do with how I approached reading the earlier novel. There is still an element of seeing these sorts of novels as miniatures catalogues, although there aren’t any new miniatures hinted at that I recall. The Astraeus super-heavy tank gets a mention, though, which I suppose was new at the time this book came out!

The novel did feel a lot like a short series of disjointed events for probably the first half, which didn’t really help me get into it too much. It became easy to pick up and put down after a single chapter, rather than wanting to read through for a good period of time. Nevertheless, once the story got underway, it was very enjoyable – though my personal disinterest in Titan warfare meant a particularly long chapter about 3/4 of the way into the book was just tedious to get through.

I thought it was really interesting how the Imperial Saint, Kaylia, was handled, though. She seems to have been just a regular girl who happened to have, to all intents, the Emperor act through her, bringing the cleansing light of His majesty to the disease-ridden battlefields of Parmenio. One of the daemons actually refers to her as “the anathema”, their word for the Emperor, though once this power has proven to be too much for a mere mortal to contain, and she expires as a result, Guilliman writes her off as an unsanctioned Psyker and berates Mathieu for planting the seed that enabled the Battle Sisters to take possession of her. The war between the Primarch and the Ministorum is clearly not over yet!

I do wish that more had been explored of that, but I suppose it’s possible that we’ll see more of it in the next book, which I hope will follow up on a lot of this stuff. Will Roboute Guilliman become a believer? I don’t know what to make of it – and I really don’t know what to make of him. Throughout this and the last book, we are led to believe that Guilliman, once he had come out of stasis thanks to the help of the Ynnari, had a chat with the Emperor on Terra. During the confrontation with Mortarion, however, it is implied that Guilliman did not, which makes me wonder what’s going on there. Is he trying to create some kind of cult of personality around himself, and maybe eventually declare the Emperor to be dead at last? I think he is now aware of the reasons for the Primarch project, and their eventual redundancy, so maybe his loyalty has shifted a little. I’m not trying to say that he is about to fall to Chaos, of course! I’m just wondering if we might be setting up for a further schism on the side of “good”, with the Ministorum heading up a pro-Emperor faction, and Guilliman at the head of his own? Like an Imperium Secundus, but for the modern age? Who knows!

I was a bit disappointed by the actual Guilliman/Mortarion confrontation however, and while inevitable, the fact that pretty much all of the Nurgle commanders escaped to fight another day was disappointing. I suppose it’s difficult to have such a confrontation where, presumably, the author isn’t allowed to kill off such a hugely important character (with a £90 miniature that was only released a year and a half ago…) In addition, the battle involving Typhus was almost entirely a bit of a sideshow, and I can just imagine the Herald of Nurgle twirling his moustache with a snicker and a “until we meet again!”

“You haven’t seen the last of me, muchachos!”

Overall, it’s definitely worth the read, although as the second part of a trilogy it both benefits and suffers, by having a decent story to build out from, albeit with no real sense of closure quite yet.

Gaming catch up, and more!

Hey everybody!
I tend to talk about Warhammer a lot on this blog, which I suppose is fine because it is my blog and all, but every so often I like to branch out a bit and take a look at the wider world, and see what’s going on that I might have missed! Well, I thought today would be one such branch, as I take some time to catch up with what I’ve been up to and whatnot!

I read this article on New Year’s Day, and I feel weirdly sad to see Christian Petersen leave FFG. I suppose it’s just a bit of fear of the new, and while I haven’t really been all that into FFG games of late (there was a time when they were the only publisher I bought from), I still feel a sort of attachment to the company, and of course, its CEO. I used to enjoy the In-Flight Reports during GenCon, and always thought he sounded like a cool guy. Hopefully we’ll continue to see amazing quality games coming from the company, anyway, and I hope we don’t get too much of a shake-up when he is replaced. Although I remain quite firmly convinced that Lord of the Rings LCG is going to be saying farewell soon enough!

There was another preview for the Arkham Horror LCG on the same day, showing Tarot cards as a new type of player card for the game, which sound like an interesting idea. Over the festive period, I started the ball rolling with building a couple of new investigator decks for the game, as I’m intending to finally get around to the Dunwich Legacy! It’s been a few years now, of course, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the game has in store for me as I venture beyond the core set! Stay tuned for updates on that one – Arkham Horror LCG is definitely a fun game, and if you’re a fan of the lore, it certainly has a lot to offer!

In 2018, I played a grand total of 47 games. I used to play that many in a month, so this is a definite down-turn, but in December I started making a conscious effort to try and play more. That was certainly helped by playing the Harry Potter deck-building game with Jemma over Christmas (I’ll have to get round to featuring that on the blog sometime soon!) Excitingly, she has said that playing that game has made her better-predisposed to trying stuff like Lord of the Rings again, so hopefully we can trudge off into Mordor together soon!

Though I’m not sure we’ll be playing much Magic anytime soon…

The new set, Ravnica Allegiance, is coming out at the end of the month, and is quite exciting for me as it features two of my very favourite guilds, Rakdos and Orzhov. While I did buy some bits for the last set, Guilds of Ravnica, as it only had Dimir as a guild I usually play I wasn’t entirely fussed with it. I did actually build a Boros deck, as I ended up with a lot of those cards in the packs I picked up, and I do like playing Boros on occasion, but I am particularly looking forward to the Rakdos and Orzhov cards this time around, as well as another perennial favourite, Simic!

I feel quite excited about this set, even if I don’t get to play anything of it. We’re getting some exciting new cards for some of my favourite guilds:

The new mechanic for Rakdos is Spectacle, which offers an alternative casting cost if an opponent lost life this turn – in keeping with the classic Rakdos, Lord of Riots guild leader, naturally. They’re discounts on some cards, and increases on others to yield enhanced effects. Speaking of the cult leader himself, he’s getting a new card – Rakdos, the Showstopper – as are many guild leaders of old, such as Lavinia and Zegana. Each guild also gets a new Legendary Creature, which will be fun for Commander, and there are a couple of new Planeswalkers, including Kaya for the Orzhov (last seen in Conspiracy 2, so that’s fun the ghost assassin is now in a regular set).

Orzhov is getting an interesting new mechanic, Afterlife, which creates a 1/1 Spirit token when the creature with Afterlife dies. It wouldn’t be Orzhov without seeing Teysa again, and of course she’s back with new token shenanigans, which I’m sure will make her a powerhouse when she comes into the wild. Granting tokens vigilance and lifelink is lovely, and causing a trigger to occur twice just makes Afterlife so much more powerful on its own. She’s going to be a hit, I’m sure – I’m just a little sad I probably won’t be able to get her outside of a lucky pack opening!

Simic has Adapt, which allows you to put +1/+1 counters on a creature if there aren’t any by paying the Adapt cost. Given the number of counter-synergies within Simic guild cards alone, I can imagine Commander players are going to get a whole lot of fun out of using these mechanics with older iterations from the guild. I can certainly see myself adding in a few to my Prime Speaker Zegana deck, for sure! New Zegana still gives some card draw, but acts a bit like a Lord for all cards with a +1/+1 counter on them, giving them trample. Very handy. In case you aren’t interested in beating your opponent down the traditional way, Simic also has an alternative win condition with Simic Ascendancy, which allows you to put growth counters on it whenever you add a +1/+1 counter to a card – if Simic Ascendancy has 20 or more growth counters on it, you win! Cards like Hydroid Krasis, which enters the battlefield with X +1/+1 counters, or Combine Guildmage, who gives you an additional +1/+1 counter on any cards entering the battlefield for a turn, or Biogenic Upgrade, which allows you to distribute three +1/+1 counters across creatures you control, then to double the counters on that creature, will definitely help you get Simic Ascendancy close to 20 growth counters! Of course, that’s the dream, but even so!

I think it’s safe to say that I’m a lot more excited for Ravnica Allegiance, at any rate!!

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Seeing the new year in with this #nowReading

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Finally, I thought I’d have a brief ramble about a book I finished reading at New Year, United States of Japan. Taking as its starting point that the Axis won World War II, we see a very different take on the West Coast of America, as Japan is in charge of most of the area. There are pockets of American resistance, fighting out of the Rockies, but Japan holds California in an iron grip. The majority of the book takes place in the late 1980s, but it’s a lot more technologically advanced, with everybody using porticals (basically, smartphones) to play games almost constantly. This activity is strictly monitored by the authorities, so when a game called Unites States of America is suddenly made available, showing an alternate take on the end of the war, these rebels are shut down with maximum prejudice. The whole thing ends in a rather shocking denouement in San Diego, with the future fairly unsure for our protagonists.

I went into this novel with a bit of trepidation, as I wasn’t sure it was going to be all that good. I’m not entirely up on my Japanese culture, and there were a number of references to it peppered throughout, but I found the book really easy to read, and positively raced through it. I do enjoy alt-histories like this, and I love a good post-apocalyptic storyline, so the fact that both elements were combined here was really quite fun.

One of my main frustrations with the book, though, was that I found myself wanting to know more about the wider world than we were getting from the story. WW2 was said to end in 1948, then the novel leaps forward 40 years, with only a few fleeting references to what Germany was up to in Europe and on the East Coast of America. I know Peter Tieryas has written a second book within the same universe, which seems to deal more with a specific aspect of the universe than seeing things from a wider perspective, but I find myself wanting to know more of what this world could look like! Hopefully there will be a third book that might see that.

At any rate, it was a real discovery for me in the final days of 2018, and I would say it’s definitely worth a read if you’re into alternative takes on stuff like this!

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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#nowReading #Warhammer40k #GauntsGhosts

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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!

Dead Sky, Black Sun

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The third volume in the Ultramarines series by Graham McNeill, this one forms a direct sequel to both the previous installment, Warriors of Ultramar, as well as McNeill’s earlier novel, Storm of Iron.

While Uriel Ventris may have played a successful part in repelling the tyranids on the world of Tarsis Ultra, his unorthodox methods were not approved of by the larger Ultramarines Chapter, and so he and his sergeant Pasanius are exiled from the Chapter on a Blood Oath to destroy some daemonic engines that Chief Librarian Tigurius has seen in a vision. All of this is dealt with by the short story Consequences that precedes the main story proper, anyway.

Dead Sky, Black Sun sees Ventris and Pasanius on their way to discover just what this vision could have meant, when their ship is attacked in the Warp by the Omphalos Daemonium, a daemon engine we saw briefly in The Enemy of My Enemy, the short story I’d read following Storm of Iron. The daemon takes the Ultramarines to Medrengard, the homeworld of the Iron Warriors deep within the Eye of Terror, and tells them that the daemon engines they seek are to be found within the stronghold of Khalan-Ghol, but its purpose is hardly altruistic, as it tasks Ventris with retrieving the Heart of Blood from within the fortress – “you will know it when you see it”.

While Ventris of course has no intention of keeping a bargain with the daemon, he nevertheless uses all opportunities presented to him to help fulfill his Blood Oath. And so he and Pasanius begin their journey. Along the way, they meet up with Ardaric Vaanes and his Renegades, and attempt to infiltrate the fortress only to be caught by its lord, none other than the half-breed Honsou!

The Space Marines are given over to the Savage Morticians deep within the bowels of Honsou’s fortress, creatures I’d have expected to be more at home in Commorragh than here, but whatever. Ventris himself, for defying Honsou, is stitched inside the Daemonculaba, a horrific Warp-spawned engine/womb hybrid where the Iron Warriors seek to make more of their kind. Somehow, Ventris manages to escape his grisly fate, and along with significantly less renegades, escapes the Savage Morticians only to find themselves in the land of the Unfleshed – the failures of the Daemonculaba process. These horrific brutes at first fight the Space Marines, though their leader smells the Daemonculaba on Ventris and takes them in as kindred. Eurgh.

Together with the Unfleshed, the Marines storm the citadel once more, and all hell breaks loose when they release the daemon bound to its centre, the Heart of Blood. At this point, the Omphalos Daemonium shows up and there ensues a titanic battle between the two, with the Heart of Blood victorious. However, the Omphalos Daemonium’s daemonic engine is left behind, and Ventris, Pasanius and the remaining Unfleshed use it to flee from Khalan-Ghol. Honsou, barely surviving the attack on his fortress, teams up with Vaanes and a grisly by-product of Ventris’ time within the Daemonculaba – what appears to be a Chaos clone of the Ultramarine…


This is one hell of a grisly book!

I know it’s set within the Eye of Terror, so anything goes, but still! There is a lot of swimming through blood and body parts, and various mutant hybrids, and it’s all just really quite grim!

Maybe because of that, I found myself enduring this one rather than enjoying it, as I did with the previous two. I suppose the pared-down nature of the story, with just the two Marines rather than the whole company, didn’t really help there, though. I enjoyed the earlier Ultramarines novels because they showed how the Space Marines fit into the Imperium, and whatnot. There was a really quite nice sense of world-building in that regard there. Here, however, the story felt a little more small-scale, and while I suppose it offers a fascinating look into the worlds of Chaos and what the Iron Warriors get up to on their home turf, I just wasn’t feeling as into it as I had previously.

The way that the novel brings together the Iron Warriors and Ultramarines novel-universes, though, was really very good, and I’m glad I took the time to read Storm of Iron before getting back into this series.

Having briefly looked over the remaining three novels in this series, I find myself a bit dismayed to discover that the next two seem to be dealing with Ventris’ attempts to rejoin the Chapter, as I’d hoped for more general Ultramarines action. It’s not to say Ventris isn’t an interesting character, or that his arc is not worth reading – I think I just prefer to see Space Marines fighting on the larger scale.

But I guess we’ll just have to see!