Star Wars: Thrawn (a review)

Finished the new #Thrawn today! #StarWars

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

At the weekend, I finished reading the latest new canon Star Wars novel, Thrawn. I know that this is becoming a theme for me with new canon novels lately, but if I’m being completely honest, I was not a fan.

The storyline follows Thrawn’s climb through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, starting with him attending the academy. Thrawn in school? Urgh. True, it isn’t quite the true Hogwarts experience, but… I mean, seriously?

Okay, so the story immediately starts with a basic retelling of the Mist Encounter short story written for the Adventure Journal, which details how Thrawn was discovered on an abandoned planet close to the border with the Unknown Regions by Voss Parck. Captain Parck returns here very briefly, as he discovers Thrawn and brings him to the Emperor as “a gift”. Turns out, Thrawn met Anakin Skywalker on some nebulous adventure during the Clone Wars, and the Emperor, believing his power to originate somewhere outside the known galaxy, wants to keep Thrawn close.

Thrawn is given the cadet Eli Vanto as a sort of translator/aide as the two go through the naval academy, graduate, and begin their career. We follow the two as they pursue smugglers and pirates, and tangle with the High Command as Thrawn inevitably shows up his superiors. In the middle of all of this, we also follow the career of Arihnda Pryce, who hails from the Outer Rim world of Lothal but travels through the Coruscant elite until she has enough dirt on high-ranking Imperials that she basically forces Tarkin to give her the governorship of Lothal. The character is one I’m not familiar with, though was convinced I’d heard the name somewhere – turns out she’s from Rebels, where I believe she’s kind of a badass. I still haven’t started watching that show yet, though. Her character development is a little jumpy as a result of trying to get her from A to B, though that is still symptomatic of Thrawn also, who sometimes feels like he went through years of growth in the space of a chapter.

Thrawn

Thrawn has been brought out of Legends and into the Star Wars canon proper thanks to his use in the Rebels cartoon. While I’m not against this fundamentally, as I’m all for keeping the classics alive, I’m a little dismayed that he doesn’t seem to be the same guy that I came to know and love from Heir to the Empire all those years ago. True, we have the art thing going on, and he’s still in command of the Chimaera (a point at which I actually cheered), but he doesn’t feel like the same guy who is in control of everything. Of course, this book tells his origin, but this brings me to the point I was getting at in the video above – did we need this story? His inclusion in Rebels seems to indicate that yes, we do, but for years we’ve pretty much made do with the couple of short stories by Zahn that show specific points in Thrawn’s life, and that’s been fine. Do we need to see Thrawn at school? Do we need to see him as Lieutenant, Commodore, Captain, and the like? I don’t think we do.

Something that I always appreciated about Thrawn as a character was the element of mystery that was involved there, how an alien had risen so high in the ranks of the largely xenophobic Empire. I mean, sure, we had a lot of snippets of info dropped throughout the years, but those snippets felt like they were a part of his legend, and that was enough. I also really enjoyed the fact that we never had a point-of-view scene from him – everything was always told through the filter of, primarily, Captain Pellaeon. Now, we’ve seen behind the curtain to some extent, and I’m not sure I want that.

Speaking of Pellaeon, his replacement appears to be Eli Vanto, who probably has the most character development of any of the characters. Vanto goes from a supply cadet to being on the frontline, and moves from being resentful and almost jealous of Thrawn’s career advancement, to content at being where he is, and improving in tactical nous and leadership. The novel ends with an epilogue that kinda confused the hell out of me, though, where Vanto suddenly appears in the Unknown Regions making contact with the Chiss Ascendancy on the recommendation(?) of Thrawn, who is now Grand Admiral. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and I have the strong feeling that there is going to be a sequel of some sort that will follow up on this. The sad thing for me, then, is that I don’t know if I’d actually want this…

This is really the biggest issue for me with this novel. As a book, it was fine, I think it was a fine story that is actually pretty enjoyable. The biggest problem for me is the fact that it’s about Thrawn. If it was any other character, I think I would have been really interested all the way through. But the baggage that I have from Heir to the Empire fandom really gets in the way, and I find that I really can’t get past that. Heir to the Empire will forever be among my top three (if not the top) Star Wars novels ever written, and this unfortunately just doesn’t really come close.

Aftermath: Empire’s End

Hey everybody,
Well, it’s been a slog, but I’ve finally made it through the third book in the Aftermath trilogy, Empire’s End. It’s been a slog for many reasons, not all of which are to do with the book itself, weirdly. But I have to say this now: this book just feels too weird to me, and I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to review it. Prepare for lots of spoilers, and also lots of rambling!

The book continues the story of Norra, Sinjir, Jas and Temmin, alongside the daemonic Mister Bones, as they continue to pursue high-ranking Imperials for trial. Discovering the Imperial fleet has assembled around the dirtball planet of Jakku, they head into the Western Reaches and almost get shot down – Norra and Jas make it to the surface in an escape pod, though Mister Bones is also ejected to look after them. Point number one on the weirdness chart: Norra abandons her son in the middle of a warzone in order to pursue her vengeance against Grand Admiral Sloane. Having previously abandoned him to go fight with the Rebellion, I find this woman to be utterly reprehensible, and literally went from having any interest in the character to absolutely zero sympathy in the space of a couple of sentences. At pretty much all of her subsequent appearances in the book, she just irritated the hell out of me, and I just can’t explain how awful this woman is.

Moving along, though!

Temmin and Sinjir return to Chandrila to warn the New Republic of the Imperials above Jakku, but they’re in the middle of electing a new Chancellor, as well as relocating to a new planet, so there’s a lot of politicking going on. A massive chunk of the book is then taken up with the manoeuverings of Mon Mothma, Leia, Han and Temmin and Sinjir (along with Sinjir’s former boyfriend, Conder), which seems to rob any sense of urgency that Jas and Norra being abandoned in the middle of the Empire ever had. Point the second on the weirdness scale.

Mon Mothma (who has always been referred to by her full name until this book, where people casually call her “Mon”, again a weird thing to me) is opposed by Tolwar Wartol, an alien whose world was subjugated by the Empire, the natives only managing to throw off that yoke by destroying their world to make it useless. Tolwar actually makes an assassination attempt on Mon Mothma’s life, but is thwarted in this. Sinjir takes up a job as Mon Mothma’s aide, along with Sondiv Sella (whose daughter Korr would later become Leia’s aide in Bloodline).

Anyway.

The Empire has been brought to Jakku by Gallius Rax as a failsafe planned by the Emperor back in the day. We slowly learn that Palpatine, thinking if the Empire fell, planned to relocate outside of the galaxy and create a new Empire there. Comparisons are made with chess, and it’s all very, very weird. Rax comes across as slightly mad (though not as bad as Yupe Tashu, who is definitely insane), and plans to destroy the failed Imperial Remnant as well as the New Republic fleet over Jakku, but cracking the world in twain. Lots of things break and snap and crack in twain throughout the book, and it’s all very archaic. But anyway.

Sloane and Brentin attempt to break through Rax’s defenses with the help of the thin Hutt, Niima, but the Imperials get the better of them and both are captured, though not held prisoner – Rax wishes Sloane to see the death of the Empire and the Republic. Things don’t go entirely as planned, however, when the New Republic eventually shows up and, after an uninteresting space battle, manage to tractor-beam-pull a Super Star Destroyer down onto the surface of the planet. Yeah, that happens.

So Rax sets the world to blow up, but is followed into his lair by Sloane and Brentin, and ultimately Norra too, and there’s another confusing fight between first Rax and Sloane, then Norra and Rax, then Brentin is shot, and finally Sloane and Rax again. Sloane kills Rax, who tells her with his dying breath of the Imperialis yacht that is waiting to take off into the uncharted realms with the future of the Empire on board – Brentol Hux, Armitage Hux, and a group of feral child-warriors. The yacht is a replica of the ship stolen by Lando and co in his comic book, by the way…

Sloane shuts off Rax’s doomsday device, and leaves in the Imperialis, while Norra is rescued by Jas and they manage to take Brentin’s body back to Akiva for burial. Niima begins to claim the enormous amounts of salvage that have resulted from so many spaceships crashing into the planet – you may recognise her name as being shared by the Outpost where Rey sells her tech in The Force Awakens?

Throughout all of the book, Leia has been pregnant, and Han hasn’t known what to do with himself, what with Chewie on Kashyyyk with his family. Leia finally has her baby boy when the formal peace accord is signed between the New Republic and the Empire, Mas Amedda finally having escaped Coruscant with the help of some children. Norra heads off to Corellia to teach piloting with Wedge, Temmin being among the first intake of students, and it all ends a bit sugary, somehow…


Throughout the novel, we also get Interludes that tell tales of what is going on across the galaxy, and they have to be some of the best parts of the book. We see Lando reclaiming Cloud City with the help of Lobot and some New Republic soldiers; we see Mas Amedda’s escape from Coruscant; we even catch up with the weird asexual pirate from the previous book. Notably, we also catch up with Jar Jar on Naboo, and learn that he’s now entertaining people as a street clown. That interlude is actually really quite emotional, and I wonder if anyone will re-evaluate how they feel about the Gungan in light of this. I really liked these things, but having now seen the structure of them across all three books of the trilogy, I’ve been wondering if it wouldn’t have been more interesting to have made the three books feature these stories more prominently…

See, these interludes predominantly have one common theme: the galaxy is a changing place. I sometimes wonder if this book isn’t a little too self-aware, and the interludes are casually showing us that the universe is no longer the swashbuckling adventure-ride of the Bantam era, and everything we thought we knew is wrong. Conspiracy theories aside, the interludes have a tremendous sense of “anything can happen now the Empire has fallen”, and I absolutely loved this freshness from them!

Aftermath trilogy

Overall, I think the Aftermath trilogy has got to be among the weirdest, uneven fiction set in the Star Wars universe. It’s not Bounty Hunter Wars awful, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t think it’s that great for it to hold up against the old canon stuff. I’m not about to lurch into a “back in my day” rant, but this stuff essentially replaces most of the X-Wing series of novels, and a good portion of the Thrawn trilogy, as well. I think the X-Wing series is probably a very close comparison here, actually, as those novels were also propelled by characters from outside of the movies, and we even get to see Wedge form a squadron of washouts (Phantom Squadron, rather than Wraith Squadron, but you get the idea). Now, I used to be a big fan of the X-Wing books, but went off them when I last re-read the series. Even so, the basic premise of those books is somehow a lot more interesting, and certainly a lot more tightly-wrought, than this trilogy. While Mike Stackpole and Aaron Allston may have assembled a cast of tropes and grafted them onto the universe, the main characters from this trilogy just don’t honestly feel like they belong there. The most interesting character, to me, is Sinjir, and the way he is treated as a drunken smart-mouth is really quite the waste.

I think a lot of my negativity on this score has to do with the distinct lack of movie characters involved in such a big story, though. There’s literally no Luke; Leia spends pretty much the whole book being pregnant, and Han does have some moments, but he’s once again the cocky smuggler, though feeling out of his depth with fatherhood pressing down upon him, and his interactions with baby Ben near the end once more seem to fly in the face of any personal growth he may have made over the course of the original trilogy. When I think of how present the big three movie characters were in stuff like the Thrawn trilogy, and compare that to this, it is just a crushing disappointment. There is still an important story being told somewhere in these pages, for sure, but it’s told through a focus being on entirely the wrong people, in my opinion.

The trilogy certainly had a tall order when it began: connect Return of the Jedi to the as-yet unreleased The Force Awakens. The hype for the novel was insane, and I’ve talked already about how much of a let-down I felt it was. Life Debt, without having quite so much weight on it, wasn’t exactly a great book, but I did find a lot to enjoy there. The conclusion to the trilogy, however, seemed to set itself up to fail almost immediately, having a massive story to resolve, yet following only a part of that.

There are still a number of questions left, for me, which also makes it feel like something of a let-down. I mean, we only learn a modicrum of what exactly the Emperor was planning out there beyond the galactic rim, with Thrawn’s name thrown into the mix in a manner that is clearly intended to anticipate Tim Zahn’s new book that is set to release in April. The whole plot with the Imperial Remnant was by turns confusing and weird and bad, and I feel like a trick really was missed here. Indeed, I feel that the entire point of this element of the book was just there to explain why there are so many wrecks on Jakku in Episode VII. There are so many things that I wish had been focused on in this novel, but instead we got to meet the withered Hutt of Jakku and her weird slaves…

All through writing this blog, I’ve been trying to think of something good I can say about the book. True, I did like a lot of the interludes, and wish we’d had more of those, or that they had been expanded upon. We also get some throwaway bits sprinkled into the mix, such as the canon confirmation of Durga the Hutt being a character in the lore, here said to be based on Ulmatra. Things like this made me feel annoyed, because there is a story between the lines that I want to be reading instead. The main thrust of the story just felt like such a lacklustre way to end this.

To sum up: this book (and really, this trilogy) just didn’t do it for me.

While this entire blog has pretty much felt like an attack on the whole trilogy, I think it’s important to say that you should still read the book for yourself, or get it on audio or whatever. I am a huge believer in forming your own opinions on stuff anyway, but in particular I think it’s important that any Star Wars fan picks up these novels to take a look, as I feel the story will be crucial background in the years to come. While it’s true that this message is perhaps a bit disingenuous to come at the end of a long ramble about what I disliked about it, I would still say read it for yourself first – and then by all means come back here and we can talk about it!

The Last Son of Dorn

Hey everybody,
I’ve been progressing through The Beast Arises series fairly quickly of late, this weekend making it through to the end of the tenth book in the series, The Last Son of Dorn. As a note of caution, this review does contain spoilers!

The Last Son of Dorn

Like much the rest of this series, the book picks up directly where the last one left off. The book is written by David Guymer, who has previously written Echoes of the Long War for this series, which dealt with the storyline between the Fists Exemplar first captain Zerberyn and the Iron Warriors under Warsmith Kalkator. Going in with this knowledge, you’d expect to see a fairly action-dense novel, and you would not be disappointed.

Now that the Deathwatch are an official part of the war against The Beast, and this time we get successor chapters included such as Flesh Tearers, Koorland begins to formulate his plan for going back to Ullanor with a surgical strike against the Orks, as opposed to the full frontal assault that was attempted in The Beast Must Die. During the planning for this, we learn that the pict capture from the Black Templars under Venerable Magneric has led the Mechanicus to believe that the Ork psykers are the key to defeating the Orks, and so a number of raids are launched across the Imperium to capture as many weirdboyz as they can.

The book therefore opens with a series of raids led by the Deathwatch and Sisters of Silence, and I thought it was a really effective way to kick off this novel. In fact, I don’t think we’ve had this impressive a start to a novel in this series since the high-adrenaline of Throneworld. Anyway! They manage to capture three Ork psykers on worlds that we’ve seen in previous novels, which I thought was a nice touch to revisit these worlds. The psykers are kept under close guard from the Sisters of Silence, to nullify their psychic effects, before we travel to the Ork-held Forge World of Incus Maximal, and see the plan in action.

This plan is actually pretty silly, and I’m not sure if it’s meant to be the usual brand of tongue-in-cheek silliness that Games Workshop has been known for in the 80s and 90s, or if it is actually meant to be quite serious. Certainly, the rest of the book is pretty serious. But the idea is that if the psyker is cut off from the Warp, but the Orks around him are driven to a fighting rage, when the psyker can once again use his powers, he will be overwhelmed by the battle frenzy around him, and his energy will literally detonate both him and all of the Orks around him, their heads exploding. I was kinda reminded of the American Dad episode There Will Be Bad Blood, where Stan gives his explanation of Thanksgiving, and the exploding corn, you know? Well, anyway, there you have it!

The plan works, so the Deathwatch take a bigger weirdboy to Ullanor, and while the Fists Exemplar and others of the Last Wall lead what is essentially a distraction, the Deathwatch and Koorland transfer down and infiltrate the Ork palace complex, where they manage to get to the throne room and, after a prolonged battle that results in some significant injuries to Koorland and his team, the psyker detonates, and the Beast is killed. However, while Koorland and the others celebrate their victory, a much bigger Ork arrives with yet more greenskins, and crushes Koorland contemptuously under his boot before leaving the throne room – it turns out the Ork invasion has been led by six massive Orks, and Koorland and the others had merely managed to kill just one of them.

The novel ends with the broken remnants of the Deathwatch and other Marines transporting Koorland’s broken body back to Terra. While everyone around him says that he is dead, it is never actually stated in the narrative, which leads me to think we haven’t yet seen the last of the last Imperial First.

I really liked this novel. The story was quite dense, which is what I like from these types of books. Too many stories in this series have been fairly linear, with a straightforward story and little else. Here, we have all of the stuff going on with the Orks on both Incus Maximal and then Ullanor, which itself was pretty huge of course, but we also get more of the Zerberyn/Iron Warriors storyline, where it looks like Zerberyn is almost going native with the traitor legionaries, not entirely sure what’s happening to him, so I hope we get that storyline resolved in the next two books.

We also have the death of Ecclesiarch Mesring, who had been poisoned by Vangorich back in Predator, Prey, and has been hanging on ever since. He finally goes mad, and seems to be preaching conciliation/surrender to the Orks, which prompts Koorland to shoot him in the head while the High Lords are in session. I was surprised that more wasn’t made of that, actually, as it seemed like there was going to be more of a political side to the story as we saw the ramifications etc, but everything was just subsumed by the story of the Ork psykers. A missed opportunity perhaps, but there does seem to have been some kind of rule whereby none of these novels will exceed 250 pages in length. We do get some interesting machinations between Koorland and Bohemond, where the Lord Commander tells the Black Templar that his religious zealotry has no place in the ranks of the Astartes, so I’m intrigued to see if anything more happens there before the end of the series…

Overall, this was one of the best books of the twelve. There have been some turkeys along the way, but it’s been great to see how the story has been well worth sticking with up to this point, at least. Two more to go, so let’s see if it’ll be worth it overall! I’m going to forego my usual attempt to read something different in January and just plough through to the end with this series now, anyway, so stay tuned for the last two installments!

 

Throneworld

And now, this! #TheBeastArises

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

Hot on the heels of the last one, I’ve lurched onto the fifth book in The Beast Arises series, getting through it in a long weekend and, I have to say, it was a really great read!

Throneworld has one of the most dynamic – and dramatic – openings of any Warhammer 40k novel I’ve yet read. As we learnt in the closing paragraphs of The Last Wall, the Eldar have arrived on Terra while the Ork battlemoon hangs menacingly in orbit, and while I’m no fan of space elves, I was really intrigued as to what’s going on with them. Throneworld picks up a tiny bit before the end of The Last Wall, and we see the Eldar Harlequins moving through the webway and into the Imperial palace, on a mission to deliver an important message to the Emperor. The shadowseer Lhaerial Rey moves through the palace and makes it to the doors of the throneroom itself, and is about to be dispatched by the Custodes when Vangorich and Veritus step in. She is taken to the Inquisitorial fortress and interrogated by Veritus and Wienand, and reveals the Eldar have calmed the Warp in order to allow the Space Marines to return to Terra and aid them against the Orks.

We then follow Koorland and his Last Wall of Imperial Fists successors as they storm the Ork moon, liberating prisoners and attempting to destroy the teleportation device within the moon the Orks have been using to provide their infinite supply of troops up to this point. Their efforts are supplemented by the Mechanicum, who have their own agenda for getting inside the moon while they’re working on their “grand experiment” of teleportation – are they really trying to teleport Mars out of the Sol System?

Meanwhile, the Iron Warriors under Kalkator land on Dzelenic IV to take on supplies from a secret store, and find it has been breached by Orks. While they’re fighting their way out, they’re assailed by the Black Templars under their zealous dreadnought-marshal, Magneric. The situation becomes untenable for both armies in the face of the Ork fleets on the world, and both traitor and loyalist marines join forces to slay the greenskins under a flag of truce.

This book was great! As I said at the start, I don’t remember the last time I’ve read such a dynamic opening, and was propelled through the first half of the book as we follow the Eldar sneaking onto Terra. The action was really great, but unfortunately, the rest of the book kinda tapered off for me after that. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of action going on in this book – the assault on the moon, the Iron Warriors stuff – but none of it comes close to that first sequence.

I was a bit dismayed at the fact that we don’t actually know what Lhaerial Rey wants to tell the Emperor, either – something important, but we don’t hear it here, and it makes me a bit sad because the overall effect does cheapen the earlier scenes. But I’m really nit-picking with this.

The stuff with the astartes assaulting the moon above Terra kinda made me think it should have been in the last book. I mean, the last book was called The Last Wall – it should have been about those marines! Instead, we get the bulk of that story here, and it feels a bit weird. But anyway.

The Iron Warriors stuff is deeply interesting to me, I have to say. It was really neat to see the two opposing sides come together to fight the Orks, especially in the face of Magneric’s fanatic hatred of Kalkator. I especially liked the fact it was addressed here that the Black Templars, in their veneration of the Emperor, go against his Imperial Truth of the Great Crusade – and so, the question is posed, who’s the greater heretic? Some interesting debate about the nature of religious hypocrisy was cut short by fighting waves of Orks, but it’s always good to see these sorts of things talked about.

Overall, this was probably the best book in the series, even in the face of those points I mentioned about the niggling details. I’m certainly glad I’ve stuck with this series after the second book, however!!

The Last Wall

The twelfth and final book in The Beast Arises series is available on Saturday, but I’m only now a third of the way through, having this morning finished reading the fourth in the series, The Last Wall!

The Beast is back! #TheBeastArises #Warhammer40k

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

Like previous installments, this book picks up directly after the last one, with the Ork battle moon in orbit over Terra. Initially in panic, the High Lords of Terra unite behind the plan put forth by Juskina Tull, speaker for the Chartist Captains, to basically throw as many bodies at the Orks as possible. The Proletarian Crusade is born, and amid a smattering of Astra Militarum platoons, millions of civilians enlist to go up against the greenskins. Meanwhile, the Inquisition intrigue continues, as Wienand reaches the polar fortress of her order and, despite Veritus having effectively replaced her on the Council, seemingly manages to convince her colleagues that she hasn’t lost sight of the threat of Chaos, merely that the Ork threat is more immediate and must be tackled now. Some disturbing news reaches her there, however, that Ork activity around the Eye of Terror may be causing a Chaos incursion.

The Crusade doesn’t end well at all, which is somewhat to be expected, and three Ork “ambassadors” arrive at the Imperial Palace, demanding humanity’s surrender. When the High Lords refuse this, the Orks leave, condemning the population of Terra, however a massive detonation signals the arrival of yet another xenos threat: from the Eldar!

This book was actually pretty great! I enjoyed seeing the continued intrigue among the Inquisition, and while the overall politics among the High Lords still doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, it was nevertheless interesting to read and immerse myself in. Something that I particularly enjoyed was seeing actual Ork characters finally in the series – we’ve been three (and a half!) books now with the story only being told from one side, and while I don’t think we’re really any further forward in knowing why the Orks are suddenly attacking humanity on all fronts, the intrigue has been dialed up a notch in that the Ork ambassadors appear unlike any greenskin yet seen in the Imperium. Coupled with the ongoing investigations of the Mechanicum that keep getting hinted at, this is slowly proving to be an interesting aspect of the series.

I felt a bit cheated that the story didn’t involve the astartes more heavily – the book is called The Last Wall, which we know is the failsafe from Rogal Dorn to reunite the various chapters back into the Imperial Fists Legion should the need arise. Yet we only get (I think) one chapter that dealt with this! It seems like maybe a wrong choice for a novel title, though I admit that the Proletarian Crusade was referred to as a last wall also. Hm.

Speaking of astartes, there was a very interesting chapter that showed some Iron Warriors fighting against the Ork tide, and I was convinced at first that it was a typo for Iron Hands. But no! I don’t know much about the Iron Warriors, and haven’t really met them yet in my Horus Heresy readings, but I thought it was really interesting to see these apparently loyalist space marines from a Traitor Legion so long after the Horus Heresy. I wonder where their story is going…

I get the impression, from a lot of these vignettes, that the authors are trying to develop the setting for perhaps some more stories later on – whether around the same timeframe, or else in subsequent years. So we’re seeing a lot of things just for the sake of establishing that setting, rather than having any meaningful part of the actual story. I could be wrong, of course, but it’s just the sense of having things sketched in and whatnot.

Maybe the much-anticipated 8th edition Warhammer 40k will have options for historical narrative play or something? Who knows!

At any rate, I thought this was a really enjoyable book, and one that I found myself engaged with more so than some of the previous books. With the threat of the Eldar poised to further complicate the issue, I’m going to move on directly to Throneworld now, anyway, so watch out for the next book shortly!

A Thousand Sons

I hear it's thematic… #HorusHeresy #ThousandSons

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

I have finally finished A Thousand Sons! It’s taken almost a month, but I’ve gotten there. What a book!

This is the twelfth novel in the Horus Heresy series from Black Library, and the fourth entry from Graham McNeill, which makes him the most prolific HH writer to this point. I think of all the previous novels, this is most like his novel Fulgrim, in that it is every bit the portrait of a whole Legion, and a wonderful document of their fall from grace.

First – let’s talk about the story.

A Thousand Sons is very much in the mould of earlier HH novels, as it shows us the Legion during a mission of compliance, here bringing the Imperial truth to Aghoru, a desert world with something sinister lurking under the surface. The sons of Magnus are interrupted in their work by the Space Wolves, who request the XV Legion’s assistance but are rebuffed by the Crimson King. The Wolves and the Thousand Sons work together to bring to compliance to the world of Shrike, and during the conflict the two Legions almost come to blows due to the Space Wolves’ distrust of their sorcerous brothers.

We then have a bit of an interlude, during which we see the Legion at Ullanor (where obviously all the main Thousand Sons captains know and are best friends with the Sons of Horus captains), before they are summoned to the world of Nikea for a conference with the Emperor. This turns out to be the famous Council of Nikea, during which the psychic Thousand Sons are censored by the Emperor. They return to their home planet of Prospero, yet continue to study the Warp. Turns out Magnus has had psychic insight into Horus’ fall to Chaos, and is attempting to use his power to turn his brother from evil.

This attempt fails (as anyone who has read False Gods will be aware), and so Magnus implements his plan B, to send a psychic projection to Terra and the Emperor himself, warning of Horus’ treachery. Unfortunately, that’s probably the last thing he should have done after Nikea, and the Emperor sends the Space Wolves, along with an army of Custodian Guards and Sisters of Silence to effectively destroy the Legion. All hell breaks loose on Prospero, but through his immense psychic ability, Magnus manages to transfer just over 1200 of his marines off the planet and to relative safety…

A Thousand Sons

First of all, the story is epic. A lot of people – myself included – have expressed some level of dismay about the way Black Library appear to be milking the storyline of the Horus Heresy into a 30+ book series, when the story itself is kinda straightforward. However, their tacit rebuttal has always been the fact that the story takes in a lot the side events, and the burning of Prospero is one of these. In fact, calling it a “side event” feels like it’s a detraction. The event is pretty huge, as it sees the clash of two Legions before the Heresy proper breaks out.

We have a lot of lore in this story – not least, we have the famed Council of Nikea. This is pretty huge, because this is the first time the Emperor himself has made a physical appearance – and had lines! – in a Horus Heresy novel. Sure, it’s not much, as Malcador is there, but it’s still a big deal. It’s also really interesting to see this stuff go down, though my biggest issue with this point is that there is no reasonable justification given for the prohibition on the use of psykers in the legiones astartes. Indeed, we get a wonderfully moving scene when a whole bunch of librarians from a variety of Legions make a speech advocating for their use, and they draw in the fact that the Emperor himself is the most powerful psyker in the universe. It just smacks of so much hypocrisy, it makes absolutely no sense. Of course, that could be the point, as this novel is told exclusively from the Thousand Sons’ perspective.

The other big thing we get is the whole deal with the Thousand Sons’ geneseed. As you may be aware, a lot of the space marine legions had flawed geneseed, and the Thousand Sons were particularly susceptible to what was called “the flesh change”, whereby the marines could become horribly mutated into Chaos-spawn. Magnus managed to save his sons through psychic training, but in the end battle, many of the marines succumb to this horrifying mutation and die. The irony of this situation is that the Space Wolves have a similar problem, with their Wulfen issue, and yet they are unchecked. Indeed, their librarian is allowed to carry on about his business post-Nikea, which makes the final battle quite satisfying, if you ask me!

I’m really not a Space Wolves fan, and never have been. I find it comical that they howl like wolves, not intimidating, and I imagine that they smell and are generally unpleasant to be around. Because they seem to have such a huge following in the real world, I feel like a lot of literature just tries to do fan-service to these “real-men” space marines, and it really makes me cringe. The worst part of all of this is knowing there is a companion novel to this, told from the Space Wolves’ point of view. And it’s written by Dan Abnett! I actually don’t want to read it (but you know I will be!)

Whereas Fulgrim painted the Emperor’s Children as flawed from the outset, A Thousand Sons is an altogether more complex story. While Magnus doesn’t come across as a sympathetic character in the way Horus does early on, we nevertheless have a Legion that is not fundamentally evil. As the story progresses, we discover that Magnus fatalistically goes along with the Edict of Nikea because he knows that it is the design of Chaos for the Legions to fight, and he is trying to resist this as much as possible. It becomes so much more tragic when you realise that Chaos is going to get its way, if not with the Thousand Sons then with someone else (obviously, the Sons of Horus). Throughout the battle of Prospero, Magnus is withdrawn while his Legion is cut down, until the climax, when we finally see what a powerful psyker can do – no mention is made of the nipple-horns, but I’m sure they scared off many a Space Wolf! The whole fight between Russ and Magnus had me almost-cheering, and provided a really cinematic climax to the novel – something that Graham McNeill really excels at.

However, unlike Fulgrim, A Thousand Sons doesn’t really end with the Legion actually falling to Chaos. It almost ends with a bit of a whisper, we know they’re going to end up the baddies in the blue armour, but there isn’t really much of a hint there. The only thing we have is that the Chief Librarian Ahzek Ahriman is studying the Book of Magnus for a way to combat the flesh change and save his Legion. The only really bad thing they’re doing right now is contravening the Edict of Nikea by continuing to use their psyker abilities – you know, like how the Emperor and Malcador continue to use theirs, as well…

It’ll certainly be interesting to see what’s next for the sons of Magnus!

The Autumn Republic

So I’ve finished the Powder Mage trilogy, and my only thought is: wow.

In my previous reviews for the first two books, which you can read here and here, I’ve tried to remain fairly spoiler-free. However, the plot of this book is fairly insane, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to get through this blog and do the book justice without mentioning a couple of things, so proceed at your peril!

First of all, I really enjoyed this book. I think that has been true for all of these books, which are each pushing 600 pages, yet I’ve scampered through them much quicker than my usual pace for such things. Brian McClellan has such a way of keeping the action moving, you really don’t want to put the thing down! I read the final 200-ish pages in a day, the last 80 or so kept me up well into the night as I just wanted to see what happened before finally going to sleep! There are very few books that I can say that about, I have to admit!

Picking up where The Crimson Campaign left off, Tamas arrives at the front line with his reinforcements of Deliv troops to discover the absolute shambles that has been made of the war in his absence. He roots out the traitor in the ranks, before heading off into the mountains in search of his son Taniel, who is on the run from escaping the clutches of the Kez at the end of the last book. Tamas leaves detailed plans for the coming battle with Vlora, which I thought was a hilarious way of showing Tamas’ military genius, by having him fight the battle on paper the night before, and it pretty much went that way! You can really see here, if it hasn’t been clear enough already, just why Field Marshal Tamas is the central character of this story. Tamas also recovers Taniel and Ka-Poel, and everyone returns to the camp.

Adamat is also at the camp, and presents his report to Tamas on the whole thing with Lord Vetas, ending with the news that Lord Claremonte and his Brudanian soldiers now hold Adopest. The urgency to end the war with Kez becomes more pronounced and, after the decisive battle mentioned earlier, King Ipille sues for peace. However, during the negotiations, a group of Kez soldiers and Privileged steal into the camp and kidnap Ka-Poel, riding north with her. Taniel pursues them immediately, while Tamas is enraged at the fact Ipille seems to have gone back on his words of true.

Things begin to get extremely complicated in Adopest in the run-up to the elections for the First Minister, especially when Ricard Tumblar is almost killed in a bomb attack. Adamat interviews Lord Claremonte as a prime suspect, and discovers that he has no shadow, which leads him to the startling discovery that he is, in fact, the two-faced god Brude returned to earth. Adamat eventually discovers it is one of the union heads, Lady Cheris, who is responsible for the bomb. Taniel’s pursuit of Ka-Poel’s kidnappers turns up the alarming discovery that they are, in fact, disguised Brudanian soldiers. Just what’s going on?!

Tamas lands a hammer-blow against the Kez at Budwiel, only to discover that Ipille’s son Florian je Ipille has led a coup, killing his father and most of the court, and surrenders to Tamas to avoid further bloodshed. With the war with Kez pretty much concluded, Tamas returns to Adopest and the Brudanian menace. Arriving shortly before the elections, Tamas manages to secure the good will of Claremonte if the god loses the election, in exchange for Kresimir’s body, which has been recovered when the Kez surrendered. The elections go as smoothly as can be expected, and Ricard wins. During his inauguration speech, however, Sablethorn prison collapses, almost killing Ricard – Lady Cheris is revealed to be the second half of the god Brude, and attempts to exact vengeance against the Adrans.

All manner of hell breaks loose in Adopest then, with the Adran forces split between the royal palace, where Claremonte had been residing, and the square, where the Brudanian Privileged attempt to kill Ricard once more. Learning that Ka-Poel is held in the palace, Taniel joins is father there and the two powder mages take on the god Brude, unleashing sorcery the like of which has never been seen before. Tamas is mortally wounded in his battle, and only the timely intervention of Adom manages to save the whole city being destroyed in the process. Tamas dies during the battle with the gods, and Taniel is also pronounced dead, though he uses this to escape from a life following in his father’s wake. Vlora is promoted to general of the army to lead them into the new age of republic.

Okay, so I’ve tried to leave out as many spoilers as I could, but that is pretty much the course of the novel, right there! I couldn’t not talk about the death of Tamas, because it is such a climactic event, and written so damn heart-wrenchingly that I found myself tearing up reading it! Such a profound yet grounded scene, it was just superb, and a fitting end for the character.

There were some parts of this book that I feel were a little rushed, particularly the end of the hostilities with the Kez. Such a central event for so long in the trilogy, it ended probably the only way it could end easily, but Florian surrenders, then we’re suddenly at the gates of Adopest, and it’s a bit like there was a missing chapter or two that could have dealt with some of the aftermath a little more. The Brudanian threat to Adopest, though, was pretty well done, and while I suspect some folks might think it was a bit unnecessary, I thought it worked exactly as it needed to. The intrigue with Lord Claremonte was just great, and I had no problem at all believing his storyline as the novel moved forward.

We get to learn a little more about the magic system in this book, which I was kinda expecting in the last one, as I mentioned in that blog. Borbador spent a portion of the last book working with Nila, the laundress from Duke Eldaminse’s house who I haven’t previously mentioned in the blogs because I found her to be a bit of an annoying character, to be honest. At the end of the last book, she was revealed to have magical power, and here she is trained to use that power by Bo, with some pretty amazing results. Consequently, her character arc is pretty amazing, and perhaps one of the only characters in the entire trilogy who actually grows. Some of her early characterisation therefore becomes clear – she’s always portrayed as a bit weak but yet fiery, and I felt sometimes this was too much at odds to work properly. But the fact that she is possibly the most powerful Privileged of the last six hundred years can’t go unnoticed!

All in all, anyway, this book is just amazing, and a definitely worthy end to the trilogy. Indeed, the trilogy as a whole is some of the most fun I’ve had with books in recent memory! There are, however, a number of loose threads left dangling at the end here that, if I hadn’t known about a new book coming out next year, I’d be a bit mad about… For one thing, just what is Nila? Is she merely a Privileged, or a Predeii? What’s the future for Kez? Why exactly is Beon in hiding now? What are Taniel’s plans? Things seem a little vague here…

The next book, Sins of Empire, is coming out next March, as per the tweet above. I was studiously avoiding anything about this book before making it to the end of The Autumn Republic, as I didn’t want to accidentally discover something that could be a spoiler, you know? Well, as it turns out, the only thing I could possibly have deduced is that Vlora appears to be in this next one, but it seems to be a totally different setting etc. We’re going to Fatrasta! Excellent! The setting for this novel series is far too rich for us to remain in Adro for too long, of course. Given that Ka-Poel is from Fatrasta, I’m guessing we’ll be seeing her and Taniel, and maybe learning more about her magic and whatnot, so that could be cool. I’m not sure if I’d want an entire trilogy set just there, however, so here’s hoping it’s either (a) amazing, and I’m wrong, or (b) more wide-ranging than a single nation, and I’m still wrong!