The Beheading

Well folks, I made it! It’s been a little over five months since I started reading The Beast Arises series from Black Library, and I’ve finally made it through to the end of the twelve book series at the weekend. I want to take a look first at the final installment, before putting down some rambling thoughts on the series as a whole for you all to enjoy, so sit back and see what I’ve made of it all!

I said in my blog on the previous novel, Shadow of Ullanor, that the series felt done right there, and I was a bit curious as to why we needed a twelfth book when the saga of the War of the Beast had pretty much been wrapped up, but The Beheading deals with the political fallout of the war, and in that respect, it is very much required reading.

We start with the return of Maximus Thane to Terra, where he takes up the position of Lord Commander at the political manoeuvring of Vangorich, however the space marine has no intention of remaining on Terra, and appoints the Grand Master of the Assassinorum as his regent. Vangorich, despite his protestations of wishing to remain behind the scenes, promptly goes about removing all of the High Lords and replacing them with his own puppets, which forms the main portion of this book – and, indeed, the ‘beheading’ of the title. With little check on his power, Vangorich goes insane and, after a century of despotism, Thane returns to put an end to the assassin’s rule.

Of course, coming at the end of a twelve-book series, there is rather a lot going on in the middle of all this, and we get closure on pretty much all of the plot threads, so far as I could see. Firstly, the Fists Exemplar/Iron Warriors storyline is resolved in fairly explosive fashion, with Zerberyn joining forces fully with Kalkator, and leading to the removal of the Fists Exemplar Chapter from the records of the Imperium. I was not actually expecting the story to turn out that way, and was actually in open-mouthed horror when I read it, which I suppose is the mark of a well-written plot!

Another plot twist concerns the death of Inquisitor Veritus, and the reveal of his real identity. I don’t want to spoil it here (despite spoiling pretty much everything else!) but it was nicely done, and I suppose not entirely far-fetched. I did like the fact that we get to see the Grey Knights at last, but I thought it was a bit weird how the final chapter forms a quite abrupt jump in the narrative, as we move from Titan to a century later. Discussing it at my local store, a lot of folks think it leaves the door open for more story later on, which I suppose makes sense, though Black Library did market this as a self-contained series that would be told in twelve books and that would be all. Hm.

There have been many cinematic moments throughout the series, such as the pursuit of the Harlequins through the palace at the start of Guy Haley’s previous entry Throneworld, to the co-ordinated assaults of the Deathwatch in The Last Son of Dorn, and to those can be added the central episode of this novel, the assassinations of the High Lords. I also think the confrontation between Zerberyn, Bohemond and Kalkator, and that scene’s terrible conclusion, is one of the highest points of drama I’ve read in a 40k novel so far. It unfolds over only a handful of pages, but that tension becomes almost unbearable – I only hope we get something comparable when the Horus Heresy series concludes.

At any rate, the book was a decent end to the series.

The series as a whole, then, was pretty uneven. To start with, I think there were some bad editing choices – I’ve mentioned it before, but it seems like there’s some kind of rule that these books absolutely could not be more than 250 pages in length, which led to some instances (such as the aforementioned leap of a century) that felt oddly disjointed. Even those books that weren’t nearing the limit felt like they could have had some more material to help them along a bit. Watchers in Death in particular felt a bit weird towards the end there.

However, I also feel that the series as a whole was oddly padded sometimes. I’ve made no secret of the fact I really disliked the second book, but throughout the series there have been instances where it felt a little like the story was being dragged out. I think it’s entirely possible that the original plot line for this could have been ten novels at most, and someone then decided to drag it out over twelve to do the one-a-month release thing. I’ve read that the Black Library have had the series in their vaults for years, which I do entirely believe – I mean, how else could they get these books released on time like that? But it does kinda sadden me when little inconsistencies, and extended sequences of padding slip into the narrative.


All of that said, I thought the overall story was pretty decent, more for what we learnt along the way than anything else. It annoyed me that we never really get an explanation for why the Orks are so technologically advanced here, whereas everywhere else they’re described with something akin to madness in their engineering. They can launch co-ordinated assaults across the galaxy, using teleportation technology that the Mechanicus cannot quite get the hang of? What caused this development? How did the Orks manage to get such huge numbers when the Imperium thought they had been crushed at (pre-Heresy) Ullanor? There were a lot of unanswered questions about the Beast, for me, and it really irked me as the series went on that we never get the Orks’ perspective. Sure, I should have expected it, but there was just too much missing for me to adequately maintain my interest over the series. The closest we ever came was Beast Krule’s infiltration of Gorkogrod, but one moment of insight across a twelve novel series does not really make up for it, in my view!

What I found interesting here, though, was the way that several important elements of the 40k lore were bound together into the narrative, which really seemed to lead to the sense of this series being an Event. For years now, fans have known that the Imperial Fists were almost decimated to a man and had to be rebuilt from successor chapters; we’ve known about the shadowy beginnings of the Deathwatch and the Grey Knights, and all the rest of it. Something I hadn’t actually realised was that we’ve even known Vangorich would eliminate the High Lords of Terra in an event known as The Beheading! Shows how much I’ve read those timelines of events in the rulebook!! All of these strands are brought together into one narrative and, despite all of the criticisms that I’ve just leveled at the series, I’ve actually really enjoyed seeing them all come together in one place!

Along the way, we get some really compelling characters. I was always surprised by the choice of Koorland as something of the central character, as he was never someone I had pegged as all that interesting. But then, I suppose that’s part of the problem with space marines – while the Horus Heresy has done great things to show us some very interesting sides to the superhuman warriors, they are a bit boring. Put them among the political shenanigans of the Council of Terra, and they come off even worse. But even so, I was surprised at how much I warmed to him as the figurehead of the series, and was shocked to see him go. Thane, who takes over the mantle, always seemed even less interesting than Koorland, but I do like how strident he could be.

While Zerberyn and Kalkator are hardly going to feature very prominently in any top ten space marine characters list, I was nevertheless totally sucked into that storyline, and found myself missing it when neither appeared. Worried about how it would be concluded, I was pleased to see it take a suitably dramatic turn at the end. There are so many shades of grey in the Imperium, I thought it was really interesting to explore this post-Heresy brother against brother kind of tale.

Over time, I also found myself enjoying the Mechanicus side of the storyline. We never truly know what’s going on with the Lords of Mars, of course, but even so, I enjoyed some of these scenes much more than I’ve previously enjoyed any story featuring them (Mechanicum, for a start), and have even found myself looking into collecting some Skitarii! Inevitably, I found myself most enjoying the scenes that showed the Inquisition and Vangorich. I’m a huge sucker for political skulduggery, so this should’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I vastly preferred to read about the machinations of the High Lords to any extended battle sequences. Wienand really interested me at first, while Veritus annoyed me to hell with his zealotry, but I think, having now read who he really is, it makes a lot more sense.

This, however, brings me back to what I’ve said earlier, the series is just too over-long for my tastes. I think showing three attacks on Ullanor really goes to show this point, but the fact that we have some mysteries that are dragged out, and some that we didn’t even know about until the end, it just feels like this series has outstayed its welcome. I’m glad I made it to the end, and I’m glad I’ve read it for its impact on the lore of the 40k universe, and while I’d recommend it to anyone who likes 40k for that reason alone, I don’t think I’ll ever bother reading it again.

Let’s end with some favourites, though!

Favourite book: The Last Son of Dorn
Favourite character: Vangorich sounds like so much of a cop-out, so Wienand 🙂
Favourite moment: Pursuit of the Harlequins to the Eternity Gate (Throneworld)

How about you? Have you made it to the end? Let me know what you thought of the series in the comments!

Shadow of Ullanor

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Earlier this week, I finished the penultimate novel in The Beast Arises series, Shadow of Ullanor, which I have to say was quite a strange book! Following on from The Last Son of Dorn, the Imperial Fists chapter is no more. During the memorial for Koorland, Thane comes to the decision to re-form the Imperial Fists out of the various successor chapters, much as had been done in the wake of the Ardamantua catastrophe, and musters this new chapter on Terra with the approval of Vangorich, though the other High Lords remain hesitant at best.

Thane takes the “new” Imperial Fists to Ullanor to destroy the Orks once and for all, and leads a frontal assault on the planet. The marines use Mechanicus technology to crash a series of asteroids into Ullanor, one of which contains the marines, and a massive pitched-battle follows as the upper hand moves between the combatants. Thane also brings more Sisters of Silence with more Ork psykers, and the plan is basically the same as last time – rile the Orks up, and detonate the psykers.

With a few odd twists and turns, this is exactly what happens, and ultimately, The Beast is killed. While in the previous book, we thought we had seen the end of the greenskin menace only to discover there was another, bigger Beast out there, but this time, the big baddie at the centre of the maze has been killed.

And this is precisely why I think this is an odd book. We know that there is a twelfth book to cap the series off, and it is called The Beheading, but I feel that this book has finished the series, and there is no real impulse to read the last one. Sure, it’s one book, and we knew it was coming, but if you read this novel series without that knowledge, there is no logical need to continue the story from this point. It’s just very weird!

I feel really bad for being so hard on this book, because I was as hard on Rob Sanders in the last installment he wrote for this series. But the story was just, well, boring. I mean, it’s the third incursion to Ullanor against the Orks in the course of this series, a full frontal assault once again – which had been decided against as the best course of action prior to the Deathwatch attack in Watchers in Death. It does feel a lot like it is going over the same ground again, and I found myself getting bored quite easily this time around. The pace also feels quite padded – the story just seems so slight, when compared with the more recent books.

Overall, I do feel it’s just a bit of a let down once again. Hopefully the series will go out on a high…

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!


Catching Up with The Beast!

Hey everybody!
It’s been a busy few days as I’ve been getting back into the swing of things post-Christmas, but something I’ve been doing to stave off those January blues is pressing on with The Beast Arises. I’ve just read books eight and nine in fairly quick succession, so thought I’d do a combined review of the two here today!

The Beast Arises

The Beast Must Die is quite the war story. We follow the collected space marines of the Last Wall, along with some Ultramarines, Dark Angels, Space Wolves and Blood Angels as they head off to Ullanor with Vulkan, intent on stopping the great Waaagh! by taking out The Beast himself. The Black Templars lead the assault, with the increasingly arrogant High Marshal Bohemond coming to blows with Koorland once again. However, there is an awesome little scene where Vulkan truly puts him in his place, I did enjoy that!

The story is interesting as it seems to give us some very interesting and important clues that I feel we’ve missed up to this point. We follow Beast Krule as he infiltrates the city of Gorkogrod, looking to assassinate The Beast, though his plan goes awry as he sees just how well-protected the warchief is. However, we see that the Orks are almost on a religious crusade against the Imperium, and it seems that their psykers are an incredibly potent threat to the marines, as they manage to kill the Ultramarines chief librarian early on, and wage some pretty horrific casualties across the rest of the book. The novel ends with something like a ritual combat between Vulkan and a massive Ork in highly ornamented battle armour, though it’s never truly made clear if this is indeed The Beast himself.

Oh yes, and we get some truly insane Mechanicus hijinks courtesy of Magos Dominus Zhokuv, who manages to create an ordinatus engine using a starship blaster cannon!

Overall, this was one of the high points of the series for me, and has shown a lot of what I think we should have had earlier on in the series, in order to increase the tension and whatnot. I find it a bit disappointing that we have to wait for book eight before we get anything like the other side of the war, and it has been something that, up to now, has been really boring to me. I mean, we don’t know why the Orks are invading, why their technology is so good considering we keep getting told they’re a stupid race, etc etc. It’s good to get the other side to give the story depth, and that’s finally happening here.

Watchers in Death is the book that I’d been waiting for. I didn’t actually start buying these novels until book five was released, and even then it was very haphazard. This, the ninth book of the series, really convinced me that I should read it, however, as we get the foundation story of the Deathwatch here, which of course is super important for the 40k universe as well! It was no coincidence that this novel came out shortly after Death Masque brought the Deathwatch miniatures to the game!

I thought this book was very similar to The Hunt for Vulkan, which is coincidentally by the same author. After a discussion with Vangorich, Koorland posits the idea of a select kill-team of space marines drawn from across the various chapters to go in on surgical strikes against the Orks, after the debacle on Ullanor has shown that all-out assault won’t work. The High Lords are initially reluctant, thinking that Koorland is out to attempt a coup (without realising that the Imperial Fist could kill them all quite easily by himself). However, the kill team idea is eventually approved when more Orks emerge from the battlemoon that is still in orbit above Terra.

Drawing from the chapters who fought on Ullanor, two kill teams infiltrate the moon, and attempt to use the teleporting technology to move it out of the Sol System. The Mechanicus haven’t managed to perfect the blend of xenos and Imperial technology, however, and the massive stresses induced by the teleporter destroy the moon in orbit. Despite the fact that massive chunks of debris obliterate huge swathes of Terra, there is general rejoicing, and the kill-teams are then deployed on another mission: find the Sisters of Silence.

Yes, that’s right, the Sisters of Silence have apparently survived the Horus Heresy, and Chapter Master Thane leads a kill team with Inquisitors Wienand and Veritus on the hunt! My initial thoughts to this were, “aren’t they based on the Moon?” However, this isn’t mentioned at all, but instead we get a bit of a jaunt around the galaxy as the marines investigate some old ruins that were once a fortress of the Silent Sisterhood, whose domed ceiling happens to have a star-map that shows the location of the next fortress, and so forth. Seemed a bit daft, but there we are.

Turns out they aren’t the only ones after the Silent Sisters, as the Orks, recognising the threat that an army of psychic blanks could pose to their Weirdboyz, are also on the same hunt. Just when I didn’t think the story could get more contrived… I mean, sure, it’s science fiction and all, but why did the Orks wait until the exact same moment the marines go looking for the Sisters? Or do the Orks somehow have the power to predict what the Imperium is up to, and therefore can counter it before it happens? A lot of this series has felt a little too convenient, but this just felt a little too silly.

At any rate – spoiler alert – they find them, and a battle between the marines and the Orks ensues as Wienand bargains with the remaining Sisters of the order. She manages to persuade them that the Imperium is in fact worth fighting for, and the book ends with the Sisters renewing their vows to the Emperor.

All in all, it was an interesting read, though there were some annoying coincidences and such along the way. I was surprised to see the Sisters of Silence actually return, though I suppose it is a long way before we get to 40k, so I’m intrigued to see where this storyline goes. I know we’re still only in the second-founding years but, aside from the handful of Imperial Fists successor chapters, it seems the only other Space Marine chapters in the galaxy are first-founding ones. True, Novamarines have been mentioned once, I think, but we still have Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves and Ultramarines making up the cast. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was exciting when we first got to see something other than Imperial Fists and their successors, but there are literally hundreds of chapters from the second founding alone, surely we could get some variety?! Bah!

I know I’ve been critical of this book already, but I think it’s also worth pointing out that it felt a little rushed, particularly at the end. However, that does feel quite symptomatic of the series in general, really. These books are quite short – Watchers in Death is the second to come in at under 200pp – but there tends to have been a focus more on the battle scenes of the story in the latest few novels, and less on the intrigue and stuff. We get very little of the High Lords any more – and what we do get is really quite simplistic rather than anything else. I’m also feeling a bit annoyed that the Iron Warriors storyline seems to be dying a death. I think there was one chapter given over to it in Watchers in Death, as First Captain Zerberyn of the Fists Exemplar continues to fight alongside Kalkator and the Iron Warriors, disobeying a command from Thane to return to Terra. After the focus given to it in Echoes of the Long War, it seems that the story might be fizzling out – I hope we do get some pay-off before book twelve!

Anyway, this blog has been meandering for far too long now. I think, if you’ve read up to book seven of this series, you’re pretty much committed now, and will be reading to the end no matter how many reviews of the novels you read! I wasn’t entirely overwhelmed by either of these, unfortunately, though there were some really interesting ideas presented in them, which has made me excited and intrigued to see just where this story is going. I’m three-quarters of the way through it now, so I’m going to continue to power through and hopefully get to the end before January is out!

The Hunt for Vulkan

Beast Arises Hunt for Vulkan

So I recently finished The Hunt for Vulkan, the seventh novel in The Beast Arises series, and also one of the shortest entries in that series so far. The book forms something of a turning point in the war between the Imperium and the Orks, as Chapter Master Koorland literally leads a hunt for the primarch Vulkan to aid in the fight.

Vulkan is the primarch of the Salamanders space marine legion, and in case you weren’t aware, he is a “perpetual”, which is the Warhammer version of saying “immortal”. He might seem to die many times, but he will always, always survive anything that he goes through – such as, famously, his torture at the hands of his brother primarch, Konrad Curze. So it’s no real surprise that he’s still kicking around a thousand years after the Horus Heresy and the age of the primarchs.

Inquisitor Veritus brings the news of Vulkan’s survival to Koorland, telling him he is on the planet of Caldera. Koorland also manages to reach something of a detente with the Mechanicum after the Fists Exemplar lead an incursion to Mars in order to recover Magos Urqidex who, at the end of the last book, had been trying to get the message that the Orks were based on Ullanor out to Terra. Now armed with this information, Koorland calls together yet more Space Marine chapters – the Ultramarines, the Dark Angels, the Blood Angels and the Space Wolves – to assist in a final push against the greenskins while he leads his Last Wall to Caldera to find Vulkan.

In orbit above the planet is a partially-constructed Ork battlemoon, and we get to see how they create these things, by using gravity-whips to pull chunks of the planet into orbit, where somehow they are grafted into the moon. Weird. During all the fighting on the planet, Koorland is almost convinced that they won’t in fact find him, but after some fairly brutal combat, the space marines do indeed discover Vulkan leading the resistance, almost single-handedly staving off the Orks. There’s a wonderful little scene where Koorland is totally awe-struck at the sight of the legendary primarch, and reflects that this must be how ordinary humans see the space marines. Having been reading a lot of the Horus Heresy novels this year, I suppose I’d grown accustomed to the idea of primarchs, so it was cool to see that they are actually super-human folks!

Vulkan agrees to lead the fight against Ullanor, once the Orks have been repelled from Caldera, so an offensive is launched on the installation where the Orks are sending chunks of the planet into space. After successfully destroying the Orks and leaving enough of the technology for the Mechanicum to study, Vulkan returns to Terra where he takes control of the war, leaving the High Lords in awe of his presence.

While it was a little slow at times, and the battles were pretty tough to get through, I did actually like this book. It’s been a bit of a gripe of mine for a while now that we don’t know enough about what the Orks are doing to really make them interesting, as they’re very much left as a threat that needs to be stopped. There has been some attempt to provide a mystery around why they’re doing what they’re doing, as well as just how are they so damn coordinated and effective all of a sudden, but that mystery has been stretched so thin, it’s beyond the breaking point for me now. The fact that we seem to be about to learn more stuff, as we’re poised on the attack on Ullanor, bodes well for me in this respect, so I’m hopeful we’ll begin to see some resolution soon.

In this book, we also get to see some of the mad scientist Orks, which does help to make the story a little more interesting, as well. We keep getting told throughout the series that the Orks have developed or whatever, and they’re apparently some kind of technical geniuses now. However, it is somewhat comforting to know that there are still eccentric Meks about who are more discovering these things by chance than anything else…

I’m not particularly a Salamanders fan, but I thought the inclusion of a primarch to lead the crusade against the Orks was a pretty great idea, and it’s treated with the appropriate reverence that you’d expect from this kind of thing. I was also really interested to finally see more Chapters than just Imperial Fists and their successors. Not being a huge fan of the chaps in yellow, I was excited to see the inclusion of the other guys, even if they are all first-founding chapters, and even if they do include the Space Wolves…

We also get a tiny bit of the Iron Warriors storyline that was the main focus of the previous book, as Zerberyn and Kalkator have a moment of reflection above the dying world of Prax. I thought that storyline was super interesting in the last few books, as we see the Fists Exemplar and the Iron Warriors working together to overcome the Ork menace, and the shifting perceptions of the Iron Warriors as traitors and heretics. There is still some of that in this very short scene here, but the fact that it was relegated to such a short moment had me concerned that there won’t be much more of a pay-off for this. Hopefully I’m wrong on that, though!

The Beast Arises has surprised me for being a story that is basically one continuous narrative, but written by different authors. I was expecting something more along the lines of the Horus Heresy, or some of the Star Wars multi-book series, where individual authors concentrate on their pet units and tell fragments of the story – so, for instance, if we had a book by Gav Thorpe, we’d know it would feature Dark Angels, and so on. It’s been a bit strange that we’ve had just one narrative, albeit a sprawling one, and while having a tight focus has been good on the one hand, it’s becoming a little tedious after seven books, so I’m happy to see some different stuff thrown into the mix now that we have four very different Chapters thrown into the mix.

Speaking of sprawling narratives, this blog is becoming something of the same now, so I think I’ll wrap it up for now! I’m currently planning to have a bit more Star Wars on the reading list for the festive season, so might not be back with the Beast for a while. But I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes!

Weekend reflections

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these weekend reflections types of blogs, but I thought I’d just ramble for a bit about what’s been going on and what I’ve been up to of late, so sit back and enjoy some rambles!

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First off, I finished book six in The Beast Arises series, Echoes of the Long War. This was a really good book, showing the Fists Exemplar and the renegade Iron Warriors working together to destroy the Ork menace infesting the world of Prax. The world is a fortress world of the Iron Warriors, but the marines discover the Orks are using it to provide food for their war effort (in the form of human chattel) and so initiate a hidden mechanism in the core of the planet to basically destroy it. Exterminatus is but a mere wipe down with a damp cloth compared with what the Iron Warriors are prepared to do to wipe out the xenos!

In addition, we have some pretty turbulent events taking place on Terra, as Chapter Master Koorland basically takes command of the High Council of Terra, which gives me tremendous hope for the next steps in the war against the greenskins! We also get more on the intrigue on Mars, as the net closes on the assassins placed there back in book two…

I have to say, I’m really impressed with how the series has been progressing, especially over the last couple of books. I was surprised by the inclusion of the Iron Warriors storyline, but as the books have progressed I’ve been finding myself interested in them more and more! In fact, I’ve since moved on to reading the Iron Warriors novel, Storm of Iron, by Graham McNeill! Back last year, I read the first two novels in the Ultramarines series, Nightbringer and Warriors of Ultramar. I know that the next novels have strong ties to the Iron Warriors stories, but hadn’t really looked into the reading order until recently. So wait for that review, coming soon!

Thousand Sons

On the subject of Warhammer 40k stuff, it’s been an exciting weekend for Chaos folks as we see the new releases of Tzeentchy goodness, including these rather magnificent Rubric Marines. I single these out, as I would like to get myself a box soon enough! I mentioned it a while ago that I wanted to build some up, perhaps for a kill team type of thing, but having many projects on the go right now, I’ve managed to resist… for now!

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That hasn’t stopped me buying other games of course, including the new Star Wars Destiny dice game, and The Sands of Harad for Lord of the Rings! Destiny looks great – I bought both starter boxes and three boosters with the idea that I could try the game out with my buddy Tony, and maybe change up the starter decks if required. I’m disappointed I didn’t get Count Dooku, but from all accounts there appears to be a very small distribution of characters in the game, so I suppose I’m not overly surprised. My usual Magic singles webstore, Magic Madhouse, is selling stuff for the game singly, and I’m a bit surprised at the £6 cost for single cards with dice – but having paid £14 for a single Magic card in the past, I suppose I shouldn’t really be all that surprised… At any rate, I want to actually play the game a bit and get an opinion of it before I go too nuts…

The Sands of Harad looks fantastic, I must say. I talked about this a while ago, where I thought it might be the expansion that really gets me back into the game and, on first glance through, I think that assertion is correct! The artwork is beautiful as always, and has gotten me excited to get back into playing the game. Christmas is only around the corner, of course, and it’s a time of year that I do associate with both the game and the setting, so I’m very excited for this! I’m still featuring the various cycles in game day blogs in the order of their release, but I might be talking about this one more in the near future, so stay tuned for that!

I’ve still got the Arkham Horror LCG waiting to be investigated (pun intended, I think) though I’m not yet in the mood for that one… think it might have to be one of these games where you devote an afternoon to the whole experience of it, you know? Between the deckbuilding and learning the game itself, I’m actually looking forward to it! But, much like my painting, it seems whenever I spend more than an hour doing things these days, I feel like I’m wasting time! Not sure what that’s all about… But at any rate, I plan to set aside some time when I’m next off work (and have no essays due!) so that I can go through it all – and will no doubt be reporting back here in a game day blog soon enough, so stay tuned for that, as well!

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not really been keeping up with a lot of the new games lately – though I haven’t really seen anything that I can say I’m really super-excited for. I’ve not bought any of the Flashpoint cycle for Netrunner, and the next cyle, Red Sand, has already started the announcements! I haven’t played the game in months though, so should probably look to getting back into that. It seems a lot like Warhammer things have taken over my life the last few months – which I’ve been enjoying, don’t get me wrong! I just think that I’ve been missing out on some other really great games, and it might be time to make a return to some of those…


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And now, this! #TheBeastArises

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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!

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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!

The Emperor Expects

Book Three of the Beast Arises series has been out for a while now, though I’ve only just started to read the series – you can check out my thoughts on the previous novels here and here. Written by Gav Thorpe, I was hoping that the book would somehow vindicate the series for me, after the extremely disappointing second installment, and I have to say, I think it has!

I’d like to say “we pick off where the second book left off”, but that second book was such a weird muddle that I’m not entirely sure where the story ended there. As we’ve seen previously, the Orks have made a significant push into Imperium territory, and a number of systems are now beset by the greenskin menace and their “battle moon” space stations. During the course of this novel, we see the Imperium strike a decisive victory at Port Sanctus, along with the continuing machinations of the High Lords of Terra, focusing on Inquisitor Wienand and the head of the assassins, Drakan Vangorich, whose grim visage adorns the cover. Furthermore, we continue the story of Captain Koorland, apparently the last Imperial Fist, as he invokes the failsafe from Rogal Dorn and invokes something called “the last wall”, calling back together the various Chapters that once made up the Imperial Fists Legion.

I have to say, I really liked this book a lot. For starters, it compares really well with its predecessor for me, in that I felt like I knew what I was reading about – the language is quite straightforward, which is what I expect from Warhammer now, and also the action was quite well-described and, basically, interesting. There is also a good amount of intrigue and politics, which I always enjoy in these stories!

Taking the points in turn, I thought it was really interesting to see the Imperial Fists essentially re-join as a Legion – or, at least, see the Black Templars, Fists Exemplar, Excoriators, Crimson Fists and I think a couple of other successor chapters join together. It’s exactly something that I can imagine Rogal Dorn putting into place – following a huge falling-out with Guilliman, then suddenly capitulating and implementing the Codex Astartes following the Heresy, you just knew he would have done something like this! It doesn’t really feel like it has been explored enough yet, of course, but I suppose there’s plenty of chance for that!

The whole business with the Imperial Navy at Port Sanctus takes up a good deal of the novel, and involves the politicking of the High Lords, notably Vangorich manoeuvering High Lord Admiral Lansung into leaving Terra in the hope that his absence will halt any reconciliation of the Navy and Army into one fighting force – a force that worries anybody in the post-Heresy world. Again, this angle is only slightly touched on, with the main thrust being the action at Port Sanctus itself. I actually found this quite interesting, however, as we get a few decent Navy types who proved to be interesting to read.

I really liked the subterfuge with the Inquisition and the Assassinorum here. It felt a little silly in the last book, but here it went back to something approaching sensible politics once again. My only real gripe about all of this, however, is that we haven’t quite gone as deep as I would like. The Imperium doesn’t really feel very different to the period of the Heresy or the 41st millennium – I suppose I’m comparing this to my other beloved franchise, Star Wars, and how authors often take pains to emphasize the time-differences between the various eras of SW publishing. We had some glimmers of a really interesting new world in I Am Slaughter, but nothing more has been made of it yet. Hopefully some of the later books will come to address this, however!

While The Emperor Expects is a good book, and has served to really put me back on track with the series, I do have a bit of an issue with it, which holds about as true for Predator, Prey, also. Basically, we don’t know why the Orks are invading Imperium territory all of a sudden. There’s a bit of a mystery built up in the third book especially – all these Orks, suddenly all tech-savvy rather than not having a clue and all the rest of it – but we get no point of view from the Orks, and it’s becoming a bit tedious for me. There seems to be no motivation – I know the greenskins love a fight, but this isn’t really good enough to sustain a twelve-book series. I hope we begin to get somewhere soon, but I don’t get that feeling somehow. For me, this could be forgivable if we got to learn a little more of the history of the era, but it’s all getting a little flat, in my opinion. Maybe if GW had kept this storyline until the Heresy had actually finished, they’d be discussing more stuff and it could become a fully-fledged, well fleshed-out part of the landscape. As it stands, we’re getting novels that are a little over 200pp that are painting in broad strokes a series of vignettes of varying degrees of interest.

The only bright spot to all of this is, at least there are only twelve novels…

Predator, Prey

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The Beast continues to Arise!

I’ve finished the second book in the twelve-part The Beast Arises series from Black Library, and I have to say, if I were reading these with no real context, I would probably have given up on the series at this point.

Let me explain.

The first book sets up the world of the 32nd millennium really well – the Horus Heresy is in the past but still looms large, as the Imperium begins to move closer towards the 41st millennium that we all know and love. Following the Imperial Fists fighting a xenos race referred to as Chromes, we also see the inner workings of the Council of Terra and the intrigue that results there. At the end of the novel, we see that the Imperium is threatened not by these Chromes, but by a massive Ork incursion, the likes of which have never before been seen.

The second book falls tremendously flat after all of this, and I can’t quite believe that I managed to make it to the end. I am Slaughter took me literally a couple of days to read, while I had to force myself to read this one over the course of a week.

The main issue, for me, is the plot. This book is essentially a filler chapter or two, stretched out to 250ish pages, often in the most blatant and literal of ways – paragraphs can consist of the same sentiment immediately rephrased two or three times to pad them out. I thought this might have been a stylistic choice at first, providing something of an archaic construction to emphasise the remove from the 41st millennium, but it began to grate on me very quickly, and I found I was focusing more on the writing than the plot.

We see the Orks invade a couple of worlds, and two successor chapters to the Imperial Fists – the Fists Exemplar and the Black Templars – band together to turn back the green tide. We also see some of the fallout from Ardamantua as the Mechanicum attempt to sort out what happened there. And we see some infantile machinations on Terra between the Officio Assassinorum and the Inquisition, which don’t always make sense. There’s also a “little people” plot that involves virus bombs…

I just can’t get over how much of a filler novel this felt like. The only reason I kept reading was due to the feeling it might prove to be important later, and unfortunately, there are a couple of elements – such as the Ardamantua discoveries – that will prove to be so. I think I was most disappointed with the fact the Terran intrigue was handled just so weirdly in comparison to the first book. There were a couple of chapters where Drakan Vangorich, the grand master of the Assassinorum, just turns up for the sake of it. It continually reminded me of the “secret Asians” joke in American Dad – was there any reason to fly to Mars to have that conversation, only to then next reappear needing the toilet during the proceedings of the High Council? Bah.

All in all, I wasn’t really impressed by this book. I’m intending to move directly onto the third book, The Emperor Expects, in the hope that this series isn’t entirely written off already. I’ll keep you all posted!