Rynn’s World

Rynn’s World – Steve Parker; Black Library; 2010

I am a Warhammer 40k addict. I don’t expect you to be.  But I love me some space marine vs. ork battles, ships lost in the warp, xenos screams of hate, and prayers to the Emperor.  Of the Warhammer 40k novels, the Space Marine Battles seem to be a little lower on the “literature” scale than, say, the Horus Heresy stuff.  But none of it, really, is high-class stuff. And I am perfectly okay with that.

Rynn’s World is pure fluff.  It’s full of action scenes, space marines lumbering around in their armor, the rather one-track-mindedness of characters, the repetitive storytelling style that reminds you orks are bad and space marines are good, etc.  And I love it. It’s like brain candy.  All you have to do is turn the page and you do not need to analyze, discuss the levels of meta-fiction, or worry about the symbolic meaning of anything. You just read while the space marines just shoot. It’s glorious science fiction pulp.

This is the first Space Marines Battles novel released by Black Library. Rynn’s World was written by Steve Parker and released in 2010.  Parker is actually a pretty cool dude – he lives in Japan and is a beefy bodybuilder.  He is into environmental concerns and he isn’t just an iron head.  He has not yet written dozens of books, but this one was a decent read for the genre.  I hope he writes more.

Rynn’s world is about the homeworld of the Space Marines chapter, the Crimson Fists.  If you have no idea what I am talking about, let me oversimplify:  there are dozens of “chapters” of space marines.  Each chapter has their “thing.”  This particular chapter wears power armor where their gauntlets are mechanized and “powered” – and crimson red in color.  There you have the basics.  It was fun to read about this chapter because they are one of the more famous ones.  However, they certainly take a real hit in this novel – their homeworld is attacked by a gigantic warforce of Orks. Orks are green and brown skinned monsters who like to slay and who also have a fondness for motor bikes.

Pedro Kantor is the chapter master of the Crimson Fists.  This means, basically, he’s the general in charge.  We follow, more or less, him through the battle.  Therefore, we are privy to his hopes, worries, fears, and decision-making.  Not only does he have to deal with ork invaders, but the welfare of the human citizens of the planet also weighs heavily on his shoulders.  This sets up a sort of moral dilemma – his official protocols dictate that he serves the Emperor first, particularly in battle by destroying xenos bad guys.  So, how does Kantor deal with also having to play something of the rescue/protector role regarding humans?

And then, there is the whole drama with his friend, the lower-ranked captain Alessio Cortez. Cortez is a fiery, aggressive character who is an excellent space marine, but who gets impatient a lot.  Cortez rarely sees the bigger picture, so to speak. Kantor has to balance being Cortez’ friend and being his chapter master.  Some of this storyline is also developed early on when a scout endangers space marines by failing to strictly obey protocol.  Discipline and obedience are the buzzwords here.  Anyway, the good part of all of this is that the novel does actually have some subplots and does touch, however briefly, onto some interesting moral questions.

Nevertheless, this novel is about space marines going to battle against orks.  It may seem juvenile or pedestrian to some readers – but I wasn’t expecting anything more than some good old bolt gun explosions, ork war cries, and descriptions of azure power armor.  The joy of reading anything WH40k is that orks get smashed. Ork smashing is good and good for you.  I’m giving this novel three stars – because it is exactly what it purports to be and met all expectations.  Granted, we won’t be reading this in English Lit – but on the other hand – we don’t want to be. We’d actually rather be donning our power armor and firing up the lasguns!

3 stars

Fulgrim

Fulgrim

Fulgrim – Graham McNeill; Black Library

Fulgrim by Graham McNeill is the fifth novel in the Warhammer 40k Horus Heresy series.  It’s also the largest of the first five – running just over 500 pages.  It was published in 2007 and the cover artist was, again, Neil Roberts.  McNeill is the author of the second Horus Heresy novel as well as a few others in the Warhammer 40k collection.

The Warhammer 40k universe is one of my favorites. I am an absolute sucker for science fiction, fantasy, and battles of good versus evil. I like vast armies, huge dramatic storylines, and futuristic settings. A lot of “classy” readers probably would disdain most of Warhammer 40k because it isn’t great literature and is usually derivative of any number of archetypes in the genre.  However, I just love the universe and the characters and the stories.  It’s fun and interesting.  And yes, it is melodramatic.  And yes, in some books the writing is somewhat more juvenile or action-descriptive.  But it’s so much dang fun!

I’m obviously a science fiction fanatic.  And I love reading the classics of science fiction – good, quality, heady stuff for sure.  But really nothing is so deliciously engrossing as a Horus Heresy novel.  I am a big proponent of readers enjoying the books they are reading. If I am reading for entertainment, I want to be entertained.  There is also plenty of room for thought-provoking or challenging. Alter the paradigms, show the parallax, explore conceptual edifices – but let me still have my fun!

Fulgrim is not the best of the first five Horus Heresy novels. I do think in some places the story stalls and the characters chase their tails a bit.  In other words, yeah, this novel could have been whittled down to, say, 420 pages.   And while some novels desperately need to be chopped and halved, since this is Warhammer 40k and I am insanely in love with it, I do not really mind the stuffing.  The first two books of the series were awesome. Without a doubt.  Books four and five kind of circle back around to the events in book three – showing us the events from a different perspective, involving different characters, etc.  Some readers might not like this re-telling of events.  However, in both books, the storyline does move forward.  In Fulgrim, the last quarter of the book deals with the situation on Isstvan V – where the primarchs and their legions engaged in knowing, violent combat over the purpose and goal of the Great Crusade.

In the first half of the novel, the reader learns about the Primarch Fulgrim.  I like learning about each of the primarchs, though Fulgrim himself is not one I’m a real fan of.  He is so prissy and fancy.  He is still a formidable warrior, but his obsession with the concept of perfection and the appearance of his legion is obnoxious.  In other words, it’s easy to hate him and easy to see how he was pulled into the Horus Heresy. There are several neat things that the author does to this character to demonstrate the changes in him and how it affects the Emperor’s Children (his legion of space marines).  Most of them are interesting and reasonable grounding for the character’s actions.  Some are just a little flat or perhaps they are a little too obvious.

Fulgrim – the book and the character – develops from the author’s usage of concepts of aesthetics.  Art appreciation, perfection in art, working to create art, etc. Some of this might seem a bit silly to readers who want warfare in the distant future, but actually I was impressed that the author chose to utilize this stuff.  For example, I really do encourage any fans of the series to read William Blake’s The Book of Urizen either before or after reading Fulgrim.  It’s interesting and contextualizes. It’s also kind of fun to see Blake-ian concepts utilized in pulp science fiction!  I haven’t read The Book of Urizen since…. 1997?…. so I am actually looking forward to just flipping through that again.

Of note, Fulgrim contains some of the more “graphic” scenes in the series so far.  There are not any “bad words,” but the imagery can be a bit intense.  So, if you are really drawn into the book and have a good imagination, the latter half of the book has some scenes dealing with xenos/chaos forces that might be a bit ugly to imagine. The descriptions, though, do border slightly on the purple prose sort of structure in places.  It is not necessarily there for shock value – it does play into the plotline.  Either way, be advised to expect this. I liked elements of this section and disliked elements, as well. For example, there is something both really cool and really silly about the concept of auditory chaos, discordance, and atonal effects being used by/on space marines.

Overall, four stars – because I am a Warhammer 40k fan addict. Three stars if you are judging based on everything else. (Again, my blog, my prerogative!)

4 stars

Soul Hunter

Soul Hunter

Soul Hunter by A. Dembski-Bowden; Black Library

Ave Dominus Nox! is the warcry of the Night Lords.  This is the first book in which I met the remnants of the VIII Legion.  This is also the first in the Night Lords series being authored by Aaron Dembski Bowden.  It’s also the first novel written by Aaron Dembski Bowden that I have read.  Soul Hunter was published in 2010.

The VIII Legion is a traitor legion, which means they fight the Imperial forces and are traitors to the Emperor. Their Primarch, the Night Haunter (or Konrad Curze), is dead – killed by an assassin.  The remaining members of the Night Lords are a hodge-podge of Astartes warriors wearing salvaged armor and using salvaged materiel. This legion is also a bit outside of the timeline of the rest of the universe, because of their time in the Warp.  Their geneseeds are also uniquely pure, as compared to the other Astartes post-Heresy. (Acidic saliva was a small, but fun detail!) The Night Lords are Chaos Space Marines, and scorn all forms of religious faith; they respect only temporal and material power. Many Night Lords consider themselves free of the taint of Chaos and despise those they deem to be so corrupted. This last part is what makes the Night Lords such a dynamic group of characters.

The publisher’s tag is:

The Night Lords form an uneasy allegiance with the Black Legion in order to assault the valuable planet of Crythe Primus. The Imperial world puts up a stern defence, but the biggest obstacle to success will be the disunity and mistrust between the two Legions.

For the first quarter of the book, I was not too impressed.  It was a good read that moved along, but it seemed a bit disjointed and I was not always completely crystal clear on what was going on. Also, I felt that some parts of the novel were disconnected from other parts.  After finishing the novel, I have to say that the entire book was actually better than I thought it would be in the beginning.

The author was trying to write an engaging and pivotal story while at the same time giving the reader all of the necessary background needed to understand the formation, development, and significance of the VIII Legion.  I realize that the “history” of a Legion is probably neither fun to read or write if it’s just styled in some encyclopedia fashion.  Therefore, the effort is made here to present the history without it looking like something from the Encyclopedia Britannica.  At first, I found the writing difficult because the author is trying to tell us a present-day story, but yet he also is tasked with providing the backstory.  Also, let me throw this curve ball in now, the main character Talos (aka: Soul Hunter) is called “The Prophet” because he has visions of the future.

The author smartly writes this novel utilizing a lot of flashbacks and foreshadowing.  These techniques are what made me feel like this was a bit disjointed, but as I got used to it, I was really drawn into the novel.  I feel that the author did a very good job of writing this Night Lords novel.  Truth be told, I think we jumped to and fro (past/present/future) a little too much, but it worked nonetheless.  The end result is a dynamic, interesting, and unique history.  The VIII Legion is not a carbon-copy of other legions and their primarch, homeworld, and modus operandi are greatly interesting.  After reading this novel, I wanted to read more and more and more about this Legion. If there are more novels out there… I will hunt them:  preysight!

4 stars

The Flight of the Eisenstein

Flight of the Eisenstein

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow; Black Library

The Flight of the Eisenstein is the fourth novel in the Warhammer40k Horus Heresy series.  It was released in 2007 by Black Library and was written by James Swallow.  The cover art was done by Neil Roberts.

After the “opening trilogy” of novels in the Horus Heresy series, I was worried about beginning yet another author’s take on the Warhammer40k universe.  The first three novels really set the bar high, so to speak, and I was so impressed that I was worried the disappointment would eventually arrive. Nevertheless, I was irresistibly curious as to the next events; the third novel leaves off with so much left unfinished – all the characters in the lurch.

Instead of starting where the preceding novel left off, The Flight of the Eisenstein actually backtracks a bit in time to before the battle on IsstvanIII.   So, instead of picking up with the events of the last novel, the reader goes back to the pivotal moments before the attack on Isstvan III, which, really, is the whole crux of the Horus Heresy series.  This time, however, the reader sees the events occur from an entirely different point of view.  The Flight of the Eisenstein follows the thoughts and actions of Battle Captain Nathaniel Garro, of the Death Guard (under Primarch Mortarian).

Before I get further into this review, I want to say that of the authors of the Horus Heresy that I have read, I think James Swallow is the least among them.  However, this does not make him horrible, please understand.  Further, I think that somehow Swallow is the author most suited to be writing about/as Nathaniel Garro.  Garro is different than our old friends Garviel Loken and Saul Tarvitz. He’s different from a lot of the other characters because he is a lot more introspective, it seems. He is also a member of the Death Guard and not a Son of Horus/Luna Wolf.  So, it’s fitting that a different author is writing this character and I felt, as I read, that the writing style suited Garro.

Part of me was slightly frustrated by having to return to events that I already read about.  And that frustration is only because I am so invested in the story that I am excited to know what happens next.  However, there is nothing wrong with backtracking and giving the reader a fuller picture of the events at Isstvan III, but from a different perspective. In theory, it would have been possible to write The Flight of the Eisenstein by starting off with the refugees arrival onto the ship and taking the story from there. By backtracking, the reader is forced to see the events of Isstvan III from off-planet and from a more detached character’s viewpoint. The reader is also able to develop an interest and connection with Garro.  The backtracking allows the entire storyline to fill in gaps and explain other forces and events outside of the ones already known.  It makes the entire storyline deeper and broader by not traveling solely in a linear fashion, but expanding into other characters etc.  So, though I was in haste to find out what was going to happen, I appreciated the efforts to learn about what the Death Guard was doing when Isstvan III was obliterated.

This book does continue onward, though from the point where we left off in the third novel.  The refugee-loyalists have arrived on the Eisenstein, which Garro commands.  He and his battle brothers recognize the horror that had just played out before them and are forced to escape the traitorous fleet headed by Warmaster Horus.  Swallow takes us for our first official ride into the Warp – and let me tell you, it is not a pretty place.  Swallow fills several pages with the gore and mayhem that is the Warp.  Somehow he does it with slightly less ability than Abnett or McNeill.  It’s still gripping to read, though (but maybe not while eating lunch).  Throughout the book, Garro wrestles with what it means to have faith, how to react to Horus’ violence, and how to remain a true Astartes warrior.  Swallow also spends a lot more time with developing human characters as well. (Of course, the problematic of the Empire of Man, humanity, and Astartes kind of just hangs out there in a somewhat incomplete manner, but it’s fiction…)  Two human characters in particular that Swallow develops are the captain of the Eisenstein and Garro’s housecarl (read: manservant) Kaleb.  Only one of these two makes it out of the book alive.

One of the things that bugs me about Swallow’s writing is that he uses really “rare” words more than once. If you want to use a rare word, you can only do so once – or else it seems like you are showing off your usage too much. This occurred with Swallow’s use of the word obstreperous with regard to the Death Guard warriors. It is a very rare word, and using it more than once makes Swallow seem like a little kid who learns a new word and who wants to use it all the time.  Nevertheless, it was also fun to read a word like:  mechadendrite. And on page 275, Swallow has a villain say:  “The warp’s touch is the way forward. If you were not so blinkered and mawkish, you would see it!”  ….and that’s a pretty fun line.

All in all, compared to the other Horus Heresy novels, I think this is a three out of five stars. But out of my universal novel rating system – I give it a solid four stars.

4 stars

Galaxy in Flames

Galaxy in Flames

Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter; Black Library

The third book in the “opening trilogy” of the Horus Heresy by Ben Counter was another fantastic read. I highly recommend the Horus Heresy series at this point – even though I have only read the first three. I definitely intend to continue reading the series. Galaxy in Flames follows after the second novel, False Gods. The first novel was written by Dan Abnett, the second by Graham McNeill. This is the first novel I have read by Ben Counter. The cover art, which is fantastic, was done by Neil Roberts.

This is an excellent read. It continues the intense, gripping storyline of the Horus Heresy, in which Warmaster Horus turns against the Emperor. Although it is just as intense as the previous two novels, I feel the first quarter of this novel was slightly off the high-mark set by the previous two novels. It is not easy to point out exactly what was “not quite as good,” but I think it is because instead of focusing on one character (Garviel Loken), Counter spreads his attention among the entire cast. This works very well, but after spending so much time in the first two books with Loken, I think I missed hanging out with Loken. The front half of this novel is slightly more superficial than the previous two books. However, this matters less and less as the novel proceeds, because the tension and drama increase enough to make up for it.

Treachery, duplicity, betrayal, and rebellion end in a fierce, violent conclusion that destroys a planet (Isstvan III).  The last stand of the loyalists, including Garviel Loken, Saul Tarvitz, and Tarik Torgaddon, is done really well. Lucius the swordsman also has a role to play that will make readers cringe and wail.

Meanwhile, the non-warriors (the iterators and scribes) scurry through the Vengeful Spirit, working to maintain their loyalty to the Emperor while trying to stay alive. Lots of Space Marines die in this novel – and lots of Space Marines are forced to choose between sides between the Warmaster and the Emperor.  Everyone else is caught in the crossfire and has to make choices that are far from easy.

I love the Horus Heresy series.  It incorporates everything I want in a space opera, science fiction, drama, war story. The characters are great, the storyline is great, the writing is well above-average and oftentimes excellent. I love the cover art for all of the novels.  Along the way, the reader explores concepts of brotherhood, loyalty, faith, and warfare.  I find myself putting the book down at points just to revel in the dramatic tension.  Tarvitz says: “Warheads?”  – and I had to put the book down and just cringe. But on page 212, Tarvitz has commandeered a Thunderhawk – but Horus has sent fighters after him. Again, put the book down, cringe and worry. Page 268, Qruze is no longer the “half-heard” and his epic heroism shows through! Put the book down and swell with pride for Qruze. For the emperor!

There are not many books that the reader can get this invested in the storyline and the characters. If I come across such books, I am so thrilled; I definitely evangelize: hey! Read this series!  I am going to continue reading along. I cannot stop with the last words of the book (Horus speaking): “Then we strike for Terra!”

4 stars

False Gods

False Gods

False Gods by Graham McNeill; Black Library

After having read and completely loved the first book in The Horus Heresy series (Horus Rising), I was really excited to get into the second book.  Horus Rising was fantastic and in this blog I gave it five stars. I do not give out five stars for novels very often.  Horus Rising was written by Dan Abnett, whom I am starting to really love. This book, False Gods, was written by Graham McNeill. So, even though I was anxious to dive into this book, I had all the usual concerns one would have:  oh, sequels are not as good, and oh, it’s a different author and he won’t be able to write as well, etc.

False Gods was released not too long after Horus Rising. I think they were probably published at the same time and just released a bit apart on purpose.  False Gods was released in June of 2006.  The third book was released in October 2006.  Obviously, these first releases were kept close as a sort of beginning trilogy.

At first, I felt okay with McNeill’s efforts. Then, I got a little nervous as I felt that the novel was wandering and sputtering slightly – so, of course, I panicked. But, as I read on, all the little threads started to tie together. The meandering tributaries joined up and we hopped into a roaring river.  Rest assured, McNeill is as capable and skilled as he needs to be to have written this novel.  Dan Abnett’s novel was excellent and so is this novel.

Even though I am a Warhammer/40k fan, I can truthfully state that anyone unfamiliar with that universe can hop right in to the Horus Heresy novels. They can and they should – this is science fiction war-drama that is probably the best ever written. I honestly cannot think of a reason why a reader would avoid or hesitate to read this series. This is a mighty recommendation I am giving and I, myself, cannot wait to get my paws on the third book.  The cover for False Gods was done by Philip Sibbering.

False Gods continues where Horus Rising left off, more or less. There are several points in the novel where I had to stop, close the book, and just worry and fret about the characters. Or sometimes sniff my nose at some of the sad or touching parts. When Horus hollers at Maloghurst, I felt the intensity. When Horus honors Maggard, I felt his pride and joy. As Loken despaired when Horus fell, I felt the panic and confusion. Finally, when Angron tore through the planet – I felt how horrific and terrible he is. So, judging by reader reaction, I am quite certain this book deserves high marks.  As far as the storyline, I was pleased. We have been following the exploits, in the main, of Loken and this seems to work well. Finally, things come to a head regarding the purpose and utility of remembrancers. The results of Erebus’ actions are continued from the previous novel and they form the backbone of the story in this novel.

But Horus. What can be said about Horus? And what can be said about the Emperor? I don’t know who’s side to be on. I can’t believe Horus! But then, how am I so certain about the Emperor, when I have never met him and know nothing about him, save what Erebus has said?   Like I said, it is imperative to get book three as fast as possible. If you buy book one, you should probably get the next two so you can keep right on reading along. The reader gets their money’s worth and the paperbacks are handsome enough to be on a shelf decently and properly. The font, used in most texts from Black Library, is easy to read and clear.

5 stars

Horus Rising

Horus Rising

Horus Rising by Dan Abnett; Black Library

I have begun reading the Warhammer40k novels, and I started not with this one, but with another written by Dan Abnett.  This is, therefore, the second novel in the Warhammer40k library that I have read.  This novel is the first in the Horus Heresy series.  Horus Rising was first published in 2006 and there are (as of the time of this blog post) 18 total novels in the series. This book begins as somewhat of “pre-history,” that is, it takes place in the 31st millennium. It’s a good place to gain entry into the Warhammer40k universe.

According to Wikipedia:

Horus Rising details the rise to power of Horus Lupercal, Primarch of the Luna Wolves, after the Emperor of Mankind appoints him Warmaster, overall commander of the Imperial military and in charge of the Great Crusade. Much of the focus is on the Captain of the Luna Wolves’ 10th Company, Garviel Loken, as he becomes a member of the Mournival (an advisory body to Horus), and his involvement in campaigns against non-Imperials and aliens at the close of the Great Crusade.

The main character is Captain Garviel Loken, who the reader follows in both present-time and flashback stories. The major characters of this story are not simply military soldiers – but genetically advanced, high-tech armored warriors. These legions of warriors are called Astartes. They are governed by a simple chain of command:  Sergeants, Captains, Primarchs, Warmaster, and Emperor.  These huge legions of “men” are on the Great Crusade, which is basically an aggressive military march across the universe to subdue and conquer any world, species, race that is not man. When this is accomplished on a world, it is called bringing the world into “compliance.”  Compliance basically means being entirely subjugated to the Imperium of Man – recognizing the Emperor and his will.

Dan Abnett writes good books.  I know because of the fact that this novel is science fiction and involves space warriors in the future that immediately no one feels the need to consider it literature. All science fiction is treated as somehow “other” and even classics (e.g. Asimov’s Foundation) are only given begrudging acceptance by the “literate reader.”  I won’t go so far as to say that Horus Rising is great literature, but I do insist that it will be overlooked simply for the fact that it is science fiction.  What I love about Dan Abnett’s Warhammer40k novels (so far), is that they manage to bring out the best elements of The Iliad and drop them into the 31st millennium.

There are, at least, a dozen well-written military science fiction novels and series that would be good to read. These include the Honor Harrington, Kris Longknife, and Starfist novels. However, unlike those, Dan Abnett’s Warhammer40k novels seem to make the warfare and the characters a lot less artificial and a lot more significant. Also, there are zero instances of sex, bad language, or foulness in Abnett’s novels. I like that. I like that to tell us a gripping tale of politico-military adventure, strife, and crusading, the author does not feel the need to include some off-beat, random sexual interlude.  And even though the reader is dropped directly onto the vicious and grueling battlefield, the reader is not subjected to ridiculous dialogue, drawn-out gory scenes, or silly sound effects.

I whipped through the pages of this book. As an aside, the font is easy to read and doesn’t strain the eyes at all. However, there were times that I had to put the book down – I did not “want to see what was coming.”  You know those moments in books wherein the tension is high and you can see some of the threads of the storyline culminating – and you have befriended the characters so much that you don’t want anything bad to happen to them? Yeah, I was there several times during this book.

Lastly, one of the best things Abnett is able to do, is educate the reader on future war tactics, chains of command, army structures, planetary alignments, high-tech weapons, etc. – but without actually detailing out in multiple paragraphs the encyclopedic information.  The reader, at first, is a little off-kilter, but everything gradually begins to work it’s way out, until the reader is completely comfortable concerning bolters, lasguns, Warmasters, and iterators. The storytelling here is excellent, the characters are interesting and can bond with the reader, and the writing style is fun and entertaining. These are good books.

5 stars

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