The Ultramarines are the premier Space Marine Chapter in Warhammer 40,000. Over the years, they have been built up as a Chapter that other Chapters aspire to be like, for they are the best example of everything a Chapter should be and could be. Sometimes that has been executed well, sometimes not, and often times the fandom has portrayed them as far too… vanilla, too boring because of their straightforward nature, whether in the lore or in the tabletop gaming rules. And designers and writers have often tried to change that around as well, to mixed success.
In 2012, if I recall correctly, Black Library launched its first Space Marine Battles novella, Catechism of Hate, which focused on one of the Ultramarines’ defining hero, Master of Sanctity Ortan Cassius, and the story focused on one of his missions against the Tyranids. And then late last year we had Spear of Macragge, which continued the story of the Second Company and its efforts to defeat the Necron legions on the world of Damnos as told in the Nick Kyme’s novel Fall of Damnos. Having just recently finished reading both novellas, I can say that they are both fantastic,and well worth the time spent reading them. They portray very different attitudes to war among the Ultramarines, and cover a broad range of characters, mixing some really great stories with really good execution.
Black Library has had a fairly strong audio range for several years, thanks in part to the excellent work done on the Horus Heresy audios. Two years back the publisher began releasing short 8-10minute audios as well, in addition to its longer range, and they too proved fairly successful. First with Big Finish and then with Heavy Entertainment, several characters and stories have been brought to audio life by the publisher, whether we talk Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and it has been a truly great experience, with very few missteps along the way.
Joining the publisher’s ever-growing audio catalog is this month’s The Tranzia Rebellion radio play. Where this is now audio format differs from the usual audio dramas and audiobooks is that there is absolutely zero narration. Everything is with the characters with no narrative commentary or some such. The first two episodes, penned by C Z Dunn (formerly editor at Black Library and now working for the parent company Games Workshop) and produced by Heavy Entertainment, are really good. They are scene-setting installments of course, but still they quickly establish the characters and the story, with the voice-acting being diverse and enjoyable.
Black Library’s Horus Heresy range has been notable since its inception to turn out some really high quality audio dramas. James Swallow began the great trend with his various Garro audio dramas, spinning out of his novel The Flight of the Eisenstein and other authors since have taken great steps forward with the format as well. Some along the way haven’t been as good as I wanted them to be, but by and large, the Horus Heresy audio drama range is quite a good one and I would definitely recommend readers of the novel to experiment with these and give them a chance.
One of the latest audios in the series is Templar by John French, which focuses on the Imperial Fists First Captain Sigismund as he leads a strike force of Imperial Fists against traitorous Word Bearers within the Sol System itself. Sigismund has largely been a background character in the series thus far, but under John French, I think the character is set to become a major player, as he should be, given how large a character he is in the lore. Produced by Heavy Entertainment, this is one of their finer audio dramas for Black Library, and voice-actor Gareth Armstrong remains as great as ever.
In the wake of Black Library switching and changing the printing schedules and formats of its flagship Horus Heresy series back in late 2012, I fell off with the series in early 2013. Where before I read the publisher’s novels pretty much as soon as they were released or just prior, months went by before I read anything, and this applied more so to Horus Heresy since I preferred to wait for the regular paperback editions. As such, I am significantly behind in my reading, though the experience of catching up has been fairly delightful thus far, especially with their various audio dramas. I got back on track back in May with Nick Kyme’s Vulkan Lives, and that reignited my interest in the series, though I haven’t been able to read another Heresy novel until just a few days prior.
Mark of Calth is the twenty-fifth novel in the series and to read this one, there isn’t a lot that someone needs to have read already, which is great really. The anthology kicks off from Dan Abnett’s fairly amazing Know No Fear from 2012 and it expands upon a lot of the minor arcs in that novel, as well as setting the stage for more future stories. Guy Haley, David Annandale, Graham McNeill and Anthony Reynolds deliver some really good stories, with lots of action packed in, while the stories by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Dan Abnett, Rob Sanders and John French are good but do miss the mark in some ways.
This post is coming in at a slightly later time than I’d prefer, about two weeks late at least, but I guess I can’t really “complain” when the lateness is due to my own wedding which took place exactly two weeks ago on the 5th. It has certainly been a very busy and intense time, what with being engrossed in all the marriage stuff and then even after that there’s been one thing after another. Reading time has definitely suffered greatly, which makes me a little sad considering how much I love reading, but eh, all for a good cause really.
With half the year now over, it is time to do the first of my “Best of the Year” posts, for the period 1st January to 30th June. There’s been a ton of books that I’ve read in this period as usual, and I made a very strong effort to read more tie-in fiction than I usually do, so the list is most assuredly going to reflect that. Tie-in fiction is a very important part of the publishing industry I feel and it always deserves some recognition. Now if we could only get an award started that celebrated tie-in fiction and all would be alright with the world. Or so my thinking goes.
Let’s see what makes the cut and which comes close then!
More than any other author at Black Library presently, it seems that David Annandale is by far one of the busiest of the lot, if his output in the last couple years or so is any indication. Multiple short stories, a novel, multiple novellas. And his work has been seen digital-to-print republication. For me, he has certainly emerged as one of the best of the bunch, owing in part to his technical writing and his characters and plots of course. It also helps that in much of his work he has chosen to write about factions and characters that usually don’t see the light of day otherwise, much.
About ten days back or so I mentioned in my review of Forge Master that it was part of a trilogy of novellas about the Overfiend of Octavius, an Ork Warlord who controls one of the biggest Ork empires in the galaxy. Where Forge Master was the capstone to that trilogy, Shadow Captain is the middle narrative and is told from the perspective of the Raven Guard rather than the Salamanders. And the events in this novella take place just before the events of Forge Master. Just as with it successor, Shadow Captain proved to be a most entertaining read, and it shined the light on another of my most favourite Space Marine chapters.
In the last two years, Black Library has gone all-out with its range of novellas, whether we talk about the Horus Heresy series or the more “contemporary” Warhammer 40,000 setting. In fact, I’d say that there are too many novellas being released, at the expense of new novels, and I stand by that statement, looking at their released schedule for the last few months. But then, there are novellas like Promethean Sun, Iron Warrior and Knights of the Imperium Master which make it all really worth it. And when the publisher goes for a combo of novellas/novels, that’s when I really sit up and pay attention.
Forge Master is part of a trilogy of novellas about the Imperium’s campaign against the Overfiend of Octavius, the Warlord of one of the greatest and most powerful Ork empires in the galaxy. Told from the perspective of different Space Marine chapters, each novella covers a different part of the campaign, in this case, the Salamanders. The novella covers a small strike team of the Salamanders as they board an Ork flagship looking for a prisoner and David Annandale’s writing here is some of the best I’ve seen from him. In fact, it may be his best work that I’ve read to date.
The Horus Heresy is the one part of the Warhammer 40,000 lore that has had the most impact on the 41st millennium, the specific time of this far-future space opera/science fantasy setting that we are all most familiar with. The events of that era have influenced everything has happened since, and when Black Library began exploring this age of wonders, it was like a dream come true for countless fans of Warhammer 40,000. The response was phenomenal of course and in no time the series became a New York Times Bestseller hit. The army of writers involved have plumbed all sorts of depths of this era and they have come up with some really wonderful stuff over the past few years.
Of course, they’ve also had to deal with some of the downsides of this effort, and from my understanding, one of these is how Primarchs like Vulkan and Corax escaped the massacre at Istvaan V after the death of their brother Ferrus. Gav Thorpe explored the latter in an audio drama and a novel (both of which are fantastic by the way) and the former is dealt with by Nick Kyme, a recent entrant to the Heresy writing team and the result is one of the most bleakest Horus Heresy novels to date, Vulkan Lives. Nick explores the Primarch himself and one of the shattered remnants of the Salamanders Legion in this novel, and the results are interesting.
Last year in January we had the first Gotrek & Felix novel after a gap of several long years. The series started off as short stories by William King that were eventually collected into a novel and became a trilogy, then a double trilogy and so on. Eventually, when William King left, Nathan Long was brought in and he enjoyed a good long run as well. But then the series lapsed and all we had for a while were more short stories and even some novellas, although they were primarily written by a new incoming group of authors. It was good stuff. But what we really needed was a full novel, and that’s what Josh Reynolds’ Road of Skulls did.
The new Gotrek & Felix novels, whether those written by Josh Reynolds or David Guymer, are set out of continuity, which means that they are not part of the main series and are set somewhere in between those adventures already published. Road of Skulls, the first in his new set of novels, was an absolute fantastic read and reminded me of why I loved the series in the first place. And now we have the third novel, The Serpent Queen, and it is every bit as good. It features some more out-of-continuity adventures but sets them in the Southlands, in the homelands of the Lizardmen and we see a conflict between Tomb Kings and Vampires. Pretty superb right out of the gate.
It is no secret that Gav Thorpe is one of my favourite authors. Whether we talk about his work for Games Workshop and Black Library or his original novels for Angry Robot, he has always impressed. And one of his specialty areas is audio dramas. He has penned two of my favourites, the Warhammer Fantasy audio Aenarion and the Horus Heresy audio Raven’s Flight. Both audios are superbly written, and also superbly voice-acted, which is another great thing about them. He has penned others over the years, and his latest is one that focuses on the Eldar for a change, particularly one of their more interesting Aspects, the Howling Banshees.
Generally, Black Library doesn’t put out a whole lot of fiction featuring the multitude of alien species. Gav’s Eldar trilogy and Andy Chambers’ Dark Eldar trilogy are exceptions, although I cannot speak to the quality of either as I have not read any of them. Yet. But, if Gav’s novels are anything like this audio, then I will definitely give them a chance. Howl of the Banshee is also notable because it has an all-female cast of voice-actors, which is pretty dam rocking in itself, since it just doesn’t happen with BL’s audios! So that’s another win for this audio.
So ends another Time of Legends trilogy. C. L. Werner’s Black Plague is part of the second wave of trilogies that are part of the overall Time of Legends brand, trilogies that tell the tales of some of the greatest events in the Warhammer Fantasy Battles lore, such as the Fall of the Elves in Gav Thorpe’s The Sundering or the rise of Sigmar in Graham McNeill’s Legends of Sigmar. With his first two books in this trilogy, Herr Werner did something that hadn’t quite been there in other Warhammer novels, fantasy with a strong and intense political edge. This is what I loved best about the first novel Dead Winter and with the second novel Blighted Empire.
In the final novel, released a short while ago, Herr Werner took things further and he really established Black Plague as one of the finest trilogies in Warhammer. The action is superb. The characterisation is superb. The handling of all the different characters and the betrayals and alliances is superb. I honestly could not have asked for more on that front. Wolf of Sigmar went in some unexpected directions and since I’m not all that conversant with Warhammer lore, it proved to be a very satisfying read indeed.
For a good three years now, Black Library’s audio output has been quite impressive. Both in terms of quality and quantity. Thanks to the success of the Horus Heresy audios such as Gav Thorpe’s Raven’s Flight and James Swallow’s Garro duology, the publisher’s audio franchise has really taken off for the Warhammer 40,000 timeline as well. I’ve certainly been enjoying them thus far, though there have been a few along the way that I did not like, and would even consider to be among the lower-tier works put out by the authors. But I won’t deny that BL audios are generally so much damn fun to listen to.
A short while ago we got the latest Horus Heresy audio by Graham McNeill, in which he built on many of the different concepts he’d introduced in his amazing Thousand Sons-centric novel, A Thousand Sons. They are one of the least-covered legions, although they do get a leg-up since they’ve had a novel published about them. I loved A Thousand Sons when I read it three years back, and I enjoyed Thief of Revelations as well. As ever, the audio quality was superb, and the script was really good too, offering parallels to the relationships between the Emperor and the Primarchs that have been the cornerstone of the Heresy.