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.
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.
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.
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.
For this new seasonal list of the best SFF characters I’ve read this year, my seventh pick is Vulkan, Primarch of the Salamanders Legion of Space Marines, from Nick Kyme’s Horus Heresy novella Promethean Sun, which gave us the first in-depth look into the character after a truncated series of cameos elsewhere in the series. As a fan of the Salamanders, this was the kind of story that I’d wanted for a long time but was unable to get it on release since it was offered as an expensive limited-edition product and was out of my range. But a re-release was offered this year and was a quick pick-up for me.
Hit the break to see why I picked this character.
Since 2013 is now over, its time to do my second “Best of the Best” list, for the second half of the year from July-December. There were some really good reads in this period, and as always, picking the best has been a chore. I always try to keep these lists as diverse as I can and hopefully you agree.
You can check out my top-of-the-month lists on my Reading Awards page and this list is both an extension, and a continuation of what goes on there.
Let’s see what makes the cut and which comes close then! Read the rest of this entry
There’s an article floating around today in which Damien Walter talks about grimdark fantasy within the context of the David Gemmell Legend Award and the World Fantasy Award. There has been a lot of discussion about the contents of the article and grimdark fantasy on both Twitter and on the article itself. In a nutshell, it has been a very interesting argument on all sides and some good points have been made. But, as a reader and reviewer, I feel that something is getting lost in the translation because there are misconceptions being thrown about as to what grimdark fantasy is.
Additionally, there has been a distinct lack of acknowledgement of grimdark fantasy as written by women. Or, you know, just grimdark fiction in general, whether it is science fiction or fantasy. This isn’t something new of course, because the publishing industry and the reader/fan-base have become adept at glossing over the contributions of women in SFF, for the most part. This is a perception that desperately needs to change but sadly, there are very few agents of such change.
Regardless, fact remains that grimdark fiction isn’t what most people think it is. It is much more nuanced than the general public believes to be.