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Nocturne by Nick Kyme (Advance Review)

‘I’ll beat the fire out of you,’ said the scarred warrior, wearing a renegade’s armour, his bottom lip curled down in a snarl. ‘Ignean.’

– Nocturne, a Tome of Fire novel by Nick Kyme

Note: I would like to point out that this is an advanced review since the novel itself will not be available to the general public until November this year, and was available only to the people who were at Games Day UK a few days ago.

So at last, the Tome of Fire trilogy has come to an end. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, right from the beginning with the short story Fires of War in the Heroes of the Space Marines anthology, through the audio drama Fireborn and now to Nocturne, the final novel in the trilogy itself. With Nick Kyme stepping to the fore, the Salamanders have really gone from strength to strength and we now have, in his truly’s own words, over 400,000 words of BL canon published about them. That is a great achievement for a chapter which, it would seem, only yesterday was one of the most underdeveloped chapters in all of GW canon, barring their Index Astartes article in the olden days.

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The Outcast Dead by Graham McNeill (Advance Review)

If you learned a secret that could change the course of history, And you knew that the fate of mankind rested in your hands, Whom would you trust?

– The Outcast Dead, a Horus Heresy novel by Graham McNeill.

Note: I would like to point out that this is an advanced review since the novel itself will not be available to the general public until December this year, and was available only to the people who were at Games Day UK a few days ago.

The Horus Heresy, essentially Black Library’s flagship range considering its popularity and the titles that have gone on to become New York Times Bestsellers, is joined in November by The Outcast Dead, written by the author who brought us the Ultramarines and the Iron Warriors, Graham McNeill. The Horus Heresy, the most influential and defining campaign ever conducted in the Warhammer 40,000 setting, is ultimately about the conflict between brothers, warriors, and sons: the Primarchs and the Legiones Astartes. Central to the entire concept they may be, but their are many other stories of these times that are just waiting to be told, and this novel delivers that quite well.

For it is not about the post-human Astartes or their demi-god sires the Primarchs. It is about those who hold the Imperium together in an invisible net. The psykers. And not just any psykers, but the Astropaths, blind psykers who are soul-bonded to the Emperor and are the communication lifeline of the entire Imperium.

As far as I am able to say on the matter, The Outcast Dead is the first novel in the entirety of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise that actually delves deep into what makes the Astropaths tick, even going so far as to give us juicy details of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica and we actually see how the the spider-web of telepathic messages are transmitted on and off Terra.

To be honest, at times the first half of the novel is bogged down with details and background as the author sets up the stage for the inevitable conflict and it makes the novel feel like it is progressing far too slow. There is a wealth of further background information inherent here that is only implied and never explained. Which is fine, otherwise the novel could easily have been half as big again. But, it is not enough to make you put the novel down for Graham’s style just makes you want to keep on reading.

Well except for one of the two pre-prologues. It raises a lot of questions that go largely unanswered and are glossed over. This scene’s placement in the novel is really an odd one, and I believe that had it been omitted from the final manuscript, the novel would have suffered nothing. The scene just doesn’t have any impact on the rest of the novel.

The second half is the explosive half of the novel, wherein the plot goes from strength to strength, introducing to us concepts most people would have never considered or thought about and that make the plot seem like it has a magic of its own.

Kai Zulane is our unwitting hero here, the genius astropath who was once the pride of the Telepathica but is forced to become a hunted man through the depths of Terra. He is joined in this run for his life by a mismatch group of renegade Astartes who have been declared traitor by association with their respective legions.

The Outcast Dead is about betrayal, guilt, truth and sacrifice, not necessarily in that order. And Graham McNeill has handled it all beautifully. The novel is full of esoteric concepts that some people have wanted to know about for years but had no avenue to explore. It also builds up on the concepts introduced in other novels, such as A Thousand Sons and Nemesis while also cross-connecting to the other novels in the series through the main characters reminiscing about characters such as Vespasian, Skraal, Constantin Valdor, Amon Tauromachian, and many others. Not to mention referencing some of the events from other novels and even showing us startling glimpses of these from other perspectives. I will leave off mentioning these because they are just too powerful as spoilers.

The style, as I have said, is something that builds upon those introduced in novels like A Thousand Sons and Mechanicum, and it does seem at times to be somewhat heavy-handed, but the dramatic conclusion of the plot and the journey to that climax easily excuse these hiccups. And that is mostly because the references are not jarring, they are just alien to a degree because we are seeing a side of Terra that has never been explored before, getting only brief screen-time in short stories such as Blood Games.

When a certain galaxy-changing event happens during the course of the novel, one of two as it were, Graham has turned to the madness of Mechanicum to really show us how devastating of an impact this event has on the civilians of Terra, and their guardians.

What is jarring though, is Graham’s naming convention. Actually no. It is not the convention but the names he actually uses. He uses the same name twice in the novel for vastly different characters and also reuses a name that he gave to a sub-faction in his novel Mechanicum. It kind of ruined the fun of the climax for me to see this.

EDIT: After having talked briefly with Graham regarding the names, I take back the statement since his reasoning was totally sound, and this was as intentional on his part. On reflection, I actually like his approach.

Other than that, there really is no fault with the novel. As said before, it really only goes from strength to strength, with the chilling scene when the astropaths receive the most dreaded message from half a galaxy away, a character long-thought dead returning to the stage, the Emperor as we have never seen before, the working of the Astropaths from their City of Sight (how bloody ironic is that name?) and more besides.

Whether you are a Horus Heresy addict, or someone who loves the life of an Astropath and wants to know more about them, or someone who wants to know how Terra was before the inevitable Siege and the death of the Emperor, or just cannot resist the Astartes, this novel is for you. It is not one you should be missing out on any time soon. It is definitely right up there in the top-tier novels of the Horus Heresy. Missing out on this book is like missing out on an experience of a lifetime. This novel is so begging for a sequel.

Rating: 9/10

The Gildar Rift by Sarah Cawkwell (Advanced Review)

In the depths of space, the Silver Skulls take on the might of Huron Blackheart and his Red Corsairs.

– The Gildar Rift, a Space Marine Battles novel by Sarah Cawkwell.

Note: I would like to point out that this is an advanced review since the novel itself will not be available to the general public until December this year, and was available only to the people who were at Games Day UK a few days ago.

The Space Marine Battles range for Warhammer 40,000 is a rather interesting one. It is about telling the stories of some of the greatest battles fought by everyone’s favourite post-humans in their charge to protect Mankind. As such, as far as my knowledge extends, all the novels out so far have been inspired by snippets or otherwise in the existing background, whether it is years old or relatively brand new.

The latest addition to this range is the Silver Skulls/Red Corsairs oriented novel The Gildar Rift, courtesy of Sarah Cawkwell, who is BL’s first published female author. But she is a short story veteran, courtesy of Hammer & Bolter, and aside from Ben Counter who has been in every single issue of that e-magazine, she is the most prolific author in the same, with no less than 4 short stories.

Sarah has effectively become the Silver Skulls author, much as people would argue that James Swallow is the Blood Angels expert, or Graham McNeill is the Ultramarines expert. And that is no way a bad thing since she has brought to life one of the sidelined, lesser-known chapters and really given them a life of their own.

Having read her previous short stories about the Silver Skulls, I was rather excited to read this novel, particularly since the characters are all different, with the focus being on a different company and different heroes and different villains.

In short, The Gildar Rift is an amazing novel, and it is definitely a good placement in the Space Marine Battles range precisely because of the reasons I have already mentioned and because it is so different in its pacing compared to the others. It starts a little slow, but then builds up quite well and then maintains that pace throughout, all the way till the end.

It also, quite extensively, narrates rather fearsome and tension-ridden space battles, which are a joy to read. The ground assaults and the naval warfare are well-balanced in screen time, especially since the main hero is the Silver Skulls Master of the Fleet, Daerys Arrun, Captain of the Fourth.

In the novel’s timeline, things are rather dire for the Silver Skulls as their numbers are on a continual decline and there is a whispered undercurrent of tension between the battle-brothers of the chapter and their Prognosticators, their Chaplain-Librarians on whose visions and auguries the chapter decides whether or not to fight.

That all said, the characters act like they are supposed to act, irrespective of rank or faction. The Space Marines talk like Space Marines, the Chaos Space Marines behave like they are supposed to, and so on. Nothing in their dialogue or in the way they act is in any way jarring, unlike some of the other novels that can be named.

And of course, if you have seen the covers, then you will know that Huron Blackheart is featured in the novel and this traitor warlord handles his screen-time with a presence that just leaps off the covers. This is the second (edit: third) time I have read of him in a novel, the first being some old short story about a White Scars infiltrator among the Astral Claws (edit: and second being Skull Harvest in the Heroes of the Space Marines anthology), and he was a delight to read. Now I really want to read Blood Reaver to see how Aaron Dembski-Bowden has handled him.

The novel is itself set entire within the Gildar Rift system, a system notable for its treacherous space lanes because of numerous asteroid debris belts that have a significant effect on the plot several times. As one of the systems under the protection of the Silver Skulls, the chapter deploys quite a significant presence to counter the invasion by the Red Corsairs, who use misdirection and traps within traps to lure the loyalists away. Huron Blackheart and Daerys Arrun are quite a match for each other and the climax of the novel alone is worth picking it up.

Oh and for fans of the Chaos Codex, expect some rather nice surprises. I have a feeling that the first mention of them (there are two) in the novel will really force people to not put down the novel and just keep reading.

There are a few small hiccups in the novel, which I suspect I just need to read again to make sense of, but in no way, during the reading are they ever significant enough to disrupt the experience.

Like Battle of the Fang, and unlike The Hunt for Voldorius, the novel does have a twist which is the main reason for why the Red Corsairs attack and why the Silver Skulls must defend their flagship. I am not sure if I am so keen on this twist as I feel that it really could benefit with some more background on it, as well as a future short story or novel where it is explored further. It definitely deserves either of those. I will say though, that the twist is rather unusual and is the sort which divides people’s opinions. But it is i no way something that is jarring or unexplained or just there for the heck of it. There are reasons and situations which make it viable in the here and now, and why it must be protected at all costs.

Overall, The Gildar Rift is one novel I would definitely like to recommend to people, whether or not they like Space Marines. For fans of Chaos Marines, this is especially recommended for those who want more Huron after Blood Reaver. I do hope that Sarah Cawkwell gets a chance to write either a sequel or another Silver Skulls novel.

Rating: 8.5/10