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Best of 2014 Part 2a: Novels

Doing one of these posts often takes a lot out of me because of all the linking and checking and verification and formatting and everything, but lists like this also help me crystalize my year in reading, so I value them quite highly. Thankfully, I’m able to get this list out in time and most of the books on the list have already been reviewed as well, so that’s something too.

With the year 2014 now done and over, it is time to do the first of my “Best of the Year” posts, for the period 1st July to December 31st. I didn’t read as many books this time as I wanted to, primarily because I got married in the first week of July itself, and things have changed a fair bit. But life remains exciting and interesting in equal measure, and my reading also happens to match that rather closely, so I’ll take that in full indeed!

Let’s see what makes the cut and which comes close then!

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Khârn: Eater of Worlds by Anthony Reynolds (Book Review)

Anthony Reynolds has been writing for Black Library for quite a good while now. I first came across him with his Word Bearers novels, which proved to be a most fascinating and weird read, and then continued on with some of his other work as he branched out of writing Word Bearers for 40K and delivered some occasional Horus Heresy stuff as well. I haven’t checked out his Warhammer Fantasy stuff however outside of a novella he did a few years back, The Questing Knight, which proved to be a good decent read. But, he hasn’t had a full novel published in a while, I don’t think, which was slightly disappointing as I consider him to be one of the better writers writing for Black Library.

And then came Khârn: Eater of Worlds, a post-Horus Heresy novel that looks at how the XIIth Legiones Astartes, the World Eaters, are degrading down into warbands, how the Legion has changed in the aftermath of the failed Siege of Terra, and the other changes affecting it now that Angron has gone and become a mighty Daemon Prince of Khorne, leaving them all behind to do whatever it is they will. Anthony writes a pretty typical World Eaters novel, with all the gory violence you’d expect from it, and it also presents some intriguing characters, especially Khârn himself, the most infamous World Eater character ever, and also a major lore character. Suffice to say, I loved this novel.

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12 Days of Best Covers of 2014: Day #9

The ninth book cover I pick for the 2014 edition of “12 Days of Best Covers of…” is for a Warhammer Fantasy novel, The End Times: The Return of Nagash by Josh Reynolds, the cover for which was done by Paul Dainton. The End Times is a new series in Warhammer Fantasy that is positioned as one to move forward the “stuck” timeline of the setting. There are major upheavals happening in the Old World, and no race is untouched by these events. And among these, one of the most dire change is that the greatest necromancer of all time, Nagash, has returned to life, and Josh’s utterly fantastic novel charts how the greatest villain of Warhammer Fantasy returns to life.

The first of the ninth set of comic covers I pick this year is for Edge of Spider-Verse #2 by Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, Rico Renzi and VC’s Clayton Cowles, with the cover by Robbi. The second is for Batman: Eternal #24 by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, Kyle Higgins, Tim Seeley, Andy Clarke, Blond and Steve Wands with the cover by the cool team of Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson. Edge of Spider-Verse #2 is itself such a notable comic because it features Gwen Stacy as a Spider-Women. Part of the larger Spider-Verse crossover event where we find out that there are innumerable realities out there, each home to an Earth with its own version of Spider-Man or Spider-Woman, or what have you, this comic was incredibly good, in both the story and art, being an utter wowzer. Batman: Eternal #24 on the other hand is notable because so much of it deals with Stephanie Brown, even as the larger events of the series unfold. Stephanie finally steps into her identity as Spoiler in this issue, and it is damn good fun to see her take on her villain father.

So without further ado, hit the break to see all the covers in their full glory! The full list of all these covers is available here.

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The Doom of Dragonback by Gav Thorpe (Book Review)

Dwarfs and Gav Thorpe have a long relationship since some of the earliest days of Black Library’s Warhammer Fantasy fiction, much as is the case with him and the Dark Angels in Warhammer 40,000. I’ve read some of his Warhammer work to date, though not all, and his Time of Legends: The Sundering series stands as some of the best books I’ve read from him to date, though they don’t quite hold the same fascination for me as does his Warhammer 40,000 or Horus Heresy works. Still, whenever Gav writes something in WHF, I do sit up and take notice since he happens to be one of my favourite writers.

And his latest is The Doom of Dragonback, a novel set in a post-War of Vengeance Old World where the dwarfs are still recovering from their decades long war with the elves, who have themselves withdrawn from much of the land and are nursing their own wounds in their homeland, Ulthuan. Following the adventures of various dwarfs of Ekrund, The Doom of Dragonback is the story of how a mighty dwarf hold can fall to orcs and goblins, and how tenuous and fleeting life can be in such an environment. As has been the case of late for me with Gav’s work, the novel is among the best of his works, for he does lots of things here that are different from the norm.

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Master of Sanctity by Gav Thorpe (Book Review)

Gav Thorpe is rightly considered Black Library’s resident Dark Angels expert, for he has written more about them than any other author and he even had a hand in shaping their lore back when he worked in the Games Workshop Design Studio on the Dark Angels codex, among other things. Last year, he started a new Dark Angels series called Legacy of Caliban that followed on from one of Black Library’s best novels to date, Angels of Darkness, and continued the tale of the Knights of Caliban as they sought out their traitorous brethren from the days of the Horus Heresy itself and brought them to justice in the innermost deeps of The Rock. Ravenwing was an excellent novel in many ways, and the wait for the sequel was a long one for me, especially since I dropped off on my Black Library reading this year.

But I read Master of Sanctity earlier this month and the wait has been quite fruitful indeed. Gav made the long wait worth every moment since the novel is a brilliant follow-up to what he did in Ravenwing, giving a more thorough insight into the many mysteries of the Dark Angels and exploring their many secrets. The duality of the Dark Angels, in their oaths to the Imperium and to themselves to hunt down the Fallen wherever they may be found, is at the heart of this novel, and our primary lead-in this time is none other than the chapter’s Master of Sanctity himself, Grand Master Sapphon, and we even get a look at the fiercely conservative Chaplain Asmodai, with whom Sapphon clashes again and again in the novel.

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Horus Heresy: The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett (Book/Audio Review)

The last audiobook that I remember listening to from Black Library is Dan Abnett’s Prospero Burns, one of the two books alongside Graham McNeill’s A Thousand Sons that told the story of the fall of Prospero, of Magnus, and the Thousand Sons Legion. I’d tried to read the book before many times but always gave up, the only such Horus Heresy novel I’ve struggled with so much to date. The audiobook was a better experience but the story was still too problematic for me. Fortunately, Dan’s next big Heresy novel, Know No Fear easily proved to be a much better experience in all respects and is one of my favourite Heresy novels to date. So there’s some balance.

Dan’s latest Heresy novel The Unremembered Empire is my first Heresy audiobook since spring 2012 that I have experienced primarily in the audio format. I listened to the novel back in September, supplementing it with reading the ebook on and off, and I liked the dual experience. The Unremembered Empire is one of the better novels of the series, but it is also one of the more weaker ones since it is a branching novel and it attempts to do too much with too many characters. Taken in the context of the series at large, it is a pretty decent novel, but taken on its own merits, if fails to satisfy as much as it should. There’s just way too much going on in the novel and that works against it. Had it been trimmed of a few plotlines, it would have been one of the best novels of the series.

Note: This review contains spoilers of varying degrees.

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Portents by Sarah Cawkwell (Book Review)

I’ve mentioned before, repeatedly so, that Sarah Cawkwell is one of my favourite authors right now, and has been since about late 2010 or so, ever since I started reading her short stories in Black Library’s monthly magazine, Hammer & Bolter, which is sadly discontinued now. She’s one of the best examples of fans of Black Library to have come up through the ranks to become a bona fide author for the publisher and pretty much everything that she has written to date has been spectacular or close it, even her original stuff such as The Ballad of Gilrain or Uprising.

Sarah is most noted for her Silver Skulls fiction for Warhammer 40,000 where she has taken the so-named Space Marine Chapter under her umbrella and told some really fascinating stories about characters from across the Chapter’s many and varied ranks. The most recent Silver Skulls fiction is the (currently) digital-only novel Portents, released just a few weeks ago. In it, she carries forwards threads she introduced in her previous work, whether short stories or her debut novel The Gildar Rift, and it is a most satisfying read indeed. It was great to have Sergeant Gileas Ur’ten back again for another outing, a sizable one this time, and the exploration of the Chapter culture in itself was most fascinating.

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Horus Heresy: Brotherhood of the Storm by Chris Wraight (Novella Review)

The White Scars are one of the Legiones Astartes that many fans of the Horus Heresy have been wanting to see in the series of the same name since the earliest days. One of the most mysterious chapters, and Legions, the White Scars haven’t received much attention from the writers at Black Library, though there has been the occasional novel or short story. When Black Library launched its limited edition novella products for the Horus Heresy in 2011, there were some expectations that we might get a novella finally, and such expectations came true in late 2012 when Brotherhood of the Storm was released, with the general release coming more than a year later.

Brotherhood of the Storm was described by author Chris Wraight as the White Scars novel that Heresy fans have been waiting for, and that irked me to no end since the vast majority of the fans wouldn’t be able to read the book until the general release. Thankfully, the wait for that wasn’t too long, and I myself finally got the chance to read it earlier this month, right after I listened to the Scars audiobook, which is the sequel to Brotherhood of the Storm and also Chris’ first Heresy novel. The novella itself is a damn good action story, focusing on three different personnel of the Legion, and it is quite the vital story in that it helps you understand something of the White Scars’ history on Chogoris, their legion culture, and how an outsider views them.

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The Black Pilgrims and Sanguis Irae (Short Story Review)

Games Workshop’s Space Hulk, a Warhammer 40,000 tabletop classic has recently seen a new lease on life. The game is being brought back for a new generation of players, and to accompany the release of the game itself, Black Library recently put out a quartet of short stories and even a novella focusing on the core concept of the game: Space Marine Terminators fighting off against a Tyranid infestation in space. From what I can tell, the re-release has been received very positively, as well as it should, given the place that Space Hulk has in Warhammer 40,000 tabletop gaming history.

Two of the stories released (so far) are The Black Pilgrims by Guy Haley and Sanguis Irae by Gav Thorpe. The former focuses on a small force of Black Templars led by Castellan Adelard, while the latter focuses on an equally small force of Blood Angels led by Brother-Librarian Calistarius. I didn’t quite like The Black Pilgrims as much as I did Sanguis Irae and I didn’t even really know about the whole shared theme thing until I read through them, but I will say that both stories are fun nonetheless, and they serve to highlight an aspect of Warhammer 40,000 that seems to not get as much narrative attention as it should, truly.

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Van Horstmann by Ben Counter (Book Review)

Another one of Ben Counter’s recent (and great!) works, Van Horstmann is part of the Warhammer Heroes range, though that branding isn’t in use anymore and hasn’t been for a while either. This was also his first novel for Warhammer Fantasy and he proved himself to be a master given that his characters and the story and the magical action and everything were pretty top-notch. There are reasons why this novel made it to my “Best of 2013 Part 1” list and the above are some of them. If you want to read a standalone Warhammer Fantasy novel that also deals with magic and magical brotherhoods to a great degree, then Van Horstmann should be your first stop, without a doubt!

This review is a repost of the original review on The Founding Fields, which can be found here.

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Bloodquest: Prisoners of the Eye of Terror by Ben Counter (Audio Review)

I remember reading the old Bloodquest comics quite fondly. Starring the disgraced Blood Angels Captain Leonatos and a bunch of other Blood Angels from across the Chapter’s divisions, Bloodquest was a great story about penance and redemption and heroism. In late 2012 Black Library published the first new Bloodquest story in several years, Prisoners of the Eye of Terror, written by one of my favourite authors and with a pretty damn good cast. The audio hit all the right notes for me and it even made it to my “Best of 2012 Part 2” list at the end of the year. That’s how good it was.

This review is a repost of the original review on The Founding Fields, which can be found here.

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The Return of Nagash by Josh Reynolds (Book Review)

The End Times have begun for Warhammer Fantasy. The hordes of Chaos are pouring in from the North even as vast armies of Daemons lay siege to Ulthuan and the Skaven rise up from the Under-Empire to claim dominance on the surface world. Bretonnia and the Empire face enemies of their own and heroes and villains rise up as well, only to fall before each other. It is a dark time indeed for Warhammer Fantasy, made all the darker by the fact that the greatest villain of the ages, Nagash himself has returned to challenge everyone everywhere. The Return of Nagash is the tale of how the necromantic liche is resurrected and what part the Von Carstein vampires play in that.

In the age when the Nehekharan Empire was still strong and vibrant in the Southlands, Nagash rose to power as the greatest sorcerer of his times, and he eventually went on to become the grandfather of all vampires everywhere. He clashed with heroes like Sigmar of the Empire, who eventually went on to become a God to its people, and his is a name considered one of the foulest by all the good people of the Old World. His is a legacy that cannot be forgotten, and that is exactly what Josh Reynolds builds upon in this novel. Through the eyes of the liche Arkhan the Black and Mannfred von Carstein, we see how the End Times are changing the world, and get a hint of the role that Nagash is going to play in it, not to mention the immense challenges that must be overcome for his return to become an undisputed reality.

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