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The Beheading by Guy Haley (Book Review)

The final stretch of The Beast Arises has been less than satisfactory. The crowning achievement that was meant to be Rob Sanders’ Shadows of Ullanor unfortunately left me rather disillusioned and wary of where the story might go next. I had been expecting some truly huge moments in the novel, but at best we got a regurgitation of the previous two novels, with little to recommend in-between. However, with the next book in the series, the whole thing comes to a close and thankfully, the train’s changed for better tracks.

Guy Haley’s The Beheading tells a story that has been a long time coming since we meet Drakan Vangorich in the first novel of the series, I Am Slaughter. Vangorich’s reign of terror is known of for a long time and we finally see him follow-up on his threats and his well-laid plans that he’s been putting together since that first appearance in Dan Abnett’s novel. However, the really cool thing is that there is far more to the novel than just that as Guy tells a parallel story that is also about hope and defiance against adversity, which in the end makes this one of the best novels of the series.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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Shadow of Ullanor by Rob Sanders (Book Review)

Ever since the destructive events of Ardamantua, it has not been an easy time for the Imperium. The loss of the Imperial Fists as a Chapter. The loss of hundreds of worlds to the Ork threat. The loss of sanity and belief. The inaction and impotence of the High Lords. One defeat after another until warriors of sagas stepped once more into the breach, awakening legends and battling greater legends still. The Beast Arises has been very enjoyable to read, given the fact that I finished most of the books in the series within a day of starting them. That changed with this next book however.

Rob Sanders, who gave us the fairly-decent Predator, Prey earlier in the series, seems to have lost his unique touch with the eleventh and penultimate novel, Shadows of Ullanor. Picking up some time after the tragic events of The Last Son of Dorn, he tells a story of how the Imperium bounces back and takes the fight to the Orks again. But it is just not the same as the previous novels. The narrative is repetitive and the characters fail to elicit any positive emotion. There are wild inconsistencies in the various plots and sub-plots. To be honest, after the incredible high of the previous novels, this one is a deep, deep low.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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The Last Son of Dorn by David Guymer (Book Review)

The Beast Arises has been steadfastly moving towards an epic conclusion for the last several books. Everything changed for the Imperials once the long-lost Primarch Vulkan was rediscovered, bringing true hope for the first time in the ongoing losing war against the Orks. The lord of the Salamanders led a massive army drawn from across the Segmentum Solar against the Ork world of Ullanor, once the site of the Imperium’s greatest triumph, now reborn as the hellish homeworld of the Beast and its new Ork armies. With The Last Son of Dorn, the end truly begins now.

This is the tenth novel in the series, and perhaps the most poignant so far. Armed with new weapons and arms, both physical and otherwise, Lord Commander Koorland leads a second massed attack against Ullanor and the Beast, hoping to end the threat once and for all. The novel, more than any of the others before, is a true homage to the character and culture of the Imperial Fists, even though only one of their number now remains, and David Guymer writes perhaps the best novel of his that I’ve read so far.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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Watchers In Death by David Annandale (Book Review)

Off the bat, you may not realize it, but a lot of what has been happening in The Beast Arises is all a precursor to the status quo we know from the M41 era. There have already been rumblings about the division of specialities in the Inquisition and we also know that there are some High Lords among the High Twelve who do not have that seat by those familiar times. So in many ways, this series is charting out the history of the Imperium and no book does that more than Watchers In Death by David Annandale, his third book in the series.

As its name implies, Watchers In Death is all about how Lord Commander Koorland forms the Deathwatch Kill-Teams that are so famous and ubiquitous in M41 lore. It all begins with a need to fight the Orks on a different axis, brains over brawn essentially, and I absolutely loved how it all turned out. It made for some stirring reading, especially since it was all used to strike back against the Orks with immediate effect. And the Deathwatch aren’t the only ones to have made their mark here, for we also see the return of some of the most badass Imperial warriors from the Great Crusade era.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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The Beast Must Die by Gav Thorpe (Book Review)

Legends beget legends. But they all have to begin somewhere. In David Annandale’s The Hunt For Vulkan, we saw the beginnings of the latest legend-in-making when Inquisitor Veritus sent Chapter Master Koorland to a planet of legend to find a living legend in the form of the Primarch Vulkan. In the process, the novel itself became a legendary story about honour, oaths, duty and service. As I’ve said so many times in reviews of the previous novels, The Hunt For Vulkan laid the foundation of what was to follow.

And follow Gav Thorpe’s The Beast Must Die did. With the return of Vulkan to the highest levels of the Imperium, the stage has been set for an explosive confrontation with the Orks and their new warlord, the Beast. Legend must now fight legend at a location that is itself legendary. As Vulkan often says in this novel, there is a certain pattern to events, and those who are attuned to these patterns stand to benefit the most. Following on from his last outing in the series with The Emperor Expects, Gav delivers yet another masterpiece that does justice to the characters involved.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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The Hunt For Vulkan by David Annandale (Book Review)

When politics gets in the middle of prosecuting a war effectively, then that usually spells doom for the good guys. As we’ve seen in The Beast Arises over the last six novels, this has been a central theme, something that has let the resurgent Ork threat run wildly rampant across the Imperium. And those who must fight this untenable war have grown ever more disillusioned of those who run the Imperial government, their incompetence a direct threat to the safety and security of the Imperium. But now that’s about to change.

In David Annandale’s The Hunt For Vulkan, we see one of the biggest turning-points in the conflict. The Last Wall is sent on a mission to locate the last known living Primarch, Vulkan of the Salamanders, and bring him back to the larger Imperial fold so that he can lead the resistance against the Orks. The how and the why of it is wrapped in multiple mysteries, and that’s part of what made this novel so damn good. As before with The Last Wall, David really captures the essence and motivations of his characters, telling one hell of a story here.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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Echoes of the Long War by David Guymer (Book Review)

First and foremost, the Warhammer 40,000 novels have always been about visceral action first and foremost. It really wasn’t until the Eisenhorn and Ravenor novels by Dan Abnett that we began to see something much wider, in my experience. I know that books like Inquisition War existed before, but those have long been declared non-canon if I’m not mistaken, so they don’t count. And of course, the Horus Heresy novels have been about Imperial politics on a galactic scale as much as they’ve been about the battle scenes. But it hasn’t been until the Beast Arises trilogy that we’ve really gotten to see Imperial politics up-close and personal on Terra itself among the Imperium’s highest elite.

David Guymer’s Echoes of the Long War is the sixth novel in the series and one which is perhaps the most focused of them all so far. Following on from Throneworld, this novel had a lot of baggage coming in and some really high expectations, not all of which it was able to meet unfortunately. It was, in effect, far too focused on one particular event to the detriment of the other narratives, and that definitely hurt the series overall. However, it was still a decent novel and did keep the story progressing somewhat so there’s that.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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Throneworld by Guy Haley (Book Review)

A galaxy-wide Ork invasion that heralds the rebuilding of their lost empire on an even greater scale yet. Political bureaucracy and infighting that paralyses the Imperial response. Secret and possibly traitorous experiments being carried out by the Cult Mechanics. Terra itself directly threatened. A Chapter lost. Entire sectors lost. Possible Chaos interference. The Beast Arises series has it all it seems. The previous four novels have been rather revolutionary in many ways, and as the story progresses there’s always another big twist just around the corner.

With Guy Haley’s Throneworld, the series marks the third straight novel which is among some of the best works to come out of Black Library in the past five years. I’ve read a fair number of novels from Guy Haley and he’s always impressed me with his narrative styles and his plot twists. That all holds true for Throneworld as well, in which we see the Eldar themselves getting involved with the Ork-Imperium conflict, even as the larger narrative progresses well beyond the weirdness happening on Terra, for the stalwart sons of Dorn have managed to consolidate their power and beginning anew their campaign against the Orks.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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The Last Wall by David Annandale (Book Review)

We are now getting to the point where the series is starting to pick up some momentum. The first three novels have laid out the conflict and we now are starting to see some real movement every which way. Leading up to the fourth novel in the series, we are now in that particular mode where you can start to predict how certain characters are going to react to certain situations and that anticipation is what is driving this series more than anything else because in the meta-sense, these characters and their strife really do leave a mark.

David Annandale’s The Last Wall had a lot to deliver on, given how Gav Thorpe ended The Emperor Expects. It was certainly a very unexpected ending, and the questions that it raised got me to push through this novel, finishing it in less than a day, as the clock counts. It is full of some amazing action and tons of intrigue all of which deepens the mysteries behind the resurgent Ork threat and I feel that it is a great addition to the series as a result. David definitely didn’t disappoint in any way.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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The Emperor Expects by Gav Thorpe (Book Review)

The first two novels in the Beast Arises series proved themselves to be a good introduction to an Imperium that is drawn into a massive galactic conflict against the resurgent Ork threat some 1500 years after the Heresy and after the Emperor broke the Orks in the Ullanor Crusade. With Dan Abnett’s I Am Slaughter we met a lot of the early players and with Rob Sanders’ Predator, Prey we saw their narratives develop even as more characters were added and the story increased vastly in scope.

Gav Thorpe’s novel The Emperor Expects is the third in the series and definitely the best novel so far. Both Dan and Rob are very good at depicting big battle scenes, but Gav takes things up a few notches in this novel, not to mention that he also gives us a fantastic naval battle to read about as the Imperial Navy finally take the battle the Orks. Even outside of the set-piece action we have some extremely well-written narratives for all the characters as the politicking on Terra deepens and the Space Marines of various Chapters prepare to respond as well.

Note: Some spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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Predator, Prey by Rob Sanders (Book Review)

The post-Heresy mega project The Beast Arises kicked off with I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett, telling a fascinating new tale of how a resurgent Ork threat threatens the very foundations of the Imperium. Although we start fairly “low-tech” and the Orks aren’t brought out right until the end, the build-up to that moment certainly kept me glued to the pages, and the novel was a great way to get back into the swing of reading Warhammer 40,000 fiction again, as I’d dropped off some years back.

The next installment in this multi-author series, Predatory, Prey is written by Rob Sanders, who has delivered some of my absolute favourite books of the last decade. The novel continues the story of I Am Slaughter, picking up in the wake of the events that followed therein and sets the stage for the return of the Orks as the biggest threat to the safety of the Imperium since the Heresy. While not the knockout I expected it to be, it was still a spellbinding read that touches on many different facets of the conflict and transitions to the larger conflict.

Note: Some minor spoilers from the previous novel and this novel are mentioned here.

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Horus Heresy: The Devine Adoratrice (Short Story Review)

In recent years, Black Library has taken to the short story and novella formats with abundant enthusiasm, as evidence by their fiction release schedules since 2012. Bit by bit, the publisher has shifted focus from the mainstream novel format to the shorter ones, and while I don’t find that to be a healthy change at all, we have at least seen quite a lot of good stuff in both these formats, which is good enough for me, for now. It does mean however that my reading lists have gotten bigger and bigger, but that’s something to be managed in time

In an effort to catch up with the vast volume of short stories and novellas released by Black Library in the last couple years, I’ve recently started moving through them one at a time. The most recent short story I’ve read from them is The Devine Adoratrice, which first appeared in the event-exclusive anthology Horus Heresy: Imperial Truth and was then released as a digital download. It is a prologue to Graham McNeill’s latest Horus Heresy novel, Vengeful Spirit, and it focuses on mortal character that go on to become important characters in the novel. My first reaction to the short story, when I was done with it, was rather lukewarm but going through the audiobook of Vengeful Spirit right now, details are popping out at me, and my appreciation has risen significantly.

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