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.
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.
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.
The story of Warhammer 40,000 isn’t just about the superhuman Adeptus Astartes or the mortal men and women who live and breathe to defend the Imperium of Man. It is also the story of the various xenos species who inhabit the galaxy, whether that be the brutal Orks, the ravenous Tyranids, the broken Eldar, the aspiring Tau or any of the others. And as such it is always great to see the differing perspectives, although as far as the Tyranids are concerned, there’s not much of a perspective there. Even the Orks are better narrators in that respect!
Path of the Warrior is the first novel in Gav’s Path of the Eldar series. It explores the Eldar society of Alaitoc Craftworld through the eyes of an artist-turned-Aspect Warrior, Korlandril, who must confront his past and his prejudices and his relationships with those around him if he is to succeed on the Eldar Path. There is little direct action in the novel and it is instead very much a philosophical story, as befits the Eldar that is about. And I certainly enjoyed it to a degree, enough at least that I am looking forward to continuing with the rest of the series.
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!
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.
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.
I’ve remarked before how strong Black Library’s audio range is for its flagship Horus Heresy series. The successes have been many, the not-successes very, very few. And that’s just the way I like it. Both Big Finish and Heavy Entertainment have done a great job with the voice-actors they’ve brought to the various stories, penned by some of the publisher’s finest writers, and the audios are one way that I can get a regular quick fix of Horus Heresy without hunkering down in a novel or an anthology. And gotta admit, listening to some of these high-action audios while in a gym has its own rewards too!
Last year the publisher debuted two brand-new audio dramas that used Dan Abnett’s near-excellent Know No Fear as a starting point. In that novel, the tale of the Word Bearers’ betrayal of the Ultramarines in the the Veridian system unfolded, and it was a turning point in the Horus Heresy, as important as the Dropsite Massacre at Istvaan V. While Nick Kyme’s audio Censure is set in the years after the betrayal at Calth (the primary world in the Veridian system) as the Underworld War for control of the world rages on, Gav Thorpe’s Honour To The Dead is set in the early moments of the betrayal. The former focuses on a key individual from Know No Fear and the latter on a battle between two Titan legions. Both are strong audios in almost all respects, and I would certainly recommend both.
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.
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.
Earlier this month I posted two surveys on my blog. Sort-of surveys at any rate. You can find the one about books here and the one about comics here. I really had a lot of fun doing those, and I thought it would be fun to doing them again, but with a cool twist that I hope sounds as inspired to you as it does me. Or maybe not.
I spent the last 3 hours thinking of some kind of a blogpost to write. There are some ideas I had but nothing I could put up today, which was the whole point really. So yeah, this is going to follow the same meta layout as the other surveys. I’m not limiting this survey to just novelists, I’m including comics writers as well.
Hope you enjoy! And do share your thoughts in the comments!