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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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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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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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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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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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Horus Heresy: Know No Fear by Dan Abnett (Book Review)

Black Library’s Horus Heresy series is a worldwide bestseller, and with good reason. Many of the novels and anthologies and audio dramas have ranged from good to stellar with very few bad apples in between. The series started off innocuously enough, but it has since then become the publisher’s flagship range, also with good reason. One of the first books in the series to come out, right alongside the excellent Deliverance Lost from Gav Thorpe, was Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear, a novel that proved to be a major game changer in the series, both in terms of the lore revealed and also for future novels. It is also one of the best novels in the series, by far.

In light of The Founding Fields currently suffering some major site issues, I’m going to be reposting my reviews from the site to the blog, so enjoy away!

The original review can be found here.

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The Eternal Crusader by Guy Haley (Novella Review)

I started reading Guy Haley’s novels back in 2012 and I quickly became a fan. His Richards and Klein Investigations duology has a bit of a rough start but it really gets better as it goes on and since then he has done quite a fair bit of work for Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy settings, as well as two original novels for Solaris Books. He has been quite prolific undoubtedly, and I have to say that his particular style of SF really appeals to me. It is descriptive and technical, veering almost into the Hard SF subgenre, and him bringing something like that to Warhammer 40,000 is just amazing.

Last year Guy published three novels with Black Library, but I got the chance to read only one of them unfortunately. Right now I’m in the middle of catching up to a lot of the Black Library stuff that I have missed in the last year and a half, and when I found that Guy had written a Black Templars novella, I got really excited. More when I saw that it was about the Third War For Armageddon. The Eternal Crusader tells the tale of how newly-christened High Marshal Helbrecht of the Black Templars arrives at Armageddon and how he carries out his duty towards the Imperium in the arena of siege warfare. It is one of my new favourite novellas from Black Library, and in a nutshell, Guy totally captures the nature of the Black Templars and Helbrecht’s place in the grand scheme of things.

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Censure and Honour To The Dead (Audio Review)

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.

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Horus Heresy: Templar by John French (Audio Review)

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.

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Horus Heresy: Mark of Calth by Laurie Goulding (Book Review)

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.

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