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The Crimson King by Graham McNeill (Book Review)

It has been ages since I last read something from the Horus Heresy series. Coincidentally, that happened to be Graham McNeill’s The Vengeful Spirit. And now finally, after a gap of some three years, I’m returning to the series that I fell in love with almost ten years ago. After catching myself back up with the Legacies of Betrayal anthology, I dived head-on into the latest release, The Crimson King by Graham McNeill, which carries on from A Thousand Sons, finally continuing a story almost five years old. The Crimson King does a lot to flesh out how the Thousand Sons legion fully turned away from the Emperor and how it “healed” itself after the terrible fall of Prospero. For any fan of the XVth Legion, this novel is a must-read.

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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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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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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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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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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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Horus Heresy: Vulkan Lives by Nick Kyme (Book Review)

The Horus Heresy is the one part of the Warhammer 40,000 lore that has had the most impact on the 41st millennium, the specific time of this far-future space opera/science fantasy setting that we are all most familiar with. The events of that era have influenced everything has happened since, and when Black Library began exploring this age of wonders, it was like a dream come true for countless fans of Warhammer 40,000. The response was phenomenal of course and in no time the series became a New York Times Bestseller hit. The army of writers involved have plumbed all sorts of depths of this era and they have come up with some really wonderful stuff over the past few years.

Of course, they’ve also had to deal with some of the downsides of this effort, and from my understanding, one of these is how Primarchs like Vulkan and Corax escaped the massacre at Istvaan V after the death of their brother Ferrus. Gav Thorpe explored the latter in an audio drama and a novel (both of which are fantastic by the way) and the former is dealt with by Nick Kyme, a recent entrant to the Heresy writing team and the result is one of the most bleakest Horus Heresy novels to date, Vulkan Lives. Nick explores the Primarch himself and one of the shattered remnants of the Salamanders Legion in this novel, and the results are interesting.

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Thief of Revelations by Graham McNeill (Audio Review)

For a good three years now, Black Library’s audio output has been quite impressive. Both in terms of quality and quantity. Thanks to the success of the Horus Heresy audios such as Gav Thorpe’s Raven’s Flight and James Swallow’s Garro duology, the publisher’s audio franchise has really taken off for the Warhammer 40,000 timeline as well. I’ve certainly been enjoying them thus far, though there have been a few along the way that I did not like, and would even consider to be among the lower-tier works put out by the authors. But I won’t deny that BL audios are generally so much damn fun to listen to.

A short while ago we got the latest Horus Heresy audio by Graham McNeill, in which he built on many of the different concepts he’d introduced in his amazing Thousand Sons-centric novel, A Thousand Sons. They are one of the least-covered legions, although they do get a leg-up since they’ve had a novel published about them. I loved A Thousand Sons when I read it three years back, and I enjoyed Thief of Revelations as well. As ever, the audio quality was superb, and the script was really good too, offering parallels to the relationships between the Emperor and the Primarchs that have been the cornerstone of the Heresy.

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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