Monday, 1 February 2010

Black Tide by James Swallow

I got quite angry at the Black Library when reading Black Tide, as why when James Swallow can write novels as fantastic as this do they not get him to write for them more often!

Black Tide takes up the story from Red fury in a most unexpected way. A brutally traumatised and experimented upon Tau moving through the wreckage of a Tau colony finds himself face to face with the Blood Angels on the trail of Fabius Bile, but after being assaulted by hordes of experimented and mutated Tau and Vespid all they find is a taunting note from their quarry. Can they find him in time before Bile uses the blood of their primarch to carry out his evil plans?

I wasn't overly fond of Red Fury as i felt there was far too much talk and the least said about the " scooby doo villian" reveal of Bile the better, however I loved Black Tide and read it cover to cover in only two sittings.

James Swallows depiction of Fabius Bile is fantastic. The reveal of 'his evil plot' in the hands of a lesser writer could have turned into a parody of Dr evil style plan, but it doesn't. Yes the plan of tracking the genetic lineage of every space marine chapter back to the primarchs and from them to their "father" so Bile can create his own clone of the Emperor is a outlandious one but you get the horrified feeling that Bile could really pull it off. Plus the scene between Rafen and Bile where Rafen dismisses his words as the ravings of a traitor is downright chilling as we know something Rafen doesn't. Bile isn't lying.

The character of Rafen is also advanced nicely and if the Blood Angels series is to continue I hope at some point we may get to see him appear in a codex. You can really feel his anger and drive as he struggles to complete his quest and you can also feel his frustation as he 'kills' Bile for the third time only to face off against him yet again moments later learning the hardway that there's a reason this evil fiend has plagued the galaxy for so long.

The Flesh tearers also make a reappearence helping the Blood Angels on their quest with vital information allowing them to locate Biles base of operations which leads to a whole host of tantalisingly unanswered questions. How did the Flesh tearers know this information? And how do they know what the Blood Angels are up to?

Black Tide is also chock full of great visuals. Space Marine Strike cruisers fighting againist a space station which literally 'harpoons' them with giant harpoons and massive chairs, a orbital drop as a space station breaks apart around them and a underwater battle againist giant Tyranids creatures trying to eat the Marines! And lets not forget Fabius Biles lab in the middle of a Tyranid over run planet, a Dr moreau for the 41st Millenium.

There are a couple of small negative points. The discovery of a submarine which can make a orbital drop is a big case of Deux Ex , the Blood Angels 'technical' fulfilment of the quest and the epilogue which just screams set up for the next novel.

However this minus points don't detract from the novel overall. The Blood Angels series has certainly hit it's stride. The only thing which worries me with this novel is with the high quality of releases from the Black Library it seems to have gotten lost as I can't remember seeing any marketing push for it like Rynns World or Sons of Dorn at all which is a shame as this book doesn't deserve to become a lost gem.

A five out of five. Go read it now!

Rynn's World by Steve Parker

Writing about a existing and much loved story is very much a double edged sword. Although you don't have to come up with the story yourself woe betide you if you get anything wrong as the knives will soon be out drawn by ardent fans.

Which is why Steve Parker must have felt a little nervous writing about the story of Rynn's World and the almost total destruction of the Crimson Fists. This story has been a part of Warhammer 40,000 mythos ever since the Rogue trader rulebook hit the shelves. Add into the fact that it was his first full length novel about Space marines and the opening novel of a premier new series from the Black Library and you soon realise the incredible amount of pressure he must have been under.

So this make me all the more pleased to say that Rynn's world is a cracking read and a fantastic opening for the Space Marine Battles series. It's also a great example of what I call " Car crash reading", it's like car crash TV, you know what's going to happen but you can't stop reading/watching, especially when the fateful order to open fire with the missile batteries is given and you just want to yell " Stop! That's going to blow something up all right just not want you want"

The novel is well plotted and the characters of the Crimson fists are bought to life in a rounded way that few other writers have managed with Space Marines. Torn between the desire for revenge, their dedication to duty and the urge to protect the population you totally understand Kantors anguish as he realises that he could well be in a no win situation with a ever dimishing number of men.

Captain Cortez is also a well written character and provides a fantastic foil for Kantor, as the two surviving senior officers with a dissenting opinion of what the Crimson Fists need to do in order to survive. It does make you wonder what would have happened if Kantor hadn't survived the destruction of their fortress. Would the Crimson Fists have survived at all? or died in a heroic yet futile last stand.

The only dissapointing thing I found with the novel was the much talked about 'fold out maps' which seem at some point to have simply changed into two colour maps in the centre of the book. Quite why this change happened I have no idea but I barely even glanced at them. If you like that sort of thing you will probably find them fascinating but if not well you might not even look at them.

I have heard that a few people have complained about the number of typos in the novel. I can honestly say that I didn't notice any of them as I was far too caught up in the story. If you donotice anything badly wrong ( like when a Dreadnought charged out of a Land raider in one of the Jonathan green armageddon books) just do what I do and send them a email to let them know. Their only human after all and mistakes happen. Plus if you don't tell them they won't know!

Rynn's world is a solid start to the Space Marine battles series and has set the bar very high for the authors who will follow. However this also concerns me as well. Rynns world is a well known story in the sense that everyone can tell you what happens to the Crimson Fists fortress ( It's goes bom) but not what happens next. The Helsreach novel by aaron DB ( yes I am cheating there as I can't remember how to spell his name) will probably also benefit from this effect. However story of the third novel in the series " The Hunt for Volodorius" is well documented in the Space Marine codex and Andy Hoare is going to have to do something special to match Rynn's World.

A solid Four out of five.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Sons of Dorn by Chris Roberson

Way back in time ( further then I care to remember or admit) when being a grown up seemed like such a long time away, I was thrilled to buy Space Marine. This was a book about Space Marines, actual Space Marines blowing stuff up. Of course I was far too young and innocent at the time to 'get' some of the more hidden subtext. Anyway after a long time the Imperial Fists are finally back in their own novel, Sons of Dorn by Chris Roberson.

I was keen to read Sons of Dorn as I had read Chris Robersons offering from Solaris and Dawn of War II. But how does he fair with his first novel for the Black Library where he doesn't have a computer game script to fall back on.

It would be impossible to write a review about this book without mentioning Space Marine. Space Marine is a much loved novel from the early days of Games Workshop ( soon to be released in the new POD service from the Black Library) and it's inevitable that people will draw comparisons. I even heard someone refer to this book as Space Marine: The next generation! I don't know why people would compare the two novels as Space Marine was about three recruits who hated each other and finally became 'brothers' where as Sons of Dorn is about three recruits who hated each other and finally become........... wait a second!

Joking aside anyone expecting a retelling of Space Marine will be in for a surprise. Taking a tip from the latest Star Trek film the time between the protagonists arriving at the phalanx ( the Imperial Fists spaceborne fortress) and their first real campaign as scouts passes from the end of one chapter at the begining of the next. Which although surprising at first was probably a smart move on Mr Robersons part. He avoids the inevitable comparing of the two books and there are already plenty of novels and background material describing the process of turning a boy into a marine.

The finale is well written and action packed which it needed to be after a very slow start to the book. All of the main 'characters' from the Imperial fists appear such as Lord Pugh, Chaplain Lo Chang and not forgetting everyone's favourite giant hammer wielding terminator Captain Lysander, who seems to have become someone of a cold hearted SOB when it comes to tactics.

Reluctantly I will say that the book is not perfect. I can already hear the knives belonging to the background fanatics eagerly being sharpened. The Imperial Fists seems to have gone from a careful selection process of recruits, to a hap hazard conscription process where they seem to take whoever looks goods ( I think the book mentions thousands of potentials) and knock them out before stacking as many of them as possible into ships. Some of the technology also seems a bit too 'futurastic' such as the machine which enables one of the Captains to be taught three seperate languages so he can speak fluently to three different people on a planet that hasn't been visited for hundreds of years.

Still as a start to a series it's a strong offering, and offers shows that the author has plenty of potential as a Warhammer 40,000 author. If he is able to improve his 'grasp' of the 40k universe ( i.e making things more gothic and arcane) I can see him joining the top ranks of Black Library authors. He's close but not there just yet.

3.5 out of five.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Dark Creed by Anthony Reynolds

Well it's been a while folks, my apologies but I'm now back up to speed with my reading pile and there will be a flood of reviews to come over the next few days. I thought I'd kick things off with a book I was looking forward to. Dark Creed, the final book in the Word Bearers series.
Our Hero or in this case Anti-hero Dark Apostle Marduk faces challenges from within and without his own legion as he attempts to use the Nexus arrangement ( a hardy bit of necron technology he 'borrowed' in the first novel to turn the tide of battle for the Word Bearers and capture a vital sector.

Now Dark Creed is a good book, it's a great improvement on the last novel in the series and is by no means the worst book ever published by the Black Library. And therein lies the problem. Dark Creed has become a victim of Black Librarys increase in quality. It simply does not measure up to what it could and should have been as the finale to a much loved series.

It does have it's good points. The backstabbing between the Word Bearers does lead you to wonder if the Imperiums continued existance is down to Loyalist skill or the fact Chaos Marines can not work together. The interesting insight into what happened to Lorgar Primarch of the Word Bearers, and the Necrons ability to just rip through anything that stands between them and their arefact is down right chilling.

However the book also has it bad points, Chaos Space Marines die far too easily, the importance of the sector and the fact it has a stable route to Earth means you know automatically at the start of the novel that the Word Bearers aren't going to win and the White Counsuls, the loyalist Marines guarding the sector must be the most naive Space marines in need of a physic lessons in the galaxy. In a time of warp travel, space marines and the Demonic trusting that someone is who they say they are based on the sound of their voice is mind numblingly stupid. Plus it doesn't matter if a Space battle barge has any nuclear weapons on or not it's still going to hurt if it rams you!

In itself Dark Creed is a good novel, the fight scenes are fantastic but overall it's a disapointing end to a great series that started off so well.

A disappointing 2.5 out of five.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Iron Company by Chris Wraight

Despite being a fan of Games Workshop for longer than I care to remember, Warhammer Fantasy has never really grabbed me in the same way as 40K. The same is true for the books from the Black Library; although I read every 40k based book that comes out I am rarely interested in the fantasy novels asides from a certain Dwarf slayer and his companion. The debate as to whether Gotrek is in fact the worst or best slayer ever is a debate for another time.

However based on Iron Company the second novel in the Empire army series I may just have to revise my opinion of the Warhammer Fantasy range in general.

Iron Company is the third Black Library novel by Chris Wraight.

Now the way I understand it is that each novel in the Empire Army series focuses on a specific unit taking part in some huge battle. In the first novel in the series Reiksguard the action focussed on well a unit of Reiksguard (must have taken a long meeting to think up the title for that one), in the second novel Iron Company the action focuses on the Imperial Engineers a specialised job in the army where the end results of the Engineers work can be as equally dangerous to its own side as the enemy.

Our Hero for this story is Engineer Magnus Ironblood, forced into retirement after an accident he is lured, although forced might be a better term, out of retirement for one final campaign. Sent with a Hochland army to bring secessionist forces to hell to prevent civil war, the army finds itself outgunned and must muster all of its wits, strength and courage to survive.
The first thing that hit me about this novel is its Epic feel. This novel isn’t about a little skirmish somewhere in the empire, it’s about huge armies having a massive drawn out holds bared fight as a siege develops, as the Hochlanders try to force the rebels from their citadel. Chris Wraight has done a really fantastic job of bringing the empire army to ‘life’ with a wide array of characters that are well rounded and not simply walking clichés. The disagreements between the Warrior Priest and the Engineer were especially good as the Priests Faith clashes against the Engineers logic.

Unfortunately this is also one of the weakest points of the novel; Chris Wraight does such a good job with the build up that the siege itself seems rushed and over far too quickly. For a castle that they talk about in such awed tones their able to break it down remarkably quickly.
Secondly the ‘reveal’ that Ironbloods rival/mortal enemy is working for the rebels comes very late in the book and doesn’t have a much impact as it could have done if it had been worked into the story earlier.

I feel that these two points do detract from the novel and pull it down slightly from the heights it could have reached. However this far from a mediocre book and based on this offering I would say that Chris Wraight has plenty more to offer to the Black Libraries Warhammer Fantasy range because he defiantly has potential to become one of their better fantasy authors.

I will look out for his next book with anticipation.

Three stars out of five for Iron Company from the Gabbling Geek.

Friday, 16 October 2009

On Basilisk Station by David Weber

If there’s one thing about Baen Books more than anything else is that despite writing some incredible science fiction they seem to struggle to find a good cover artwork despite seeming to change it on a regular basis for different editions of the same book. A simple look on Amazon found at least three different covers for softback editions for On Basilisk Station.

On Basilisk station is the first novel in David Weber’s Honor Harrington series which can be best summed up by one phrase an early reviewer of the series used “It’s like Horatio Hornblower. Except she’s a women and it’s set in space.

Set in the far future (but not as far as Warhammer 40,000 mind you) Humanity has spread among the stars. Many of the early Colonies have banded together into a huge entity known as the Solarian League, and the later colonies well their pretty much looked down on as Neo Barbarians or ‘Neo Barbs” i.e not as advanced as the Solarian League.

In one far corner of the galaxy lies Haven a republic whose government desperately holds onto power despite a failing economy and unrest. Their solution rather than to fix the cracks is to paper over them by conquering other worlds and stripping them bare to shore up their own economy. The one thing Haven is good at is War.

However they now face their first real challenge. The Star Kingdom of Manticore or the ‘Manties’. A single system power they are incredibly wealthy thanks to a so called ‘wormhole junction’ a series of wormholes that take months if not years off journey times. With a formidable navy they provide a challenge that Haven is not sure they can beat.

Into this tense situation comes our heroine Commander Honor Harrington. A rising star she is shuffled off to Basilisk station the navy’s dumping ground for dead beats and screw ups through no fault of her own after she demonstrates the massive flaws in a new ship board weapons system embarrassing an admiral. Left to cover an entire system with a single ship after being stabbed in the back by an old enemy out to set her up for a fall Harrington must fulfil her duty with insufficient resources, no support and a crew who blame her for all their woes.

Helped by the fact she is neither a screw up nor a dead beat she soon uncovers a plot that will threaten the future of the Star Kingdom itself.

To be honest the basic story is hardly original. Plucky protagonist gets screwed over by incompetent senior offices before finally saving the day and showing what a bunch of idiots they actually are. But despite a shaky start David Weber manages to grow beyond the clichés and ends the novel with a generally thrilling climax.

The other thing I liked about this novel is how after spending a lot of time building up secondary characters he isn’t afraid in the slightest to swing the axe. There are no star trek style red shirts or Ensign Expendables here. They are well built rounded characters who you don’t want to see get killed.

Even the ‘treecat’ Nimitz who has ‘adopted’ Honor is developed into more than a space borne equivalent of a parrot.

It’s not a perfect start to a series but it’s still good enough to make me want to read the next book and see what happens.

Three out of Five from the Gabbling geek.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Salamander by Nick Kyme

If you’ve ever come across Warhammer 40,000 you’ll know who the Space Marines are. 8 foot tall, power armour clad, genetically engineered super humans they are the elite of Mankind’s armies in the 41st Millennium. There may be less than one space marine for every inhabited world but it is enough.

With Space Marines being the most popular army in Warhammer 40,000 it is thus unsurprising that a large percentage of the offerings from the Black Library feature them. Which is why I’m sure when Salamander was released a few people probably groaned and moaned and asked “ Do we really need another space marines series?”

Based on this offering from Nick Kyme I would have to say yes. Of course I may be slightly biased in that opinion as I do have a small Salamanders force knocking around in one of my carry cases. But moving swiftly on.

The Salamanders are probably one of the two most well known Space Marine chapters that have the least amount of detailed background and their possibly unique in how they deal with ‘regular humans’. Whereas other Space Marine chapters seem to keep as far away from the rest of humanity preferring to be seen as almost god like figures shrouded in myth and Legend, the Salamanders prefer to live among the population of their homeworld.

This closeness to humanity is the source of one of their greatest strengths but it also a great weakness as such close relationships means that although some of the best of humanities traits are displayed by the Salamanders they also display some of the worst. So what I hear some of you cry if they show jealously and the ability to backstab. Well imagine those traits in an eight foot tall genetically engineered superhuman and you’ll see how bad it could be.

Nick Kyme really puts his own stamp on the Salamanders and has written a story that really gives them a unique identity and lets them stand shoulder to shoulder with the other Black Library Space marine series such as the Blood Angels and the Ultramarines.

I was especially impressed with how he dealt with one of the big ‘contradictions’ in the background for the Salamanders which has crept in about their founding father. Not even the Salamanders know for sure and believe that both viewpoints could have happened. A solution to that problem that even if the meerkat would called “ simples”.

Salamander is a great start to the trilogy and has set the bar pretty high for the series as a whole. I was also impressed for how ‘closed’ an ending the book has. Yes there are still some plot threads which will be picked up in the next novel but he’s pretty much given himself free reign to take the story where ever he wants.

Four out of five