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

Cadian Blood by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

I was looking at the list of novels that the Black Library has released in the last few years and only a completely biased observer would say that there hasn’t been a significant improvement in quality of both the writing and artwork for the Black Library range of novels.

They also seem to be making a concentrated effort right now to widen their circle of authors which I suppose makes sense even if it’s solely from a business perspective. Now it must take a fair amount of guts to start writing for the Black Library as with 25 years of in game background to say some of the fans have a strict eye for detail is an understatement. Woe betide the author who gets a bit of established background or ‘fluff’ as a lot of people refer to it as wrong. Your name will be added to the great book of grudges which is kept well somewhere and your future books will be automatically dismissed as being rubbish without them being read. Okay that’s possibly a bit harsh but you get the idea.

However based on his first novel I don’t see this being the fate of Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Far from it, I would say he’s more likely to join the top pairing of Black Library authors and turn it into a trinity because for a first novel this is a fantastically written, gripping read.

It’s also amazing just how much he managed to cram into the novel. Not only do you have one of the most popular Imperial Guard regiments, the Cadian’s you also have Chaos cultists, Inquisitors, Spaceships, battles between spaceships, the Death guard, the Raven guard and lets not forget a planet full of Nurgle Plague zombies.

All together now Brainnnsssss.......
I see a lot of tabletop games being played based on this novel.

I also loved this novel for included Typhus one of my favourite ‘special characters’ from the Chaos Space Marine army. It won’t be a surprise for any long term readers of Black Library novels to find out that the ‘good guys’ win and the bad guys evil plot is stopped. Does Typhus get mad? Does he attempt to get even by killing everyone of the handful of surviving guardsmen? No he decides to sod off as he has better things to be doing as the herald of Nurgle. Which is possibly the most realistic handling of a special character in a Black Library novel. He’s not going to care about killing a handful of guardsmen as what would be the point? Plenty more where they came from.

Cadian Blood has been one of my most favourite reads from the Black Library in a while and I will certainly be picking up Aaron’s next book. If Black Library continues to improve like this I can’t wait to see the quality of the books they’ll be releasing in a couple of years time. Who knows? They might get so good they could even go ‘mainstream?”

Five out five for Cadian Blood.

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

Ah ‘Steampunk’ a term that fills me with equal parts interest and bafflement. Despite several people I know raving about the genre I had never read a steampunk novel. Although I did get a copy of the Extraordinary engines anthology from Solaris Books it has remained firmly at the bottom of my reading pile for some time.

However one of my friends highly recommended the new book from George Mann, the Affinity Bridge and I figured it was now or never to give Steampunk a go. Plus I was going away for the weekend and needed a book to read.

I thought it was great! I thought it was a great read and the author did a great job of bringing the fog covered dangerous city of Victorian London to life and the ‘new technology’ of airships, ground trains and clockwork robots seem a natural part of the setting and not just ‘tacked’ onto Victorian London.

However this isn’t to say that the book doesn’t have it flaws. A lot of references to other ‘adventures’ and other characters simply scream “ you’ll find out about this later in the series” where they could have been a lot more subtle. Also in a couple of places the author does tend to waffle to the extent that I found myself skipping over a few pages to get to something interesting. But to be fair the authors writing gets a lot more confident as the book goes on and the ending is as solid as you could wish for.

Still for a first novel I think this was a good effort and there is great potential here for a solid series. I will certainly be getting the next book.

Three out of five.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Thunder from Fenris by Nick Kyme

The Black Library continues its expansion into audio book territory with the release of Thunder from Fenris the fourth audio book in their range.

Some what surprisingly this audio book has no connection with the long running space wolf series, it’s not written by one of the authors involved in the Space Wolves series or even features any of the 'main' Space Wolf characters such as Logan Grimnar or Njal Stormcaller.

Although to be fair the last audio book about Blood Angels also had no connection with the long running Blood Angels series either so maybe this is a conscious decision on their part or it’s simply the fact that they couldn’t come up with a decent storyline that would nicely tie in with the series. Instead Thunder from Fenris focuses on a unit of Thunderwolf cavalry. If you’re a Warhammer 40,000 player and have never heard of them, don’t worry. You obviously haven’t picked up a copy of the latest codex.

The Thunderwolf cavalry are basically Space Wolves riding wolves called Thunder Wolves. The Thunder Wolves aren't just aren't any wolves they are huge, nasty creatures as they would have to be able to carry eight four tall power armoured space marines. ( I guess horses couldn't cut it :-)

I did like Nick Kymes very tongue in cheek reference to the fact that they have only just been added to the Space Wolf Codex by describing them as mythical and rarely seen.

The action begins as when searching a planet for any remaining traces of the Chaos powers the Thunderwolfs have to deal with one of their number falling prey to the curse of the 'wulfen', mutating to become wolf then Man. Believing that it will be possible to save him if he is returned to their home quickly enough they discover that the Chaos power Nurgle, the god of Decay still has a presence on the world has no intention of giving this world up without a fight, as one of its most potent plagues is released planet wide. Fast acting and deadly it strikes down everyone from the population through to its army.

However those affected do not stay dead and what does this mean for our heroes? Well I'll give you a clue


Zombies, yes sir lots and lots of zombies. Which does seem to be a bit of a theme at Black Library at the moment with Thunder from Fenris and Cadian Blood both featuring the ‘good guys’ facing off against hordes of zombies.

So can the Thunderwolfs save their comrade and the planet? Well I’ll leave you to find that one out as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

I have to admit I wasn't sure about this audio book at first, especially when the Space wolf with the stereotypical 'arnie' voice first appears. As when I heard him for the first time it set me off having a complete fit of the giggles, luckily I wasn’t driving at the time. But from this shaky beginning the story does improve massively as it goes and has the best ending of any of the BL audio books published to date, even if it is also one of the saddest.

All in all I would have to say that this is a solid effort from Nick Kyme considering this is his First audio book and if he keeps writing like this it will certainly push him up my list of authors to read ( or listen to in this case).

Five out of five from the gabbling Geek.

Blood Pact by Dan Abnett

If you have been involved or ever been involved in the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop wargame by Games Workshop for any significant period of time you are likely to have heard of two things when it comes to the novels. Dan Abnett and Gaunt's Ghosts.

The Gaunt's Ghosts series is one of the Black Librarys flagship series and follows a unit of Imperial Guard ( mankinds bulk fighting force of the 41st millenium) the Tanith 1st and Only so called as their planet was wiped out shortly after their founding. They will be no more Tanith regiments, all the Tanith can do is go on and fight in the hope that one day they will gain a new planet of their own which they can setttle. They are nicknamed Gaunt's ghosts after their leader Commisar Gaunt.

Blood pact is the start of the fourth arc in the series and begins sometime after the event's of the previous novel. The Ghosts have been pulled out of the frontline of the war and are slowly going stir crazy with nothing to do but train. Discipline is starting to break down and everyone hopes for a return to the front.

However they don't have to return to the front to see action as a high ranking prisoner will only speak to Gaunt and the information he holds could win the war for the Imperials. Assuming Gaunt can keep him alive long enough!

Blood Pact is a very fast paced novel which benefits from a tight focus. The Ghosts series did seem to be running out of steam but Blood Pact has revitalised the series nicely and set a high bar for the rest of the arc to follow.

Four stars out of Five

Flood by Stephen Baxter

I've always found Stephen Baxter books a bit puzzling. Some I'm found very easy to read, others a bit baffling. However I'd heard good things about Flood so I approached it with the highist of hopes.

Quite simply it's a awesome read. If ever converted into a film it would be fantastic but I have a feeling that it won't be. To say it's dark is a understatement. There are no quick fixes in this book, no last minute heroics to save the day.

Starting in 2016 the book follows four main characters who were being held hostage in Spain as they are released into a world where the water levels have started to rise and won't stop.

Civilisation starts to rapidly break down as whole populations bolt for higher ground, whilst governments turn inwards struggling to cope and a few wealthy people try make their own plans for survial.

By the end of the novel Humanity seems doomed as all of the land disappears under the raging water ( think water world without the bad acting), a few rafts and aging naval vessels sheltering what's left of mankind.

However a series of projects referred to as the 'Arks' do give hope for the future. Ark One is a starship heading out into the galaxy, Ark three was a massive liner that met a unfortunate end and Ark two? Well that is a question that the last surving main character asks in what must be one of the most blatent attempts at setting up a sequel I've ever seen short of actually using the words " To be continued".

The strength of this novel lies in it's characters. They are 'normal' for one of a better term, people who could well be your next door neighbours. You see the unfolding disaster through their eyes and that's what draws you in as you start to imagine what it would be like for you. Could you survive and would you even want to?

Flood gets five out five from the Gabbling Geek