40k – Black Library’s Novels about Imperial Institutions

Most books about 40k produced by the Black Library understandably focus on Space Marines, Astra Militarum and big battles, or any combination of the three.  There are though plenty of good books out there taking a different look at the 40k universe through Imperial Institutions.  I’ll gloss over the Inquisition as this is a whole genre to itself; instead I’ll focus on those that have had less written about them.

 

The Enforcer Series by Matthew Farrer

As I understand it, these are the only novels focusing on the Adeptus Arbites, the Imperium’s galactic police force.  The trilogy of books does look at the Arbites through the eyes of the officer Shira Calpurnia, but each novel then diverges investigating other institutions; I think a great way to look at the other side of the 40k universe.  They are worth a read for this insight and I personally think Shira is an excellent character.  The series consists of:

Crossfire – investigating assassinations in dockyards/navy

Legacy – where Shira has to deal with the legacy of a dead Rogue Trader

Blind – investigating the Adeptus Astra Telepathica

 

Rogue Trader by Andy Hoare

The new omnibus edition contains the whole trilogy and a couple of short stories, charting the adventures of the Rogue Trader Lucian Gerrit. I’ve only just stated reading it so I can’t say too much but I am really enjoying it.  It is a nice change of pace from normal 40k fare and the universe seems as grim and as dark as ever.

 

Assassinorum: Execution Force by Joe Parrino

There a plenty of stories involving assassins and even some with them as the lead, think Nemesis in the HH series.  This is one of my favorites though, with the four main assassin types hunting down a Chaos Sorcerer Lord.  An excellent insight in to the different types of assassins and their interaction (or lack of) together.

 

Forges of Mars by Graham McNeill

The Mechanicum does actually get a lot of attention but it feels a world away from the Space Marines and Imperial Guard.  This is the definitive book for anyone wanting to get a better insight in to the Mechanicum and read an excellent story at the same time.  This is the omnibus edition containing all of the saga of a Mechanicum Explorator fleet going out to the edge of space and finding all sorts of interesting things on the way.  As ever McNeill has crafted an epic story and it is one of the best short series for 40k, let alone the Mechanicum.

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The best Warhammer Old World Novels & Series – Part II

With the enduring popularity of the Total War: Warhammer series, I though it was time to revisit the ‘World that was’ and look at some of the other best novels and series that the setting has.

 

Gilead by Dan Abnett and Nik Vincent

This author pairing appeared on my first list with the excellent Hammers of Ulric.  Gilead is a different beast altogether and across two novels and a short story they chart the riveting tales of the High Elf Shadowfast warrior.  It is a great exploration of the old world, particularly through the viewpoint of a relative stranger to it.  Highly recommended as a good starting point to the Old World.  The series includes:

Gilead’s Blood – the starting point.  A collection of short stories

Gilead’s Curse – the follow up with a single novel.  Lots of Skaven!

Gilead’s Craft – a very short story but a great insight in to the lead character

 

Archaon by Rob Sanders

A two novel series from one of my favourite BL authors, who I think is rather underrated.  The series fills a very important gap in the history of the Old World, looking at the origins of the Lord of the End Times.  I think Sanders has done a great job with a potentially difficult subject, giving the read a real insight in to how Archaon became who he is.  If you know how the world ends, the Archaon duology is a must read before you delve in to the end times.  The series includes:

Everchosen – from Sigmarite Warrior to follow of Chaos

Lord of Chaos – becoming the Lord of the End Times

The Ambassador Chronicles by Graham McNeill

In my eyes the second best Black Library author (after Dan Abnett) has written one of the best short series set in the Old World.  First of all it is manly set in Kislev, where only really Gotrek & Felix have explored.  Secondly the character isn’t a traditional warrior or adventurer, he is an Ambassador (!). This turns the focus to politics and intrigue, well away from the normal world of Warhammer that we are all used to.  Admittedly the second book does revert more to adventure and battle but still, it is a unique take on the world that was and I highly recommend for anyone wanting something a little bit different.  The series includes:

The Ambassador – Politics and Intrigue in Kislev

Ursun’s Teeth – Battle looms versus a Chaos horde

The Black Plague by C.L. Werner

This omnibus covers all of C.L. Werner’s excellent Black Plague novels, covering a period of history approximately 1500 years before the End Times.  The Skaven have unleashed the black plague, the dead are rising in Sylvania and there is zero leadership in the Empire to combat this.  Only in the final book of the trilogy does the tide truly turn and a hero rise to save the day.  It is a rip-roaring read but also very dark in places, a combination that Werner often manages excellently.  If you like your Old World history and an eventual victory against the odds, then this is for you.

 

The Doom of Dragonback by Gav Thorpe

Dwarfs are by far my favourite race in the Old World but their story is one of almost constant tragedy.  This Time of Legends novel looks at the mine of Ekrund in the western Badlands during a time where the Dwarfs are constantly embattled and losing strongholds.  The tale shows the Dwarfs at their best, being stubborn and fighting against the odds.  I think this is a great way to show the Dwarfs during their time of struggle and gives a great insight in to their psyche.  Highly recommended reading and make sure you take back Ekrund if you are playing TW:W or Mortal Empires!

The Best Warhammer Undead & Tomb King Novels

With the imminent release of the Tomb Kings DLC for Total War: Warhammer II, it is worth exploring the excellent novels that the Black Library have produced for the undead legions.  If you really want to immerse yourself with the DLC and understand the main protagonists a bit more, these novels are the best introduction to do so.

The Rise of Nagash Omnibus by Mike Lee

It is dark, brutal and occasionally horrifying; Mike Lee’s trilogy shows the rise of Nagash and how the land of Khemri became a wasteland populated by nothing more than skeletal legions.  It is also shows the beginning of the vampires and their various lines.  At times it feels like it is nothing to do with the Warhammer world, just simply an epic story of greed and power set in a quasi-ancient Egypt type land.  This is where it all begins for the undead and I highly recommend reading it as a starting point.

Vampire Wars: The von Carstein Trilogy by Steven Savile

Another classic covering a lot of old world history.  I think I can safely say it is one of the darkest Warhammer series I’ve ever read, but it is expertly done by Steven Savile who is a horror writer by trade.  The trilogy covers each of the famous von Carstein brood – Vlad, Konrad and Manfred – and their various exploits and reigns of terror throughout history.  It is dark and it is very brutal but to get a proper sense of the Vampire Counts, this is the perfect read.

The Red Duke by C.L Werner

You might not be able to conventionally play as Mousillon in TW:W2 but you can with a faction unlock mod and they are an annoying faction to play against if you are Bretonnia.  Leading Mousillon is the infamous Red Duke, a Blood Dragon Knight who has terrorised Bretonnian lands throughout old world history.  This story tells of his resurrection and the bloodthirsty events that transpire as a result – it isn’t for the faint of heart!

Ulrika by Nathan Long

Ulrika plays a huge part in the early Gotrek & Felix novels, as both the love interest of Felix and a formidable character in her own right.  At the end of Vampireslayer (spoiler alert) Ulrika has been turned in to a Vampire and Nathan Long took up the challenge of writing a series for her.  He did an excellent job and the series shows a conflicted soul who doesn’t want to be a vampire but is trying to deal with the situation as best as she can.  It isn’t as gory or brutal as the other stories on the list, and it doesn’t have the epic scale or legendary characters either, but I do think it is the best written series in the Warhammer world regarding the undead.

Blood of Nagash by Josh Reynolds

This is a two book series looking at two progenitors of the Vampire Bloodlines.  The first, Neferata, follows the former Queen and first ever Vampire (read the Rise of Nagash for more details) as she searches for a new purpose in (un)life.  There also an interesting dynamic with the Ushoran, the progenitor of the Strigoi Vampires.  The second book, Master of Death, follows W’soran, the progenitor of the Necrarch Vampires.  Again Ushoran plays a big role with a civil war in the undead kingdom of Mourkain.  Both books are good sequels to the Rise of Nagash and give a good insight in to how the various bloodlines of Vampires came to be as they are.

Top 5 Ultramarines Books

The Ultramarines, the archetypal Space Marine; loyal, tactically astute and tougher than old boots.  The don’t have the flair or mystery of other chapters, such as the Dark Angels and Space Wolves, but they (and their successors) are the most dependable Space Marines in the 40k universe.  It means they aren’t the most popular chapter amongst the fans but I’ve always had a soft spot for them and I’m delighted with the decision for Guilliman to return.

There have been a lot of novels with the Ultramarines as the leads and here are my top 5 (in no particular order):

Note: This does not include any Horus Heresy novels.

 

The Ultramarines Series by Graham McNeill

For anyone wanting to read about Ultramarines, this is the place to start.  Graham McNeill’s excellent Ultramarines Series charts the career of Uriel Ventris across six novels and a number of short stories.  Although it focuses on Ventris, the series shows what it is to be an Ultramarines, as well as what it takes to not be an Ultramarine.

Best place to start with the Volume One Omnibus.

 

Calgar’s Siege by Paul Kearney

This is one of my favourite 40k books of all time, showing the Ultramarines Chapter Master Marneus Calgar facing overwhelming odds (almost) single-handed.  It has great supporting characters (humans and space marines), an excellent plot and a surprising ending.  From a purely Ultramarines interest point of view, the perspective on what it means to be the Chapter Master is particularly interesting.

Damnos by Nick Kyme

Unless you count some of the Horus Heresy novels, seeing the Ultramarines being outclassed and outmanoeuvred is an unusual read.  Damnos shows this though, where the Ultramarines meet their match with the Necrons.  It may be a defeat but the Ultramarines are able to turn it in to a glorious one.  It contains some great famous characters, including Chief Librarian Tigurius and Captain Sicarius.  The book contains both the novel The Fall of Damnos and the novella Spear of Macragge.

Cassius by Ben Counter

So above we’ve already seen some famous Ultramarines faces, this novel (unsurprisingly) focuses on their famous chaplain Cassius.  It was nice to see a proper Ultramarines vs Tyranids battle in this, particularly with the two sides history.  It’s in my top 5 due to the ingredients of overwhelming odds, a complex character in Cassius that was handled really well by the author and some excellent battle scenes.

Dark Imperium by Guy Haley

Now to the most famous Ultramarine of them all – Roboute Guilliman.  Dark Imperium brings the Ultramarines up-to-date with the new events in the 40k world and most importantly, their Primarch’s resurrection.  The fighting isn’t particularly important or interesting in this book, it is all about learning about the returned Guilliman and how he is coping in a galaxy 10,000 years removed from what he knew.  This is a must read for Ultramarine fans and for anyone wanting to get up-to-date in the new 40k galaxy.

Top 5 Dan Abnett 40k and Horus Heresy Books

Dan Abnett is in my opinion the best of the authors that the Black Library is lucky enough to have on its books.  He wrote their first novel all the way back in 1998 (happy to be corrected on that) and is still going strong, despite a short absence of his writing in the 40k and 30k universes.   Picking a top 5 has been tricky but here goes:

 

 

5. Double Eagle

40k meets the battle of Britain in an excellent fighter pilot action novel set in the Sabbat Worlds, with a few familiar faces from the Gaunt’s Ghost Novel The Guns of Tanith.  It is an easily readable stand-alone book with well-rounded characters, epic action sequences and a good plot; all Dan Abnett hallmarks.  The good news is that a squeal may appear in the medium-term future Interceptor City; as Abnett himself said at the Black Library Weekender 2017, the idea would be for dogfights to actually happen inside a hive city structure!

 

4. Legion (Horus Heresy)

The best of the early Horus Heresy novels sees Abnett write about the enigmatic and elusive Alpha Legion.  The events are essentially divorced from the wider crusade/heresy, meaning it can be read on its own, though events and characters from it play out in future novels in the series.  The Alpha Legion come across as possibly the most intelligent (and coolest) of the legions, with their style of warfare refreshingly different from the others.  The novel also introduces the perpetuals that have ended up being one of my favourite story-lines in the series.

 

3. Necropolis (Gaunt’s Ghosts)

My heart would put this at number one as it is one of my favourite books from my teenage years.  It is the final book in the founding trilogy for the ghosts and it sees them at their best against the odds.  It is essentially one long siege and it focuses on the whole battle, not just what the ghosts are involved in; it also focuses a lot on Gaunt itself.  It is a good read on its own but I think you really need to read the first two books before getting to this, and they are worth reading (as excellent as they are) just to get to Necropolis.

 

2. Know No Fear (Horus Heresy)

This is all about the infamous betrayal at Calth; one of the most famous and until this novel, one of the most confusing events in the Heresy.  This puts the record straight and show the Word Bearers at their evil worst and the Ultramarines at their indomitable best.  It has everything, with the most devastating pre-emptive strike ever, against the odds heroics and Guilliman going psychotic.  It is one of those books I struggled to put down and one I would happily read again and again.

 

1. The Eisenhorn Trilogy

Not only is this Dan Abnett’s best black library work, it is the best in the Black Library overall.  Eisenhorn is a very compelling character and his struggles with his morals and choosing the right course are what makes the trilogy so excellent.  It is also interesting to see the Imperium (and beyond) outside of the confines of war; you get to see the more ‘normal’ parts of the universe, although through the eyes of a most un-normal character.  It isn’t just the character elements of it, there are also some amazing set-pieces and fantastical worlds portrayed.  I am delighted another Eisenhorn novel is on the way in early 2018 and long may his adventures continue.

Top 3 Black Library Books – 2017

2017 has been a pretty good year for the Black Library, with some consistently good releases.  It is also probably the first year in a while where I have purchased so many of their books.  Below is my top 3 for 2017 – note that they may not have been released last year, but they are all at least newish and I’ve actually read them this year.

The Devastation of Bhaal by Guy Haley

Beyond the Horus Heresy, I’ve never read anything about the Blood Angels or anything involving Tyranids, but after hearing Guy Haley talk about this book at the Black Library Weekender 2017, I was moved to purchase it.  I was not disappointed and I ended up reading it in only a couple of days, despite it being approximately 500 pages long.  Quite simply it is an epic page-turner, with fleet actions, an against-odds siege and supremely satisfying ending.  I wish I had read Dante by Guy Haley first as I believe I’m missing a fair bit of backstory, but nonetheless I really enjoyed it.  If you buy only one Black Library novel at the moment, buy this one.

 

Shrike by George Mann

As with the Blood Angels, I’m not a huge fan of the Raven Guard; I find Corax far too cold in the Horus Heresy (although in fairness he has good reasons).  I did though find Shrike a very good book, with George Mann doing an excellent job of getting behind Shrike’s personality.  The thread that is woven throughout each of the three individual stories really worked and showed Shrike’s qualities, but also his flaws.  On a practical level, Raven Guard versus Orks is always entertaining, with the hit and run tactics of the Raven Guard contrasting with the brute force of the orks.  If you like your super-human warriors with a bit of personality and/or love a good Ork fight, then this is for you.

 

Calgar’s Siege by Paul Kearney

Ultramarines were my introduction to 40k and I’ve always had a soft spot for them, and I’m very pleased that Roboute Guilliman has returned.  Marneus Calgar should not be forgotten about though, and this space marine battles book shows him at this best; with the novel filling in a legendary story mentioned in the codexes about Calgar holding a a gate single-handedly against a horde of orks.  Calgar finds himself stranded on a planet under Ork invasion and he only has a handful of space marines with him.  He takes charge of the defence and what follows is an epic siege battle.  The characters are excellently written; the dreamer planetary governor and the ageing rogue trader being prime examples.  Overall it is an excellent read and one I will definitely go back to.

 

Quick thoughts on 2018

I might be wrong, but I think my best of 2018 might include:

Black Library Weekender

I had the pleasure of attending the Black Library weekender on 18th-19th November.  I don’t usually attend these kinds of things but I decided to brave it on my own this year and I was very glad that I did.

 

I wondered just how big such an event was going to be but as soon as I entered the hotel there was no missing that Black Library had essentially taken over the hotel.  The foyer was essentially one big Black Library bookshop, full of pre-releases and special editions.  I was fairly conservative in my spending; only getting five books to mainly fill some gaps in my Horus Heresy series collection.

 

The day was split in to a number of seminars with a quick opening address at the start of the first day.  After the opening address I attended a discussion about the new Space Marine Conquests series.  It is essentially a continuation of the Space Marine Battles Series but taking it to be up-to-date with ‘current’ events in the universe.  On the panel were Phil Kelly, Guy Haley and Gav Thorpe, with Nick Kyme as the host.  It was interesting to hear the summaries of their new novels; off the strength of Guy Haley’s talk I ended up buying the Devastation of Baal.  They also talked about the difficulties of writing about space marines in general (i.e. limited emotional range) and the new primaris space marines and how they fit in with their ‘lesser’ brethren.  All in all it was an excellent start to the day.

 

Next up was probably my favourite seminar of the whole weekend: Beyond the Scenes of Audio Dramas and Audio Books with Toby Longworth.  Toby voices a lot of the Black Library audios, in particular he is the voice of Garro in the excellent audio dramas that James Swallow has written.  The seminar covered the process of making an audio and Toby was an excellent speaker for it.  He also covered the difficulties of coming in to Warhammer pretty much blind, as well as delving in to his general acting and voice career.  It was a very enjoyable session and off the back of it I think I’ll purchase a few more audio dramas, particularly as I’m now back to the joy of commuting in London.

 

The next seminar was one of the reasons I bought my ticket, to hear Dan Abnett talk about his new Gaunt’s Ghosts novel: The Warmaster.  Dan was surprising candid about his reasons for the long gap between novels, essentially saying he had fallen out of love with 40k and the Black Library.  I had wondered why he hadn’t written much for them recently but it looks like he’s back again and has a lot of new novels and ideas coming up.  With regards to the Warmaster, it sounds like an excellent new chapter in Gaunt’s Ghosts, getting to the heart of the Sabbat Worlds crusade for the first time.  He also announced that the next in the series (the Anarch) is being written and should be with us in the near(ish) future.  Also of interest was that Matthew Farrar is writing a novel that is almost a companion to the Warmaster, it being a Space Marines book focussing on the wider battle for Urdesh at the same time that the Warmaster is set.

 

Another reason for me buying my ticket was the next seminar:  The Road to Terra (Horus Heresy) with Nick Kyme Hosting, Aaron Demski-Bowden, Dan Abnett, John French and Chris Wraight.  As the title suggests, they discussed the path to finishing the epic series that is the Horus Heresy.  There was a lot of good general chat about pivotal novels that each of the authors had written in the series so far, particularly Dan Abnett talking about Know no Fear (one of my favourite HH novels).  John French mentioned a novel he was currently working on (the name escapes me) that will depict the traitors breaching the outer defences for the road to the Solar System as they frantically try and reach Terra before the Ultramarines counter-attack in overwhelming force: that is a novel I want to read!  Coming back to the Siege of Terra, although they wouldn’t give away any final plans (if indeed they have any), they did suggest that the Siege will be a multi-novel event.  I think that is a great move and I think anywhere between three and five novels is required to do it justice.

 

Next up I went a bit left-field and went to a seminar entitled: Boots on the Ground: Writing for the Astra Militarium with John D Hill and Chris Dows.  I’ve read a few short stories by both authors but I’m not overly familiar with their work, however they produced an excellent discussion about how to write for the only truly human protagonists in the 40k universe.  They both mentioned they preferred writing for Astra Militarium precisely because they are humans and their emotions and actions are significantly more relatable.  I’ve found that with some Black Library fictions, it is a lot easier to read (for example) a Gaunt’s Ghosts novel then a blood-curdling novel based just on Space Marines, precisely because you can relate to and emphasise with the characters a lot better.  I was particularly excited by Chris Dows’s mention of a real-time audio drama that will be ready soon, depicting a cobbled together Shadowsword tank-crew taking on Titans.

 

To finish the day, I decided to take the opportunity to get a few of my books signed by Dan Abnett.  I brought along the first three novels of Gaunt’s Ghosts, all editions I had bought back in the late 90s / early 00s.  After a very long queue I was pleased to meet the man himself and rather unwisely make him feel old when I said I’d read First and Only when I was 12.  He’s a thoroughly nice man though and his patience with all fans was immense, signing as many books as people wanted and having pictures taken.

 

On to the second day I started with a seminar on Chris Wraight’s Inquisition series and specifically on the Vaults of Terra.  Dan Abnett was the surprise guest at this and the seminar evolved in to an excellent discussion between the two on the nature of Terra itself.  It was entertaining to hear the two of them talk at length about what Terra means and how it has evolved from the time of the Horus Heresy to the ‘current’ era of 40k.  I haven’t read any of Chris Wraight’s inquisition books but off the back of this I will be purchasing them.

 

Torn between a number of options, I decided next to go to the seminar on writing about xenos.  It was with Gav Thorpe and Andy Clarke, with C.L. Werner (wearing the best outfit of the weekend) joining in part way through.  It was an interesting discussion with Gav talking about writing from an alien viewpoint from his numerous Eldar novels, Andy focussing on Orks and Werner with his unique take on Genestealers from his novel Cult of the Warmason.

 

I finished the weekender with Dan Abnett discussing his new Eisenhorn novel.  Even ahead of Gaunt’s Ghosts, the Eisenhorn trilogy is my favourite set of Black Library novels and has resulted in Dan Abnett probably being my favourite author (Black Library or otherwise).  I was excited to learn from the talk that a new Eisenhorn book is coming out early next year.  Not only will it contain a new Eisenhorn full-length novel, it will also contain eight short stories.  If there is one book I’m buying next year it is definitely this.

 

That was the end of my Black Library Weekender and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  If I’d not had such a busy and tragic time recently (house move, bereavement, and family illnesses) then I would have been a lot more prepared, had more detailed notes and even taken some pictures.  If they hold it again though I think I’ll go next year and I’d recommend that any Black Library fan does also.

Gaunt’s Ghosts – A Book Guide – Part I

Gaunt’s Ghosts is by far my favourite series from the Black Library.  I enjoy series such as the Horus Heresy and The Beast Arises, but if I want guaranteed enjoyment, then Gaunt’s Ghosts is to where I turn.

I started reading the series pretty much as soon as it came back, all the way back in 1999.  I remember reading the series through secondary school and in to sixth form, before taking a break during uni and then picking it up again in recent years.  It has taken me through some big moments in my life and it has a big place in my heart because of it.

It does help that Dan Abnett is an excellent writer and I can’t really think of a novel of his that I haven’t enjoyed.  His story-telling is brilliant and the characters are probably the best set in any of the Black Library Series.  I often read the books all in a row and can find myself using Feth as a curse word in the real world when I’m in the midst of reading them; no other book/series has ever had such an effect on me!

With the release of the next in the series, The Warmaster, I thought now would be a good time to go through the series book-by-book and give my thoughts on recommendations on each of them.  Part I takes us through the first two story arcs of the Founding and the Saint.

 

Book 1 – First and Only

I believe the title as a bit of a joke as this was the first Black Library novel…and potentially the First and Only!  They picked a good book and author to have first though and obviously the Black Library has produced a hell of a lot of books now.

The book itself would be an excellent stand-alone Imperial Guard story.  We have elements of trench warfare, a blood feud between commanders, the inquisition and a potentially horrifying secret at the end.

The book doesn’t necessarily make you care about the characters as much as any of the other books, but that is understandable with most of the characters being fairly underdeveloped at the time – that is except for Gaunt.  He is front and centre of the book and his past is delved in to, giving you a real idea of why he is who he is, as well as his motivations.

As an introduction to 40k literature, First and Only is a great starting point.

 

Book 2 – Ghostmaker

If First and Only could be a standalone book, Ghostmaker can only ever really be part of a series.  The book takes a different approach to the first, with a series of short stories each about a main character.  The device is clever with interspersed between each story a short section following Gaunt as he wanders the trenches, meets each of the characters and then thinks about their past actions.  It gives the needed the depth to get the series going, with characters that you begin to care about in coming books.  The end story is then more traditional with all of the characters involved and a final interesting twist at the end.  Overall it is a must-read book to get in to the series and begin to care about characters you will start to love over the next few books.

 

Book 3 – Necropolis

Necropolis is one of my personal favourites and I’ve read it numerous times.  The story is essentially a siege, holding out against all hope and numerous tales of heroism.  The story takes place in the city of Vervunhive and is the tale of its war against Zoica, a hive city that is been corrupted by chaos.  The first part of the book doesn’t even feature the ghosts, with the tale being told of the opening shots of the war, with consequences for people throughout the city, from low-born to high-born.  It also looks at the politics of the city and its hidebound approach to tackling problems; this will have consequences later on.  The Ghosts arrive in the next part, with not long after the walls of the city start to be assaulted.  From here on in it is an epic tale of the defenders holding out, whilst Gaunt becomes embroiled in the politics of the city and with his fellow imperial guard commanders.  The final part of the assault on the enemies command centre and the final duels is a fitting finale for the story, with a nice little twist at the end that means the series can continue for a fair while yet.  Overall I love this book and you could legitimately read it as a stand-alone epic siege story, though in the context of the series it is also very important.

 

Book 4 – Honour Guard

Honour Guard begins the second story arc of Gaunt’s Ghosts – the Saint.  The Ghosts find themselves on the world of Haiga where Saint Sabbat originated from; thus its significance to both Imperials and Chaos is huge.  The world has been taken by Chaos and the Ghosts are part of a liberation force.  All goes well until a disaster, leaving Gaunt in disgrace and one final mission to save face.  Events occur that result in another against-all-odds battle and the chance of salvation at the end.

The book sees the introduction of the new Verghast recruits in to the regiment and they are a welcome dose of extra character and colour in to the series.  It also introduces a new commisar, Viktor Hark, who in later books has become one of my favourite characters.  My highlights for this book are the wounded wagon crew, with Corbec and Bragg really shining through, as well as the epic tank battle in the middle section.

 

Book 5 – The Guns of Tanith

The Guns of Tanith takes a very different approach to the previous books, with the focus instead being on the Tanith’s excellent scouting abilities, as well as their fairly unorthodox approach to war.  The story takes place on Phantine, a world where all the cities are above cloud level due to the toxic atmosphere.  This means the only way to attack is from the sky, with obvious potential hazards.  The first half focuses on the assault on Cirenholm, with the Ghosts managing to crack the city due to their specialist skills.  The second half sees small teams of Ghosts being sent in to the enemy stronghold of Ouranberg to assassinate the enemy commander.  There is also an excellent sub-plot with Gaunt being accused of favouring the Tanith over the Verghast’s, with a criminal trial proving the point.  The dynamic between Gaunt and Hark in this is particularly excellent.  For the main story, the use of the small teams gives a real focus on particular characters and really fleshes some of them out, particularly Bonin and Mkoll.   The novel also sees the introduction of the Phantine Air Corps, who get their own spin-off novel in Double Eagle.  Overall it is a good story, if not one of the best.  It does keep the series moving though and is probably most crucial for the story of Larkin and Cuu…

Book 6 – Straight Silver

This book has recently become one of my favourites, with its overriding theme of melancholy particularly appealing.  The Ghosts find themsleves on the world of Aexe Cardinal, where a WWI-esque conflict is taking place.  The conflict has been trench warfare for decades with no real hope of a breakthrough.  The Cardinal command hope that the Imperial Guard can make the difference, though they are seen more as new toys than anything else.  Gaunt finds himself frustrated with how he is subservient to local commanders and that his troops are used as front-line grunts.  He eventually gets the Ghosts used to their strengths but only half of them; one half stays on the front-line and the other is sent to scout out an impenetrable forest.  With the front-line there are some interesting tales with the conflict between Dorden and Gaunt particularly well-done.  There is also a better exploration of certain characters, including Daur, Zweil and Criid, though my favourite here is the local liaison Count Golke.  In the forest it is mainly about the ongoing feud between Cuu and Larkin, but each of the characters in this part get a lot of ‘air-time’.  Gutes is my personal favourite with his war-weariness, but Feygor, Muriel and Mkvenner also being very interesting.  There are no glorious battles in this book but it is an excellent story and exploration of characters, as well as moving forward the story-arc around the Saint.

Book 7 – Sabbat Martyr

Sabbat Martyr brings us back around to a last-stand story, similar in a way to Necropolis.  The Ghosts are on Herodor, where Saint Sabbat has supposedly been re-born again.  As such, this makes the world a huge target for the forces of Chaos and has to be reinforced and defended.  Unfortunately for Gaunt, in charge of the world is Lord General Ludo, who tried to have Gaunt disgraced in Honour Guard.  The Saint initially turns out to be false but during a relatively minor assault by the enemy, she does appear and leads them to victory.  Although the initial attack is beaten off, huge enemy reinforcements appear and wipe out the battlefleet cover, before landing on the planet.  As part of the invasion force there are nine specialists sent to kill the Saint, in mimicry of the nine wounds that originally killed her.  Each specialist moves in but our countered at each turn by the Tanith, until the final battle where treachery occurs and almost succeeds.

This book is a very easy read and shows the Tanith at their best; against all odds but also using their specialist skills.  I particularly enjoyed Milo’s confusion and being taken as a sidekick by the saint, as well as Mkoll’s duel with the Dark Eldar and the Blood Pact Sniper that is beaten at his own game by the Tanith Marksman.  I was also particularly pleased to see the return of Kolea; he was too good of a character to write off so soon.  The book very neatly closes of the story arc of the saint and is probably the final book that I would consider a very easy read.  That isn’t to say the next ones aren’t good, it just means they are more mature, and are probably more rewarding for it.

Book Review – Shrike by George Mann

Title: Shrike

Author: George Mann

Publisher: Black Library

Setting/Series: 40k / Space Marine Legends

Published: 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78496-496-2

Publisher Link

 

Shrike is all about (you’ve guessed it) the Raven Guard Space Marine Shrike.  It looks at Shrike in three stages:

  1. As a line soldier
  2. As Shadow Captain
  3. As Chapter Master

This essentially breaks the novel down in to two novellas and a short story at the end.  The overriding themes throughout each story is the Ork Warboss Gorkrusha and the brotherhood that the Raven Guard share.

 

If I’m being honest, I had never heard of Shrike before or read that much about the Raven Guard beyond novels in the Horus Heresy series.  I bought it though because I fancied something a little bit different and this novel certainly gave that.

 

Thoughts

Shrike was one of those novels that took me a bit of time to get in to but after about 20 pages I was hooked.  Shrike is a really interesting character and it is surprisingly easy to feel empathy for him, unlike quite a lot of space marines.  His actions and thoughts are also surprisingly human; this isn’t a criticism at all, in fact I would say it is a positive.  Too often Space Marines are portrayed as inhuman and perhaps too much.  Although their superior physicality and minds take them a step above humans, it has to be remembered that they were human in the first place.

The empathy and humanity of Shrike makes him (and the novel a lot easier to understand).  I particularly thought the relationship with Shrike’s brothers Corus and Kadus was really well done.  This theme throughout the stories worked very well and tied each piece together.  The flashbacks to the three of them as initiates and the revelation the final flashback makes Shrike’s actions even more understandable.

As for the Orks and Gorkrusha, I can’t say they were portrayed any better or worse than in other novels.  Orks are Orks in the end but the final short story gave an interesting twist on Gorkrusha’s intentions.

 

Memorable Moments (no spoilers!)

  • Gorkrusha fight 1 – with Shrike as a line trooper
  • Gorkrusha fight 3 – with Shrike as Chapter Master
  • All of the flashback scenes with Shrike, Corus and Kadus
  • The interactions between Shrike and Kadus when he is Shadow Captain and then Chapter Master

 

Conclusion

Shrike is a really solid 40k and Space Marine novel.  If you are a fan of the Raven Guard or love Shrike as a character from elsewhere then this a must.  If you are a 40k and/or Space Marine fan I would also give it a go as it is something a little bit different from the norm.  Non-40k fans would probably struggle but I wouldn’t discount it either.

I think the best thing I can say is that Shrike has made me want to know a lot more about the character and the Raven Guard and I will be looking to get some of the other novels and audio dramas relating to them.

 

Further Reading

Thoughts on…The Beast Arises

Throughout a fairly chaotic year for in 2016, one of the best things (books wise) was the regular publication of the Beast Arises series.  It guaranteed me a new book to enjoy each month and I hope the Black Library will do something similar again in the future.

 

The series had some flaws and I know some people found it disappointing but overall, I found the story really good and interesting, particularly considering the difficulty of having so many different authors across the books.  If you were to take the books in isolation then you could find yourself disappointed, but if you instead read them as one continuous story, then it makes a huge difference to your enjoyment; it did for me anyway.

 

If you don’t know already, then the premise is as follows:

  • It is 1,500 years after the Horus Heresy
  • The Imperium believes itself relatively safe
  • The Orks shatter that illusion with a huge invasion of Imperial Space
  • The Orks are more organised and dangerous than ever before
  • Intrigue and politics amongst the High Lords hamstring an effective response
  • It gets a lot worse before it gets better

 

It was quite nice to have the orks as such a major threat in the series, instead of just an annoyance that will eventually be dealt with.  Although the orks are the main ‘enemy’ in the series, what is most interesting to read is the changing Imperium.  I particularly mean with regards to how the High Lords function, as well as other branches and institutions such as the Astartes and Inquisition.  My favourite passages in the book weren’t the huge battles but the intrigue between the High Lords.

 

Many great characters are in the series, but the stars of the show are:

  • Drakan Vangorich
  • Inquisitor Weinand
  • Inquisitor Veritus
  • Koorland
  • Thane

Those five really make the books, with almost all of the main events containing at least one of them.

 

I’m going to read through the series again over the coming months and as I do, I’ll set down a review of each of them on the blog.