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Rate what you Read, or the fight against Necromancy

rate read review books novels black library

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#1
Roomsky

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As I slowly move through my enormous back-log of 40k books, more and more do I come across a work that I wish to share my thoughts on, but is old enough that a discussion thread either no longer exists, never did exist, or is a bloated corpse that I have no desire to resurrect.

 

So, in this act of blatant plagiarism from other forums, have this thread that we may share our thoughts on older books, be they first-time read-throughs or re-reads. Please give the title of your book, and a paragraph explaining your feelings, if you have the time.

 

Now, I'm as much a fan of arbitrary numerical ratings as the next guy, and you are certainly free to use those as well. But for the purposes of fellow forumites, please assign the book in question one of these 4 scores:

 

Must-Buy - should speak for itself

To taste - a book worthy of purchase, but it may be contentious or a little "out there" for some

Diehards only - You think fans of the faction or author might like this

Unreadable - should speak for itself

 

Without further adieu, I'll start things off:

 

Calgar's Siege by Paul Kearney

Well, this was surprising. Normally books like this, which is to say, those without an especially interesting premise, are the sort I drop part-way through the first half. This though, despite in theory being your run of the mill marines v orks tail, kept me invested the entire way through. Kearney strikes a nice balance between reasonable characters and the genre-blindness that allows them to function in the horror that is 40k. The orks are suitably barbaric without losing their cunning brutality, the humies have realistic personalities, and the Ultras are pleasant enough for marines while still carrying that borderline contempt for common humanity. A very fair look at all the factions involved, and prosaically, a joy to read. All that said, the subject matter is nothing new, and fans looking for something with a "point" may be turned off.

 

Arbitrary numerical rating: 7/10, To Taste

 


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#2
nagashnee

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If you define what you mean by old books it may help. 1 year? 5? 10? 10+?

Edited by nagashnee, 18 August 2018 - 05:30 PM.

The Mechanicum Never Deletes Anything.


#3
Roomsky

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If you define what you mean by old books it may help. 1 year? 5? 10? 10+?

 

Anything that doesn't have an active thread on the first couple pages, I'd say. Could be anything from Servants of the Machine-God, which doesn't seem to have one, to something like Enforcer, freshly re-released. I'd say just use your better judgment.



#4
Xisor

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Spoiler: every book ever written, ???/10,To Taste. ;)

Similarly, I've found that "interesting premise" is usually more of a death knell than any other general detail for a book (see: "The Outcast Dead").

Mundane books, such as "Absolutely anyone vs generic Ork/c Warlord N" tend to be,for me and by far and away, the most strangely endearing and compelling novels.

E.g. Almost all of the Imperial Guard series of novels (Straken and Baneblade and Fire Caste included, in my esteem).

Put them beside "Imperial Glory" and "Gunheads". Genuinely excellent bits of "pulp" fiction, and arguably 10x superior (for my tastes) than any given tedious Space Marine yarn.

And I bloody well like those Space Marine yarns.

But wow, the ostensibly less interesting bits invariably surprise me by being damn decent.

----

I suspect it is no surprise to anyone that things you're hyped about - or otherwise invested in - have a riskier aspect to them, but somehow I (and it seems, the generalised we) almost always overlook that sober side of things in our excitement and subsequent disappointments.

But I digress.

---

"Straken", it's bloody good. It's almost certainly not something you think you're interested in ('nothing happening in a cave, with Orks'), but it's just a damn fine read. Great characters, great interactions, great military procedural and look at stuff in 40k.

Arbitrary rating.
Obviously to-taste.
No Primarchs. No Space Marines.

2/10, must buy.
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#5
Manchu warlord

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The Purging of Kadillus by Gav Thorpe.

 

- Diehards only

 

Though the Dark Angels are my favorite chapters, I don't consider myself a diehard.  I bought this book because it ties in with Angels of Darkness and the Legacy of Caliban novels, which I am a huge fan of.  I bought this books because I expected it to be as good (my definition of "good" is likely to be different from other people's) as the other Dark Angels book by this same author.  But I found this book to be rather boring, the action scenes unsatisfying, and was overall unexciting.  However, their are some parts that I really liked and those are the moments/tales of scout-sergeant Namaan, and the trooper Tauno (not sure if that's how you spell it).  The tales of the trooper were nothing fancy and galaxy-spinning, but simply it talks about the life and routine of being a mortal soldier fighting the enemies of mankind in a grimdark universe and knowing their place in it and simply how insignificant they are... yet, there is hope.  Namaan was an all out badass and epitomizes the heroism and altruism of a Space Marine, albeit a scout marine; his death was truly heroic that I did not grieve. 

Though good the tales of these two were, they were - and still are - better off as ideas rather than being written down by Gav Thorpe.  The other scenes from other people's POV were forgettable, and the writing of the book itself is boring.              

 

Arbitrary numerical rating: 6/10 (maybe it's half way between Diehards and To Taste)


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Insult me again, brother, and theoretically I will punch you in your practical face.

 

 


#6
Roomsky

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Inquisitor (Draco), by Ian Watson

 

This book is insane. This is a good thing, a sort of mad macro-community is foremost what I look for in my 40k, and boy does Watson deliver on that front. Apparently the first 40k book ever written, Inquisitor features Squats, space-hulks used as secret meeting places, men who can jump out of tarot cards, and fornicating skyscrapers. Watson’s prose is snappy and his plotting moves at about 600kph, and it’s a lot of fun to read. I don’t think I’d rank it as high as Space Marine, which was everything I ever wanted out of an astartes book; here Watson tends to outright ignore incredibly vital plot elements, but it’s still quite the trip, if you’re into that sort of thing.

 

Must Read (because everyone should read it), To Taste (many people will absolutely not like it)

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: Ian Watson causes the scale to explode in close proximity


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#7
Roomsky

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Gaunt’s Ghosts: First and Only – Dan Abnett

 

Hnnnnnn. This was… not great. Certainly, I don’t hold it against Abnett, it being not only his first “novel”, but also being an ongoing series of shorts strung together into a novel, but I didn’t enjoy it all that much. Neither Gaunt nor his Ghosts came across as all that interesting, the backstory given for the Tanith was humorously brief, and the first ~40% ebing an overlong action sequence did nothing to improve my opinion. Things did pick up once the intrigue started and Heldane showed up, but the other antagonists bordered on caricature. Certainly not the worst thing I’ve read from BL, the prose was alright and there was a lot of creativity on display, but nothing special. I think my GG collection will be starting at Necropolis.

 

Diehards Only

ANR: 4/10


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#8
Tiger9gamer

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Sure, I'll do this... recently re-read my 2nd favorite horus heresy book 

 

Know No Fear - Dan Adbnett

 

This was my third time reading the book, and I gotta say the set pieces are still so damn amazing. I was enthralled by the shipyard destruction scene a few weeks ago just as much as I was when I first picked it up, and the destruction rained down on the planet from it was probably my favorite moment. Still, has some problems like the samus scene, and most people don't like what they did to Ollanius, but personally I enjoyed every bit of it. Also, re-looking at it the ultramarines probably would have been destroyed outright if they didnt have some loyalist mechanicum with them, so the fact my favorite faction played a big role in the victory was fun. This book also made Ultramarines and Guilliman a lot more tolerable in the fluff, and damned amazing in the story. 

 

 

 

This book, Death of Integrity and Dark Imperium is what made me pull the trigger on starting an ultramarines successor chapter, and now I'm going to be painting novamarines for a long while...

 

Must Read

Mechanicus rating of 9/10


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"There is an art to dying, but it is a dying art."

           -Corvus Corax

 

"War is the science of destruction."
 
-John Abbott

 

 


#9
Ishagu

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Dark Imperium:

A well written book that dives into the world of 40k post Cicatrix Maladictum.
The main story revolves around Guilliman and various characters from the Ultramarines chapter as the deal with threats during the Indomnitus Crusade and the events after it has ended. The book features nice set pieces and an insight into the political challenges facing the new Lord Protector. The action set-pieces are nice, but some parts read like advertisements for models, which I didn't particularly like.

Despite some flaws some parts of the book were fascinating to read. It's also a key book in helping to come to grips with the current setting.

Must Read
7.5/10

---

Devastation of Baal:

Thoroughly enjoyable throughout. Fascinating characters and interactions between different and sometimes distant chapters originating from the Blood Angels line. Easy to follow but epic war scenes in Space and on various planets.

Must Read
8/10


Edit:

Lol, I've just re-read the original post and realise this is for older books, not recent ish reads!

OK, I'll throw one out:

Caiphas Cain: For the Emperor

Fun story with likable characters, although I fear it can become formulaic in future novels.
Worth a read as it's an enjoyable time. Not quite as humorous as I was led to believe though future stories in the series might be just that.

To Taste
6.8/10

Edited by Ishagu, 27 August 2018 - 01:40 AM.

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-~Ishagu~-


#10
Roomsky

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Lucius: The Faultless Blade - Ian St Martin

This book needs more attention. It breaks all the rules and succeeds anyway, more than that, it's a real page-turner. It's pure action, but everything is so well paced it doesn't get stale. The protagonists are all monsters, but their cruelty never seems unjustified, they are all addicted and enslaved to their misdeeds. The main character is in and out of universe immortal, but his successes remain meaningful as his goals are independent of his survival. More than that, the cast is memorable, it never succumbs to some of BL's modern sterility, at it gives some more screen time to the DE, always a plus. It's certainly not perfect, the breakneck speed of the actions leaves some situations resolved a tad too quickly, and the walking horror that is the main cast does work against (though again, never defeats) ones' engagement.

 

Must-Read

ANR: 8/10


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#11
Roomsky

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Yarrick: Imperial Creed - David Annandale

Not bad, not bad at all. This is probably the strongest book I've read of Annandale's so far, and it succeeded both in being quite good and being the final proof that I'm just not one for his style (because I've no inkling to read Pyres of Armageddon despite finding this, again, quite good). The cast is diverse and memorable, Yarrick himself is interesting, if more as a concept than a protagonist, and the descriptions of chaos in this book are some of BL's absolute best. I cringed in discomfort on more than one occasion at what the lead cultist was doing to his captives. All that said, the battle scenes were a hair too long, and Yarrick seemed to suffer wounds enough to kill 10 men, and at least once seemed to have all his bones broken then stand up anyway. Good for Guard  or Yarrick fans.

 

To Taste

ANR: 7/10


Edited by Roomsky, 11 September 2018 - 02:03 PM.

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#12
Xisor

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For what it's worth, I'm really enjoying Annandale's Age of Sigmar stuff. (Specifically, his prelude to 'Neferata II', with an enjoyment [with caveats] about the early Realmgate Wars stuff.)

In short: I think a huge area of his stuff is excellent, but I don't entirely care for his battle scenes. His apocalyptic scenes: excellent. But battles, not so much.

And I think that's where his 40k stuff has come undone for me, specifically with Marines - showing Marines wading through enemies isn't what I'm here for. I'm sure plenty readers are, but it's not my preference (as you say, Roomsky).

I'm hopeful that with Warhammer Horror in a few months, Annandale's gloves will come off and the 'necessity' of having par-for-BL's-course fight sequences can be judiciously discarded.

(It's not like all fight sequences are bad, they're just not the bits I tend to enjoy, and some authors seem to have been encouraged/allowed to expand on them in ways I'm less keen on.)

----

I'm still hacking away at the Realmgate Wars myself. There's a lot of good stuff in amongst it, but it's very much of the 2012-2015 period where BL was mandated to 'tie in' very specifically to releases, not to mention being the very first experiments written/published for AoS.

Most bloody shocking, however, is that Guy Haley's managed to have me utterly engrossed in the trials and travails of bloodied Khorne's bloodhound bloodslave bloodpeople and their bloodstories. It's bloody absurd! But also bloody good.

BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD.

Also it's been a huge deal of fun reading some Rob Sanders again. I'm considering a re-read of Sons of the Hydra!
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#13
bluntblade

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Watchers of the Throne
Very good, and one thing I really liked was that it pit a decent bit of work into bigging up the Black Legion.
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#14
DarkChaplain

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@Xisor: Have you reached Wardens of the Everqueen yet? That's where the Realmgate Wars lost me, due to obvious continuity issues and repetitive battles.

It's strange how much better the range has gotten since, to the point where I'm actually considering picking up those omnibuses, even if I wasn't particularly fond of the early Realmgate Wars...

 

---------------

 

Anyway, I just got off a re-read of Ciaphas Cain: For the Emperor, thanks to the new audiobook release. I haven't heard much of Stephen Perring outside of audio drama appearances, but he nails Cain pretty well. What neither the BL site nor Audible tell you though is that he's not the only narrator - I was worried they'd have our Lady Inquisitor's annotations read by Perring as well, but they picked Penelope Rawlins for those, with Emma Gregory for some excerpts within the editorial notes. Great experience, breezed through it in less than 3 days, without making an effort to. It just happened.

 

I pray that they will be recording the rest of the series in the same way, and I'll buy them all. Cain was due a re-read anyway, and this was an expedient and hugely entertaining way to go about it. It's been about 10 years since I last read For the Emperor, and I have to say that it was every bit as entertaining as back then, if not more so.


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#15
bluntblade

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Some further thoughts on Watchers of the Throne; it's nice to see a relatively human Custodian again,and dig into the notion of them as scholars and philosophers. While AD-B mentioned that concept, we hadn't really seen how that comes through before.

Also, the tremendously salty character of Aleya.
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#16
Brother Lunkhead

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Titanicus by Dan Abnett

 

In spite of my love for all things Space Marines and Ultramarines especially (they are Blue you knowmsn-wink.gif) Titanicus is hands down my all time favorite 40K novel and I have not to date found it's equal. It is THE sci fi war novel. It has everything.... great epic titan battles, great heroism, great tragedy, great characters, intrigue, suspense, and war, war, war all weaved together into a marvelously storied tapestry. 

 

When this book was first published I was a book store owner in a military town. I cannot tell you how many war weary vets who's hands I put this book into and eyeing me with suspicion returned to my shop die hard 40K fans. To me that is the real testament to the quality of this novelyes.gif

 

Must Buythumbsup.gif


Edited by Brother Lunkhead, 16 September 2018 - 05:51 PM.

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#17
Roomsky

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A Roomsky Double-Feature:

 

Eisenhorn: Xenos - Dan Abnett

Well, finally got around to this. It's kind of amazing how good Abnett got after being freed from the segmented story formatting that plagued First and Only and Straight Silver, not just in plotting, but in writing quality as well. While I do agree he was perhaps a little too unfamiliar with the setting in FaO, I disagree with the derogatory idea of the Abnett-verse going forward. The setting is appropriately sinister on a grand scale, but billions still live fully non-hellish lives on the small scale. While the book is sometimes meandering, it tends to work in its favor as it gives Abnett a vehicle to introduce fun new concepts for the universe, and the people within it. The characters are of course memorable, though in most places more than a little tropey. It's a personal bias, but I'm also not huge on mono-POV works, dramatic irony tends to make a plot more interesting, IMO. Also not huge on how Chaos hijacks the plot in a book called Xenos, but it only really sticks out when you compare it to the rest of Abnett's works. All in all, fun world building and conspiracy, I definitely see why it's recommended for first time readers.

 

ANR: 7.5/10

Must Read* (Maybe the best 'baby's first 40k')

 

 

Ravenor - Dan Abnett

 

Ravenor is kind of everything I ever wanted out of Eisenhorn. While the plot is again driven by warp taint, it's at least a unique subset of warp shenanigans that's driven more by people than abominations. The cast has a more unique flavor, it's less skittish around the fact that, indeed, humans have sexuality, and the locations and scenarios are even more unique and frightening. While Abnett is usually criticized for abrupt endings, and I agree some certainly are, in many cases I think it's just a by-product of how he writes antagonists. That is to say, a bullet to the head is a rather quick way to kill someone, people are fragile, despite how steeped in menace they may be. Perhaps this is just personal taste, but I also find Inquisitor stories so much more interesting than Guard ones. Love me a good convoluted scheme.

 

ANR: 9/10

Must Read


Edited by Roomsky, 16 September 2018 - 07:40 PM.

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#18
Slan Drakkos

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Might as well make my small contribution. I'm currently finishing the last of the Macharius saga books, so I'll rate them:

Angel of Fire

The first of the books focusing around the incredible military genius known as Lord Solar Macharius, Angel of Fire is a solid, well paced, and most importantly, fun foray into the legend of Macharius. Taking place from the point of view of an ordinary guardsman, the book reads like one of the Ciaphas Cain novels mixed with one of the Gaunt's Ghosts novels. That is to say that there's some very funny moments of levity amidst the backdrop of a legendary hero of the Imerium liberating a world and it's populace of their heritical beliefs/helping them rejoin the Imperium. The characters are all interesting and multifaceted and there are even a few surprises that really interested me. It is a little heavy on the combat side of things, (then again, what Astra Militarum/Imperial Guard/Wall of Guns novel isn't?) but the combat is generally balanced out by the overall character building and world building. We get to see some nice foreshadowing of later events and themes that will be addressed seriously in the following books.

TL;DR: If you want to know why people like the Imperial Guard or just want to know what make Macharius so awesome, pick this up. If you like the Guard already, stop waisting you life and pick this up.

ANR: 7/10
To Taste

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#19
Roomsky

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Helsreach – Aaron Dembski-Bowden

 

Ho ho, :cuss yeah. I’ve spoken before about how I always prefer my marines to have human qualities, rather than just being big humans, and more than anything this book fits the bill. And, as always, the battle itself takes a backseat in favour of exploring the people who fight it, forming a nice thematic arc for Grimaldus coming into his own, while never ignoring the virtues that got him elected to his new position in the first place. Great characters, great themes, and frankly, great action that never overstays its welcome, Helsreach ties with Know no Fear for my absolute favourite out-and-out battle book. I’d gush more, but I like to keep these brief.

 

ANR: 9/10

Must-Read


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#20
Slan Drakkos

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Well, after that unexpected break from the forum, I'm ready to do another review.

Fist of Demetrius

The second of the Macharius saga books kicks off with Macharius achieving yet another semi-flawless victory and reclaiming an ancient relic that's believed to be related to the time when even The Emperor walked among men. This relic quickly brings him into conflict with a warlord that lives to defy the will of Him on Earth.

As the second book of the series, The Fist of Demetrius is expected to continue and expand where The Angel of Fire left off, and boy, does it accomplish that task. The fist of Demetrius introduces us to some new characters, some new locations, and several new themes that will be carried over into the next book, all while keeping with the theme the first book setup (that Mavharius is a night unstoppable Force of nature). The book is still undeniably action heavy, but thankfully, it is properly balanced out by the character/world building, the fascinating viewpoint of more than one character, and the genuine moments of intrigue. If you like The Angel of Fire, then you'll love The Fist of Demetrius.

ANR: 8/10

To Taste

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#21
Medjugorje

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A-D-B: Talon of Horus.

 

Its about our main antagonist is thinking. Its the cut between Horus Heresy and 40k -nothing more to say.

 

ANR : 11/10 must read.


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#22
Bedouin2

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Oh boy, where to begin.. (this may be cluttered due to typing this via mobile, will neaten up later)

Gaunt's Ghost (the whole series) - Dan Abnett

I picked this up simple because of who wrote it. Being a Space Marine fan, I was doubtful of reading about the Imperial Guard. My doubts was replaced with the need of more. Being formerly military, I can appreciate Dan's attention to detail; the struggles, strategy, inner turmoil between units and incompetent commanders. You get so invested in many characters just to have them brutally killed by either deciet or heroic sacrafic. No one is safe, besides Gaunt. All the characters i loved has taken a bit of my soul with their deaths.

I'd recommend the series to anyone.


The Long Night - ADB. (if short stories aren't welcomed let me know and I'll delete)

Ole Sevatar, probably my favorite character in all of the Horus Heresy, and I'm not even a big Chaos fan. Aaron made a fantastic character out of him. I don't want ruin anything about it, but his relationship with the young Astropath is so refreshing to read. I always prefer dialog over just reading about bolters and chainswords in action.

To taste, if all you want is action, then avoid this one.

(will add more later, staring at this small screen makes head hurt...)
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gallery_6494_6331_8260.pngLJcJiF.jpg

 

Black Library Limited Edition Archive  - currently at 90 limited editions, 1st editions and rare OOP books catalogued

 

My 4th Company Raven Guard


#23
Gederas

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Lemme toss this one in here:

The Death of Antagonis by David Annadale

Now, where to start. Well, it was one of the first non-Omnibus novels I purchased (along with Legion of the Damned, I got a But 1 get 1 free coupon from Barnes & Noble) and honestly? The fact that it's about a lesser-known Chapter, and one with a darker background than others due to being of the 21st Founding. The novel, despite being Space Marine-centric, really shows the horrific aspects of a Nurgle plague on the population of a world.

 

The only major complaint is the.... Well, slightly overdone thing with a lot of Chapters. IE: There's a

Spoiler

 

8.5/10: Must-Buy - If you like Space Marines, and want to see something different from the usual suspects (Ultramarines, Space Wolves, Blood Angels or Dark Angels and their successors), get it.


Edited by Gederas, 27 October 2018 - 04:36 AM.

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#24
A Melancholic Sanguinity

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Castellan by David Annandale

 

Well, this is the most "David Annandale" of David Annandale's works that I've read so far - and at this point I remain unconvinced that's a good thing. By now, Annandale is in the lower tier of the Black Library stable of authors for me. I find I don't enjoy his prose, his characters, his plots, or his action scenes.

 

Castellan is the sequel to Warden of the Blade, BL's series (trilogy?) about Castellan Garran Crowe of the Grey Knights. I remember reading Warden a while back and thinking it was "alright." It didn't blow me away, but I didn't hate it. But as I said, I wasn't crazy about the prose, characters, or plot - par for the course with just about everything Annandale I've slogged through. Castellan continues that trend. It's also worth noting that in some ways Castellan is a sort of crossover crisis of several of Annandale's 40k works: functioning as a continuation piece for the characters of his Grey Knights short stories and elements from Death of Antagonis.

 

Chronologically, Castellan picks up almost immediately following the conclusion of Warden of the Blade before using the opening of the Cicatrix Maledictum to conveniently port everything over to the post-GS timeline. From there, they head off to a Chaos-blighted system for more bloodshed.

 

From the getgo, Castellan feels like a bigger novel than Warden, with protracted setpieces spanning solar systems and apocalyptic consequences and daemonic incursions and stop me if you've heard this before. I think this is actually one of the novel's missteps: it loses a lot of focus and the pacing suffers as it gets bogged down in fight scene after fight scene.

 

Castellan was also marketed as a "see what Crowe has been up to since the Gathering Storm" novel, and in that regard it also under-delivers. Besides a cameo from Voldorus and a few lines of dialogue, there's nothing here that really roots it in or explores the post-GS setting. You can't convince me those parts weren't added after the initial draft to update it for the timeline. Does the novel suffer because of it? Honestly, no. In part because it's not the focus, though I'd bring it up as a matter of expectations going in. The other part, unfortunately, is because this novel suffers from plenty of other things.

 

One of the big ones for me is the prose. It could be because I read this and Ruinstorm pretty close together, but Annandale's prose increasingly rubs me like a rusty cheese grater. It lacks flow and rhythm, instead stumbling along on passive-voice narrative like a grade-school intro to how not to engage an audience. His point-of-view voices are nigh-on indistinguishable from one another, relying mostly on tell-not-show sentences to convey what characters feel. Descriptions of what should be unearthly, mind-boggling horror read like technical manuals for cell tower maintenance. The lifeless prose hamstrings action scenes, practically reducing them to the point of, "Guns were fired. Swords were swung. Blood was shed."

 

And boy, are there a lot of action scenes. From beginning to end, Castellan plods from one setpiece to another of apocalyptic, world-ending, daemon-incursion violence. Exciting, right?

 

Wrong.

 

Even leaving aside the prose - which I fully admit is subjective to taste - the constant stream of action scenes is akin to sitting through an orchestra with all its instruments at full blast all the time. It gets old real fast and soon just blurs together into grating noise.

 

This gets further compounded by the fact that I don't care about any of the characters, because functionally there practically aren't any. Most of the Grey Knights in Crowe's force are little more than interchangeable suits of armor that shoot, smash, bludgeon, slice, or hack things in one of the endless combat scenes. Mortals are introduced for all of about three minutes before they inevitably get Annandale'd (more on that later). And Crowe himself?

 

Crowe himself is boring. This isn't Annandale's fault - not entirely. He doesn't help with all the tell-don't show characterization in this novel, and there's only so many "Crowe denied the sword's blandishments" before one's eyes roll backwards with all the force of a torque wrench, but honestly, what else did he have to work with here? At this point, I'm doubtful of Crowe's potential as a novel character, at least as presented by his Codex qualities. What comprises his character? He has the most evillest, baddest, wickedest corruptiest sword (OF ALL TIME, YO!) and he's immune to its temptations, because he's the purest of the purest of the purest of the pu- *BLAM* Get on with it!

 

Sorry.

 

Anyway, Crowe is "utterly immune" to the lures of Chaos. In other words, he has no internal conflict. He is by definition incorruptible and must remain so whilst the studio background presents him that way. Whereas Warden of the Blade at least functioned as an origin story for how Crowe became the Blade of Antwyr's guardian, here he doesn't really have a character arc. Fall of Cadia? Galaxy-rending Warp storms? Return of a Primarch? Meh. He's just here to stab daemons in the face. Yet that's kind of the way he's presented in the lore, so what can you do?

 

I don't know, but throwing him into the plot of Castellan isn't it for me. This book feels like a tired retread of Annandale's previous works - in particular Death of AntagonisWarden of the Blade, his Grey Knights shorts, and Ruinstorm. This one in particular is like a greatest hits collection of his go-to tropes. Chaos subverting Imperial institutions. Planetary and system-scale superweapon constructs that conveniently self-destruct when you stab something in the face. Sorcery capable of doing anything and everything the plot demands except stopping said lynchpin thing from getting stabbed in the face. For me, an issue that repeatedly crops up in Annandale's works featuring Chaos as the antagonist is that the threats get built up to such vast scale and power, while the protagonists spend so much time running around like headless chickens - often unwittingly according to the will of the antagonists (Just As Planned!) - that the resolutions feel unsatisfying, unearned, as if the author was coming up towards the end and suddenly realized he had to tie things off (by stabbing the one thing in the- look, you get it). There's such a gulf between the presented level of the threat and the demonstrated ability of the protagonists that the resolution of the plot feels immersion-breaking.

 

As for how we get to the threats - well, at this point I'm making what I call Rule One for the forces of the Imperium who find themselves in an Annandale 40k work. And that rule is: did a character just get introduced? Are they a ranking member of the Imperial bureaucracy or ecclesiarchy? If yes, go full Commissar and preemptively *BLAM* them for heresy. Seriously. That person will inevitably turn out to be the catalyst for reality :cussting its bowels inside-out and daemons turning you all into meat puppets. If you meet somebody with some kind of civic title in an Annandale work, even if they're a Lord Governor or Cardinal or Arch-Deacon - hell, especially if they're those things - just do us all a favor and shoot them repeatedly in the head. Save yourself - and us - the following hundred pages of, "Guns were fired. Swords were swung. Ichor was spilled."

 

That's not to say that the whole "Chaos corrupts institutions" trope doesn't have its place - that is a big part of what Chaos does, after all. It just feels so overused in Annandale's novels that it's almost a parody of itself, and frankly, poorly executed. Between Warden's "I touched a mask, and now DAEMONS EVERYWHERE" and Castellan's "Oh look Space Marines have arrived - better turn to Chaos right now!" I find that depictions of characters falling to be flat and uncompelling. There's no gravitas or tragedy to it, in part because we spend so little time with these characters that it doesn't mean anything when they go off the deep end. We meet them, they almost immediately make some cataclysmic decision with the seemingly flimsiest of reasons and *bam*, Chaos incursion followed by one drudging action scene after another.

 

Now, to this point I've been coming down pretty hard on this book. I want to make it clear I have nothing against David Annandale personally. I don't know the man personally; I can only remark on how I enjoyed his works. Looking back with some reflection, I'd say that many of my criticisms and nitpicks stem a great deal from my dissatisfaction with the prose. I would have overlooked or ignored many of the issues had the experience been enthralling or immersing. I kept putting Castellan aside because - and I realize this sounds weird, but bear with me - I couldn't forget I was reading a book. It never sucked me into its characters, world, plot, or writing the way some other books have, where you begin a tale and the narrative pulls you in and the next thing you know you're halfway through, it's 2 in the morning, and you're seriously considering "screw it, I'm gonna keep going." With Castellan I kept hitting sentences and paragraphs that pulled me out of the experience, I found myself bored with the constant action scenes, and not invested in the characters.

 

"But Melancholic," I hear you say, "that's your criticism? That it's not a masterpiece? Isn't that a little unfair?" Sure, I'll grant you that. Yet let me make an analogy. First, let's be honest with ourselves: few of the works that BL puts out are literary masterpieces. For the most part, they're pulpy tie-in fiction - and there's nothing wrong with that. It's like... have you ever had a meal at a greasy spoon-esque diner? One of those places that serves breakfast all day, and you know that they don't use exceptionally high quality ingredients, and there are undoubtedly some technical issues with the cooking. Maybe the eggs are a little overdone, the hashbrowns don't have quite the right ration of crisp to soft, or the cheese on the omelet is melted a little unevenly. But you know what, if it was tasty and I enjoyed it, then I don't really care. i have no problem appreciating a trashy meal that fulfills its purpose just fine. However, if it doesn't taste good, then I'm much more liable to notice and take issue with all those technical flaws. At the end of the day, an entertaining read covers a multitude of narrative critiques.

 

So that's where Castellan left me. I didn't entirely hate it, despite the impression I might have given throughout. It was... unmemorable. Whilst reading it I felt no burning urge to get to the next chapter and find out what happens to the characters - and I've already forgotten pretty much all of them. Heck, I'm still not sure I could tell you who Crowe is as a person, and I've read two books where he's supposed to be the protagonist. The prose, as I said, was the real killer for me. Again, I get that's a subjective taste. Would I recommend this book? For the most part, no. It doesn't really develop Crowe's character. It feels tangentially related to anything post-GS at best. That said, if you're a die-hard fan of Annandale's go-to tropes of inexplicable sudden corruption and Chaos superweapons then you might find this one an enjoyable read. For me, that's a pretty big "if", and as the Grey Knights were one of the first factions that really got me into 40k, the fact that Annadale now seems to be the primary author covering them saddens me.

 

ANR: 3.9 mediocre omelets out of 10

Diehards Only


Edited by A Melancholic Sanguinity, 31 October 2018 - 07:15 AM.

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"Crowe himself is boring. This isn't Annandale's fault - not entirely."

Aside: I've a huge amount of time for boring characters being used to tell an interesting story.

That is: characters don't need to be a priori interesting. In the early James Blish Star Trek novelistions, he rams home the point that even maverick starship captains are fundamentally, necessarily, extraordinarily boring people.

Seriously.

The captain should be the most level headed, most tedious, most by-the-book person on the ship. Everyone else can be a specialist character of personality peaks and pitfalls, but the captain?

They need to inspire confidence, and encourage discipline.

In Black Library canon, the overwhelmingly best example is a Ludwig Schwarzhelm in Chris Wraight's "Swords of the Emperor" duology. An agonisingly boring person who is nevertheless hugely readable and deeply engaging Atlas on which to rest the world of the story and plot and an amazing (ly boring) character in his own right.

It's astonishing, and wonderful, and a must read.

Contrast that to the same idea as Raldoron in "Fear to Tread" - famous hero of the Blood Angels, First Captain and 2IC to Sanguinius themself. By the book, rigid, authoritarian but largely respected and venerated nonetheless.

Unfortunately for us, he was a bit dull to read about, and Amit wasn't a contrast as much as the only interesting character to read.

Another contrast is Marius Gage in HH Ultramarine stories. Most people seem to have written him a bit better - a boring character, but with a touch of a twinkle in his eye, and used fairly sparingly to contrast other UM/UM-proximate characters.

Perhaps boring characters are hard to write (Peter Fehervaei attested a hatred of writing Adeptus Mechanicus characters because they were exhausting to write well, and needed immense effort compared to more accessible characters), but be that as it may: it's something I'd love to big-up authors' confidence to be emboldened and encouraged at trying that sort of thing.

And I think that's where I view a lot of my mixed and changing thoughts on Annandale's works: that he's at very least applying effort in that regard. I'm happy to see him keep experimenting and tinkering - even if I know he's not necessarily trying to write a 'crowdpleaser' (well, a crowd-of-Xisors-pleaser)!

----

Reading "Daemonslayer" and re-reading "Malekith" myself. Utter delights. Once again, "Malekith" had me in genuine and inconsolable tears. Not often BL fiction even bothers to try tugging heartstrings, but damn it, Gav Thorpe seems to get me every damn time. I dread to contemplate what I'll be like if he writes some Ulgu/Hysh stories in AoS.

I was honoured to be gifted a copy of "Masters of Stone and Steel" last week, so my re-read of all things Dawi is perhaps going to see me personally - out here in real life - take the Slayer Oath when I get as far as the dafty End Times and their continuations...
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