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Rate what you Read, or the fight against Necromancy

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#76
Roomsky

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Vengeful Spirit - Graham McNeill 

 

This felt like a rushed first draft. There's plenty of good potential for a story in here, but instead McNeill gets caught up in covering so many different events that everything ends up underdeveloped - you have Horus trying to gain power, Loken trying to infiltrate the Vengeful Spirit (and sorting out his feeling with Iacton Qruze of all people), the internal power struggle of House Devine, the Blood Angels and Ultramarines garrisons dealing with their own internal angst, Mortarion suddenly embracing demonology (was there even an explanation for this?), on top of a bunch of red shirt POVs.

 

Yet in spite of all this, Horus' ascension (arguably the whole point for him being on Molech in the first place) is completely glossed over. I get that not everything needs to be explained, but it seems like an odd choice when both False Gods and Slaves to Darkness took the time to explore Horus' relationship with Chaos.  

 

McNeill's is also pretty mediocre at writing action scenes, which is bad when half this book is pretty much bolter porn. He relies too much on lazy adjectives (there was a apocalyptic amount of blood!), and there were also far too many times where I had to reread sections because I couldn't figure out who was doing what to whom.   

 

Good stuff: I thought the House Devine plot line was decently done, and Loken's return to the Vengeful Spirit was handled well enough. 

 

4/10 - Diehards Only 

 

 

Nice review, Vengeful Spirit's always been a frustrating one for me, Mcneill squanders his plot lines by taking on too many, and turns several stories that should be interesting into under cooked mediocrity. Horus is also a far cry from any kind of tactical ability in this one, compounding my personal salt.

 

Daemonology is a pretty great short story by Wraight that seems to have been written as a band-aid fix for Mortarion in VS. Mcneill claims releasing an explanation afterwards was always the plan but I'm skeptical.


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#77
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Path of Heaven also brings some fallout to Mortarion's arc... erm, was that mentioned at all in The Buried Dagger?



#78
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Imo, the daemon sword is set up properly via pharos, but I'll retract that it's necessary. And probably a good thing to skip it

#79
Roomsky

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Gaunt’s Ghosts: Honour Guard – Dan Abnett

 

Probably not as strong as Necropolis, but as the second in the series I actually finished it actually had some impetus behind it. I need to applaud Abnett again in that, like Necropolis, it meaningfully adds to what came before, without really needing to have read it. I liked the balance of action a bit more in this one, though unlike Necropolis I agree the plot was wrapped up too quickly, and the reason for the titular Honour Guard was a bit contrived. As always, Abnett has a great handle on natural dialogue, and the awkward “I hate you but respect you” conversations between Gaunt and Hark were realistically awkward. Overall I was very pleased with it and I’m glad I’m starting to get to know and love the cast.

I wonder when they start dying?

 

ANR: 7.5/10 (perhaps higher for Guard fans)

Must Read


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#80
Gongsun Zan

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Gaunt’s Ghosts: Honour Guard – Dan Abnett

 

Probably not as strong as Necropolis, but as the second in the series I actually finished it actually had some impetus behind it. I need to applaud Abnett again in that, like Necropolis, it meaningfully adds to what came before, without really needing to have read it. I liked the balance of action a bit more in this one, though unlike Necropolis I agree the plot was wrapped up too quickly, and the reason for the titular Honour Guard was a bit contrived. As always, Abnett has a great handle on natural dialogue, and the awkward “I hate you but respect you” conversations between Gaunt and Hark were realistically awkward. Overall I was very pleased with it and I’m glad I’m starting to get to know and love the cast.

I wonder when they start dying?

 

ANR: 7.5/10 (perhaps higher for Guard fans)

Must Read

 

 

"Slightly worse than Necropolis" is where I'd put this book too. I think one of the highlights was the first tank battle, which is the first time the Ghosts felt like an actual military unit. 

 

Good call skipping the first two books - I found Ghostmaker almost unreadable with how repetitive and aimless it was (combining a bunch of short stories does not make a good novel).

 

Unfortunately I think the series stagnates a bit over the course of the next few novels, and doesn't really pick up again until Traitor General. Eager to hear your thoughts on the next few books. 


Edited by Gongsun Zan, 28 March 2019 - 04:33 AM.

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#81
Rob P

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Spear of Ultramar

 

I was overall pretty impressed with this novella.

It has a Heresy feel whilst being a predominantly bolter-porn style book.

I'd argue that this is a near perfect length for this sort of thing.

It was entertaining and intriguing and it was pleasant to see Guilliman suffering (in a manner) against regular marines. There was also just about enough depth to the main characters to get a feel for them.

I'd like to see more of this sort of length and in this £3 off-the-shelf format.

 

Certainly not a must-read, but it works on a bunch of levels. There is enough backdrop to it to convey the relevance of what is going on, but it also works at an entry level. it also work perfectly as the intermediary between the Heresy series and the Siege series.

 

4/5


Edited by Rob P, 05 April 2019 - 06:13 PM.

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#82
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Ahriman: Exile - John French

 

Oddly enough, I read Sorcerer and Unchanged quite a while ago, because the secondary market for this book was absolutely absurd for a few years. I think "flawed gem" fits this one particularly well. The cast is memorable, the plot is interesting and the warp shenanigans are all super cool. It sets up the seeds for later entries very well, and the pacing and action are all quite satisfying. All that said, it's French's first novel-length entry into Black Library canon and it shows. Some of the descriptions could have used restraint, psychedelic imagery still needs some grounding to be comprehensible and not come across as lazily writing the first thing that pops into ones' head. French doesn't quite have Ahriman's voice down yet, Mcneill made him quite distinct (in ATS, at least), but here he could really have been any especially guilty 15th legionary. Astraeos and Carmenta's motivations also come across as flimsy at times, the lengths to which Astraeos goes for the sake of his oath are somewhat unbelievable. Over all, a good read, and a great start for French; he only gets better from here.

 

ANR: 6.5/10

To Taste


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#83
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The First Heretic – Aaron Dembski-Bowden
 
Was a bit worried going into this one – TFH was the second Black Library book I’d read, and until now I haven’t read it since. It’s the book that sparked my love for the universe, and It’s been sitting neatly on a pedestal ever since. I needn’t have worried, the book is still brilliant, and thus far on my re-read remains the best in the series. The sequence of events is just top notch, and proper time is given to each of its big ideas for them to breathe. The 40k theological discussions remain a high point, no small feat as the character work and action sequences are pitch perfect as well. Isstvan V is brilliantly portrayed despite so limited a perspective, and the duel with Corax is savage enough to throw some real tension into the mix, even knowing how both will survive. Argel Tal is of course a favourite, but ADB crams quite a bit of character into the supporting cast, even those with extremely limited screen time. Props for a portrayal of Erebus that shows why everyone bought into his bull:cuss, rather than making shifty eyes and loaded comments at every turn. I can’t find much to really complain about; if I had to be petty I’d say maybe the story could have used more of a denouement, and the non-chronological way the book’s centre played out didn’t add much, for me.
 
Must Read
ANR: 9.5/10

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#84
A Melancholic Sanguinity

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Warlord: Fury of the God-Machine - David Annandale

 

 

After slogging through some of the author's other works, I approached Warlord: Fury of the God-Machine with minimal expectations. In this regard, I was pleasantly surprised. I think this one is among Annandale's stronger works, and for the most part I found it a decently enjoyable read. It doesn't match Titanicus, my personal standard for Titan fiction, but for the most part it gets the job done, albeit with the caveat that one should not approach this one looking for strong characterization, intrigue, or explorations of various 40k themes. Warlord is about Titan combat and the majority of its word count feels devoted to just that.

 

I've stated before how I find Annandale's writing style and prose passive and clunky, and that hasn't changed here. However, in this specific instance, it serendipitously works for the most part. The clunky, inertial rhythm actually turns out to be a pretty good match for bipedal war machines tens of meters tall trying to bring city-leveling ordnance to bear on each other. There's a certain methodical, deliberate pace to a Titan engagement, more akin to a 19th century naval engagement than a 21st century firefight. The way that Warlord's action scenes are written does a good job of conveying the sense that these fights are, from a human perspective, more akin to natural catastrophes than armor duels.

 

I also liked some of the ideas here, though this will dovetail into my criticisms of the book. The summary blurb on the back makes it sound like much of it is about two Titan Legions having to learn how to operate together. This idea has a lot of potential, but unfortunately doesn't receive as much attention as I'd expected. Besides some initial setup and tension, this potential plot thread quickly becomes a non-issue as focus shifts to the battle scenes. The parallel plotlines of an Imperial Guard tank commander and an ecclesiarchal Confessor provide most of the human elements of the story, and their perspectives when Titans are slugging it out further reinforce the immense scale of the battles. Their arcs and journeys form the most compelling parts of the story.

 

In terms of what didn't work for me - well, it's still Annandale prose. That clunky, blocky style that works for Titan combat doesn't do so for much else. This book is also a collection of missed opportunities, in the sense that too much of it is devoted to battle scenes to the detriment of character development and pacing. Of course, this is subjective taste. Warlord at its core is like a loud summer blockbuster film; one partakes for the spectacle and gratuitous explosions, not so much the quality of the script or subtlety of performances.

 

That's a bit of a shame, because Warlord has interesting but underbaked ideas and plotlines I'd have liked to see further developed. The rivalry and culture clash between the Titan legions just sort of fizzles out - but more cripplingly it's sabotaged almost from the get-go by presenting the face of one Legio, the Imperial Hunters, as a retarded inbred aristocratic twit with the strategic sense and leadership skills of a lobotomized chimpanzee. As a result there's not really any tension or dynamic or investment on the part of the reader. I never found myself caring about the Legios working their differences out because one of them was so cartoonishly buffoonish that it was nigh-impossible to see them as anything but caricatures.

 

The protagonist Legio, the Pallidus Mor, receives a bit more treatment and has hints of an interesting history. Sadly the characters are also shortchanged by the incessant focus on titanic (ba-dum-tish!) battles and apocalyptic occult rituals. Various Princeps and Moderatis come in a blizzard of names but no personalities attached to them, with no development or exploration, and that just makes it hard to care when Titan reactors go critical.

 

Krezoc, The Princeps Senioris of the Pallidus Mor and one of our protagonists, is also a missed opportunity - although she at least gets some characterization. Again we get glimpses of potential, but the battles keep getting in the way and she defaults to a flat, two-dimensional non-person of grim determination and "room only for the cold necessities to come." It's the same stuff I've encountered in Annandale's works again and again: his characters slipping into this archetype. Crowe, Setheno, Styer, Furia, even his Sanguinius and Guilliman. This all gets exacerbated by the writing style, wherein we don't experience characterization through the emotions, thoughts, and viewpoints of said characters; the narrative voice says so through dry exposition. As a result characters end up feeling indistinct from each other.

 

This, I realize, is part of a larger trend of criticisms I've had towards Annandale's 40k works. He obviously has a passion for... call it occultic or spiritual horror, inspired by Lovecraftian imagery if not always the heart of those themes. Point is, dude likes his monsters, creature features, and Big Bad Things Happening. But the characters, the people, so often come across as flat, insubstantial, or caricatures that those things lose much of their impact. Horror is horrible when it happens to people we care about.

 

Back on topic, I found Warlord overall to be fine. It's perfectly readable and brings some interesting ideas to the party. It is definitely a battle-scene-centric book, and manages to pull them off in a decently enjoyable manner. Unfortunately that does come at the cost of characterization and developing the rivalry between the Legios. In a sense, the biggest criticism I have of Warlord is that it's like a weaker Titanicus, not able to balance action, character work, and intrigue with the same adroitness. However, that doesn't make it flat-out bad. Warlord is not an instant classic that leaves its mark on the field of 40k fiction, but I appreciate David Annandale's attempts to add some depth to what could easily have been just "giant mechs blow things up for 250 pages" novel. Whilst ultimately disposable and a bit unmemorable in its plot, it's a decent enough read when it hits its stride.

 

 

To Taste

ANR: 5.8/10


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#85
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Gaunt's Ghosts: The Guns of Tanith - Dan Abnett

 

Firstly, I think I have to retroactively doc another half rating from Honourguard for how little this book acknowledges its aftermath. I gave it the benefit of the doubt that we would learn more in TGoT, Gaunt's vindication would have been a great and very satisfying finisher, or starter, but its barely even hand waved in this one.

 

The Guns of Tanith was a bit of a mess. Don't get me wrong, I still quite liked it. The characters continue their journey in a satisfying way, and the murder subplot was tense and kept me gripped the whole way through. The setting for the action, too, was really neat. Abnett certainly knows his world building and scene-setting.

 

But man, Abnett's aerial combat does not do it for me. The whole mad scramble the book started with was just mind numbing, with weak descriptors and an overly frantic pace describe a bunch of pilots I don't care about. Once we hit the platforms the action is fine, and props for its occasional grotesquery, but somewhat soured by its setup. I personally found the most interesting stuff to be the case against Caffran, so I was disappointed that it started being crowded out toward the end by another action sequence.

 

Slaith was a missed opportunity for a great villain; he's a preacher! Have him voxcasting and pontificating more often and he'd be much more menacing. Even with a particular character's death at the end, which was well done enough, I still felt the big names were more than safe throughout.

 

The positives are the usual Abnett Ghosts fair and they certainly outweigh my issues, but they're felt much more heavily here, foremost because I thought the book was leaning too much on the lesser plotline.

 

To Taste (but probably a Must Read if you're this far into Ghosts)

ANR: 6.5/10


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#86
Gongsun Zan

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John French - Slaves to Darkness

 

This is a rather odd book. I don't think there's any other book in the HH that is so dedicated so developing a singular theme (the exploration of personal choice vs being a slave to a greater power). Minus some subpar action scenes, I think French explores that theme very well (and it is a topic deserving of plenty of discussion), but the reason I can't rate this book higher is because it just doesn't connect to the rest of the HH. It is not French's fault, but I think Maloghurst, Ekaddon and Kibre would have been served a lot better if there was an earlier book setting up their motivations. But the main problem goes back to Vengeful Spirit: thanks to McNeil's decision to skip Horus' dealings with the Chaos gods, French now has to go back and retroactively set up that plot line and resolve it in the same book.  

 

So I think it's book that I think all fans of Chaos should read, but I really wish that it had a better foundation to build upon. 8/10

 

Some further musings on Horus:

 

Spoiler
 


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#87
DukeLeto69

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So I have been having a bit of a Horus Heresy binge. I am waaaaaaay behind because I only buy HH in MMPB (the Siege of Terra books will buck that trend for me, so will probably finish reading HH main series around the time I am finishing the SoT mini series!)

Garro = hmmm I find it hard to really enjoy the Knights Errant stories because I just don't like the premise. It goes against everything I believed about the setting. We know warp travel is difficult and takes a long time. You need big BIG ships to cross the Galaxy. The Ruinstorm is supposed to make it even harder if not impossible. Yet Garro and Gang whizz here and there unimpeded! Need to pop to Calth, no problem. Need to infiltrate the vengeful Spirit above Molech. No problem. Etc etc. It feels too much like a Star Wars story rather than HH. Not badly written, but as I said, cannot get past the premise.

Shattered Legions = mixed bag but generally solid set of short stories. I do like the premise of the shattered legions fighting a guerilla war.

The Crimson King = I so wanted this to be good but alas Graham McNeill really is hit and miss. Thousand Sons was an awesome book but I found this a slog and started flicking through some sections.

Tallarn = Loved this. Great book(s). Was left a bit frustrated by the lack of resolution or explanation about the "thing beneath the sand" although I understand this is known about in GW fluff. However, good solid story telling.

Ruinstorm = surprisingly good. Being Annandale I was cautious going in. I haven't really liked (not disliked but not liked) any of his books and certainly wouldn't rush to buy. However, I really enjoyed this. Was probably the most "horror" like book in the HH series (as suits Annandale). Again though the premise was a bit difficult (mainly because it didn't fit with my head cannon so more me than the author) as I expected to see each of the Primarchs "attack" the Ruinstorm in their own ways more and then try to forge a path to Terra.

Edited by DukeLeto69, Yesterday, 09:18 PM.

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#88
Roomsky

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Garro = hmmm I find it hard to really enjoy the Knights Errant stories because I just don't like the premise. It goes against everything I believed about the setting. We know warp travel is difficult and takes a long time. You need big BIG ships to cross the Galaxy. The Ruinstorm is supposed to make it even harder if not impossible. Yet Garro and Gang whizz here and there unimpeded! Need to pop to Calth, no problem. Need to infiltrate the vengeful Spirit above Molech. No problem. Etc etc. It feels too much like a Star Wars story rather than HH. Not badly written, but as I said, cannot get past the premise.

 

That's probably the biggest issue I have with the Garro stuff. His arrival at Calth just raises so many questions, how anyone even knew that was happening in time to arrive while the fighting was still happening is beyond me. I don't usually mind inconsistencies like that but the lack of apparent difficulty in travel undermines so many narrative points in the series its hard to overlook.


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#89
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The biggest issue with it isn't even Calth, to me. Grey Angel was the most :cuss-story in the Knights Errant arc, due to revealing the treachery on Caliban to Malcador *years* before the Siege, introduced some elements about Luther and co that later needed to be retconned and now jar with Descent of Angels and Fallen Angels, and we get a tease of Cypher without ever finding out about it again or having the whole thing referenced in future Caliban stories to date.

 

That story revealed something that was supposed to be secret to the Imperium to begin with, and covered up for 10 millennia to come by the Dark Angels, and in the end had no real impact on the ongoing narrative either which way.


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#90
DukeLeto69

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@Roomsky @DC lol not just me then! Personally I feel this is the sort of problem you get when you have an author (James Swallow) who is so active writing in other IPs - ideas cross pollinate without a total immersive approach to the uniqueness of the setting. Dan Abnett (my personal fav BL author) is sometimes also a bit guilty of this.

#91
Jareddm

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Perhaps because I listened to most of the Garro series in audio form one at a time as they were released and then skimmed the novel, but I found with the separate audio releases there was a sense of time passing between each event.  That each was separated by a solid 9-12 months of preparation and travel.  The novel doesn't really capture that with the small vignettes between the separate stories.



#92
DarkChaplain

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I'd agree with that. It most certainly needed more bits and pieces to connect the individual episodes, rather than presenting them like one fluid narrative. It's not like that sense of time passing between chapters can't be achieved - I'd say Titandeath is a prime example of conveying that sense of scale and grinding warfare - but a rather personal character arc like Garro's, based around separate short stories or novellas, needed more stitches to make a greater whole fit for a novel release.

 

The most frustrating thing to me is that the tools for it are all in the book. The book opens and ends with some narrative bits about Nathaniel Garro, first martyr and what not. It is set up like one of the Eisenstein remembrancers (maybe even Kyril Sindermann himself, seeing how his fate ends up and where he is at the time of the Siege) is going to tell the reader/an unseen audience about Nathaniel Garro, and then never actually follows up on it until the very end, when the book is over.... by saying barely anything at all, because by the time you reach that postscript, you've already forgotten that there was one similar section at the start.

 

Swallow introduced this element to the novel, but then didn't fully utilize it throughout. He could have interstitials like these between the different episodes we knew, expanding on them and adding further top-down context. He could have told us about the other Knights Errant Garro recruited between audio dramas, their roles, maybe even some personal bits of dialogue the narrator witnessed, some things Garro said to him, a whole row of anecdotes... but nothing of the sort happened. As a result of that lack, and the lack of clear identification, the preacher's connection to Garro (which he specifically brings up) rings hollow. It's a wasted few pages, when they could have been what ties the entire book together.

 

In my opinion, turning Garro's audio dramas into a novel of this caliber was a mistake. It would most assuredly have been a cleaner experience as an anthology, with clearly-labeled stories, and potential intersitials like we've seen before, like with Mark of Calth. The mere existence of numbered chapters alone muddles the whole thing, with little to no gain as a work of fiction. I firmly believe that it would have worked as a stitched-together novel, but only with the proper thought and suitable stylistic treatment to patch up the holes in the narrative without rewriting things drastically.

 

I love the Garro dramas particularly well, not least of all because of Toby Longworth's performance as Nathaniel, but I no matter how I look at it, I don't think James Swallow brought the proper degree of diligence to the project, and it diminishes one of my favorite overall arcs in the series, rather than adding anything substantial to it. The changes and additions are so minor, they might as well not exist, so the creative effort here feels especially low. It's more like a mandatory project the author wanted to get off his desk, rather than a work of passion, at least as far as the novel edition is concerned. And seeing how Swallow is one of the few authors who regularly went beyond the usual length of a Heresy novel, I can't believe he wouldn't have gotten the go-ahead for one of the series' fan-favorite signature characters to get some more entirely new content in this book, even if it added another 100 pages...

 

But that's kind of the vibe I've been getting from Swallow for a while. The Buried Dagger appears like a project he had to do because he had dibs on the first Death Guard novel and needed to wrap up the Knights Errant arc, and seeing his comments about having the Sanguinius Primarchs novel, while not even having an idea for it at one of those events... I'd rather see him do something weird like Nemesis again, which may be divisive but still ooze a good deal of creativity and passion, than another Garro or The Buried Dagger, where he's only going through the motions because publisher and readers expect his name on the tin of a particular storyline.


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#93
DukeLeto69

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@DC great post and agreed. The whole Knights Errant thing has opened up lore problems for me. As per my comment above I dont like the ease with which they appear to zip around the galaxy. But also...

1) If Garro travels to Calth then he witnesses the Word Bearers betrayal of Ultramarines. This takes away the fear, uncertainty and knowledge about the status of UM as far as Terra is concerned. Not knowing if UMs have joined Horus or been destroyed created a good bit of dramatic tension. However, Garro and Rubio know so Malcador knows so...the status of UMs no longer a mystery!

2) The Ruinstorm cut galaxy in half preventing astropathic communication or travel for loyalists. Great premise only...Garro and Gang can ignore that (yes Deathfire / Ruinstorm but at least both books showed how hard breaking through that was).

3) combined with ruinstorm stopping astropathic comms for loyalist - how come Malcador and Garro’s Gang know to travel to Molech and infiltrate Vengeful Spirit? This might be head cannon but surely part of the dramatic tension in HH is the loyalists not knowing when/where Horus and his allies will strike next (as well as not knowing who remains loyal). That creates great dramatic opportunities back on the “home front”. If they know Horus is at Molech then send a force to destroy him! Offence rather than defence?

Anyway...

MODS I know we may be possibly going off topic of old book reviews but PLEASE DONT DELETE these posts as lot of thought been put in. If you would prefer us to set up a Knights Errant thread to continue this then please let us know. Thanks

Edited by DukeLeto69, Today, 07:27 AM.

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