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Rate what you Read, or the fight against Necromancy

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#201
Lord_Caerolion

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That's always been the case with the Guard though. It feels like that no matter where the events are taking place, it's always the Cadians who take part, etc. This one at least remembers that other major regiments exist.


"And then Horus landed on the Moon, which looked like the moon. Funny that, isn't it?"


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#202
aa.logan

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That's always been the case with the Guard though. It feels like that no matter where the events are taking place, it's always the Cadians who take part, etc. This one at least remembers that other major regiments exist.


True, but it’s only usually just one regiment. Here, there’s three or so all on the same bulk hauler. It just didn’t sit right with me.

I want my super massive bunkhouses/cathedrals/spaceships that traverse hell to be plausible, damnit.

#203
Roomsky

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Praetorian of Dorn - John French

 

Another novel that is pleasantly just as good even the second time through. All the usual French goodness is there: atmospheric writing, a great understanding of the setting, and lots of intriguing faction identity and multi-layered plotting. What I'd like to draw special attention to is that, much like the earlier books in the series, this is a two-legion split, but unlike most of those, is a satisfying read for both sides and tells you everything you need to know about each faction. It would be like if Fulgrim were 60 pages shorter while simultaneously having the Iron Hands be competent and interesting, it's really quite impressive. As for that divisive death at the end, upon a second read it didn't bother me at all. I feel it was generally approached with far too much out-of-universe bias to really be fair at the time of release, most confusion seemed to lie around power scaling (something the characters would not view as we do) and the opacity of the Alpha Legion's plan. But either as a decapitation strike for the Fists or as an attempt to sway them with info about Chaos, I find it perfectly fine. It also gives a lot of insight into the Selenar, and sets up their choices in Solar War quite nicely. My only minor complaints are that the ork-fightan scene midway through is far too long, and that the epilogue's unambiguity wasn't really very sporting.

 

Must Read

ANR: 9/10

 

 

Ragnar Blackmane - Aaron's Denim-Brontosaurus

 

Really enjoyed this second time through, not entirely sure why I was luke-warm on the first read. Also not really sure why people say Aaron has a Chaos bias when stuff like this exists, his Space Wolves are consistently awesome without ignoring their flaws. The Wolf culture is great. The Flesh Tearers culture is great. The Dark Angels are far more than a miserable pile of secrets. The pacing is snappy and the fightan is extremely varied. The main cast is all well fleshed out and the texture it adds to the battle of Cadia is a welcome addition. All in all, very solid, but if I had to nitpick I can't help but feel the brisk length and pacing leaves a few ideas undercooked, such as the payoff for the Flesh Tearers plot almost feeling like a hand wave, or the resolution with the Dark Angels coming about perhaps a little easily. I'm not sure if that was due to limitations for writing around King's continuity with the character or if it was something else.

 

Must Read

ANR: 8/10

 

 

Other notes:

  • Listened to First and Only so I was finally able to make it all the way through. I still think it's bad, I only care about the cast retroactively, having read the rest of the series, there is very little to latch on to for an introductory tale. It's also very goofy and extremely messy. As always, I don't lay all the blame at Abnett's feet considering it's a glorified compilation of shorts.
  • Tried to read Ciaphas Cain: Choose your Enemies. People really weren't kidding when they said Mitchell just writes the same book over and over again. On top of that, while they're a wonderful listen thanks to the voice acting and general smarm, I don't find Mitchell's writing very compelling at all. Didn't bother to finish.

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#204
Gongsun Zan

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Spear of the Emperor - ADB

 

ADB has written some of my favorite BL books in recent years, but I struggle with all of his first-person works.

 

I found most of the characters in this book to be rather soulless and unrelatable, but I am not sure if it was intentionally done to portray how detached a Space Marine and his serfs are from baseline humanity. It's fascinating in the way of a codex or documentary, but it never felt gripping or engaging as a story. 

 

From a narrative standpoint, a lot of it also just felt like "and then stuff happens", with no real momentum or purpose.

Spoiler

 

No rating from me - I didn't hate it, but I didn't enjoy it either. Maybe I just didn't get the point of this book. 


Edited by Gongsun Zan, 11 December 2019 - 05:01 AM.

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#205
byrd9999

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Dante - Guy Haley

 

This is how you write a backstory for an important character. Great storytelling, great lore nuggets and it doesn't get bogged down in bolter porn. Action sequences are dramatic and limited to one or two scenes before moving on again.

 

I wasn't a huge fan of the Blood Angels before I read this book, but I was very interested in how Guy Haley told the story of induction into the legion and how they deal with the Red Thirst and Black Rage through their meditation and art. I like how different chapters like the Flesh Tearers were featured as well, and they had their own flavour and tension between the chapters.

 

Guy Haley is becoming the master of the current state of 40k. Not only is he a quick writer, he has such a good grasp on how to pace a story and how to develop characters in this setting.

 

I'd love someone to do this for the Thousand Sons.

 

9/10.


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#206
Gongsun Zan

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The Carrion Throne - Chris Wraight

 

Possibly the most 40k-ish book I've read this year, as though somebody at BL was worried about the complaints that 40k was losing its grimdark aesthetic, and instructed Chris Wraight to capture the ridiculousness of the 3rd Ed artwork in prose. The Carrion Throne is suffocating, claustrophobic, and is at its best when it pauses to capture the horrors of day to day life on Terra. After reading this, I'm really excited to see how Wraight tackles the siege. 

 

There's also a story about an inquisitorial investigation in there too, which starts a little slow and then turns into a series of rapid reveals and counter-reveals. It's ok, and the characters are interesting enough to  care about, but I think the book could have been paced a bit better to tease out more of the mystery before the pay-off. 

 

Overall, I think it's a good book, but I think how much you would enjoy it would depend on how much you enjoy the setting as a whole - I wouldn't really recommend it as a standalone introduction to someone new to 40k.  

 

8/10 - to taste. 

 

 


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#207
Jareddm

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In honor of finally cracking open my copy of The Victory Part 1, I decided to give this little collection a read first.

 

Sabbat Worlds Anthology

 

Apostle's Creed - Graham McNeil 

 

A follow-up to Abnett's Double Eagle, I have a feeling I might've gotten more out of this had I read that one first.  Larice Asche, of the Phantine XXth Fighter Corps earns a spot among the incredibly prestigious Apostles.  But she finds a stark difference in outlook from what she's used to.  The Apostles emotionally detach themselves from everything to keep themselves the best.  No friends, no camaraderie.  Not even among themselves.  There are missions and there is recovery from missions, and Asche has to learn how to deal with this.

It's a bittersweet story, and as someone who has not enjoyed Mcneil's recent works at all lately, this was a refreshing read.

 

8/10

 

The Headstone and the Hammerstone Kings - Matthew Farrer

 

A graveyard of war machines is being broken down by a mix of Mechanicus and local reclamation teams.  But the Archenemy had control of this world for a long time, and some of their Woe Machines have begun to be worshiped as gods by local rebels.  There's some cute back and forths among the local branches of the Imperium and a good perspective character in the form of Priest Adalbrect.  I enjoyed the local culture that was layered over both the Imperial and chaos influences.  The descriptions of the various Woe Machines were also pretty cool and reminded me of a time when not every vehicle needed to have a matching model.  That said, the overall story didn't do too much for me.  It was okay, but wasn't as memorable as I would've liked, and the ending was pretty easy to predict.  While I wasn't in love with it, it really makes me want to give the Shira Calpurnia novels a try.

 

7/10

 

Regicide - Aaron Dembski-Bowden

 

Boy, reading this one now, you can see all the patterns.  A story told in flashback by a prisoner, the fast-paced prose and mental quips.  A telling of the deaths of both Warmaster Slaydo and Archon Nadzybar, as witnessed by one of his bodyguards.  It should be no surprise that every character feels fleshed out, the pacing is strong, and there's a nice surprise at the end.  Maybe a little more with with the Blood Pact torturer and the Archon could've been done.  Not much more to say about this one that wouldn't apply to almost every other ADB story.

 

9/10

 

The Iron Star - Dan Abnett

 

Apparently other people's copies of The Lost came with this story.  Mine didn't, but I read it separately from the anthology, knowing it was essentially a prologue to Blood Pact.  It might be one of Abnett's most surreal stories, as it's essentially one big fever dream.  A good departure from prior portrayals of Gaunt and the Tanith.  The feelings of confusion and exhaustion are real, and make the reason for their rotation to reserve feel meaningful.  I can't imagine jumping into Blood Pact without having read this.

 

8/10

 

Cell - Nik Vincent

 

A very different story from any I can remember in 40k.  It pretty much superimposes a classic story of the resistance in Nazi-occupied France into 40k.  The various resistance cells felt a little flatter than I'd like, and the pacing just felt off.  The ending especially just felt...weird.  I can't pinpoint exactly what I didn't like about it, other than it just left a crummy taste in my mouth.

 

6/10

 

Blueblood - Nick Kyme

 

Major Regara's Volpone Bluebloods get a punishment assignment to a dusty promethium depot, where a strange chaos malady has begun to take hold of some of the regiments, with the exception of the Bluebloods and the Kauth Longstriders, a feral regiment that makes the Tanith look like aristocrats.  I've said it before, but I love how Nick Kyme writes :cuss characters.  Both Regara and his Liutenant Culcis are such stuck-up dicks.  At the same time, they show some real competence when they're not being obsessed with dress regulations.  The plot felt incredibly transparent, with the exception of the actual cause of the malady, which just had me shaking my head and saying, "What!? How!?"  Kyme's prose also isn't outstanding, but I still think it shines most in these shorter formats.

 

7/10

 

A Good Man - Sandy Mitchell

 

In the wake of Necropolis, Verghast is swarmed with an army of Adeptus Terra officials to rebuild and restore order to the various hives.  This is the story of one such Administratum functionary that gets swept up in a criminal investigation of missing people, refugees, and the most terrible of Administratum heresies, data tampering.  It's an excellent small-scale story that gives a good show of what can happen after the war moves on from a place, and the Imperium has to take the reins of local government.  I especially like to contrast it with some of the new lore we have from Necromunda, where the Imperium is kept at arms-length as much as possible.  I feel the use of first-person narrative was a little clunky, but overall I really enjoyed it.

 

9/10

 

Of Their Lives in the Ruins of Their Cities - Dan Abnett

 

A story of the Ghosts way back in the beginning, still on Voltemand.  Gaunt is only just getting his bearings with the Tanith and there's pretty rank disregard for him from all of them.  Nice to see all the old faces, and even a couple I had forgotten.  Seeing Gaunt so unsure of himself and even contemplating a transfer was interesting as well.   It was a fun, and slightly pandering story, though the prose felt a little looser than Abnett's regular form.

 

8/10


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#208
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Ghostmaker: Dan Abnett

 

Thank you again Audible for helping me through the rockiest part of GG. Contrast First and Only, however, this was a pleasant surprise. Focus is on the cast, where it should be, and I will admit that you do miss out on a bit of Bragg and Corbec's character if you skip this one. I enjoyed the vignettes, and while I would have preferred it just be an anthology because the framing story was quite clumsy, it is at least not pretending to be a coherent through-narrative like First and Only. Most of the character shorts are exactly as long as they need to be, and it gives Abnett the opportunity to vary the set-pieces quite effectively. That said, I'm not sure if I would have cared as much if I hadn't read the rest of the series first, I enjoyed it more as a supplement rather than a mainline entry. The framing story is the book's biggest weakness, barely existing between shorts before taking over the last two chapters in some of the most unbelievable feats I've read out of a Guard book. Equally unbelievable is Rawne not getting shot for the blatant, murderous :cuss he pulls throughout.

 

Diehards Only - I still recommend people start on Necropolis, despite enjoying this more than I thought I would

5.5/10


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#209
Gongsun Zan

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The Hollow Mountain - Chris Wraight

 

This felt like one of those sequels where it's one step forward, but two steps back. There are certain scenes and character moments that well surpass the first book, but the plot as a whole is a lot weaker (the whole setup to go to the Hollow Mountain stands out as particularly unsatisfying). Some of the major battle scenes also stretch on for far too long in what felt like a book that already felt short of content - I think the problem with these extended fights is that there's no real tension since we know the main characters are never in real danger (especially in Book 2 of a trilogy), and watching nameless inquisitorial goons die just has zero emotional impact on the reader.    

 

I'll give this a generous 7/10, but that comes from having plenty of legwork done by the first book. As a standalone I'll probably drop it to 6/10. 


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#210
A Melancholic Sanguinity

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Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker - Steve Parker

 

 

When the theater advertises Zero Dark Thirty, but then shows The Expendables. Steve Parker’s follow-up to 2013’s Deathwatch, Shadowbreaker is a strangely long, bombastically stupid ‘cinematic’ work that drags on, goes nowhere, develops no one, and soars past the limits of suspension of disbelief like an Ork riding a cruise missile, waving a choppa in each fist because it’ll get him into the fight faster.

 

Actually, I take that last one back. It’s too believable for this book.

 

Shadowbreaker also showcases some of the most bizarrely bad writing I’ve read recently from Black Library. Everything from prose to characterization to plotting to pacing to tone to set-ups and pay-offs – so many things are just or or wrong that reading this one legitimately felt like some kind of mind trip, like I was a character out of something Lovecraft might have written, staring at some monolith constructed from non-Euclidian angles and gradually losing my sanity.

 

Hell, just for that reason alone I’m tempted to recommend this as some twisted social experiment.

 

Alright, where to begin? Let’s go back to the first book, actually. I remember quite liking Deathwatch when it first came out, though I haven’t revisited it for a long time now. I remember generally enjoying the cast – it was a group of derivative, adventuring party-esque Space Marines who didn’t all get along but had to learn to work together for the sake of the mission. Nothing groundbreaking, but it all worked together. There were some memorably creepy scenes of genestealer cults in operation, and some of the highlights of Deathwatch were the looks at how the organization itself worked to integrate diverse individual Space Marines from different Chapters and backgrounds into a cohesive unit. Parker went hard at the Deathwatch as Special Forces angle, and brought in lots of modern military lingo – or at least the way pop culture seems to conceive of it. Think “operators operating operationally" and such, all “On my mark” and “Tango down” and all that. I was ambivalent about it then – I thought it equally interesting and out of place – and this one has done much to shift my position.

 

Shadowbreaker follows the same team as before – Talon Squad – this time tasked with retrieving an Inquisitor who’s gone missing on a Tau-held planet. Shenanigans and violence ensue. Again, nothing that hasn’t cropped up in any number of action-adventure stories, and the meat is all about the inevitable complications and twists that arise and how the protagonists must adapt to changing circumstances to accomplish their mission. Shadowbreaker is very much a plot-driven story, not a character-centric one. The engine propelling the narrative is always the next thing that happens, not the reactions or development of who those things are happening to. Also pretty standard stuff for pulpy action-adventure tales. We will revisit this. Talon Squad is inserted into Space Iraq alongside an Ordo Xenos storm trooper team and must coordinate with the local jihadis to locate the Inquisitor and extract her under the assumption that she’s being held prisoner and the need to prevent Ordo Xenos secrets from falling into Tau hands. Of course, things aren’t quite that simple and much fighting happens.

 

From the get-go, Shadowbreaker makes a misstep in this regard. The first five – arguably six – chapters have no bearing on any of the ensuing story. None of the characters or events matter – hell, most of them are dead within the first few chapters. There’s torture, betrayal, suicide bombings, guerilla warfare, clandestine inter-agency shadow warfare, stakes established, scenes set for – zip. Nada. There’s no payoff, no impact on anything that follows. You could tear the first 50 pages out and it wouldn’t change the story – if anything, it might improve the pacing, leave us with a tighter, more focused narrative. Because everything at the beginning are self-contained snippets, we the audience and Talon Squad end up desynchronized on plot info; by the time Talon Squad appears, we already know all this information about the initial situation, and thus have to sit through exposition and setup for what we just read not twenty pages ago. It’s a waste of some of the genuinely compelling worldbuilding in this book.

 

Things go further downhill from there. Once Talon Squad and storm trooper buddies are in place, Shadowbreaker devolves into a continuous series of action scenes that get increasingly ludicrous and over-the-top to the point of self-parody in their absurdity. The kill-team takes on hundreds of Tau soldiers, waltzing through attack craft strafing runs with nary a scratch whilst mowing through dozens of Fire Warriors who seem awfully fond of running in with no regard for cover or tactics. There’s no sense of tension or stakes. Now, I’m not one who minds depictions of Astartes on the higher end of the power scale, but this was just incredibly silly. It’s a degree of personal preference, but I think some methods of doing so are more effective than others. The way it’s done in Shadowbreaker is not one of them. Trying to make your protagonists look good by writing the antagonists as blithering morons only makes everyone come off the poorer. Both the Imperium and the Tau would have come across much better had both been tough, smart, and competent.

Additionally, the action scenes are written like they’re straight out of 80s action movies – or perhaps Marvel films, for a more recent comparison. Characters toss out one-liners and trade banter in the midst of the action, running kill tally competitions and ribbing each other over not accomplishing their objectives faster. Now, this is another of those devices that I have no fundamental objection to. It works, much of the time. Unfortunately, Shadowbreaker is not one of them, at least for me. This isn’t so much due to the content of the banter so much as the metatextual context around it.

 

First, it just makes the long and numerous fight scenes even less believable and less impactful. Allow me to develop that Marvel movie comparison a little further. Specifically, each fight involving the Deathwatch feels like the opening fight in Avengers: Age of Ultron – the one where our heroes tear through crowds of Hydra mooks while snarking and joking the whole time. The thing is, that sequence had a specific purpose: to introduce the characters and showcase some of their individual abilities. The fight wasn’t meant to be tense or have high stakes. It was setting up things to come – establishing how powerful the characters are so when they meet their match in the antagonist, it drives home how dangerous things are. An author has to ‘use’ this particular type of scene selectively and specifically; you can’t have every action scene in a book play out like this, or you end up with long boring sequences devoid of engagement or excitement because hey, if the characters themselves don’t behave like they’re in any danger, why should the audience?

 

Second, there’s something just… off about the banter. The more I thought about it, the more I think it’s down to the ebb and flow of how the banter is integrated into the action. For these kinds of exchanges during an action scene, there has to be a rhythm to it, a pacing between action and dialogue beats. Shadowbreaker has some of the most disruptive, out-of-sync banter bits I’ve seen. Instead of exchanging words during pauses in the action or in between individual sequences of a battle, Talon Squad constantly yammers back and forth in the middle of the most inopportune instances like while battlesuits are moving to get shots on them or in the middle of strafing runs or platoons of Fire Warriors are unloading into them. It gets to the point where characters are tossing barbs and witticisms in the middle of events that couldn’t possibly have enough time for them to say that many words.

 

This mangles the pace and tempo of the action scenes, as if they keep getting paused mid-blow so somebody can make a quip. Or like listening to a musical piece and one of the instruments is out of sync. It’s bizarre, disruptive, and makes the already tedious fight scenes feel even longer. Given how much of Shadowbreaker consists of battles, it makes the 570 pages seem twice that.

 

On top of that, Shadowbreaker is written with some of the worst wordcraft I’ve encountered in a 40K novel. This also requires some unpacking, as there are several layers to what’s going on with the prose. One, most obviously, is that it’s generally poor – clunky and passive, it saps the dynamism from events, making action scenes stuttering and slow. Fight scenes are full of phrases like, “There was a ripple of explosions”, “A hurricane of fire was exchanged”, “There was a scream”, and so on. It’s dry and lifeless, sucking any sense of life and excitement and experiential vivaciousness from it all. There’s no feel of the action leaping from the page.

 

In addition to that, many of the words and phrases Parker uses to describe them feel somehow misplaced in a 40K novel. The overall tone is distinctively modern, like this was written as some contemporary thriller about special forces raiding insurgent villages or something. That or… I dunno what I’d call it – edgy gamer tacticool lingo? Everything has call-signs and nicknames that feel like the author is trying a little too hard. We don’t just have Stormravens, oh no, we have Reaper Flight. Talon Squad doesn’t just go by their names, no, they all have cringe-worthy monikers like “Ghost” and “Prophet”. Characters “rezz” into visibility out of stealth screens. We get sentences like “Broden was used to going in hard.” Some of the more egregious ones included: “Doors were kicked. Smoke was popped.” “He mag-locked his lightning claws to his cuisses, pulled his bolt pistol and started one-shotting tau infantry that were trying to flank from the right.” Things like this had me groaning at multiple points. Bear in mind that this is very much a subjective thing, but to me 40K is best exemplified by a certain ornately formal atmosphere, something that captures the baroque, gothic flavors of the setting. Adeptus Astartes aren’t SAS or SEAL teams with extra organs; they’re indoctrinated child soldier warrior-monks who have been modified to the point that they’re barely recognizable as human anymore. I find most BL novels to be most compelling when they tap into this atmosphere with the language and prose. It’s mostly an unconscious thing, but there’s a certain… milieu of vocabulary that really sets the stage for the setting. Shadowbreaker’s ambient word usage on the other hand came off as awkward and immersion-breaking.

 

Perhaps the biggest offense this novel commits though, at least from a writing perspective, is its constant narrative point-of-view breaking. This has at least two layers to it. First and most apparent in this regard, character viewpoints aren’t consistent in any given scene. If you’re wondering what I mean here, in almost all fiction these days scenes should have a consistent narrator viewpoint if they’re going to be written from a character’s perspective – the lens through which we the audience experience that particular sequence of events. Thoughts, emotions, reactions, the subjective things that occur in somebody’s mind; we as humans can only experience one person’s viewpoint consciousness (namely our own) at any particular time. Thus, bouncing between thoughts and internal monologues and stream-of-consciousness reactions of multiple characters in the same scene is typically a big no-no, and I’m really surprised this wasn’t called out or addressed in editing. There are times where a scene will start, say, from a Space Marine’s perspective as he ruminates on indigenous cultural norms, and then within the same scene we’ll end up in the head of a tribesman thinking about how the Space Marines are more horrifying than he expected. Or, within one scene we’ll be in the thoughts of an Inquisitor as she’s plotting against the Tau and a sentence later in the thoughts of a Tau Shas’O as he’s plotting against the Inquisitor. I really don’t get the sense that this was a deliberate choice or done for a purpose. It’s just jarring and amateurish, making a mess of dialogue and character scenes.

 

Second, the narrative voice and tone can’t seem to settle on consistent distances for any given scene. This is more of a subtle issue than the character POV shenanigans, but it’s one of those little things that accretes with all the other issues. So Shadowbreaker is written all in third-person past tense (eg. He did, she said, things happened, etc.), but within that there are still different narrative distances from viewpoint characters. It’s like… how close or far a shot is for a scene in a movie. Sometimes you get wide establishing shots to set a location, sometimes you get closeups to showcase an emotional reaction. Shadowbreaker tends to go back and forth between third-person close (eg. somebody’s internal monologue) to third-person omniscient (eg. a ship launching an orbital strike) in the same scene with little or no contextual transitions. It’ll do things like, within the same scene, go from a close perspective where a Space Marine or storm trooper is using a slur to think about Tau, to an omniscient view but retain the language of a character’s perspective, thus giving the impression that suddenly our guy can see the details of a dogfight while they’re indoors, or that the detached narrator voice also refers to Tau as xenos blue-skin filth just like an Imperial character would. Again, jarring either way and a fairly fundamental error that should have been caught in editing. To return to the film analogy, it gets to the point where it feels like watching a movie that keeps making rapid smash cuts between overhead aerial shots and facial closeups. You can use this technique judiciously for effect, but doing it too frequently will give your audience a sort of perspective whiplash, and that’s exactly what Shadowbreaker does.

 

Again, a relatively minor issue on its own, but in combination with the passive voice, the odd banter rhythm, the character POV breaks, the word choices and the tacticool lingo, it all builds and builds into a disconcerting, vaguely unsettling experience, akin to staring down a hallway where the angles of the walls and ceiling are all subtly wrong. It’s like… the uncanny valley of 40K novels: it seems close enough at first glance but there are enough little things off here and there that some part of your psyche is screaming with terror deep inside as you behold the visage before you.

 

 

After all that, we’re still not done, alas. I mentioned earlier that this is a plot-driven novel, not a character-driven one. And again, this has several major layers that compound each other. One, the characters themselves don’t really have arcs or growth. They tend to have their particular quirks or traits which really only come out when they’re snarking at each other while doing 80s action movie stunts. The Raven Guard is quick and fighty, the Imperial Fist is the boisterously friendly one, the Ultramarine is the angry arrogant upper-class jerk, the Exorcist is the brooding loner. That’s about as much depth as we get to the squad members. Similarly, the storm trooper forces accompanying them are essentially all interchangeable faceless robots, just a blizzard of names to be thrown at the reader to give the impression that the Tau haven’t entirely rolled over to die. There’s no gravitas or impact when any of them are killed, because we don’t get to know any of them as people. One attempt comes to mind here; towards the end one of the storm troopers is stated to have this long-running unrequited love for Copley, the storm trooper captain in command of the mission. There’s no indication, no interaction, no words exchanged to even hint at this at any preceding point in the novel. We don’t even get that storm trooper’s name until this paragraph comes out of nowhere. It’s obviously an attempt to wring some kind of emotional juice from another scene a few chapters later when he takes a pulse round for Copley, but it falls completely flat because there was no buildup, no development, so there’s no payoff.

 

Two, our protagonists are passive entities in this story. This is where that plot-driven nature becomes an issue. I should specify, having a story driven by the plot and its events is not inherently or necessarily a problem, or a wrong choice. However, if you have a story primarily about things happening, it’s important that the protagonists actively drive the plot forward in some way. They should be invested and involved, active participants rather than purely reactionary figures. But Talon Squad is almost entirely passive in Shadowbreaker. They make no decisions that move events along. The mission gets forced on them by an Inquisitor – fine, there’s our inciting incident. They’re placed under the command of an anti-Tau specialist team – also good. We’ve got tension, interpersonal conflict. But from then on they’re just perpetually reacting to the movements and plans of others, following orders and doing as they’re told. All agency and initiative rests in others’ hands. So you have a bunch of uninteresting people uninterested in what they’re doing. Not a recipe for maintaining reader interest.

 

In terms of more subjective issues of taste, I don’t particularly care for Karras, the main character, or the series’ subplot about the Death Spectres and their dark secret prophecy. Karras himself is boring in this book, essentially lacking any agency and with even less of a personality than the walking clichés of the rest of Talon Squad. The whole mystery at the heart of the Death Spectres feels like it came from that era of Black Library where every Space Marine Chapter had some mysterious prophecy or dark secret at its heart, and all the protagonists central figures of destiny. Yet again, nothing inherently wrong with those things. My problem is it feels out of place in a series about the Deathwatch, taking focus and characterization from the titular organization, as if it were spliced in from another series. This whole subplot and the primary plot of Operation Shadowbreaker barely have anything to do with one another through the course of the novel. There’s one revelation at the end, but it comes off as more of an afterthought. A significant chunk of the middle of the novel is actually devoted to this subplot, and it further hurts the pacing in an already uneven plot.

 

 

So after all that, I must have utterly hated Shadowbreaker, right? Well, surprisingly not. It was a real slog to get through, but I don’t regret it. Before I get into why, I feel I should point out some of what Shadowbreaker does well. It does have some compelling worldbuilding, with looks at how the Tau integrate local populations, indigenous culture, and interfactional Inquisition intrigue. There’s a strong sense of a society in flux, between Imperial loyalists, Tau collaborators, and the various forms of low-intensity warfare and insurgency actions as well as soft power and cultural values at conflict. I liked the idea of using Deathwatch teams to exploit Imperial cultural conceptions of Space Marines as representatives of the divine, literal angels of death as it were. That was a solid showcase of broader Astartes utility beyond shooting and slashing things in the face.

 

In some regards, Shadowbreaker felt like an early draft that made it to print. The fundamental idea of a Deathwatch Kill-Team sent to infiltrate a Tau-held world because of Inquisitorial intrigue and manipulation is solid enough in my opinion. It needed some revisions to make the overall package more cohesive, a few more strafing runs from the Editing Thunderhawk, so to speak.

 

Perhaps most bizarrely, it was actually all the accumulated issues that I… well, not exactly enjoyed, but found the most engaging. Like coming across the aftermath of two freight trains colliding and piecing things together to find out what happened when, where and why, Shadowbreaker made me think and analyze during nearly every chapter. I had to mentally dissect the multi-layered issues to dig down towards figuring out why the book felt so disconcertingly off while I was reading it. In an odd twist of fate, that’s probably the most compelling reason I can give for somebody to read this one. It offers much material to break down. I cannot recommend Shadowbreaker as an enjoyable read on its own merit, but if you enjoy analyzing the technique and craft of writing and storytelling, this one might be worth checking out at some point – but really only for that reason. For everyone else just looking for a decent, fun read, I’d have to say this is a pretty hard miss.

 

 

Not Recommended/Maybe Writer Nerd Diehards Only

3.1 Smokes Were Popped/10 One-Shotted Blueskins

 


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#211
mc warhammer

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if dorn had that wall of text at the siege, horus would’ve surrendered on the spot

i applaud you sir
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can't touch this
can't touch this
can't touch this
warhammer time!
 

#212
MegaVolt87

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I can see why people are unhappy with how the Emperor is portrayed in Master of Mankind after reading it. I get the impression his overall attitude is in hindsight to how events played out more than what he initially believed. The action scenes were a little flat, as were the custodes and sisters. Arkan Land and Zeraphon (?) were the standout characters for me. The custodes may be great soldiers, but man I see why the Emperor would also make the primarchs to not just be generals, but have actual conversations with them. Custodes portrayal here seem as full of themselves as EC IMO. 


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#213
Lord_Caerolion

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When you look at the intent of the portrayal of the Emperor though, it makes sense. In short, his words are heard and interpreted differently depending on who the listener is, so to the Mechanicus he's a dispassionate scientist, while to a Primarch he would indeed be a father-figure.


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#214
Xisor

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When you look at the intent of the portrayal of the Emperor though, it makes sense. In short, his words are heard and interpreted differently depending on who the listener is, so to the Mechanicus he's a dispassionate scientist, while to a Primarch he would indeed be a father-figure.


And to each reader? ;)
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#215
Roomsky

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Slaves to Darkness - John French

 

This book was great when I first read it and it's still great now. It's hardly perfect, French isn't especially talented at writing fighter combat and while the book is definitely well structured it's more of a well written accumulation of plot lines rather than a standalone piece. But damn if it doesn't fulfill its purpose extremely well. The characterization is spot on for every primarch present: Horus is given more depth and dignity than he's had since Abnett wrote him, Perturabo continues to have an actual arc under French's pen, Angron is appropriately tragic, and Fulgrim is a lascivious troll who clearly still retains a few brain cells. Maloghurst and Layak both have good character journey's (such as they are), and Volk and Arognis both support Perturabo's very well.

 

I've said it before, but I think French just gets the setting better than so many others in the writing stable, from the nature of Chaos to Legion culture to the more subtle character traits of characters like Lorgar (eg: he's full of :cuss and he's been that way since day one), I don't really have any major criticisms to lob against this one. It's definitely a better cap to the mainline series than Buried Dagger, IMO.

 

Must Read (if reading the Heresy)

9/10

 

And with that I've re-read all of the mainline Heresy I care to. My current suggested reading order is as follows:

 

Horus Rising, Legion, Prospero Burns, Know no Fear > False Gods, A Thousand Sons, Mechanicum > Shattered Legions > The First Heretic, Betrayer, Master of Mankind > Scars, The Path of Heaven > Shadows of Treachery > Tallarn, Praetorian of Dorn, Slaves to Darkness > Dreadwing, Heralds of The Siege


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#216
byrd9999

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Mephiston - Blood of Sanguinius, by Darius Hinks

 

I started reading this one right after Guy Haley's Dante (which I loved), which was probably a mistake because it suffers by comparison.

 

Overall this was a good book. Good, but not great. There were some nice scenes, and I liked having the novel from the point of view of Andros, a newer recruit and someone unfamiliar with Mephiston first-hand. I thought it was a good idea to sow a little confusion over who the bad guys were on Divinatus Prime.

 

However, I really struggled to finish this one. There was something lacking, some spark that was missing. It's hard to say exactly what, maybe the plot/quest wasn't strong enough, maybe the action wasn't sharp enough, maybe the word-choice was uninspired. There were some scenes where I found it difficult to follow what was actually happening, especially when the action ramped up.

 

The ending in particular, with the mirrored city in the sky, was confusing enough that I initially had to read some passages two or three times to see what was happening, and then, when it either wasn't clear or wasn't sufficiently rewarding, I kind of skimmed paragraphs until I got back to a bit I was interested in.

 

6.5/10

 

 


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#217
cheywood

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Mephiston - Blood of Sanguinius, by Darius Hinks

I started reading this one right after Guy Haley's Dante (which I loved), which was probably a mistake because it suffers by comparison.

Overall this was a good book. Good, but not great. There were some nice scenes, and I liked having the novel from the point of view of Andros, a newer recruit and someone unfamiliar with Mephiston first-hand. I thought it was a good idea to sow a little confusion over who the bad guys were on Divinatus Prime.

However, I really struggled to finish this one. There was something lacking, some spark that was missing. It's hard to say exactly what, maybe the plot/quest wasn't strong enough, maybe the action wasn't sharp enough, maybe the word-choice was uninspired. There were some scenes where I found it difficult to follow what was actually happening, especially when the action ramped up.

The ending in particular, with the mirrored city in the sky, was confusing enough that I initially had to read some passages two or three times to see what was happening, and then, when it either wasn't clear or wasn't sufficiently rewarding, I kind of skimmed paragraphs until I got back to a bit I was interested in.

6.5/10


I’m reading this right now (about 2/3rds through so I can’t speak to the ending) but I agree completely with some scenes being hard to follow, especially when the action ramps up. It’s as if I can’t place the characters’ positions relative to one another so I can’t build the scene as well as I’d like. On the other hand I love the understatedly psychedelic atmosphere and some of the descriptive imagery Hinks uses.
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#218
Roomsky

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Soul Hunter - Aaron Dembski-Bowden

 

This is my second go through of the book, and my first listening in audio format. In regards to SH as an audio I think Andrew Wincott was a good choice as narrator, his reading has a dark quality appropriate to the material, but I dislike some of the choices made for character performances. I've always been annoyed at the Night Lords getting blanketed with pseudo-Transylvanian accents, but it's especially egregious when the whole cast is Night Lords. Additionally, Septimus' voice was "fine" but colours the character in a very particular way I didn't necessarily get from the text, he comes across as far more pathetic in the audiobook to the point of occasionally being an irritant. I see this as more than a bit of an issue for so important a cast member (arguably the protagonist by series' end).

 

As for the text itself it certainly benefits from a second go-through, there's quite a lot of good foreshadowing for what is to come later in the trilogy, and characters like Cyrion and Xarl who get more distinct moments in later books shine all the more when you see their arcs being built. I think the book uses action scenes very well, and they rarely overstay their welcome. Like Apocalypse, it's a great example of how you can tell a character story within a single, larger battle and still make time to show how everything works. It's not perfect of course, a couple of Aaron's single-line descriptors come across as eye-rolling when I'm sure they're supposed to be dramatically terse, and like Lord of the Night before it I don't think it goes quite far enough in portraying the astartes lead as incredibly biased. Talos does of course step into this role more clearly as the books go on, but the privileged outcast is so commonly used as "the clear lense" when viewing things in media that Talos often comes across as the sole voice of reason rather than a character living in their own delusion.

 

Structurally, I like the intermingling of serf life and astartes action, but I think Aaron's eventual Spear of the Emperor hit the balance far better than this book did, though I admit he was probably going for different things between them.

 

Overall, still a good read and a good listen. I think I do recommend the print works more than the audio, Septimus is rather important and I wouldn't really want to put up with more of his weak portrayal in the audio.

 

8/10

Must Read (Listen to Taste)


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#219
Lord_Caerolion

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I think the thing with the bias may be somewhat intentional though, as it's only in the third book that Talos finally becomes more aware of just how rose-tinted his glasses have been. Until then, both he and the reader think that's how things are.


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#220
Red_Shift

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Fifteen Hours & Knee Deep by Mitchell Scanlon

I recently picked up the 'Shield of the Emperor' anthology, mostly because I have never read the catachan novel. I have read Fifteen Hours before, back in the mists of time when it was released and at the time I remember thinking of it as a Sven Hassel novel in space.

Reading it again, I really enjoyed it. The story follows Arvin Larn, who is conscripted into the IG from a farming world and has a fairly rude awakening as he is put through his paces in training, but remains eager to serve and faithful in the Emperor. However, an administratum slip up sees his company crashed in no man's land on a world locked in trench warfare between the guard and the orks. The sole surviver, he finds himself as the 'new fish' in a company of hardened veterans who do not expect him to live fifteen hours.

It's bleak and realistic, but well written and engaging. The similarity to Hassel is definately there, although more so in the short story Knee Deep that accompanies it. The short to me demonstrates how the characters could have made a good basis for their own series, had the author stayed with BL. Definitely more humour in the short and I wonder if it trod on the toes of Mitchell's Cain series as I doubt BL would have wanted two comedy guard series. Definitely a book I would recommend and as my memory of Rebel Winter is pretty favourable I would recommend the anthology even though I'm only a third of the way through it.

Edited by Red_Shift, 17 February 2020 - 09:22 AM.

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#221
bluntblade

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Late to Spear of the Emperor. It's extremely good.
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#222
Dumah

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Late to Spear of the Emperor. It's extremely good.

 

Same! I loved the tone and the character work. The focus on culture and ideology made for a fascinating, absorbing read. I didn't mind that it was light on "action", never being one to go in for bolterporn.







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