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Middle-Era BL...thoughts?


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#1
b1soul

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I view this period as starting from the late 90s and ending in the late 2000s. Soul Hunter was released in early 2010, and to me, kicked off a new era of fresh authours like ADB, Wraight etc.

IMO, works from this era really defined the foundational tone of 40K, especially with regard to SM. Generally, I actually think earlier works are more enjoyable (Ian Watson's Space Marine) and later works are just better.

Which of these works still hold up against BL's recent best in your view?

Space Wolf - William King
Ultramarines, Storm of Iron - Graham McNeill
Blood Angels - James Swallow
Grey Knights, Soul Drinkers - Ben Counter
Word Bearers - Anthony Reynolds
Lord of the Night - Simon Spurrier
Angels of Darkness - Gav Thorpe
Iron Snakes - Dan Abnett
Iron Hands - Jonathan Green
Salamander - Nick Kyme

#2
aa.logan

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I could be mighty pedantic and argue that the period we are talking about here is in fact the early days of BL, that Space Marine etc were published by Boxtree and/or GW rather than BL, but I’m not the type.

Your timeframe also includes Gaunt’s Ghosts and Dan’s Inquisition books, but I’m assuming they’re not up for consideration.

The Word Bearers trilogy and Lord of the Night, for me, are as good as anything BL have printed, but my World Bearers enjoyment may by tainted by nostalgia.
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#3
Lord Marshal

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There's some 'early instalment weirdness' with some of the Gaunt's Ghosts books (the infamous Khorne Berserker scene, the way certain vehicles are described), but generally everything Necropolis onward holds up very well and there's a certain enjoyment from steadily seeing Abnett's prose improve over the years. 


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#4
Marshal Loss

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The Word Bearers trilogy and Lord of the Night, for me, are as good as anything BL have printed, but my World Bearers enjoyment may by tainted by nostalgia.

I don't think it's just you - the Word Bearers trilogy is, for me, still great reading. It has aged very well.


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#5
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I still need to read the Word Bearers Omnibus sitting on my shelf. I started it years ago but never continued. 

 

Out of the novels mentioned in the list I only read Storm of Iron and I thought it was good. Whether it holds up compared to what has been released the past 10 years I can't really judge. I don't read enough BL novels and i'm not really critical of what I read. I still read the short stories from Let the Galaxy Burn once in a while.

 

Not Space Marine related but Fifteen Hours by Mitchel Scanlon was released in 2005 and It was a nice read. Went thought it quick and it was enjoyable.

 

A year ago I picked up Daemon World by Ben Counter and Crossfire by Matthew Farrer and this thread reminded me of that. Will probably get around to reading them now.


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#6
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I view this period as starting from the late 90s and ending in the late 2000s. Soul Hunter was released in early 2010, and to me, kicked off a new era of fresh authours like ADB, Wraight etc.

I'll be pedantic and say that the "middle era" ended earlier and gradually in the years leading up to 40k's 5th Edition in 2008. What I remember the most from those days is that novels then were often seen as not being "official", much like Forge World's stuff back then. This was in part because most novels from that time period tended to focus on original characters and self contained stories that could easily be ignored.

 

The first big departure from this approach were the Horus Heresy novels in 2006. From that point on it became increasingly common for BL novels to focus on important characters and events, or become must-read fluff sources for the factions they covered. That's why I regard Reynold's Word Bearers and Kyme's Salamanders books as "newer" works in the same vein as ADB's Night Lord's trilogy.

 

As for what holds up, well, Storm of Iron and Lord of the Night were pretty much the go-to novels for Chaos players back then. Eisenhorn is still recommended as a good entry for anyone interested in 40k even though it shows its age from a fluff perspective.



#7
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Well, based on what you've listed:

 

Space Wolf - William King

Haven't read, won't bother. Trollslayer is the only King work I've enjoyed.

 

Ultramarines, Storm of Iron - Graham McNeill

Couldn't finish Nightbringer or Storm of Iron. Mcneill's come a long way since then.

 

Blood Angels - James Swallow

Couldn't finish Red Fury.

 

Grey Knights, Soul Drinkers - Ben Counter

"Ben Counter" -No.

 

Word Bearers - Anthony Reynolds

Couldn't finish Dark Apostle.

 

Lord of the Night - Simon Spurrier

Fantastic, still a contender for best Night Lords book, and perhaps best Chaos Marine book. Spurrier is a telented author and did a lot with very little.

 

Angels of Darkness - Gav Thorpe

Thorpe's best and still soundly mediocre, is nevertheless the best post-heresy Dark Angels focus. Probably worth a read if you haven't.

 

Iron Snakes - Dan Abnett

Everything Abnett is quality after Ghostmaker, and this is no exception. Interesting format keeps ideas moving quickly, it never gets stale.

 

Iron Hands - Jonathan Green

Haven't heard a single good thing about Green, so no.

 

Salamander - Nick Kyme

"Nick Kyme" -No.

 

 

I don't know if you're just looking at the above or, as others have mentioned, all the books coming out during that time period. Shira Calpurnia definitely deserves a mention, great stuff even now. Largely though, I'll happily argue Black Library now is better than it's ever been (sans the lack of proper WHF). The stable is ever-growing, and with it the density of authors who can actually write. I have no nostalgia for those bygone eras or habits.


Edited by Roomsky, 24 May 2020 - 03:00 PM.

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#8
DukeLeto69

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Just to be “that guy” I would say...

1) Boxtree/GW stuff like Ian Watson was the prologue
2) The first chapter of BL was up to 2006 and the start of Horus Heresy.
3) The second chapter showed a more mature and ambitious BL but...
4) The third chapter marked the dark days when the studio exerted increasing influence over BL content and authors like Abnett walked.
5) Chapter four was triggered by GW getting their new CEO and a recognition that BL can/should be its own thing and allowing experiments like WH Horror.
6) We might be entering chapter five with Dawn of Fire with increased focus on “current timeline” but we will see!

As for what holds up, not listed but Eisenhorn, Ravenor, Calpurnia and Gordon Rennie’s BFG all do for me. Not read Word Bearers but omnibus on shelf so need to rectify that. Iron Snakes is good but maybe a little OTT. Storm of Iron us good. I don’t think any of the rest you listed really stand test of time and certainly feel different (though don’t think I could explain exactly why).

Edited by DukeLeto69, 24 May 2020 - 03:36 PM.

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#9
Kelborn

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Of those you've listed:

Golden ones/ essentials must reads for new guys:

Space Wolf by King (Space Wolves closest to the originals without the Wolfy Mc wolf syndrome or the Vlka Fenryka awesomeness)
Storm of Iron by McNeil (bad guys win, great depiction of both sides of the war)
Iron Snakes by Abnett (episodic, awesome, there's nothing bad to say except I want more!)

Not essential must reads but still good/ enjoyable:

Intestines by McNeil
Grey Knights by Counter

Read one time and that's it:
Soul Drinkers by Counter

Haven't read the rest though the Word Bearers is still on my to read list.

Edited by Kelborn, 24 May 2020 - 03:31 PM.

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#10
cheywood

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I read all of these as a teenager and I’ve become a lot pickier about my prose since then:

Space Wolf - Enjoyed it when first getting into the universe a decade ago. Not something I have any interest in revisiting.

Ultramarines/Storm of Iron - same as Space Wolf, though I think these have aged slightly better in terms of adherence to the lore

Blood Angels - never got around to reading. Puzzles me that Swallow wrote a series entirely about the Blood Angels but Haley and Hinks still had to define a lot of their chapter like a decade later. Guess that’s a good sign of how BL’s changed.

Grey Knights - if you read for plot alone there’s plenty of absurdity. I enjoyed them at the time, but I can’t stomach Counter’s writing anymore. The Emperor’s Gift does infinitely more for the Knights in my view.

Word Bearers - read and enjoyed the first two, always meant to go back to the third, but there’s always so much to read and it’s not a priority.

Lord of the Night - I really should read this as well, especially since I like what I’ve read of Spurrier’s comics.

Angels of Darkness - haven’t read this, but Thorpe’s Dark Angels aren’t my thing.

Iron Snakes - one of the most memorable standalone space marine novels. Of what I’ve read from the list I think this is the only book that could come out today and still be well regarded.

Iron Hands - not really familiar with Jonathan Green, from the one short story of his I’ve read I’d probably find this over descriptive but tolerable.

Salamanders - nope, just nope. I read all these books and I would like that time back.

Edited by cheywood, 24 May 2020 - 04:59 PM.

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#11
Nemesor Tyriks

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Much of these I never read.  Swallow's BA omnibus was a major letdown to me.  I only played BA at the time and this series was so vapid it deterred me from reading any other BL books for years. I don't think I read all of them - if I remember correctly, there were two omnibuses, and I only read the first one.  

 

I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I found the Word Bearers books childish and shallow.  I have the omnibus and couldn't finish it.  I have no time for characters who are evil just to be evil, any more than I do for "good" characters who have no flaws and just always do the right thing.  

 

Abnett's Inquisitor trilogies were both fine.  Very enjoyable to read, but at times the scale or power of things feels really out of whack.  Probably the BL books I'd be most likely to recommend to a new person, though.


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#12
Bobss

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I would consider Salamander part of the 'Soul Hunter generation' because those two (technically three alongside the cursed Sons of Dorn) were advertised together Back In The Day, never mind the crossover they quite literally had

 

Obviously this generation was weaker due to a bunch of different reasons - just compare the Luna Wolves in Horus Rising to the Sons of Horus in The Solar War. One is Vanilla Ice Cream Space Marines, the other are whacking out their volkite guns and their battle-automata and their CYTHONIAN SAVAGERY. As the lore has deepened with the excellent work from Forge World, as more and more authors are delving into more nuanced topics like the nature of the warp or the modus operandi of the Sanctum Imperialis, things are going to get better and better

 

That being said, this 'middle generation' had pretty much the same number of gems versus not-gems as the current generation to be perfectly honest. We might have more gems today, but we also have more chaff... in my opinion...


Edited by Bobss, 24 May 2020 - 04:28 PM.


#13
Fedor

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Space Wolves-King.....King's worst stuff, though they are worth a read for being the defining books on that era of SW style.

 

Ultramarines/Storm of Iron.... I didn't like them and don't remember the ultramarines series being well regarded back then on the old BL board or others. Only read the first two books and they set the tone for Ultramarines fiction where the author opts to focus on an edgy maverick that goes against much of chapter orthodoxy as the main character. You can see some of that lingering around in the Heresy series with the troublesome fourth and lame characters like Thiel. tbf i don't think McNeill was aming at anything remotely deep character-wise with these, they don't have a serious vibe at all as far as 40k goes, it's all very "grimderpy".

 

Storm of Iron was an early precursor to the space marine battles style of novel and ok, though Honsou is already an insufferable character. It benefits from the simple self-contained story and tries to be darker. Graham's writing - if not always the ideas or execution- really started to improve a lot circa Fulgrim imo.

 

Word Bearers - Anthony Reynolds. This series is really from the start of the next era imo. Again a similar approach to McNeill and Counter with the first book, which was entertaining if quite clunky in execution. I didn't read further, but might get around to it soon.

 

Lord of the Night - Spurrier. Really good and one of the seminal chaos marine books. Biggest jump in quality from one book to another after Fire Warrior.

 

Blood Angels - Swallow... I only read the first and it didn't make much of an impression. These weren't that well regarded at the time either.

 

Grey Knights, Soul Drinkers - Ben Counter... I enjoyed Grey Knights. Again it's not attempting much depth character-wise, but counter had a way of going for the same sort of grindhouse McNeill vibe and just pulling it off better for me. Lots of enjoyable lore madness in these. Soul Drinkers i couldn't get into and always seemed to have a lot of detractors. By far Counter's best of this era was the very good and distinct in vibe Daemon World imo...i'd put that as his main contribution to the BL canon.

 

angels of darkness - Thorpe. Very good and one of the seminal loyalist marine books of that era.

 

Iron Snakes - Abnett. Dan's second worst ever BL other than the awful, tonally way out of place Fell Cargo. A weak, surface level mythological take on Astartes with no interesting characters where ridiculous eye-rolling scenarios abound. For all the dislike of him, imo Kyme went on to do this sort of thing far better with his HH Salamanders work, even with that also being a flawed approach. Another book i don't remember being well regarded.

 

Iron Hands - Jonathan Green. Very mediocre with nothing interesting to say about the faction.

 

Salamander - Kyme. This is also next era imo. Only read the first and found it clunky and dull.

 

Some others not mentioned that i liked a lot would be Pawns of Chaos by Brian Craig, Eye of Terror by Barrington Bayley (for the ideas more than the writing) Farseer by King and Gordon Rennie's BFG stuff. Oh, and i completely forgot Farrer's very good Shira Calpurnia books.

 

I think i'd agree that for 40k BL has mostly improved since then. The WHF books tended to be of superior quality during the pre-BL days and during that era too and stand up comfortably to the current era.....The Orfeo Trilogy, Wine of Dreams, Beasts in Velvet, Drachenfels, The Konrad Trilogy, Mike's Lee's Malus Darkblade adaptations, Savile's Vampire Counts, C.L Werners Brunner/Witch Hunter and Chaos stand alones, Florin and Lorenzo by Robert Earl, Thorpe and Lee's Time of Legends work. Kim Newman is still the best writer BL have had imo.


Edited by Fedor, 24 May 2020 - 06:19 PM.


#14
aa.logan

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I think the Soul Drinkers series typifies the failings of this earlier period- it’s silly but also too full of it’s own importance and lacking the self-awareness to be camp.

Not a bad read, and I say this as someone who only read them in the last couple of years; entertaining but not deep and certainly not as fun as a series where a Librarian has
Spoiler
for the majority of the story should be.
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#15
Noserenda

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Hmm there was a bunch of other books back then that i recall fondly but titles escape me and im too busy cooking to find all the titles biggrin.png That was back when i religiously bought every BL book before they ramped up releases!

Space Wolf - William King  Big fan though i dont think it matches so well now given how degreaded modern SW fluff is
Ultramarines, Storm of Iron - Graham McNeill  Nightbringer, Dead sky and Storm of Iron are great, the series definitely arcs down as it goes on though
Blood Angels - James Swallow  Godawful, Swallows worst work and i have no idea how they kept adding to it...
Grey Knights, Soul Drinkers - Ben Counter  Grey knights i have fond memories of but Soul drinkers started well and went downhill as the madness continued
Word Bearers - Anthony Reynolds Solid stuff, still hold up
Lord of the Night - Simon Spurrier A good book but made oh so much better by later NL books giving it context, Spurrier was a loss for BL overall
Angels of Darkness - Gav Thorpe  I love it, but havent read it in years biggrin.png 
Iron Snakes - Dan Abnett  Again i really like it, and like what Abnett was doing with it but this is a fair bit later isnt it? 
Iron Hands - Jonathan Green   Dire, i cant remember much to slag off though biggrin.png 
Salamander - Nick Kyme  Urgh Kymes work has some great ideas, laboriously written


Edited by Noserenda, 24 May 2020 - 08:39 PM.


#16
b1soul

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I guess I should simply call it the late 90s to late 2000s era.

IIRC the first Space Wolf novel came out in 1999 and the first Salamander novel came out in 2009, so I treat them as very rough markers. Soul Hunter came out in early 2010, so I personally treat it as the beginning of a new BL era.

I think the Gaunt, Eisenhorn, and Ravenor series definitely hold up, so I didn't mention them in the OP. To me, they are well-written and have a rather timeless quality. But feel free to discuss the merits or anachronisms of any BL works released during that period spanning roughly a decade.

#17
Sandlemad

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I don't think the Space Wolf books hold up well at all. They feel very factory-stamped YA to me, like the Fang is Hogwarts and Ragnar is the special chosen one. Here's his thick mate, here's his jealous rival, here's feasting scenes, here's him having to learn valuable lessons, here's him saving the chapter at the end of each book, here's him waking up in hospital after and being told how he saved the chapter...  That they lack the extreme wolfyness of more recent SW work is good but they still have an irritating "slap on the back and more ale, young pup" affectation. Wolfblade deserves praise for being an ok look at byzantine imperial politics at a time when that was less common but overall I can't stand them. Fine when I was 13, just about, a lot less so now.
 
Iron Snakes is a weird one. Where Abnett was trying to write in a mock-Homeric/heroic style, it works quite well, though I think that would have suffered if it was extended beyond the length of a short story. Elsewhere, eh, pretty rough, though it covers the "mortal meets space marine for the first time" scenario quite well.
 
Agreed about Reynolds's Word Bearers series holding up surprisingly well. I don't think they're amazing, the characters are moustache-twirling villains, albeit written with more distinguishing characteristics (if not nuance) than that implies. There's also a certain creativity in fleshing out their dark ecclesiastical back-biting. As with Lord of the Night though they do kind of exist in the shadow of later WB work.
 
Overall I think that a lot of the books of this period fall into sort of a template or pattern despite having a bit more freedom to deviate from the model lines or big events than you'd see today. Authors were essentially filling in relatively blank space. I can't imagine anyone writing the Soul Drinkers now, for example, or single-handedly detailing a Blood Angels civil war. There was less need for ducking and weaving to avoid stepping on each other's toes or to avoid clashing with particular codex events, compared with someone writing a random SM novel in this joined-up post-Horus Heresy series world. Sometimes it made for creativity but on the level of the individual book, it often seemed to make for (or excuse?) a lot of "here's a space marine, here's a macguffin, here's a looming threat they stop at the last minute" plots, though there's still many of those around.
 
I agree with a.a.logan's point about self-seriousness and would add that very few of the authors in the OP had the writing chops to carry that and make it meaningful. The ADBs and Wraights of the world can make you care about big post-humans having big emotions (though if that's appropriate for post-humans is another discussion), rather less so the Swallows and Greens. I know that the arc of BL writing quality is sometimes presented as a simple graph going always up - Simon Spurrier is enough to disprove that - but there do seem to be quite a few more authors working for BL at the moment who can write pretty well on a sentence level.

Edited by Sandlemad, 25 May 2020 - 10:11 AM.

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#18
Fedor

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Warhammer Fantasy was where you could find most of the real quality of the '90s and '00s era imo. The writers seemed more willing to take risks than the 40k books and i find that output easily holds up with the BL output of the last 5-10 years. Books like Reynolds Fabius series actually remind me of a throwback to the witty flair of Lee's early Malus Darkblade books, or Newman's style of pulpy finesse.


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#19
Xisor

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Execution Hour (2001?) and Shadowpoint, gloriously bleak novels that do something hugely different from their peers, and do it shockingly well.

Crossfire (2003?), Legacy (my favourite novel), and Blind, three novels that singularly breath more life into a setting than I think anything else I've read. Unsurprisingly, Farrer's also my favourite author. Immense amount of time for his work.

At the time, I was not very enamoured with Vaguely Psychic Greg Eisenhorn, or the Worst Ultramarine and his best pal Sergeant Big For A Space Marine, or Magos-Abbess Termagant, or Raggy Blackmane and the Sorcerer's Apprentice...

Actually, for most of them I still struggle.

I think I've acclimatised to Eisenhorn mainly because the later Ravenor/etc stuff has cast it in such a good light that I look past the stuff that wound me up at the time.

But goodness, I'm much happier having had the chance to read delights such as Atlas Infernal, Resurrection, the Carrion Throne and so forth - that sort of stuff is proper =][= for me.

And yet, even with so much like that, the gems such as Execution Hour, Legacy, etc all stand the many tests of time.

I read - for the first time - Status: Deadzone and my word, it is a great anthology. Necromunda, amusingly, benefits from a lot of the seemingly-schlocky tropiness that I find tough in other bits of 40k!

And most of the Necromunda books hold up now too.

Well, there's some questionable bits to them, even back then, but mainly in a sort of South Park provocative/foolishness sort of way.

Spoiler

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#20
b1soul

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Necromunda has an underhive settlement called Glory Hole? Smashing

#21
Knockagh

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Necromunda has an underhive settlement called Glory Hole? Smashing



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#22
Rob P

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I can't rate the work along those lines.

 

The lore has become more unified (perhaps because of things like the scoffing at Goto's back flipping terminators or because BL started to make serious money), but it still generally falls along lines of what I do and don't like in terms of author style and focus.

 

That being said ....

 

Until we hit a couple of stinkers, the series got to big, the stable bloated, the narrative ballooned ... I rated the Horus Heresy way above regular 40k fiction. Like hugely above. It was like 'here they are trying to do something extra special here', this is not just an exploration of an interesting era but these are fancier novels.

 

Now it's not as clear. Some of that is down to the above re HH, but also there have been a few (albeit in my opinion very few) cracking 40k novels.

 

Tip-toeing close the the danger zone, I also to used find that the average WHFB novel was a much higher quality than the average 40k novel (maybe that's my interests rather than an objective reality). Obviously the death of 'Oldhammer' means the comparison has largely died, but I still think it's probably accurate. No series in 40k has been as punchy as War of Vengeance (yes, even with Nick Kyme starting it off - fight me!).


Edited by Rob P, 30 May 2020 - 04:19 PM.





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