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Urdesh: The Serpent and the Saint by Matt Farrar


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55 replies to this topic

#26
cheywood

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Is this the first time GW has used QueueIt? Never seen it in use for US preorders.

#27
DukeLeto69

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@melancholic thanks for tips brother

So QueueIt = 39min wait from 10am. So no chance!!!!

The limited stuff is gone now, but the normal hardbacks are still around.

I ended be only 8 mins in queue (it suddenly jumped). Got both hardbacks. No interest in Ltd Editions but could have easily got them! Guess I could have become a scalper!!!

Maybe form a club (fraternal brotherhood) so that whoever is in also gets the Ltd Edition for a brother who wants one? Obviously a lot of trust involved!
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#28
byrd9999

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When I was assigned a place in the queue, it said I had more than an hour to wait. It ended up being about 25 mins.

 

The estimated waiting time in the queue is probably the maximum time you'd have to wait if everyone in the queue ahead of you took their allotted 10 mins to check out. If someone checks out early, your wait time goes down.

 

I liked the queuing system. I bought The Serpent and the Saint, the Gaunt's Ghosts models, and the print-on-demand Sabbat Crusade. Turns out I didn't need to queue, as they were still available at 11am when the queue had gone, but it was a good experience to see how it's done.



#29
DukeLeto69

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My copy arrived today.

BIG NEWS...

This is only part one of two!

“To be continued in volume II Urdesh: The Magister and the Martyr”
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#30
cheywood

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It feels like there’s a concerted push to make the Sabbat Worlds more of a shared setting. Let’s hope the execution is there over the long term.

Edited by cheywood, 19 June 2021 - 01:29 PM.


#31
Kelborn

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My copy arrived today.

BIG NEWS...

This is only part one of two!

“To be continued in volume II Urdesh: The Magister and the Martyr”



Wh-what?
Imagine reading it and then get the cliffhanger...

Keep us posted, Duke. I'm eager to know if I wait for the second issue or get it right away. :)

Lost Legion, the Predators                                                     Liber Astartes Swap Challenge 2019   

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Let us avoid it, alright?


#32
DukeLeto69

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My copy arrived today.

BIG NEWS...

This is only part one of two!

“To be continued in volume II Urdesh: The Magister and the Martyr”


Wh-what?
Imagine reading it and then get the cliffhanger...

Keep us posted, Duke. I'm eager to know if I wait for the second issue or get it right away. :)

While I REALLY want to read it NOW... I am finishing up Saturnine (been awesome) and have Mortis next (doing a Siege of Terra back-to-back). So will be few weeks (I am slow).
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#33
Perry

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My copy arrived today.

BIG NEWS...

This is only part one of two!

“To be continued in volume II Urdesh: The Magister and the Martyr”


But is the book any good?

Its in my reading pile and I need to know if I should bump it up the list.

#34
DukeLeto69

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My copy arrived today.

BIG NEWS...

This is only part one of two!

“To be continued in volume II Urdesh: The Magister and the Martyr”

But is the book any good?

Its in my reading pile and I need to know if I should bump it up the list.

No idea (see my response to Kelborn) but it is Farrer so it is bound to be!

#35
Lucerne

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Not a bad novel at all but

Spoiler


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https://twitter.com/...318432949927938

 

"The Alpha Legion has- in spirit if not in body- remained much the same since its creation."

 

"Agents of stealth and misrule they may be, but when the Alpha Legion unleash their martial might, worlds shake at their tread."


#36
Lord Marshal

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It feels like there’s a concerted push to make the Sabbat Worlds more of a shared setting. Let’s hope the execution is there over the long term.

 

I'm not so keen on it. Whilst other authors have written in the Sabbat Cinematic Universe™ before, I rather enjoyed that it was more or less Abnett's little playground. I don't want to be 'forced' into reading something from a potentially sub-par author just to be keyed in with events relevant to the Ghosts series.


Edited by Lord Marshal, 21 June 2021 - 12:21 PM.

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#37
cheywood

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It feels like there’s a concerted push to make the Sabbat Worlds more of a shared setting. Let’s hope the execution is there over the long term.


I'm not so keen on it. Whilst other authors have written in the Sabbat Cinematic Universe™ before, I rather enjoyed that it was more or less Abnett's little playground. I don't want to be 'forced' into reading something from a potentially sub-par author just to be keyed in with events relevant to the Ghosts series.

I don’t disagree, but I’m willing to give it a chance. With good authors and a degree of oversight from Abnett we could get some quality fiction that builds on Abnett’s work. On the other hand we could end up with a bunch of trash from [insert authors you dislike here].

You make an excellent point though, whoever the authors involved are in the future it would be annoying if we had to read their works to understand Abnett’s.
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#38
DukeLeto69

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My two pence - as a big fan of Farrer I am psyched to see what he does with Urdesh.

I doubt (and hope I am right) that any Sabbat Worlds stories (shorts, novellas, novels) by authors other than Abnett will be essential to understanding the main plot lines of the Gaunt’s Ghosts stories. I believe they will be “as well as” not “a core part of” in the same way as there is no need to read either Double Eagle or Titanicus, but it is jolly well nice to!
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#39
Scribe

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Not a bad novel at all but

Spoiler


Do I even want to know?
Q:  Is there room for hope in the grim dark future of Warhammer 40,000?
A:  I do hope not because then it won't be the 40k universe anymore.
- Dan Abnett -

 

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻


#40
Lucerne

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Not a bad novel at all but

Spoiler


Do I even want to know?

 

Spoiler


https://twitter.com/...318432949927938

 

"The Alpha Legion has- in spirit if not in body- remained much the same since its creation."

 

"Agents of stealth and misrule they may be, but when the Alpha Legion unleash their martial might, worlds shake at their tread."


#41
Scribe

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Ah that's not bad. I'm sure it's perfectly in line with the Abnettverse, and doesn't materially change the setting.
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Q:  Is there room for hope in the grim dark future of Warhammer 40,000?
A:  I do hope not because then it won't be the 40k universe anymore.
- Dan Abnett -

 

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻


#42
Lucerne

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Ah that's not bad. I'm sure it's perfectly in line with the Abnettverse, and doesn't materially change the setting.

Yeah, again, it's mostly Godblight's bitter aftertaste making that scene more irritating than it should be. Would have been nice to throw the Archenemy more of a bone though, especially because Abnettverse is usually better about these things.


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https://twitter.com/...318432949927938

 

"The Alpha Legion has- in spirit if not in body- remained much the same since its creation."

 

"Agents of stealth and misrule they may be, but when the Alpha Legion unleash their martial might, worlds shake at their tread."


#43
A Melancholic Sanguinity

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Urdesh: The Serpent and the Saint

by Matthew Farrer

 

This is a difficult novel to review. It’s wonderful in some aspects and lackluster in others, ultimately resulting in an uneven read that feels weaker than the sum of its individual parts.

 

For those unfamiliar with the context, Urdesh covers one of the key events of the Sabbat Crusade, wherein the reborn Saint takes to the contested city of Ghereppan to force the long-running Urdesh campaign to a head. Some of the key players are members of the Iron Snakes Astartes, who are operating as high-tempo strike teams as well as the Saint’s bodyguards.

 

In some ways Urdesh acts as a semi-sequel to Dan Abnett’s Brothers of the Snake; Priad, now a Brother-Captain, is the ranking Iron Snake overseeing their operations, while Damocles Squad is the Saint’s personal guard. I really enjoyed Brothers of the Snake, so having these returning characters hits that nostalgia factor mental conditioning that predisposes me to react favorably. I suppose that’s as good a place as any to start: what I liked.

 

Let’s begin with the writing style. Farrer uses a distant third-person, omniscient POV narrative voice. It’s a little archaic by typical modern conventions of genre fiction; we don’t experience characters’ emotions and thoughts so much as the narration describes what a person is thinking or feeling, and the narration may describe multiple character views and reactions in a single scene. It’s a bold choice, and I’ve no doubt that some people won’t like it.

 

However, I would argue it fits fantastically well here. In the context of this climactic battle between supernatural and superhuman forces amidst a war that has dragged on for a decade – Urdesh nails the feel of a Classical epic like the Illiad or the Aeneid or even sections of Paradise Lost. There’s a grandiosity to the narrative, a mythic larger-than-life quality to the tone that sets the atmosphere and primes the audience to slip into that particular mentality.

 

Further enhancing this is the quality of the prose, an element that further drives comparisons to the Illiad, and something that makes me think it was all a deliberate choice by Farrer. Urdesh boasts spectacular wordcraft in its descriptions and imagery, something Farrer’s prose has always been good at. There’s a visceral concreteness to the details and movements and descriptions of locale and action alike that thrusts the reader into the scene with vivid immediacy, like Homer’s descriptions of spear thrusts piercing cheeks and shattering teeth.

 

Of particular strength are those details of how Space Marines are terrifyingly inhuman in battle – everything from situational awareness, tactical cognition, and reaction time, to their physicality and how power-armored giants would interact with their environments. From sequences of gunfire where each subsequent shot is aimed according to anticipated reactions to Space Marines knocking out doorframes and building corners as they sprint at highway speeds to wonderfully gruesome Chaos mutations, there is some top-notch descriptive writing here.

 

I also want to point out here that the way Farrer writes Space Marines elevates their war waging above “big dudes in armor hit things hard.” They consider and select their actions down to the smallest nuances of movements in the context of rapidly evolving situations, all of it within timeframes that boggle the mind. Fights between Astartes-level forces play out like high-speed kinetic chess, where planning ahead and trying to anticipate the next few steps in the immediate battle is more important than punching harder or shooting more. Great stuff.

 

Urdesh also has snippets of great character moments, playing off some old fan-favorites like Brin Milo and Priad. Human/Astartes interactions are one of the highlights of this book, with both their differences and similarities juxtaposed to great impact. Some of the best stuff in Urdesh comes from the little humanizing moments of people having conversations.

 

Another element of Urdesh I enjoyed was its depiction of an enchanted universe. Now, this might seem like a no-brainer for a 40k book featuring the literal reincarnation of Saint Sabbat, a woman who has already demonstrated a penchant for miracles. But Farrer’s stylistic choice combined with the attention to details makes for an atmosphere and world that feels distinctly Other, one where the supernatural infuses and bleeds into the mundane in ways both horrific and subtle. There’s a tendency in some recent 40k to go big and extravagant with the warp and sorcery and even Imperial faith: solar system-sized fortresses, planet-ending rituals, avatars of the Emperor’s power blazing with golden light to banish battlefields of daemons. And yet… I often think there’s something missing in these depictions with all the flash and glitter: a sense of numinous.

 

I’m reminded of a story from the Hebrew Bible, of the prophet Elijah who goes to seek the Lord and experiences several powerful phenomena like storms and earthquakes, but God is not found in those. After the big showy events comes the sound of gentle breathing, and there Elijah recognizes the presence of the Lord. Urdesh manages to pull off a similar feel. It’s got the big flashy warp stuff certainly, but it’s in the seemingly little things that Urdesh invokes the sense of numinous: when Sabbat setting foot somewhere disrupts certain warp rituals, or when flowers that aren’t native to the planet suddenly begin growing and sprouting on their own, or when the Saint addresses Damocles squad in Ithakan and there’s no way she should know the words much less local dialect, accent, and cultural context. These little, uncanny incidents are somehow more effective at conveying a sense of there being More to the world than the umpteenth sky-splitting warp incursion.

 

So thus far, Urdesh does some things very well. Unfortunately, it does some other things very poorly.

 

Let’s go back to the writing style. I already mentioned the narrative POV, which won’t work for everybody. That’s a matter of personal taste, so I’m not dinging that here. The almost obsessive attention to details and description does carry its cost though – namely pacing. Urdesh is not a long novel – the hardcover clocks in at 265 pages, less when you take into account the numbering format and excessive dramatis personae – but it feels a lot longer. Events that happen over the span of seconds take pages of detailed, descriptive writing. There’s a lot of word count that goes into relatively few things happening.

 

As a corollary, and more detrimental to the novel as a whole, Urdesh is lacking in key aspects of plot and characterization. When it comes to plot, this novel is… kind of a mess, actually. The core thread is that of Sabbat entering Ghereppan and is quite simple – maybe too simple. However, the first half of the book is split up amongst multiple simultaneous operations conducted by different Iron Snakes squads, each showcasing a different form of combat and mission. At the risk of spoilers, I’ll just say that as of now, most of them don’t appear to be connected with Sabbat’s journey. Instead they feel like separate vignettes or short stories that got crunched into this novel.

 

Characterization also suffers. There are some fantastic moments between characters, but overall very little of it. Most characters lack distinct motive for what drives their actions: Sabbat is never the focus – she’s always a cipher for some mysterious Other, like a cup waiting to be filled, and we don’t get any insights into who she is as a person. The Space Marines fight because that’s what they do. The human characters just don’t get enough word count to develop them. There aren’t really character arcs and growth here, no personal journeys and change. I think there’s a reason one of the more poignant character scenes happens between two characters from Abnett’s other works: that groundwork has already been laid before.

 

Despite the fact that they take up the bulk of the word count, many of the Iron Snakes get no characterization; they might as well be labeled golems performing actions by rote. That’s a shame as it undercuts the tension and drama of the otherwise well-written action scenes – of which there are many. This is my biggest issue with Urdesh.

 

It’s well written from a technical perspective. It does interesting things with narrative perspective as literary evocation as a tool of tone. Yet it does so at the cost of plot and character. Doubly confusing about this is that Farrer’s prior body of work for 40k has been character studies low in action with heavy emphasis on plot and character motivation.

 

At its worst, Urdesh falls into the trap of a slickly-produced action movie that neglects its plot and characters. Whilst we can appreciate the skill and craftsmanship of an excellently done action scene, we need to care about who’s participating in it and why for it to truly resonate.

 

That probably comes off harsher than I intend to sound about Urdesh. It was a bit of a frustrating read for me, and I hope I’ve conveyed that in this review, not because it was a poor book through and through, but because the good stuff here is phenomenal, and that sadly makes its flaws stand out all the harsher for it.

 

Do I recommend Urdesh? Ultimately yes, with the caveat that this won’t be for everyone. I think from a technical perspective it’s worth checking out for how it manages to evoke classical epics and the great descriptive writing. However, if you don’t care about any of that and are only interested in characterization, plot, and pacing, then Urdesh probably will disappoint. I think its strengths and technical merits outweigh its weaknesses to be worth the time.

 


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#44
DukeLeto69

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@melancholic great review. I love Farrer’s work but it often isn’t an easy read. He certainly enjoys trying different literary styles.

I am certainly intrigued by the third person omni approach as there is a part of me that desires non human characters to remain “other” or “fantastical”. I want Space Marines to really be “transhuman” and lack human traits we are familiar with. This is even more so with Primarchs and I am glad the Emperor has never been internalised.

I guess it comes down to a similar thing to some of the other posts above that have been stimulated by Haley’s treatment of daemons/warp in Godblight. Our real world authors have to be extremely skilled to present anything so not human as having emotions or motivations that are also not human. Must be almost impossible to pull off, so might be why so many authors choose to keep them “external” and without POV?

Personal taste but I “think” I would have preferred the HH series to have kept the Primarchs as non-POV characters observed by humans and Astartes and explained by their actions rather than internal thought processes.

Will be reading Urdesh very soon.

One glaring thing missing from your review is any comment on this being only part one? I wonder how that impacts on enjoyment of the book?

Edited by DukeLeto69, 06 July 2021 - 06:54 AM.

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#45
A Melancholic Sanguinity

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I tried to keep that vague in case somebody considered it a spoiler.

 

As that particular cat seems to be out of the bag in this thread, I'll say this:

 

I reserve the right to change my comments about the seemingly disjointed nature of how this novel was constructed. I hope there will be some significant payoff for some of the currently extraneous Iron Snakes missions.

 

On Serpent and the Saint being Part One and personal enjoyment, I am of the position that a novel ought to be able to stand on its own in terms of providing a satisfying, self-contained read, even if it's explicitly part of a larger series. 

 

Serpent and the Saint just teeters on the edge of that for me. It's one thing to leave plot threads and story arcs on a cliffhanger note for the next volume, but this book doesn't end so much as it just stops.

 

I doubt I'll ever get proof of it one way or another, but I have a suspicion that at one point Urdesh was one novel with some digital shorts tangentially associated with it, intended for separate releases. Then for various reasons it got split into two novels and the other materials were integrated to bulk out the total length.

 

That said, I enjoyed this novel enough that I hope Part Two has already been written and we won't have a long wait before its release.


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#46
DukeLeto69

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Interesting theory. Obviously I need to read it but I would say that (splitting a long novel in two and adding shorts) is certainly plausible.

Pretty sure from what Farrer has said on Twitter that he has finished the entire book (but notice singular, no mention of bookS)

#47
Taliesin

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260 pages with wide spacing is well short of what I would expect from a novel 10 years in the making.

Is that why you guys think its but part 1 of 2, or is there more that indicates a second novel is coming?



#48
A Melancholic Sanguinity

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Well, my copy literally ends with "To be continued in Urdesh: The Magister and the Martyr", so I think there's some plan for a novel titled Urdesh: The Magister and the Martyrteehee.gif
 
Aside from the explicit capstone, the novel also ends without concluding any of its arcs or setups.
Spoiler

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#49
DukeLeto69

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260 pages with wide spacing is well short of what I would expect from a novel 10 years in the making.
Is that why you guys think its but part 1 of 2, or is there more that indicates a second novel is coming?


Have a look at my post further up the thread on 19 June 😉
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#50
Taliesin

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So we dont know for certain that this is what BL has done but it certainly seems like they just decided to slice this novel in half so that they can make twice the money.

And no info on when Book II comes out.






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