Review: Lorgar: Bearer of the Word by Gav Thorpe
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Long before he brought Chaos and war to the Imperium, the primarch Lorgar was raised on the world of Colchis, used as a weapon by the zealot Kor Phaeron in his bid to control the whole world. But Lorgar's destiny was far greater…

On the world of Colchis, mighty religions rule a decaying society in the name of absent gods – until the arrival of Lorgar. Primarch, prophet, leader of destiny, the Golden One is raised by Kor Phaeron, priest of the Covenant, to be his weapon in a quest for power. As religious war spreads across the planet, spearheaded by the Brotherhood of Lorgar, the primarch is plagued by visions of the future and the coming of the Emperor. To find his place in this new order, he must reach balance between the teachings of his adopted father Kor Phaeron, and the fate that he knows awaits him among the stars.
After a bit of a hiatus, I'm hopefully back in action for the foreseeable future. There are a bunch of reviews half-written on my desk, truth be told, but I figured you may be interested in the next Primarchs novel. It was recently released to the wider public who don't want to shell out a premium for limited editions, and as per usual, that means I got to read it now as well. It really is quite something!

The Story:
"Long before he brought Chaos and war to the Imperium, the primarch Lorgar was raised on the world of Colchis, used as a weapon by the zealot Kor Phaeron in his bid to control the whole world. But Lorgar's destiny was far greater…

On the world of Colchis, mighty religions rule a decaying society in the name of absent gods – until the arrival of Lorgar. Primarch, prophet, leader of destiny, the Golden One is raised by Kor Phaeron, priest of the Covenant, to be his weapon in a quest for power. As religious war spreads across the planet, spearheaded by the Brotherhood of Lorgar, the primarch is plagued by visions of the future and the coming of the Emperor. To find his place in this new order, he must reach balance between the teachings of his adopted father Kor Phaeron, and the fate that he knows awaits him among the stars."

The Review:
Lorgar: Bearer of the Word is a highly unconventional Horus Heresy/Primarchs novel. It features few boltshells fired at all and is relatively light on "present-day" Great Crusade/Horus Heresy content. Instead of showcasing the Word Bearers Legion's conquests, it showcases them only brielfy in interlude sections.
The bulk of the book? Lorgar's childhood and upbringing on Colchis. Almost the entirety of the novel is told not through the Primarch's eyes, but his "father" Kor Phaeron, probably the main architect of the entire Heresy. Besides Lorgar, the second viewpoint comes in the form of Nairo, one of Kor Phaeron's slaves at the time of Lorgar's arrival, whose views are juxtaposed against those of the ever-ambitious and corrupt archpriest of "the Powers" of Chaos.

Indeed, Lorgar: Bearer of the Word is taking the reader back to a time when the Primarchs were figures of myth and incredible awe, rather than the glorified action heroes of the later Horus Heresy series (looking at you, The Unremembered Empire...). While the big focus of the novel, as he well should be, Lorgar is kept reasonably ambiguous in certain respects, while the interpretations of his character through Kor Phaeron and Nairo tell us a lot more about themselves.

Kor Phaeron, true to form, is a bastard of the highest order. This novel does little to really humanize him. He's corrupted by the Powers-that-be from the moment we first meet him here, preaching while raising himself up above others - despite being exiled from the Holy City of Vharadesh. He is abusive, quick to anger, arrogant, an egomaniac for all his worship and sermonizing on the glories of the Pantheon. If you think you've felt disgusted by this man before, you might find that you have underestimated his spite greatly.

Growing up as the acolyte of Kor Phaeron, Lorgar actually did pretty well for himself. Despite brutal punishments even just for daring to raise questions, it seems strange that the Urizen would stay with his father-figure for so long, to the point of defending him and saving his life, obedient to a fault and despite the urgings of Nairo. The final section of the book manage to leave the reader with a new perspective on this, however - and I felt a little chilled thinking about the nature of the Aurelian's own ambition and calculations. If you've ever wondered why Lorgar may be inclined to throw his First Captain into the meat grinder of Calth and expecting him to lay down his life there, this story may give you plenty of reasons for it.

On the other hand, Nairo is a more tragic figure. Being an older slave, he is lucky to still be alive in his lord's service (or not, depending on how you look at it). He has dreams of his own, a different moral compass to all other highlighted characters and could be described as the angel in Lorgar's ear, opposed to Kor Phaeron's status as the devil. He wishes for equality and the abolishment of slavery, urges caution against his master's ambition and develops a deep friendship with the new messiah. His relationship with Lorgar highlights the best of the Primarch and gives us a look at what he might have become, had he not been stuck with the Dark Heart as his adoptive father...
The polarity between the two point of view characters does a solid job showcasing the various aspects that the young Primarch might represent for the preacher, the slave, and Colchis as a whole. Threat? Opportunity? Freedom? Conquest? Religious Truths? Maybe even a son?

Despite this being a Black Library novel, action is for the most part glossed over unless necessary to further Lorgar's (or Nairo & Kor Phaeron's) development. Late in the book, cities fall one after the other with no more than a name drop, for example, whereas the first and final compliances are showcased with a little more detail to characterize Lorgar's twin approaches: The Word, or the Mace. I applaud Gav for not making this a Primarch action flick - it is with in-depth characterizations that this Primarchs series scores, not "Bolterporn". The strongest parts of all previous books were when the Primarchs were left to talk and interact with their environments, or butt heads in the case of Russ, and the weakest when the Emperor's sons were reduced to the gods of war that they are. We've seen plenty of the latter throughout the galactic civil war already, and Primarchs should instead focus on giving the reader a greater understanding of its protagonists instead.

Lorgar: Bearer of the Word does that swimmingly. While hardly a bad word can be said about Aaron Dembski-Bowden's foundation for the Urizen via The First Heretic, Betrayer and connective tissue stories throughout, it only briefly looked at where the Aurelian came from, his very humble beginnings in the deserts of Colchis, beaten by his master and all too impressionable. Where Dembski-Bowden's Heresy work gives us a Lorgar that falls from the Emperor's Grace, and vice versa, turning from naive worship and making him a force to be reckoned with and the architect behind the Heresy itself, this prequel hands us the idealistic Lorgar, the ecclesiarch, the one to turn Colchis from the Powers to the Emperor's light, making the eventual reversal all the more tragic.

Stylistically, Gav Thorpe is also playing to his strengths. His origins in writing lore material are evident in a lot of his work, down to his narrative approach. With Lorgar being delivered in a more historically-inspired fashion and married to mythological, spiritual metaphor and accounts by what may be described as the messiah-Primarch's apostles, with a strong focus on dialogue over frantic action, the novel benefits greatly from his fairly unique style.
Thorpe even goes so far as to reinvent Colchis's whole calendar system, turning the world's days into trials in their own right, further reinforcing the hold religious tradition may have on a civilization that experiences as much as seven whole days during one full rotation of their world. While the impacts of the "Translator's Note on Time" included at the start of the novel are rarely make a massive impact on the unfolding story, they do explain much and give everything an interesting vibe. Colchisian culture is just as much a factor in Lorgar's relative childhood as his master and confidant are.

One thing that did disappoint me about the novel was the relatively abrupt end to it. Don't get me wrong, I liked the end, and it ended on an important event for Lorgar. However, I would have really liked to see a little epilogue about the Emperor and Magnus coming to meet Lorgar on Colchis, as it felt like the natural end point to Lorgar's ongoing visions about "The One". That this didn't happen confused me, as it'd have held great opportunity for Thorpe to pitch Lorgar's faith against the insidious nature of Kor Phaeron one final time and giving the reader an understanding of the Emperor's opinions on the zealotry rampant on his son's homeworld.

Another small nitpick would be that Erebus got only token mentions throughout the interlude chapters, but I guess including him in greater capacity would have diluted the exploration of Lorgar's relationship with Kor Phaeron, which I'd consider the highlight of the book.

One final note on the Dark Heart before I wrap this up, though. I saw some comments about Kor Phaeron still being depicted as a meanspirited, vile being with little redeeming qualities and that making it hard to empathize with the character. While I can see the hiccup for some people, I feel that this is exactly as it should be. Kor Phaeron was ruined by the Powers long before Lorgar appeared on Colchis. His exile made him even more bitter and wrathful, the effects of which we see here. We don't need to turn villains into victims of circumstance every time. Kor Phaeron is an utterly ambitious, zealous, calculating madman whose ambition, zealotry and madness needed a little more depth, as did his relation to Lorgar. He needed to be a fleshed-out villain, not a misunderstood tragic anti-hero. He'll never be that, and for that I am thankful. In my eyes, Lorgar: Bearer of the Word did a great job turning Kor Phaeron from an oftentimes shallow, mustache-twirling Bond-villain into a believable antagonist full of spite but also with his own insecurities and doubts, his own burdens and faults. He has become relatable, if not exactly somebody to empathize or even sympathize with.

Be that as it may, I quite enjoyed this book. I'd say it ties with Perturabo: The Hammer of Olympia for my favorite in the series so far. It lends credence to Kor Phaeron, makes subtle comments on Lorgar Aurelian, shows the immediate effects of Monarchia in its brief interludes and connects a lot of dots in a creative and engaging way. The new perspective on well-established characters has also made me enthusiastic about the Word Bearers again and I am sorely tempted to re-read The First Heretic sometime soon.
Lorgar: Bearer of the Word manages to uphold the high standard of the Primarchs series with little trouble and is essential reading for any fan of the Word Bearers or devoted acolyte of the Pantheon, if you ask me.

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Review: Restorer by Chris Wraight
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Shiban Khan has returned to Terra. As the Warmaster draws ever closer, his body is remade and his mechanical shackles cast aside, but there are other, deeper wounds that must still be confronted before he can face battle again.
This may be a mere short story, but I figured it was worth talking about, considering how much it impressed me. The next novel review should be coming soon, once I figure out some things. In the meantime, some gushing about Chris Wraight's White Scars!

The Story:
"Shiban Khan has returned to Terra. As the Warmaster draws ever closer, his body is remade and his mechanical shackles cast aside, but there are other, deeper wounds that must still be confronted before he can face battle again."

The Review:
Restorer is a beautiful story. It perfectly highlights just what power the short story format can have, if used intelligently, as an aside to an ongoing saga. It is not a mandatory read to understand the rest of the Horus Heresy by any means, but just enough of a bonus, an epilogue chapter to a character arc from two previous novels, a novella and some shorts, that it is utterly satisfying and moving for the reader.

If you haven't read Chris Wraight's White Scars novels for the Horus Heresy, Scars and The Path of Heaven, you are doing something wrong to begin with. If you have read them, as well as the Brotherhood of the Storm novella (printed in Legacies of Betrayal), you simply owe it to yourself to read Restorer as well.

It really puts the bow on one of the most striking plotlines from Wraight's Scars stories: The friendship/rivalry between Shiban Khan and Torghun Khan. Where Brotherhood of the Storm established their divergent philosophies of war and showcased Torghun's struggles to accept his place within the Ordu of Jaghatai, and Scars delved even deeper into their origins and paths, with The Path of Heaven handing us the results of their rivalry, which presented the V Legion's own schism in microcosm, Restorer puts past errors, grievances and stubborness at rest in a very introspective way.
An important way, too, if you ask me.

Where many short stories in the Horus Heresy series turn into slices of action across the galaxy, this one brings us to the heart of Terra and gives us insights into the state of the Throneworld in the final months before the Siege. It even gives us a glimpse of the traitor forces' arrival, which may be a first. It does so in a very personal way that speaks volumes about the strength of Wraight's characterization skills. Shiban Khan, for all his faults, invites us to prepare for the impending assault of Horus Lupercal's forces - both physically and mentally.

I honestly believe that Chris got something special here. Even if this turns out to be the final piece in his White Scars saga for the Heresy, it'd be an epitaph worth remembering as one of the most poignant pieces of short fiction across the entire series. It is the final piece that I could only have hoped for after the grim events from The Path of Heaven and puts to rest one of the very few points that book disappointed me with back when I read it.

As far as the depictions of Terra itself go, I can't criticise a thing. There is a clear contrast here to Wraight's recent Inquisition novel The Carrion Throne, with both versions of Old Earth across the Millennia feeling distinct and right, giving just enough of an impression of the world to satisfy curiosity and letting imagination extrapolate the rest. The inhabitants we come across feel troubled and authentic in the situations they are presented in. This is a world just waiting on the edge of its proverbial seat, expecting the arrival of the apocalypse any day now. The dire situation was handled perfectly, in my eyes.

With all that in mind, I cannot recommend Restorer highly enough. It stands as one of the series' finest pieces of short fiction - and with as many dozens of those out there, that's got to count for something.

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Review: Perturabo: The Hammer of Olympia by Guy Haley
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While crusading to build the Imperium, Perturabo, mercurial primarch of the Iron Warriors, hears ot turmoil on the world where he was raised, and abandons the crusade to return home and save his people.

Born to a life of political conflict, Perturabo was always considered a child prodigy among the people of Olympia – indeed, his philosophical and scientific works were beyond compare. But then, after his rediscovery by the Emperor and decades of thankless military campaigning on the Great Crusade, the primarch begins to resent his Legion’s place in the Imperium. When word reaches him of turmoil on his adoptive home world, he orders the Iron Warriors to abandon their campaign against the alien hrud and crush this emerging rebellion by any means necessary...
Here we go with Primarchs #4, Perturabo. It took me a week to really collect my thoughts after finishing this novel. That I'm still gushing should tell you it's good, right?

The Story:
"While crusading to build the Imperium, Perturabo, mercurial primarch of the Iron Warriors, hears ot turmoil on the world where he was raised, and abandons the crusade to return home and save his people.

Born to a life of political conflict, Perturabo was always considered a child prodigy among the people of Olympia – indeed, his philosophical and scientific works were beyond compare. But then, after his rediscovery by the Emperor and decades of thankless military campaigning on the Great Crusade, the primarch begins to resent his Legion’s place in the Imperium. When word reaches him of turmoil on his adoptive home world, he orders the Iron Warriors to abandon their campaign against the alien hrud and crush this emerging rebellion by any means necessary..."

The Review:
Perturabo: The Hammer of Olympia is the best Primarchs novel to date (or at least up to Lorgar, which recently dropped in a limited edition. I won't be reading that for a while). I feel like I'm repeating that with every book in the series, but here I can say without a doubt that Guy Haley moved me more than any of the previous authors managed to. Not just because it is a stellar, character-building novel about one of the most underappreciated Primarchs of the Heresy, but also because it struck home on a very personal level.

The novel is split into two plotlines which obviously relate to one another but still divided by almost two centuries. Both focus for the most part on Perturabo and draw different pictures of the Lord of Iron, without making the character's incarnations indistinguishable from one another.

The major plotline plays out just before the outbreak of the Horus Heresy, mere years before the disastrous betrayal at Isstvan. Perturabo and his Legion are throwing themselves into the meat grinder at the tail end of the Great Crusade, attempting to contain and exterminate a Hrud migration. I cannot remember if we ever actually saw Hrud in action in a Black Library novel - I kinda doubt it. This alien race existed for a long time, of course, and was even covered in the ancient lore tome Xenology, but the most we got was a throwaway reference here and there. The most recent examples I can think of are in fact the Horus Heresy stories featuring Barabas Dantioch, Warsmith of the Iron Warriors. Dantioch, to my delight, is a key figure in this novel, leading right up to The Iron Within by Rob Sanders from the Age of Darkness anthology.

The Hrud are a menace upon the galaxy. They don't function in the typical way beings of flesh and blood might - they distort time, travel through it and their weapons and mere presence produce warped fields that can turn humans to dust within moments, or age them for thousands of years. Fighting them proves not only a logistical nightmare, but utterly devastating in morale. This is the campaign that really broke the Iron Warriors, after decades of chafing at being handed dirty, thankless jobs.
We've heard about Perturabo's belief that the Emperor and the Imperium at large neglected him and his Legion, didn't appreciate them and used them poorly, but we never really saw why they might think that. It is one thing to be told they got bad tasks set for them, and another to truly experience how bad it could get. The Hammer of Olympia is that story that the setting, the Legion and the Primarch desperately needed. This is a vital tale to fully appreciate just what would motivate the Lord of Iron, previously shown as so enthusiastic in Graham McNeill's Magnus the Red: Master of Prospero, to break his oaths and side with Horus Lupercal. It does so marvelously.

Haley's writing of the Hrud and the way they defiend time and space reminded me of another novel of his, namely Champion of Mars; I don't want to ruin the twist of that particular scifi adventure for you (though I will say that you should go out and read it, the Kindle edition on Amazon should go for about 3 bucks only and it was very well worth more than that), but there are certain parallels to be drawn. Haley is no stranger to timey-whimey topics and I felt that the whole theme was handled very competently.

Through Dantioch, we see the meat grinder itself, the Legion's doubts and misgivings, and the price Perturabo's sons had to pay for going against their lord's own arrogance and martyr complex. I honestly love that Haley got a chance to show this fallout, after the excellent job he did with the Warsmith in Pharos. Barabas Dantioch, ever since The Iron Within, has been one of my favorite characters in the franchise. The past two years have seen him a hero with a big legacy, so it felt satisfying to follow a younger Dantioch for a change.

On the other side, we get to see Perturabo's early days. We see him arrive at his foster father's court on Olympia, grow up with, if not really under, the Tyrant of Lochos. We see him achieve great marvels and defy culture and religion. We see him reshape his adopted home world, while growing stronger in mind and body. However, we also see him shaped by the court intrigue, the paranoia of Olympia's tyrants, the assassination attempts, the heathen beliefs of priests and demagogues. We see him butt heads with his father Dammekos, bond with his sister Calliphone, and grow ever more petulant, cynical, bitter and untrusting.

Perturabo grows up feeling appreciated only for his many talents, yet not really seen for what he truly is. He feels used and abused, despite all the status and fame thrown at him. He comes to despise many aspects of his home world, subjugating it while lacking the passion to really lead it himself. He thinks others fools, and even his sister, the one person he seems to bond with, cannot be fully trusted. He keeps looking for the stars and awaits the Emperor's arrival, neglecting his subjects in turn.

Things obviously go south before long, and if you've followed the Heresy for a while, you'll probably know how things end for Olympia. I found the final chapters dealing with the Primarch's return home to be hard-hitting, uncompromising and utterly suitable to express the Legion's fall from grace while also showing them as conflicted, complex creatures with broken spirits. The Lord of Iron let his heart grow hard and weary, and it shows on his Legion and their relationship with him.

There is an exchange towards the end, between Perturabo himself and his sister, which really hit a nerve and made me reflect on the Primarch and even myself:

"Always you do things the most difficult way, and in the most painful manner. You cultivate a martyr’s complex, lurching from man to man, holding out your bleeding wrists so they might see how you hurt yourself. You brood in the shadows when all you want to do is scream, 'Look at me!' You are too arrogant to win people over through effort. You expect people to notice you there in the half-darkness, and point and shout out, 'There! There is the great Perturabo! See how he labours without complaint!'"

The entire chapter and Perturabo's conversation with Calliphone are, in my eyes, the definitive exploration of Perturabo. Everything Haley built up throughout the novel, everything we've seen in the past, is boiled down and addressed in their argument in one shape or another. I cannot possibly express just how incredibly satisfying Guy managed to sketch the Lord of Iron in that chapter alone. Even without everything else in this book, that single chapter highlights the qualities and faults of the titular character better than anything else printed about him to date. It instills an understanding of the character that goes beyond what McNeill managed in Angel Exterminatus and turns Perturabo into simultaneously one of the most tragic figures of the franchise, but also one of the most damned and twisted. Haley understood Perturabo on a fundamental level that I can only applaud.

To be frank, this is one of the few books that made me feel utterly fulfilled. It ticked all the boxes I was hoping it would. There was brutal, uncompromising action, disastrous arrogance, tragedy in motion and a sense of fully fleshed out complexity about the titular character that every single novel in this Primarchs series should be striving for. The Hammer of Olympia reaffirmed once more just how spectacular an author Guy Haley is, in my opinion. He understood the Lord of Iron and all his disparate depictions and was fully able to knit them together in a wholly compelling rendition. Perturabo: The Hammer of Olympia stands tall next to the best the Horus Heresy series has to offer.


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Review: Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Stratagem by Yoshiki Tanaka
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Remnants of the high nobility, manipulated by the third power of Phezzan, abduct the seven-year-old Emperor and, with the cooperation of the Free Planets Alliance, declare the establishment of a traditional Imperial government. Reinhard, however, has turned the tables by making a secret pact with Phezzan high officials, and plans a grand invasion of the Alliance by way of the Phezzan Corridor. So begins an epic battle to the death between Yang, who despite surmising Reinhard s true intentions must defend Iserlohn, and the Imperial Army's peerless fighter, von Reuentahl.
Getting my hands on this hasn't been an easy task. I preordered the paperback back in November 2016, yet still didn't get my copy until almost 3 weeks after its June 21st release. Likewise, there was no shortcut through an audiobook edition like with the previous three (please, go pick up Tim Gerard Reynolds' narrations!), so I was forced to wait it out.
Once I got it, I was through in a little over a week, despite many appointments and stressful nonsense going on. So let's see about this review, eh?

The Story:
"Remnants of the high nobility, manipulated by the third power of Phezzan, abduct the seven-year-old Emperor and, with the cooperation of the Free Planets Alliance, declare the establishment of a traditional Imperial government. Reinhard, however, has turned the tables by making a secret pact with Phezzan high officials, and plans a grand invasion of the Alliance by way of the Phezzan Corridor. So begins an epic battle to the death between Yang, who despite surmising Reinhard s true intentions must defend Iserlohn, and the Imperial Army's peerless fighter, von Reuentahl."

The Review:
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Stratagem is the fourth of ten volumes in the classic japanese space opera series. Originally released during the 80s, it has only recently made its way to an english release. I could go on and on lamenting the sluggishness of US/UK publishers in picking up this well-loved classic, but I believe I've done that already. Right now I am actually happy that we'll be seeing the midway point later this year, and volume six by April 2018. Stratagem, being the most recent installment I got to read, has done nothing to blunt my enthusiasm for this series. If anything, I am more eager for volume five to find its way into my hands.
This being a good way into the series, expect spoilers for the first three books. I reviewed the previous volumes already, so if you're new to it, best to start there.

Unlike previous books, especially volume three, Stratagem focuses little on the Free Planets Alliance, and with it Admiral Yang Wen-li and his crew. Instead it turns the reader's eyes towards the Galactic Empire's capital of Odin, its semi-dictatorial ruler Reinhard von Lohengramm, and his dealings with the merchant-dominion of Phezzan. While I was initially a little disappointed with not getting to see as much of Miracle Yang and co, his role is a passive one in general. Unlike last time when he had to go up against a court of inquiry and rush back to Iserlohn Fortress in a last-minute defense against the empire, here he is stuck at the base, waiting for Reinhard to make his grand moves. He has little chance to take the initiative, which is in great parts down to the inertia of the Free Planets Alliance's bureaucracy and incompetent leadership.
So in my eyes it makes perfect sense to point the camera to where the history of the galaxy is being written: In the Lohengramm camp.

However, that is not to say that Yang and co have no relevance here. If anything, things are being set in motion to break the status quo at Iserlohn, in a multitude of ways, and put Yang on a path that has been hinted at for quite some time. For one, Julian Mintz, Yang's ward, is promoted and sent to Phezzan as a military attaché, on command of the bigwigs on the FPA's capital of Heinessen. Julian benefits from a good chunk of development throughout this novel, with more promised in the next installment, while Yang's own position is destabilized somewhat. Thankfully it is not all doom and gloom, and Yang, Julian and co offer some of the most amusing scenes in the series yet.

But let's turn towards Reinhard here. Last we saw, he had put down the nobility's rebellion, placed himself in the position of de-facto ruler of the Galactic Empire, while maintaining a seven year old child as the official emperor. Unable to deal with a child the same way he might with a full-grown despot, he is forced to wait for a chance to fully bury the old Goldenbaum Dynasty that has reigned for nearly 500 years. When Phezzan reaches out with an elaborate plan to abduct the child-emperor, Reinhard makes his move by allowing it to proceed and in doing so offer him a casus belli against the FPA and gain undeniable advantages in the coming war.

Almost the entire book deals with this situation, from inception to the military push spearheaded by Reinhard's fleet commanders Wolfgang Mittermeier and Oskar von Reuentahl. Both of these have been interesting to watch over the last few books, friends as they are, but here their paths might begin to diverge a little. Von Reuentahl receives the bulk of development, exploring his own ambitions and role at Reinhard's court. He goes up against big odds here, trying to prove his worth not only to the imperial marshall, but also himself. Tanaka is building up towards an eventful escalation over the coming book or two.

Meanwhile, Phezzan's meddling in the two big civilizations' respective political systems and businesses leads to quite a lot of tension. I loved seeing how arrogant and selfish the Phezzanese are depicted here. They are self-serving to a fault. This time they may or may not have miscalculated in their schemes, but then, we know from previous volumes that their real goals are far less obvious than people think.
Through Julian and some later chapters we actually get a good look at Phezzan's way of life, which I found to be an interesting contrast to the other two major powers. It also made it appear that, for all their mercantile talents, the Phezzanese might be living in a bubble of their own making.

Another thing that got satisfying developments was the relationship between Reinhard von Lohengramm and his chief secretary, Hildegard von Mariendorf. I really am quite fond of her, as she is presented as a character with a strong moral code yet also utterly loyal to her lord. Her role diminishes somewhat in the later chapters, but early on she scores a lot of points in my book. Her interactions with von Lohengramm are in a way reminiscent of those between the Golden Brat and his lost friend Siegfried Kircheis, who of course isn't forgotten either.

The big war efforts, however, are mostly confined to the later parts of the book, and most likely the next part. The book focuses instead on the build-up, the plan, the schemes that lead there and the way they may turn against their makers. This is the book where the breaking of the status quo between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance truly begins, but also that for Reinhard and Yang respectively. Things are inevitably going to change, and Tanaka made an impressive show of how that could be achieved.
While the book errs on the shorter end of the spectrum, clocking in at just over 200 pages, it was full of character development and even explorations of the historical background of the Galactic Empire and its former rulers. Some of these excursions into history were actually pretty shocking and gruesome, giving another reason to the reader as to why Reinhard might be justified in burning the Goldenbaum Dynasty to the ground. But while the end may be laudable, it is questionable whether the ends justify the means.

But then, this series has been building up towards a variety of role reversals for a while. Stratagem continues hinting towards these, just how previous novels have made the empire under Reinhard appear fair and heading into a more liberal direction, whereas the FPA keeps regressing towards political tyranny. This, in my eyes, is one of the coolest, most satisfying aspects about this entire series; the perversion of ideals, the realization that to do good in the long run you might have to do bad in the short term, the reader's deliberations on who is on the right side of history, it all adds up to a hugely engaging, pseudo-historical narrative the likes of which you don't see often.

Considering how strongly Stratagem continues the series' trend of excellent character building and leads right up to what should be the mid-series climax, my love for Legend of the Galactic Heroes just got reaffirmed. The pendulum of human history keeps swinging and I wonder what repercussions the counter-swing will have in the future.

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Review: Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
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Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety. In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH, join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike ...
I originally read Sword of Destiny for pleasure, to scratch an itch I had recently. Then I ended up finishing it very quickly and typed a bit of an informal review on Goodreads. I had concerns about reviewing this here, out of order, as the only Witcher review, but now I figured why the hell not and expanded on my thoughts a little. Be advised to read The Last Wish before you pick up this one, however!

The Story:
"Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety. In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH, join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike ..."



The Review:
Sword of Destiny reminded me again why I love the Witcher series so much. I originally read it many years ago, in German. I got struck by the desire to re-read it a while ago and just ended up going with it this week.
I can't help but breeze through Sapkowski's books. There's something comfortable about them, despite all the tragedy and pain. This one was, even on the second read, no exception. It expresses a lot of what I find fascinating about this setting and its characters, whether they're presented in the books, comics or indeed the video game adaptations.

This collection never bored me, quite in contrast to many other anthologies I tried reading. Often I find myself drifting off, not getting pulled into one story or another enough to keep my drive going. If anything, here I actually got a lot more out of it this time than during the first read. Not because of translation troubles (the German translations could be argued as being superior due to the variety in vocabulary compared to English, which suits the Polish original better, actually), but because having read all but Lady of the Lake and Season of Storms (which is being released in English in 2018 for the first time!) by now, and having played the games, there are many little tidbits and foreshadowing that I picked up on this time.

It is hard to pinpoint which story in here was the strongest. While it is an anthology of short stories that can be read individually and still enjoyed, progressing from one to the next benefitted the entire collection. Every story establishes something, often in relation to Yennefer of Vengerberg, though later also Cirilla, Geralt's destiny child. Unlike The Last Wish, there is no framing meta-story going on here, but this might have been for the better as it might have interrupted the flow of the wider narrative.

Every story, as with The Last Wish, comes with a moral, sometimes more obvious than other times. Every story also comes with an engaging twist, or three, and once again Sapkowski made sure that the titles of the individual stories are reflected within the tales themselves. As you read on through them, you'll end up finding more meaning to what you might have gotten out of reading just the title in passing. Something More especially has a fantastic impact after finishing up.

If you've ever wondered why Geralt's on-and-off relationship with Yennefer is so important to the series, or why players of The Witcher 3 opt for romancing Yennefer over Triss Merigold, then this is also the most important book in my eyes. It expresses so much about their relationship, their feelings for one another, their struggles and fears, that it defines both the sorceress and the White Wolf in extremely strong terms. Yennefer might come out of a few stories with a lot of criticism, but it is apparent that she's troubled, not malicious, and that Geralt is incredibly important to her. Neither can really handle it, both suffer from their roles as sorceress and witcher, and the downsides of each. But when they click, it is obvious that they are made for one another, despite all.

This is also the first real outing for Cirilla, Geralt's adopted daughter. I must stress that reading The Last Wish followed by this book is vitally important before going on with Blood of Elves. It is easy to dismiss the anthologies because they're not part of the five novel series and may be considered side stories from the big arc, but that'd be silly and actually detrimental to the experience. You'll struggle to understand why Ciri is so important without these two collections. You'll lose out magnificently if you skip out on reading Sword of Destiny (the short story) and the following Something More. There is so much passion in both tales, so much connective tissue, that you can't just cut it out.

Some of the stories are also incredibly sad, to the point of almost being real tear-jerkers. In general, the stories are full of emotion. Every one of them instills either a sense of wonder and love, frustration, hopelessness, fear, happiness, confusion or even just sheer joy at another silly adventure with Dandelion in Novigrad, involving a Doppler imitating a halfling merchant. There are some amazing characters to be found here, like Essi Daven the poet, one of Dandelion's friends and competitors, or Three Jackdaws the enigmatic traveller with his two warrior maiden bodyguards. Everybody is full of character, as usual with Sapkowski's works. While you may never meet them again, or maybe just in the video games for a cameo, their presence here adds much flavor to their respective tales and turns the world of Geralt of Rivia more colorful than a setting so full of misery, death, sex and war would usually look.

What may be seen as a bit lacking to people is the relative lack of monsters for Geralt to hunt down. There really aren't many, and those that exist tend to be story openers rather than the point of said stories. The first, The Bounds of Reason, for example, opens with Geralt slaying a Basilisk, but that isn't actually shown. What Sapkowski instead puts the reader's lens on is the townsfolk's reaction to it, and their doubts about the Witcher's ability to pull it off while he's in the beast's lair. A Shard of Ice opens in an even filthier spot than that, but deals with far more human problems throughout. While Witchers are, primarily, monster hunters by profession, job opportunities are rare in this age and more often than not it isn't them that people need to be concerned about. That is a theme that runs through the entire franchise and Sword of Destiny makes that point as well.

In my honest opinion, this is one of the strongest books in the wider series. I think what made this the better of the two anthologies in my eyes were the overall raised stakes for Geralt and his friends. Whereas the first book was more of a collection of introductions to the primary cast and their roles, this one utilized them in a way that made them grow from their experiences. It wouldn't have been able to do it this well without The Last Wish doing the groundwork, of course, but it was exceptional at what it did. Sword of Destiny holds many consequences for its characters, their lives and relationships. It gives and takes away in equal measure while changing the playing field bit by bit and get Geralt and Ciri ready for their great journey throughout the following five novels.

It is a damned shame that it wasn't translated to English in the correct chronological order, after The Last Wish, instead of between Baptism of Fire and The Tower of the Swallow. Whoever thought THAT was a good idea needs to get his priorities checked. Considering this was the first published book in the Polish original, it is even more mindboggling to me. If you're new to the series, please read it in chronological order rather than by the English publishing list.

Sword of Destiny on Goodreads
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