Review: The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter by Michael J. Sullivan
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Caught between his partner’s moral compass and a father’s desire for vengeance, will Royce turn the rivers of Rochelle red?

When Gabriel Winter’s daughter mysteriously disappears and is presumed dead, the wealthy whiskey baron seeks revenge. Having lived in Colnora during the infamous Year of Fear, he hires the one man he knows can deliver a bloody retribution—the notorious Duster.

Ride with Royce and Hadrian as the cynical ex-assassin and idealistic ex-mercenary travel to a mysterious old-world city filled with nobles claiming descent from imperial aristocracy. Riyria’s job appears easy: discover what happened to the missing duchess and, if she lives, bring her home . . . if not, punish those responsible. But nothing is simple in the crowded, narrow, mist-filled streets of Rochelle, where more than one ancient legend lurks.
I've been eagerly awaiting this one to become available on December 5th and finished it last night. I love Riyria and would recommend the series to basically everyone with a thing for fantasy. Be aware, though, that you might not find this book on Amazon just yet. The eBook and print are available directly through the author's website for now, and the Audiobook is available on Audible, but a wider release is still a few months out. This one's also a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The Story:
"Caught between his partner’s moral compass and a father’s desire for vengeance, will Royce turn the rivers of Rochelle red?

When Gabriel Winter’s daughter mysteriously disappears and is presumed dead, the wealthy whiskey baron seeks revenge. Having lived in Colnora during the infamous Year of Fear, he hires the one man he knows can deliver a bloody retribution—the notorious Duster.

Ride with Royce and Hadrian as the cynical ex-assassin and idealistic ex-mercenary travel to a mysterious old-world city filled with nobles claiming descent from imperial aristocracy. Riyria’s job appears easy: discover what happened to the missing duchess and, if she lives, bring her home . . . if not, punish those responsible. But nothing is simple in the crowded, narrow, mist-filled streets of Rochelle, where more than one ancient legend lurks."

The Review:
The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter was a book I had been looking forward to since, well, since it was still titled Riyria Chronicles 4, unwritten and not even Kickstarted yet. Expectations were high, this being the 10th Riyria novel in total (6 Revelations and 3 Chronicles preceding it).

I still remember picking up Theft of Swords, the book collecting the first two novels, more on a whim than anything. The cover wasn't even that special, something that has changed since Marc Simonetti got to provide incredible art for The Death of Dulgath, Legends of the First Empire and now Winter's Daughter. Back then, I started listening to the audiobook of Theft of Swords while cooking dinner and found myself enjoying the first chapter of The Crown Conspiracy a great deal for how it introduced the heroes Royce and Hadrian in a somewhat whimsical manner while setting the stage for the world they inhabited. I felt comfortable with the duo pretty much immediately, and blasted through the entire 6 Riyria Revelations novels in short order.

Since then, I have read Michael J. Sullivan's first two Legends of the First Empire novels, Hollow World, and the four Riyria Chronicles novels so far. There has been no book that I haven't enjoyed in the lineup, and Winter's Daughter is no exception. Michael always says in his fore/afterwords of Chronicles that he writes them as stand-alone experiences and didn't want to drag the series out unnecessarily, but as long as people want more of Hadrian and Royce, there's room for sequels to the prequels.

I'm glad to say that The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter should easily secure at least a Chronicles 5, and is already poised with plot hooks for it. Nothing in this particular novel shows signs of Michael slowing down when it comes to the Riyria duo. From prose to pacing to interesting plot ideas, a fantastic cast of side characters and the ever-expected witty dialogue and squabbling between the two friends, Winter's Daughter feels once more like coming home. Or, to put it differently, like inviting two old friends back into your home, having waffles for breakfast and having awkward conversations about unicorns and polka dots. In yet other words, I loved it.

The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter takes our rogues to the city of Rochelle to bring down bloody vengeance on the Duke for possibly having murdered his wife, the daughter of whiskey baron Gabriel Winter. Things aren't quite so easily solved, however, and with conspiracies, revolutions and a race against time unfolding, Royce and Hadrian are forced to reflect not only on the living situations of Mir, elf-human mixed breeds, dwarves and Calians in an ancient gothic city raised on tradition, piety and superstition, but also on their own lives and choices throughout.

The book is chock-full with great moments, adds background to Hadrian and Royce alike, brings the couple even closer together and, to my delight, ties a few more knots to connect the prequel Chronicles to the Revelations. Michael J. Sullivan is a master at making his world of Elan feeling interconnected and dynamic, whether it be through small easter eggs or a wider mythology. I'm sure I even overlooked a few of these points of interest due to how long it has been since I read the Riyria Revelations - which only encourages me more to do a full re-read of the series. But even if you haven't read them yet in the first place, you'll eventually appreciate how much clever little foreshadowing happens here as well.

The new, and expanded on, side characters were honestly delightful as well. From Mercator Sikara, the Mir trying to find compromises and protect her people, over Evelyn Hemsworth, the old "hag" renting out her room to Royce and Hadrian and always, always added a motherly snark to a scene, to Duchess 'Genny' herself, the novel is stocked with interesting, dynamic and even inspiring characters. The villains, too, feel authentic and offer a proper challenge or three. There was never a dull moment, but plenty of laughter. It is incredible to me how well this entry straddles the line between being a depressing story about real oppression where even children may end up dead in an alley, and being a humorous adventure full of Jiggery-Pokery.

It is a rare series that, even 10 books in, with a 6 novel ancient-prequel series written and for the most part ready for publication, and a bridge series in the planning stages, can feel at the same time utterly comfortable and yet exciting and refreshing, like a soft spring breeze that manages to brush away the past winter's frustrations. With Riyria, I know what I'm in for before picking the book up for the first time; I know that I'll enjoy myself, the story and the characters and can just lean back and enjoy the ride. It puts me into an awkward position between wanting to finish the novels quickly and drawing them out as best I can, to have something to look forward to the following day as well.

In the end though, I really don't want to spoil the adventure. I'll just say that, whether or not you have read Riyria before, this book will entertain and excite you on its own merits, and if you have read other installments, you'll end up with even more to appreciate.

And one more note on the audiobook release, since that was my go-to format for a Sullivan novel as well:
Tim Gerard Reynolds hits it out of the park yet again (making me even sadder that Haikasoru hasn't been commissioning him for Legend of the Galactic Heroes audiobooks lately, or rather, stopped doing them entirely, because then I'd be in for another ride with the man right now!). Tim has been one of my absolute favorite narrators for a while, and his chemistry with Michael's books is astounding. He is the voice of Royce and Hadrian and, even when reading an unrecorded short story, his voice rings in my head. With the entire series available on Audible, I'd encourage you to give his narrations a try if you have even a passing interest in having books read to you.

Now, I really just want to know about that sodding diary, so please, Michael, write Chronicles 5 plenty soon, alright?

The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter on Goodreads
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Review: The Horusian Wars: Resurrection by John French
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Inquisitor Covenant and his warband go on the hunt for a traitor within their holy order.

War rages in the Caradryad Sector. Worlds are falling to madness and rebellion, and the great war machine of the Imperium is moving to counter the threat. Amongst its agents is Inquisitor Covenant. Puritan, psyker, expert swordsman, he reserves an especial hatred for those of his order who would seek to harness the power of Ruin as a weapon. Summoned to an inquisitorial conclave, Covenant believes he has uncovered such a misguided agent and prepares to denounce the heretic Talicto before his fellows. But when the gathering is attacked and many left dead in its wake, Covenant vows to hunt down Talicto and discover the truth behind the mysterious cult apparently at the heart of the massacre. In the murky plot into which he is drawn, Covenant knows only one thing for certain: trust no one.
This one took me a while to get through, and a while to review. Like, you know, about everything these past six months or so. Apologies.

I'm not feeling too good about this review, to be honest. John French is a solid author overall and I've enjoyed most of his works. His Warmaster audio drama script is one of my favorite pieces of Black Library fiction ever. Reading over this review, I feel like a fusion of Negative Nancy and Debbie Downer. So I want to preface by saying that I still consider Resurrection worth reading, despite my many gripes.

The Story:
"Inquisitor Covenant and his warband go on the hunt for a traitor within their holy order.

War rages in the Caradryad Sector. Worlds are falling to madness and rebellion, and the great war machine of the Imperium is moving to counter the threat. Amongst its agents is Inquisitor Covenant. Puritan, psyker, expert swordsman, he reserves an especial hatred for those of his order who would seek to harness the power of Ruin as a weapon. Summoned to an inquisitorial conclave, Covenant believes he has uncovered such a misguided agent and prepares to denounce the heretic Talicto before his fellows. But when the gathering is attacked and many left dead in its wake, Covenant vows to hunt down Talicto and discover the truth behind the mysterious cult apparently at the heart of the massacre. In the murky plot into which he is drawn, Covenant knows only one thing for certain: trust no one."

The Review:
Resurrection feels like a tricky novel to rate and review. I was anticipating its release a great deal, it being one of the two new Inquisitor novels this year, and unlike Chris Wraight's The Carrion Throne with its original cast, John French's series promised to drag Inquisitor Covenant into the limelight. Covenant originally appeared in the Inquisitor specialist game by Games Workshop and, as a result, is about as venerable a character as Gregor Eisenhorn. Him and his henchmen deserved the best treatment possible, which I was sure John could deliver.

Sadly, I came away from it with mixed feelings all around. Resurrection was far from what I was hoping for, at times formulaic and at others pretty out there. Its biggest problem, especially when put up against the classic Eisenhorn: Xenos, is that it doesn't feel like a compelling, self-contained narrative. Many points set up future novels, like the sequel Incarnation, due in 2018. But in the process of setting up many branches, the core of the novel felt strangely out of focus. This I'd attribute mostly to how John chose to present "his" Inquisitor. Whereas Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn trilogy gives us a first person narrative from the man himself, and Wraight's Carrion Throne offers viewpoint chapters for Inquisitor Crowl, Resurrection places Covenant into an awkward position. He is a peripheral character in his own first novel outing, felt just beyond your field of vision, but rarely at its center. Understanding him as a character proves a difficult, nebulous endeavour - which I will assume was the author's intent. It just so happens that it did not manage to grip me as a result of that.

Now, I'm no stranger to having to puzzle things out on my own. Heck, that's one of the main reasons I adore Peter Fehervari's stories so much - they make the reader get involved and think through implications, hints and connect dots themselves. I just did not feel like French managed to pull it off here. There's too little to go on to form any halfway solid picture of Covenant. Even what is straight up said about him by his henchmen, like preacher Josef Khoriv, himself a character from Inquisitor, only gives the reader rough strokes while keeping his master mysterious. We find out tidbits about Covenant's past from second hand sources, biased ones at that, and everybody in his retinue seems to avoid discussing much of anything beyond the immediate action. What worked in short stories like The Purity of Ignorance, which I loved, or the Agent of the Throne: Blood and Lies audio drama, didn't really hit home here. Covenant is not the hero of his own novel, and that is a damned shame.

Likewise, Covenant's retinue didn't really appear to have a proper connection to the master. Josef would probably be the most interesting and fleshed-out character of the bunch, having been with Covenant for long enough to care for him, and even Idris, to a great degree. His character arc felt a bit stunted, though. It was still satisfying, but I expected certain things to happen that never did. The book also ended without really exploring the changes to his mindset properly, which I assume will be a larger point in the sequel.
Sister Repentia Severita meanwhile was, as is to be expected, almost entirely defined by her own zealotry and I never warmed up to her much. Koleg, in the Dramatis Personae only described as "Specialist", was a character I often forgot existed.
At least the Von Castellan siblings Cleander and Viola were great to read about for how they juxtaposed Cleander's selfdoubts and feeling of being out of place in his own role with Viola's inherent competence and meticulousness. I hope their roles will stay as interesting in the follow-ups.

On top of the issue of characters never feeling fully formed throughout, the plot has some problems as well. At the center, Covenant is hunting a radical colleague who has been creating daemonhosts left and right and may be part of the Horusian sect within the Inquisition itself. The Horusians share their origins with the Thorians, which Covenant himself counts himself among, but their purposes follow far more sinister lines. Where Thorianism concerns itself with the resurrection of the God-Emperor and follows more puritanical philosophies, the Horusians are radicals working towards harnessing Chaos to create an unholy avatar for the Emperor's soul. Resurrection tries to play off these two sides of the resurrectionist coin, and doesn't do a bad job at it when it takes center stage, but I felt that it could've used more time in the oven.
In fact, the whole Thorian angle didn't get put into the open until almost halfway through the book, and the Horusians only got declared as such, and their methods elaborated on, until later still.

Contrasting this with Eisenhorn again, where we saw various philosophies at play even in the first book, all feeling distinct and somewhat at odds with one another, all with their own methods, Resurrection felt relatively light on the matter. While it opens up with a great assembly of the Inquisition, telling us how everybody has his own perspectives, it fails to really show those ideas to the reader. It pays lip service to the concept, but doesn't spend the time to really drive the point home. Said assembly quickly devolves into rampant action due to a Horusian plot, forcing Covenant and co to make an emergency exit. Covenant also adopts his colleague Idris's acolyte Enna Gyrid in the process, as his old friend is lost in the radicals' plot.
This presents another problem to me, because we didn't get to spend much time with Idris and Enna at all, while the novel itself is overshadowed by Covenant's past alongside Idris. Again we learn very little about it all until absolutely necessary, which meant that I really didn't care as much about any of it as I should have.
While yes, I can see how fitting the lack of information would be in the wider shadow war theme within the Inquisition, it made for a bit of a frustrating read.

It didn't help that the initial action-heavy escape from traitor traps gets roughly repeated two more times throughout, one being at the very end. Every time we get close to some answers, some hints, some evidence, some revelations, things are cast in doubt again and force the protagonists to fight and run for their lives. In many ways, the book felt very reactive.
I don't mean to hold up Eisenhorn as the gold standard again, but both Resurrection and Xenos have their respective Inquisitors follow leads to uncover a great conspiracy. Both hunt their prey in their own ways, make alliances on the way, adopt new specialists to their retinues and have old friends and allies. Both end up in tough spots, but for some reason Covenant himself never really felt at risk to me. Gregor Eisenhorn got tortured in Xenos, while Covenant always seemed more or less aloof, in control, when I was hoping for more emotion even if he is a stoic bastard. Likewise, Eisenhorn hounded his quarry and got in its way on multiple occasions, figuring things out along the way. Covenant's findings seemed rather limited and most hints occured out of the blue, at the end of it all. He always felt just three steps behind his target until the climax. As a result, the Horusian antagonist felt even less substantial to me as the reader.

During the final chapters, there was also a big event taking place that, in the end, holds more implications for the setting as a whole than for the novel itself, and I am not entirely sure yet why it was in here to begin with. I assume it will be tied more closely into the resurrectionism theme in Incarnation, but right here, it felt like a jump from A to D rather than a more natural progression of events and character growth. It was one of the things that felt like they happened for some greater reason, rather than that the plot of this particular novel required it to be this way.

What I did like was how French managed to depict the inherent suspicion between colleagues within the Inquisition. Even Enna Gyrid isn't trusted into the inner circle, mind-probed by psyker Mylasa, kept at arm's length. Covenant's alliances with Lord Inquisitor Vult likewise are strained to the limit and riven by doubts. "Trust no one" really is the tagline here, and something that, thematically, Resurrection does better than Eisenhorn, where Gregor seems to have friends all around (outside of the more radical characters like Molitor). Resurrection showcases just how dysfunctional the Inquisition has become as an institution, how at odds with its own goals, how arrogant its members and associates. It presents us with the problems of giving a large group of individual agents nigh-unlimited authority while lacking a central, unifying purpose and code of conduct. In that regard, it is as grimdark as it gets.
I must also praise the use of "silver coins" throughout the book. Their symbolism wasn't lost on me, and gets only more important in hindsight. It is small details like these that add a lot of atmosphere to the book and underline the mystery without getting in the way of it.

But in the end, this is part one of what looks like it is going to be at least a trilogy, hopefully more. Many aspects here serve as setup for plotpoints down the line, and while that may prove to be a great strength as the series progresses, it hamstrings this particular novel as a one-off experience. I seriously enjoy the overall approach to the series that John has taken by spreading it out through various character-focused short stories, a mostly separate audio drama series in Agent of the Throne, and a core novel series. I just felt that the short stories did the nebulous mystery angle a good deal better than Resurrection, where I was hoping for a tighter, more insightful story.
Looking back once the series is over, it might turn out that my assessment isn't really fair anymore, in the broader scheme, but on its own, right now, I feel disappointed and disillusioned.

I sincerely hope that Incarnation proceeds to show us more, rather than handing us cliffnotes on the characters. I want to understand them on a greater level, get into their heads more thoroughly and anticipate plot developments a little better, rather than running up against twist A, B and C with little pretext. I wouldn't mind the sequel dialing back on action sequences either, as fun as they can be. Inquisition stories are most compelling to me when they focus on the investigations, the hunts, the philosophical dilemmas and individual conflicts between characters, be their friends or bitter foes.
Resurrection has a deal of all of this, but in my opinion needed to be tighter, more focused on making the cast feel real and well-rounded. It needed Covenant to stand up for himself more and dominate the pages rather than isolating himself in his office and remaining quiet and aloof. I have faith that John French will be hitting it out of the park with the sequel, now that the basics are mostly established, however. Growing pains, and all that. I'm sure that I will come to appreciate Resurrection more as John expands on his Horusian Wars in the coming years, and pieces fall into place. After all is said and done, it is undeniable that The Horusian Wars are going up against incredibly strong competition in its own niche of Black Library fiction, and doesn't do too badly in comparison either.


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Review: Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky
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Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those misfits who are compelled, in spite of the extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artefacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. Even the nature of his mutant daughter has been determined by the Zone and it is for her that he makes his last, tragic foray into the hazardous and hostile territory.
I didn't actually think I'd have the proverbial balls to review a classic like this. You have Peter Fehervari to blame for it, by virtue of being curious about my thoughts. In all honesty though, this was an impressive book that I just felt like talking about.

The Story:
"Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those misfits who are compelled, in spite of the extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artefacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. Even the nature of his mutant daughter has been determined by the Zone and it is for her that he makes his last, tragic foray into the hazardous and hostile territory."

The Review:
Roadside Picnic is a hugely expressive novel in all its intended ambiguity and rendition of hard lives all around.

I found myself impressed and teased time and again by all its little implications and large questions. In a way, it frames some of the archetypical themes of science fiction and contact novels without ever giving definitive answers one way or another, providing food for thought and chilling considerations over preachy answers and delusions.

One of these points that made me giddy, and is one that I've appreciated for what feels like ages, would be the very human fear of being irrelevant in the grander scheme, and even the smaller scope. Mankind labors under the vain idea that the alien visitors of the Zones may have left their swag deliberately to teach man to reach out and make scientific leaps, as if they're a chosen species by intelligences beyond their comprehension.

I'm sure every single one of us has suffered from that kind of inflated ego one time or another. Often it acts as a shield against one of our greatest fears: That we don't matter one bit, and just happened to fall prey to coincidence. That fear even goes down to the very core of human existence, doesn't it? After all, even our births are matters of chance, as would be the way we turned out until today, despite cultural nurturing of our characters. Change one variable, and the results would be drastically different. It would be only natural to feel uncomfortable thinking about just how arbitrary our own existences really are in the grand scheme of things, and how little we'll likely be able to impart on the world around us.

In that sense, I loved the way the Strugatsky brothers had Dr. Pillman discuss the nature of the alien visit and the Zones with Richard Noonan, up in chapter three of the book. It formulated many an idea that gives the reader chills and, to a fan of Cosmic Horror like myself, felt just oh so right. Because that is what many elements of the Roadside Picnic come down to in my eyes: Cosmic Horror. Now, this isn't the Lovecraftian sort of that, not at all, but it plays on many of the same underlying themes and fears, exposes people to unknowable artifacts, mind-boggling phenomena and existential crises.

Like the best of Cosmic Horror, the Picnic also avoids clear answers, or showing too much. It delivers experiences of people involved, shows us the world through their inherently biased perspectives, tells us of the horrors but rarely straight up presents them to us in clear terms. Whether it be "bug traps", "hell slime" or "grinders", descriptions are kept to a minimum while showing direct effects without great explanations.

Early in chapter one, main protagonist Redrick Schuhart even remarks on man's need to label things, to be incapable of living peacefully and satisfied with things that may defy explanation.

"His face has completely calm; you can see he's figured everything out. They are all like that, the eggheads. The most important thing for them is to come up with a name. Until he comes up with one, you feel really sorry for him, he looks so lost. But when he finds a label like "graviconcentrate", he thinks he's figured it all out an perks right up."

This, in a way, connects right back to Redrick's own existential crisis at the end of the book, when he himself is struggling for words even just to express and encompass his own deepest desires, or even just formulate what they are to begin with. He is just as uneasy with not having a clear idea of his own heart as his friend Kirill was when it came to the bug traps. For all his lamentations in the end, for all his questioning of what humanity he has left, there are many aspects that the Zone has not taken from him after all.

And just now, I can't help but think of Samuel Johnson's famous line "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.". It feels strangely apt, as many of Schuhart's actions set him apart from common society and closer to the Zone, to the point of neglecting his family while struggling to find his own place. By becoming a Stalker, and a damn good one, Schuhart turns more into a creature of instinct and an overwhelming sense for survival.

Seeing him questioning his humanity and lamenting his loss of words and struggles to even think (which is further put into context by memory of his friend Kirill saying that "Man is born to think") felt like a fundamental point of the novel to me. Throughout the book, we see Red Schuhart turn more and more from somewhat of a thrillseeker who still cares about authority and friendship to a degree, to a person who gets entirely disillusioned with dreams of grandeur, hopes for the future, friendship and in turn throws all pretense of morality overboard before the end. Despite this, he never really became a bad person, simply a lost and confused one whose tragedy is formulated by his life around the Zone, from relying on it for a semblance of financial stability, being jailed, fathering a mutated daughter, losing sight of his own autonomy.

That all this is presented in a relatively straight-forward way, almost entirely told through Red's perspective, with only one out of four chapters being focused on his friend Richard Noonan, which also returns back to the topic of Schuhart soon enough, is a marvel to me. The Strugatsky brothers managed to characterize the world and living conditions around the Harmont Zone in such a strong way without ever picking up a top-down perspective. Instead everything is filtered through dialogue, monologues and the central characters' experiences. They show us the crudity of society around the visitation zones, the changes wrought over the years both to the town and the Stalkers, without giving the reader a bird's eye view. The Picnic honestly has no need for it, because all the little details and deliberations described are on point and powerful enough to paint the entire relevant picture for the reader.

In the end, I am both surprised and happy about how little the novel actually was about the alien visit, the artifacts scavenged by the Stalkers, the black market for alien technology, the mutants or walking dead. Instead, it was a book that put the focus squarely on human nature, personal tragedies and life on a knife's edge in an unforgiving world, right down to how neighbors would treat a destitute housewife. It highlights a society that shares a key obsession at the cost of human compassion and, while superficially striving for understanding of outside factors, forgets to pay attention to what is closer at heart.

The theme of alien leftovers found on earth and the resulting societal focus on the findings has been picked up a lot since Roadside Picnic, of course. It is an obviously popular topic, one that holds an immediate appeal in how transformative an event it can be for human existence, opening up myriad possibilities for writers in any medium imaginable. I could point towards half a dozen instances of similar ideas across my shelves right now. The way the brothers Strugatsky rendered the visit, the Zone, the human element, however, stands apart by how it does not reach for the heavens, but grounds the reader in the relative mundanity of life in its periphery, and how relatable their characters' struggles are even today, over 40 years since Roadside Picnic first saw the light of day.

Roadside Picnic is a brilliant work of science fiction. It hit many themes that could be seen as fundamental subjects for the genre. Highlighting the innate fears of human existence, it will remain relevant for ages to come, even well past our own first visitation, should it ever occur. I am glad I set aside the time to finally read it, despite a busy schedule.


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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.

Lorgar: Bearer of the Word on Goodreads
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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.

Restorer on Goodreads
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