Review: Archaon: Everchosen by Rob Sanders
In the north of the world the forces of Chaos gather, awaiting their moment to strike. At their head is the Everchosen, the warrior who will lead the final, cataclysmic assault that will usher in the End Times and the reign of the Ruinous Powers. But he was not always thus – he was once a man, a devout servant of the warrior-god Sigmar. What could cause such a soul to fall to the worship of the Dark Gods? What dark events could have put a knight of the Empire on the path to becoming the harbinger of the world’s end? And just who was the man who will become known to all as Archaon?
What an excellent novel.
Short version: I loved it, go pick it up.
Read on for the long version.
The Story:
"In the north of the world the forces of Chaos gather, awaiting their moment to strike. At their head is the Everchosen, the warrior who will lead the final, cataclysmic assault that will usher in the End Times and the reign of the Ruinous Powers. But he was not always thus – he was once a man, a devout servant of the warrior-god Sigmar. What could cause such a soul to fall to the worship of the Dark Gods? What dark events could have put a knight of the Empire on the path to becoming the harbinger of the world’s end? And just who was the man who will become known to all as Archaon?"

The Review
Everchosen is part one of Rob Sander's duology, dedicated to telling the story of Archaon, he who would become the Everchosen of Chaos, Lord of the End Times (which is the title of the second novel).

Archaon's character first appeared in Warhammer Fantasy lore as far back as 1998, in the 5th edition book Champions of Chaos. His entry in the book described him as a former templar who was corrupted by unknown means, disowned his old name and became henceforth known as Archaon. His path took him to the great northern wastes, following the prophecies of Necrodomo the Insane, towards his fate as the death to all existence.
To lay claim to his destiny, he would need to gather the treasures of Chaos and unite the rivaling tribes of marauders and worshippers of the dread pantheon.

Fans of the franchise will be aware that Archaon, at the height of his power, led the Storm of Chaos from the front, ravaging the world of men, elves and dwarves. In 2004, Games Workshop turned this war of a massive scale into a whole summer campaign for their tabletop game, with further lore on Archaon being added via the campaign book.

I have been involved in the Warhammer franchises, Fantasy and 40k both, since that time. My first White Dwarf magazines depicted scenarios and new releases from the Storm of Chaos campaign. I marveled at the new Warriors of Chaos miniatures, the Dark Prince Be'lakor's model which still has not lost its charme 10 years later, and, of course, Archaon himself, sitting atop his Hellsteed.

With that in mind, you will hopefully see that I was absolutely excited for this novel. Archaon was one of my first points of interest when I entered the hobby, and his legacy in the Warhammer World was gigantic. I was ecstastic about the novel's announcement and the promise of seeing Archaon's rise to power.
Now, having finished Everchosen, I can only offer my thanks to Rob Sanders for writing this novel, and its sequel. It exceeded my expectations.

Unlike many Warhammer Fantasy or 40k novels, Everchosen is not a story of massive armies marching to war, or about the triumph of good men over evil gods. Archaon is not a hero, even though his origins could have led him further down that way. If fate had permitted it.
What we got with Everchosen is, at its core, an (Anti-)Hero's Journey. We follow Archaon's life from before his inception, through his childhood, his righteous hate for the ancient foe, to his eventual fall from grace and the vengeance he seeks to bring upon the world.

Rob Sanders managed to construct an initially complex, yet at the same intuitive and natural way of telling his story. He succeeded in showing the reader just how inevitable Archaon's destiny is, by employing more than a few clever tricks. This allows the reader to see the hero live, struggle, and succumb. We get to see him at his best and at his worst, and all the shades in between those extremes.
Most importantly, we get to see a villain in the making, and are allowed to understand what made him so. I am not exaggerating when I say that Rob Sanders has managed to present me with the best-written villain I have seen in years, while still making me root for him to succeed. That takes some serious skill.

Rob Sander's prose, as usual, felt very colorful and laden with meaning. I would not describe this novel as an easy, or quick read. It surprised me more than once just how much content he was able to squeeze into a matter of pages, without making me feel like he was rushing things.
The pacing, overall, was very, very good, despite the first half of the book jumping through the protagonist's childhood and early manhood. Key events are shown, while the author also hinted at things that could have been under different circumstances.

About halfway through the book, things slow down and a lot of characters from Archaon's hordes of followers get introduced, which worked wonders in showing us the exploits of the warlord without bogging the reader down with engagement after engagement. Things picked up soon after with more significant battles and encounters, however.

But that is not to say that Everchosen lacks in the visceral action department - no, sir! In fact, the action scenes in this novel are particularly eventful and exciting. More than once did I catch myself thinking "this would look awesome in a movie!" when Archaon went about to show how bad his backside is.

Sanders essentially managed to spend enough time with the important bits that developed Archaon as a character, warlord, villain but also a tragic figure, in very creative and reader-engaging ways.
As a result, he turned the legendary Chaos Champion into a well-rounded, relatable and even sympathetic character, while keeping him despicable enough for the reader to realize that he should actually feel bad about wanting to see him succeed.
For this I tip my hat to Rob Sanders.

I easily got my money's worth out of this shiny hardback release, and am eagerly awaiting spring 2015 so I may pick up Lord of the End Times. Archaon still has a few treasures of Chaos to collect, and face his dark patron. I cannot wait to see how things will turn out for him in the sequel.

Archaon: Everchosen gets my seal of approval and a well-deserved recommendation to fans of Warhammer Fantasy and grim fantasy stories alike.

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Review: Damocles by Various
Two centuries ago, the Imperium of Man and the upstart Tau Empire fought to a standstill in the Damocles Gulf. Now, as the 41st millennium draws to a close, the tau have returned. As the world of Agrellan falls under attack, the White Scars and Raven Guard rush to its defence, but with the skilled Commander Shadowsun leading the alien forces, the Space Marines and their allies are hard pressed. Kor’sarro Khan, Huntmaster of the White Scars, swears that he will win the day in the most direct way possible – by taking Shadowsun’s head.
This one was a difficult book for me to finish. The review may be a bit more on the rant-y side, but you'll see why.
Please note that the book will be re-released as a paperback early 2015, as part of the Space Marine Battles series.

The Story:
"Two centuries ago, the Imperium of Man and the upstart Tau Empire fought to a standstill in the Damocles Gulf. Now, as the 41st millennium draws to a close, the tau have returned. As the world of Agrellan falls under attack, the White Scars and Raven Guard rush to its defence, but with the skilled Commander Shadowsun leading the alien forces, the Space Marines and their allies are hard pressed. Kor’sarro Khan, Huntmaster of the White Scars, swears that he will win the day in the most direct way possible – by taking Shadowsun’s head.

Gathered within this volume are four novellas that focus on the events of the second Damocles Gulf Crusade. This book contains:
Blood Oath by Phil Kelly
Broken Sword by Guy Haley
Black Leviathan by Ben Counter
Hunter’s Snare by Josh Reynolds"

The Review
I'd be lying if I'd tell you Damocles was an easy read. It most assuredly was not, at least to me.

I started reading this anthology back in April, and it took me until late July to finish. Why, you ask? The easiest way to answer that would be to point towards the first of the four stories in this anthology.

Blood Oath by Phil Kelly

I absolutely could not enjoy this one. It made the White Scars feel flat, unlikeable, and even the focus on O'Shaserra, the famous Commander Shadowsun of the Tau Empire, could not fix the lack of substance in this novella.

Where Kor'sarro Khan felt often incompetent and out of character, especially when clashing with the other imperial forces on Agrellan (including Colonel "Iron Hand" Straken of the Catachan Devils and the head of a house of Imperial Knights), Shadowsun came across as a cliched female warrior who neither could not get over her old rival O'Shovah, Commander Farsight, nor get the respect of her subordinates. Even her shield/combat drones seemed disrespectful towards her, and the stealth team attached to her seemed badly misplaced. Her mutterings about Farsight felt especially jarring, as they occured way too often. If a scene centered on Shadowsun, you could bet she'd bring up "the traitor Shoh" again.

I did like the portrayal of Aun'Va, however. He came across as a prick, an arrogant self-aggrandizing prophet. It suited him.
Colonel Straken, who I have a soft spot for, was completely underwhelming in Blood Oath. He had a few lines of dialogue, and even those were mostly about telling Kor'sarro Khan off.

Overall, however, there was not much to gain from this story outside of fairly shallow action. On various occassions the story felt like bad marketing for Games Workshop's expensive, then-new Imperial Knight kit and the Tau Riptide. Yes, they're impressive warmachines, I get it, but this story felt like it was fawning over them way too much.
I did enjoy the Tau's coordinated strikes to bring down most Hives on Agrellan within hours, but those scenes were over so quickly, I felt disappointed overall.

Blood Oath felt wrong, and it is by far the weakest story in this collection. That I score Damocles at 4 stars is testament to how much I enjoyed the other stories by comparison.

Broken Sword by Guy Haley

Ah, Guy Haley. It won't be news to you that I adore his novels. He writes some of the best non-human characters out there, whether it be greenskins, eldar, artificial intelligences or, in this case, Tau.
Broken Sword is a totally different story from Blood Oath - and not just in terms of quality. It goes under the hood of Tau society, the indoctrination of humans into the Greater Good, and as such offers Guy Haley a lot of room to show off his skills at constructing the Tau as an advanced species, and an intergalactic empire.

Unlike Blood Oath, which depicted the Tau as ruthless conquerors and usurpers of mankind's right to rule the stars, Broken Sword depicts them as liberators, offering freedom to the oppressed people of the fringe worlds between Imperium and Tau Empire, and the kind of life they never knew was possible.

The main protagonist is one such man who joined the Tau'va, believing it superior to the imperial rule and embracing it fully. The story is, for the most part, presented as the protagonist's retelling of the events, which offers further commentary in retrospect. We follow him through certain points of the war for Agrellan, and see him forge bonds of friendship with a member of the Tau Water Caste, their diplomats. This offers a fairly unique spin on the Tau Empire topic, and I enjoyed it greatly.

On the other hand, we have the Raven Guard attempting to capture said Water Caste Tau, which is also told in an interesting fashion. The action in the story is rather light, and more akin to skirmishes with few Space Marines, rather than the large scale warfare seen in the first story. This is, in my opinion, a plus.

Overall I'd say this is my favorite story of the bunch. It offered plenty of insight as well as twists and turns, and kept me engaged as a reader.

Black Leviathan by Ben Counter

I struggled a bit with this story. It takes the war for Damocles from Agrellan to a neighboring world, which, until the Imperium's arrival, had been inhabited by nomad-savages.

The descendants of these tribes reject the Imperium's claim for the world, and ally with the Tau to rid themselves of their overlords and return to the good old ways.
Set to prevent the Tau from overtaking the planet are a squad of Ultramarines led by a Captain I've never heard of, and another squad of Jade Dragons, a Chapter created for this story.

While I did not quite like the Ultramarines in this story, the Jade Dragons made for an interesting story. Ben Counter did a fine job characterizing his new Chapter, lending them both their own traditions as well as superstitions, which both play into the overall story. They also give the two very different Chapters reason to mistrust one another, and rather than cooperate clash on various occassions.

On the Tau side, we see yet another Water Caste member who is busy spinning a net of subterfuge and traps around the Space Marines. This Tau made for a very good antagonist, even though direct confrontations were avoided. He played both the Space Marines, the Tribes and the general population as well as his own Tau Fire Warriors like pawns on a chess board.

Black Leviathan is a story about subterfuge, mistrust and good intentions that carve the way for bad results. It was more of a political tale than an action piece, but the bolter action pieces did not disappoint either.
A second good story in this collection.

Hunter's Snare by Josh Reynolds

This final story by Josh Reynolds of Warhammer Fantasy fame goes back to Agrellan and the White Scars, forming a sequel to Phil Kelly's Blood Oath. Thankfully, Josh managed to set things right and return the White Scars back where they belong: In the saddles of their bikes, laughing while they kill their Tau enemies.

Hunter's Snare is, at its core, a deadly dance between two very different yet so alike hunters - Kor'sarro Khan and Commander Shadowsun. After the events of Blood Oath, Kor'sarro returns to hunt down the Tau Commander, and the two characters dance a dangerous waltz of feints and snares.

Kor'sarro is back to the way I enjoy reading about him - a passionate, dedicated huntsmaster who does not lack humor and finds respect for a worthy enemy. I would also say that Josh Reynolds is a great pick for writing White Scars - he understands their character, and manages to put good humor into their mouths.

Unlike the first story, Shadowsun and the Tau are taking the backseat in Hunter's Snare. They do appear as antagonists, catching the Scars off-guard on various occassions, but we do not get an insight into them the way we did in previous stories. This works well for the story, and I enjoyed the focus on the Khan and his brothers.

I'd also like to point out that there are various nods to characters from Chris Wraight's Horus Heresy novel Scars, which I appreciated greatly.

Josh Reynolds, in my opinion, is an excellent writer with a sure hand when it comes to writing and placing humor. His characters, whether it be Gotrek and Felix from The Serpent Queen, the whole cast of Bernheimer's Gun or the protagonists of his original novel The Whitechapel Demon, all come across as interesting people, and manage to make me chuckle rather frequently. Most importantly, the humor always seems to fit the story's context, and Josh knows when to be serious instead.
I like this skill, and am looking forward to reading more of his stories, with The Whitechapel Demon being on my current reading pile.

All in all, Damocles is not a bad anthology. It actually was a fairly good read once I got past the initial disappointment, or even distaste, for Phil Kelly's contribution to the book.
The biggest flaw of the whole collection is that it frontloaded the worst it had to offer, making me put the whole thing down countless times, over the course of many weeks. If I had known how much I would like the other offerings, I would have forced myself to finish Blood Oath sooner.

Be that as it may, I would definitely recommend picking this anthology up early next year, when it gets re-released as part of the Space Marine Battles series - the paperback is already announced. Though I do disagree on this being a SMB candidate, considering that it is most assuredly a Tau collection.
But I digress.

A big thanks to Guy Haley, Ben Counter and Josh Reynolds for turning my initial distaste for Damocles into a good experience.

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Review: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.

It's a bloody business overthrowing a king...
Field Marshal Tamas' coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas's supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.
But when gods are involved...
I have been intrigued by Promise of Blood ever since I saw the cover art. It was far from the typical fantasy style, showing a character more based in a real historical era, which I very much appreciate. The quotes about overthrowing the monarchy sealed the deal that I had to check this out.
The Story:
"The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.

It's a bloody business overthrowing a king...
Field Marshal Tamas' coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas's supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.
But when gods are involved...
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should...
In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? PROMISE OF BLOOD is the start of a new epic fantasy series from Brian McClellan."

The Review
I went in expecting a revolution of sorts, a coup d'état, combined with court intrigue and civil war. Promise of Blood explored all of these things, and much more on top. Industry, worker unions, external pressure, even family relations and grief - and of course magic - played a role in this novel, and I loved it.

From the first chapter on, I was caught up in a scenario bigger than a single novel could encompass, so I am glad this was planned as a trilogy - with more short stories, novellas and further novels to expand the setting. The setting was very nicely described and explained throughout the book, and while there are still a lot of questions, mysteries and unknown factors, I never felt lost in this fantasy world. It felt coherent, logical and realistic, with lots of promise.

Despite the sheer scale of the conflict, however, the point of view characters, Field Marshal Tamas, his estranged son Taniel and inspector Adamat, along with a very strong cast of supporting figures, did a hell of a job getting the reader into the nitty-gritty of the revolution.

Tamas, as the de facto leader of the coup, presented the hardships of keeping the country of Adro together and the people satisfied, balancing personal feelings of vengeance with the population's needs. He is also the man in charge of the army, and has to make difficult decisions throughout the novel, putting himself into danger for what he believes is right. He is a hard man with an adamant will, but that is not all there is to this very compelling main character.

His son Taniel, in contrast, is full of doubt. His problems pile up to high heaven, ranging from his relationships with various characters to disdain for his own father, and drug problems. He still is a strong character the reader wants to see succeed and overcome his troubles.

While Tamas and Taniel don't share all that much time together in the book, the scenes they do interact in all have a certain amount of power, and their dynamic as father and son casts shadows up until the epilogue. While the story certainly is about revolution and the fall of the monarchy, it does not forget the human factor at any point.

Lastly, inspector Adamat offers more in-depth looks into the workings of the new council. His job is to root out a traitor among their midst, which gets him into danger on various occassions. It also serves to elaborate on the country's inner workings and politics. His plotline feels very much like a detective story, and a strong one at that. It opens questions and gives answers in equal measure, feeding the reader more and more information about the setting.
Adamat is the most important link between plotlines and characters, but he also shoulders his own history and troubles.

The supernatural aspects of the story, mainly mythology, religious aspects and magic, were all handled well. There was one concept I wasn't so sure about when it appeared, but by the end of the story, I was in love with it, and now cannot wait to see what is going to happen next on that front. Most importantly, the supernatural side is consistent in itself, and while not fully explored yet, the reader gets a solid understanding of the basic rules.

Magic in the Powder Mage world is a complex topic. Firstly, there are two basic major types of mages that are in conflict with each other, prejudices and all: The title-giving Powder Mages and the Privileged.
Then there are the knacked, which happen to possess strange, abnormal traits, like the inability to forget things, or not needing sleep.

Where the privileged can be seen as your usual magic users with their elemental spells and powers that defy comprehension, powder mages draw their powers from gunpowder, manipulate bullets mid-flight, and consume black powder to enhance their own physical abilities for a time. Both types possess the third eye, which allows them to recognize magic in the world, if they actively open it.
Both sides also have their individual weaknesses and requirements for their magic to work - which I will not elaborate on.

Seeing that conflict exists not only on a political level, but also between beliefs, magic users and families, made me happy as a reader. It served to keep every aspect of the book interesting, and opened the doors to conflicts of interest on various occassions.
It also made it very clear how difficult it is for Tamas to stay in control of the situation, and put pressure on him, as a powder mage, father and military genius with a relatively short temper - which is sorely tested when the rival country of Kez gets involved.

The novel stayed tense from start to finish, a powder keg ready to explode at any time, and for that I personally thank Brian McClellan.
The alternating points of view served the story very well, keeping me, as the reader, second guessing and expanding my own knowledge at a satisfying pace. I actually cared about the characters and their friends. I shared Taniel's confusion, Adamat's fear for his family, Tamas's hatred for the murderer of his wife, and his ambition of raising his home country beyond the need for petty monarchs.

Promise of Blood kept me up at night. The book kept me hoping for the best, while fearing for the worst. It was a thoroughly exciting experience, which I will be sure to expand on by reading the sequels and spin-off stories. It opens up a fantastic new, imaginative world full of promise for not just blood, but also greatness.

Promise of Blood is an amazing debut novel, and you would be foolish not to give it a try.

I have already started on The Crimson Campaign, as a matter of fact, and read most of the short stories, which deepened my understanding of setting and characters greatly. I recommend giving all of the Powder Mage stories a try. You will not regret it.
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Review: All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
All You Need Is Kill, recently adapted as a movie under the title Edge of Tomorrow (and subsequently also re-released as a movie tie-in version, featuring the new title, urgh!), is a fast-paced sci-fi action novel. It uses common tropes, chief among them the time-loop and mankind fighting a losing battle against alien invaders, to craft a well-balanced narrative that is a joy to breeze through.
All You Need Is Kill, recently adapted as a movie under the title Edge of Tomorrow (and subsequently also re-released as a movie tie-in version, featuring the new title, urgh!), is a fast-paced sci-fi action novel. It uses common tropes, chief among them the time-loop and mankind fighting a losing battle against alien invaders, to craft a well-balanced narrative that is a joy to breeze through.

The Story:
"There’s one thing worse than dying. It’s coming back to do it again and again… When the alien Gitai invade, Keiji Kiriya is just one of many raw recruits shoved into a suit of battle armor and sent out to kill. Keiji dies on the battlefield, only to find himself reborn each morning to fight and die again and again. On the 158th iteration though, he sees something different, something out of place: the female soldier known as the Bitch of War. Is the Bitch the key to Keiji’s escape, or to his final death?"

The Review
Hiroshi Sakurazaka has written a grim story. Main character Kiriya Keiji is stuck in an unending nightmare of war and death. Where other people would break, however, Keiji is determined to break out of his personal hell and pay those alien invaders back for all the pain they inflict on him and his comrades. Reliving the same two days countless times, he struggles, learns, adapts and kills.

Refreshingly, AYNIK is not just about the terror of war, but also offers a fairly human angle. Keiji's comrades are, while stereotypical, well-considered for such a short light novel, and I was invested in the fates of Sergeant Ferrell, Yonabaru, cafeteria-girl Rachel, Shasta Raylle and, of course, the Full Metal Bitch, Rita Vrataski. It also never forgets to balance all the bad events with a bucket-load of humor (or Umeboshi :p). This benefits the book immensely!

While the novel's characters are for the most part male, the war hero Rita Vrataski takes a central role in the story, becoming Keiji's point of focus, with her bright-red Jacket battlesuit. Rita felt well-explored in the novel, and I enjoyed reading her interact with the various characters. One of the four overarching chapters of the novel specifically delivers Rita's perspective, and brings understanding of the Valkyrie. I liked this part a lot.

Needless to say, the action parts of the story are fairly exaggerated, as is standard-fare for most Anime/Manga-like stories. However, within the context of the story and technology, it never turned me off, or felt too exaggerated to be enjoyable.

All You Need Is Kill is not a particularly deep read. It is an action flick full of humor, growth and even romance. It is a blink into a possible future (one that I don't even find too far-fetched, as far as technology goes) where mankind struggles to survive against a completely alien foe. It is a tried and true concept, and one I enjoyed here.

I can clearly see why the movie adaption Edge of Tomorrow was so well-received. The novel lends itself exceptionally well to the movie format. That being said, I am looking forward to the Bluray release of the movie, to experience this story all over again.
All You Need Is Kill is an experience I wouldn't mind repeating.

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Review: Mortarion's Heart by L J Goulding
I apologize if this review is a bit lengthy and referencing other works in the franchise; my perspective is certainly based on being a long-time fan of the lore, and I feel that it will be most valuable to people already well-invested in the background material. As a newcomer to the franchise, please walk away and start elsewhere.
The Story:
"The daemon prince Mortarion has emerged from the Eye of Terror at the head of a vast plague-horde, intent upon the corruption of the Imperium he once served. Under Supreme Grand Master Geronitan, the Grey Knights finally meet the daemon army in battle on the plains of Kornovin – a mobilisation of the Chapter the likes of which few have ever seen. Kaldor Draigo and his fellow brotherhood masters lead from the front, trusting to their lord’s secretive plan... until Geronitan is unexpectedly struck down by the Death Lord. With the eyes of the Inquisition upon them and the arcane path of destiny broken forever, the Grey Knights must cast aside thoughts of anything so petty as revenge. The Supreme Grand Master’s successor must be named, or all may be lost."

The Review
Mortarion's Heart has been a hotly debated topic ever since the story surrounding it had been introduced in the 5th Edition Codex: Grey Knights, back in April 2011. The short new piece of lore involving Primarch Mortarion and newcomer Kaldor Draigo was deemed inplausible, unworthy of being considered canon to the Warhammer 40,000 lore.
I can understand the fans' outcry, for Kaldor Draigo's new history appeared nothing if not over the top; a wishlist of deeds added to a new character, who I often saw described as a silly Mary Sue.

Among other tales of glory, Draigo was told to have beaten the Daemon Prince M'kar the Reborn (featured in Graham McNeill's The Chapters Due and his novella "Calth That Was" and Dan Abnett's "Unmarked" from the Mark of Calth Horus Heresy anthology) in single combat, repeating the feat centuries later. In the meantime, he also became the Supreme Grand Master of his Chapter, and carved the name of his predecessor into the Primarch Mortarion's heart. Nowadays he is travelling through dimensions and kicks mighty daemon butt in a realm outside of real time and space, saving his kin whenever necessary.

Many just considered it "fan-wanking" by the Codex's author, and I will not blame them, for a new character to the lore to make such an amount of buzz, defeating the big archenemies left and right, must certainly rustle some jimmies among fans.

With that context in mind, I was both excited and fearful of this release; it has been quite some time in the making, having been announced at the Black Library Weekender 2012.
Of course I hoped that L J Goulding, being one of Black Library's Editors and Loremasters, would take the tidbits of lore surrounding Kaldor Draigo and craft them into something more plausible, less ridiculous, and overall satisfying that fits into the universe.

Having listened to the audio drama twice since yesterday, I can confirm that, in my eyes and ears, Goulding has succeeded in delivering a story that easily beats what expectations I had, and may be even better than what I had hoped to receive.
Mortarion's Heart goes all-in on this piece of new lore. It shows the death of one Supreme Grand Master, the election of another and the victory of the latter. It roots itself into the background by referencing a lot of other works, including the Horus Heresy series. It even hints at future HH revelations, making me eager to learn more of specific side-plots of the long-running series.

Without spoiling the plot of the audio drama, I can tell you that the actual act of humbling Mortarion is not the single focus of the work. It is the character of Kaldor Draigo who, unsurprisingly, is the star of the drama; we get to hear how he ascended to the rank of Supreme Grand Master, and what aided his duel with the Death Lord.

As told by the Codex it would appear that Draigo, on his very own, crushed a whole force of daemons before banishing the Daemon Primarch - this is not what actually happens according to this audio drama. It was not as simple as that. While not physically aided in his task, Kaldor Draigo received other means of help from his fellow Grand Masters - all of which feature in the drama.

Above all, however, Mortarion's Heart makes sense of an odd and unexplained bit of lore. It turns the glory-tale of Kaldor Draigo into a relatable, believable thing, at least in context of the franchise. The humbling of the monstrous Primarch is not depicted as a one-sided battle, but as a struggle Draigo was fully equipped to subject himself to and stand a chance.

All of this is also presented by a big cast of voice actors, all of which did a fantastic job bringing life to the setting and characters. While I was not immediately convinced by the deep, rumbling (and a bit cliched) voice for Mortarion himself, it grew on me, as did Draigo's. The audio production was, once again, top notch, with a lot of sound effects throughout. Mortarion's Heart is a high quality product, continuing the upwards trend of Black Library's audio dramas.

I salute Laurie Goulding for turning this drama into a gem. He added a lot of nuance to a bland piece of writing, without contradicting the source material. Fans of Kaldor will still find a heroic tale, whereas disgruntled fans should be put more at ease through this work.
Considering Goulding also wrote an micro eShort for the Black Library Advent Calendar 2013, Kaldor Draigo: Knight of Titan, I hope to read more in the future.

Both C.Z. Dunn's Pandorax and L J Goulding's recent work have turned Kaldor Draigo from a ridiculously over the top character I would not ever have expected to like into one I can very well live with and appreciate.
While some gripes about his lore still exist in my mind, I hope they will be put at rest by an equally satisfying story as Mortarion's Heart at some point in the future.

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Review: Crash by Guy Haley
This review was definitely needed, and entirely deserved. Crash was the fourth of Haley's novels I have had the pleasure to read, and it will not be the last. Read on to learn about another high-quality offering by Guy Haley.
The Story:
"Dariusz is an engineer whose career ended years ago; now, a man he’s never met sits in a bar that doesn’t exist and offers him a fresh start… at a price.
Cassandra — ‘Sand,’ to her friends — is a space pilot, who itches to get her hands on the controls and actually fly a ship, rather than watch computers do it for her.
The ‘Pointers’ — the elite 0.01% who control virtually all wealth — have seen the limitations of a plundered Earth and set their eyes on the stars.

And now Dariusz and Sand, and a half-million ambitious men and women just like them, are sent out to extend the Pointers’ and the Market’s influence across the galaxy. But the colony fleet is sabotaged and the ESS Adam Mickiewicz crashes, on an alien planet where one hemisphere is seared by perpetual daylight and the other shrouded in eternal night. The castaways have the chance to create society from scratch… but the hostile planet — or their own leaders — may destroy them before they can even begin."

The Review
Crash is a fantastic novel. That much I could tell from the early chapters on. Opening the new year with a book such as Crash really lifted my spirits - it is engaging, emotional, even frightening. It offers so many different things, woven into a convincing and satisfying narrative, I can only tip my hat to Guy Haley in respect and offer thanks for yet another quality read.

The book opens up with two expositional pieces of in-universe speeches or lectures, which immediately set the stage for the state of the Earth, roughly one and a half centuries into the future. They describe how humanity is outgrowing, and ruining, Mother Earth, and will have to take to the stars to spread their legacy, but also how the flow of wealth has become stagnant and how the ruling elite, the Pointers, have established their reign over the other 99.99% of earth's population.

From here on out, I was gripped. Haley took current problems, science's prophecies and the general consensus of today, took it further down the road for another century, and founded his world on the wide discrepancy between the prosperous elite and the bitter poverty of everyone else.
At the center of this, he also took the stock market to eleven, turning it into a pseudo-sentient being that acts mostly on its own, ever busy to keep making money for those who already have enough to not notice it multiplying further.

While the main part of the novel's story surrounds and succeeds the title-giving Crash of the ESS Adam Mickiewicz, it is the first part of 6 chapters (out of a total of 24), playing on Earth and in transit, that sets the mood for the whole book. It does so excellently, and when a sense of normality finally reasserts itself long after the Crash, the reader can actually feel relief, but also regret, being gone from this planet and its population set onto the path of selfdestruction.

The story's main characters, Dariusz Szczeciński, an impoverished geoengineer seeking to keep his family fed at all cost, and Cassandra 'Sand' De Mona, a cocky space pilot looking to escape monotony, as well as the supporting cast of various types, are all interesting to read about in their own ways. Some are real stand-out types, like Yuri Petrovitch, son of the Pointer responsible for the Mickiewicz's part of the space colonization program, or Corrigan, a security guard enlisted by the Pointers. Many others appear (and disappear) throughout the course of the book, some of which you will love, others hate.

Even though Crash has such a highly diverse cast, though, the colony effort and the hostile planet the Mickiewicz is destined to crash onto, are the real stars of the book. Right from the prologue on it gets clear that things went wrong, and the colonists have not reached the right destination, instead being stranded on a planet of which one half is bathed in eternal sunlight, whereas the other lives in darkness. Nychthemeron is a world so hostile and otherworldly, every bit of the way turns into a struggle, and the colony First Landing has to face threats from without and within to survive.
As technology failed, supplies dwindled and humanity's base instincts came to the fore, Crash shone with a believable tale that kept me on the edge of my seat.

As the book progresses, multiple timeskips are happening between chapters or parts of the novel. This helps immensely at showing the reader the growth of the settlement, but also the characters. Relationships between characters develop throughout the story, the people adapt to their environment and technological progress is being made. At no point did I feel that the story got bogged down, and seeing the characters I came to like grow with their new home was very satisfying.

And they have to grow, otherwise Nychthemeron would swallow the pioneers whole. Once again, I cannot stress it enough, Guy Haley excelled at creating a believable, rich environment for one of his stories. Leave it to the man to get you places, both hostile and beautiful. While I would not exactly enjoy a vacation on this two-sided world, it fascinated me with its geography, ecosystem, flora and fauna. There is a lot of depth here, and I would love to see it expanded on in future novels, if they are to be.

If it wasn't clear enough already, I adore this novel.
It was refreshing, kept me on edge, made me laugh and frown, had me care about its characters and anticipate the worst. The revelations at the end of the novel had me wide-eyed and grinning soon afterwards, and I loved every bit of it.

Crash definitely deserves a continuation, or as many as Haley would be willing to put to paper.
First Landing and Nychthemeron still have a lot of stories to tell - and if Guy gets to write them, I'll be around to read. I recommend you do the same by starting with this book. If you have even the slightest passion for science fiction, you will appreciate it.

Crash on Goodreads
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Review: Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley
Remember that I am a Gamer? Well, this extends to video game novels as well. Here's the Bioshock prequel novel "Rapture".
The Story:
"It's the end of World War II. FDR's New Deal has redefined American politics. Taxes are at an all-time high. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has brought a fear of total annihilation. The rise of secret government agencies and sanctions on business has many watching their backs. America's sense of freedom is diminishing…and many are desperate to take that freedom back.

Among them is a great dreamer, an immigrant who pulled himself from the depths of poverty to become one of the wealthiest and admired men in the world. That man is Andrew Ryan, and he believed that great men and women deserve better. And so he set out to create the impossible, a utopia free from government, censorship, and moral restrictions on science—where what you give is what you get. He created Rapture—the shining city below the sea.

But as we all know, this utopia suffered a great tragedy. This is the story of how it all came to be…and how it all ended."

The Review
Rapture is an excellent prequel novel to both Bioshock and Bioshock 2, featuring many familiar faces. It does a fantastic job weaving the story of Rapture, taking game mechanics and collectibles into account, dropping hints here and there, and overall managing to show us Rapture before its fall, and during it.

While the main Rapture plotline, including those of Andrew Ryan, Atlas and Sofia Lamb, are deliberately left open to be explored in the games, Rapture managed to come to a satisfying conclusion for me, by focusing the story on Bill McDonagh and his family.
Bill's involvement in the war for Rapture is framed by audio diaries in the game, which gives a decent enough view of his character and key points in the pre-game history of the city under the sea. However, the book does a far better job showing us exactly who he is, including his origins, his family, his hopes and doubts - and his trust in Andrew Ryan.

While many different characters are depicted in Rapture, the stars of the novel are undoubtedly the city itself, Andrew Ryan's descent into paranoia and Bill McDonagh, who may be considered Ryan's conscience throughout the book. I found it very easy to sympathize with McDonagh, which made the book a success to me. In general I thought the character setup worked nicely, especially in context to their eventual roles in the games, and they all acted more or less like you would expect them to, considering their characteristics and circumstances.

Even though it does not conclude the overall Rapture story arc, being a prequel and all, it ended on the right note for this particular storyline, and I think that, even without playing the games first, this is a scifi novel that may very well appeal to fans of the genre as a whole.
For fans of the Bioshock games, picking this book up should be a no-brainer, and I'll recommend it wholeheartedly.

Bioshock: Rapture on Goodreads
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Review: Hunter's Moon by Guy Haley
To close today's mixed bag of reviews, here's Hunter's Moon, Guy Haley's audio drama contribution to the Horus Heresy series!

The Story:
"As sanctioned executioners, the Wolves of Fenris were tasked with rooting out treachery at the heart of the Legions... but would they be capable of carrying out a death sentence upon one of the Emperor’s own sons? Now, a stolen Alpha Legion dropship crashes on the primitive oceanic world of Pelago, bringing news of a terrible war that has erupted out among the stars. Will the pursuing traitors, thirsty for vengeance, reach the lone survivor before his own battle-brothers can?

A Horus Heresy audio drama written by Guy Haley. Running time approx 35 mins."

The Review
Hunter's Moon is a truly excellent audio drama. The audio production oozes with quality, making it easy to immerse oneself in Guy Haley's gripping narrative.

Unlike its accompanying drama, Thief of Revelations by Graham McNeill, Hunter's Moon is being told from the perspective of a normal man, who gets involved in an engagement between Space Wolves and Alpha Legion.
This choice of perspective generally does a lot of good to the story, moving to a respectful distance from the superhuman soldiers and adding to the confusion and irritation in the process.

Only halfway through the half-CD story do Space Marines appear in person - which may seem odd at first, for a Horus Heresy story, but goes a long way to remind us that even through all the action in this intergalactic civil war, the Imperium's people are not necessarily aware of the Heresy, nor do they have picked sides, or will ever get between the fronts.
It is easy to forget that there is more to the Great Crusade / Heresy era than augmented supersoldiers, especially since the Remembrancers' plotlines seem to have been completely avoided in recent years.

At the top of it all, Guy Haley once again proves that he is a master at crafting interesting worlds and environments. As with Baneblade or Crash before, Haley managed to present an intriguing geography in his story, which adds to tension and character background. With Guy Haley's work, one can be sure to experience interesting, if often hostile places.

Considering the short, 35 minutes runtime of this story, I can honestly say that Guy has made the most of it with his great narrative. Having it presented in such a wonderfully produced audio format, spoken by a cast of Black Library veterans, however, makes it stand out as one of my favorite audio dramas BL has ever released.

Hunter's Moon on Goodreads
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Review: Distant Echoes of Old Night by Rob Sanders
To balance the lengthy review of The Wolf of Ash and Fire out, here's a shorter, to the point one for Rob Sanders' Horus Heresy short story Distant Echoes of Old Night!

The Story:
"Death Guard Chaplain Murnau has shot down an Imperial Fists vessel on a dismal backwater world, and the forces under his command are closing in on the wreckage. With his mission clear in his mind to leave no survivors, Murnau unleashes one of his Legion’s most deadly units – the fearsome and infamous Destroyers.

This story was originally published in the Games Day Anthology 2012/2013"

The Review
I rather enjoyed Distant Echoes of Old Night, but found a few things a tiny bit awkward about it.

One thing is clear, though: This is a very characterful and suitably grim Death Guard story. From the very first scene on, it gets apparent that the Death Guard's unwavering resolve and specialization on biochemical warfare are the focus of the story. And oh yes, Rob Sanders did those things justice!

What irritated me, though, relates to the ending scenes, which I do not want to spoil. I will just say that I was wondering why the Legionaries did not use their gear more effectively in the face of what they were against.

Aside from that gripe, the story was rock solid, and a much-needed piece on an incredibly underdeveloped Legion - despite appearances in various early Horus Heresy novels, short stories and cameos, Distant Echoes of Old Night delivers the first real look at the Legion's particular take on warfare. As such I am sure it will please Death Guard and Horus Heresy fans greatly.

Distant Echoes of Old Night on Goodreads
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Review: The Wolf of Ash and Fire by Graham McNeill
Following on, I have reviewed the recent Horus Heresy eShort The Wolf of Ash and Fire by Graham McNeill. Curiously enough, this review should rival full novels' in length.
The Story:
"The Wolf of Ash and Fire is a Horus Heresy short story that takes place during the Great Crusade, before the outbreak of the Heresy. The Wolf of Ash and Fire follows Horus Lupercal, fighting alongside the Emperor Himself, as the Luna Wolves fight for control of the Ork-held planetoid of Gorro. The Wolf of Ash and Fire was released as a free e-book with every copy of Macragge's Honour."

The Review
The Wolf of Ash and Fire was very enjoyable, if not without flaws. Being a prequel story, set before even the Ullanor Crusade, this short story nonetheless references and strengthens plot points and twists throughout more recent Horus Heresy installments.
Beware, this review turned out a lot longer than anticipated!

However, the story felt much stronger during its first half than the second, and some points which were introduced in the first part never got followed up on in the second. A bigger incident which has not been detailed in the novel series, but featured in the Luna Wolves' part of the Forgeworld Horus Heresy rulebooks, was brought up - something that will undoubtedly confuse people, as it is not well known but impactful lore.

An intriguing plot device is introduced in relation to this via the Mournival and Hastur Sejanus in particular. After the introductory scene, however, it is forgotten, and its lack of inclusion in the Horus Heresy opening trilogy, and Horus Rising in particular, makes it feel like a solid idea that holds no relevance in the wider scheme of things. Maybe McNeill's upcoming novel Vengeful Spirit will pick the idea back up - it still appears to be too little to late, though.

At the end of the day, it felt good to see Hastur Sejanus and the Mournival before Horus Rising. Seeing their dynamic before Garviel Loken entered the stage was satisfying, especially paired with Horus's theatrical nature. Overall there have been quite a few good callbacks to Horus Rising and False Gods during the first half of the story.

The second half, though, focuses a lot more on action than I liked. Many of the Emperor's and Horus's elite warriors seem to find their ends here, and while the highly developed Ork antagonists feel menacing, I felt like the story was stronger when taking a step back and observing the Master of Mankind and Lupercal, focusing on dialogue rather than action.

I also noticed that Horus was described as using a power sword and storm bolter - which seems fine, until you realize that storm bolters were said to not yet exist during that timeframe. At a later point, the weapon was refered to as "twin bolters", so maybe that was just an oversight, and I am most certainly blowing it out of proportion. Still, it bugged me when I read it.

After all is said and done, it is easy for me to recommend this story to series fans and newcomers alike. I felt this short could be a nice and short introductory piece to the Horus Heresy series, reinforcing the father-son-relationship between Horus and the Emperor, which was not clearly shown but only talked about in the opening trilogy.

The Wolf of Ash and Fire should do an impressive job reinforcing the first few novels' impact on the reader, new and old. It could have done more if given a larger page count, however, and I firmly believe that turning it in a full novella would have done a lot to turn a pretty good story into a fantastic one. As it stands, though, Graham McNeill delivered a damn fine addition to the Horus Heresy series.

The Wolf of Ash and Fire on Goodreads
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Review: The Siege of Castellax by C.L. Werner
The Siege of Castellax is undoubtedly a bad boy of a book.
Not because it is bad, but because it features the BEST depiction of Chaos Space Marines I have seen in years! (Hold your butts, Night Lords fans...)

The Story:
"The Chaos Space Marines of the Iron Warriors Legion have long been renowned as the masters of siege warfare, able to inflict devastating firepower and unimaginable cruelty upon their foes. On the world of Castellax, twisted Warsmith Andraaz builds his own empire even as a system-crushing ork Waaagh! approaches, and drives his own slaves ever harder to meet their production quotas and supply materiel for the Legion’s many warbands. Their walls are strong and their weapons ready, but how long can the planet hold out against the deadly greenskin invasion when whisperings of rebellion begin to pass between the Iron Warriors’ downtrodden vassals?"

The Review:
The Iron Warriors are bad, rotten to the core of their very being. Not a single chapter in The Siege of Castellax will make you doubt that these Space Marines are anything but traitorous bad guys, even if they are pitched against an alien species that revels in crude, brutal savagery, with the Orks.

Yet still, even though the book heaps "evil" characters upon the reader from very early on (the command structure of the Third Grand Company of the Iron Warriors on Castellax is quite extensive!), C.L. Werner really kicked it out of the park in terms of scale, action and intrigue.
You cannot help but root for Captain Rhodaan, the Iron Warrior the book focuses on the most. Even then, however, you will still find it in you to cheer for his bitter rival, Over-Captain Vallax, or the rebel uprising in the underground of the world. There are a lot of things going on in this book, and none of them failed to catch my interest.

This book is grim, very grim. If you have a faint heart, I may suggest being careful about picking this one up. Werner managed to one-up even the most cruel stories in Black Library's arsenal.
Some of those cruelties are fairly straightforward, like Skintaker Algol's habit of stitching nice cloaks out of the skin of human slaves. Others will serve as twists and turns throughout the book - and just when you think things may start to look up for the Flesh, the human slave population and military in the IW's service, the author will take the book and smack it around your head with the next big showcase of the sheer inhumanity of the Space Marines.
And even with the way the Iron Warriors cling to their honour and loyalty to the Legion, their internal rivalries will provide you with constant tension throughout the book. A knife in the back would be gentle, considering what happens in this novel!

It is an eventful ride, from start to finish. C.L. Werner, in my mind, almost perfected writing (40k) Iron Warriors here.

The way he spinned the Legion's mantra "Iron Within, Iron Without!" into the story felt very natural, providing character and conflict in equal measure. The story even deals with Obliterators in a more reasonable way than I have read anywhere else before, giving them motivation and character rather than showing them as mindless killing machines.
Even the human janissaries and slaves, as well as techpriests and Orks, felt so believable and relatable (well, maybe not the Orks..), it boggles my mind that this was the author's first full-length Warhammer 40,000 novel.

However, there are some things I did not quite like, or thought didn't get as much attention as they would have deserved. Nitpicks, more than anything.
One of them, a quite obvious thing, I feel, are the Chapters' timeframes.
Each chapter begins with a short note ala "I–Day Plus One Hundred and Four", to put the content into relation to the duration of the Siege of Castellax. It drags out, as things tend to do with Orks.
However, I often found myself wondering what happened in the weeks, or even months, between those chapter points. At times a chapter would flow neatly into the next, implying weeks have passed throughout the chapter's progress.
A few more notes could have offset this confusion, I feel. As well as the story flows, I did not really pay any attention to the exact dates given after a while, and just checked occassionally. So, the good thing is that they are not necessary to enjoy or understand the story. But resulting from that, they did not add as much as I hoped they would. A bit of wasted potential right there, though it did not let the book down.

Another thing I would like to see expanded upon is the fate of Admiral Nostraz, who was brushed over in the later parts of the book. Considering his and Skylord Morax's rivalry throughout the first half of the book, I felt a bit disappointed that it was handled like this. However, there are certain implications made in the book - it is just that we were never shown what actually happened.
In general, I feel C.L. Werner could get even MORE out of the Third Grand Company as it stands right now. There are certain hooks in the novel that would make a sequel story, maybe a novella, very appealing. Some things could be expanded upon via short stories (which has happened before, with his Steel Blood), thanks to the well-constructed character dynamics throughout the novel.

Overall, this is a incredibly grimdark novel that clearly shows what C.L. Werner is capable of.
He has mastered writing very dark stories years ago in the Warhammer Fantasy setting (Dead Winter, The Red Duke, Matthias Thulmann: Witch Hunter, and now proven that his genius also extends to the 41st Millenium and power armoured superhumans.

These are Chaos Marines as they should be. A very clear recommendation to fans of Warhammer 40,000 and macabre science fiction in general.

The Siege of Castellax on Goodreads
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