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.

Mortarion's Heart on Goodreads
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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 SzczeciƄski, 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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