Review: Archaon: Everchosen by Rob Sanders
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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
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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
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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'├ętat, 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
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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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