Review: I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett
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A brand new Black Library event series begins! After a millennium of peace, the Imperium is beset by a brand new invasion. The Imperial Fists respond... and havoc ensues. The Beast has arisen, and the galaxy will burn.

It is the thirty-second millennium and the Imperium is at peace. The Traitor Legions of Chaos are but a distant memory and the many alien races that have long plagued mankind are held in check by the Space Marines. When a mission to exterminate one such xenos breed on the world of Ardamantua draws in more of their forces, the Imperial Fists abandon the walls of Terra for the first time in more than a thousand years. And when another, greater, foe strikes, even the heroic sons of Rogal Dorn may be powerless against it. The Beast Arises… and it is mighty.
In December 2015, Black Library kicked off a new 12 book series, scheduled to release one installment every month. The Beast Arises is set to tell of the Beast's Waaagh, almost ten thousand years before the current 40k timeline. Set about 1500 years after the Horus Heresy, this has the potential to be a monumental series for BL. Let's have a look at the first book.

The Story:
"A brand new Black Library event series begins! After a millennium of peace, the Imperium is beset by a brand new invasion. The Imperial Fists respond... and havoc ensues. The Beast has arisen, and the galaxy will burn.

It is the thirty-second millennium and the Imperium is at peace. The Traitor Legions of Chaos are but a distant memory and the many alien races that have long plagued mankind are held in check by the Space Marines. When a mission to exterminate one such xenos breed on the world of Ardamantua draws in more of their forces, the Imperial Fists abandon the walls of Terra for the first time in more than a thousand years. And when another, greater, foe strikes, even the heroic sons of Rogal Dorn may be powerless against it. The Beast Arises… and it is mighty."

The Review
I am really torn on I Am Slaughter.
I could barely decide whether to rate it at 3 or 4 stars, though in the end I decided to go with the better rating, as this is merely a "prologue" novel (if you can even call it that, at barely half the usual size for Black Library releases).

First off, the Imperial Fists (one of whom is brandishing his sword at the reader from the cover) are rather inconsequential to the plot. While the book opens up with them, and features them throughout, it is mostly for shock value and to present a credible threat to the Imperium, not for their merits. They are by far the weakest and least exciting part about the whole book.

Readers familiar with Imperial Fists offerings by Black Library will probably know what's coming for them. It is almost a tradition at this point. Yes, they die in droves. Some deaths are well executed and shocking, while the vast majority happen off-page, unspoken of and unremembered. Even during the final confrontation with the Beast's greenskin hordes, we barely get to see the action unfold, and in the cases we actually do, it is for last stands that are over within a few pages.

At first I was slightly annoyed by Dan Abnett's trademark habit of injecting novelty traits and cultures into Space Marine Chapters. He did it with fairly blank slates like the Alpha Legion in the Horus Heresy novel Legion, which made sense and was appreciated. I even enjoyed most of his Space Wolves additions and changes in Prospero Burns, despite them not flowing entirely well with previous Wolves works. By Know No Fear I was groaning a bit, since as good as the end result was, his rendition of the Ultramarines didn't go hand in hand with any previous Horus Heresy work they had appeared in.
By The Unremembered Empire, I was on one hand happy about his looks at Legion culture, but hated the final conflict between Primarchs, who did felt somehow detached from their many previous appearances.

Which brings me to my point. It has been on my mind for quite some time already, and I believe it to be very relevant here.

Dan Abnett is not a good team player when it comes to tie-in fiction and multi-author series.
He excels at crafting his own niches within the Warhammer 40,000 and Horus Heresy settings, creating his own sub-plots and mythologies, character arcs and cultures. But when it comes to tying his works into the mythologies and plotlines of others, I consider him relatively weak.
When Nick Kyme depicted the Lion of Caliban better than 40k Grand Master Abnett himself, in a sequel to the latter's last novel, I couldn't help but wonder.

What Abnett has going for himself, however, is his incredible talent for starting projects, kicking off new series and laying the foundation for other authors to build on. His Horus Rising set the tone for years to come, giving the following authors an anchor point to build around. His Eisenhorn trilogy, one of the very early works in the franchise, did an invaluable job at expanding the Imperium of Man beyond "its a thing" status, turning it into an actual civilization.

I believe that having him pen the first novel in the The Beast Arises series of twelve (half-length) novels was a very solid decision, especially due to it being set in the twilight millennium following the Horus Heresy, long before the Imperium turned into what we know from 40k.

His additions to the Imperial Fists, while not entirely consistent with my expectations for them from the other lore about them - I would never imagine them picking silly honour names such as "Slaughter", "Killshot", "Frenzy" and the likes, for example - were for the most part reasonable and indicative of cultural shifts within the Imperium post-Heresy. I didn't love it, but I can see the point and figure that it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be from the early chapters.

But then, as I said, the Imperial Fists parts of the book were the weakest to me. The big, exciting things happened either in orbit of the doomed planet of Ardarmantua (following the actions of the imperial relief fleet led by Lord Commander Militant Heth, High Lord of Terra, as well as Admiral Kiran and General Maskar), or right back home on Holy Terra.

This book did a fantastic job at showing just how complacent the High Lords of Terra, leaders of the Imperium, have become. They are shown to be petty politicians who would rather rob mankind of easy and abundant resources, than taking a hit to their family business's profits. They play each other on a multitude of occassions, and end up sending the whole of the Imperial Fists Chapter to their doom - while not even aware of the threat they are opposing.

Enter Drakan Vangorich, Master of Assassins. His role no longer part of the High Twelve, instead replaced by Inquisition, Ecclesiarchy and others to better suit the changing Imperium's needs, he is full of resentment and disappointment for the council. He plays his own schemes, often taunts his supposed allies through veiled threats and making light of their security measures.

Readers familiar with early 40k lore will of course know that this character has been part of the setting for a very long time, and his actions would go down in history.
So, knowing of it, I went in expecting Drakan to be a malicious villain - but to Abnett's credit, I actually rather like the fellow, and can relate to him easily. He sees problems arising, and how the High Lords deal with them. He despises their petty power plays, and at least appears to have good intentions to protect the Imperium.

Drakan Vangorich, by far, is the most interesting and satisfying character in this whole novel, and might remain so for the entirety of the series.

As for the "Beast", there really isn't a lot to say. The big bad foe's appearance is intimidating, but he hasn't yet joined the fray in earnest. In fact, the orks don't even appear for about 80% of the novel. When they eventually do, the results are devastating, but I felt that it was too little, too late. The book is more of a prologue to the threat the Beast poses, rather than a good look at him and his forces.
As impressive as the first look at the massive Waaaghboss was, chilling and intimidating, it was the human generals in orbit of Ardamantua who stole the show through their reactions to the threat.

One thing I really didn't find myself liking was the way the title phrase "I Am Slaughter" was used. There is two characters who use it - the Beast itself, and an Imperial Fist Captain, whose honour-name is Slaughter. Considering how little significance the character really had throughout the novel, I feel this was unnecessary and silly, even though it was used as part of a small joke later on.
And then there is also a second character called "Beast", who happens to be a former assassin. A little too much for my taste. I can see that Abnett tried connecting dots here and created parallels, but it felt overdone.

Be that as it may, though, this was a damn fine setup for the series. It opened up a lot of questions for the other authors to follow up on, and introduced the key players back at Terra, though everybody else might not even appear after the Beast is done with them.
Imperial Fists fans might feel betrayed once more, but readers who enjoyed Abnett's previous takes on Imperial policy and politics will be delighted.

I Am Slaughter is a novel that plays to Abnett's strengths, but still shows some of his usual weaknesses. Thankfully, the overall read was a solid one and prepares this series to be a big hitter.
The story will continue in Predator, Prey by Rob Sanders. I am looking forward to seeing the further developments on Terra.

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Review: Pharos by Guy Haley
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Just as Guilliman’s dream of Imperium Secundus seems finally to be realised, the Night Lords launch a full invasion of distant Sotha. Their target? The mysterious Mount Pharos…

With the noble Emperor Sanguinius ruling from Macragge, Imperium Secundus stands as a lone beacon of hope even as the Warmaster’s forces continue to ravage the rest of the galaxy. Roboute Guilliman, still Master of Ultramar, has convinced his brother that Terra has fallen and that the mysterious Mount Pharos on Sotha now holds the key to mankind’s future. But the Night Lords, those cruel and pitiless sons of Konrad Curze, have been watching from the shadows, and make ready to launch their long-planned attack on the Pharos itself…
It was about time for Guy Haley to get his debut novel in the Horus Heresy series. Being the 34th book in the series, expectations are high, and I am thrilled to say that they have been met. Pharos is a clear high point in the series.
Here's why.
The Story:
"Just as Guilliman’s dream of Imperium Secundus seems finally to be realised, the Night Lords launch a full invasion of distant Sotha. Their target? The mysterious Mount Pharos…

With the noble Emperor Sanguinius ruling from Macragge, Imperium Secundus stands as a lone beacon of hope even as the Warmaster’s forces continue to ravage the rest of the galaxy. Roboute Guilliman, still Master of Ultramar, has convinced his brother that Terra has fallen and that the mysterious Mount Pharos on Sotha now holds the key to mankind’s future. But the Night Lords, those cruel and pitiless sons of Konrad Curze, have been watching from the shadows, and make ready to launch their long-planned attack on the Pharos itself…"

The Review
Oh boy, what a ride. To me, Pharos is the Horus Heresy in top form. It covered all the bases: Primarch drama, action, massive Legion-scale battles, revelations, big repercussions for 40k as we know it, very likeable characters...

Pharos continues on from various plotlines within the Imperium Secundus story arc. Set after The Unremembered Empire and Deathfire in the mainline series, but also A Safe and Shadowed Place, The Long Night and The Dark Between the Stars as well as The Laurel of Defiance (found in War Without End), it has many details, characters and situations to draw on. It feels like the novel that Imperium Secundus needed, and heralds the beginning of the end for that particular arc.

We have seen the Pharos before, of course. The mysterious beacon of hope for Roboute Guilliman's second empire featured in The Unremembered Empire (and even prior to that), guiding many loyalist elements to Ultramar and Macragge specifically. Barabas Dantioch, loyalist Warsmith of the Iron Warriors, is still hard at work decoding the secrets of the ancient machine. He was joined by Alexis Polux of the Imperial Fists, and the two provide some very endearing moments throughout the book.

Dantioch isn't doing so well. He was a wreck when he first appearend in Age of Darkness, but since then, things have only gotten worse. Alexis, meanwhile, is in peek condition, a giant next to his bowed friend. And friends they are, despite their many differences and the feud between their original Legions. They have grown into brothers, friends beyond all doubt, and their relationship was one of my favorite things about Pharos.

On the other hand, we have two actual siblings in the Night Lords Kellendvar and Kellenkir. While Kellendvar is wary of his brother's changes since the dropsite massacre, he still supports and defends him against their superiors. He is determined to save him from his apparent madness, while Kellenkir considers him weak and would love to keep torturing mortals to unwrap the secrets of death and suffering. They are very polarising in a sense, and their kinship seems quite one-sided. There are some great scenes elaborating on their past growing up on Nostramo and the changes they went through, however. Their plotlines were resolved admirably, in my opinion.

And then there is another pair of brothers: Roboute Guilliman and Sanguinius. The latter is still highly uncomfortable with his position as emperor of Imperium Secundus, and his growing distaste for the charade is palpable. For the first time I felt that Sanguinius made sense and felt natural in this whole arc. Abnett barely looked at him in TUE, after all.
And then there is another surprise guest who faces off in a debate against Sanguinius. I loved the whole chapter dealing with that! It held so many implications for the series, and the Emperor, as a whole, that I just breezed through it, twice.

But aside from the themes of brotherhood on various levels, there is still the war for Sotha, home planet of the Pharos, where the majority of the book takes place. Invasion by the Night Lords under Krukesh the Pale leaves the world torn and bloody, with its defenders rallying around the beacon at Mount Pharos. There are plenty of great tunnel fight scenes, and it is clear that the two siegemasters Dantioch and Polux are exceptional at their jobs, stopping the Night Lords outnumbering them 20 to 1 from overrunning them within hours.

Outside of the mountain, we follow a group of Space Marine neophytes in the last stages before full ascension, and a rag-tag band of irregulars in the sothan military.

Led by Mericus Giraldus, sergeant of the Sothan First Auxilia, the enlisted farmers and were a highlight for me. Mericus especially had a very insolent tone that made him enjoyable to read about from start to finish, whether it was him fooling around with his troops or telling off Captain Lucretius Corvo of the Ultramarines. He was just an all around relateable, interesting character who lightened up the mood in an otherwise grim war.

Scout Oberdeii, the point of view character of the neophytes, meanwhile, added a layer of desperation to the conflict. Being the literal future of their company, the recruits are confronted with their first real battles and have to weigh their responsibilities to the Legion, meaning survival to replenish the ranks, with their desire to strike back at the Night Lords. For Oberdeii, another problem arises with close proximity to the Pharos: He has been having strong visions of impending doom ever since being deployed for training on Sotha. He isn't the only one there, but his experiences were rather more extreme, as The Dark Between the Stars attests to.
Oberdeii's insecurities about his performance and continued training, especially when confronted with possible taint via the Pharos, made him interesting to follow, and relatable despite his already transformed form and mind. He is stuck between humanity and experiences of fear, and the exalted status of the Legiones Astartes. This gives us the first good look at scouts in the Heresy, and I appreciate it very much.

Captain Lucretius Corvo, in contrast, is a space marine in his prime. He has recently come to greater glory, as detailed in Laurel of Defiance (which I thought excellent), and much trust is placed upon his shoulders by Guilliman. He is to relieve the Ultramarines and the defenders of the Pharos, buying them time until the bulk of the Legion forces arrive in system.
Despite some stiffness, Corvo still comes across well and strong, even when facing strange odds and daemonic influences. His encounter with Mericus and Oberdeii resulted in some great material to read through.
I honestly hope Haley can come back to Corvo and Company in the near future, and maybe expand on the Chapter founded by the Captain after the Heresy: The Novamarines. He has previously written about them in Death of Integrity, which is among my favorite Space Marine Battles novels to date for its mature and elevated rendition of Space Marines and the Genestealer threat. Seeing more of their cultural origins via the Heresy would be a boon.

On the traitor side, the cutthroat Night Lords are as despicable and twisted as ever. Treachery within their ranks is a given at this point, and it is clear why their Primarch abandoned them as hopeless. Power plays are being made, even while they unleash true horror on the natives of Sotha and the defenders of the Pharos. These aren't the somehow sympathetic figures of Dembski-Bowden's Prince of Crows that win you over with over the top badassery, but actual villain figures that possibly never had a realistic chance to turn out any other way.

So is Pharos any good? Yes. It is bloody excellent and one of my favorites in the series. It propels the series plot forward, both in obvious and subtle ways. It delivers amazing Primarch scenes, touching encounters between friends, honest sacrifices and strong action scenes on top of a layer of horror and desperation. It subverts the theme of hope for Imperium Secundus that the lighthouse represents by turning it into a cause for disaster, both immediate and in the far future.

Pharos is not only an incredible addition to the series, but also a stellar full length HH debut for Guy Haley, who has earned his place among the top authors working on the Horus Heresy already, as far as I am concerned. Here's to many more contributions of this caliber.

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Review: Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson
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With Earth abandoned, humanity resides on Station, an industrialised asteroid run by the sentient corporations of the Pantheon. Under their leadership a war has been raging against the Totality - ex-Pantheon AIs gone rogue.

With the war over, Jack Forster and his sidekick Hugo Fist, a virtual puppet tied to Jack's mind and created to destroy the Totality, have returned home.
Labelled a traitor for surrendering to the Totality, all Jack wants is to clear his name but when he discovers two old friends have died under suspicious circumstances he also wants answers. Soon he and Fist are embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens not only their future but all of humanity's. But with Fist's software licence about to expire, taking Jack's life with it, can they bring down the real traitors before their time runs out?
Getting tired of Black Library reviews? Me too. Here's a sci-fi gem from 2015, the sequel of which I am highly anticipating!

The Story:
"With Earth abandoned, humanity resides on Station, an industrialised asteroid run by the sentient corporations of the Pantheon. Under their leadership a war has been raging against the Totality - ex-Pantheon AIs gone rogue.

With the war over, Jack Forster and his sidekick Hugo Fist, a virtual puppet tied to Jack's mind and created to destroy the Totality, have returned home.
Labelled a traitor for surrendering to the Totality, all Jack wants is to clear his name but when he discovers two old friends have died under suspicious circumstances he also wants answers. Soon he and Fist are embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens not only their future but all of humanity's. But with Fist's software licence about to expire, taking Jack's life with it, can they bring down the real traitors before their time runs out?"
The Review
When I first saw the cover for Crashing Heaven revealed by Gollancz, I knew I had to give this novel a try.

And oh boy, am I glad I did, for what I found was an exceedingly enjoyable trip into a future dominated by godlike AIs running humanity's lives according to their own schemes and personalities; a future where people live in constant contact with the Weave, a massively improved augmented reality version of the internet, which turns an otherwise bleak vision of the future into paradise - as long as they are playing by the rules of their godly Patrons and don't get excised from the privileges of staring at a hypercommercialized illusion of life.

Our protagonist Jack is one of the few who fell from grace in this society. After surrendering to an AI collective he was tasked to exterminate, using his mind-bonded hacker AI "puppet" Hugo Fist (an incredibly vile fellow, I might add!), he finally returns home, yet is still leashed by InSec, his former employers and local police force, and cut off from the Weave. Fist, too, is caged to limit his potentially destructive, chaotic powers.

But Jack isn't going to play by the new rules laid out for him. He is determined to uncover the roots of the conspiracy that led to him being exiled and sent to war, and topple the Patron god responsible for it all.
His time is running out, however, as, in this vision of the future, copyright law and terms of service have become the chains by which mankind is leashed. Jack's license for Fist's software is about to expire, and with nothing else to pay with, he will have to surrender his earthly presence to the cruel little AI.

You can tell from that alone that there is a lot of tension in Crashing Heaven, from start to finish. While Jack has come to terms with his death-countdown, he would not accept going out quietly, without his tormentors being exposed.

What that results in is a compelling cyberpunk thriller that spans not only the physical reality, but also the augmented realm of the Weave, including plenty of metaphorical representations of things we do even today on the net.

There are truckloads of personal drama to be found here, too; a love story, betrayal, family relations, friendship, philosophical questions about virtual beings and their rights, social classes and structures - I was amazed at how many themes Al Robertson managed to fit into one coherent story and still deliver it in an exciting and even funny way.

As vile as Hugo Fist may be (note: he also uses swear words as if they were punctuation), he is still quite charming when he wants to be. I massively enjoyed seeing his bond with Jack develop from being intitially gleeful at the thought of taking over and killing Jack, as per licensing agreement, to regretting that he cannot avoid doing so even if he wanted.

There was so much character development to Jack and that little shit, it made me wonder what else Robertson could come up with to top this duo he created. They really grew on me over the course of the book, along with the other characters' eccentricities.

If he wanted to, Al Robertson could probably write a dozen more stories set in this rich science fiction setting and still have things to explore, although Crashing Heaven did a fantastic job to paint a picture of a future that is worth dreading and anticipating in almost equal measure, for various reasons.
What seems to be paradise for a great many people is actually a facade for a terribly uncomfortable place to live. It rewards the obedient and exiles the inconvenient.
Seeing through Jack's eyes worked wonders to show the wild contrasts within human society, while still leaving the reader with the question whether or not the deception is worthwhile from a moral standpoint.

Crashing Heaven is a treasure trove (or root server?) of amazing ideas that snap together in a thrillingly intelligent narrative that does exactly what the title claims. It pulled me into its world, and I am sad to leave it behind already.
Al Robertson will be an author I'll look out for in the future. If his next novel is even half as exciting as this one, I'm sure to get my money and time's worth ten times over.

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Review: The Gates of Azyr by Chris Wraight
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The war is over, and the Mortal Realms have all but fallen to Chaos... Khorgos Khul rampages across the fiery Realm of Aqshy, hunting down mortal kind to slaughter or subjugate to Khorne. His Goretide have crushed all resistance... until the storm. From the heavens hurtle paladins clad in gold. Sent by Sigmar, the Stormcast Eternals have come to liberate all the realms from the yoke of Chaos.

It’s your first chance to enter the mortal realms and see Sigmar’s chosen warriors in action – heroes of heavenly magic in god-forged armour who ride the storm and bring death to the servants of Chaos, in this case the dreaded Goretide. The perfect place to start exploring the Age of Sigmar.
The Gates of Azyr kicked off the Age of Sigmar, Games Workshop's reboot of their Warhammer Fantasy range. Officially, it is a setting succeeding the Old World of WHFB, while thematically and in terms of design, it is an entirely new universe.

The Story:
"The war is over, and the Mortal Realms have all but fallen to Chaos... Khorgos Khul rampages across the fiery Realm of Aqshy, hunting down mortal kind to slaughter or subjugate to Khorne. His Goretide have crushed all resistance... until the storm. From the heavens hurtle paladins clad in gold. Sent by Sigmar, the Stormcast Eternals have come to liberate all the realms from the yoke of Chaos.

It’s your first chance to enter the mortal realms and see Sigmar’s chosen warriors in action – heroes of heavenly magic in god-forged armour who ride the storm and bring death to the servants of Chaos, in this case the dreaded Goretide. The perfect place to start exploring the Age of Sigmar."

The Review
This is it, then. The Age of Sigmar has come... and left me cold, bored, frustrated and unsatisfied.

There is very little to this novella. In fact, I am confused as to how there could be this little substance to this book. At 128 pages, I expected a lot more of... everything. Everything except mindless action, of course, since that is all you really get in this story.

Especially when compared to other novellas Black Library has published, this one is bleak. Even Space Marine Battles stories like Blood and Fire, The Eternal Crusader or the Warhammer 40,000 starter set novella, Dark Vengeance, the various Gotrek & Felix novellas... they all offer more than this book did. A lot more.

For one, they don't spend about 66% of the book with immortal, hammer-wielding, angelic supermen fighting enraged chaos-worshipping buffoons. Well, they often do have that, but not in one go. There are various scenes and characters involved to shake up the monotony of combat. This is not the case here.

Once battle is joined (barely a third into the novella), it does not stop to even consider the mortal humans it introduced as early as chapter two, went into hiding in chapter three and did not reappear, act or become in any way useful until chapter 8, mere pages before the book's end.

There didn't appear to be any point to these mortals apart from showing off the cruelty of the bloodreavers in chapters two and three, and to give protagonist Vandus Hammerhand, Lord-Celestant of the Stormcast Eternals, an opportunity to prattle about how he and his fellows are the bringers salvation.

I did not like Vandus Hammerhand. In fact, I think I could have liked him, had he not been introduced as a wonderful, perfect "Sigmarine" (as people have taken to calling the Sigmar-serving Stormcast Eternals, due to their resemblance to Space Marines), first of the host and overall swell dude.
The Eternals are mind-scrubbed. They got snatched away by the God-King Sigmar, mind-wiped and reforged into immortal warriors living pretty much only for war in Sigmar's name.

Vandus Hammerhand didn't seem to have received that particular memo, since the moment he enters the realm of Aqshy, to reconquer the land and defeat Chaos Lord Korghos Khul, that his memories start returning. His name, his moments before being spirited away, memories of the realm he once defended... it all comes back to him. And it turns out that Khul and him have unfinished business to settle.

Neither the return of his memories nor his emotions regarding them felt in any way satisfying to read about. The impact on Vandus was at the same time mind-numbing (for him) and yawn-inducing (for me). For being the first of the host, though, Vandus sure took a lot of taunting from his former enemy, Khul, to get a grip and unleash Sigmar's power. When the main character wonders why the heck he is still holding back against the guy who burned his village to the ground and is bathing the realm in Chaos (literally), you cannot help but ask yourself why a fool like that was picked to lead the glorious heroes tasked with cleansing the realms.

In fact, I wanted Korghos Khul to win. At least he had some interesting ambitions (collecting the final skull to offer to his god Khorne, to top off his skull-pyramid and ascend to apparent daemonhood and lay waste to all the realms with his "Goretide"), humor and actual interaction with his lieutenants (all of which had silly names, like "Skullbrand the Bloodsecrator").
Where Khul showed actual excitement about fighting Vandus, the latter seemed to cower on top of his "Dracoth" (think He-Man sitting on his Battlecat Gringer, just that its a wingless dragon beast instead). I almost laughed when Vandus finally started to get serious and told his nemesis that "nothing remained" of his old self - just after he got paralyzed because of his memories, and before he encounters the surviving mortals.

Even Ionus Cryptborn, the "Lord Relictor" of the Stormhost, would have made for a more compelling character. Let me quote a passage:

Ionus smiled beneath his deathmask. If things had been different, he might have been pleased to recount the tale. He would have told of the debt he owed the God-King, and the ancient curse that his choice had made him subject to. He would have told of Nagash, the deity who slumbered still but would be sure to come for him when the toll of years was complete. He might have said that, yes, he was different, and that he was the Lord-Relictor of the Stormhost, privy to secrets that not even the Hammerhand had been made a party to, and that every road ahead of him was dark and filled with pain whatever the outcome of this battle.

That is about as much as the reader gets to learn about Ionus Cryptborn, and all I could think of when reading it was that the Cryptborn's debt to Sigmar, the curse and his fallout with Nagash would've made for an exceedingly more compelling narrative than this one.

The stakes of it all are very esoteric and intangible in this story. The realm is a broken wasteland, humanity is almost wiped out (in fact, Vandus is surprised to learn about the survivors after winning the battle), and the biggest motivation for the Stormhost seems to be that they do not wish to disappoint almighty, all-knowing Sigmar.

I can't even fault Chris Wraight for this - that's simply how Games Workshop designed the lore for the Age of Sigmar tabletop game. Dull and uninspired, without any of the charme you'd find in Warhammer Fantasy stories before it. None of the humor, sense of wonder or adventure. It seems that in the grim darkness of the replacement of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, there is only war.

In a nutshell, The Gates of Azyr is the story of two armies clashing for around 4-5 chapters before an anticlimactic end to the story. But as Vandus Hammerhand tells us that "truly, [the wars] are only just beginning". Maybe Vandus and Khul will even meet again, who can tell.
As of now, I am even less eager to follow those...

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Review: Ghosts Speak Not & Patience by James Swallow
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A former Sister of Silence and a Legionary once of the Death Guard embark on a vital mission for the Sigillite... one that will lead the former XIV Legion warrior back into battle alongside his old captain, Nathaniel Garro...

When Nathaniel Garro carried word of the Warmaster’s treachery to Terra, he also brought with him seventy loyal sons of the XIV Legion. Distrusted by their kinsmen, they languished in seclusion on Luna... until now. Amendera Kendel, once a Sister of Silence but more recently in service to the Sigillite, gives Helig Gallor of the Death Guard a new purpose, and a new duty – one that will ultimately see him reunited with his former battle captain on the field of war.
Ghosts Speak Not & Patience compiles two stories dealing with Nathaniel Garro and Amendara Kendel, following on from various plotlines of the Horus Heresy.

The Story:
"A former Sister of Silence and a Legionary once of the Death Guard embark on a vital mission for the Sigillite... one that will lead the former XIV Legion warrior back into battle alongside his old captain, Nathaniel Garro...

When Nathaniel Garro carried word of the Warmaster’s treachery to Terra, he also brought with him seventy loyal sons of the XIV Legion. Distrusted by their kinsmen, they languished in seclusion on Luna... until now. Amendera Kendel, once a Sister of Silence but more recently in service to the Sigillite, gives Helig Gallor of the Death Guard a new purpose, and a new duty – one that will ultimately see him reunited with his former battle captain on the field of war."

The Review
Ghosts Speak Not is the first Horus Heresy story in a long time to feature Amendera Kendel, former Sister of Silence, now agent of Malcador the Sigillite. When last we saw her in Tales of Heresy, volume 10 of the series, many years ago, Kendel's world views and loyalties were put to the test. Now we finally get to see what came of her.

And it turns out that Kendel is even better realized now than she was back in The Flight of the Eisenstein or The Voice (from Tales of Heresy). Her character appeared stronger and more intriguing to me, and her task to uproot suspected treachery close to Terra was all the more exciting as a result.

Kendel recruits a duo of former Death Guard for her mission, finally showing us what came of the survivors of the Eisenstein's escape. Locked away and isolated deep on Luna, the warriors are growing restless and resentful. However, their loyalties remain true to the Emperor, and as such, Kendel finds the support she needs.
Both Gallor and Kyda, the Death Guard in question, fill needed roles in the story, and provide muscle where necessary. However, the show is not their own. They do just the right amount without turning the story into yet another space marine piece in the series.

But the real gem here is astropath Pau Yei, whose uneasiness around the null-maiden is felt all too vividly by the reader. I couldn't help but feel sympathy for her, but also a growing respect as events unfold.
There are other characters in Kendel's retinue, like two soldiers picked by the Sigillite, who I found to be enjoyable too.

What makes this story so exceptional to me is that it is almost an oldschool Inquisition piece. Hunting for traitors to the Imperium, going out on a limb following leads, suspecting foul play but needing firmer evidence... It is all here. The chase for the rogue elements is dynamic, well-considered and gives everyone a time to shine. It did help that the antagonists were believable in their treachery as well.
The eventual conclusion, however, made me excited like I wouldn't have expected. It adds a whole new layer of seriousness and authority to Malcador's agents. The Silent War is escalating further, it would seem.

Patience, meanwhile, felt a little tacked on (probably because it was). It made a point more than anything, and showed us Nathaniel Garro, Malcador's Agentia Primus, through the eyes of his brother Death Guard Gallor from the previous story. Unlike Ghosts, this story is written from a first person perspective, and illustrates just how apart Garro stands from his brethren at this point, both in status and in attitude, but still reaches out for them in brotherhood.
It was enjoyable, if short, and expands on Garro's mythos in a neat way.
Still, it pales in comparison with the excellent Ghosts Speak Not, so it disappointed my admittedly high expectations a little.

Overall, though, this is an excellent addition to the series. It is worth it for the action and for the character development, and brings the war a little closer to Holy Terra. I'd very much recommend it.

Ghosts Speak Not & Patience on Goodreads
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Review: The Unburdened by David Annandale
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As the surface of Calth is consumed by fire, the caverns beneath the planet are host to vicious battles. Kurtha Sedd of the Word Bearers must set aside his doubts and embrace the darkness if they are to prevail.

Long considering themselves persecuted by the rest of the Imperium, the apostles of the XVIIth Legion have courted sedition, betrayal and even open heresy for decades. But for Kurtha Sedd of the Third Hand Chapter, the Word Bearers’ assault on Calth has proven… troubling. Drawn into the haunted shadows of the planet’s underworld, the Chaplain and his devout brethren must now put aside all other concerns and continue to wage war against the Ultramarines, no matter the ultimate cost.
In late 2015, Black Library released two new half-length novels (roughly 200 pages) to accompany the Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth boxed game by overlord Games Workshop.
One of these is "The Unburdened" by David Annandale. Here's my take on it.
The Story:
"As the surface of Calth is consumed by fire, the caverns beneath the planet are host to vicious battles. Kurtha Sedd of the Word Bearers must set aside his doubts and embrace the darkness if they are to prevail.

Long considering themselves persecuted by the rest of the Imperium, the apostles of the XVIIth Legion have courted sedition, betrayal and even open heresy for decades. But for Kurtha Sedd of the Third Hand Chapter, the Word Bearers’ assault on Calth has proven… troubling. Drawn into the haunted shadows of the planet’s underworld, the Chaplain and his devout brethren must now put aside all other concerns and continue to wage war against the Ultramarines, no matter the ultimate cost."

The Review
Alright, people. You know the drill by now. This is a David Annandale story, so expect a large spiritual component.

Indeed, The Unburdened is all about Kurtha Sedd (first seen in [author:Nick Kyme|398110]'s audio drama Censure before being introduced as the antagonist in the Betrayal at Calth box set) and his spiritual journey towards becoming "unburdened".
It is also the flipside of Rob Sanders's The Honoured, which I would urge you to read ahead of this short novel.

The reason for that is mostly the framing of the plot. The Honoured follows a more structured and anchored progress, and each chapter starts with a Know No Fear-style timestamp. This book does not, but follows along the events in the other book, though its first chapter goes all the way back to the humbling of Lorgar and the Word Bearers, delivering a very different perspective to the one found in The First Heretic.

You will see a lot of overlap with The Honoured, but Annandale's book does not concern itself so much with the exact events, or the action. Instead, the WB's morale and faith are the pillars, as well as Kurtha Sedd's internal struggle. He is desperately trying to find his place again, especially after hearing that his old friend Steloc Aethon is leading the Ultramarines arrayed against him.
He has to cut himself loose from the things and thoughts wearing him down: Loyalty to the Legion, which abandoned him and his men on a dying world. Friendship with Aethon, who took part in tearing down the monument city of Monarchia, all those decades ago. And also his belief in divine retribution and the Emperor watching him.

Taken as that, I very much enjoyed The Unburdened. Unlike its plot-armor dripping counterpiece, this installment was very atmospheric, dark and esoteric. It put me right into Kurtha Sedd's mind, and growing madness. As such, I much prefer it to Aethon and co from Sanders' work.

But you can't really read this without the context of The Honoured without getting lost in the more action-packed sections from said book. The scope felt far more limited, more centered around the warband rather than the war as a whole. Where Aethon's company is aware of other traitor groups and generals in the underground network of Calth, Sedd and co are isolated, and it wears on them.

Overall, though, I would recommend this as a fine addition to the Calth saga in the Heresy. I'd say it is one of the best pieces in that story arc, and would heartily recommend picking up the Betrayal at Calth combo - though I would recommend waiting for a combined print copy, which is bound to happen sooner or later.

The Unburdened on Goodreads
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Review: The Honoured by Rob Sanders
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The Battle for Calth is over, and the Underworld War has begun. Steloc Aethon and his Ultramarine brothers battle the treacherous Word Bearers in the darkness, but will they be consumed by vengeance?

In the immediate aftermath of the Word Bearers’ attack on Calth, survivors from both sides were driven into the subterranean arcology shelters by the tortured Veridian star. While their primarch Roboute Guilliman had planned for many seemingly unthinkable eventualities, the Ultramarines now face a new war in the underworld – could Steloc Aethon, renowned captain of ‘the Honoured 19th’ Company, be the one to lead them to ultimate victory over the traitors? Perhaps, if he can master his own bitter desire for vengeance…
In late 2015, Black Library released two new half-length novels (roughly 200 pages) to accompany the Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth boxed game by overlord Games Workshop.
One of these is "The Honoured" by Rob Sanders. Here's my take on it.

The Story:
"The Battle for Calth is over, and the Underworld War has begun. Steloc Aethon and his Ultramarine brothers battle the treacherous Word Bearers in the darkness, but will they be consumed by vengeance?

In the immediate aftermath of the Word Bearers’ attack on Calth, survivors from both sides were driven into the subterranean arcology shelters by the tortured Veridian star. While their primarch Roboute Guilliman had planned for many seemingly unthinkable eventualities, the Ultramarines now face a new war in the underworld – could Steloc Aethon, renowned captain of ‘the Honoured 19th’ Company, be the one to lead them to ultimate victory over the traitors? Perhaps, if he can master his own bitter desire for vengeance…"

The Review
What The Honoured does rather well is depict the Ultramarines' trauma following the death of Calth's sun, and the rush for the arcologies, to take shelter from the radiation.
Had it focused more on these aspects and less on the many action scenes that only ever see side characters or Word Bearers dead, this could've been an excellent short novel.

Instead, I found myself wanting to skip paragraphs during the many battles, and groaned over and over as the terminator sergeant in this story got beaten, battered, frozen, left hanging on a ledge and what not, all with his armor's integrity already compromised from prolonged exposure at the surface before reaching the arcology entrance. This character had so much plot armor, I just couldn't take it.

The organizational and smaller-scale engagements early on are rather well done and interesting. In fact, the scenes of Captain Aethon and his command making contact with other Ultramarine forces throughout the depths of Calth were more engaging to me than the exchange of bolter shells later on, including the sheer unstoppable Word Bearers dreadnought which shreds everything but the relevant characters. There was just so much over the top action here, mostly with very predictable outcomes, that I felt the tension sucked right out of it.

What it does well is depict Steloc Aethon's doubts and clinging to the faint hope that, somehow, Kurtha Sedd, his former friend and leader of the Word Bearers in the vicinity, can be redeemed and made to see reason. That their friendship still counts for something.
Instead, Aethon is setting up his own suffering and disappointment.

I am not sure if the battles were mandated by the book being a companion novel to the Horus Heresy: Battle at Calth tabletop set, but it would certainly explain the focus on big, bombastic action scenes that heavily pronounced the "bigger" models from the set, and just wouldn't let them go down. It makes me wonder how much more fulfilling and rewarding The Honoured could have been with less of these, and more character development instead.

The Honoured on Goodreads
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