Review: Kizumonogatari: Wound Tale by NisiOisiN
0
Around midnight, under a lonely street lamp in a provincial town in Japan, lies a white woman, a blonde, alone, robbed of all four limbs, yet undead. Indeed, a rumor's been circulating among the local girls that a vampire has come to their backwater, of all places.
Koyomi Araragi, who prefers to avoid having friends because they'd lower his “intensity as a human," is naturally skeptical. Yet it is to him that the bloodsucking demon, a concept “dated twice over," beckons on the first day of spring break as he makes his way home with a fresh loot of morally compromising periodicals.
Always disarmingly candid, often hilariously playful, and sometimes devastatingly moving, KIZUMONOGATARI: Wound Tale is the perfect gateway into the world of author NISIOISIN.
I watched the anime Bakemonogatari a couple of years ago, and found it intriguing. I also knew that the prequel, Kizumonogatari, was due a movie adaptation... which in 2016, 6 years or so after the initial announcement, is finally coming to pass in the form of a 3 part short movie series in cinemas. Might as well read the light novel now, seeing that it is the first Monogatari book officially released internationally. No regrets.

The Story:
"Around midnight, under a lonely street lamp in a provincial town in Japan, lies a white woman, a blonde, alone, robbed of all four limbs, yet undead. Indeed, a rumor's been circulating among the local girls that a vampire has come to their backwater, of all places.
Koyomi Araragi, who prefers to avoid having friends because they'd lower his “intensity as a human," is naturally skeptical. Yet it is to him that the bloodsucking demon, a concept “dated twice over," beckons on the first day of spring break as he makes his way home with a fresh loot of morally compromising periodicals.
Always disarmingly candid, often hilariously playful, and sometimes devastatingly moving, KIZUMONOGATARI: Wound Tale is the perfect gateway into the world of author NISIOISIN."

The Review:
Chronologically, Kizumonogatari is the first light novel in the long-running Monogatari series by NisiOisiN (over 20 volumes published to date!), even though it was published as number 3. The english publisher Vertical has decided to bring this one over first, with Bakemonogatari volumes one and two following in the coming year or two.
There shouldn't be any problems with reading this one first - if anything, you can even read it as a standalone book, outside of the series context, and still enjoy it for what it is.

The book's title, Kizumonogatari, is putting together the japanese words "kizumono" and "monogatari". The latter simply means story, or tale, whereas kizumono has multiple meanings, all of which fit the story told - "damaged goods" and "deflowered girl" both fit in many ways. As a result, the english subtitle of "Wound Tale" is a bit simple, but still fitting in my eyes.

Where a good chunk of the series entries tell multiple stories, titled "episodes", Kizumonogatari only has one: Koyomi Vamp.
It introduces the series protagonist Koyomi Araragi, 17 year old student, who encounters supporting character Tsubasa Hanekawa and vampire lady Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-Blade, as well as "abberation" specialist Meme Oshino. Finding the vampire limbless and dying on the street one night, Araragi decides to throw his (so far) meaningless, lonely life away to save the pleading Heart-under-Blade's immortal life.

Instead of feeding on him properly, the vampire turns him into her thrall while sustaining herself on a basic level. Araragi is then tasked with reclaiming Kiss-shot's four limbs, taken by professional vampire hunters, by defeating them one by one in combat, in exchange for the vampire to turn him back into a human.
He is supported by "class president among class presidents" Hanekawa and the sleazy yet competent hawaiian-shirt-fanatic Oshino, as he battles through summer break, and feels his world views shift.

Honestly, I thought this was an enjoyable, if relatively simplistic and quick read. I will say, however, that it will not be something for most readers, and it is good to bring some understanding of japanese anime and manga culture with you - otherwise you might find a fair few things offensive or nonsensical.

There is, for example, a good element of fanservice here - it took the book not even two whole chapters to get to the first panty shot. Indeed, it brazenly has Araragi, in his first person narrative, describe the view, metaphors and all, for about two whole pages! Just before following it up with snarky remarks by Hanekawa, the undergarment's owner, including a self-aware comment about it feeling to her like "he just described the view for two pages".
It is a common comedic style in anime and manga, and while it made me shake my head more than once here, it still managed to amuse me. It, and the developing friendship between Hanekawa and loner Araragi, provided some lighter contrast to the otherwise fairly dark story.

Yes, there is plenty of dark stuff here too. Blood, gore, eating of limbs, nevermind the slightly philosophical discussions of immortality and vampirism, or the value of life, or the motivations of the vampire hunters. And yet despite all the tension it definitely brings to the table, the author still managed to maintain a whimsical, lighthearted tone to balance it all out, just before plunging back into the abyss. The penultimate chapter especially had a lot of impact and emotion behind it.

Araragi himself undergoes some big changes (besides, or maybe because of, his newly attained vampirism) over the course of the story. He grows emotionally, and as a person. I enjoyed observing that growth, and with it his relationships with the other characters. And there better be enjoyable interaction in such a character-driven series!

One thing that can either be a positive or negative point for you will be the wordiness of it all. It is something common with visual novels, and gets pretty obvious with translations into english. They tend to circle a topic with more sentences than necessary to drive the point home, or repeat phrases and key points excessively often. Kizumonogatari is no exception here - if anything, the Monogatari series is a serial offender in this regard.
Even the anime adaptations of Bakemonogatari and co adopted the wordiness pretty straight up, which resulted in the animation studio behind them doing a lot of very experimental, whacky things with it - there is only so many things you can do to animate long conversations between characters. Expect to read a lot of dialogue and internal monologues, rather than detailed descriptions of environments or objects.

You'll find that almost every character has a catchphrase (Hanekawa: "I just know what I know", Oshino: "Something good happen to you today/recently", etc), liberally used all over the place. Whether you find them catchy or not is up to you.

Despite its longwindedness about things, it is still an easy read that manages to bring across the protagonist's emotional state and views pretty well, along with those of the other cast members. There's a good amount of hooks for the rest of the series too.

The way it all wrapped up felt satisfying to me, even though (or maybe because) it felt a little ambiguous about the effects of Araragi's decisions. I had a good time, even if it isn't exactly higher literature. It is a character-driven drama, with the charmes and pitfalls of japanese anime culture.
And can I just say that I adore the english edition's cover? It feels great to me. No outlines on the illustration of Kiss-shot, all flat color surfaces... It is a very distinct and clean style that suits the book in its relative simplicity.

Now, I might actually give the anime adaptation of the first two volumes another shot, and look forward to the 3-part short movie of this book, when it finds its way onto streaming platforms at last.

Kizumonogatari on Goodreads
read more »
Review: Echoes of the Long War by David Guymer
0
On Terra, the last Imperial Fist fights to unite the squabbling High Lords in defence of the Imperium, even as treachery rears its head within the Adeptus Mechanicus. And far away, the Fists Examplar find an unexpected ally for a most dangerous mission…

Paralysed by the continued ork invasion of Imperial space, the rulers of Terra continue to fight among themselves. Finally losing patience with the High Council, Koorland – the last surviving Imperial Fist – ousts the Lord Commander and seizes control. Elsewhere, the Fists Exemplar are forced by circumstance to fight alongside the Iron Warriors. Where will such an alliance lead – can a Traitor Legion ever be trusted?
Here we go, the midway point of The Beast Arises has been reached. That's six reviews down, six more to go over the coming half a year. So far, I am enjoying my time with it, and David's entry is no exception. After this installment, I can't wait to see what the rest will bring to the table!

The Story:
"On Terra, the last Imperial Fist fights to unite the squabbling High Lords in defence of the Imperium, even as treachery rears its head within the Adeptus Mechanicus. And far away, the Fists Examplar find an unexpected ally for a most dangerous mission…

Paralysed by the continued ork invasion of Imperial space, the rulers of Terra continue to fight among themselves. Finally losing patience with the High Council, Koorland – the last surviving Imperial Fist – ousts the Lord Commander and seizes control. Elsewhere, the Fists Exemplar are forced by circumstance to fight alongside the Iron Warriors. Where will such an alliance lead – can a Traitor Legion ever be trusted?"


The Review
Echoes of the Long War is the sixth novel in the The Beast Arises series. As such, it marks the halfway point of the overall story, and has to live up to high expectations. For the most part, it succeeded in doing that for me, despite a few shortcomings.

The biggest downside to me was the relative lack of Terra and the politics plotline. Only six out of twenty-three chapters take place on the Throneworld, one of which was shared with the Mars plotline, which other than that had two chapters to itself.
What the book offered of these aspects was solid, enjoyable and intriguing. Drakan Vangorich finally set some things in motion, Koorland took decisive action and we even got to see a glimpse of the incoming disaster from Ecclesiarch Mesring. Adding the research on Mars to the mix, we get some pretty cool reveals and events that will impact the series going forward.

The rest of the book is focused on the Fists Exemplar's battles against the ork menace, both in the void as on ground. I'd say that this was much needed, as we haven't really seen much battle with them for the past few books. The Proletarian Crusade didn't focus much on the action, and neither did the semi-purge of the attack moon over Terra. Most action scenes were either lacking the Last Wall Chapters, or had them on their back foot.

This time we get a more proactive look at the Space Marine operations. While Chapter Master Thane leaves the stage for most of the book, his First Captain, Zerberyn, who we've seen in Predator, Prey already, takes the role of protagonist. He is a Fist Exemplar through and through, and his disapproval of the Last Wall protocol is important to his character development. Throughout the story, Zerberyn is forced to move from his rigid stance and take drastic measures to prevent a greater evil. The guy takes a real beating in having his moral stance and views on the split between good and bad questioned at every turn.
It was a satisfying arc for the character, and I can't wait to see how it will develop from here on.

The same storyline also features the Iron Warriors' Warsmith Kalkator from the previous installments. He provides a counterpoint to Zerberyn and the Exemplars, but once more, I didn't find him to be a real evildoer. He represents many of the virtues of the sons of Perturabo, while sharing few of the post-Heresy downsides of his brethren. He plays a vital role in the overall plot, and leads the Exemplars to Prax, an Iron Warriors world that, in the meantime, has been infested by orks who conduct very, very terrible things there. I won't spoil what they do, but by the Emperor, these revelations left a big impact and turned the grimdark scale of the series a few points past 11.

In general, the orks were more brutal but also sophisticated in Echoes. Their armoury got some big unexpected additions with far-reaching effects, and even their hierarchy got a good amount of pagetime. We get to see the clan origins, for example, which was cool.

What bothered me a bit were the aforementioned lack of Terra chapters compared to the action parts, and some of the Exemplar chapters dragged a little. Though to be fair, the politics were of a high quality (and featured some new players) and the action ramped up significantly towards the end - which was explosive on multiple levels.

As a series midpoint, Echoes of the Long War managed to increase the threat level of the orks while furthering internal schisms but also offer some solutions here and there, and shock the reader with some gruesome ideas. A bunch of characters are left on very shaky ground, and the aftereffects of their actions will ripple through the coming novels.

David Guymer has managed to live up to the series' high standards, addressing previous plot points while introducing new ones and shifting the course of the series into a position where the Imperium might be able to strike back at the green menace. The tables are turning, and Guymer presented that very well.

Echoes of the Long War on Goodreads
read more »
Review: Return of Souls by Andy Remic
0
If war is hell, there is no word to describe what Private Jones has been through. Forced into a conflict with an unknowable enemy, he awakes to find himself in a strange land, and is soon joined by young woman, Morana, who tends to his wounds and tells him of the battles played out in this impossible place.

She tells him of an Iron Beast that will end the Great War, and even as he vows to help her find it, enemy combatants seek them, intent on their utter annihilation.

Return of Souls is the second volume of the trilogy Andy Remic began with A Song for No Man's Land.
A Song for No Man's Land had me intrigued, but Return of Souls has me wondering. I hope things get clearer in the final novel. Either way, here's my review.

The Story:
"If war is hell, there is no word to describe what Private Jones has been through. Forced into a conflict with an unknowable enemy, he awakes to find himself in a strange land, and is soon joined by young woman, Morana, who tends to his wounds and tells him of the battles played out in this impossible place.

She tells him of an Iron Beast that will end the Great War, and even as he vows to help her find it, enemy combatants seek them, intent on their utter annihilation.
Return of Souls is the second volume of the trilogy Andy Remic began with A Song for No Man's Land."
Disclaimer
The publisher offered me an ARC of the novel. I was highly intrigued by the predecessor when I read it earlier this year, so I jumped at the opportunity.

The Review:
As with A Song for No Man's Land, Return of Souls performed the best for me when it was dealing with Robert Jones' life in the trenches of the Great War. His mental health is rapidly declining, spiralling out of control to the point where the lines between reality and hallucination, or fantasy, are blurring.

On many occassions, I found myself questioning just what was really going on. What did Jones go through, compared to what he felt and saw. And I loved that. The war has ground him down, and the loss of his friends weighs heavy on his chest. The delivery was fantastic in those early chapters, up to the second third.

And then things changed drastically. The multi-dimensional war that was hinted at in the previous installment moved onto the stage, and Jones finds himself in a different place entirely, the only familiar things being the Walriders that have haunted him all along, and the ever-present threat of war. About halfway through, Return of Souls had crossed the line from dark military fiction with a heavy psychology angle into fantasy, albeit still with a psychological angle.

When the girl Orana entered the picture and Jones quickly fell for her, things started to drag a little for me, and again I started questioning what was going on. That is a major theme of the novel, as it answers few questions while posing countless new ones. Aspects of A Song for No Man's Land that I was hoping would be elaborated on were seemingly forgotten, or at the very least left for the third novel to connect to the ongoing narrative.

One disappointment for me was that there was only one single chapter delving back into Robert's childhood, back to the sanatorium that the first book showed as more than just a little traumatic for the bloke. That chapter was very short, but to the point. It had me put the book down and update my Goodreads status with a resounding "What the ——?!". The absolute disgust and pity I felt after that chapter got to me - as it was supposed to, so Remic scores a big point here.

At the end of it all, I enjoyed the adventure with Jones and Orana, even though it left me a bit dissatisfied for answers. Thankfully, it looks like Robert is as lost as me, and all too willing to trust strangers in that strange place. I'm definitely on board to find out what is going to happen next, after some big twists in the final chapters.

If Andy Remic can manage to tie everything together and elaborate on the situation in The Iron Beast, I'll salute him. I have my ideas about what is going on already, but I clearly need the third installment to make proper sense of it. For what it is, though, Return of Souls is a solid psychological mystery that makes me yearn for more.

Return of Souls on Goodreads
read more »
Review: Star Wars: A New Hope by Alexandra Bracken
0
The galaxy is at war.

Although the Rebel Alliance has won a few battles against the Empire, hope is fading. The Empire is about to finish building the greatest weapon the galaxy has ever seen—the Death Star. The rebels' only chance to defeat it now lies in the unlikely hands of a princess, a scoundrel, and a farm boy. . . .

Acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Bracken delivers a captivating retelling of Star Wars: A New Hope like you've never experienced before. Since the premier of the original film, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker have become iconic, larger-than-life characters. The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy takes a deeper look at these three heroes as they join forces to defeat the evil that threatens their entire galaxy.
I decided to read this on a whim, to refresh my memories of the original Star Wars movie and out of curiosity. I don't regret my decision.

The Story:
"The galaxy is at war.

Although the Rebel Alliance has won a few battles against the Empire, hope is fading. The Empire is about to finish building the greatest weapon the galaxy has ever seen—the Death Star. The rebels' only chance to defeat it now lies in the unlikely hands of a princess, a scoundrel, and a farm boy. . . .

Acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Bracken delivers a captivating retelling of Star Wars: A New Hope like you've never experienced before. Since the premier of the original film, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker have become iconic, larger-than-life characters. The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy takes a deeper look at these three heroes as they join forces to defeat the evil that threatens their entire galaxy."

The Review
At its core, The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm boy is a simple retelling of the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope. Based on the movie as well as an old radio drama script, this young readers adaptation is more than competent, and a light, enjoyable read.

Alexandra Bracken has split the novel into three parts (as per the title), focusing sections of the plot squarely on Leia, Han and Luke. I'm not entirely on board with dividing the book into three parts like that, since it would have been great so see the growth of Leia especially more directly during the events on Yavin, but by the end of it, I didn't mind it.
In a way, it makes a lot of sense the when read this way - the spotlight does indeed shift throughout the movie plot, even though Luke's journey is front and center. The change gets clear especially in the later parts, where Han is temporarily moved off-stage before returning to help after all.

The best part of the book, for me, was probably the Death Star Run. It captured the excitement and tension of the movie perfectly, adding Luke's inner thoughts and deliberations to the mix in a satisfying way that didn't break the pace. It made me smile, not just for how fond my memories of the movie's scenes are, but because of how well Bracken delivered it.

Overall, the special attention the author paid to the characters' feelings and inner growth throughout their arcs paid off. She filled in gaps here and there that rounded the characters off in a good way. While it is still a pretty straight forward retelling, and doesn't feature much of Vader in the second half, I still enjoyed my time with the book. If nothing else, it refreshed my memories and made me want to watch the movie again.

Star Wars: A New Hope - The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy on Goodreads
read more »
Review: Warcraft: Durotan by Christie Golden
0
In the world of Draenor, the strong and fiercely independent Frostwolf Clan are faced with increasingly harsh winters and thinning herds. When Gul'dan, a mysterious outsider, arrives in Frostfire Ridge offering word of new hunting lands, Durotan, the Clan's chieftain, must make an impossible decision: Abandon the territory, pride and traditions of his people, or lead them into the unknown.
We all knew that changes would be inevitable for the upcoming Warcraft movie. The lore is convoluted in a lot of ways, and with the previous expansion to World of Warcraft, Warlords of Draenor, things got even more complicated for the early days of the orc tribes before their exodus to Azeroth. Adding time travel didn't help, either.

As a result, I'd recommend putting all you know aside for Warcraft: Durotan, prequel novel to the movie. Things have been changed and adjusted to make the material more approachable to a new audience, and while hardcore fans may groan about it at first, I believe it is a good thing overall. Let the movie franchise stand separate, and just nod in recognition when you encounter familiar elements or easter eggs. You'll be happier that way.

The Story:
"In the world of Draenor, the strong and fiercely independent Frostwolf Clan are faced with increasingly harsh winters and thinning herds. When Gul'dan, a mysterious outsider, arrives in Frostfire Ridge offering word of new hunting lands, Durotan, the Clan's chieftain, must make an impossible decision: Abandon the territory, pride and traditions of his people, or lead them into the unknown."

The Review
Durotan's main concern is the Orc Chieftain the book is named after, and his Frostwolf Tribe. First presented as the heir to the clan's leadership, Durotan is soon forced to take on his father's role himself, and find ways to deal with the world's changing nature. As the hunts grow less successful and the elements themselves turn against the orcs, a warlock called Gul'dan appears to offer the Frostwolves a choice:
Join him and his Horde and leave the world of Draenor behind, or die alongside the doomed realm.
Gul'dan, however, is not to be trusted, so Garad and his son Durotan both refuse him, and decide to stay true to their own identities and brave the seasons.

As a result, the bulk of the story deals with the changing ways of the Frostwolves to cope with colder winters, scarce food supplies and the forces of nature unleashed, as well as rival orc clans that seemingly turned to cannibalistic attitudes to survive. Durotan has to come into his own as the legendary chieftain that he is destined to be. Maintaining his authority is challenging, as is keeping up the morale of his whole clan, as well as balancing the old traditions with new ideas needed for survival.

It really is a hero's journey to greatness, a character piece and showcase of what made the Horde leave Draenor for Azeroth. The prologue sets the tone for the novel, firmly rooting it around the Frostwolf Clan's respect for nature and the spirits. That theme is maintained throughout, which I loved. Experiencing shaman Drek'Thar commune with the elements, seeing Durotan find love, or feeling the deep friendship between orc and wolf, all of these parts I found enjoyable and satisfying.

Sure, it isn't the same story we already knew about the characters. The roles of many of them are very different from the games, but taken together, they are all working in their positions and felt well-balanced and properly used to make the journey of the Frostwolves an exciting and relatable one.

It is a classic tale of hardships to be overcome that can be enjoyed by anyone, I believe. No further knowledge is required to understand the struggles of Durotan, and the easy writing style helps making it even more accessible. Even if you have never even heard of Warcraft before, this book (and by extension the upcoming movie or its novelization) could be an ideal starting point.

It must have been difficult for Christie Golden, who has a few Horde-related books to her name already (Lord of the Clans especially), to set aside all her pre-existing knowledge and expectations for the characters to write this novel, but I am glad that she did. It is a success, in my eyes.

Unto the Dark Portal, and off to Azeroth, I say. I'll be looking forward to reading the Movie Novelization by the same author, and have to say that, for the first time, I am actually excited for the movie.

Warcraft: Durotan on Goodreads
read more »
Review: Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray
0
When the Rebellion defeated the Empire in the skies above Endor, Leia Organa believed it was the beginning to a lasting peace. But after decades of vicious infighting and partisan gridlock in the New Republic Senate, that hope seems like a distant memory.

Now a respected senator, Leia must grapple with the dangers that threaten to cripple the fledgling democracy—from both within and without. Underworld kingpins, treacherous politicians, and Imperial loyalists are sowing chaos in the galaxy. Desperate to take action, senators are calling for the election of a First Senator. It is their hope that this influential post will bring strong leadership to a divided galaxy.

As the daughter of Darth Vader, Leia faces with distrust the prospect of any one person holding such a powerful position—even when supporters suggest Leia herself for the job. But a new enemy may make this path Leia’s only option. For at the edges of the galaxy, a mysterious threat is growing....
When Disney bought the Star Wars IP and decided to throw the Expanded Universe into the bin, I was dismayed. I was preparing to get into the fiction for good, and then it was just... gone like Alderan. But then I figured, hey, this might give me the opportunity to dive into all the new, sanctioned canon from the start and not fall behind too much. So far, I have been keeping up well with the new material and am confident to be up to date by the end of the year. Bloodline held a special interest for me, so I dug through it within days of its release.

The Story:
"When the Rebellion defeated the Empire in the skies above Endor, Leia Organa believed it was the beginning to a lasting peace. But after decades of vicious infighting and partisan gridlock in the New Republic Senate, that hope seems like a distant memory.

Now a respected senator, Leia must grapple with the dangers that threaten to cripple the fledgling democracy—from both within and without. Underworld kingpins, treacherous politicians, and Imperial loyalists are sowing chaos in the galaxy. Desperate to take action, senators are calling for the election of a First Senator. It is their hope that this influential post will bring strong leadership to a divided galaxy.

As the daughter of Darth Vader, Leia faces with distrust the prospect of any one person holding such a powerful position—even when supporters suggest Leia herself for the job. But a new enemy may make this path Leia’s only option. For at the edges of the galaxy, a mysterious threat is growing...."

The Review
Star Wars: Bloodline is an excellent character piece on Princess Leia Organa. Set roughly 6 years prior to The Force Awakens, it gives us some much-needed background on the galaxy at large, and the New Republic Senate in particular.

First off, though, I wouldn't recommend reading this book before watching The Force Awakens. It doesn't outright spoil things for the movie, but you will have a much greater appreciation for the small bits and nuggets of info that nod towards the movie. The sense of tragedy and anticipation is also more impactful this way.

The New Republic Senate is pretty much split down the middle (3rd parties notwithstanding). On one side you find the Populist party, which believes in a hands-off approach on most things and is reluctant to assign real power to anybody. On the other, you get the Centrists, who in many ways revere the order and structure that came with the galactic Empire under Palpatine. They wish for a High Chancellor, or First Senator, like in the old days, and execute far more rigorous authority on the galaxy.
They are at an impasse, with no side willing to budge, and as a result, the senate is, for all intents, useless. Decisions get tabled due to bickering, and situations that require quick and decisive action don't get tackled at all. Both sides are just waiting for the other to make a mistake, or open up an angle of attack through their actions.

It is a disaster, and Leia is frustrated with it all. She is much more cynical than she's ever been, but still an idealist. The cumbersome nature of the senate even has her indulge in nostalgia for the old Rebellion days, despite her better knowledge.
She is ready to throw it all away and leave the senate when she, inadvertedly, gets picked for the role of First Senator herself - because nobody else could possibly be trusted not to turn into another Palpatine.

Open to scrutiny by senators on the Centrist side, Leia has to overcome her own fears and Vader's legacy, while figuring out her own priorities and wishes, as well as duties.

Next to the book-spanning political plot, Leia is teaming up with Centrist senator Ransolm Casterfo to investigate a criminal cartell and its connections to republic worlds. What follows is a tale of growing trust and friendship that bridges political rifts, and a good dose of covert action and espionage behind the senate's back. There's a corruption lurking in the galaxy, and Leia and co are trying to uproot it.

I enjoyed pretty much every aspect of this novel. From Leia's characterization, her relationships with Han, Casterfo and her aides Greer and Kor Sella, and even Threepio, everything was spot on. Claudia Gray hit the soft spot with Leia. There is enough of the young, energetic and determined princess here, while highlighting just how resigned she is to the current political situation. Leia's need for action and doing the right things is coming across wonderfully.
Bloodline proves that even well-established characters like Leia Organa can still grow further. In many ways, I see the book as a love-letter to her, and it sheds light on her innermost feelings and fears post-Return of the Jedi.

Meanwhile, I very much enjoyed Gray's original character of Ransolm Casterfo, who turns from somewhat-antagonist to genuine protagonist over the course of the book. His actions, thoughts and feelings were an excellent counterpoint to Leia's own perspective. Through these two characters' combined views, we get a well-rounded idea of the senate as a whole, and the political intrigue going on.

As somebody who enjoys political stories a great deal, even if they can be slow burners at times, I never thought that Bloodline dragged or didn't get off its butt. There was always something to catch my interest or move the plot forward, whether directly or through progressing relationships between characters. I sincerely hope to see or read more of Greer, Kor and Seastriker in the future, for example.

Of course, there are also some cameos here that fans will enjoy and that shed light on just what the old cast was up to before the events of TFA. Not everything is explained, for obvious reasons, but enough to make things come closer together and feel just right.

Claudia Gray has written a truly convincing novel with Bloodline, which ticks all the boxes for a Star Wars book in a satisfying, conclusive way. Well, apart from lightsaber duels. It doesn't have any of those (and it did not need to!). The dramatic nature of the Star Wars series is well and alive here, which earns Gray a merit-Deathstar in my book.

Star Wars: Bloodline on Goodreads
read more »
Review: Ruin by John Gwynne
0
The Banished Lands are engulfed in war and chaos. The cunning Queen Rhin has conquered the west and High King Nathair has the cauldron, most powerful of the seven treasures. At his back stands the scheming Calidus and a warband of the Kadoshim, dread demons of the Otherworld. They plan to bring Asroth and his host of the Fallen into the world of flesh, but to do so they need the seven treasures. Nathair has been deceived but now he knows the truth. He has choices to make, choices that will determine the fate of the Banished Lands.

Elsewhere the flame of resistance is growing - Queen Edana finds allies in the swamps of Ardan. Maquin is loose in Tenebral, hunted by Lykos and his corsairs. Here he will witness the birth of a rebellion in Nathair's own realm.

Corban has been swept along by the tide of war. He has suffered, lost loved ones, sought only safety from the darkness. But he will run no more. He has seen the face of evil and he has set his will to fight it. The question is, how? With a disparate band gathered about him - his family, friends, giants, fanatical warriors, an angel and a talking crow he begins the journey to Drassil, the fabled fortress hidden deep in the heart of Forn Forest. For in Drassil lies the spear of Skald, one of the seven treasures, and here it is prophesied that the Bright Star will stand against the Black Sun.
With Ruin devoured, I am up to date on The Faithful and the Fallen until fall 2016, when the final book in the series releases. I am eager to dig into Wrath as soon as I can get my hands on it - and review it too!

The Story:
"The Banished Lands are engulfed in war and chaos. The cunning Queen Rhin has conquered the west and High King Nathair has the cauldron, most powerful of the seven treasures. At his back stands the scheming Calidus and a warband of the Kadoshim, dread demons of the Otherworld. They plan to bring Asroth and his host of the Fallen into the world of flesh, but to do so they need the seven treasures. Nathair has been deceived but now he knows the truth. He has choices to make, choices that will determine the fate of the Banished Lands.

Elsewhere the flame of resistance is growing - Queen Edana finds allies in the swamps of Ardan. Maquin is loose in Tenebral, hunted by Lykos and his corsairs. Here he will witness the birth of a rebellion in Nathair's own realm.

Corban has been swept along by the tide of war. He has suffered, lost loved ones, sought only safety from the darkness. But he will run no more. He has seen the face of evil and he has set his will to fight it. The question is, how? With a disparate band gathered about him - his family, friends, giants, fanatical warriors, an angel and a talking crow he begins the journey to Drassil, the fabled fortress hidden deep in the heart of Forn Forest. For in Drassil lies the spear of Skald, one of the seven treasures, and here it is prophesied that the Bright Star will stand against the Black Sun."

The Review
TRUTH AND COURAGE!
This was an incredible follow-up. Most of my points from the previous reviews of Malice and Valour still apply for this installment, like the praise of the grounded magic system and nostalgic feel, or the clever use of tropes.

However, on top of all that I have already said, Ruin brings about various turning points for the series, which I thought excellently executed. Separate plotlines converge at last, split again for a time to join yet others, and everything is tying ever closer together. There were many occassions where I cheered for situations that have been built up throughout the last two books finally coming to fruition.

Even though some of these payoffs were predictable to me, I can just reiterate what I said before: Being predictable is not a bad thing. Things become predictable here due to how well character arcs play out and rather than throwing needless deus ex machinae into the workings of them at the last moment, things just naturally evolve into what I would have expected them to. This makes the story and character arcs feel very organic and realistic in a way.

Of course, Ruin also throws twists at the reader, and preconceived notions about characters can be torn down just as quickly as they might be reaffirmed. Betrayals invariably happen once more, and some of them struck me very deep due to how little I expected them. Others, meanwhile, I expected to turn yet was surprised to find them stay true to Corban and Elyon. And then the book also offered less drastic surprises that made me smile and laugh rather than fear for the characters' lives (though one of those instances towards the end made me both laugh and fear for one of them!).

Ruin is in many ways the tipping point for the series. Many old grudges find an end. Characters on both sides fall and shift the balance of the God War in their passing. Other actors fall out of favor or regain trust after stepping back from the brink. It is a real shake-up of the cast dynamics, just before the finale coming up with Wrath.

Throughout it all, Corban and Nathair both come into their own, accepting the roles they are growing into. Bright Star and Black Sun both get serious and let the covers fall in their own ways. Revelations are made, and the God War is entering its hot phase. The preparations are over with, and both Corban and Nathair are firmly set on a collision course that will shake the Banished Lands to their foundations.

But despite all the horrors of war and demonic forces at work, there is much to smile over. There are many happy moments and touching events to bear the protagonists up. Romance is creeping in more than ever, and hope for the future is everpresent. The books final parts feature some of the highest notes in the series so far - just before reality comes tumbling down again to leave us with a cliffhanger that, to me, beat the first two books in cruelty to the reader.

Ruin is probably the strongest novel in the series so far. Gwynne did an incredible job leading things to their logical conclusions for massive payoffs, while shuffling things up just enough to make me both dread and anticipate the finale. With so many old ties cut in this book, it will be fascinating to finally read Wrath later this year.

I honestly cannot wait to see how this series will be wrapping up after this installment.

Ruin on Goodreads
read more »
Review: Valour by John Gwynne
0
The Banished Lands are torn by war as the army of High King Nathair sweeps the realm challenging all who oppose his holy crusade. Allied with the manipulative Queen Rhin of Cambren, there are few who can stand against him. But Rhin is playing her own games and has her eyes on a far greater prize ...

Left for dead - her kin have fled and her country is overrun with enemies - Cywen fights to survive. But any chance of escape is futile once Nathair and his disquieting advisor Calidus realize who she is. They have no intention of letting such a prize slip from their grasp. For she may be their one chance at killing the biggest threat to their power. Meanwhile, the young warrior Corban flees from his conquered homeland with his exiled companions, heading for the only place that may offer them sanctuary. But to get there they must travel through Cambren, avoiding warbands, giants and the vicious wolven of the mountains. And all the while Corban struggles to become the man that everyone believes him to be - the Bright Star and saviour of the Banished Lands.

Embroiled in struggles for power and survival, the mortal world is unaware of the greatest threat of all. In the Otherworld, dark forces scheme to bring a host of the Fallen into the world of flesh to end the war with the Faithful, once and for all.
After devouring Malice I jumped onto Valour almost immediately. Things only got better.

The Story:
"The Banished Lands are torn by war as the army of High King Nathair sweeps the realm challenging all who oppose his holy crusade. Allied with the manipulative Queen Rhin of Cambren, there are few who can stand against him. But Rhin is playing her own games and has her eyes on a far greater prize ...

Left for dead - her kin have fled and her country is overrun with enemies - Cywen fights to survive. But any chance of escape is futile once Nathair and his disquieting advisor Calidus realize who she is. They have no intention of letting such a prize slip from their grasp. For she may be their one chance at killing the biggest threat to their power. Meanwhile, the young warrior Corban flees from his conquered homeland with his exiled companions, heading for the only place that may offer them sanctuary. But to get there they must travel through Cambren, avoiding warbands, giants and the vicious wolven of the mountains. And all the while Corban struggles to become the man that everyone believes him to be - the Bright Star and saviour of the Banished Lands.

Embroiled in struggles for power and survival, the mortal world is unaware of the greatest threat of all. In the Otherworld, dark forces scheme to bring a host of the Fallen into the world of flesh to end the war with the Faithful, once and for all."

The Review
Like Malice before it, Valour has something oddly nostalgic and familiar about it. It still retains the same endearing character growth that made me enjoy its predecessor, and still managed to captivate me all throughout its 650 odd pages.

Unlike Malice, this book picks up right away, seeing the action stretch from start to finish through various plotlines. Where in its predecessor, the battles, big and small, were mostly confined to a few plotlines and the final parts of the story, here we pick up right from the climactic finale of Malice and everybody is getting into more tussles than they'd like to. And it is a blast!

While protagonist Corban comes to terms with new revelations and the loss of those dear to him, as their party of refugees is hunted across kingdoms, Maquin of the Gadre proves his valour in unexpected ways, with his back to the wall. Veradis, meanwhile, feels growing discomfort with his king and friend's choice of allies. Camlin, in turn, learns trust and friendship from those he least expected to befriend.

New point of view characters join in, both fresh and recurring faces, among them the fiery Coralen and Tukul, a Jehar master waiting for the Seren Disglair.
The cast stays diverse and interesting, and switching viewing angles within plotlines offer greater depth for all around. Both Coralen and Tukul were a joy to follow, whether through their eyes or those of Corban and co. Camlin especially appealed, and I was greatly satisfied by his character arc's progression in Valour.

Things get serious in this installment, and the days of Corban's peaceful life are numbered. Kingdoms fall, nooses close tight as Asroth's servants and their influence grow. This novel was far bleaker than its predecessor in many ways, and yet it still maintained an upright tone full of warmth and hope where it could. The bonds of friendship and family are tested time and again, but there is valour in loyalty and trust. For every desperate moment, there is a gleam of hope in other places. I appreciate that greatly.

While Valour stays about as predictable as Malice before it, and had me guess the outcomes of various plot arcs way ahead of the game, I still can't bring myself to fault it for that. It just works, and being able to see a character grow along expected lines that mesh with your own thoughts of what would make for exciting scenes down the line, is satisfying. It makes a lot of sense where certain characters end up at the end of the road, and it makes them feel internally consistent in their morals and beliefs.

The supernatural and magical elements take a step towards the center of the stage, developing quite a bit from the first book. It still remains mostly supportive elemental magic (still no fireballs being flung!), which fits the setting well. That does not mean that its use is not spectacular at times, but it keeps the world grounded overall.

Being halfway through the series now, I honestly think that The Faithful and the Fallen has the potential to go down as a genre classic in a time where many authors seem intent on reinventing the sword and sorcery. If [book:Ruin|23524878] and the upcoming [book:Wrath|27411345] can maintain the series' strong characters, setting and themes til the end, then my library, and hopefully those of many others, will be all the richer for it.

Valour on Goodreads
read more »
Review: Malice by John Gwynne
0
The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed in battle. An uneasy peace reigns, but now giants stir once more, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of gigantic worms. Those who can still read the signs see a prophecy realised: sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield.

Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors and yearns to join them, determined that he will make his family proud. It is only when everything he knows is threatened that he discovers the true cost of becoming a man.

As the Kings look to their borders, and priests beg answers from the Gods, only a chosen few know that the fate of the world will be decided between two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. And with their coming will be a war to end all wars.
Malice was recommended to me by my girlfriend a couple of months back, and I ended up devouring it, and the two following books in the series. I can't thank her enough for introducing me to Malice.

The Story:
"The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed in battle. An uneasy peace reigns, but now giants stir once more, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of gigantic worms. Those who can still read the signs see a prophecy realised: sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield.

Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors and yearns to join them, determined that he will make his family proud. It is only when everything he knows is threatened that he discovers the true cost of becoming a man.

As the Kings look to their borders, and priests beg answers from the Gods, only a chosen few know that the fate of the world will be decided between two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. And with their coming will be a war to end all wars."

The Review
As trope-ridden as Malice is on paper, as predictable as some of the key plot points were to me, I cannot possibly say that I didn't enjoy my time with the book a great amount.

It drew me in with its rather down-to-earth fantasy, its honesty and characters instead of trying to throw more and more contrived shock moments at me or be especially gritty and edgy. While it has gritty moments for sure, and violent combat, it never felt like it existed for its own sake, and always brought the characters a little further down their path.

As previously stated, Malice is full of tropes and, for the average fantasy reader, predictable turns. But I never thought this to be a bad thing. It made the experience feel familiar, relatable, and the characters just clicked together in a way that made them all the more appealing to me. I have gotten invested enough in most of them to want to see their stories concluded, and would like to pick up the sequel right away to find out what happens to them.

Malice does a great job at going back to simpler, more grounded fantasy. Comparisons with A Song of Ice and Fire, I feel, are missing the point entirely. Malice, though plenty dark in a lot of places, is not "grim dark". It actually felt rather uplifting half the time, especially following protagonist Corban around his daily life and warrior training. There is a strong moral component to the story, discussing right and wrong, which I feel is absent from most gritty "grim dark" novels these days. A purity of heart, if you will, to counter the growing darkness in other chapters. As such, I might even see its appeal for younger readers.

Magic here takes the form of more subtle, utilitarian elemental powers. It is rarely if ever used for direct offensive tasks, and more supportive of the troops on the ground, like covering the battlefield in fog. I liked this a lot. It reminded me very much of the old days of Tolkien, where magic was more of an innate ability, an understanding of the makings of the world, rather than a skill that allowed the wizard to throw fireballs all over.
I believe that in many ways, comparing Malice to one of Tolkien's works is fair. The prologue section, for example, talks about an imminent god-war between light and dark, and elaborates on the underlying mythology and relationship between the gods. Elyon and Asroth reminded me a lot of the Valar, and how Melkor betrayed his siblings.

But most of all, the book strikes a balance between tension and calmer moments that made it easy for me to come along and finish it relatively quickly. To some, the pacing may be a tad slow, especially early on with jumping viewpoint chapters, but I would recommend sticking with it. The plotlines converge soon enough, and as the scope becomes clearer and characters more fleshed out, it is easy to get lost in the Banished Lands, and be dismayed when you realize that the book is ending soon.

Malice was an exceedingly enjoyable read to me. I'll certainly be along for the rest of the ride!

Malice on Goodreads
read more »
Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
0
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.
But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?
Sleeping Giants was recommended to me by my girlfriend, after she won a Goodreads giveaway for it a couple of months back. She read and enjoyed it, and told me about the epistolary style of the book. It is written almost entirely in interviews with the various characters, with some reports and personal logs sprinkled throughout.
So, knowing that, I waited for the audiobook version to get released - getting to hear all these interviews performed by a full cast of actors was incredbily cool, and I'd recommend that way of experiencing the novel wholeheartedly!

The Story:
"A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.
But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?"

The Review
The book starts with the discovery of a giant hand of seemingly alien origin. Twenty years on, a team is assembled to figure out its origins, nature and how to put together a whole giant robot out of the pieces that popped up, first inadvertently, then deliberately searched for.

We are presented with Dr. Rose Franklin, who as a child discovered the hand herself, and now leads the research team. She is joined by Kara Resnik and Ryan Mitchell, former military pilots, and soon after by Vincent Couture, a highly intelligent graduate student tasked with figuring out the alien language found with the hand. The choice of having a student working on that may seem strange at first, but makes a lot of sense considering how it is explained in the book.

In general, a lot of things make sense and are explained well enough to make this book appeal to scifi fans of all ages. Sleeping Giants doesn't leave you out in the rain. Instead it delivers examples, analogies, elaborations, all kinds of info-nuggets, through the interviews.
The enigmatic, unnamed Interviewer himself plays a big role throughout, and I had a difficult time to decide whether to trust him or not. He has some obvious agenda of his own, and a lot of his words felt underhanded and fake, but as the story progressed, I couldn't be sure about things anymore.

I'd pin that down to just how good of a job Neuvel did at presenting us with believable character development. Everybody develops in one form or another. They all have their time to shine, their role in the story. While some characters pop up only a few times, like the President of the United States' secretaries, or military personell, they all do a fantastic job fleshing out the situation within the research facility and the outside world, without diving too deeply into exposition.

We don't have to see all things happen and have them spelled out clearly. Instead, Neuvel decided to confront us with their consequences, or character dynamics. It is enough for the reader to piece together tragic events from hearing about them via arguments between two characters. A lot of my enjoyment with the book came from anticipating the effects of various actions the characters took.

Action, intent and consequence are aspects that were explored marvelously by the novel. It also has a very human heart in its delivery.
Sleeping Giants is an incredible debut novel. It has just the right amount of hard scifi mixed with an enjoyable, almost lighthearted tone - until things start to go horribly wrong for everyone involved. The stakes are constantly rising, and while most of the book doesn't feature a real antagonist for our protagonists, besides time, frustration and the riddles of the alien robot, I never felt bored or needed more to happen.

I saw a few reviews criticising the "info-dump" nature of the book. Honestly, I don't see it. Even if that was the case, there's nothing wrong with that to me as a science fiction reader. I love info-dumps. I love being treated with respect by the author, and left to figure things out along the way. Getting a lot of information on scientific methods, experiments and technology is a big plus. I'd like to understand the background of the processes, not just be told to shut up and accept things as they come.

In any case, the book dispenses with its information in a very rational, procedural way. It doesn't aim to overwhelm, even though revelations can start rolling at times. It gives the reader what they need to get a good feel for the current events and new breakthroughs, and not much more. The Interviewer keeps things from characters at times (well, most of the time), but might discuss said things with a different character. So while Kara, Rose and co might not be in the know for a time, the reader probably is - but only to a certain extent, as there are bound to be more surprises along the way.

It helps that I very much enjoyed the cast. I liked most of them, from the cynical Kara over the pragmatic genius Vincent to the various side characters. There is a good amount of conflict between parties, too. In a way, Sleeping Giants is just as much about the people working at the project, their lives, views and feelings, as the alien mystery.

And holy cow did the actors deliver in the audiobook! Everybody was competent and got right into character. You can hear them enjoying their work, and getting a good feel for the characters' attitudes, inflections and levels of excitement or frustration. They'd shout where appropriate, laugh together, joke, react to their surroundings.. It really is the whole deal. The complete lack of an omnipresent narrator (besides announcing chapter titles/file numbers and news articles, I guess) within the story means that outside of personal logs, you'll always have an interplay between two or more characters. They're actual conversations and a joy to listen to.

I am honestly trying to keep as much of the plot under wraps as I can here. It is such a good ride, spoiling it would be a shame on my part. The story really unfolds at a good pace, and gets exponentially more complex and exciting. You're in for a ride in a giant alien robot, though, that much I am willing to tell you!
If you can, pick up the audiobook. To me, that seems like the ideal way of getting the most out of the story. Trust me, it is worth it.

Sleeping Giants on Goodreads
read more »
Review: Throneworld by Guy Haley
0
A new threat arises on Holy Terra – the eldar, attacking the Imperial Palace from beneath. And in the depths of space, an unlikely alliance discovers a secret that might save the Imperium from the marauding orks. But can they survive long enough to tell anyone?

The Imperium’s situation has never been more grim – an ork attack moon hangs over Terra, and ork armadas ravage human space. To make matters even worse, eldar strike at the heart of the Imperial Palace, forcing humanity’s defenders to fight on two fronts at once. Though it seems nothing can stop the orks – neither brute force, science, nor faith – an unlikely alliance in the furthest reaches of space uncovers the first clue how to defeat the greenskins. The Adeptus Astartes now face an almost impossible task - taking news of this discovery back to Terra through a galaxy teeming with orks.
Throneworld ties with The Last Wall for my season favorite to date. This is down to its high focus on Terra, as the title suggests, and with it all the politcs and scheming that make this series shine. It also picked up a few plot points from earlier installments that I thought had fallen by the wayside, or been resolved off-screen.

The Story:
"A new threat arises on Holy Terra – the eldar, attacking the Imperial Palace from beneath. And in the depths of space, an unlikely alliance discovers a secret that might save the Imperium from the marauding orks. But can they survive long enough to tell anyone?

The Imperium’s situation has never been more grim – an ork attack moon hangs over Terra, and ork armadas ravage human space. To make matters even worse, eldar strike at the heart of the Imperial Palace, forcing humanity’s defenders to fight on two fronts at once. Though it seems nothing can stop the orks – neither brute force, science, nor faith – an unlikely alliance in the furthest reaches of space uncovers the first clue how to defeat the greenskins. The Adeptus Astartes now face an almost impossible task - taking news of this discovery back to Terra through a galaxy teeming with orks."

The Review
First off, I have to say that the cover art is somewhat misleading. The Ulthwé Farseer depicted may or may not appear (depending on the artist's intent; it does not fully match previous art of the character that did appear in the book), and the Eldar's involvement in Throneworld is relatively slim, if impactful, full of flavor and answering some questions I know many readers had so far. Where are the Adeptus Custodes? What are they doing? Is nobody concerned about the Emperor's well-being (or whatever you'd call it, considering he is entombed atop his Golden Throne)? We get glimpses of all of these points, and I was satisfied with them, and the Eldar's appearance.

A point of contention on fan forums has been the way the Custodes have been hit by the Worf Effect. I see where they are coming from, but didn't feel like it was undeserved. Faced by a Harlequin Shadowseer and a Death Jester, and surprised at that, they didn't fare too badly, and the whole scene just worked for me. It highlighted the sheer arrogance and superiority complex of the Eldar magnificently, and showcased how different these Custodes are from their Heresy counterparts. They are isolated, away from the courts of Terra, only concerned with the Emperor. They also felt diminished from the proud lions of war we saw in the Horus Heresy series.

It added to the decadent feel of the Imperium at large, and Terra in particular. Mankind might have been at peace for long centuries, but their golden age is over. Things have changed significantly, yet not so much as in the 41st Millennium. They still pretend and delude themselves here.

Besides these early scenes, we get to see the Last Wall in action, soon after the failure of the Proletarian Crusade. They make to assault the Attack Moon above Terra, which results in some glorious action scenes and even the big boss himself gets his first outing since volume one.
Throughout it all, we see Koorland's relationship with his fellow Chapter Masters grow, even in unexpected ways. It was a joy to read, especially for the unexpected little bits strewn throughout.

The Last Wall's arrival at Terra throws the Senatorum into an uproar, even scares the High Lords. But all of it is played off in such a wonderful way, including celebrations of the heroic Chapters and underhanded insults by the Lord Guilliman, that my hatred for the High Lords has only risen further.
Following Chapter Masters Koorland and Thane around the celebrations and politicking, watching their growing frustration with the High Lords and the whole situation, was impressive, and I had various scenes play inside my head for a while.

These scenes on Terra are the strongest parts of the High Lords plotlines so far. They set the tone for escalations to come, and confront the sons of Dorn with the harsh reality of not only having to confront the Orks, but also Terra itself.

Meanwhile, the situation on Mars escalates at last, with the Red Haven cell of assassins deplayed multiple books ago coming into action. I loved the infiltration scenes, and the techno-cruelty of the Adeptus Mechanicus. This plotline will be exploding soon, and I thought the author did a great job spreading oil all over the red sands of Mars.

The other big plotline focuses on Warsmith Kalkator of the Iron Warriors, who was introduced in The Last Wall, and will seemingly feature in future books as well. Last time he was facing the Orks while being hounded by the Black Templars. These Templars finally enter the stage personally, led by Dreadnought-Marshal Magneric. Magneric has a history with Kalkator, and indeed, his whole Crusade comes down to having been friends with the Warsmith until the outbreak of the Heresy.

As the marketing blurb already spoiled, the two factions, Iron Warriors and Black Templars, are forced to ally temporarily to fend off the Orks and avoid destruction. I saw a lot of outcry about this one, even before the book was released, solely on the basis of how the marketing department over at Black Library tried to shock people into picking the book up.

Things aren't as straightforward as one might think here. It is an alliance of circumstance and necessity, uneasy to the very core, and only held together by the Iron Warriors' survival instincts and the honor of the Templars. The relationship between the two leaders also plays a big part, and we get to see them trading verbal blows all throughout.

In fact, these debates are the highlight of this string of events. They argue about the nature of the Emperor, man or god, the Black Templars' adoption of the Imperial Creed while throwing away the Imperial Truth. Kalkator even draws parallels to Lorgar's chastisement by the Emperor (see: The First Heretic), while Magneric quickly becomes invested in trying to save Kalkator from the abyss of treachery - or at least his soul - by repenting and converting to the Templars' faith.
It presents the iron-hard pragmatism of the Iron Warriors, embodied by Kalkator, facing off against the powerful faith of the crusading sons of Sigismund. On top of that, we even get to see how their fanaticism and faith can impact the flow of battle.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is the following:
‘I am not going to convert to your pathetic creed, Magneric. For if I cannot trust a man who lies, I trust a god who does so even less.’

It does a fantastic job highlighting the Emperor's paradox, and the hypocrisy of the Imperial Creed, which is once again mirrored by Ecclesiarch Mesring back on Terra. His role in future novels will be interesting to follow indeed!

But at the end of it all, Haley's passion for the Black Templars is showing. After reading his Space Marine Battles stories about them, soon to be collected in Crusaders of Dorn, I was expecting no less from him. There are subtle differences between both eras' Black Templars, but they both share the fanaticism and faith that they are known for. It was also cool to see Haley giving the spotlight to a Dreadnought once again, after the glorious audio drama The Glorious Tomb, which is easily one of my favorite audios produced by Black Library to date. What I'm saying is: He's got the subject matter down really well by now, and was the logical choice for this plotline.

The Beast Arises is at a very high point as of this installment. Events are in full motion, and allegiances are shifting. There are many clues as to the future, but for the time being, I am happy with the present depicted in Throneworld. It is another stellar entry in the series, and prepares the series for the next big boom.

Throneworld on Goodreads
read more »
Review: The Last Wall by David Annandale
0
With an ork attack moon in orbit over Terra itself, desperate measures are required: a proletarian crusade that will overwhelm the orks with the Imperium's most abundant resource: its common people.

Despite the Imperium’s best attempts to forestall the ork plague that is wreaking havoc in human space, an ork attack moon now hangs over Terra. As its malevolent presence gazes down at the Imperial Palace, terrified citizens run riot in the streets. In a last-ditch attempt to destroy the attack moon, a proletarian crusade is launched. Thousands of ships large and small head to the moon carrying billions of citizens, all eager to take the fight to the enemy. It seems the attack has a chance of success as the invasion force lands safely, but the orks have yet to spring their trap...
The Last Wall is my favorite in the series yet. It thus continues the upwards tendency of the series in my eyes. It also ramps up the stakes even further, which leaves us with a truly horrifying situation at the end of the first third of the series.
Now I see these Orks as terrifying for real.

The Story:
"With an ork attack moon in orbit over Terra itself, desperate measures are required: a proletarian crusade that will overwhelm the orks with the Imperium's most abundant resource: its common people.

Despite the Imperium’s best attempts to forestall the ork plague that is wreaking havoc in human space, an ork attack moon now hangs over Terra. As its malevolent presence gazes down at the Imperial Palace, terrified citizens run riot in the streets. In a last-ditch attempt to destroy the attack moon, a proletarian crusade is launched. Thousands of ships large and small head to the moon carrying billions of citizens, all eager to take the fight to the enemy. It seems the attack has a chance of success as the invasion force lands safely, but the orks have yet to spring their trap..."

The Review
The end of the previous book left us with one of the Ork attack moons above Holy Terra - and that is what The Last Wall primarily deals with. While there are scenes with the sons of Dorn at Phall once more, and also some unexpected rivals, almost the entirety of the novel is set on Terra, or within the Sol System. That does not necessarily mean that there aren't plenty of plotlines to follow.

Right in chapter one, we get confronted with the Adeptus Arbites attempting to control the rioting masses of Terra's population. All hell broke loose when the attack moon arrived, and much revolves around this herd mentality here. This raging mass of humanity is the key to the plot on multiple levels.
The High Lords, in their sheer arrogance, incompetence and ignorance decide to send a "Proletarian Crusade" to the ork death star - shipping the countless masses of Terra's population to the enemy in the hopes of overwhelming them in their base and bringing down the moon. They feed the despair of the people they are supposed to govern and protect, and stoke the fires of fanaticism of crusaders.

David Annandale is, for all intents and purposes, Black Library's specialist when it comes to stories revolving around questions of faith and fanaticism. I have gone into detail about that before, so I shan't repeat my praise yet again. TLW presents its own angle on the theme, which I felt were very well executed. The sheer madness and overwhelming sense of purpose of the crusaders is palpable throughout - reading the book, I could see the heaving masses of humanity ebb and flow across the surface of the attack moon, assemble in loading bays and scream in the streets of their home planet.
Annandale managed to create a horrifying, mind-numbing picture of dread and despair, directed into weaponized barbarity and disregard for the individual person. This made the eventual twists towards the ending even more stunning, and I loved the way things played out.

The Last Wall, more than any other installment so far, subverts our expectations of the orks. It draws upon the familiar while adding new layers that make them feel far more alien and mortifying than we are used to. And it does so not just through showing us what acts of violence and brutality they are capable of, but also their restraint, tactical expertise and newfound search for diplomacy.

If anything, this entry turns the roles of mankind and the Beast's waaagh on their heads. In the end, we are left wondering which side is really uncivilized and barbaric, and which developed and able to operate in somewhat good faith. The depravities man is willing to commit to are laid bare, not only via the High Lords' and Inquisition's schemes and petty rivalries, but also through the way they channel the regular, powerless citizens through chains of faith and righteousness.
All the while, the orks don't have to lift a finger while Terra tears itself apart.

On the matter of the scions of Rogal Dorn, we don't have much progression in terms of volume. The Astartes are still gathering their forces at Phall and deliberating their course of action. Thankfully, this plotline picks up right where it left off in The Emperor Expects, so we don't miss out on anything I'd have liked to see come off it.
Captain Koorland is finally settling down in his role as the last Imperial Fist, and the underlying rivalries between the various successor Chapters were a highlight to me. Still, I would have wished for more on this side of the overall story. It is hardly the author's fault, though, as this is simply how the series was laid out. The Fists' time will come.

Back on Terra, the Inquisition's internal strife is entering its next stage, as events between Wienand and Veritus escalate further, and draw in more actors. I don't want to spoil this succession of chases, assassination attempts and the wider Inquisition's reactions to it all, so I'll just say that I am thrilled to find out where this is all going next. I expect some big moves from the =][= in the upcoming volumes.

At the end of the day, though, things are rapidly spinning out of control. As if the arrival of the attack moon in the last book wasn't enough already, I feel like the end of TLW has even greater repercussions. The stakes have never been higher, and neither has my excitement for the series, thanks to this highly impressive fourth installment.

The Last Wall on Goodreads
read more »
Review: The Ghoul King by Guy Haley
0
The Knight, Quinn, is down on his luck, and he travels to the very edge of the civilized world – whatever that means, any more – to restock his small but essential inventory.

After fighting a series of gladiatorial bouts against the dead, he finds himself in the employ of a woman on a quest to find the secret to repairing her semi-functional robot.

But the technological secret it guards may be one truth too many…
I was excited to dig into this one the moment I read The Emperor's Railroad. Tor's PR person had me excited by the notion that this one would be more scifi than fantasy, and I ended up loving that.
The Story:
"The Knight, Quinn, is down on his luck, and he travels to the very edge of the civilized world – whatever that means, any more – to restock his small but essential inventory.

After fighting a series of gladiatorial bouts against the dead, he finds himself in the employ of a woman on a quest to find the secret to repairing her semi-functional robot.
But the technological secret it guards may be one truth too many…"
Disclaimer
I received an ARC for this novella from the publisher, as I did with the previous installment in the series. Since the first book was such a cracking read, I'd have jumped at the purchase anyway, but this way I got to read it months ahead of time, and the chance to review it early.
Make of that what you will.

The Review
The Ghoul King is the second novella in Guy Haley's Dreaming Cities series. The science fiction aspects in this science fantasy story are far more pronounced than they were in its predecessor, The Emperor's Railroad.

Where the first installment was more of a post-apocalyptic fantasy tale, here the technological aspects of the setting Haley created are apparent right from the first chapter. We actually kick off with a point of view chapter by one of the Angels of Pittsburgh, which enlightens us about the nature of the Angels (though we find out even more later in the story!) and their twisted arrogance.
While The Emperor's Railroad certainly hinted at a lot, this time we get answers in some very impressive ways.

After that first chapter, we once again have the story focus on a character who narrates the rest of the tale to us. Like Abney from the first book, Jaxon provides us with an adventure at Quinn's side. The Knight of Atlantis himself stays enigmatic in his ambitions and purpose, yet Jaxon is in a far better position than Abney was to analyze Quinn. Not only is he older, giving us a less awe-inspired version of the knight, but he is also somewhat in the know about forbidden knowledge of the Gone Before, and saw the fall of the Dreaming City of Columbus.
The narrative, first person style is less eccentric than previously, due to the nature of Jaxon himself. He grew up and lived in very different circumstances from Abney, so it makes perfect sense.

Jaxon and his crew of Seekers (or rather, the group he was dragged into by charismatic Rachel) are technophiles. They dig up old knowledge and put it to use. This ranges from creating simple flashlights to finding more sophisticated devices. They are rebels, for all intents and purposes.
They were also a wonderful choice for this story, as their perspectives, unique in this world of Angels and undead, add a lot to the whole adventure into the old Dreaming City of Columbus. Their understanding, no matter how limited, of the workings of technology before them, wouldn't be possible than any regular character in the world. As a result of their obsession with the old and forbidden, they play off very nicely against Quinn, whose perspectives are quite different from their own.

I have really come to like Quinn over the course of both books. His character is mysterious enough even at the end of this story to hold a lot of promise for future installments, while being familiar and solid throughout. He is interesting to read about and observe through the eyes of various companions, too, so I doubt I will grow tired of the narrative concept Haley is going for here.
Quinn is being built up for some pretty big reveals in the future, and I cannot wait to find out what Haley has in mind, both in terms of his backstory and future endeavours.

Unlike the previous book, there are few regular zombies about. Instead we get some very nasty looks at the ghouls inhabiting Old Columbus, including the Ghoul King himself. Filthy buggers, all of them, just the right amount of creepy yet realistic in depiction, and fitting right into this world.
But once again, fight scenes are limited to where they were needed. I love that Quinn urges caution, while still being willing to take risks and do what is required. He isn't a fool rushing into battle, and may seem cold, but he's definitely not a coward, as should be clear by now.

If there is one thing that disappointed me a little then it is the fate of the Ghoul King himself. Quinn's encounter with the beast was stunning, but it is left relatively ambiguous as to what happened to him in the very end. I wouldn't be surprised for the monstrosity to show up in future books, especially due to how the rest of the story's many revelations unfolded, but I was expecting something a bit more decisive this time around.
Still, I really dig the way the thing was represented. It brought to mind a very alien perversion of humanity and felt absolutely terrifying.

I honestly want this series to continue for as long as it needs to for Haley to tell the tale of Quinn. The world building is phenomenal, and The Ghoul King's scifi aspects only made things better overall. Haley played once more with artificial intelligences and its effects on humanity's course, and the creepy vibes of the abandoned post-apocalyptic city were spot on.

The novella length really works for the Dreaming Cities series. It allows enough room to maneuver, without ever getting bogged down in tedium. They are just long enough to get the reader invested in the characters, both old and new, piece things together throughout their experience, and come away satisfied with a tight narrative that sets things up nicely for a sequel.

Sequels I fully intend to read. If The Emperor's Railroad hadn't set me on that course already, The Ghoul King certainly has. It presents an impressive adventure that keeps you engaged from start to finish, and makes you wish for more.
Guy Haley has found a winning formula with this series.

The Ghoul King on Goodreads
read more »

DarkChaplain's bookshelf: read

The Dragon Engine
Tomb Raider II #7
Star Wars #22
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Adaptation #3
Deathwatch: The Last Guardian
The Harrowing
Whacky
The Awakening
Blackshield
Poe Dameron #5


DarkChaplain's favorite books »