THINNING THE VEIL.... "In the aftermath of the Dropsite Massacre at Isstvan V, a battered and bloodied force of Iron Hands, Raven Guard and Salamanders regroups on a seemingly insignificant death world. Fending off attacks from all manner of monstrous creatures, the fractious allies find hope in the form of human refugees fleeing from the growing war, and cast adrift upon the tides of the warp. But even as the Space Marines carve out a sanctuary for them in the jungles of Pythos, a darkness gathers that threatens to consume them all…"
As I recently mentioned in my review of Ahriman: Sorcerer, I would be returning to reading Black Library fiction on a regular basis and I made my decision to make The Damnation of Pythos my next novel that I would pick up, mainly because not only have I been impressed by what I’ve read of David Annandale’s work in the past, but also it’s The Horus Heresy, and that series is one of my go-to reads for some awesome science fiction action and more often than not, the novels frequently deliver, and I think it's safe to say that The Damnation of Pythos is yet another great entry into the series, even though it might not be a perfect one.
First off, it’s another excellent Black Library cover. They’ve been really great when it comes to artwork and The Damnation of Pythos is no exception, an excellent image picturing Iron Hands battling daemons. It also gives you an great idea as to what’s happening in the novel, with it following the adventures of a small group of Iron Hands, Raven Guard and Salamanders Space Marines who are regrouping following the Dropsite Massacre of Isstvan V. They’re wearied, battered and bloodied as they begin to create a Sanctuary on the world of Pythos, unaware that they may be stumbling into what might be their own demise.
The biggest problem that I have with the Horus Heresy series is that for the most part, you know what’s going to happen due to the various Codexes that have already summarized what’s happened in these events. As a result the outcome is often never in any doubt, and you know for example what will happen to the major players like Horus and Abaddon. However, with The Damnation of Pythos, and its decision to focus on an event and characters that I wasn’t familiar with at all, the aura of unpredictability was still there and I didn’t know what would happen next. It was a refreshing experience and as a result my interest was captivated all the more, even if the title may have hinted and ending, like most of The Horus Heresy series, would not be the happiest one ever.
The book itself delves into the horror elements of Warhammer making it a welcoming change of pace for the series, as it’s something that hasn’t been explored as well as it should have been given the potential available. Most stories attempt to focus entirely on the action, but this story allows an increased level of suspense and tension which readers will enjoy for sure. And on top of that, Annandale manages to not fall into the trap that so many other horror writers fall into by making the characters do stupid things in favour of plot advancement, which is great to see.
The Damnation of Pythos offers a lot of answers to just what the Iron Hands got up to following Isstvan V. I don’t remember that much about them in the Heresy and I think this might be their first novel in the series, so it’s fascinating to see them explored here, with some interesting characters that aren't just bland stereotypes of what their members of their legion might be and a good split between the human serfs of the Iron Hands Legion and their superhuman masters, with Annandale avoiding simply using the non-Space Marine characters just as plot devices which other writers have done in the past to great effect. The pace remains pretty fast throughout The Damnation of Pythos and is rarely a dull moment, with Annandale managing to create a great atmosphere for the book which really works.
However, The Damnation of Pythos is sadly not perfect. If you want to focus on the main events of the Horus Heresy then this book can be skipped in the overall scale of things, as it does not make any momentous leaps forward in terms of plot advancement. That is probably the novel’s biggest flaw but if you can put that aside then it remains very enjoyable indeed and certainly something that Horus Heresy fans and those looking to read more about the Iron Hands Legion will get the most out of.
Annandale is certainly an author who I would love to see revisit the Horus Heresy again as he always brings an alternative approach to Black Library novels, and you never quite know what to expect. The focus on horror is welcomed and engaging and it’s good to see that the storyline isn’t as predictable as other Heresy novels have been.
“A fast paced, fun and enjoyable read - Malodrax may not be the best Space Marine Battles Novel but neither is it the worst, with Counter proving just how well he can write the forces of Chaos. Unfortunatley, this comes at a price – and his Imperial Fists don’t leave as much an impression as they should.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"Held prisoner for years at the hands of the Iron Warriors, Captain Darnath Lysander returns to the world of Malodrax with the Imperial Fists Chapter at his shoulder to exact revenge on his one-time captors. What bargains did he make to escape the world that had become his gaol and to what lengths will he go to keep those pacts veiled from his battle brothers?"
The fourteenth novel in the main multi-authored series set in the main Warhammer 40k Universe is Malodrax, written by veteran Black Library author Ben Counter. Counter has a sort of mixed reputation with fans and can either be hit and miss - both his early Soul Drinkers and Grey Knights novels have been enjoyable but Battle for the Abyss is widely regarded as one of the worst entries in the Horus Heresy series. When you’re putting Counter in a series that already has a reputation for being incosistent – the Space Marine Battles novels have seen more weak elements than successes, it’s always going to be a risky gambit. However, it’s safe to say that Malodrax is no Battle for the Abyss. It’s not something that you’ll struggle to get through. It is, in fact -a fun, action packed read that revels in bolter-porn, something that Counter is very familiar with writing. If you want the equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie in the grim-dark far future, Counter has established himself as the go-to-guy and that is very much the case with Malodrax.
MalodraxThe event of Malodrax is something that fans of Warhammer 40k lore and particularly those who have read at least the fifth edition Space Marine Codex will be familiar with. However, what will irk some fans is the changes to the story that was laid down in the Codex lore – don’t go in expecting a carbon copy. Changes to the lore will most likely be frowned upon by hardcore fans so if you’re somebody who holds what is written in the Codex as perfect canon and should not be altered in any way, then Malodrax is probably not the novel for you. However, if you’re open to change – you’ll be quickly swept into the engrossing, page-turning and action packed blockbuster that Counter brings to the table.
Malodrax mixes three ongoing plot threads with a mixture of success. You get a segment looking at Captain Lysander’s escape from the world of Malodrax, detailing how he survived. At the same time, you get the return of Lysander to the Imperial Fists and how the Chapter returns to the world to take revenge. Rather than be told in act breaks, the plots alternate every few chapters, which can make it difficult to follow especially with this many threads. Counter keeps the two entries separate which prevents them from being cluttered and even more complicated as a result, but you can’t help feeling that it would have been better if he’d split the book into the standard acts, shown how Lysander escaped from the prison first before showing him and his fellow Imperial Fists returning to extract revenge. However, that’s only the two main stories. One that doesn’t feel as successful as the main narrative primarily because it explores a different group altogether, and it seems its only purpose is to explore Malodrax in more depth that couldn’t be covered in the main story. This feels like the weakest part of the novel and it probably would have been better had Counter focused on the Imperial Fists and left the other group out of the storyline.
One thing that Counter does well is write the Chaos element of a novel. He really gets it. Regardless of what you may think of Counter’s writing you can’t help but argue that he’s one of the best people in Black Library’s writing stable when it comes to handling the worlds within the Eye of Terror and exploring them in all their full and gory detail – and it really works here. However, it comes as a price – the Chaos elements come at a cost to Counter’s ability to write Imperial Fists, and instead of feeling like the strongest elements of the characters like they should be, the Imperial Fists themselves feel flat with Lysander’s character only being really memorable because he is such an iconic character in Warhammer 40k lore.
If you enjoy Counter’s ability to write portrayals of Chaos forces and don’t mind a divergence from canon and don’t mind a fun bolter-porn read, then Malodrax comes recommended. Don’t expect an amazing novel by any means, but Malodrax is far from the worst book in Black Library’s arsenal and is something that can be cautiously recommended if you are familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 Universe.
SPACE MARINE BATTLES NOVELS: Rynn’s World by Steve Parker, Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Hunt for Voldorius by Andy Hoare, The Purging of Kadillus by Gav Thorpe, Fall of Damnos by Nick Kyme, Battle of the Fang by Chris Wraight, The Gildar Rift by Sarah Cawkwell, Legion of the Damned by Rob Sanders, Architect of Fate by Various Authors, Wrath of Iron by Chris Wraight, The Siege of Castellax by C.L. Werner, The Death of Antagonis by David Annandale, Death of Integrity by Guy Hayley, Malodrax by Ben Counter ...more
“David Annandale really impresses with his take on the White Scars in this short novella. It moves along quickly and is a great example of how to write Warhammer 40,000 novels – action packed, swift and entertaining. David Annadale is certainly an author to watch out for.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"The green-skinned hordes of the Overfiend of the Octavius system have long been a thorn in the Imperium’s side – and now, with human worlds caught in the crossfire between the orks and eldar, that thorn will be removed. Temur Khan and his brotherhood descend upon Lepidus Prime to cleanse it of the green taint. The swift and brutal hammer to the Imperial Guard’s anvil, the White Scars strike hard and fast – but when the orks reveal a super-weapon, it may take more than just power to win the day?"
The White Scars Chapter have been one of the many founding Space Marine Chapters that haven’t seen much attention up until this point from Black Library. They’ve had the odd appearance in novels such as The Hunt for Voldorius by Andy Hoare but the serialized Scars novel by Chris Wraight was very much the first novel to give the Legion/Chapter the exposure that they needed, delivering a powerful read that was one of the stronger entries in the Horus Heresy series. It seems that now we’ve had the White Scars developed a bit more in 30k, we get to see more attention given to the Sons of Khan and that is no bad thing especially when you consider the potential that they have on offer.
The novella itself compromises of eight chapters in length and as a result, proves to be a very quick read and it shouldn’t take you more than a day to breeze through this book. Whilst it may be a quick read – it does give the reader a sampling of what David Annandale’s work is like, so that if they enjoyed this book then the reader may be inclined to pick up another of Annandale’s novellas or even his full novel, The Death of Antagonis, which also takes place in the Space Marine Battles series, but focuses on the Black Dragons as opposed to the White Scars which get the spotlight here.
The biggest achievement of Stormseer is what David Annandale manages to get across given the small amount of wordcount available to him. Readers will get a true sense of the scale of the invasion unfolding here, but he manages to keep the action focused primarily on a company of White Scars, supported by an group of Imperial Guard “Iron Guard” from the planet Mordian. The decision to focus on a smaller group of characters rather than have several ongoing stories across the entire system works here, and for the best – with just eight chapters there wouldn’t be enough time to develop several different narrative arcs to the point where they were satisfying. Something else will also please fans is that Annandale doesn’t change established lore or canon to suit his own needs, instead respecting the Space Marines and the Orks alike. Often, and this is a mistake that even writers more experienced than Annadale will make, is to have a tendency to favour one faction over the other and as a result this will annoy readers who are fans of the ignored faction. However, Annandale doesn’t fall into this trap and will deliver a read that will satisfy White Scars, Orks and Eldar fans alike.
The action sequences are written well, which is a crucial element to have when you’re writing tie-in fiction to a game that has the tagline “There is Only War.” The tactics used by both sides aren’t incredibly stupid for the sake of plot conveniences, and Annandale makes each fight scene feel fresh and varied with his skilled writing ability. The book doesn’t feel like bolter porn, despite the fact that the book is part of the Space Marine Battles series – and the Novella really works as a result of this. The novella feels fresh and engaging rather than just a tired repeat of the ‘Fight 1 leads to Fight 2′ formula which is a welcome change.
In short, Stormseer is a a good, fun novella and a welcome addition to Black Library fiction, proving to be entertaining and well written. This book is a great way of checking out a new author to see if you like their writing style or not – but even if you are familiar with Annandale’s work I’d still recommend this. It’s a fast paced read and will be sped through quickly, but is very much worth your admission fee. Highly recommended.
“An excellent listen, The Trials of Azrael may be one of Black Library’s best audio dramas yet. With a fun plot and some great voice-acting, CZ Dunn establishes himself as a must read author based on the quality of this audio drama alone. Essential listening for any Black Library fan.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"As war rages in the Pandorax system, the Imperial battleship Revenge comes under attack by the dread forces of Chaos. As warriors of the Black Legion rampage through the venerable craft, Supreme Grand Master Azrael leads the First Company of the Dark Angels – the elite Deathwing – onto the vessel to eliminate the enemy. Separated from his men, Azrael finds himself trapped in the lower decks with only a tech-priest for company and one of the galaxy’s most fearsome warriors hunting him: the infamous Khârn the Betrayer."
I read Pandorax a while back and it was only a matter of time before I delved into The Trials of Azrael, the accompanying Audio Drama – which is essentially, a tie-in of a tie-in of a tie-in – it ties into the events that go down in CZ Dunn’s Pandorax which itself ties into an Apocalypse expansion pack – which ties into the Apocalypse itself - which is essentially an expansion for the core Warhammer 40,000 game. However – because tie-ins are normally frowned upon you’d think with that with the amount of stuff that this ties into it would be a bad listen right? Well, you’re dead wrong. CZ Dunn, with the help of the voice acting of the likes of Gareth Armstrong – weaves an incredibly engaging tale that may well be one of Black Library’s best audio dramas yet, better than even what Dan Abnett and Aaron Dembski-Bowden have had to offer us in the past. I’ve been hit and miss on Dunn’s work before but I can’t help but highly praise this one – it’s a great listen, remaining very fun and entertaining.
Trials of AzraelHowever, it’s not perfect. I think the biggest problem with The Trials of Azrael is Dunn’s decision to use the Dark Angels Chapter. Whilst this can’t be helped as they’re featured in Pandorax as well it sort of robs the overall element of predictability – and especially by using Azrael himself – the Supreme Grand Master (read: Chapter Master) of the Dark Angels – means that any unpredictability that would come with using a Chapter with no known Chapter Master is robbed, and we know that from the get go that Azrael will survive. And again – the inclusion of Khârn the Betrayer doesn’t help matters as well – because Khorne’s favoured son carries the same baggage and exposure as Azrael – possibly even more, and that means that from the get go you know that there’s two people who are going to make it out alive. However – for several other characters, it’s fair game – and Dunn manages to keep you on the edge of your seats about what will happen to them. He’s been honing his writing skill over several short stories and audio dramas before this and Pandorax and whilst they may not all be enjoyable (I wasn’t Malediction’s biggest fan for example) you can’t help but argue that The Trials of Azrael is an absolutely cracking listen. Fast paced and enthralling – it’s one that you’ll want to keep an eye out for.
If you haven’t read Pandorax yet you won’t really be at a disadvantage and that is another strength of The Trials of Azrael. Whilst it requires you to be knowledgeable on a fairly decent portion of Warhammer 40k lore you don’t have to be a die-hard fan to understand everything that goes on here but it’s probably not recommended as a first try in the setting. The storyline is mostly straightforward – but it remains fun and action packed throughout. The voices of everybody involved is pretty much spot on, with some great casting adding to the overall enjoyment of the Audio Drama. In a nod to continuity, the same voice for Khârn can also be found in Anthony Reynolds’ The Chosen of Khorne - so people who have listened to that audio drama will find it welcoming when they come to listen to this especially if they enjoyed the casting. I for one enjoyed it and it came as a good surprise – much like The Trials of Azrael itself – I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it turned out to be, even though I should have expected something awesome mainly due to the strong read that was Pandorax.
Overall then - The Trials of Azrael is a success. It’s Black Library’s best Audio Drama yet and although there’s little predictability and some cringe-worthy lines near the end - CZ Dunn’s latest audio drama is a hit and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the table next. I couldn’t stop listening to this Audio and it made bus journeys very entertaining indeed. More please!
“A, fast paced, solid & enthralling novel. Whilst it may not be perfect, CZ Dunn produces a solid debut book that will please long-term fans and relative newcomers alike. If you like action, then Pandorax may well be exactly what you need.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
In the Pandorax System, on the death world of Pythos, an ancient secret that has laid buried for millennia has been unearthed… Ignorant of this terror, troopers of the Catachan 183rd, stranded on Pythos and under the command of Colonel ‘Death’ Strike, find themselves under attack by the forces of Chaos. Daemons in their thousands flock the sky, and none other than Warmaster Abaddon leads the attack. With the Death Guard and Black Legion arrayed against them, the Catachans appear to be doomed, until salvation arrives in the form of the entire Dark Angels Chapter, led by Master Azrael and a host of heroes. But what is the so-called ‘Damnation Cache’? What secrets does it harbour and why has it also attracted the attention of the daemon-hunting Grey Knights?
I’ve been out of touch with the gaming side of Warhammer 40,000 since shortly before the release of the sixth edition. However – it appears that they’ve released heaps of new material since then including the 6th Edition version of the Apocalypse expansion set – designed for large scale wars, often featuring whole Chapters of Space Marines as opposed to a mere few squads and heavy vehicles. Of course, with a new Apocalypse series – there is the potential for a brand new tie-in series from Black Library, and what better to kick off procedurers with Pandorax, a novel based on the events that take place in the War Zone rulebook – Pandorax? Normally, as with Space Marine Battles series, I’d be coming into this novel knowing exactly what would happen next. I’d be fully aware of how the battle unfolds, but as I haven’t been buying Codexes lately, my reading has slipped further and further behind to an extent where I was coming into Pandorax completely fresh, preparing to be surprised by whatever this book could throw at me.
PandoraxThe biggest problem that I had with the Space Marine Battles novels was its predictability and that’s not the issue here. CZ Dunn crafts an engaging and interesting read, and gives him a promising and solid debut novel. Sure, the author has been around for ages with short stories and audio dramas, such as Malediction being a notable example. Overall, I’ve liked what Dunn can bring to the table and with Pandorax he certainly shows signs of being an author to watch out for, especially with a strong narrative hook and a well-written understanding sense of action, allowing him to engage the reader from the start and keep them hooked right the way through. Whilst yes, this novel may be virtually 90% action, making it equivalent to the latest Summer Blockbuster movie, Pandorax shies away from making the same mistakes that bogged down early Space Marine Battles novels by giving us fresh and engaging characters. Even Kaldor Draigo, who many people thought was too overpowered come his introduction with the 5th Edition Codex of the Grey Knights is made interesting in this book, as Dunn builds upon established lore to create a solid and well rounded character. Indeed, pretty much every major character is strong in Pandorax - Junior Inquisitor Tzula and Imperial Navy pilot Hagen are notable standouts – and amongst the Imperial Guard Catachans stationed on Pandorax, Colonel Strike was another fine addition. In fact, the only character who I didn’t really enjoy was Azrael, Grand Master of the Dark Angels Chapter – as with the vast amount of characters not all of them can be pulled off well and that was the case with Pandorax - Azrael ultimately suffers from being the result of one-too-many characters in one book - but I have hope that Dunn can remedy this with the Audio Drama, Trials of Azrael.
The action that you’ll find in Pandorax is among the finest that you’ll see in any book from Black Library – even something written by the likes of Dan Abnett and Aaron Dembski-Bowden. CZ Dunn employs a variety of sequences from a variety of participants, be they the lowliest Catachan Imperial Guardsman or the highest-ranking Dark Angel. I loved the many teases thrown in to the Horus Heresy series as well – so if you’re a fan of that series then Pandorax is something that’s certainly worth a look into. Whilst nothing obvious is revealed there’s certainly a few hints about where characters might have ended up. Whilst the Horus Heresy series isn’t required reading to understand what’s going on here it certainly helps provide a broader understanding.
If you’re looking for an engaging read that isn’t bogged down by being simply another bolter-porn novel in the vein of say, The Soul Drinkers series or most Space Marine Battles novels, then Pandorax is right up your street. Whilst yes, it may be another novel detailing the struggles of the Imperium against Chaos rather than exploring the lesser known elements of the Warhammer 40,000 Universe, Pandorax allows for a very entertaining read. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what else CZ Dunn can bring to the table. Whilst there may be a lack of focus on all the characters and the novel may suffer with too much stuff happening at once, you should still enjoy what you see here. Certainly worth checking out.
“An excellent Space Marine Battles novel, in my view – Damnos, both the original novel and the exclusive novella, are among the best of the series as Nick Kyme brings a great look into the Ultramarines.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
++…ALL IS LOST, CASUALTIES PRESUMED NEAR TOTAL. ONLY KELLENPORT REMAINS. AS LORD-GOVERNOR, RECOGNISED BY THE HIGH LORDS OF TERRA, I BESEECH ALL IMPERIAL SERVANTS RECEIVING THIS MESSAGE TO COME TO OUR AID WITH ALL HASTE. MAY THE EMPEROR SHIELD US. SCANT INFORMATION EXISTS ON THE INVADING FORCE SAVE FOR A BINARIC DATA-BURST. TRANSLITERATION FOLLOWS: ‘WE ARE THE NECRONTYR. WE ARE LEGION. WE CLAIM DOMINION OF THIS WORLD… SURRENDER AND DIE.’++
++DATA-SEAL OF LORD-GOVERNOR ARXIS VERIFIED IN ASTROPATHIC ROUTING MEME…++
++MESSAGE ORIGIN CONFIRMED AS DAMNOS, MINING WORLD, ULTIMA SEGMENTUM++
++TRANSCRIPT FORWARDED TO THE BRIDGE FOR ATTENTION OF CAPTAIN SICARIUS++
++MARK MOST URGENT+"
Well, it’s not every day you get a review copy of a book that you’ve already read and reviewed before. My original Advance Review of Fall of Damnos can be found later in the review, but it appears that this time, rather than just simply reprint the now out-of-print novel as either a singular book or as part of a larger omnibus, Black Library have started to take a similar approach to that of the New York Times Bestselling Horus Heresy series with their somewhat less successful Space Marine Battles books. Whilst I’m not up to date on this series, the most recent book I’ve read being C.L. Werner’s strong The Siege of Castellax, the first (and to date only) Space Marine Battles novel that I’ve read that has focused on the Chaos Space Marines. However, it’s not really a series that you have to read in order, as veteran Warhammer 40,00 readers will know that rather than telling an ordered series of events, the Space Marine Battles books focus on specific events that have already been covered in various Space Marine Codexes or the main Warhammer 40,000 rulebook. This allows for a great development of these events, assuming – as was the case with novels like Rynn’s World by Steve Parker and Andy Hoare’s Hunt for Voldorious, two early entries in the series – that the author can stray clear of the typical bolter-porn, guns blazing format that pretty much ensures that the entire book is nothing but action with minimal character development.
You can find my original review of Fall of Damnos here. However, be warned, my writing is pretty pathetic then and I like to think that I have improved since. But if you don’t want to read through eye-scalding text (or are reading this on Goodreads rather than the actual site as Goodreads doesn’t have a link to this review), then you’ll probably just want the pull quote. I wrote that “With just two books, Nick Kyme is already challenging Graham McNeill’s reputation as king of the Ultramarines.” And that couldn’t be more true. Fall of Damnos really is that good, and although it has received a rather diverse reaction in the Warhammer 40k fanbase (as has it seems, any novel not written by either Aaron Dembski-Bowden or Dan Abnett (and to a slightly lesser extent, Graham McNeill) – and it’s probably going to be a book that you’ll either love, like I did – or hate. I know fellow Founding Fields reviewer Bellarius has strong feelings against this book.
However, back to the review. I’m not going to talk about the original novel, Fall of Damnos, in any real depth here because the short answer is that I’ve already covered it before on TFF, and I’m not really a big fan of reviewing the same thing twice. I’m going to focus instead on Spear of Macragge, the novella that comes attached to Damnos in the same way that Blood and Fire was part of Armaggedon, the recent hardback re-release of Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s popular Helsreach novel in the similar series. It’s new, you haven’t seen it before – and it fleshes out the original novel in more depth. It seems the ‘fleshing out’ of Fall of Damnos is coming out in two halves, not just the novella – but there’s also the audio-drama Veil of Darkness that I am reviewing at some point today in a different post, adding some further exploration of the aftermath of the Damnos conflict and what ramifications it had on the Ultramarines as a legion.
Spear of Macragge however is a novella that is set during the events of Fall of Damnos (and also follows on, serving as a second act in a ‘trilogy’ of sorts if you count Veil of Darkness as the final act) – and features several of the key scenes, such as the Siege of Kellenport, that many owners of the 5th edition of the Space Marine Codex will be aware of – that were left out of the original novel. The attention is on Tank Commander Chronous, another familiar face here, and feels a more interesting, captivating and engaging than Sicarius before him. As this book however chooses to recount events that most people who have read the lore will be already aware of, several elements are rendered unpredictable, thus robbing the book’s tension. I mean, the Necrons have the potential to be one of the scariest races in the Warhammer 40,000 Universe if done right, but the considerable lack of tension here despite the relatively high stakes really didn’t help matters much. Then again, this isn’t really Nick Kyme’s fault, as he’s choosing to expand on an already written tale featuring characters that are models on the tabletop, so obviously – you know from the get go that these big names won’t die over the course of the book.
However, that doesn’t stop the novella from being any less awesome when it comes to its finale. We get to see the characters that we’ve met before pressed to the limit, as the true horror of the Necron threat is revealed. Whilst Spear of Macragge is largely action – it’s action done right, and Kyme has crafted a page-turning read that serves as a fitting addition to the main events in Fall of Damnos, and is well worth the additional price for this hardback novel as opposed to just buying the individual book. Like Veil of Darkness, Spear of Macragge provides the reader with a very strong read.
The battle sequences are really awesome as well, with a variety of fun sequences inside. There are clashes with a battalion of armoured tanks (as one would expect when the main character of Spear of Macragge is a Tank Commander) and the aerial conflict that this book brings to the table is just as fun as its ground counterparts. Kyme certainly knows how to write some gripping action sequences, and Spear of Macragge, much like Fall of Damnos – is full of them.
The only thing that I didn’t really like about Spear of Macragge was the fact that it felt a bit rushed in places. Other than that, I feel that Nick Kyme got this extra addition to Fall of Damnos spot on, and really handles it well. If you enjoyed the first novel then Spear of Macragge is one that you should find awesome as well. As a whole then, Damnos is a lot of fun, and is a novel that’s certainly worth checking out. Recommended over the standalone novel if you’ve enjoyed Nick Kyme’s previous works and want more. Speaking of more, can we have an ongoing Ultramarines series from Kyme, please? That would be awesome.
“A great, first person-narrated take on one of the most iconic Space Marine characters, Cato Sicarius, and apart from a few flaws - Veil of Darkness stands along with Damnos as being another very strong instalment in Nick Kyme’s Ultramarine stories.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"++‘Life signs stable.’ ‘He looks… troubled.’ ‘Many going through sus-an membrane coma experience discomfort as part of the revivification process.’ ‘Do you think he’s reliving what happened to him on Damnos?’ ‘Perhaps, it would be his last memory before slipping into a coma.’ ‘I cannot imagine that would be a pleasant experience. That thing very nearly cut him in half.’ ‘He endures, and will rise again.’ ‘You’re confident about that?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And what about the state of his mind? Will that be intact?’ ‘I… cannot answer.’++"
I haven’t listened to an audio-drama in a long time. However, with a return to College, I needed something to keep me entertained on my long bus rides there and back, and to fill that void came Veil of Darkness, a companion piece to Nick Kyme’s Damnos, that wraps up loose ends. It shows how Cato Sicarius was affected by the failed defence of Damnos, as for the first time that we’ve seen him, he must deal with the fact that for once in his life, the Captain of the 2nd Company has not completed his task. As Warhammer 40,000 fans will likely know – Sicarius is a brash, headstrong leader with several victories to his belt along with a multitude of titles – viewed by some as heir to Marneus Calgar, Chapter Master of the Ultramarines. Of course, this does not fit well with Severus Agemman, the first Captain. Their rivalry is really brought to light in this book, as Kyme decides to tell the narrative from the first person point of view of Sicarius.
The first person perspective of Sicarius deals with two angles here – one one side, we get the entire narrative from his perspective, however – I felt that the end twist was all too predictable and clichéd to leave any real impact – and I was left finding the ending a little bit underwhelming, which was a shame – because for the first 90% or so of the audio-drama, the audio drama was executed really well. I loved the fact that the battle scenes that took place here happened inside the home of the Ultramarines Chapter themselves, and Nick Kyme really does make them feel vulnerable and isolated for the vast part of the novel. The audio drama shows just how deadly Necrons can be – and to me, they’re like the zombies of the Warhammer 40,000 Universe – if there’s something with the Necrons inside, It’s automatically going up my to-read pile. I’d love to see more crop up as enemies to various factions in future books, heck – I’d love to see them go up against Eldar. Now that would be awesome, as – correct me if I’m wrong – that there hasn’t been a book dedicated to an Eldar/Necron conflict from Black Library before, without any interference from the Imperium or another race.
However, the Necrons aren’t executed perfectly here. Sure, they do get some pretty awesome scenes and come across mostly as a formidable foe, but one problem that I had was the phrase “I am Doom,” repeated multiple times by the only Necron who has a speaking part. It’s meant to induce terror and fear inside the hearts of the Ultramarines under attack, but really comes across as being too cringe-worthy and cheesy. This is something that could have been avoided. The ending I’ve already touched upon was a let down as well, but those two problems are the only ones that I had with an otherwise really strong narrative. I loved the first person POV, which is something we’ve seen before in Kyme’s work - Vulkan Lives being the case here, and I felt that it was really executed well, giving us a great insight into Sicarius’ perspective.
The action is pretty brutal and pulled off well. If you’ve enjoyed Kyme’s works before then you’ll know he can write a good action scene, and whilst we don’t get to see any epic-scale battles featuring entire Chapters, the close-quarter combat allows for several strong sequences. The audio drama format really works well here, and although I don’t think Gareth Armstrong can pull of narration duties as well as others that we’ve heard in the past such as Toby Longworth, he certainly impresses, delivering a great voice for an Ultramarine Captain even when other elements aren’t as well performed.
The Audio Drama that I got for review as an MP3 file also came with multiple attachments – for anyone interested in the formatting of audio-dramas, or just wants to read the script as opposed to listen to the thing, then you can find the script attached. The cover art, which is pretty awesome – I might add, also comes as Wallpapers available for IPad/IPhone users as well as various Desktop formats. Another feature is a couple of images attached – one of a solitary Necron, and the other of Sicarius’ wargear. Whilst, script aside – they don’t provide any major new content, it’s a nice little bonus feature that you won’t get with a novel.
In conclusion therefore, a couple of flaws aside, Veil of Darkness is an audio-drama that’s mostly a lot of fun and if you’ve enjoyed Nick Kyme’s works in the past, then it’s certainly worth your time despite the couple of minor flaws that I had with this. Therefore, I can offer my recommendation. It’s a great look into the aftermath of Damnos, and if you want some pretty awesome close-combat action between Necrons and the Ultramarines in the Fortress of Hera itself, then Veil of Darkness will be worth checking out.
So, the ending was certainly enjoyable but I really felt that this wasn't Abnett at his best. In fact, it's the first time I've ever been let down bySo, the ending was certainly enjoyable but I really felt that this wasn't Abnett at his best. In fact, it's the first time I've ever been let down by an Abnett work which is a real shame. I'll explain why I didn't like it as much as I should in my upcoming TFF review. ...more
“A book that is great fun to read. Steve Parker crafts an entertaining, action packed read that reminds us why the very idea ofa Deathwatch novel is so awesome.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ve fallen rather behind on my Black Library reading as of late, with the last novel that I finished being Dan Abnett’s Pariah. But when I saw Deathwatch in the shelves, it was a chance that I knew I couldn’t pass by. I’d been waiting for this novel for ever since it was announced that Steve Parker was working on a Deathwatch novel, following the short stories in the various …of the Space Marines anthologies, which I all really enjoyed. So, how does the full novel fare? Quite well, as it turns out, and it seems that my return to Black Library novels has been a successful one indeed.
"When they first came together, Talon Squad were a disparate group of Space Marines from various Chapters. Under the auspice of the Deathwatch, trained in an ironclad Watch Fortress, they become a kill-team. Alien hunters, experts in xenos extermination, their first mission under the mysterious Inquisitor Sigma is a deadly one. Of all the enemies the Deathwatch face, the genestealers are amongst the fiercest, the most invidious. Led by Brother-Librarian Karras, Talon Squad must penetrate the bowels of a genestealer lair and put the abominations to the flame or face the consequences of an entire planet’s extinction."
A Deathwatch novel allows the possibility to draw Space Marines from a variety of Chapters under one banner and explore their characters. This does run the risk of using archtypical portrayals of Space Marines, with their standard cliched impersonations – for example, you get the law-abiding Ultramarine, the gung-ho rebellious Space Wolf always arguing with the Dark Angel, the stealth expert of the Raven Guard, the staunchly determined Imperial Fist – you get the idea. In the wrong hands, you start to remember their roles over their names, which is never a good sign. But thankfully, Parker manages to avoid that trap, by sticking with the same team, Talon Squad – that he’s worked on in the aforementioned short stories, Headhunted and Exhumed, he takes this opportunity to use this novel as a prequel for those two shorts as a way to appeal to newcomers to his work as well as fans who have read the previous books.
The dramatis personae is quite small for this book, and we’re drawn into a variety of team members that have different roles, but Parker manages to avoid the fear that I had above and continue to build upon some interesting characters that aren’t just bland and one dimensional. For example, you get Lyrandro Karras, nicknamed Scholar, the Librarian and leader of Talon Squad, standing alongside Darrion Rauth, aka the Watcher, and a member of the Exorcists Chapter. He’s also the only member of Talon Squad who doesn’t come from a first-founding chapter. Then there’s Maximmion Voss, the Imperial Fist, codenamed Omni, Ignatio Solarian of the Ultramarines and Siefer Zeed of the Raven Guard, who are supported by Chyron, a Dreadnought of the Lamenters Chapter. This allows Parker to explore a wide view of what different Chapters have on the Deathwatch, and allows to give us some very different personalities. Karass gets the most page-time, but they’re all interesting warriors of their own with stories to tell, and I really hope that either in future short stories or standalone ones, Parker explores them further.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Black Library book without some action and Deathwatch delivers some very entertaining action indeed. Using his experience as a Black Library writer being one of the more prolific authors of this Publisher to date (even if he may not be held in as high regard as the likes of Dan Abnett and Aaron Dembski-Bowden), Parker manages to craft several action sequences that are a step-up from the average bolter porn novels from the likes of CS Goto and Ben Counter, with some great battle scenes and the way that he manages to narrate them prevents the character development from being dragged down and allows for the book to have a breakneck pace.
The plot itself you can tell has been planned out into various acts and Deathwatch clearly benefits from that particular method rather than the make it up off the top of your head method that some writers are known to use (outside of the Black Library verse, Stephen King is a well known user of this method). Parker takes some time to show the assembling of Talon Squad when he could have just dived straight into the main plot, which allows for some great set up where we get to know the characters before the fun really begins, and when the fun begins, it certainly does – this is one of the better Black Library novels that I’ve had the pleasure of reading and Steve Parker really knocks it out of the park. I really hope that there’ll be more Deathwatch novels, or just short stories soon – I’ll certainly be on board for them.
Deathwatch is also a pretty strong book for newcomers to the Warhammer 40,000 Universe providing they have a basic understanding of the lore. I wouldn’t suggest it for somebody completley new to the Universe, you might want to try either Dan Abnett’s Gaunts Ghosts / Eisenhorn Omnibus, or check out what fellow Founding Fields reviewer Shadowhawk has to offer on the subject here . As already mentioned, it gives an introduction to a variety of Chapters and explains how the Deathwatch function clearly, as well as providing explanations for certain terms – but all the terms are fresh, and I haven’t encountered them before in the Black Library Universe.
So, what next? Now that I’ve returned to the realm of Black Library, I’m thinking that my next purchase will probably be along the lines of Baneblade by Guy Hayley, as I’d prefer to either wait for paperbacks or buy ebooks. And Guy Hayley is an author whose work for Angry Robot I’ve really enjoyed, so I’m hoping he can deliver within the Warhammer 40,000 Universe.
“Excellent stuff, Guy Haley makes his debut in the Warhammer 40,000 Universe a triumphant one. This is an incredible read, exciting and action packed. You won’t want to put it down.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"By the blessing of the Omnissiah was the Mars Triumphant born – from the forges of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the mighty Baneblade super-heavy battle tank comes to bring death and destruction to the foes of the Imperium. As part of the Paragonian 7th Company, Honoured Lieutenant Marken Cortein Lo Bannick commands the venerable war machine in a bitter war against the orks in the Kalidar system. As the campaign grinds on it begins to take its toll upon his crew, and old clan prejudices from the regiment’s home world arise once more. In a war which cannot be won by force of arms alone, such division may prove to be their undoing."
I may have fallen out of the Black Library universe and haven’t read as much as I would have liked – up until near the end of 2013, I was reading pretty much every release that they put on the shelves. Now though, I’ve stopped reading a large amount of their output, and it’s something that I regret more and more when I get stuck into awesome books like these – especially when Guy Haley has put out such brilliant work for Angry Robot Books and Solaris in the past. Both his Richards and Klein series and Crash have been amazing and I was really expecting more of the same in his Black Library work, and thankfully – he didn’t disappoint, creating a wonderfully fun read.
Meet the next Imperial Guard protagonist. We’ve had Gaunt, Cain, and now, meet Lo Brannick. No longer a member of the planet’s ruling elite, he enlisted in the muster call of the Imperial Guard in order to avoid authorities. So he doesn’t quite come from the same background as either Gaunt, who was one of the few survivors of the doomed world of Tanith, or Cain – who served as a Commisioner following the deaths of his parents, who died whilst serving in the Imperial Guard. So Brannick is far from a carbon copy of successful Black Library characters – with enough distinguishing features to make him a rootable and strong lead character. Brannick finds himself joining the Imperial Guard to fight armies of Orks on Kalidar IV, and to make things more difficult, not only must he deal with the xenos, but also the harsh desert sandstorms of the planet, and dissent in his own ranks.
Whilst not quite a Titan, a Baneblade is the next best thing in terms of heavy mechanized vehicles for the Imperial Guard. The book itself really does deserve to be called Baneblade - it doesn’t feature sparingly and you could arguably call it a character in the book, much like you could make a case for Serenity being a character in Firefly. Brannnick joins the Baneblade crew – entitled Mars Triumphant - following the loss of his Leman Russ – and it’s a machine that has seen nearly a thousand years of active service within the Imperium, with its commander being Honoured Captain Cortein. Unlike Brannick though, Cortein is bland, and as a result one of the main flaws of the book. He doesn’t feel as well developed or intriguing as Brannick and company, and he lacks the personality to really become a memorable character.
Unfortunately, Cortein is not the only problem. The book drags out a bit in the middle with a couple of chapters that aren’t quite as interesting as the rest- and the ending also suffers from a case of being drawn out. However, that shouldn’t really put you off from reading this book – because for the most part, it’s a success. Not many Imperial Guard novels focus on tank crews – if I recall correctly Steve Parker’s Gunheads featured a Caidan tank crew, and it’s a refreshing break to read some non Space Marine action as well as it seems that now the vast majority of Warhammer 40,000 fiction is either split between the Horus Heresy series and the Space Marine Battles novels.
The story splits between the past and present in terms of narration, sticking to third person like most of Black Library’s novels. We get to learn a lot about Brannick’s past and Haley manages to handle both threads so that they never feel dull, and you never want to miss out one thread or the other. This helps give further depth to Brannick’s character and I would more than welcome future novels featuring him, especially given the ending in question. On top of that, the action is well written as well – with several awesome battle sequences throughout the book which is great because they never feel like merely “bolter porn”, with the end result being entertaining and it never gets dull.
So, for a first Black Library novel, Baneblade is a pretty damn good read by Hayley despite a few problems. It serves as a good standalone novel and could make for the start of a very interesting series. It’s not perfect, but still – the positive elements found here outweigh the negatives.