So once again I start off another book review with a spoiler warning. If you’re not caught up on Michael Connelly’s amazing series of police procedural novels starring Harry Bosch do yourself a favor and go get caught up right now, because I feel there’s no way I can properly discuss or elaborate on the events of the latest book in the series “The Crossing” without touching upon the end of the series last novel, “The Burning Room.”
Okay, for those of you still here “The Crossing” is another phenomenal example of why the Bosch series has remained so fresh, relevant, and exciting for 23 years now. Over the course of those almost two and a half decades It’s main character Police Detecive Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch has changed. The cases he investigates and the choices he makes impact his life, and we readers have been there to see all the heartbreaking, poignant, and powerful effects they’ve had on his life. As I hinted at earlier the choices Bosch made at the end of “The Burning Room” had a huge impact because they effectively ended his association with the Los Angeles Police Department.
When we catch up with Harry in “The Crossing” we see he’s been cut off from his calling of finding justice for those who no longer can and his life has kind of become directionless. Then his half-brother, another one of Connelly’s unforgettable creations, defense attorney Michael “Mickey” Haller, offers him a chance to get back to his mission, but to do that he has to do the unthinkable. He has to “cross over” to the other side and help his brother, the self styled “Lincoln Lawyer” prove a client’s innocence.
Following Bosch as he comes to term with his brother’s offer and with the fact that he doesn’t have the shield of his badge anymore to protect him in his investigations is fascinating. He’s a resourceful detective trying to find his way in a new world, one where his brother cops are going to turn their back on him and hassle him for “Crossing” over. Some readers might remember that several years back Harry gave up his Detective’s Shield for a few novels and became a private investigator, but what makes “The Crossing” different is the fact that in those novels Harry wasn’t actively working for a Defense attorney, something that would be anathema to him.
So this is definitely a novel where Bosch grows and changes as a character, and it’s exciting to watch him try and succeed at some things he’s never done and also make some large mistakes. It also gives the book a timely feel and forces Bosch to confront some dark truths about the criminal justice system.
“The Crossing” isn’t the first time Bosch and Mickey Haller have been in a book together, but it’s less like the novels “The Brass Verdict”and “The Reversal” where the characters were almost co-headliners. This novel is Bosch’s, but we do get to spend some time with Mickey and he remains a fascinating and fun supporting character. The chemistry he shares with his half-brother is fascinating.
We also get to spend some more time with Bosch’s daughter, Maddy, who we’ve watched grow up these last few novels. She’s getting ready to graduate high school and her relationship with her father is interesting and feels authentic. I hope if Connelly ever retires Bosch that he’ll focus on crime and detective stories with Maddy.
Another interesting aspect of “The Crossing” that I don’t believe Connelly has done much of in the past is he gives readers a chance to spend some time with some characters that are ultimately the villains of the story. We actually follow them for a few chapters. I don’t want to say much about those characters or the chapters for fear of spoilers, but they’re pretty interesting and effective. The more you spend with these characters the more you want to learn about their involvement in the story and the more you want them taken down.
So “The Crossing” is another reason why Michael Connelly is the best Police Procedural writer working today and a fantastic novelist. You get to follow character who feels like an old friend at this point through a powerful and exciting crime tale and a crossroads point in his life. The “Burning Room” left me excited for Connelly’s next Bosch novel and the finale of “The Crossing” has me even more excited to see what’s next for Connelly’s shared universe of characters.
I try to keep all my reviews spoiler free, but John Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker novel picks up directly from the explosive conclusion of the last book in the series, “The Wolf in Winter.” It also answers some questions about the larger supernatural story the writer has been telling over the course of the series, while raising more interesting questions. So I’m going to have to kick this review off with a very large SPOILER WARNING! If you haven’t read any of the books in Connolly’s Parker series go read them, and if you’re behind get caught up! you’ll be glad you did!.
So now that that’s out of the way let’s dive into the latest Parker novel “A Song of Shadows.” It’s quite an interesting read seeing how for most of it our lead character is trying hard to recover from the near fatal shooting he suffered at the end of “The Wolf in Winter.” So Parker is broken in body, but not mind or spirit. Connolly picks things up with his protagonist renting a house in a Small Maine vacation style town named Boreas So there’s a cool and almost melancholy vibe when things begin. It’s almost like the fascinating first season of BBC’s “Broadchurch”; not in terms of plot, but initial mood or tone.
Parker is in this town trying to get better with the assistance of his friends (two of the best supporting characters in crime– and heck any genre fiction!) Angel and Louis. It’s nice to have Angel and Louis as part of the story from the get go. It makes sense too considering these guys would be there for Parker as he’s trying to overcome his devastating physical injuries and decide if he’s going to go back to his old job as a private detective or become something different.
So Parker is testing himself physically day by day with walks and strengthening exercises and then trouble arrives to test him mentally and spiritually. That trouble appears in two forms; a body that washes up on shore and a haunted single mother neighbor whose sick daughter Parker bonds with. That connection opens the door to the emergence of a character who has become a regular reoccurring character in these books, Parker’s daughter, Samantha, who comes to visit him and has a playdate with his neighbor’s daughter.
I’ve always liked Sam. She’s been a cute and interesting character, but in “A Song of Shadows” you get a glimpse of just how interesting Sam really is. Questions are raised like does seeing and communicating with ghosts run in Parker’s family? And like Parker, does Sam have a larger supernatural destiny? Connolly provides some definite answers to some of those questions and some cool, creepy, and tantalizing hints about the others.
The parts with Sam were some of my favorite sections of the book, but the main mystery is fairly interesting as well. The washed up body puts Parker in the sights of hitman and a sinister conspiracy of people who have lots of blood on their hands; blood that’s decades old. So it’s not his reoccurring foes, The Believers, but it’s a conspiracy of people who are arguably just as evil, if not more so.
Investigating those crimes and recuperating brings Parker back into the circle of some other fun and fascinating faces, both old and new. Characters like the Fulci brothers and Parker’s Ex Rachel make some entertaining appearances, but I also enjoyed spending time with Parker’s state police contact Gordon Walsh, who finds himself becoming even more immersed in the Detective’s dark and sinister world. I also liked the Chief of Police in Boreas who found herself strangely drawn to Parker.
As far as big cases and explosive action go the one in “A Song in Shadows” is relatively quiet. Some people might be disappointed in that, but it makes sense. Ultimately, the novel is not about that. It’s a more quiet piece about a wounded man finding his way back and deciding what kind of destiny he wants for himself, while also discovering if he has any choice in that destiny. What Parker finds in those last pages of the book are both chilling and exciting. It sets the stage for some truly epic stories and takes the series in a new and interesting direction. As always, I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.
The Warhammer 40,000 universe is such a massive and entertaining one that it takes awhile to get to know it’s major players. As you read and become acquainted with the various heroes, villains, and armies that populate it you start to hear intriguing things from other fans about characters and concepts you may like. So when you finally get a chance to read about something like a Space Marine Legion you’ve heard so much about it you wonder if what you’ve heard will live up to the hype.
That’s what happened to me with the Ultramarines and writer Graham McNeill’s novels about their 4th company and it’s heroic leader Uriel Ventris. When I started the first “Ultramarines Omnibus” that contained McNeill’s novels “Nightbringer,” “Warriors of Ultramar” and “Dead Sky Black Sun” the Salamanders were my favorite Space Marine Legion thanks to their humanity and Nick Kyme’s great novels about the Sons of Vulkan. I was very curious about the Ultramarines though and their battle cry of “Courage and Honour” it seemed to me that they might be like the Captain Americas of the 40K universe.
Having finished the first “Ultramarines” omnibus I now realize the warriors of Ultramar are not quite like my favorite super hero, but they are fascinating and fun heroic characters and I loved reading about them. I’d say their now my second favorite Space Marine Legion.
For me part of the appeal of the Ultramarines is they’re consummate heroes. Their fun guys to root for when the chips are down and they refuse to let themselves be broken, but what makes their Legion especially interesting is that they’re literally the most “by the book” Space Marine Legion ever. That’s because their Primarch, Roboute Gulliman wrote the “Codex Astartes,” a sort of 40K version of “The Art of War.” A number of other Space Marine Legions follow the “Codex Astartes,” but to the Ultramarines it’s almost a sacred text. So it can hamper their effectiveness in the field.
That means characters like Uriel Ventris are faced with a great challenge. What happens when they’re put in a conflict where following the rigid instructions of the “Codex Astartes” means innocents and fellow battle brothers will die? Is Ventris’ duty to “Codex” alone or the larger principles of courage and honor?
Those are some of questions Ventris wrestles with over the course of the three novels. It’s fascinating to watch him grow as both a leader and a person as he sometimes decides he has to break away from the “Codex.” It’s also exciting to watch him deal with the consequences of his actions. And even though Ventris is an eight foot tall genetically engineered super soldier and no longer technically human he’s still easy to identify with. He suffers moments of doubt, uncertainty, sadness and horror as he navigates the three novels.
Uriel isn’t the only great character in the Ultramarine Omnibus. We also get to know a number of his battle brothers like Sergeant Pasanius; a big bruiser even for a Space Marine, and Uriel’s best friend. I have a soft spot for loyal strongmen types I think because of my love for Marvel Comics Thing, and Pasanius does share some of Grimm’s qualities especially when it comes to sticking by your friends. That loyalty was pretty moving and by the third book there’s almost a Frodo and Sam vibe to Ventris and Pasanius that is especially poignant
I also grew to really like Uriel’s sort of rival in the 4th Company, Sergeant Learchus. In the second book, “Warriors of Ultramar” McNeill gives him some scenes that shows just how cunning, capable and badass he is. McNeill also populates each book with an interesting cast of characters that inhabit the particular world Ventris and his battle brothers are fighting for or fighting on; like the law enforcers of the Adeptus Arbites in “Nightbringer,” the soldier and physician who is haunted by survivor’s guilt in “Warriors of Ultramar,” and the renegade Space Marines that Ventris and Pasanius encounter in “Dead Sky Black Sun”
As for the actual stories of the novels? They’re a lot of fun and it’s great that each book is a very different kind of tale. In “Nightbringer” Ventris and the 4th Company find themselves embroiled in a mysterious alien conspiracy that could spell doom for an entire planet and perhaps the galaxy. “Warriors of Ultramar” finds the 4th Company battling the Ultramarines most hated foe, the savage, ravenous bio organic monstrosities of the Tyranids. The fallout from that battle is felt in the final novel “Dead Sky Black Sun” where Ventris and Pasanius suddenly find themselves stranded on a demon world in the heart of the infernal “Eye of Terror.”
Of the three novels I think “Dead Sky Black Sun” is probably my favorite. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it reads like “Return of the King” if Mordor was turned up to 11 and Frodo and Sam were ass-kicking sci-fi warriors relying on nothing but their courage, cunning, and combat skills. Yes it’s that fun. McNeill has a great and cinematic way of writing fast and furious action scenes that reminded me of something that you’d see in a Matthew Vaughn film.
So, once again, yes the “Ultramarine Omnibus” did live up to the hype for me. It was an exciting and action packed read full of diverse stories and characters I really cared about. I can’t wait to tackle the second volume, which features the next three adventures in the saga of Uriel Ventris.
I don’t do reviews of them, but late last year I began listening to audio books, while I drive. They’ve proven to be a fun and fulfilling way to pass the time while doing an activity I’m not a fan of. A lot of what I’ve been listening to are books that I always thought looked great, but never got around to for some reason or another. One such series was the acclaimed “Expanse” novels by the two writers who use the collective pen name of James S.A. Corey. I’m glad I tried them because they’re living up to the hype surrounding them.
They take place in this great “lived in” style future reminiscent of television shows like “Firefly” or the new “Battlestar Galactica” where humanity has colonized the solar system. Things are better in some ways, but humanity still suffers from many of the same problems like greed and tribalism. Corporations along with the governments of Earth and Mars are the predominant forces within the solar system while the impoverished asteroid colonies and further out planets look to aid from a burgeoning almost revolutionary style group called the Outer Planets Alliance. Against that back drop a series of exciting and fun narratives that involves high adventures and almost “X-Files” style conspiracy/mystery unfold.
I was able to listen to the first two books in the series: “Leviathan Wakes,” and “Caliban’s War” via audio books from my local library, but my library didn’t have the third book in the series “Abaddon’s Gate” available via audio. So I had to seek that out via print. It was a little weird shifting narrative mediums, but once I got used to it “Abaddon’s Gate” proved to be just as a fun and a fulfilling read as the other books in the series.
This is a good point in the review to stop and warn you. I try to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, but seeing as how “Abaddon’s Gate” is the third book in a series it’s going to be hard to discuss it without spoiling some things from the previous books. So if you have not yet read “Leviathan Wakes” of “Caliban’s War” consider this the point of return. Turn back now and go read (or listen) to those books! You’ll be glad you did. They’re fantastic, and don’t worry we’ll wait for you!
Like the previous books in the series “Abaddon’s Gate” unfolds as a series of point of view style chapters where we follow a particular character and the characters that are in their metaphorical and in some cases literal orbit. The main group of course is Captain James Holden and the crew of his ship The Rocinante who helped save the solar system in the last two novels. I’ve grown to really love Holden, his girlfriend and the ships X.O Naomi Nagata, ship’s pilot Alex Kamal, and the Roci’s chief engineer Amos Burton.
Of the four, Holden and Amos are probably my favorites. Holden is a great mix of a Mal Reynolds type with the idealism of someone like Captain Kirk. Amos is one of those fascinating characters that you often see in crime fiction that stick with a noble hero and protect them and their idealism by doing things that might be a little morally murky like Robert B Parker’s Hawk or Robert Crais’ Joe Pike. Holden is the Roci crew member who gets his own P.O.V. chapter, but I’ve love to see future books featuring an Amos chapter or even ones that follow Naomi or Alex.
The other POV chapters feature all new characters. The first new P.O.V. chapter introduces readers to Carlos “Bull” de Bacca a world weary veteran of the OPA who gets assigned as head of security on a massive ship called the Behemoth. Then we’re introduced to Melba, a mysterious woman with a grudge against James Holden. The final new POV character is Anna Volovodov a Methodist Minister.
Initially I wasn’t happy about these new characters because I wanted some P.O.V. chapters from Martian Marine Roberta “Bobbi” Draper or foul mouthed UN politician Chrissjen Avasarala, two of my favorite characters from the last novel. I really enjoyed getting to know these new characters though. I took to Bull right away. Anna’s decency and care for the wellbeing of her fellow man also won me over. Melba initially proved to be a very frustrating character, but I think that’s the point. She also goes on a pretty fascinating journey over the course of the novel.
We get to know these characters and get to follow the crew of the Roci again as they embark upon a journey to the mysterious gateway in space constructed by that the alien protomolecule at the end of the last novel. It seems a lone ship has travelled through it. So the Martian, Earth, and OPA Navies are sending a flotilla of ships to investigate. Holden and his crew receive a contract that leads to them being part of the flotilla.
Now we head into spoiler territory and I don’t want to ruin any of the novels wonderful twists and surprises. So I’m going to talk generally. The mystery of the gate and what might be on it’s other side is a large part of the plot of “Abaddon’s Gate.” The answers the authors provide you with are pretty satisfying and they ultimately lead to some big pay offs.
Those answers also set up some phenomenal action scenes that are really character driven. There isn’t as much ship to ship combat as there was in previous books, but the last half of the novel is full of exciting, twisty, and often poignant action. You got to see a lot of characters pushed to their limits and then some. They were scenes that illustrated the heroism and humanity of many of the book’s characters. The novel was pretty perfectly paced too.
So “Abbadon’s Gate” was my first print Expanse novel, but it proved to be just as great an experience as listening to the series on audio. The ending of the book introduces a set up that will make future novels even more interesting. So I’m excited to read future books in the series and I’m also very curious about Syfy’s television adaptation of the series, which begins in December. If it’s even half as good as the books it will be amazing because for me “The Expanse” is quickly becoming one of the most fun and fascinating series in scifi.
When you read novels in a series of books you start to expect certain things. So it can be a little frustrating and off putting when you come across an entry in a series that doesn’t deliver what you’ve come to expect right away. If you have patience with these books though they can sometimes surprise you and take you places you don’t expect while still delivering what you’ve come to love from the series later on.
That’s just what happened to me while reading “Descent of Angels” by Mitchel Scanlon, the sixth entry in Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” series, which chronicles the epic galactic civil war that lays the ground work for their “Warhammer 40,000” line of novels. So if you’re looking for a novel that gives you epic battles with Space Marines (the genetically engineered super soldiers that serve as many of the focus characters in the “Horus Heresy”) you might want to skip “Descent of Angels,” or perhaps read it another time. If you don’t have patience with the book it will frustrate you. So it might not be for every “Horus Heresy” or “Warhammer 40k” fan.
That’s because instead of kicking off his narrative right around the time of the titular Horus Heresy Scanlon rewinds things back quite a few years. Each book of the “Horus Heresy” series puts the focus on the members of one of the 20 original Space Marine Legions and the civilians that might be caught up in their orbit at the time, and in “Descent of Angels” Scanlon focuses on the Legion known as the Dark Angels, but he kicks thing off several years before the Dark Angels are even a Legion. So it’s very much an origin story of the Legion instead of a tale focusing on their role in the Horus Heresy (I imagine we’ll get more of that in a later book titled “Fallen Angels”)
So “Descent of Angels” begins on Caliban, what will become the home planet of the Dark Angels legion. It’s an interesting world in that it’s been cut off from the rest of humanity for thousands of years. So much so that the population starts to wonder if the tales they’ve heard about Terra, the ancient birth planet of humanity, are really ancient myths. The technology on the planet is very much a mix of science fiction and medieval; soldiers wear crude power armor and carry high tech pistols, but they also carry swords and ride horses.
The society of Caliban is very much medieval too. Knightly orders exist to protect the planet’s populace from roaming monsters that jump out of the heavily wooded areas to commit acts of whole sale slaughter. So Scanlon really brings Caliban to life. One of the things I love about “Horus Heresy” and “40K” novels is the fantastic places the writers take us. Like I said though, this is a very different place then what’s found in many other novels in the series. So be prepared for that. At the beginning “Descent of Angels” feels almost like a medieval fantasy.
That’s because we start off by following the exploits of, Zahariel, a young supplicant to Caliban’s most popular group of knights, The Order. When we meet him Zahariel is one of the Order’s most promising trainees and that’s due in part to his friendly rivalry with his cousin Nemiel. The duo inspire each other. Nemiel is more of a pragmatist. So he’s a decent character, but Zahariel is an idealist ready to give his brothers and people the benefit of the doubt, which I thought made him a pretty likeable lead character.
So we follow Zahariel on his exploits to become a full fledged knight, which involves several tasks. Perhaps my favorite is one that happens early on and does involve some fun, creepy, clues about the supernatural nature of the 40K universe. Then we follow Zahariel, Nemiel, and their fellow knights lead by the demigod like Lion El’Johnson and his friend Luther as they set out to liberate their world from the monsters (both creatures and human) that terrorize it.
That struggle takes up over half the book. Then comes the inevitable meeting between the Order and the forces of the Imperium of Man, which leads to the founding of the Dark Angels. This section of the book continues to be interesting as Zahariel deals with the great changes that’s come to his world in such a short time. It’s got some fun training sequences. It also has a surprise appearance by one of Warhammer 40K world’s most legendary characters and it’s handled really well. When this character appears it’s like “Woah!” Scanlon capture the majesty of the character quite well.
From there Lion El’Johnson, who is one of the long lost demigod like Primarchs created by the Imperium of man’s leader, the God Like Emperor, takes command of the Dark Angels. The newly founded Space Marine Legion then heads out into space as part of the Imperium’s Great Crusade to reunite the various planets colonized by humanity. This section of the book feels most like your typical “Horus Heresy” or “Warhammer 40K” style adventure. It’s almost like a fun little short story that has the Dark Angels confronting a hidden threat on a very interesting world.
So in terms of overall story “Descent of Angels” is a little disjointed, but thats okay. The individual parts of the story are interesting enough and the characters that populate the novel are very intriguing and fun to follow. A lot of what happens is setting the stage for the Dark Angels later on and readers familiar with that will catch some ominous hints of that set up.
With “Descent of Angels” Scanlon has written a very different “Horus Heresy” novel and that’s okay. It might not be for everyone, but if you’re patient and allow yourself to enjoy the ride and the characters he introduces you too the book is very rewarding. It also did it’s job of making me more interested in the Dark Angels, a Space Marine Legion I didn’t know a whole lot about. So I’m excited to hopefully revisit a number of characters that Scanlon introduced me to in a later novel.
You ever experience a story that is just so exciting, compelling, and powerful it just kind of leaves you dumb struck? Or a tale that’s so entertaining and informative that it’s awe inspiring? It’s happened to me a few times. I remember walking out of the movie “Heat” just feeling dazzled and overwhelmed by the powerful and complex tale I had just witnessed. It happened again on a regular basis while watching the HBO series “The Wire.” It’s also happened with graphic novels like Jason Aaron’s “Scalped” series from Vertigo and in prose novels like James Ellroy’s “American Tabloid.”
That feeling also came to me during and after I finished Don Winslow’s epic drug war novel “The Power of the Dog.” It was one of the best books I ever read. It’s an amazing 30 year crime saga. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it now! I’ll be here when you get back. So Winslow set the bar pretty high for epic crime sagas, which meant I was both excited and a little nervous when I heard he was working on “The Cartel,” a sequel to the “Power of the Dog” which would unfold over the course of 10 years. It turns out I was right to be excited and silly to be nervous. Because I’m happy to report that “The Cartel” is also one of the best books I’ve ever read, and it may even be better than “The Power of the Dog.”
Winslow’s “The Power of the Dog” revolved around a sprawling cast of characters but at the book’s center was the relationship between DEA agent Art Keller and drug lord Adan Barrera. In “The Cartel” Winslow returns to Keller and Barrera who continue to be fascinating characters. The experiences of the last book have fueled their enmity and continue to haunt and drive them. So watching their feud flare back up and seeing the directions it goes feels natural, organic, and heartbreaking. These are two deeply flawed protagonists and like all great crime fiction neither character is entirely good or entirely bad despite the fact that they’ve been cast in the roles of lawman and lawbreaker.
The Keller-Barrera rivalry is sort of the center of “The Cartel” but a whole host of fascinating characters are drawn into their orbit. We meet the staff of a Mexican newspaper, various drug traffickers, sicarios, soldiers, and civilians trying to navigate the dark and dangerous place their world has become thanks to the drug war in Mexico. What’s great is for pretty much all of these characters you’re swept right up into their stories right away. Some you don’t meet until hundreds of pages into the book, but when you do meet them their part of the world is really interesting and continues to be even more interesting. Plus like Keller and Barrera, many of these characters are also complex and flawed. Some are stubborn people taking a heroic stand, some are idealists losing their way, some are bullies and murderers that I hated with passion, and some are drug dealing killers that I almost sort of rooted for.
The action and story in “The Cartel” is exciting and fascinating. You’re dropped into the middle of gun battles and lightning fast commando raids. It’s also kind of a gut punch though too. Make no mistake, this is a novel about war. People die. Some of them in horrible ways.
So “The Cartel” is a novel that will break your heart. Winslow describes the horrors being perpetrated by the Cartels and their associates in a powerful and haunting manner. You really feel for the people caught up in the nightmare that is life in a country where violent drug cartels dominate almost all aspects of life. Making things even more powerful is the fact that Winslow did a lot of research for “The Cartel.” Many of the characters have been fictionalized, but many of the events and the organizations that perpetrate them are real.
Winslow uses that research and his characters to present a truthful and frightening argument against the drug war. It’s a war where only the rich and powerful profit. The poor and middle class are chewed up and spit out. Winslow also convincingly argues that much of the horrors and evil perpetrated on Mexico and it’s people is the fault of America’s appetite for drugs. People are tortured, murdered, sold, and exploited in Mexico because in my country life has gotten so horrible for some people that they feel the need to escape their life with drugs.
On the back cover of “The Cartel” one of my favorite writers, Michael Connelly, proclaims, “There is no higher mark for a storyteller than to both educate and entertain. With Winslow these aspects are entwined like strands of DNA. He’s a master and this book proves it once again.” Having finished the book I must wholeheartedly agree with Connelly. “The Cartel” is the best type of fiction it moves you, excites you, and makes you think. It’s a hell of a book; one of the best I’ve ever read.
When most people think of Warhammer 40,000 they imagine it’s trademark power armor clad, genetically engineered, super human, bad-asses the Space Marines. I was introduced to Black Library’s thrilling series of 40K novels via another fascinating character type though, the agents of the Imperial Inquisition. If the Space Marines are the Supermen of 40K characters than the Inquisition are sort of the Batmen– well a mixture between Batman, James Bond, and the hunters of “Supernatural” if they existed in a high tech setting. So they’re morally gray, very human bad-asses that can embark upon a variety of stories. I loved that about them. That human quality was what kept me from reading Space Marine stories for awhile.
That was my loss. Having recently read the first five entries in the Horus Heresy series and the stories that make up Nick Kyme’s “Salamander” omnibus I now see that the genetically enhanced soldiers of the Adeptus Astartes can be fascinating characters in their own right. So I was very intrigued by Ben Counter’s “Grey Knights Omnibus” which combines Space Marines with the Inquisition since the titular characters serve as the Chamber Militant, or private army of the Ordo Malleus, the branch of the Inquisition charged with hunting demons. Adding to my excitement was the fact that Counter penned probably my favorite entry in the Horus Heresy books I’ve read so far “Galaxy in Flames,” the series third book. Having now finished the three books that make up the “Grey Knights Omnibus”: “Grey Knights,” “Dark Adeptus,” and “Hammer of Demons” I’m happy to say the book was even better than I expected it to be. I loved all three books, especially “Hammer of Demons!’
Like any great Warhammer 40K novel the books that make up the “Grey Knights”omnibus feature a lot of action and Counter is great at staging a variety of different action scenes. We get hostage stand offs in massive high tech office buildings that have been taken over by demon worshipping cults, a massive melee battle between power armor clad Grey Knights and the medieval warriors of a feudal planet, cat and mouse pursuit involving techno-demons and sinister bio-mechanical warriors, a finale to the second novel that has to be read to believed (I’m not spoiling it here!), and a whole series of really cool hand-to-hand and insane large scale battles in the third novel. Counter expertly stages these scenes. The pace of them is fun and exciting and you feel their impact.
As a bonus you also get some really cool scenes of space ship combat. You don’t often get outer space combat in 40K novels where much of the action takes place on the ground, but the “Grey Knights Omnibus” featured some exciting space battles that came about organically and added some tension and excitement to the larger narratives.
There was so much diverse action in the Omnibus because in each book Counter told three very different types of stories. The first book in the series “Grey Knights” was the type of story you initially think about when you’d imagine a group of demon hunting Space Marines affiliated with the Inquisition. In it Justicar Alaric and the fellow members of his Grey Knights squad are tasked with aiding an Inquisitor investigating a prophecy about a powerful demon prince escaping his prison in the otherworldly dimension known as the Warp. “Dark Adeptus” is sort of a “behind enemy lines” style story where the world of the Grey Knights collides with the world of Warhammer 40K’s mysterious tech priests, the Adeptus Mechanicus. It follows Alaric, the other Grey Knights from his squad that survived the first book, some members of the Inquisition, and an expedition of tech priests as they explore a mysterious Forge World, the technological centers of the Imperium of Man, that has suddenly reappeared after vanishing over a century ago. Then the final book “Hammer of Demons” finds Alaric trapped on a hellish demon world; an entire planet dedicated to the worship of the murderous Chaos God, Khorne.
I loved that Counter gave us three distinct stories. It gave the book a nice variety and it also added towards what’s become one of my favorite aspects of Warhammer 40K novels; the travelogue feel to them. It feels like authors of Black Library’s 40K books really strive to give the planets where their stories take place unique feels. In “Grey Knights” Counter took readers to several very different and distinct worlds. In the latter two novels the author took the chance to explore in depth two strange and inhospitable planets. So setting was very much a big part of these novels for me and really added to the larger stories Counter was telling.
Action and setting are fun elements of course, but they don’t necessarily make for good stories. Good characters are key for good stories and in his “Grety Knights Omnibus” Counter presents us with a fantastic lead character in the form of Justicar Alaric. Over the course of the three tales you really get to see Alaric grow and change. It was fun and exciting to watch and it was not unlike what Dan Abnett did with his protagonist in his amazing “Eisenhorn” trilogy of novels, which were my introduction to Black Library’s “Warhammer 40,000” fiction line. Part of what made Alaric’s journey so fun was watching him deal with the complications and difficult choices that come with fighting demons and seeing how that affected his faith in the God Emperor of Mankind (An almost deity like figure that the humans and many Space Marines of 40K revere and in some cases outright worship) and his duty to humanity.
You really get to see that in “Hammer of Demons” which in some ways was a difficult book to read because I was really invested in Alaric as a character by that time. Ultimately though “Hammer of Demons” was the best of the three books in the Omnibus though and one of the best 40K books I’ve ever read. Again, I don’t want to spoil much, but the book’s setting of a world conquered by demons means Alaric undergoes an epic journey that challenges his faith and devotion to duty and forces him to grow as a person. It’s thrilling and powerful stuff and featured some real moving quotes about hope and humanity.
Alaric wasn’t the only interesting character in “The Grey Knights Omnibus” either. Over the course of the three novels you meet some complex heroes and vile villains. My favorites were Inquisitor Ligea, Alaric’s battle brother Dvorn, Interrogator Hawkespur, and the demonic Duke Venalitor who I really hated.
So if you’re a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, or are looking for a good place to get acquainted with it for the first time, pick up the “Grey Knights Omnibus.” It’s a hell of a read that’s fun, exciting, poignant and powerful. It left me wanting more from both Ben Counter and the titular demon hunters of the Ordo Malleus.