Warhammer 40K and Horus Heresy novels can do a lot of things. They can take you to strange and futuristic worlds, present intriguing characters, offer up fascinating and complex moral questions, but most of all they’re kick-ass adventure tales. The best ones are all of those things, but that doesn’t mean the ones that don’t do several of those things or the ones that just end up telling an over the top, in your face, Heavy Metal, adventure story are necessarily bad. Quite the contrary. I look for entertainment and things that the author does right in my 40K novels, which is probably why I didn’t judge Mitchell Scanlon’s Horus Heresy novel “Descent of Angels” as harshly as some reviewers and maybe as harshly as I should of.
I say that because I just finished the eighth novel in the Horus Heresy series, Ben Counter’s “Battle for the Abyss” and I liked it. It may not have done a lot of the other stuff I enjoy about Horus Heresy novels, but it was a kick-ass, over the top in the best Heavy Metal sort of way adventure story. So was it “Legion,” Dan Abnett’s fantastic seventh entry in the Horus Heresy? No, but “Battle for the Abyss” was still a heck of a lot of fun.
In the book Counter winds time back a little bit until just before most of the Imperium of Man is aware that the Space Marine Legions of the Primarch Horus and the Legions of several of his brother Primarchs have rebelled against the Imperium. One of the Traitor Legions, the Word Bearers, lead by the religious zealot Primarch Lorgar Aurellian who worships the four malevolent Chaos gods, are looking to make a devastating secret first strike against the Ultramarines, one of the most righteous and by the book of the Loyalist Space Marine Legions. So with the help of the traitorous Tech Priests of Mars that have sided with Horus, Lorgar sends a massive warship loaded with fanatical members of his Legion to launch a surprise attack on Macragge, the Ultramarines’ home world.
In the early stages of “Battle for the Abyss” a ragtag band of Space Marines from several different Legions catch wind of Lorgar’s scheme and head off on a desperate pursuit to stop it. So Counter’s story starts off as sort of a chase novel and one of ship to ship combat, and honestly those are the weakest and slowest parts of “Battle for the Abyss.”
I enjoy it when the colossal void ships of the Warhammer universe battle, but for me “Battle for the Abyss” didn’t pick up until midway through the book when Counter opens the door for man to man battles between Space Marines. That point is where the battle against the Word Bearers and the Loyalist Space Marines gets really savage and interesting. The void ship battles pick up too because then they become battles of endurance where the mettle of Counter’s battered, bloodied, and weary heroes is tested in a multitude of ways.
It’s also where Counter tuns the action up to 11 and things get epically METAL! We get running gun battles and savage melee combat between Space Marines. At one point a Space Marine battles a demon on a collapsing star ship. I’ll say that again a SPACE MARINE BATTLES A DEMON ON A COLLAPSING STAR SHIP! When I read that fight I almost dropped the book because I had to throw up Dio style metal horns with my one of my hands. It was that cool.
Of course the battles don’t mean anything if you’re not invested in the characters and by the time the final battles start I was invested in the heroes of “Battle of the Abyss” and I really wanted to see the villains taken down– and hard. In terms of characters Counter did something a little different from previous Horus Heresy novels he drew his cast from several different Space Marine Legions instead of just one or two. That had both advantages and drawbacks.
The main drawback was that we didn’t get to take as deep a dive into the warrior cultures of the Space Marines as we had in other novels. Counter does give us quite a bit of insight into the Word Bearers since they’re the antagonists of the novel, and we get some about the Ultramarines since members of their legion make up the bulk of the force trying to stop the Word Bearers, but we get less about the cultures of the other, and in my opinion far more interesting Legions the Space Wolves, the World Eaters, and the Thousand Sons. Of course the other draw back is with time split between so many different heroes and villains it’s harder to get to know and appreciate them all.
As I said though, by the end I was fully invested in Counter’s cast. The Word Bearers are great villains and Counter uses them effectively. They’re fanatical super soldiers, that make pacts with demons and worship evil gods. So they’re fearsome and incredibly fun to hate. Counter’s heroes were kind of a mixed bag starting off. It took me a while to bond with his main Ultramarine characters since they can be a little stodgy especially if there’s not room to develop them, but the writer makes them more likable and interesting by forcing them to overcome huge obstacles and make tough calls. So by the end I was cheering for Captain Cestus, the leader of the Ultramarines and the commander of Counter’s intrepid band of heroes.
I have a soft spot for members of the Traitor Space Marine Legions who went against their Primarchs and stood by the Emperor of Mankind. So I was very happy that we got not just one, but two of those characters in “Battle for the Abyss,” the World Eater Skraal and the member of the sorcerous Thousand Sons Legion known as Mhotep. Both of those characters were fascinating and well used by Counter.
Counter also includes some Space Wolves in the band of heroes chasing down the Word Bearers, but I was not as impressed with his portrayals of them as I was his other heroes. Still, I did find myself rooting for their captain Brynngar– when he not being a jerk. Of course in Counter’s defense I’m not sure if I was supposed to like Brynngar and the Space Wolves for most of the book. The writer does provide some interesting explanations for their behavior in later chapters.
So in summary, “Battle for the Abyss” started off slow and came on really strong at the end. It may not have done as much as some of my other favorite 40K and Horus Heresy books, but it did do one thing and it did it exceedingly well– tell an epically over the top, action adventure story. And the end result was an incredibly fun book.
I started doing these book reviews as a writer’s exercise. Basically the goal was just to capture what felt about what I just read well also preserving any surprises that may come, because those can be some of the most enjoyable parts of a book; especially the kinds I read for enjoyment which are usually mystery/crime, horror, science fiction, fantasy and action adventure. Preserving those reveals can be a challenge though. Which is a good segue way into talking about Jonathan Maberry’s latest Joe Ledger novel “Kill Switch.” There’s so much cool stuff here, but you know what? I can’t talk about it! I don’t want to spoil it for you. So let’s see what we can do.
In many ways “Kill Switch” is a payoff novel. If you’ve followed Joe Ledger through his seven other adventures you’re going to love “Kill Switch.” This is a book where a lot of the pieces from other novels come together to give you some solid and exciting answers, but at the same time raising more questions. I can also say if you love Joe Ledger and the DMS this book is going to hurt you. It’s going to worry you, and if you’re like me there’s a good chance it might even make you cry in some (and in my case a lot of) spots.
From that pain though that Maberry inflicts on his cast and us readers comes some great drama. We already know that Joe and his colleagues are tough, heroes, but in “Kill Switch” we get to see how tough they are as they tangle with situations that would break the hearts and snap the sanity of lesser people. We also get to see that these larger than life heroes are human. Because they fail and they fall on more than one occasion, but they get up and they keep trying to hold back the darkness even against impossible odds.
When I say impossible odds I’m not kidding either. I can’t delve too deep into that area because, again spoilers! (The book really is a wild and fun ride of “OH SHIT!” and “HELL YEAH!” moments). Let’s just say this time Joe, Mr. Church and the DMS are up against a many headed hydra that includes real world foes, old foes, secret cabals of powerful and wealthy men, and what just might be the forces of one of the greatest horror franchises ever created. If you’re a fan of that horror franchise you’ll be happy to see that Maberry is clearly a fan as well. The book is full of fun little easter eggs and direct homages to said franchise.
What makes the story even more powerful though is at its core one of the things “Kill Switch” is about is the relationship between fathers and sons. There’s more I want to say here, but again spoilers! I can say these relationships involve some new and fascinating characters that are incredibly nuanced. You look at a character one way, but then you look at them through the eyes of that father-son relationship and you see him in other powerful and sometimes poignant ways. I will also say I love one of these new characters and hope that we see them again in future Ledger novels.
So if you’re a fan of Jonathan Maberry this book has it all! It might even have some fun nods to his other book series! For me, The Ledger series has sort of become the novel equivalent of the big summer movie blockbuster. They hit right around the time summer begins and every year they never disappoint. This year was no exception. In fact having gone through “Kill Switch” with Joe Ledger and his DMS family I would say I’m more invested than ever in these characters. Maberry leaves them with a perfect ending and you can bet when he picks them up again in the next Ledger book I’ll be right beside them yelling, “Hooah!”
With “I Am Slaughter” writer Dan Abnett, one of the Black Library’s best authors kicked off their newest event series “The Beast Arises” with a bang. It was a fun and thrilling read, populated with fascinating characters, and imaginative worlds. Best of all it gave us a glance of something we’ve never really seen in Warhammer 40,000; the Imperium of Man in a state of relative peace. So I was excited to tackle the next chapter in the year long event story line, the novel “Predator, Prey” by Rob Sanders, a writer whose work I had not read before.
Let’s get my one real problem with the book out of the way first. I’m not really a fan of the Orks as villains. They’re entertaining as obstacles and side missions, but to me they’re kind of forces of nature like the Tyranids. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re truly terrifying like how they were when Abnett wrote them in “I Am Slaughter” and other times they’re just sort of faceless obstacles like how they were portrayed here. Don’t get me wrong. The action scenes still crackled and were full of tension and intrigue, but with wave after wave of unrelenting ork slaughter some scenes felt like a disaster movie rather than a battle with a monstrous force of foes.
So in future novels I’m hoping to see more personalities within the Orks. I also want to see what united them and armed them with their fearsome and awesome attack moons. I sense something there and it could be Sanders wasn’t allowed to reveal that yet since he was charged more with setting the table in this second entry to “The Beast Arises.”
What Sanders does succeed at in “Predator, Prey” is creating some memorable places and populating them with interesting characters. For me, the most fascinating place was Undine an aquatic hive world where giant cities floated on chemical seas. On that world we follow the fight for survival of Lux Allegra, a member of the Planet’s defense force and her allies. Lux is a pretty likable character and her planet is a really interesting one; especially when Sanders takes us to one of the fringe cites that have developed on the water world. The action on Undine was fast and furious. So despite my complaint about faceless orks the scenes there still work. I loved the scope and scale of everything.
The other new batch of characters Sanders introduces are the Fist Examplars, a Second Founding (think spin off) Space Marine chapter that originated from the Imperial Fists. In “I Am Slaughter” Abnett really captured the culture of the Imperial Fists and it was one of my favorite things about the book. Here the Examplars, especially their sort of leader Maximus Thane, are interesting characters and there’s some fun action scenes with them, but there’s not as much about what makes them distinctive. They didn’t resonate with me as much as the few scenes Sanders included with their more fanatical brethren in the Black Templars, another spin off chapter of the Imperial Fists.
Sanders also gets to have some fun with returning characters like Drakan Vangorich, the Grandmaster of the Offfico Assassanorum, and his chief enforcer Beast Krule. These scenes are a lot of fun. Sanders has a knack for action, but the political machination scenes were also highly enjoyable.. It was also interesting to see the underlying tension in the political arrangement between the Imperium of Man and the Machine Cult of the Adeptus Mechanicus. There’s a few chapters that give you some clever insight into just how delicate the arrangement between the two cosmic empires are and illustrate how self motivated each can be. I say that too as someone who doesn’t really find the Adeptus Mechanicus all that interesting.
So despite the one slight problem I had “Predator, Prey” was still a pretty great entry in “The Beast Arises” series. I’m excited to see what comes next especially with the really cool reveal that Sanders gives readers in the book’s final chapter.
As I’ve come to get to know and love the diverse, dystopian, science fantasy world of Games Workshop and Black Library’s “Warhammer 40,000” I’ve discovered one of the reasons why the genetically engineered fan favorite warriors of the various Space Marine legions are so popular is the original 18 legions and the thousand of others that formed in subsequent foundings is the eclectic cultures they hail from and the cool premises behind them. For instance, the members of the Space Wolf legion essentially are futuristic vikings with werewolf style powers. I repeat futuristic vikings with werewolf powers! That’s a fantastic premise with a lot of promise.
So I was excited to read “The Space Wolf Omnibus” by William King which collects his first three novels featuring the titular Space Marine Legion, “Space Wolf,” “Ragnar’s Claw,” and “Grey Hunter.” Now having finished the book I can whole heartedly say that King took the awesome and very Metal premise of the Space Wolves and fleshed it out into something fun and fascinating. He also expertly and slowly immerses readers into the big, exciting world of 40k. If you or a friend are looking for an introduction into the 40K universe and it’s larger lore “The Space Wolf Omnibus” is a good place for them to start.
The culture of the Space Wolves revolves around the one found on the “Death World” (a planet inhospitable to human life) of Fenris. It’s a snowy world of islands so its human population very much lives as the ancient Vikings did; as seafaring warriors and hunters who battle rival clans for territory. It’s from these clans that the Space Wolves, who are viewed as god like beings and sorcerers recruit new aspirants.
So in “Space Wolf” King kicks things off with a chapter that throws you headlong into an exciting battle, with the protagonist of the three novels, Ragnar Blackmane, and then in chapter two he winds the clock back and reintroduces us to a very young Ragnar who is still a pretty fierce warrior even at his young age. You get to spend some time with him and the members of his clan as they use one of their boats to ferry a Space Wolf back to one of their facilities. Then King plunges you headfirst into the tragic events that lead Ragnar to become a potential recruit for the Sixth Space Marine Legion. What makes the story even more interesting is that a mortal enemy of Ragnar’s clan named Strybjorn is recruited at the same time as Ragnar and the two are forced to cooperate.
From there we follow Ragnar and his fellow aspirants through the various trials of becoming a Space Wolf. We get to learn a lot more about the fascinating and frozen environment of Fenris and the customs of the Space Wolves. You also learn a lot more about Ragnar and his unique perspective among the Space Wolves.
So “Space Wolf” is definitely more of a character driven novel and probably my favorite of the three in this omnibus. Ragnar’s journey from human to genetically enhanced warrior is a pretty epic one and watching him learn about the larger universe is fun if you’re new to the world of 40K or someone who’s pretty knowledgeable like myself. In the final part of the book King tests the mettle of Ragnar and his new Space Marine comrades by forcing them to confront one of their Legion’s ancient and most hated foes.
In “Ragnar’s Claw” King introduces readers and Ragnar to another important 40K institution as the surviving Blood Claws are recruited by the Inquisition for a mission. It’s an exciting one that takes them to a variety of classic 40K locales like a world under siege by an Ork Waagh and a Space Hulk. The novel is very much a classic and fun adventure story as King’s heroes travel to various locales looking for pieces of an ancient artifact that will help them combat the powers of Chaos. The climax where Ragnar and his comrades invade an ancient Eldar temple to confront the forces of a specific Chaos God is especially satisfying.
Then in “Grey Hunter” King immerses readers deeper into the universe of 40K by upping the scope and scale of the novel to epic proportions. In the story Ragnar and most the of the Legion are called to defend a world sacred to the Space Wolves that is under siege by a massive army of Chaos aligned heretics. The story is pretty much a war novel with some thrilling set pieces. I particularly loved the boarding action Ragnar and his brethren engage in as they storm a hostile Chaos warship and the final apocalyptic confrontation with the leaders of the heretic army.
So over the course of “The Space Wolf Omnibus readers are given some breathtaking action sequences and taken to many strange alien vistas, but what really makes those scenes work is the connection the readers feel to Ragnar and his fellow Space Wolves. King really makes these characters larger than life. They’re daring in battle, loyal to their friends and love to celebrate victories with ale capable of intoxicating them even with their enhanced physiques.
Ragnar is especially interesting because of his introspective nature and the time we spend with him as he processes all theses new things and learns and deals with his inner demons like his hatred of Strybjorn or what appears to be claustrophobia (At first I wasn’t sure what to make of that because my understanding was Space Marines are genetically programmed to not feel fear, but I just let it go. It helped humanize Ragnar a bit)
My other favorite characters included Ragnar’s Seargeant, Hakon, and Berek Thunderfist, the Wolf Lord of Ragnar’s division of the Space Wolves. Hakon is a classic gruff but fair instructor type, and Berek Thunderfist is as cool and as Heavy Metal as his name suggests.
So if you’re looking for a great entry point into the “Warhammer 40,000” universe, or if you’re looking for three novels that celebrate some of it’s awesome fundamental and unique traits definitely check out “The Spacewolf Anthology.” It’s packed with fun action, cool characters, and makes great use of one of “Warhammer 40,000’s” most Metal premises
Book Review: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk: The Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain by David Goodman
When I was a growing up Saturday night for me was all about two wondrous television programs “The Muppet Show” and reruns of the original “Star Trek” series. The former probably helped shaped my sense of humor and wonder the latter my sense of adventure and heroism. Indeed several years later it was Star Trek that introduced me to the fact that heroism had a cost when I sat in a darkened theater with my dad and watched my beloved Mr. Spock sacrifice himself to save the Enterprise. It was the first time I realized my heroes could die. It was a pretty powerful moment and to this day when I hear Spock say, “I have been and always shall be your friend” tears come to my eyes.
As I grew older I still loved Spock, but my love for his best friend Captain James T. Kirk grew. I loved his never say die attitude, his sense of loyalty, his sense of humor, and his sense of adventure. He was my favorite Star Trek Captain until I met a man named Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, but that’s a story for another time. So I was saddened when Kirk was killed off in such a blah way in “Stark Trek: Generations” and then really happy when William Shatner with some help from the great Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens brought Kirk back in a series of fun novels. They were highly enjoyable reads, but after a while the series sort of lost steam for me.
Then last year I heard about David Goodman’s “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk: The Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain.” I was very curious. Could this be a chance to catch back up and relive the exploits of a hero who shaped so much of my youth? A chance to see some of Captain Kirk’s adventures from a different perspective? I had to find out. So I added the book to my Amazon wishlist and got it as a Christmas gift. I just finished the book and I’m happy to report that the answers to my two earlier questions was a resounding yes. “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” is a fun and fantastic read that captures the true spirit of Star Trek in the way the Nu-Trek series of films wishes it could.
When you first open “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” you’re greeted by a foreword by
Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy and it becomes clear from the get go that Goodman knows the characters he’s writing about. He perfectly nails McCoy’s voice. Then we get the book itself which is told in first person by the titular character, whose voice he also captured perfectly. Goodman then brings the book to a fantastic close with an afterword by Kirk’s best friend, a now older, wiser Spock and I can practically hear Leonard Nimoy’s voice in my head.
The other great thing about “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” is the fact that it’s a purely character driven story. Goodman expertly ties together Kirk’s childhood, years in Starfleet Academy, as well as both his television and small screen exploits into one singular narrative. It’s a tale that’s fun, exciting, powerful, and heartrendingly poignant. That’s because Goodman gets Kirk.
He understand that the galaxy’s greatest hero might have some swagger when it comes to romancing a green skinned alien woman or facing down a Klingon commander, but at heart he’s a humble man whose haunted by his failures. Over the course of the book you see Kirk both fulfilled and haunted by his commitment to duty. He struggles to forge a family outside of his career while not realizing how strong a family he has forged while sitting in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise.
There’s plenty of new stuff in “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” that’s interesting, but Goodman makes the parts you know, where Kirk recounts his film and television adventures, equally fascinating. I particularly loved how he handled the heartbreaking loss Kirk experienced in “City on the Edge of Forever” and the mixture of emotions that came as we got Kirk’s insight into the films “Wrath of Khan,” “Search for Spock,” “The Voyage Home,” and “Undiscovered Country.” I also loved how he handled the wretched fifth Trek film “The Final Frontier.” I’m not going to spoil it, but I think long time Trek fans will enjoy what Goodman does.
So if you’re a “Star Trek” fan or just looking for an insight into what makes a great hero tick do yourself a favor and pick up “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk.” It’s a fascinating look at the exploits of one of pop culture’s greatest and most wonderfully flawed heroes.
I’m a huge fan of idealistic characters who stick by their vows and what they believe in even when times get tough. So I was not surprised when I reached book three, “Galaxy in Flames” by Ben Counter, of Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” series that I would meet some of my favorite characters in all of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I’m taking of course about the Space Marines who stood loyal to their vow to the Emperor when their Legions went rogue and tried to kill them on Istvaan III. Of those characters my favorite is probably former Luna Wolf (He was never a Son of Horus) Garviel Loken.
“Galaxy in Flames” also introduced my second favorite Loyalist member of the Traitor Legions, Battle Captain Nathaniel Garro formerly of the Death Guard, but we didn’t really get to know him until James Swallow’s excellent fourth “Horus Heresy” novel “Flight of the Eisenstein,” which I loved. So I of course followed Garro to his own sort of sub-series within the “Horus Heresy” series. What was especially interesting about the Garro series is so far they’ve all been audio dramas, and they’ve all been amazing. If you haven’t listened to them do yourself a favor go and download them from Black Library’s website, or buy the boxed set of CD’s. You get Swallow’s stories, fun music and sound effects, but best of all you get Toby Longworth as a narrator. The man can make anything sound epic. I want Toby Longworth to narrate my life.
So this December I was especially intrigued when Black Library announced that the Garro series would be returning to print with a new novella titled “Garro: Vow of Faith.” You could get as an e-book, or splurge and get the deluxe limited edition signed hardcover. I had some extra money at the time so I bought the hardcover and I’m glad I did. It’s a fun book. It’s got a breathtakingly gorgeous Neil Roberts dust cover painting and the actual hardcover is made up to look like a heavily annotated copy of the Lectito Divinitatus, the holy book of Garro’s faith. The real question though was how was the story? Having just finished it I’m happy to report that “Vow of Faith” is another highly satisfying entry in the Garro series that moves the title character forward in some intriguing ways and also hints at the further development of one of my favorite Warhammer 40K institutions, the secretive Inquisition.
When we catch up with Garro in “Vow of Faith” he’s experiencing a bit of a crisis of faith and identity because he’s recovering from the shocking revelation at the end of “Shield of Lies,” where he discovered that his master, Malcador the Sigilite, a shadowy and powerful Psyker, is forming his own personal army to deal with the treachery of the Warmaster Horus and the other Traitor Legions that turned to Chaos. So Malcador gives his top agent some time off and Garro uses it to seek out the woman who changed his life back during “The Flight of the Eisenstein” novel, Euphrati Keeler, a mysterious and powerful woman who is venerated as a living saint by the underground church that worships the Emperor of Mankind as a god.
What follows is a fun novel of chase and intrigue as Garro sets out across Terra to find Keeler, but he’s not the only seeking that Saint. Two of Horus’ agents have infiltrated Terra and embarked upon a quest to assassinate Keeler.
It’s always fun to visit Terra in a 40K novel because it’s not a place we often see. It’s especially fascinating during the “Horus Heresy” because we’re getting a glimpse of Earth right as it’s come together after many years of divisive and apocalyptic warfare. In “Vow of Faith” Swallow takes Garro and us readers to some of the planet’s more fascinating locales including a vast desert, an arctic wilderness, a gigantic “walking city,” and a massive industrial metropolis that hovers above the Earth.
As we visit these locales we’re given moments of action and intrigue, but more importantly we’re along with Garro as he meditates on his faith and struggles to find the right path in the morally murky morass that life during the Horus Heresy has become. It’s great because as a Space Marine Garro is a deeply noble and larger than life hero, but he’s also very vulnerable and is plagued by many of the doubts that us mere mortals would have.
Along his journey to find Keeler and protect her from the assassins at her heels Garro meets some interesting characters. We learn something intriguing about the Imperial Fist Sigismund, especially given his later history. For me though the best encounters came at the end when Garro was reunited with both Keeler and Kyril Sindermann, the iterator (lecturer and sort of teacher) from the first four “Horus Heresy” novels. It was great revisiting these characters and seeing what they’ve come to stand for since I last read about them.
So ultimately one of the most interesting aspects of “Garro: Vow of Faith” is how Swallow tackles the idea of faith and how it drives people at this point in 40K history when the Imperium is basically a secular empire. You get to see how Garro’s faith impacts the crisis he’s going through and it ultimately leads him onto a pretty interesting path. The story also deepens the mystery of what exactly is going on with Euphrati Keeler. I’m as excited to read more about her as I am to read more about Garro.
My only real complaint about “Vow of Faith” is not really Swallow’s fault and that is the fact that by reading it I may have spoiled some Horus Heresy books I have not read yet. I won’t say which ones, but ultimately that’s okay. They’re not huge spoilers and for people who have read far enough those moments that provide connective tissue to other books might be pretty cool.
So for me, “Garro: Vow of Faith” was a pretty pricy read, but it was worth it. Swallow gave us a character driven story that took Garro back to his roots and put him on an exciting path. So I look forward to the next adventure of Garro even if Toby Longworth is not narrating, but I hope he is.
I was late to the party in terms of discovering Black Library’s epic Warhammer 40,000 events story lines. When I became a fan of 40K books the “Horus Heresy” novels the series already had 20 entries, but once I discovered those book I quickly became a fan. So I was very intrigued when Black Library announced they were kicking off a year long novel event titled “The Beast Arises.” Making the event even more intriguing was the fact that one of my favorite 40K writers, Dan Abnett, was kicking it off with the first novel, “I Am Slaughter.”
One of my favorite elements of 40K fiction are the settings. The best ones really take you to some fascinating worlds and “I Am Slaughter” did just that. Abnett began by taking up to the front lines of a planet called Ardamantua, a world just six weeks away from Terra by warp travel, where the Imperial Fists Space Marine Legion had embarked upon a campaign to exterminate a threatening alien species that recently emerged there. We’re also taken to Holy Terra for some scenes of political machinations and spycraft. That was a treat because it’s rare that a 40K novel heads back to Earth.
What made the trip to Earth even more fascinating though was the time in which “I Am Slaughter” and “The Beast Arises” series is set, the 32nd millenium. So the Horus Heresy is over and Earth has healed, but the scars still run deep. What’s especially interesting though is the Imperium is at relative peace, and that’s not something I recall reading or hearing about in 40K books. It makes for an interesting time period. Humanity is still adjusting to the physical death of the God Emperor (who is kept alive but in a vegetative state via the Golden Throne) and many of the other great heroes lost during the Horus Heresy, like some of the Space Marine Primarchs, but it is doing it’s best to move forward.
That of course doesn’t last long though because we know the whole point of “The Beast Arises” event is a massive threat to the Imperium is going to rear it’s head, and by the end of “I Am Slaughter” it does, and in a major way. I don’t want to say too much about the extent of the threat and it’s nature because it remains a mystery for most of the book and its scope and scale is one of “I Am Slaughter’s” fun reveals. What I will say is it involves an established 40K foe that I generally don’t find that interesting. Abnett makes it work though. He really plays up the frightening nature of the enemy and their new status quo.
Another element that Abnett exceeds at is his cast of characters. Much of the action in “I Am Slaughter” revolves around the Space Marines of the Imperial Fists legion, and what I like about that is when Abnett writes Space Marines he really dives into the customs and traditions that makes a particular legion tick. You come away from the book with a good sense of what that particular legion is all about.
With the Imperial Fists Abnett shows you there a lot of fascinating things going on. The first thing is that these are proud warriors who believe more than anything in standing and holding your ground. That really gives the scenes where the Imperial Fists characters collide with the mysterious threat an epic feel. Abnett is already fantastic with action scenes, but the final ones really crackle with a sense of power and poignancy that comes from standing tall in the face of impending doom.
The other fascinating thing about the Imperial Fists is at this point in time they’re a Legion that’s just gettng back into the field. For so long, many of their members stood guard defending Terra, and the Imperial Palace in particula,r and in the book they’ve stood at their posts against no real threats for decades.
Abnett spends much of his time with the Imperial Fists in “I Am Slaughter,” but we do get to meet some interesting human characters as well. Many of them serve supporting roles, but much of the Earth scenes involve a fascinating character named Drakan Vangorich, the grandmaster of the Imperium’s Officio Assassainorium. We get to see Vangorich navigate the byzantine schemes and machinations of the High Lords of Terra and we get to see him put a mysterious plan in play. So “I Am Slaughter” is both a war novel and a tale of political intrigues, and both parts are equally fascinating.
The only real criticism I can offer of the book is that for some it may be a little too short in length, but I didn’t mind it that much. It felt right to me especially when you consider it’s the first chapter in a larger narrative. That meant much of “I Am Slaughter” involves setting the stage for things to unfold later, but Abnett does so with a potent cocktail of mystery, intrigue, and all out action. Plus, as I said, we get some great character work with the Imperial Fists. So with “I Am Slaughter” “The Beast Arises” event is off to a fantastic start. I eagerly await “Predator and Prey,” the second chapter in the story line.