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Book Review- “Fulgrim” by Graham McNeill

gw-fulgrim
I’ve reviewed some of The Black Library’s “Warhammer 40,000” novels on this blog before. I’ve talked about how I’m addicted to them and they’re a fun mash up of elements from “Star Wars,” “Dune,” the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and Tolkein style fantasy that have a heavy metal visual aesthetic and often feature morally gray themes. If you like all that stuff do yourself a favor and check out some of those books. They take place in a fascinating and well constructed dystopian sci-fi fantasy universe.

What I have not discussed here before though is Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” line of books, which take place 10,000 years earlier and chronicle the galactic civil war that laid the foundation for the shape of the “Warhammer 40k” Universe. These books are just as fun and they have the added bonus of being a sort of epic history. If you’re coming to the “Horus Heresy” as a fan of “Warhammer 40,000” you’ll be delighted to get to know some of the big names of 40K history like the titular Space Marine Primarch who is just as fearsome as later history made him out to be, but is also fascinatingly more nuanced.

If the “Horus Heresy” books are your first trip to the “Warhammer” universe though there’s plenty to offer you too. You get to be surprised by some twists and turns and the characters you’ll meet are fascinating.

The essential set up is it’s the 30th millennium and mankind has united under the banner of the superhuman psychic know as the Emperor of Mankind. So the Emperor and his legions of genetically engineered super soldiers, the Space Marines, have left Earth and set out among the stars to reunite with or conquer the pockets of humanity who have set out colonize the galaxy ages ago. Each of the Space Marine legions is lead by a demigod like Primarch who are like sons to the Emperor. When the action in the Horus Heresy has picked up, the Emperor has returned to Earth to work on a secret project and the Primarch Horus has been put in charge of the Imperium of Man’s Great Crusade. There are sinister supernatural forces, the Gods of Chaos, at work though that seek to corrupt Horus and his fellow Primarchs and ignite a civil war among the Imperium.

The opening trilogy of the books details Horus’ corruption and the treachery he sets into motion to purge several Space MarineGraham McNeill legions of warriors still loyal to the Emperor. Those books are “Horus Rising” by Dan Abnett, “False Gods” by Graham McNeill, and “Galaxy in Flames” by Ben Counter and they’re all fantastic, especially “Galaxy in Flames.” In book four of the series “Flight of the Eisenstein” James Swallow chronicles the quest of a Space Marine who assumes control of the titular freighter and embarks upon an epic and inspiring voyage back to Earth in order to warn the Emperor that Horus, several of his other Primarchs, and their corresponding Legions have turned traitor.

For this review I’m going to be looking at the fifth book in the “Horus Heresy,” Fulgrim, by Graham McNeill. In the book McNeill examines the fall of the titular Primarch and his Space Marine Legion, a chapter known as the Emperor’s Children. Each of the Primarchs and their Space Marine legions have a distinct personality and character and for Fulgrim and the Emperor’s Children it’s a pursuit of perfection. That means a number of the Emperor’s Children can come off as snobs and prigs, but previous Horus Heresy books have shown that the Legion also has a number of selfless and morally upstanding heroes like Saul Tarvitz, who readers meet in the opening trilogy. He plays a role here and so does Solomon Demeter, a brave but charmingly rash Space Marine, who readers meet in “Fulgrim” for the first time.

It’s also important that readers empathize with Fulgrim since this is an ultimately a tragic story of his corruption and downfall, and I did. McNeill does that by showing the Primarch’s love for his legion and his brother Primarch, Ferrus Mannus who commands the Iron Hands Space Marine Legion. The scenes between the two of them, especially their final confrontation are awe inspiring and also heartbreakingly poignant. McNeill makes you feel the bond between the Primarchs and how much they mean to each other, especially Ferrus Mannus who has a rather cold demeanor most of the time.

Readers also empathize with Fulgrim’s love of art. That love for art is established early on through the introduction of several “Remembrancer” characters. The Remembrancers are an interesting device that are established in the first Horus Heresy book. Essentially they are the Imperium’s greatest artists and creative people and they’ve been tasked with documenting the Great Crusade. In the opening pages of “Fulgrim” we meet some of the Remembrancers who are traveling with the title character and the Emperor’s Children like sculptor Ostian Delafour and composer Bequa Kynska, who helps contribute to one of the book’s most chilling scenes.

Horror is very much a part of “Fulgrim” and McNeill plays those parts of the story expertly. The novel has a creeping sense of dread through out that only increases the more Fulgrim, the Emperor’s Children, and the Remembrancers fall under the corrupting sway of Chaos. They do so in a way that sees their behavior becoming more and more decadent until it climaxes in a concert of alien and supernatural evil influenced music that is both intense and pretty terrifying.

I thought the role perfection and art played in “Fulgrim” gave the book a unique haunting feel; a sort of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” meets “The Exorcist” vibe that was interesting to read and see brought to life. It also made the final scenes with the now fully corrupted Fulgrim standing upon a ruined stage tragic and terrifying.

“Fulgrim” wasn’t entirely about corruption and horror though. McNeill also treated readers to some intense battle scenes that featured some great action. I loved the opening battle of the book that found Solomon Demeter “going right down” the middle to help win the battle for an alien world. Plus the final chapters of “Fulgrim” chronicle one of the biggest and most infamous battles in the history of “Warhammer 40,000,” the battle of Istvaan V. The scale of those battle scenes are intense and fantastic and and part of the reason why I love “Warhammer 40,000” novels and “The Horus Heresy” series.

So “Fulgrim” is a worthy fifth entry in “The Horus Heresy” line. It’s got great characters, exciting, action, and features a horrific, tragic, and fascinating story that leaves you wanting more.

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Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “Predator One” by Jonathan Maberry

Predator OneI think it’s very much appropriate that I’m typing this review up the weekend of the release of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the first blockbuster movie release of the summer of 2015. Because for me that’s what the Joe Ledger series of novels by Jonathan Maberry have become. Literary events that I wait all summer for, and like the best summer movie blockbusters they’re always entertaining. I just finished “Predator One” the latest Ledger novel and I’m happy to report that it’s more than just entertaining it’s perhaps my favorite entry in the series so far.

I used “Age of Ultron” as an example at the beginning of this interview and I loved that movie because it had big, insane, action and lots of fantastic character moments. I loved “Predator One” because it used the same formula to tell a highly satisfying story.

“Predator One” is the seventh installment of the Ledger series. So at this point I’ve bonded with the main cast of characters: Joe, his enigmatic boss Mr. Church, his comrades at arms Top and Bunny, his best friend Rudy, and even his dog Ghost. I’ve also come to love the rich supporting cast that has grown up around them like computer expert Bug, Joe’s girlfriend Junie, high ranking DMS officer Aunt Sallie, and the other members of Echo Team like Lydia Ruiz and Sam Imura. I’m even become attached to new recruits like Montana Parker who I can’t wait to see more of.

I say all that because those characters I love are put through the ringer in “Predator One.” Maberry makes them hurt and those250px-JonathanMaberry scenes are heartbreaking and powerful, but the writer also shows you why these characters are heroes in scenes that are inspiring and just as powerful where they deal with and overcome the physical and emotional traumas they’ve endured and fight back against the enemies that are threatening the world.

“Predator One” isn’t just a fascinating study in heroism though. It’s an equally fascinating look at villains and the evil that makes them tick. In the novel Maberry pits his cast against a frightening and fascinating array of foes. I of course hated all these characters because they were nasty pieces of work, but what was so intriguing about them was how multifaceted they were. You had a wide variety of evil motivating these characters. It raged from tragic souls that had been corrupted into monsters, a character who was motivated by greed and perhaps unsure at times about the evil he was part of, a character who was motivated by pure hate, and another that was motivated by something even darker.

We also got to follow a character who once walked the path of villainy and is trying to be something better. I love stories about characters working towards redemption or making amends for the bad things they’ve done, and in “Predator One” Maberry tells a pretty fascinating story about a character struggling to be better than he was in the scenes involving Toys Chismer. Those were some of my favorite scenes in the book.

I haven’t talked much about plot because it occurred to me that a lot of the fun I had with this book was some of the twists and turns that happened in it, and I don’t want to spoil that fun for readers who haven’t read “Predator One” yet. So there’s some stuff I really want to talk about, but I’m not going to. Let’s just say there’s some really cool reveals in the novel that just made it even more exciting, fun, and fascinating.

Here’s what I will say, in “Predator One” the villains come up with a way to take control of America’s developing drone and automated technology. So we get some frightening scenes of combat drones gone amok and even things like the growing number of automated functions on automobiles spiraling out of control . That leads a number of characters to have some great and nuanced discussions about the dangers and benefits of this technology. It of course leads to some kick-ass action sequences as well.

For my money no prose writer does action like Maberry. In “Predator One” he gives you plenty of brutal and exciting scenes of hand to hand combat, gun battles, and intense action sequences. A lot of those scenes come in the book’s last hundred pages where Maberry crafts one of the most exciting climaxes I’ve read in recent memory. I was sort of tired when I picked up the book and started the climax. I thought I might need some caffeine. I did some reading though and the prose on those pages was so intense it got me fired up and awake! I felt like I was right there and in the thick of things. Who needs coffee or soda when you’ve got the exploits of Joe Ledger!

So “Predator One” was a hell of a read. The Joe Ledger series are always highly entertaining reads, but to go back to my summer blockbuster metaphor this was something more. Maberry has crafted a novel that’s both entertaining and full of substance. So yes for me, “Predator One” was the literary equivalent of “Age of Ultron.” It had great action, even better character moments, and left me super excited about what comes next in the series.

Categories: Book Review, Joe Ledger