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Book Review- “Predator, Prey” by Rob Sanders

predator_preyWith “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 andRsanders 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.

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Book Review- “The Spacewolf Omnibus by William King

Spacewolf omnibusAs 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 William Kingbecoming 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