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Book Review- “The Emperor Expects” by Gav Thorpe

August 20, 2016 Leave a comment

The-Emperor-Expects-by-Gav-Thorpe-Black-Library-The-Beast-ArisesIn “I Am Slaughter” and “Predator, Prey,” the first two novels in Black Library’s 12 part mega event “The Beast Arises” story for their Warhammer 40,000 line a massive threat was introduced to the Imperium of Man; the Orks. The story takes place after their “Horus Heresy” story line, but before their novels set in the 41st millenium. So it’s been years since the bestial but often comically unintelligent Orks have been seen. In these first two novels though they come roaring back more powerful than ever because they’re better armed and their intelligence and cunning levels appear to have evolved.

So in the first two novels the stage is set by establishing just how dangerous a threat the Orks are. We see them tear planets apart and they even bring an entire Space Marine chapter to the brink of extinction. Those made for fun and exciting novels, but I’m glad for the third novel in the series “The Emperor Expects” Gav Thorpe does something different, but just as interesting; he focuses on telling a story of political intrigues.

Much of the action in Thorpe’s novel takes place in two locales; in deep space as the massive spacefaring vessels of the Imperial Navy muster to prepare for an assault on Ork battle moon. (I love typing those words. The idea is so fun and imaginative) that’s attacking a vital Imperial shipyard, and on Earth in the Imperial palace. The Navy scenes are enjoyable, but they didn’t really kick off until to the second half of the book for me when I had become attached to the new characters that Thorpe had introduced. The Imperial Palace scenes were excellent all the way through though.

In those scenes we get to spend more time with Drakan Vangorich, the Grand Master of the Officio Assassinorum, who has played a major part in the first two books. We also get to know a little more about his mysterious and reluctant ally Inquisitor Wienand. The two are part of ongoing struggle in the Imperial Senate over how the Imperium should cope with the Ork invasion. So we get lots of machinations, double dealings, and political gambits with them. It’s not something you often see in 40K novels so it’s fun to watch unfold, especially when rival Inquisitors show up to try and oust Wienand and seize power.

Thorpe also checks in with Captain Koorland, one of the last (if not the last) surviving Gav Thorpemembers of the Imperial Fists Space Marine chapter. I really liked Captain Koorland in the first novel and seeing how he copes with the fact of being perhaps the lone surviving member of his chapter is fascinating. I look forward to more scenes with the character. Watching how he carries himself and tries to reconcile his place in the universe humanizes the Space Marines in a way you don’t often see.

The Emperor Expects” isn’t all about politics and survivor’s guilt though. There are some great action scenes. The second half of the novel is when the time you spent aboard the Oberon class voidship with Captain Rafal Kulik and his chief officer First Lieutenant Saul Shaffenback pays off. You root and fear for those characters as their ship takes part in the assault on the Ork armada protecting the battle moon and as they repel some green skin invader that board their ship.

While that’s going on we also get some action on Holy Terra as Inquisitor Wienand deals with an attempt on her life. Those scenes are a lot of fun because Thorpe writes them like scenes from a great spy/political thriller and they unfold against the backdrop of another facet of 40K we don’t often see the pilgrims that come to Earth.

I don’t want to reveal to much, but another reason I love the action scenes in “The Emperor Expects” is Thorpe gives them some hope. Too often in stories like this, where brave underdog heroes are put on the back foot against a powerful alien menace, there’s a tendency to have the heroes lose all the time and get their asses handed to them. It’s frustrating and makes the heroes look kind of incompetent. So it’s refreshing to have the heroes score a victory here and there, what’s even greater about the victory in this novel is that it by no means turns the tide of battle. If anything the stakes are escalated and the Imperium is in even greater danger by the end of “The Emperor Expects.” So Thorpe not only gives readers a fun, refreshing story with great characters he also moves “The Beast Arises” story forward in a way that makes me excited to read the next novel in the series.

 

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Book Review- “Ghostwalkers” by Jonathan Maberry

August 11, 2016 Leave a comment

5152t92PW7L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_In the ‘90s I became a pretty big fan of the Weird Western genre thanks to the Jonah Hex comic books that writer Joe R Lansdale and artist Tim Truman did for DC Comics Vertigo imprint and some of the short stories I read by one of my favorite pulp writers, Robert E Howard (creator of Conan), that mixed elements of the Western with horror and darker fantasy. The Weird Western was just a fun combination. It was like the literary equivalent of Psychobilly; a musical genre that melds punk and rockabilly and often featured horror imagery and lyrics.

So it’s no surprise that the cover to Shane Lacey Hensley’s “Deadlands” roleplaying game caught my eye in 2006 when I was browsing through a book store.  The cover of an undead gunslinger by Gerald Brom and the tag line of “The Weird West Roleplaying Game” just spoke to me and I quickly bought the book. I also picked up pretty much all the source books in the line and it’s two spinoff lines “Deadlands: Hell on Earth,” and “Deadlands: Lost Colony.”

What made “Deadlands so intriguing were its fun rules and great character design mechanics, but also the fantastic world that Hensley and his later collaborators built. Essentially “Deadlands” is a cleverly conceived cocktail of the alternate history, steam punk, horror, and fantasy. Everything melds together to form an insanely cool world, and the way that world blends actual real world history with the genre elements is fascinating.

In the world of “Deadlands” American history was changed forever by two major events. The first was a massive supernaturally triggered earthquake that dropped much of California into the ocean and transformed the area into a network of cliffs, canyons, and waterways dubbed “The Great Maze.” That earthquake also lead to the discovery of “Ghost Rock” a new mineral that acts super fuel to a whole host of steam punk style devices. The other major event was that the American Civil War never ended because at the Battle of Gettysburg the soldiers that died got back up . . . and they were hungry. A consequence of the war never ending is that Sioux were able to build their own nation within the United States borders.

So in “Deadlands” undead gunslingers haunt foreboding trails, murderous mad 250px-JonathanMaberryscientist construct clockwork doomsday devices, and magic is a very real and potent weapon. It’s a very fruitful and fun world to play in.

Even though I don’t play the Deadlands RPG anymore (One of the downsides to becoming an adult is it because increasingly hard to find people to commit time to RPGs) I still love the setting and I was very excited that the creators were going to let some authors play in their world in a series of official novelizations. Even more exciting was the fact that one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Maberry would be first up.

If you’re a fan of Maberry’s work, especially his Joe Ledger series, you know he’s a master at genre melding particularly when it comes to blending action and horror. So the world of “Deadlands” is a good place for Maberry to cut loose and have some fun, and that’s just what he does with his novel “Ghostwalkers.”

Much of the action in “Ghostwalkers” plays out as a buddy action tale between two fun and different Western heroes. The first hero we meet is very much your classic western protagonist; a travelling gunslinger with a mysterious past named Grey Torrance. When we first meet Grey he comes to aid of, or at least attempts to come to the aid of, Thomas Looks Away a different type of Western hero. That’s because Looks Away is a member of the Sioux Nation who fled America for Europe as part of a traveling Wild West show where he acquired an education and contacts in the esoteric and dangerous world of Ghost Rock powered sciences.

Looks Away is fleeing the agents of a powerful businessman and scientist who is also a master of necromancy and needs protection on his return trip to the Great Maze town of Paradise Falls. So Looks Away hires Grey and they head out to the Maze together. As they travel Grey becomes more and more acquainted with the weirder aspects of the Deadlands world and bonds of friendship and trust between him and Looks Away are formed. They’re the classic mismatched buddy pair.

“Ghostwalkers” really picks up when Grey and Looks Away reach the Great Maze because Maberry has a real feel for the place and expertly brings it to life via his prose. He depicts it as almost a dusty combination of nineteenth century America and the world of Mordor from “Lord of the Rings.” It’s a treacherous world of canyons and cliffs where hellish and ancient monsters that had been locked away in the Earth can attack at a moment’s notice.

Grey and Looks Away arrive in Paradise Falls soon after reaching the Maze and that’s when the pacing, action, and fun in “Ghostwalkers” becomes fast and furious. More supporting characters are introduced but we also get harrowing action sequences with zombies, demon possessed undead, undead dinosaurs, giant worms, and all manner of crazy technology. It all climaxes with an epic and full out battle for Paradise Falls where a ragtag band of townsfolk and their Ghost Rock weapons face off against an army of the dead.

So if you want a rocket powered pulp western style thrill ride featuring great characters, weird menaces, and Maberry’s trademark awesome action scenes pick up “Ghostwalkers.” You’ll be glad you did. Maberry clearly had a hell of a time running wild in the weird and wonderful world of “Deadlands” and so will you.

Categories: Book Review