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Book Review- “A Thousand Sons” by Graham McNeill

Thousand SonsWhen you read a series of books that you enjoy a sense of complacency can start to set in. You can almost become accustomed to certain things and after you read an entry you’re left with a feeling of like, “Okay. That was fun. On to the next one.” Sometimes though an entry comes along in a series that is so good it’s like a refreshing blast of cold water or even slap in the face. It wakes you up and reminds you of why you fell in love with a particular series in the first place and shows you just how special, exciting, and powerful a book in that series can be. I just finished “A Thousand Sons” by Graham McNeill, which is book 12 in Games Workshop/Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” (a prequel storyline that sets the stage for their Warhammer 40,000 line of novels) series, and I’m happy to report it’s just such a book.

The titular characters of “A Thousand Sons” are a Space Marine Legion and McNeill was given a gift in these characters because they’re one of the most fascinating and unique Space Marine Legions in all of 40k. I’ve mentioned in other reviews that the great thing about Space Marines novels is they allow the author to take a deep dive into the diverse martial cultures of a particular Legion, and what makes the Thousand Sons so compelling is the fact they combine the transhuman bad-assery of your typical Space Marine, with the academic bent and powers of your archetypical sorcerer from fantasy stories, and add just a hint of Marvel Comics X-Men to make things extra tragic and poignant.

That’s because unlike most Space Marine Legions that feature a handful of members with psychic powers many of the Thousand Sons are capable of incredible mental feats. It’s part of the culture they hail from, and their godlike primarch/father, Magnus the Red, is one of the most powerful Psykers in existence. Unfortunately for them though, in the reality of 40K psychic powers are linked to the unstable reality known as the Warp, a tumultuous dimension of demons, psychic monstrosities and malevolent, power-hungry, gods. So. the Sons are feared and distrusted by many of their brother Legions who label them Warlocks.

Over the course of “A Thousand Sons” we meet an eclectic cast of the titularGraham McNeill characters and we get to bond with them and see them live, study, and of course fight. My favorite legionnaire was chief Librarian, Ahzek Ahriman, who I knew was one of the most beloved anti-heroes in 40K, but now I know why. In “A Thousand Sons” Ahriman is a charismatic and compelling character constantly questing for truth and plumbing the warp with his precognitive and astral projection powers to serve his Primarch, Legion, and the Imperium of Man.

Magnus the Red is of course is a fascinating character too, but I like that McNeill didn’t make the Primarch the focus of the story. It makes the scenes with him extra special. When Magnus makes an entrance the only way to describe it is to quote Sargent Nicholas Angel from “Hot Fuzz” and say, “Shit just got real.” That said, Magnus remains a very human character in “A Thousand Sons.” Despite his vast power and good intentions he makes mistakes, big, powerful heartbreaking ones. He’s a tragic figure in the classical sense.

My other favorite group of characters in “A Thousand Sons” were the three Human scholars/remembrancers that are traveling with the Thousand Sons when the book begins. Each of them have a psychic gift and a unique back story that draws them into the larger world of the Thousand Sons. It’s a lot of fun to see these characters bounce of the Space Marines and observe how the behavior of the human and posthuman characters impact each other. Another cool aspect is that one of the Remembrancers, Camille Shivani, is the first LGBTQ character I’ve encountered in the world of 40K. We even get to see her with a significant other at one point in the book.

Over the course of “A Thousand Sons” we travel with the titular Space Marines and human characters to a variety of worlds and watch as they take on a whole host of foes including one of their brother legions, the barbaric Space Wolves. The rivalry between the Wolves and the Sons is a believable and tragic one. I’m actually a pretty big fan of the Wolves so the fact that I was actively rooting against them in “A Thousand Sons” is a testament to the characters McNeill created and the narrative he weaved together.

The narrative is a fascinating one too. We get a handful of big battles, but we also get the equivalent of a court room sequence, which was fascinating and something I’ve never really seen before in a 40K book as McNeill chronicles one of the big events in the pre-history of 40K. The novel then follows a series of shocking revelations and tragic mistakes that climaxes with one of the most epic and poignant battles I’ve read about in a 40K or “Horus Heresy” book. Long time fans will know what I’m talking about, but I don’t want to say too much and spoil things.

Another fun aspect is that McNeill peppers the novel with little Easter Egg nods to other classic tales of fantastic fiction. I’m sure I missed all of them, but two that I caught were fitting and organic nods to the works of Mary Shelly and H.P. Lovecraft.

So, “A Thousand Sons” is one of my favorite entries in “The Horus Heresy” series For me it’s right up there with Dan Abnett’s “Legion” and Ben Counter’s “Galaxy in Flames.” It’s a big novel full of fun, fascinating and powerful stuff. Best of all it’s made me especially fired up to get to some other 40K and “Horus Heresy” novels that are sitting on my “to read” pile like John French’s Ahriman: The Omnibus,” and Dan Abnett’s “Horus Heresy” novel, “The Burning of Prospero,” which I understand is kind of companion novel to “A Thousand Sons.”

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Book Review- “The Force” by Don Winslow

July 9, 2017 1 comment

ForceIn his review of Don Winslow’s stunning and powerful drug war novel, “The Cartel,” Michael Connelly said that there’s no higher mark for a storyteller than to both educate and entertain, and that Winslow is a master whose novels do both. I whole heartedly agree. Winslow’s ability to inform and inspire thought while weaving an exciting narrative full of great characters is why he’s one of my favorite authors. It’s also why I was really looking forward to reading his new novel “The Force.” Having finished that book, I’m happy to report that Winslow did not disappoint. “The Force” is another example of an author at the top of his game and an example of how powerful, entertaining, and important crime fiction can be.

While I was reading “The Force” I couldn’t help but think of the classic Nietzsche quote, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

That’s because, in the novel, Winslow tell the tales of a top cop and his colleagues in a elite unit of the New York Police Department. So it’s a very timely tale that examines the insidious and often hard to recognize path to corruption that many law enforcement officers inadvertently stumble onto while trying to serve and protect their communities.

So Detective Denny Malone, the protagonist of “The Force,” and his fellow cops in Manhattan North aren’t really the villains of Winslow’s novel. They’re not the heroes either. Part of the reason “The Force” is so compelling is because of the moral nuance Winslow gives it’s main cast of characters is. They’re capable of being both heroic and utterly despicable both to the communities they serve and the families they’re part of.

However, “The Force” isn’t just a look at corrupt cops and how a police force can don_winslowfail the community it serves. It’s also a look at how communities fail the cops that have sworn to protect it. We see how administrative brass, city officials, and corporate power players create an atmosphere that’s ripe for corruption with their emphasis on convictions by any means necessary, bending the law to suit their own interests, and drafting cops into an unwinnable drug war that forces them to triage parts of the city and transform economically impoverished areas into drug ridden war zones of misery and despair.

Winslow’s examination of his characters and police corruption unfolds as an epic, sweeping narrative with a huge cast of eclectic and fully fleshed out characters where little anecdotes and powerful turning point moments combine to create a narrative with power and momentum. I honestly don’t want to say too much more about the characters and events of “The Force” because I want readers to have the same enjoyment I did by discovering them for themselves.

What I will say is “The Force” is full of organic twists and turns that many readers won’t see coming. They’ll force you to root for and against Detective Denny Malone and his friends. They’ll also glue you to the book as you rocket towards a hell of a climax.

So with “The Force” Don Winslow proves once again that he’s one of the best crime writers working today. The book is one of the best, if not the best, cop novels I’ve ever read.

Categories: Book Review