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Book Review- “Vulkan: Lord of Drakes” by David Annandale

February 24, 2019 Leave a comment

Vulkan BookWhen I first started learning about Warhammer 40,000’s various Space Marine Legions I found myself drawn to the Salamanders. All of the legions were heroic, but the Salamanders had something to go with that heroism; a large streak of humanity and compassion. They are renowned amongst the Space Marines for their kindness and devotion to humans. While other Legions are more big picture the Salamanders are more about saving lives. That compassion can sometimes get them in trouble though. It forces them to take on almost suicidal challenges and endure against impossible odds. Fortunately, they have a pretty great example to look up to; their Primarch Vulkan; a brilliant and calculating bad-ass who combines Tony Stark’s engineering process with the stoicism and inspirational qualities of Marcus Aurelius. So he’s a fascinating character, and he’s also the protagonist of David Annandale’s novel in Black Library’s “Primarchs” series, “Vulkan: Lord of Drakes.”

Annandale has written some of my favorite 40K novels, and it’s clear he understands and enjoys writing his protagonist. You get insights into Vulkan’s psyche. You see his doubts, you see his hopes. And you see why he’s special. Also each chapter begins with a passage from Vulkan’s writings that gives insights into what drives him. They feel like could come from Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations.”

In “Vulkan” Annandale take his protagonist and the Salamanders back in time to adavid_annandale pivotal point in their history; when the original Terran incarnation of the Legion and the newer Nocturne based one were forged into one. It fits perfectly with the spirit of the Salamanders who are renowned for their craftsmanship of armor and weapons. And it’s even more perfect that a large portion of the novel takes place on a volcanic deathworld.

That deathworld is where the Terran incarnation of the Salamanders are making a final stand against a marauding ork horde. They must hold the line until Vulkan and the new forces of the Legion arrive to enact a desperate plan to save their brothers and destroy the ork’s attack moon (I’ll never tire of typing those words. So over the top and METALl).

So, “Vulkan” is a novel about finding hope in hopeless situations. It’s about risking your neck for humanity and your fellow soldiers. It’s about standing tall against immeasurable odds and going down swinging if you have to. But it’s also a novel about hope and faith being rewarded. Near the end of the book that happens and Vulkan gets a scene so fun, and cool that all I could do after reading it was throw up metal horns. That’s because with that scene Annandale performs the sci-fi writer’s equivalent of a blistering guitar solo.

As I mentioned, I loved Annandale’s take on Vulkan, but the writer also gives us some fun individual Salamanders as well. I especially loved the leaders of the Terran based Salamanders; Vaughn and Numeon. Those two performed some inspiring and exciting acts of heroism while trying hold back the ork onslaught.

So, with “Vulkan: Lord of Drakes” David Annandale tackles my favorite loyalist Space Marine Legion and Primarch and does them justice. The book is not that long, but it’s got a huge scope and scale, is packed with fun, exciting action, heroes you can root for, and an emotional and inspiring climax that will make Salamanders fans stand up and cheer.

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Book Review- “The Armored Saint” by Myke Cole

January 30, 2019 Leave a comment

When it comes to fantasy novels I used to strictly be a sword and sorcery guy. I still prefer Conan over Frodo, but in recent years I’ve been convinced to give “Epic armored saintFantasy” novels another chance. I’m glad I did because I’ve discovered a number of books in the genre that I like. The most recent epic fantasy novel to fall under that category? Myke Cole’s “The Armored Saint,” the kick-off to his “Sacred Throne” series. I finished it today and I loved it.

What first grabbed my attention about “The Armored Saint” was the world it’s set in. It’s a place of dangerous magic, violent and corrupt holy orders, and monstrous demons. As a fan of things like “Warhammer 40,000” and “The Dragon Age” series of video games I’m fascinated by those things, and Cole does a pretty great job putting his own unique spin on those sort of tropes. They are a fascinating part of the world he builds in “The Armored Saint.”

I especially loved the way Cole introduces those elements and the over all setting of the book. He doesn’t push you into the deep end of this fantasy world with loads and loads of exposition. You find out the basics right away, but the rest unfolds naturally. It’s almost sort of a mystery; one I found very engaging. You find out about major historical events, like wars, via characters who experienced them first hand and have the physical and emotional scars that come from such experiences. You also find out that things like magic aren’t necessarily black and white. Instead they’re very gray hued.

So there’s a lot more I could tell you about the plot of the book, but I feel like it would run it and some of the surprises. I will say though that the character we join on a journey of discovery about the true nature of her world and herself is a great one. Her name is Heloise and she’s a 16 year old girl with a huge heart. So you root for and you also empathize when she encounters tragedies and horrors both man made and supernatural.

In “The Armored Saint” Heloise’s world is a small one for the most part. It’s mainly just her village and some of the surrounding areas, but I like that. It gave us themyke cole chance to really get to know some fascinating and great characters. My favorites were her burly father Samson, her best friend Basina, and the mysterious wanderer known as Clodio. It also gave Cole the chance to give us a full picture of this portion of the world. “The Armored Saint” is short for an epic fantasy novel, but I don’t feel like Cole skimped or left anything important out.

The book also shines in terms of tone and fantastical elements. There is a lot of horror and brutality in the series, and much of it is man made. It gives the book a sense of power and poignancy and when characters make a stand you’re ready to cheer them on. Cole also handles supernatural horror and combat really well. The climax of the book involves a fight between a monster and Heloise who is clad in a really cool suit of armor.

So, there were a number of reasons why I really loved “The Armored Saint.” Like I said, it’s short for an epic fantasy novel, but it’s jam packed with the stuff of great stories. It’s like a classic Ramones song done up as a fantasy story. It’s short, but it shreds, and it leaves you wanting more. Which is great, because as I also mentioned, there are more books in the series. I can’t wait to pick up the next one, “The Queen of Crows.”

Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “Dark Imperium by Guy Haley

January 22, 2019 Leave a comment

dark imperiumWhen I first learned of Roboute Gulliman, the Primarch of the Ultramarines Legion of Space Marines, I couldn’t help, but make comparisons between him and my favorite comic book character, Steve Rogers AKA Captain America. Both Gulliman and Cap are blond haired, tactical geniuses, who favor the color blue, and are exemplars of the ideals they fight for. And when Games Workshop brought Gulliman back in 2017 he and Steve Rogers came to share another trait; Both are men out of time. It’s a quality that’s made the Ultramarines Primarch even more interesting, and it’s just one of the many fascinating ideas explored in Guy Haley’s Warhammer 40,000 novel “Dark Imperium.”

Dark Imperium” is one of the first Black Library novels set in the new timelines established in 40K’s current 8th edition which saw Gulliman serving as Lord Commander and Regent of the Imperium, the Imperium split in half thanks to the destruction of Cadia and the emergence of a monstrous galactic rift, and the introduction of the next generation of Space Marines; the Primaris. So there’s a lot of ground to cover and ideas to explore in “Dark Imperium.”

For me, the primary reason why “Dark Imperium” shines is the character of Guy HaleyGulliman. We get to be part of his thought processes. We get to see him both be warrior and statesman, but best of all we see him come to grips with what his father’s Empire has become during his absence. Haley has a lot of fun with Gulliman’s culture shock and disdain for Imperium culture and aesthetic. He also gives the story some especially poignant moments where the Ultramarines Primarch must wrestle with some hard truths about his “father,” the Emperor of Mankind.

So Gulliman is a haunted and flawed character, but the other aspect of him that Haley captures perfectly is his inner nobility. He’s a character you can genuinely root for because he actually wants to bring reason back to the Imperium of Man and improve their crumbling government and infrastructure. That’s a breath of fresh air in the grim darkness that is the 41st millennium.

Gulliman may be Haley’s protagonist, but he’s not the only central character in “Dark Imperium” the series is jam packed with heroes both old and new. Fans of Graham McNeill’s Ultramarines series will enjoy a fun and poignant cameo early on. Plus, we spend some time with the Ultramarines Chapter Master Marneus Calgar and hear his inner conflicted thoughts on the return of his Primarch/gene father. That adds another organic and fascinating layer to the father/son relationship themes of the book.

Some of my favorite new characters included Captain Decimus Felix and Militant Apostolic Mathieu. Felix is part of the new generation of Primaris Space Marines and we get to spend a lot of time with him. He too is a man out of time. So it’s interesting to see how he reacts to things and to see through his eyes the role the new Primaris Space Marines play in the Imperium. Mathieu is the new chief religious figure in Gulliman’s imperium, and he’s a fascinating figure to bounce off Gulliman because the Ultramarines Primarch doesn’t believe his father was a god. So they have an interesting dynamic and some fascinating dialogues.

So “Dark Imperium” is a story of great heroes and epic action, but it’s also a chilling tale of supernatural horror. Because the antagonists of the novel are the fearsome Death Guard, the Chaos Space Marine Legion lead by Mortarion that serves the god of diseases and death, Nurgle. Haley has a lot of fun leaning into the gruesome and horrifying nature of the Death Guard. Plus there’s a great sense of cosmic horror when the Warp opens or we spend time with Mortarion on his flagship.

All of the elements I mentioned combined to make “Dark Imperium” a joy to read. Best of all it’s only the first book in what I believe a trilogy. I can’t wait to see what Haley has next in store for readers and to spend more time with the fascinating character that is Roboute Gulliman.

Book Review- Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry

December 26, 2018 1 comment

Deep SilenceI love well written series fiction. As a reader, it’s some of the most rewarding types of storytelling around. You get to go on a journey with characters and watch them grow and change as they face adversity and the harsh realities of their world. The right writer will have you knowing and loving these characters as if they were your own friends and family, and Jonathan Maberry is just such a writer. Over the course of nine novels I’ve come to view the title character of his Joe Ledger series as a brother at arms. Him, his faithful dog Ghost, and the soldiers, scientists, and support staff of the secretive organization they work for, the Department of Military Sciences, are people I love spending time with. Some times that time can be rough and painful because Maberry’s cast are larger than life heroes, but they are still human beings who routinely confront man made and fantastic horrors. So, sometimes, the stumble and fall, but as I said they’re heroes, and when they fall they learn from their mistakes and get right back up. So the Ledger novels are often fun, exciting, harrowing, heartbreaking, and inspiring tales. “Deep Silence, the newest installment in the series, is all of that and more.

One of the best things about the book is it’s full of payout moments for long term fans of the series. The plot of the book heavily involves mysteries from two previous adventures. I’m not going to spoil it and tell you which ones. Part of the joy of the novel is getting the answers for yourself. I will say though that in “Deep Silence” you get some concrete answers about the mysterious world Ledger and the DMS live in. They’re the best kind of answers though, ones that raise more questions. As a reader I was left feeling like I was just seeing the tip of a very large and fantastic iceberg, and I can’t wait to find out more about lies below the surface.

Tone wise, the Ledger books are masterfully fixed cocktails that blend the trappings250px-JonathanMaberry of military thrillers with other fantastic genres. I can tell you there’s a lot of science fiction elements at work in “Deep Silence,” but sci-fi is often about confronting the unknown. That can be a scary thing. And as fans of Maberry’s work know he’s a master at telling horror stories. So, prepare yourself Ledger fans! You’re going to be scared and your heart is going to break a number of times while reading this book. I cried on a couple of occasions. That also means though that you’re going to clap and cheer just ad often. Because as we all know, Joe and the DMS are a never-say-die crew.

The horror in “Deep Silence” is a particularly chilling blend too. Quite a bit of it comes from strange and sinister sources, but there’s also a significant exploration of the horrors people can do to each other and themselves.

If you’re thinking that sounds like a recipe for some great character moments you’d be right. Joe has a lot of very cool and personal moments in “Deep Silence.” I also didn’t think it was possible for me to love his dog, Ghost, even more, but thanks to some very poignant passages in the novel I do.

Joe’s long time brothers and arms Top and Bunny don’t get as big a focus in “Deep Silence” but they do get some huge scenes that offer new and cool insight into their characters. I’ve talked in depth in past reviews about how fantastic Maberry is at action scenes, but what I haven’t touched upon as much is his great ability to add to character with those slam-bang fight sequences. There’s an especially cool scene in “Deep Silence” that made me understand and like Bunny even more than I did. It’s just a couple of paragraphs from his point of view, but they’re particularly insightful and moving.

Deep Silence” also gives a number of the DMS support staff time to shine. You get some more clues about their enigmatic leader, Mr. Church, which is always great. For me though, the DMS’ new head scientist Doc Holiday really stole the show. She got a lot of great moments that showed how cool and layered a character she is.

Readers also get to spend some time with Tracy Cole, a member of Echo Team who was introduced last novel. I loved her introduction and enjoyed getting to know her more in this book. We also met some of Echo Team’s brand new Spec Ops shooters. My favorite, is the team’s new sniper. And it’s not the first time I’ve fallen in love with an Echo Team sniper. Maberry seems to have a real knack for creating fascinating and fully fleshed out sharp shooting characters.

So, as you can guess I utterly loved “Deep Silence.” It’s one of the best novels in the Ledger series, and one of the best things about it is it moves the series forward in so many new and exciting directions. I can’t wait to see where Maberry takes things next.

Categories: Book Review, Joe Ledger

Book Review- “The Beast Must Die” by Gav Thorpe

December 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Beast Must DieOne of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed Black Library/Games Workshop’s 12 part “The Beast Arises” storyline is that they don’t often read like standard Warhammer 40,000 novels. There’s still great action and plenty of Space Marines, but the novels are often very political, feature a huge cast of characters, and the tense story cuts back and forth to multiple locations across the galaxy. So the first seven books have been refreshing, diverse, and fun reads. That set up a problem though for my enjoyment of book Eight, “The Beast Arises” by Gav Thorpe, which for the most part reads like a standard 40K novel. That doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad book though. There was still plenty of elements I enjoyed, and ultimately this novel leaves the overall storyline in a much more interesting place. It’s biggest flaw is something you see with all grand, event storylines (you especially see this in comic books) it’s longer than it perhaps should be.

Pretty much all of the action takes place on the infamous world of Ullanor. It’s of course famous for the Imperium of Man’s ultimate victory against the Orks back before the Horus Heresy, and now the new Ork empire besieging the galaxy has chosen it as the home base for their galactic onslaught. The book opens with a massive battle force of Space Marines, Imperial Guard, Imperial Navy, and Adeptus Mechanicus hoping to end the resurgent Ork threat for good by traveling to Ullanor and killing the Ork’s leader, “The Great Beast.”

That’s a pretty potent set up, and there are some great action sequences, but the middle half of the book is kind of a slog and feels a bit repetitive with the Orks constantly gaining the upper hand. I think part of the reason those sections were difficult for me is we spent a lot of time with some Adeptus Mechanicus characters and some Imperial Guard forces. Those characters left me flat. I like Ad Mech and Guard too. It’s just the members of those factions that Thorpe had us spend time with weren’t as interesting or fleshed out as the characters he was especially good at writing.

Because “The Beast Must Die” is primarily a war novel you don’t get much of the Gav Thorpepolitical or espionage characters from the previous novels that I’ve grown to really enjoy like Assassin Grandmaster, Drakan Vangorich, or the leaders of the Imperial Inquisition. You do get, Vangorich’s chief assassin though, Esad Wire AKA Beast Krule and I loved the parts with him.

Thorpe also did a great job with his Space Marine cast. The zealotry of Black Templars High Marshall Bohemond made for some kick-ass action scenes, some intense dramatic beats, and even some humorous scenes. Thorpe also write Lord Commander Koorland very well. His evolution over the course of the series has been one of the best parts of this storyline.

For me though, the most interesting character in “The Beast Must Die” was the Primarch, Vulkan. Vulkan is my favorite Primarch and I think Thorpe really did him justice. In the novel the Primarch of the Salamanders chapter of Space Marines comes off as both this divine figure of awesome power and a very human seeming one. That’s because in his actions and later words you see Vulkan is wrestling with the fundamental aspect of his existence; being an immortal warror. He’s been fighting for thousands of years and is tired. He’s stoic about it though and does his duty.

There’s some spectacular, fun, action sequences with Vulkan and the other Space Marines that I don’t want to spoil. The last and most bombastic one leads to some interesting revelations that makes me excited to read more of “The Beast Arises.” Those relations also cast some new light on the middle portions of the book. So there was a reason why “The Beast Arises” had to sort of read like a typical Warhammer 40,000 novel.

Ultimately, it wasn’t my favorite entry in this series, but it was still a pretty enjoyable read.

Book Review- “Dark Sacred Night” by Michael Connelly

November 11, 2018 Leave a comment

Dark Sacred NightI’m a life long fan of superhero comics, and one of the reasons for that is because of the idea of the shared universe; where diverse characters like Superman and Batman or Captain America and Wolverine can cross paths, have misunderstandings, and even team up to fight evil. Watching those characters with clearly established voices and ideas clash and come together leads to fun and fascinating stories. So I was pretty excited early on to see the idea of a shared universe pop up in a much more realistic, gritty, and grounded setting; the crime novels of Michael Connelly. Connelly has made great use of the dynamic between his original series character Harry Bosch and Bosch’s half brother, the Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller. And in his latest novel “Dark Sacred Night” he introduces readers to a new and fascinating dynamic; the one between Harry Bosch and the writer’s newest creation LAPD Detective Renee Ballard, who readers first met last year in “The Late Show.” The result is a pretty powerful crime novel that enriches both characters.

Dark Sacred Night” is both a team up story and a tale about Bosch and Ballard’s separate worlds. That’s established early on as the first few chapters are from Ballard’s point of view. The next few are from Bosch’s and then Connelly alternates perspectives throughout the book. It gives the story a nice flow and really allows the reader to get deep into the heads of both protagonists. Ballard is in a better place after “The Late Show.” Harry though is still dealing with some of the fallout from the end of Connelly’s last Bosch novel “Two Kinds of Truth.” Plus he’s also having to contend with the fact that he’s getting older and only has so many years left as a police detective.

If you’re coming to “Dark Sacred Night” having only read “The Late Show” you connelly1222won’t be lost. Connelly does a great job catching new readers up on what Bosch is dealing with. If you’re a Bosch fan though it’s nice to see some connective tissue from the last book, and it makes “Dark Sacred Night” even more emotionally resonant. And if you’re a Bosch fan whose not familiar yet with Renee Ballard “Dark Sacred Night” is a great introduction to the character. After you complete it you’ll want to circle back and pick up “The Late Show.”

Much of the action in “Dark Sacred Night” involves Bosch and Ballard coming together to work a cold case, but their investigations are often disrupted by their regular jobs. Renee’s work almost plays out as sort of an anthology of interrelated short stories. You get to see her tackle several different things that pop up during Hollywood’s late night hours. It makes for some pretty fun and insightful reading into what an LAPD detective has to deal with. Bosch’s solo portions of the novel deal with his work for the San Fernando Police Department where he investigates the cold case murder of shot caller in a local gang. That investigation spirals out of control and takes Harry to some dark and dangerous places.

So Bosch’s journey as a character in “Dark Sacred Night” is especially poignant, powerful and epic. It changes him. Ballard also grows. So like the best team up stories “Dark Sacred Night” leaves both of its heroes in very interesting places. I can’t wait to see where Connelly takes them next.

Categories: Book Review, Harry Bosch

Book Review- Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

November 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Meddling KidsOne of the reasons I love speculative and genre fiction is the crazy over the top premises. You see it all the time in comics like Marvel’s “Weapon H” series which features a titular character with the powers of both the Hulk and Wolverine or the company’s “Cosmic Ghost Rider” mini-series where the Punisher has been given both the demonic powers of the Ghost Rider and the cosmic might of a Herald of Galactus. Those series work because they full on embrace the fun of their premises and they ground their stories with fascinating and real feeling characters. I just finished reading a prose novel that did the same thing; Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids which is essentially Scooby-Doo meets the Cthulhu mythos. And yes it’s as crazy and as fun as it sounds.

In “Meddling Kids” Cantero introduces readers to an estranged group of friends who spent their summers investigating the mysteries of a small pacific Northwest Town named Blyton Hills. Their investigative endeavors lead them to become local celebrities and also exposed the wrongdoings of a number of costume clad malefactors. When the story picks up, the now adult members of the former Blyton Summer Detective Club are haunted by the memories of their last case, which seemed to involve a lake monster and a haunted island mansion, but possibly involved something much more horrific.

The cast of former kid detectives is pretty great. There’s Kerri, the aspiring scientistEdgar Cantero who is currently a barmaid; Andy the tomboy turned drifter who sets out to get the gang back together and find out what really happened at the mansion on their last case; Keri’s cousin Nate, who is currently a resident of an asylum that fans of Cthulhu Mythos fiction will find familiar; and Peter who is dead and might be a ghost. All of these characters have fun personality traits and character flaws. The dynamic they have together is part of the fun of reading “Meddling Kids.”

Earlier I mentioned this book was basically Scooby-Doo meets Cthulhu so many of you might be wondering is there a dog main character? And the answer is of course, yes! His name is Tim. He’s a Weimaraner. He’s actually one of my favorite characters in the book. Cantero writes him so well. He provides moments of comfort and comedy. He’s so lovable and such a good boy.

A dog isn’t the only Scooby-Doo element to make it into “Meddling Kids” either. The Blyton Hills Detective Club had a number of Rube Goldberg style plans for catching bad guys. And some do appear in their present day exploits. They’re fun and believable though and add some humor elements to balance out the Lovecraftian horror.

Cantero also makes great use of the Cthulhu Mythos once the kids arrive back in Blyton Hills. It begins with a run in with a horrific monstrosity and then things escalate to apocalyptic levels. So there’s a great sense of scope and scale reminiscent of shows like “Stranger Things”where the cast have to save both their idyllic small town and the world.

Speaking of towns, Blyton Hills is a fun place to visit. When the grown up kids of the Detective Club return it’s fallen on hard times, but still has a quaint charm. It feels like home to both the characters and the reader. Plus, Cantero provies a lot of fun legends about the town to make the Cthulhu mythos elements organic. The town is also populated by a great cast of characters including a former bully, and Captain Al, a retired Air Force veteran who was one of the detectives few adult confidants when they were kids.

I’m keeping mum about a lot of the elements in “Meddling Kids” because I don’t want to ruin the surprises. I will say though it’s an incredibly fun, fantastically placed cocktail of horror, adventure, and comedy. And it also takes a refrshing and more hopeful spin on the cynicism of Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror. It beautifully illustrates that the best defense we humans have against horror (Cosmic or otherwise) is the bonds we have with each other.

So, “Meddling Kids” was a hell of a read. Making it even more remarkable is the fact that Cantero is not a native English speaker. This is the first book I’ve read by him and I can’t wait to read more.

Categories: Book Review