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Book Review-Watchers in Death by David Annandale

Watchers in DeathSpace Marines are ubiquitous with Warhammer 40,000, but interestingly enough they were not the heroes that brought me into the game and the universe. No that honor belongs to Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn and his retinue, the stars of Dan Abnett’s “Xenos.” They were the first 40K heroes I really got into. However, the elite Space Marines of the Deathwatch were a part of that first Eisenhorn novel, and they did make an impression on me. I thought the Deathwatch were even cooler when I picked up Fantasy Flight Games now defunct “Deathwatch” RPG, which revolved around the titular Adeptus Astartes alien hunters. So I was very curious when I learned that book nine in Black Library’s “The Beast Arises” storyline would be the in cannon origin of the Deathwatch. I just finished that book, “Watchers in Death” by David Annandale, and I’m happy to report that it’s a lot of fun.

The formation of the Deathwatch is a momentous event in 40K history because it david_annandalerepresents a shift in the way the Imperium of Mankind and its Space Marines fight wars. So there needed to be something huge to lead to the creation of the organization. That big event was the massive defeat and loss of the Salamanders Primarch, Vulkan, in the previous “Beast Arises” novel. Annandale makes good use of that event in “Watchers in Death.” He gives you a real sense that the superhuman Space Marines are shocked to the core and ready to try different tactics like fielding small Spec Ops style teams of Adeptus Astartes from different chapters. You also get a believable reason for the Deathwatch’s signature black armor, that they are in mourning for the brothers they lost at Ullanor in the previous book of the series.

One of my favorite aspects of “The War of the Beast” storyline are the political thriller elements to it, and Annandale works in some of that in “Watchers in Death” in some pretty cool ways. We see how the idea for the Deathwatch comes about, and we also see the chaos and tension that explodes when Koorland, the lone survivor of the Imperial Fists who we first met back in book one, tries to market that idea to the High Lords of Terra. You also get some fun moments with the representatives of the Inquistion, Wienand and Veritus. They’re especially interesting to pay attention to if you know of the Deathwatch’s ties to the Inquisition.

For the most part though, “Watchers in Death” is a novel jam packed with fun and thrilling action set pieces. We get to see newly formed Deathwatch Kill Teams perform boarding actions in a variety of settings. These scenes are the highlights of the book. You can tell Annandale had a great time writing the almost Guerilla Warfare style tactics Deathwatch Kill Teams used against the larger ork forces. The action is fast, furious and fun.


Credit also goes to Annandale for creating Deathwatch Kill Teams readers care about. A couple of the Kill Teams include characters established in previous novels like Koorland and Thane, Chapter Master of the Imperial Fists. Most of them though feature characters readers meet for the first time in the book. And by the end of the novel I was rooting for them to survive. My favorites of the new cast included a Space Wolf named Asger War Fist and a Dark Angels Techmarine named Abathar.

So, all in all, “Watchers in Death” was a pretty fun novel with interesting characters that moved the plot of the “Beast Arises” storyline forward in some interesting ways, especially at the end. There is however still three novels in the series left for me to read. So my concern is that there are more novels left in the series than there are actual story. I hope I’m wrong, but even if I’m not if the last three novels in the 12 book series are even half as enjoyable as “Watchers in Death” they’ll have been worth the read.

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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.

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- “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- “The Hunt for Vulkan” by David Annandale

September 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Hunt for VulkanIt’s been a while since I reached the halfway point of Games Workshop/Black Library’s epic 12 part “The Beast Arises” storyline. Not because I’m not a fan. It’s just life and and an ever expanding reading pile happened. So I was excited to finally get a chance to get back into the ork fighting action with “The Hunt for Vulkan” by David Annandale. It’s book 7 in the storyline. I worried though that my months away from the saga make it harder to get back into. Turns out all my worries were for nothing because “In the Hunt for Vulkan” Annandale welcomed me back into the “War of the Beast” with open arms. It was a fun tale bursting with action that made me eager to dig into the back half of the 12 part tale.

The Hunt for Vulkan” features a huge cast of characters, but it mainly follows a core cast of intriguing ones. At the center of the tale is Koorland, the last member of the Imperial Fists Space Marine chapter who we met back in the opening installment of this series. Part of the highlight of “The Beast Arises” has been Koorland’s journey as a character from survivor to Lord Commander of the Imperium. In “The Hunt for Vulkan” we get a chance to see him reflect on that journey and deal with some of the ghosts that still haunt him after the tragic loss he experienced in book one. We also get to see his growth as a political and military leader.

Annandale opens the book with a crisis on Mars that threatens to turn the Imperium and the Adeptus Mechanicus against each other. That’s where we get to see Koorland’s mettle as a political leader tested. I was riveted watching him face off against the Mechanicus’ Fabricator General in a game of chicken. In the latter half of the book you get to see Koorland back on the battlefield as he leads a vast Imperium strike force in the titular “Hunt for Vulkan.”

The other major character of “The Hunt for Vulkan” is Thane, the Chapter Master ofdavid_annandale the Space Marine Legion known as the Fists Exemplar. We primarily get to see Thane on the battlefield in this book, but he’s a fun character to watch in a fight, and this novel also continues his growth from the previous ones. Some other character moments I enjoyed included the ones we spent with the crew of an Imperial Navy ship as it tried to survive a void battle against an ork armada and an ork Attack Moon, and checking back in with a Loyalist Space Marine Legion that’s been forced into an alliance with the Traitorous Iron Warriors Legion.

The best character moments for me though were the few ones we got to spend with my favorite Primarch, Vulkan. Annandale does let us get inside in Vulkan’s head in several powerful and inspiring moments. and he nails the character’s voice. Vulkan’s thoughts and deeds in the novel illustrate why he and the Salamanders are my favorite Loyalist Space Marine Legion and Primarch.

The other thing I loved about “The Hunt for Vulkan” was of course the wall-to-wall action of the book. The novel opens with an intense and desperate battle between the forces of the Imperium and then the latter 2/3 are an epic war on a crumbling planet. Annandale is fantastic at these scenes too. The book’s battles were full of powerful, bone crunching descriptions, and twists and turns that chilled me and made me cheer.

So, with “The Hunt For Vulkan” I was plunged back into the excitement of “The Beast Arises.” It was also another fantastic 40K book from Annandale. I’ve read three Black Library books by him now and I’ve loved everyone.

Book Review- “Prospero Burns” by Dan Abnett

September 7, 2018 Leave a comment

Burning of ProsperoI love the world of Warhammer 40,000. It’s a rich and fascinating universe. I currently have two armies to play in the 8th edition of the game (I play Salamanders and Thousand Sons) I even bought Games Workshop’s newest skirmish version of 40K, “Kill Team” (Which is a great and fairly cheap way to get your feet wet in the world of 40K) The reason I’m such a huge fan though is the fabulous work done by the authors of the fiction arm of Games Workshop, the Black Library.

The work of one specific Black Library author though, Dan Abnett, brought me into the World of 40K. I was a huge fan of his comic work and I’ve been lucky enough to interview him as a journalist on several different occasions. He’s a super nice guy. So one day I picked up my library’s copy of “The Eisenhorn Omnibus” and I was hooked. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything 40K I’ve read by Abnett and I think his novel, “Legion,” is one of the best entries in the 40K prequel series, “The Horus Heresy,” that I’ve read so far. So I was especially excited to read his novel “Prospero Burns,” which is the 15th entry in the series.

Part of the reason I was excited is because the last Horus Heresy novel I read was Graham McNeill’s “Thousand Sons.” That book made me love the Thousand Sons and its a large part of the reason why I have a Thousand Sons army to play 40K. One of the most tragic and heartbreaking elements of that story was the burning of Prospero, the Thousand Sons’ homeworld, by the Space Marine legion known as The Space Wolves.

So, I was curious to see what that historical moment looked like from The Space Wolves perspective and in “Prospero Burns” Abnett gives us that, but he also gives us so much more. The result is a powerful, fun, exciting, and poignant read even if you’re a Thousand Sons fan and player (like me)

I feel the best 40K and Horus Heresy novels are the ones that take deep dives intoDan-cool the cultures that their protagonists hail from. And in “Prospero Burns” Abnett does that. You’re given a sense of the true, savage purpose of the Space Wolves. You’re allowed to appreciate their sense of loyalty to that purpose and their Emperor. You’re also allowed to feel sorry for what that loyalty does to them and angry at the tragic mistakes it causes them to make.

Best of all though is you’re allowed to see these superhuman warriors in a more human light. That’s because you learn the types of stories that entertain and enthrall the Space Wolves in quieter moments when they’re sitting around a campfire or when they’re trying to provide some final moments of comfort to a mortally injured comrade.

This exploration of Space Wolf culture is done primarily through the eyes of a scholar named Kasper Hawser. He’s a fascinating almost Indiana Jones style character and like the Remembrancer (scholarly types) characters in other “Horus Heresy” novels he’s a great character and his perspective on the actions and culture of the Space Wolves is fascinating.

Abnett also uses Kasper to provide some very cool insights into what Earth was like before and several years after The Emperor of Mankind unified it. Because throughout the book were given glimpses of Hawser’s past. Those flashback sequences are also tied into the larger plot in a way that I won’t spoil because it’s a cool reveal.

Prospero Burns” is also a fun adventure that brushes up against new and classic elements of 40K lore. Some of my favorite new characters and concepts include Longfang, the Space Wolves Rune Priest that Hawser spends some time with, and the Quietude; an interstellar empire that very much felt like a 40K version of the classic Star Trek villains, the Borg.

At first there might not seem like a lot for fans looking into insight at larger and classic 40K characters and lore. Patient readers will be rewarded though. Quite a few familiar faces, including Space Wolf Primarch Leman Russ, appear in the second half of the book. Plus Abnett adds some excitement and intrigue to big events like the Council of Nikaea and the titular Burning of Prospero.

So “Prospero Burns” is a fantastic book that is many things. It’s primarily a sci-fi adventure story and cultural study. As the book unfolds though Abnett organically adds layers to the narrative that make it even more enjoyable. So it’s also a spy/conspiracy story, a tale of supernatural horror, and tragedy in almost the classical sense of the word. All of those elements combine to make “Prospero Burns” a hell of a read.

Book Review-Forges of Mars Omnibus by Graham McNeill

Forges of MarsOne of the great things about the world of Warhammer 40,000 is all its fascinating factions. Its easy to think one is not for you, but like comics all it takes is the right writer to illustrate a group’s potential. For me that faction was the the Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus, but then I read Graham McNeill’s Horus Heresy novel, Mechanicum. In it McNeill showed me the Admech are a fascinating group of characters and there’s a bunch of interesting stories to be told with them. So I thought I’d see what he could do with a whole trilogy of Adeptus Mechanicus novels and picked up the Forges of Mars omnibus, which contains the novels Priests of Mars, Lords of Mars, and Gods of Mars, as well as the short story Zero Day Exploit.

I got what I wanted and then some. Because Forges of Mars is full of a whole host of fascinating characters not just members of the Admech. Plus each book in the series ups the scope and scale . So Gods of Mars is a story full of grand, epic action, and character payouts.

The Forges of Mars omnibus starts out as a tale of exploration. So essentially McNeill is taking a Star Trek style story and giving it a 40K spin.His story is about an Adeptus Mechanicus expedition for a missing ship that traveled outside the known galaxy thousands of years ago. The flagship of this new expedition is a massive and ancient vessel known as the Speranza. It’s almost like a planet and much of the action in the trilogy unfolds in its labyrinthine layout. It’s a pretty fascinating locale that’s almost a character unto itself.

Walking the halls of the Speranza are a diverse group of Adeptus Mechanicus tech-priests. First and foremost is of course the expedition leader, Lexell Kotov. He’s surrounded himself with a number cold and career focused tech-priests like Tarkis Blaylock. What’s great about those characters though is how nuanced they are. Over the course of the trilogy you get moments that show them at their worst, but they also get genuine moments of heroism and altruism. Plus there are some very noble, grounded, and easy to like tech-priests like the father and daughter team of Vitali and Linya Tychon. Their noble nature and genuine affection for each other made them some of my favorite characters in the trilogy.

The nature of the Kotov expedition allows McNeill to expand the cast of Forges of Graham McNeillMars beyond tech-priests and include diverse characters from all over the Imperium of Man. Accompanying the expedition are a band of Black Templar Space Marines, a detachment of valiant soldiers from Cadia, a Legion of Titan war machines and their pilots, a Rogue Trader and his crew, and several normal humans press ganged into being bondsmen aboard the Speranza. But that’s not all! There’s also a crew of Eldar pursuing the Speranza.

As the Forges of Mars trilogy unfolds were allowed to spend time with all of these characters and see things from their perspective. So I really came to care about almost all of them. It heightened all the action scenes and made the climax of the trilogy incredibly enjoyable. There was so much payoff. The character arcs I probably enjoyed the most were the ones of Linya Tychon; Rogue Trade Roboute Surcouf who hails from the Ultramar system which means he’s kind of like James T Kirk mixed with the nobility of Steve Rogers; and Black Templar sergeant Tanna, who really goes on a journey of growth over the course of the trilogy.

I also have to mention that McNeill may have opened my eyes to the appeal of the Eldar. They are another faction that have popped up throughout the  40K novels I’ve read that I really haven’t found all that appealing. In Forges of Mars, McNeill points out how the Eldar are a damned race thanks to their creation of the Chaos God Slaanesh, but they’ve decided to sort of go down swinging and fighting against their fate. That made me see them in an entirely new light. So I may have to seek out some Eldar novels.

I don’t want to say too much about the action of the Forges of Mars trilogy because a lot of of it is shrouded in mystery with some great reveals. What I will say is the story takes readers to pretty fantastic locales like alien planets, a seemingly deserted space station, and a mysterious Forge World. McNeill also has a lot of fun with the tone of the trilogy as well. You get moments of grand adventure, character drama, cosmic horror, and over the top action. The climax of the book is an epic struggle to save the entire universe and features a number of wildly imaginative and gloriously trippy sequences.

All of that makes Forges of Mars an incredible and epic read. For me, its one of those grand trilogies that reflects all the reasons why I love the 40K universe. It’s right up there with Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn trilogy and Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords trilogy. It’s that good! I was already a fan of McNeill before reading this Omnibus, but now he’s one of my favorite Black Library authors.