Book Review- “Tales of Heresy” Edited by Nick Kyme & Lindsey Priestley

Tales-of-Heresy-Neil-RobertsThe world of Games Workshop and Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 universe is so huge and rich that it’s easy to think all of it’s best stories would be big, sprawling epics. That’s by no means true though. I’ve certainly read some fantastic novels, trilogies, and multi-book series, but “Tales of Heresy,” the 10th installment in “The Horus Heresy” series that chronicles the galaxy spanning civil war that shaped the current 40K time line, is a great reminder that some of the most powerful and entertaining 40K tales are shorter fare. The seven tales that make up the book provide some fascinating insight into the most celebrated heroes, villains, and organizations of the Imperium of Man. We get to see some of the pivotal events that shaped them and how they react to the initial fires of a war that will turn into a conflagration that will eventually envelope the entire Imperium.

I’ve never actually reviewed an anthology before. So this is something that I’m still trying to get the hang off, but overall I thought “Tales of Heresy” did a great job fleshing out some of the more interesting characters and organizations that didn’t get a whole lot of coverage in the first nine books of the series, which detail the outbreak and initial skirmishes of the Horus Heresy. I also liked that the tales that were included in the book were incredibly diverse. Readers are taken to a variety of locations and given tales of desperate battles to conquer and liberate planets, a spy mission on Holy Terra, an investigation into a missing ship, a Space Marine trying to reach his mentally unhinged Primarch, and best of all, a simple conversation about the inspiring and destructive power of faith between the priest of one of Earth’s last churches and a representative of the secular Imperium.

That story is Graham McNeil’s “Last Church,” and there were a number of reasonsThe_Last_Church_on_Terra_by_Noldofinve why I loved it. The first is because of how different it is from your standard 40K fare. Essentially it’s two guys talking about religion. It’s almost a one act play. That structure makes the story fresh and pretty powerful since the two characters are talking about the ways religion can hurt and harm society. The second reason I really enjoyed the story was that it gave some more insights into life on Terra and the history of the Unification Wars where the Emperor came to power. The third reason is the story has some great twists and turns that I’m not going to spoil here. It all came together to make one of the best 40K short stories I’ve ever read.

Another favorite of mine was Matthew Farrer’s “After Desh’ea.” It’s another story that’s essentially just two people talking, but in this case it’s the Gladiator Primarch Angron and the Space Marine who will go on to become one of Chaos’ deadliest warriors, Kharn. What’s especially great about this story is Farrer manages to both humanize Angron and still make him seem godlike and horrific. That’s because he shows us that not even Primarchs are immune to the psychological damage caused by a lifetime of violence. In the story we see Angron fight for and lose control over his body as Kharn tries to talk his Primarch out of beating him to death and into his role as leader of the XII Legion of the Emperor’s Space Marines.

Rounding out my top three favorite stories in “Tales of Heresy” is Dan Abnett’s “Blood Games,” which takes readers deep inside an organization I wasn’t too familiar with, the Adeptus Custodes, the Emperor’s elite body guards and agents. Their world is a pretty fascinating one too since they’re genetically injured super soldiers like the Space Marines, but they’re also supremely cunning. So Abnett’s story is essentially about the Space Marine versions of Jason Bourne pulling off two very different undercover missions. The story is full of bad ass action, intrigue, and fun.

The other stories in “Tales of Heresy” were also pretty entertaining as well. So when you add them together with the three standout ones I discussed above you have a collection of fun and powerful stories that showcase how fascinating and deep a world Games Workshop and Black Library have created. Kudos to editors Nick Kyme and Lindsey Priestly for putting together such a great anthology.


Book Review-“The Secret History of Twin Peaks: A Novel” by Mark Frost

Secret History of Twin PeaksOne of the great things about David Lynch and Mark Frost’s “Twin Peaks” is that it’s a mystery that gives you enough clues to formulate your own ideas about what’s going on, but it never definitively answers the main seemingly supernatural enigmas plaguing the fictional town they’ve created. So when you watch the series there’s this fun and fantastic feeling of mysterious dread; like something sinister is out there waiting in the woods of Ghost Wood Forest and you can almost make it out. I’m happy to report that feeling was a big part of Frost’s novel “The Secret History of Twin Peaks.” It provides plenty of new and fun ways of looking at things that can serve as clues and context for watching old episodes of “Twin Peaks” or Showtime’s current “Twin Peaks: The Return,” but it also raises just as many questions as it answers.

“The Secret of History of Twin Peaks” may not be for every fan. If you’re not looking for clues or have no interest in a novel that’s just as much about the strange real history of America and the world as it is about the events in Twin Peaks this probably isn’t for you. Also if you’re looking specifically for a book that is only about the central characters of Twin Peaks (many of them are here and play a large part) or fills in the 25 year gap between the original series and the current Showtime revival (I believe that comes later this year in the form of Frost’s “Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier”) this isn’t for you. If you though are looking to see how things like the Black Lodge and Owl Cave rings impact real world historical figures or have your memory refreshed on important details relevant to the current series this is definitely a book you’ll have fun with. You’ll smile as connection are made and context is given to current events in the Showtime series.

In “The Secret History of Twin Peaks” Frost weaves together connections between the titular town and its residents and weird and very real moments in American and world history. The end result is a novel that feels like Twin Peaks meets Robert Anton Wilson’s “Illuminatus” trilogy or the historical fantasy novels of Tim Powers. I want to get more specific and talk about what’s in there, but I really don’t want to spoil any surprises. Let’s just say if you’re familiar with some of the strange events of American history or conspiracy theories you’ll come across some recognizable faces in the book. If you’re not up on those details google some of the names. You’ll discover some very real and fascinating characters and events.

Those wide historical details will certainly appeal to fans of weird history like myself.Mark-Frost Some passages may feel like they belong in an “X-Files” book, and if that bothers you or feels long I’d advise just be patient and enjoy the ride. Frost takes you to an interesting destination. Also I think it’s safe to say there’s a huge crossover between “Twin Peaks” and “X-Files” fans. Both are weird mysteries where charismatic and eccentric FBI agents play central roles.

The citizens of Twin Peaks aren’t short shifted in Frost’s book either. Some characters play central roles throughout the entire novel. Plus there’s several chapters that deal with the often sordid dealings and machinations of the town’s central figures and families.

Another fun aspect of the “The Secret History” is Frost’s use of the Epistolary method to tell his story. The book is a collection of files, essays, journal entries, and other documents from a variety of authors. There are two central narrators. Agent Tamara Pierce (who is a minor character in the Showtime series) provides fun annotations on the documents presented in the book. It’s especially cool to see her thoughts when weird events are discussed. Much of the narration and documents though come from a mysterious figure named the Archivist. Deducing his identity was a central goal of Pierce and will be the reader’s goal as well. It’s a mystery that’s answered and as a long time “Twin Peaks” fan I thought the answer was highly satisfying.

So if you’re looking for a book that deepens an enriches the mysteries of Twin Peaks by weaving them into the mysteries of America history “The Secret History of Twin Peaks” is definitely a novel you need to pick up. It’s a fun and highly satisfying read that has only increased my excitement and enthusiasm for the new Showtime series. I’m also very excited to read Frost’s follow up book “Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier,” which is currently scheduled to hit on Halloween of this year.

Categories: Book Review, TV Thoughts

Book Review- Dogs of War by Jonathan Maberry

Dogs of WarOne of my favorite aspects of heroic fiction is the protagonist that refuses to stay down. When the forces of darkness knock them to the canvas they always get back up because the safety of the city, country, or world is on the line. Those stories are even more powerful and poignant when there’s a cost to getting back on your feet and continuing to fight until the day is won. Jonathan Maberry demonstrated that with his last Joe Ledger novel (the eight in the series), “Kill Switch” where Joe and his fellow soldiers, scientists, and support staff at the Department of Military Sciences dealt with a scheme that almost shattered them and their seemingly invincible organization. They endured the worst their enemies threw at them though, and saved the world. The result was one of the best entries in the series.

Unfortunately for Joe and his comrades though their job is to wage a never ending war against the forces that would terrorize innocence whoever and wherever they may be. So how do you come back to the fight after surviving a conflict that took the lives of many of your comrades, robbed your organization of it’s stellar reputation, and nearly robbed you of your sanity and your life? That’s one of the central questions in Maberry’s latest Ledger novel, “Dogs of War,” and the journey towards answering it was pretty fascinating and a whole lot of fun.

When “Dogs of War” picks up Joe, his enigmatic boss Mr. Church, and the surviving250px-JonathanMaberry members of the Department of Military Sciences are in rebuilding mode. They’re trying to repair the devastating damage done to their ranks, reputation, and morale that was done in “Kill Switch” and it’s easier said than done. So right away in “Dogs of War” they’re on their back foot, and it’s an interesting place to be because the characters and us readers are not used to it. That position also gives the story some extra poignance and resonance. We’re not used to Joe and the DMS being underdogs. So as “Dogs of War” moves along you’ll find yourself rooting for Joe, Top, Bunny, and all your old favorites more than usual. Watching them rise up and try to get back to where they were is especially fun.

Another way in which “Dogs of War” is enjoyably unique is its narrative and structure. Many of the previous Ledger books were action thrillers with a variety of genre elements and an immense scope and scale. “Dogs of War” has all of those hallmarks, but to me it felt like a novel that was just as intimate as it what “wide screen.” For much of the story the cast is paired down to just Joe, his best friend and the DMS’ resident mental health specialist, Dr. Rudy Sanchez, and his brother Sean, a homicide detective with the Baltimore Police.

So in a lot of ways “Dogs of War” is just as much a detective novel as it is an action thriller. It’s also a novel of sci-fi and horror. That might sound radical and off putting to some fans, but trust me it’s not. That’s because just when you think you’ve got the plot and the rhythm of the novel worked out Maberry hits you with an organic and well placed twist that turns the story up to 11 and shows all the things you thought you might be missing were brewing in the background.

The nature of the threat that Joe and company face is also pretty compelling. Before “Dogs of War” even begins Maberry states that all the scary science that his characters run afoul of in the book is either in active development, field testing, and or already in use. I don’t want to spoil anything by saying much more than that, but I will say much of the horror in the novel comes from the truly terrifying applications a shadowy conspiracy devises for things that used to be science fiction, but are now science fact like nanites and robots.

The villains behind this conspiracy are also quite fascinating. One of them I started off hating, but the more and more Maberry revealed about her tragic life the more I empathized with her. That was a pretty grand accomplishment to because I started off hating this villain.

The other chief antagonist of “Dogs of War” turns out to be a great villain as well. Especially when you find out what’s really going on with the character. Again I’m not going to say much, but it ties back into some of the cooler genre elements that have been percolating in the back of the Ledger series for some time now. It also offers up more tantalizing clues into the past of one of the mosts mysterious characters in the Ledger series.

So you get some long term plot and mystery payoff, but you also get plenty of great character moments as well. Joe spends much of the book separated from the founding members of Echo Team, Top and Bunny. Those characters get their moments to shine too though. Plus we get to check in with sniper Sam Imura. Some of my favorite moments though came in scenes where the DMS support staff got some time to shine and show that, while they might not be highly trained soldiers ,they’re still very much heroes in their own right. I particularly like the scenes with computer specialists Bug and Nikki, and forensics analyst Jerry Spencer.

Maberry also gave readers an insanely cool new member of the DMS to root for in the form of ex-cop and soldier Tracy Cole. She wasn’t in as much as the book as Joe or even Top and Bunny, but the scenes we got with were awesome and she was so bad-ass. I can’t wait to read more about her.

So it’s incredibly difficult to keep a book series and its characters interesting after nine entries, but with “Kill Switch” and now “Dogs of War” Maberry demonstrates that the Joe Ledger series is in no danger of running out of steam. In fact it’s becoming an even more fun and fascinating with each entry. I can’t wait until spring 2018 for the next installment.

Categories: Book Review, Joe Ledger

Book Review- “The Last Wall” by David Annandale

Last WallI took a bit of a break from Black Library’s year long event storyline “The Beast Arises” after book 3, “The Emperor Expects.” Not because the series was bad. It was quite entertaining. It wasn’t as epic as I wanted it to be though. I got the rest of the series this past Christmas so I decided to go back to it with Book 4 “The Last Wall” by David Annandale. I’m glad I did because in this book Annandale turns things up to 11 by taking all that stuff that works in past books and amping it, as well as adding some new and very interesting twists.

One of the most interesting elements of “The Beast Arises” series has been the political intrigue and maneuvering. You get more of that in “The Last Wall” as Drakan Vangorich, the Grandmaster of the Imperium of Man’s Officio Assassinorum tries to protect his ally in the Inquisition and deals with the petty posturing for power of the High Lords of Terra. Annandale does a fantastic job drumming home how awful, narcissistic, and power hungry the various High Lords are in the novel. By the end it was clear that they’re just as big of villains in the story as the invading Ork forces are.

The political elements of the novel also stretched out to some other returning characters that weren’t part of that type of intrigue in the past like Koorland, the surviving Imperial Fist. In the few chapters he appears in you see him having to make nice and navigate the egos of the leaders of the Space Marine chapters that had descended from the Imperial Fists. You don’t often get to see that type of interaction between the martial minded Space Marines and it was pretty interesting to see.

Annandale also introduces a number of new characters and forces into the conflict. david_annandaleI would love to talk about one of the new forces, but it’s a big spoiler. I’ll just say that a major Warhammer 40,000 player I never thought I’d see facing off against an Ork invasion is forced to deal with an Ork attack moon (man that’s such a fun and METAL thing to type) in “The Last Wall.” It made for some really cool and interesting scenes and I never thought I’d be cheering the members of this faction on, but I was!

The bulk of the new characters introduced in “The Last Wall” are the humans of the “Proletariat Crusade” that a High Lord of Terra creates in order to deal with the attack moon hanging over the Imperium’s home world. Much of the action in “The Last Wall” involves the formation of the crusade which is composed of thousands of ships and the billions of average citizens and Imperial Guardsmen those ships are hoping to land on the attack moon.

So we get scenes of chaos on Terra, people coming together, and intense fighting, and all of them work. Along the way we meet some characters that I grew attached to like the crew of the Merchant ship Militant’s Fire, and my favorite new character Galatea Haas, of the Adeptus Arbites. She’s got a great arc that involves which duty she should devote herself too, and she’s part of some really nice action scenes. So she’s both very human and a bad-ass like a lot of the best characters in the Warhammer 40K universe.

The other element of “The Last Wall” I really enjoyed addressed one of my biggest criticisms of “The Beast Arises” storyline, the Orks. For the first three novels the Orks really felt monstrous, but they also felt like a force of nature. So instead of feeling like an epic tale of interstellar war “The Beast Arises” almost felt more like a saga of cosmic disaster, which was still fun, but not as cool or as epic as I felt the story needed to be.

Annandale changes that in the “The Last Wall.” There were several scenes where the Orks really did start to feel like a sinister invasion force. The most powerful and just plain “HOLY SHIT I DIDN’T EXPECT TO EVER SEE THAT IN A 40K NOVEL” though comes at the end of the book. I don’t want to say what it was, but that scene fully invested me in the characters and larger conflict of “The Beast Arises.” I can’t wait to plow into it, and finish the last 8 novels in the series.

Book Review- “Dangerous Ends” by Alex Segura

March 11, 2017 1 comment

Dangersous EndsAs a fan of Pete Fernandez, the protagonist of Alex Segura’s first two crime novels “Silent City” and “Down the Darkest Street,” I’ve rooted for him to take down both a legendary hitman and a deadly serial killer. They were harrowing struggles, but I’ve rooted hardest for him when he was locked in his most difficult and frightening battles; accepting that he’s an alcoholic and that he should be putting his knack for investigation to use as a private investigator. In those first two books Pete was a likable character almost in spite of himself. He’d go on a bender or step away from investigation and into something that didn’t suit him and I would actually yell, “NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” at the book.

So it’s a lot of fun and very satisfying to see Pete move onto a new phase in his life in Segura’s newest novel, “Dangerous Ends,” which finds Pete working as a P.I. and regularly attending AA meetings. That doesn’t mean things are any easier for him. When we catch up with Pete at the beginning of the book works has become kind of a rut and throughout the novel his struggle with sobriety is pretty fascinating. There’s almost a sense of him rediscovering and trying to figure out what life is like without alcohol that feels authentic and is pretty compelling. I especially enjoyed the scenes where the two aspects of Pete’s new life collided and he suddenly found himself in a bar because of a case.

Speaking of cases Segura gives Pete and his investigative partner Kathy, who’s Seguramanaged to turn their past exploits into a career as a journalist and true crime writer, a pretty compelling one. In “Dangerous Ends” the daughter of a Miami police detective who was convicted for the brutal killing of his wife tasks Pete and Kathy with finding evidence to get her father a new trial. That sends them to both upscale and seedy areas of Miami and also leads to some exciting and explosively violent confrontations as Pete and Kathy are hunted by a violent and powerful gang of killers.

It also leads to some memorable character interactions. Former FBI agent Robert Harras returns in this book to help Pete and Kathy out whether they like it or not. The dynamic between the three of them is pretty great. The best returning character though has got to be Dave Mendoza, Pete’s affluent friend and former boss at a used bookstore. In “Dangerous Ends” we get some glimpses into Dave’s former life with the Miami underworld and how far he’ll go to protect his friends. Those were some of my favorite scenes in the book. I’m hoping that someday Segura will give Dave his own book.

So “Dangerous Ends” has some great characters, fun action, and a really interesting case, but what makes the book so powerful and compelling is how the consequences of our actions, both wrong and right, are always with us. They’re part of who we are. Segura expertly illustrates that in the larger narrative with things like important and fascinating interludes that stretch back to Cuba during Castro’s rise to power. He also does it with quieter character moments too. I talked earlier about Pete’s sobriety, and another example that I found particularly cool was a passage that talked about all the things Harras must have seen as an FBI agent and how it’s etched into both how he appears and acts.

So with “Dangerous Ends” Segura provides another fantastic entry in the Peter Fernandez series that rewards longtime fans with a new status quo and an exciting and hard hitting tale that leaves his protagonist in a new place both literally and metaphorically. I’m excited to see where he goes next with this fun and incredibly satisfying series.

“Dangerous Ends” is available from Polis Book on April 11, 2017

Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “Roboute Gulliman: Lord of Ultramar” by David Annandale

February 8, 2017 Leave a comment

gullimanThe “Warhammer 40,000” universe created by Games Workshop and it’s licensed fiction division Black Library is populated by many fascinating figures, but some of the most compelling are the 18 genetically engineered “sons” the God Emperor of Mankind built to lead his super soldier armies, the Adeptus Astartes AKA the Space Marines. In the current 41st Millenium timeline of 40K many of these demigod like Space Marine Primarchs are missing, dead, or have been transformed into demonic beings. So they’re more figures of legend than actual characters.

The “Horus Heresy” line of prequel fiction that chronicles the intergalactic civil war that set the stage for the world of 40K has allowed us readers to spend some time with the Primarchs and given us some great glances into what make these characters tick. Black Library though recently kicked off another line of fiction that should give readers an even greater insight into the fathers of the Space Marine Legions. I’m happy to report that their “Horus Heresy Primarchs” line is off to a promising start with “Roboute Gulliman: Lord of Ultramar” by David Annandale, which focuses on the titular father of the Space Marine legion known as the Ultramarines.

What makes “Lord of Ultramar” so much fun and so interesting is it’s essentially a character study of the titular character. Gulliman is a character of contrasts. He’s a warrior fighting for the day when humanity no longer needs to go to war. He’s a a person constantly trying to balance reason and action. The idea of endless, thoughtless war haunts and terrifies him and he seeks to inspire his sons to be something better.

Annandale let’s us see Gulliman wrestle with these fears too. We get to go inside hisdavid_annandale head, hear his private talks and hopes with most trusted advisors, and we even get to see some of his writings on war. My favorite among these sequences involves a bit of Warhammer 40K lore that shows Gulliman tormented by some earlier dealings with the Legion of one of his brother Primarchs, Lorgar and his Word Bearers.

So Annandale provides some great humanizing moments for Gulliman, but he also lets his protagonist be the demigod like bad-ass we know him to be. In the novel the Lord of Ultramar and his sons descend on an Ork infested world. So we get to see Gulliman lead the Ultramarines into battle and some of those scenes are so much fun and so METAL! One of the things I love about 40K is over the top action scenes and Annandale provides quite a few of those and they’re all immensely entertaining.

Gulliman is such a great character that as a reader you want to spend almost all your time with him and he can’t help but eclipse some of the other characters in the book. Still there were quite a few supporting characters I found especially interesting like Gage, Gulliman’s second in command, and Hierax, a member of a special type of Space Marine unit that Gulliman is trying to reform called The Destroyers.

We journey with these characters and their Primarch as they try to break the grip the Orks have on an ancient world once home to a human culture while trying to preserve the artifacts and heritage of the disappeared culture. It leads to some fun, large scale battles that take place on mountain sides and brutal underground fighting. The climax of the novel where Gulliman and the Ultramarines discover what really happened to the humans that called the planet home also made for a fun and chilling reveal.

So with “Roboute Gulliman: Lord of Ultramar” David Annandale follows through on the promise of the “Primarchs” series and gets it off to a great start with a fun and fascinating look at the titular father of the Ultramarines. I look forward to reading the next book in the series and more of Annandale’s entries in the Ork invasion storyline “The Beast Arises,” which I have yet to complete.

Book Review- “Mechanicum by Graham McNeill

January 9, 2017 Leave a comment


Games Workshop’s “Warhammer 40,000” universe has so many cool and diverse elements, but one part of it that I’ve always been lukewarm and kind of “meh” about is the Machine Cult of Mars. They just always felt a little too weird and uninteresting to me. So I approached Graham McNeill’s ninth entry in Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” series (which is sort of a prequel series that chronicles the intergalactic civil war that sets the 40K universe up), “Mechanicum” with some trepidation. A whole novel focusing on the tech priests of Mars? I’m not sure if that’s something for me. Turns out I was quite wrong. “Mechanicum” is a highly, enjoyable, read where McNeill pulls off some Herculean heavy lifting and pretty much succeeds at everything he had to do and intended to do.

In “Mechanicum” McNeill had to bring Horus Lupercal’s rebellion to Mars, which meant he had to introduce many readers like me to a whole new world. He had to establish the power players on this planet, the places they lived and worked, and also introduce a number of characters in Mars’ various military orders like the Titan Legions and mecha piloting Knights. He also had to make us care about them. Then he had to create an interesting tale about the subtle and insidious way civil war comes to Mars and how it gives birth to the Chaos and Horus aligned Dark Mechanicum. Then he had to give us a number of gripping, action set pieces as the Chaos and Imperium aligned members of the Machine Cult war against each other for control of Mars. Plus he had do that without relying too much on established, cool concepts like the Space Marines. Some members of the Imperial Fists chapter of the Adeptus Astartes appear in “Mechanicum,” but they appear very briefly and only towards of the end of the book.

Admittedly some elements were better than others, but McNeill accomplished all of that. Graham McNeillWhat made “Mechanicum” especially enjoyable though and showed how great a writer he is was the fact that he didn’t stop there! On top of all those interesting things we also got a very cool and incredibly imaginative tale about the ancient past of the Imperium’s ruler, the Emperor of Mankind. We also got a fun almost Lord of the Rings quest style adventure featuring an incredibly endearing band of characters that I don’t recall ever seeing before in a “Horus Heresy” or 40k book.

Those sections of the book were the high point of “Mechanicum” for me. In those portions we journey to Mars with Dallia Cytheria; a compassionate, curious, transcriber with an eidetic memory. Dalia is a great character and her kind and caring perspective is a refreshing one to see in the “Grim, Dark” world of the “Horus Heresy” and 40K. That perspective also earns her a band of loyal and caring friends. My favorite member of Dallia’s band of friends was the cybernetic being assigned to protect her, Rho-Mu 31. He starts off as kind of an aloof, almost alien character but as his relationship with Dallia changes and grows you get to see the humanity beneath his cybernetics.

Midway through the book Dallia and her friends embark on a quest to get to the heart of an ancient Martian mystery. What they find at the end of their journey is fascinating, poignant, and powerful.

Of course while Dallia and her friends are on their quest things unravel on Mars and some epic fighting breaks out. The Mecha style combat between the rival giant robot pilots of the Titan legions and Knights was cinematic and breathtaking. There was apocalyptic pace and tone to the battles that just made them pop and flow.

So in “Mechanicum” McNeill did the unthinkable for me. He changed my mind about the Machine Cult and Mars. He did that by telling a hell of a story that included a ton of great world building, memorable and fascinating characters, and some intense action. Plus he did all of that in just a little over 400 pages. It made for a hell of an impressive feat and and incredibly enjoyable novel.