A Thousand Sons – Review

Cast your mind back. It’s 2002 and Games Workshop are preparing for the Eye of Terror campaign. A fledgling Black Library released Storm of Iron, a book by Graham McNeill, who at the time was perhaps best known for his work on the Games Workshop Design Team. It was good. Like, really good. The community’s reaction was pretty positive. Yet since then, it feels like that same community seems to have soured on him, if only for the crime of liking Ultramarines. [Fuckers! – Ed.]

A-Thousand-Sons

For my own part, I’ve not always enjoyed everything Graham has written, but he’s one of the few writers that seems to be experimenting and testing his limits with each new book he writes. His books often don’t quite work for me, but his ability to mix of 40k battles and more nuanced exploration of the universe wins me over more often than not.

My pre ramble is important, because if there was a way of describing my gut feeling of A Thousand Sons, it’s “Mostly works, if not quite as much as it should”. It’s going to take the rest of this review to explain why.

Now, how go best go about it? If you are familiar with the history of the 40k universe at all, you will know the Fall of Prospero is one of the defining moments of the Horus Heresy. A Thousand Sons starts sometime before that and allows us to get to know the legion, as it explores the galaxy trying to increase mankind’s knowledge, which they see as the real purpose of the Great Crusade.  Censured at the Council of Nikaea for treading a dangerous path, events soon spiral out of control and the Imperium will never be the same again.

The main drive and focus of the book is secrets. Everyone has them, from our humble Remembrancers, the human element of the book, to Magnus, Primarch of the Thousand Sons himself. Even the Space Wolves, usually portrayed as being as subtle as an axe to the face, are keeping back something, which suits a book about a Legion that one day will become the servants of the trickster god Tzeentch.

The novel is certainly very effective at allowing you to empathise with the 15th Legion, as by allowing you to see their triumphs through to their lows, you gain a real sense of the tragedy of the situation, as two Primarchs refuse to back down from one another until it’s too late. Getting to see the glorious paradise of Prospero and how the Space Wolves appear as alien invaders allows for a great contrast to A Thousand Sons sister book Prospero Burns. It really makes you root for a legion that could otherwise come off as more arrogant and monstrous than the Emperor’s Children.

McNeill is good at penning an action scene and the description of the fall of Prospero as one continuous piece in the latter half of the book manages to capture both a personal scale of Magnus’ folly and the larger more epic of the war around him, that an event like the Horus Heresy demands. The only real failing of the book is its human characters. Whilst fairly prominent at the start of the novel, the Remembrancers seem to be lost and forgotten by the second half, until suddenly they become prominent characters at a time that is disruptive to the more interesting narrative of Magnus and his son’s discovery of Horus’ plans. By the time of the invasion the characters have any further involvement cut off, in a sentence that seems to hint they make it back to Prospero, without any follow-up. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but it’s an odd ending to characters that have been written to make us care about them, only to have them dropped as any hint of a future absent once the big fighting scenes kick in. [I think the point was that fate can call upon even the lowliest soul to change the galaxy, but be just as quick to discard them. But that’s just me. -Ed.]

All in all, apart from the odd bit of clunky dialogue, I really have no actual complaints about the book. It flows well, and Graham manages his usual trick of making each battle about more than just cool explosions and bolter porn. A real blast from start to finish and a nice counterpart to Dan Annett’s  Prospero Burns. It’s probably the best work I’ve read of Graham’s yet and I look forward to reading his further contributions to both the 30k and 40k universe.

A Thousand Sons is available via The Black Library as an E-book or physical copy, or is available from all good high street booksellers. And Waterstones.

Legion A Review

Hi everyone. As my last book review went down so well I figured I will make a bit of a habit of these things. I’ve read quite a bit of 40k fiction in my time so at least I can make posts on a semi regular basis. They will also help keep my mind ticking over whilst I work on bigger topics (which are coming soon).

So, for a while I’m going to focus on the Horus Heresy series, with occasional breaks for regular 40k books (probably when I get round to reading something that catches my eye). No rules as such other than they must be worth reading because they add to the 40k universe in some way. Be it a different style, new expansions of the background or just a refinement of elements that work. I just don’t want to highlight mediocrity. After all, we all only have a finite time on this earth, so we don’t want to be stumbling across the next C.S. Goto and I certainly don’t want to be reading that kind of drek either. So no frigging bolter porn, unless it’s really, really good bolter porn.

HH wise, even though I’m reading the books as fast as I can I’m still about 2/3 years behind the publishing schedule. But thats ok. The first actually decent HH novel doesn’t start until about 7 books in anyway* [Thems fighting words. – Ed.]. The book in question? Legion by Dan Abnett.

The story itself concerns regular army grunts of the Imperial Army undergoing a rather unsuccessful Compliance Action on a planet called Nurth, where the occupants are using magic to aid their fight. Caught up in the machinations of the Alpha Legion, are Hurtado Bronzi, Peto Soneka and Rukhsana Saiid, who amidst all the devastation and betrayals are trying to find out just what exactly why the Alpha Legion are really on Nurth.

In turn, the Alpha Legion have been drawn to the planet by the enigmatic John Grammaticus, a being who has lived long enough to remember meeting the Emperor himself, and the Cabal, a shadowy network of races all conspiring to destroy the ‘Primordial Annihilator’ (Chaos is a much more catchy name don’t you think?) using humanity as its tool to do that.

It sounds very confusing and on my first read through it was. Subsequent readings have made given me a bit more clarity, but as benefits the shadowy 20th Legion, the truth of what is going on behind the scenes is only ever really inferred and is covered in many half-truths.

As is the case with a lot of the early Horus Heresy books, the action is mostly contextualized from the view of humans in the Imperial Army rather than from the view-point of the Astartes. Whilst I would normally complain about this, I think its fitting considering the legion being examined. It’s obvious a lot of thought has been put into this and that Abnett is trying to keep to the spirit of the universe, so even as we are reading the truth of what is now legend in the 41st millennium, the reader is finding there are still many unexplained mysteries and hidden depths to explore.

I did find most of the third act on Eolith a little redundant (beyond the reveal) and found myself a little puzzled as to why the Alpha Legion took an entire Imperial fleet with them other than the mechanical story element of needing access to certain characters later. But my quibbles are more with Abnett’s style of writing, which always seems quite detached and cold to me.

Still, those are minor quibbles. Legion explores the Horus Heresy and the Imperium from the perspective of outsiders to it, or else those who are starting to realise the Emperor’s claims about the universe aren’t quite as true as he may want them to think they are.

Dan Abnett as always delivers a solid, if not exactly gripping, tale with enough twists and reveals to keep you guessing until the next book on the Alpha Legion. In John Grammaticus I found a very likeable character, his world weary visage slowly peeling back to reveal someone, who, whilst not necessarily on our side, is still recognizably human and very relatable.

As a bonus, for those of us who want glimpses of the Rouge Trader and 2nd edition 40K background to appear again, John’s descriptions of the Emperor will bring welcome tidings indeed.

It’s a recommended read from me.

Legion is available from The Black Library, Amazon and most highstreet booksellers

*I’m going to pop back to Fulgrim one day as it has a kernel of a good idea about Slannesh, but I’ve heard it gets squandered later on in the series by sending Slannesh back to being the domain of just ‘naughty bum sex’, so I shall give it a pass until I can read those stories and decide for myself.

Fire Caste – A Review

Though I do read my fair share of books and in my time I’ve consumed enough fiction from Black Library to break even the sturdiest of book shelves, it is very much 40k fiction rather than ‘literature’. Yet reading Fire Caste, written by Peter Fehervari, I got the sense of something I rarely get from Games Workshop’s publishing arm. Fire Caste is a book that works just as well as literature separate from the 40k universe as a part of it. This book is the one of the few fully adult science fiction novels I’ve read in the Black Library line.

Fire Caste reminds me of something I had forgotten about after years of reading bolter porn. Which is that the 40k universe has so much potential as a legitimate science fiction universe that’s so often squandered on just recreating the tabletop game in novel form. Whilst Fire Caste isn’t a perfect novel by any means, it manages to juggle the larger nature of 40k metaphysics and the battle scenes that the less mature players turn up for.

Let me be up front. If you were assuming that Fire Caste is about the Tau, then you are in for a shock. The Tau are used more as secondary antagonists and as a way to drive the plot, though they do play an important part early on and in the final act of the book.

Instead, the novel follows the stories of an Imperial Guard regiment, The Arkan Confederates, and a lone half mad Commissar called Holt Iverson. Together they fight to discover just what is really happening on the planet of Phaedra, all the while running from the deamons of their past which in 40k, joyously, means both figuratively and literally.

Now whilst that may seem like a typical story for the Black Library, what makes it stand out is Fehervari’s writing style. More than most other books in the BL catalogue, the author seems to grasp that the Warhammer 40K universe is much better when it leaves things to the imagination and has many half-truths floating around. The books setting, a sort of chaosified Vietnam, is massively condemnatory of war in general, the horrors it allows and its overall futility.

These themes, along with a rather different take on the Tau will probably put off a lot of readers who are used to the Black Library’s standard diet of bombs and bullets sautéed in blood, served up on a platter of Ork guts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And I’ve certainly seen a lot of complaints about how open-ended the book leaves certain threads.

It’s worth persevering though. Fire Caste gives us the great character of Holt Iverson who I’m sure will be in other novels (though perhaps not in the traditional sense) and gives us a very interesting portrayal of the Greater Good, after it’s been subject to a 50 year unwinnable war and all the while steeped in the nature of the corrosive touch of chaos.

Along with Atlas Infernal, I have a feeling that the second wave of Black Library writers will be allowed to dig into the weirdness of 40k to give that crazy fucked up universe its proper dues. I can’t wait.

Fire Caste is available from The Black Library, Amazon and most highstreet booksellers.

Horus Heresy Weekender Charity Giveaway

John Caboche of The First Expedition forum is running a Horus Heresy Weekender charity raffle to raise money for Swindon Children without a Diagnosis which is an extremely worthwhile and important cause to support. Because it’s for children for crying out loud.

The prize is a fully signed copy of the Imperial Truth. I shit thee not.

And all you have to do is bip over to the First Expedition donation page and pledge ten splendid shiny pounds. One (extremely) lucky winner will be drawn at random and win the book. But there’s also some brilliant consilation prizes too which are:

Two fully author signed and Forgeworld signed programmes donated by Black Library

A Horus Heresy Weekender backpack (donated by BL)

An event only Loyalist Legions Poster

An event only Traitor Legions Poster

So get over there, donate £10, bask in the warm glow of your beneficence and if you’re really lucky, you’ll get an awesome prize for your trouble.

Corax: Soulforge Trailer

Okay, a little late to the party but it looks like there’s another limited edition Horus Hersy novels on its way and this time it’s Corax kicking some serious face. So…may have to get that. Because, you know, Corax…and face kicking…

Shell Case Shorts 12

So we’ve finally come to it; the last (ever) Shell Case Shorts competition. It’s been a long and interesting road with some awesome entries and as we stare down the barrel of 2013 I’m really excited about the anthology which will be out in the New Year.

As it’s the last competition I did my best to make the prize as awesome as possible. And this month I’ve been helped along by the awesome Nick Kyme, Gav Thorpe and Sarah Cawkwell. A huge thank you goes out to them as they’ve already been so generous with their donations to The Shell Case in the past.

So this months prizes are; Tome of Fire and The Great Betrayal by Nick Kyme, Ravenwing by Gav Thorpe and Valkia the Bloody by Sarah Cawkwell.

UPDATE – The prize now also includes a signed copy of Battle of the Fang by Chris Wraight.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to add to this prize over December to give the Shell Case Shorts the send off it deserves.

scs12prizes

So, what do you need to do to win this pile of awesome? Well, here’s the rules…

Write a short story of between 3,000 & 5,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Monday 31st December 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

An Interview with Chris Wraight

It’s been a wee while since I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with a Black Library author so who better to interview than the author of the awesome Battle of the Fang and the upcoming Brotherhood of the Storm. Of course I refer to none other than Oxfordshire chap, Chris Wraight.

TSC: Chris thanks for taking the time to speak to me, I know how busy you must be with the White Scars novel. Now, you had the great fortune and great challenge of writing the utterly awesome Battle of the Fang which came out shortly after Dan Abnett’s revolutionary Propsero Burns. What was it like working on a Space Wolves novel with the background so recently redefined?

CW: It was both fun and frightening, as you’d imagine. The Space Wolves were ripe for a reboot, and the work Dan did on Prospero Burns was incredible. I was already writing Fang while Dan’s book was going through production, and only saw a copy halfway through the first draft. Encouragingly, the direction I’d taken was similar in some respects, though nothing like as deep and imaginative as Dan’s treatment. A rewrite followed, in which I tried to keep some level of continuity going. I hope the results make some sense.

TSC: I think so. Although you wouldn’t want it to be identical as you’re broadening the lore further. You’ve also written novels about Kurt Helborg and Ludwig von Schwarzhelm, two of my favourite and most iconic characters in Warhammer and the Empire. What considerations did you have to make when writing about such an important part of the canon?

CW: I wanted them to be different in character but equal in interest. It’s a classic theme: brothers-in-arms at war with one another as much as the enemy. In terms of the canon, there was very little actually written down about either of them, so I felt quite free to come up with my own ideas (in contrast to, say, Bjorn or Magnus). I’m glad that people seem to have liked what I did with them. The omnibus edition of their exploits, Swords of the Emperor, has just come out, which is a first for me and something I’m very proud of.

TSC: I’ve got the separate books but I have to admit the anthology looks beautifully put together. Jumping back into the 41st Millennium, your second Space Wolves novel is out in March entitled Blood of Asaheim. What can you tell us about it?

CW: Blood of Asaheim is the first in what I hope will become a new Space Wolves series. In terms of its tone and theme, it’s more like my e-short Kraken than Battle of the Fang. The Imperium is a very different place in the 41st Millennium than the 32nd, and the Wolves are a darker, more compromised breed. The story follows a single pack of Grey Hunters of Ragnar Blackmane’s Great Company. Having written a big set-piece battle narrative with the Wolves in Fang, I wanted to delve into the detailed mechanics and characters of the warriors fighting the Long War. I’ve aimed to make it an immersive, sombre look at the Sons of Russ in the gathering darkness of the Imperium.

TSC: Sounds awesome. Your audio drama, The Sigillite is out in the new year and further fleshes out one of the most pivotal and enigmatic characters of the 40k universe. What was it like writing for such an important character?

CW: Just great. I love the character of Malcador, and think there’s a lot to be written about with him. He’s enigmatic – and that needs to be preserved – but there’s also scope to uncover so much about the Emperor’s plans for humanity by looking at his role. He’s the ‘human’ face of the Imperium; not a Primarch, not a Space Marine, not a living god. Set against all of them he’s so weak, and yet, in more subtle ways, so unbreakably strong.

TSC: Not to mention the fact that his humanity keeps the Emperor grounded and guides him in the matters of mortal men. And, you know, founded the Grey Knights. Sort of. So, 0n top of the Sons of Fenris and the Children of Sigmar you’ve also written about the Iron Hands, specifically in the exceptionally well received Wrath of Iron. What drew you to such a culturally complex chapter?

CW: The Iron Hands were a bit of a departure. I’d written the short story Flesh, and was asked whether I’d like to write a Space Marine Battles book with them in. I love the core idea of the Hands, though they’re not a very attractive Chapter in psychological terms. They’re about the darkest of the Loyalist Chapters, showing how in 40K the boundaries are blurred between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. After all, who would you rather have a drink with: Ferrus Manus or Ahriman?

TSC: Fair comment. Beyond the work you’re doing for the new year, what can you tell us about any other projects you’re working on?

CW: Aside from more Space Wolves and White Scars at some point, I’m really looking forward to returning to the Old World with the Time of Legends title Master of Dragons. This will be Book II of the War of Vengeance series, which kicks off with Nick Kyme’s fantastic The Great Betrayal. I’m really stoked for this at the moment, and bursting with ideas for it. The central character will be Imladrik, one of the great heroes of the conflict. Plans are at an early stage on this one, but expect to see a truly epic tale of bloodshed, tragedy, forbidden love, vengeance – and, of course, armies of dragons turning the sky dark.

TSC: Sounds epic. I interviewed Nick a while back when he was still working on The Great Betrayal so it’s great to see the story progressing. Writing licensed fiction is a great way of indulging in all your favourite IPs in a very personal way. What IPs would you love to work on in the future?

CW: I don’t have any plans to work on non-GW IPs in the near future, mostly because my schedule is full of BL stuff I’m dying to get started on.

TSC: Understandable. Plus there’s no shortage of material to write about. Being an established Black Library author you’ve no doubt been invited to cool planning meetings with Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill et al. What was the moment when you suddenly realised that you were a part of the very exclusive and very awesome club that is the Black Library authors?

CW: I still see myself as one of the newbies, but I guess I’m going to have to stop that soon. Next to guys like Dan and Graham it’s easy to feel very green, but the list of books with my name on it gets a little longer every year. It was a great experience being invited to my first Heresy meeting, something I hope happens again at some point. In the meantime, it’s a privilege being involved with the franchise. All the guys, new and old, are just a very nice bunch of people.

TSC: I won’t ask who your favourite is. As a treat to the readers, what little tid bit can you give us about the next phase in the Horus Heresy series?

CW: They’d have my eyes if I spilled the beans. Let me tell you what I’m most looking forward to discovering: what Guilliman’s up to, what the Emperor has been doing since Magnus interrupted him, and (of course) the Khan’s role getting fleshed out.

TSC: You wicked tease. Next time I’m in Oxford I shall have to get you outrageously drunk and get it out of you. And finally, Chris, what advice could you give budding writers out there?

CW: 1. Take criticism on the chin. 2. Think hard about how the stories you like work. 3. It’s the characters, stupid.

TSC: Thanks again Chris, it’s been a pleasure. Good luck with the Brotherhood of the Storm and all the other projects. Keep up the outstanding work.

Brotherhood of the Storm

The other day I posted a teaser trailer of an upcoming Horus Heresy novel (finally) about the White Scars. I speculated that it would be limited edition and, of course, it is. But on the upside they’re making it available for a week (21st – 28th September) rather than a limited run that sells out in a day. On the downside it’ll still cost you £40 including shipping. Below is a synopsis, some shiny images and an extract for you…

As word of Horus’s treachery spreads across the galaxy and with fully half of the Legiones Astartes turning their backs on the Emperor, Terra looks to the remaining loyalist Space Marines to defend the Imperium. One group, however, remain curiously silent in spite of efforts from both sides to contact them – the noble Vth Legion, Jaghatai Khan’s fearsome White Scars. In the ork-held territory of Chondax, a bitter war has been raging since the Triumph at Ullanor, and only now do the sons of Chogoris return their gaze to the heavens…

I liked Chondax. The planet that had given its name to the whole stellar cluster suited our style of war, unlike magma-crusted
Phemus or jungle-choked Epihelikon. It had big, high skies, unbroken by cloud and pale green like rejke grass. We burned across
it in waves, up from the southern landing sites and out into the equatorial zone. Unlike any world I had known then or have known
since, it never changed – just a wasteland of white earth in every direction, glistening under the soft light of three distant suns. You
could push your hand into that earth and it would break open, crystalline like salt.
Nothing grew on Chondax. We lifted supplies down from orbit in bulk landers. When they were gone, when we were gone again,
the earth closed over the scorch-marks, smoothing them white.
It healed itself. Our presence there was light – we hunted, we killed, and then nothing remained. Even the prey – the greenskins,
which we call the hain, others the ork, or kine, or krork – failed to leave a mark. We had no idea how they supplied themselves. We
had destroyed the last of their crude space-vessels months earlier, stranding them on the surface. Every time we cleared them out of
their squalid nests, torching them and turning the earth to glass, the white dust came back.
I once led a squadron a long way south, covering three hundred kilometres before each major sunset, back to where we had fought
them in a brutal melee that had lasted seven days and stained the ground black with blood and carbon.
Nothing remained as we passed over the site, nothing but white.
I checked my armour’s locators. Jochi did not believe me; he said we had gone wrong. He was grinning, disappointed to find nothing, hoping some of them might have survived and holed up again, ready for another fight.
I knew we were in the right place. I saw then that we were on a world that could not be harmed, a world that shrugged off our
bloodstains and our fury and made itself whole when we passed on.
That observation was the root of my liking for Chondax. I explained it to my brothers later as we sat under the stars, warming
our hands indulgently by firelight like our fathers had done on Chogoris. They agreed that Chondax was a good world, a world on
which good warfare could be conducted.
Jochi smiled tolerantly as I spoke, and Batu shook his scarred head, but I did not mind that. My brothers knew they had a poetical
character for a khan, but such things were not disdained by Chogorians as I had been told they were in other Legions.
Yesugei once told me that only poets could be true warriors. I did not know what he meant by that then. He might have been referring to me particularly or he might not; one does not ask a zadyin arga to explain himself.
But I knew that when we were gone, our souls made hot and pure by killing, Chondax would not remember us. The fire we warmed
ourselves by, its fuel brought down by lifter like everything else, which in the old fashion we would not extinguish with water nor
kick over when dawn came, would leave no stain.
I found that reassuring.

Khan Rides to War

About fucking time Black Library! That’s right ladies and germs, the White Scars are FINALLY (yes it does warrant capitals, bold, underlined and italics) getting a Horus Heresy novel. And here’s the pap teaser trailer to prove it…

I rather suspect it’ll be a limited edition release which will suck balls but what you gonna do? Apart from buy it. And dribble a little bit.

Pariah Cover Art

I saw this little slice of awesome floating around the interwebs, so I thought I’d share. The cover art for the eagerly anticipated Pariah by Dan Abnett. The first of the Bequin trilogy that pits Eisenhorn & Ravenor against one another. It’s going to be awesome.