Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Crosscurrent by Paul S. Kemp
Del Rey: Random House Publishing Group
Final Pre-Release Proof Copy
An ancient Sith ship hurtles into the future carrying a lethal cargo that could forever destroy Luke Skywalker’s hopes for peace.
The Civil War is almost over when Jedi Knight Jaden Korr experiences a Force vision so intense he must act. Enlisting two salvage jocks and their ship, Jaden sets out into space. Someone—or something—appears to be in distress.
But what Jaden and his crew find confounds them. A five-thousand-year-old dreadnaught—bringing with it a full force of Sith and one lone Jedi—has inadvertently catapulted eons from the past into the present. The ship’s weapons may not be cutting-edge, but its cargo, a special ore that makes those who use the dark side nearly invincible, is unsurpassed. The ancient Jedi on board is determined to destroy the Sith. But for Jaden, even more is at stake: for his vision has led him to uncover a potentially indestructible threat to everything the Jedi Order stands for. (Amazon.com)
Crosscurrent is set some 41.5 years after the events of A New Hope...and some five thousand years before that. Crosscurrent is told through a series of flashes from the past and the "present". It's very much about threads of fate, plots and events of the past coming to fruition in the future.
Now most of the time this way of storytelling can be jarring. I've put books down and left them on the shelf because of this. Usually it's hard to keep the flow of interest going on two simultaneous stories.
The author does a masterful job in tying the two together as well as keeping both halves of the story exciting. He makes it really work. I do love being surprised!
Without spoiling anything I can say that the story (stories) definitely nail the Star Wars vibe. Sith vs. Jedi showdowns, space battles, star fighter chases, smarmy cantinas, cryptic force-visions and how they play out...all really well done.
A lot of the names from Star Wars canon are mentioned, but the reader isn't bashed up-side the head with them. It would be easy to make up a formulaic "Star Wars" Story, slap some canon names on things and call it good, but Paul S. Kemp actually crafts a very thoughtful story. It's not preachy (as some Star Wars novels have been.)
You can certainly see a difference in the Jedi of ages past versus Jedi of "The New Order" but you can see similarities too. They are still Jedi. I think in a lot of ways "The New Order" Jedi have to be a bit more contemplative: seeing more shades of grey than the Jedi of old (which I think led to their fall).
Crosscurrent is a stand-alone novel. You don't need to read anything else before reading it, which is nice. This is a great book to give to people that haven't read a Star Wars novel before, or if they've read them all: I think the story stands up nicely.
I did have to go back and re-read a few bits. Occasionally I got confused on whether I was reading X's story or Y's story. This is to be expected, especially when the whole thing is a series of flashbacks (and flash forwards.) I did get a bit confused on names too, but I think that is because I'm reading the PDF version and not a paper book where I can easily flip back to the "Cast of Characters" page for handy reference.
The author does a fine job of keeping the reader on their toes. I wasn't sure where the story would lead or who would die or not. I think that's a great thing in storytelling (something many authors don't seem to achieve).
I love to be kept guessing as well as being wrong in my assumptions of where the plot is going. Granted there were a couple groaner events, but still...a really great story.
One part in-particular wraps nicely around a card game. Beautifully crafted scene. Very well done. That is one of the best negotiations I've seen in a long while. There are funny moments and great dialogue and some full-stop moments that will have you scratching your head.
About halfway through the novel you have an “Oh Crap” moment and everything starts falling together. At this point if you weren’t snagged by the author’s hooks, you are now!
Overall, it's a fun ride with lots of bumps, twists and turns. Good sci-fi in general, smart Star Wars fiction in particular.
4 of 5 stars!
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Blood Pact by Dan Abnett
Black Library Publishing
Book 12 of the ridiculously popular Gaunt's Ghosts series!
This is the beginning of the fourth story arc. The Blood Pact are the primary antagonists throughout the entire series. The Sabbat Worlds Campaign is largely a crusade to dig out their daemonic presence from the sector. We've gotten a few snapshots in to what the Blood Pact are, but never really a good taste. In many ways they've been left as faceless (literally) antagonists: "The Bad Guys".
Ok, I do exaggerate a bit, Dan Abnett has done a great job at giving us some meaty glimpses...but left them largely alien...an enigma. (This makes sense)
Blood Pact really gives a nice open window to that severely messed up world. You get to understand a bit of what makes them tick…and then really don’t want to know anymore.
Dan Abnett has a very cinematic style. The opening scene is predictable...but it's like watching a train wreck...you just can't look away. You *KNOW* something is awry. You watch the characters move about and say to yourself "this is going to end badly...I just KNOW IT". If you take a moment, you can see it coming, but really, who cares?
To be perfectly honest, Blood Pact would make a perfect movie (if the previous novels had been covered already). It plays out in an action-film sort of way. The author has a very good eye for color, and pacing...as well as having multiple threads all converging at the same point at once for an explosive climax.
Some folks may dig this more than others.
In reviewing the Black Library novels I've found that the various authors have different flavors for their writing style. Some have several depending on the material, some not. Dan Abnett is a very colorful writer. I swear to god Blood Pact reads like a cross between a novel and a
Basically Blood Pact has all the features of a good action film.
This of course has a downside for some folks...but if you're expecting The English Patient...why are you reading a Gaunt's Ghosts novel?
Add to this that it starts out and goes in to some good depth on what happens when you take a bunch of adrenaline-driven commandoes, keep them in a combat zone for over a decade...then dump them in the rear with the gear for a couple years. Gaunt's Ghosts don't do well as REMFs.
There are several plots/ subplots running at the same time...all coming together in the end. It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to see that coming. In most cases I'd be bored with this, but Dan Abnett's rollicking car-chase style makes it a fun ride. It does have a couple good surprises. The character development is solid: it's good to see characters we've known for years grow and develop. It's also scary as hell to watch them get shot at because like Band of Brothers...as time goes on, you wonder who...if any are going to survive.
It's also interesting to see the effect of long deployments on the troops. From Colonel-Commissar Gaunt on down. Living on adrenaline for long period then suddenly nothing...it messes you up. That's one of the main themes of the novel and it's completely true.
The book has some nice technology reveals we didn't know before, some character bits that are new (and some that will never change). “Hunter turned Hunted” scenes. Gun fights! Car chases! Proper Action and shit!
Overall it's a full-meal-deal of Warhammer 40,000 Imperial Guard goodness.
Little bit predictable, a little four-color...but it completely works.
I can bitch that "oh I totally saw the ending coming" but you know what??? I was glued to the page and devoured the book in one sitting.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill
Black Library Publishing
Censured at the Council of Nikea for his flagrant use of sorcery, Magnus the Red and his Thousand Sons Legion retreat to their homeworld of Prospero to continue their use of the arcane arts in secret. But when the ill-fated primarch forsees the treachery of Warmaster Horus and warns the Emperor with the very powers he was forbidden to use, the Master of Mankind dispatches fellow primarch Leman Russ to attack Prospero itself. But Magnus has seen more than the betrayal of Horus and the witnessed revelations will change the fate of his fallen Legion, and its primarch, forever. (amazon.com)
Picked up the book last evening, finished reading and turned out the light at exactly 3:33am. Coincidence?
My review? Go out and buy the book, absorb it in one sitting.
I have to admit that is this is a difficult book to read and review as I am forced to set aside any fanboy glee for what is my personal favorite Legion (1ksons) and the Horus Heresy novel I've been waiting for since the beginning. Deep breath. I'm a pro. Objectivity. GO!
A Thousand Sons is a story about one loyal son and his Legion versus another. If you're expecting this to be about The Thousand Sons being vile traitors...you will be surprised to say the very least.
Graham McNeill crafts a moving story about one of The Emperor of Mankind's most loyal sons. If anything this can be considered one of the greatest tragedies of the entire Horus Heresy. I think that Magnus, like all his brother Primarchs are flawed in some way. Arrogance, hubris, pride...just like their father.
You ever have a friend or know someone who is really a genius, and every time you tell them something...they "know it". Maybe they do, maybe not. Even if that person has the very best intentions...it's hubris.
That is Magnus.
If anything The Thousand Sons are the most personable Legion of Astartes I've seen yet. They have character. They are Astartes, so they are trained and hones like any other...but free thinking. Critical thinkers who question, evaluate, and delve in to all matter of knowledge. They are extremely disciplined in their learning. Magnus? Nicest and coolest Primarch you ever met. Ahriman? Great guy, love to share a glass of wine with him and talk history.
Graham McNeill makes the Thousand Sons very inviting. Very easy to like. You really do get to like them. Camaraderie and banter better than anything I've seen so far from "Astartes". Every single one completely and steadfastedly loyal to their Emperor.
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions"
I swear that could be the byline of the novel and the XV Legion itself.
The novel tends to be fairly conversational. The Thousand Sons don't have the battle history that other Legions had. Where Russ and Lorgar tended to be largely weapons to be pointed at a target, Magnus and the Thousand Sons were considerate of the How and Why of battle. Winning hearts and minds. What is the point of conquering a place if everyone is dead? I am glad Graham McNeill was slotted for this novel because he does "conversational" well.
I don't mean to say that the author doesn't do action well or anything. He's just a very thoughtful, philosophical author. Take in to consideration the short story "The Last Church" in Tales of Heresy (a short story I consider to be absolutely fantastic). The author does a fantastic job at delving in to secrets (and being a frigging TEASE). I can't say much without spoiling things. Graham McNeill does a good job in expanding what is known about The Thousand Sons, The Emperor, the Emperyan, and the Horus Heresy and Warhammer 40,000 universe at a whole...without giving away the farm.
Quibbles? The naming conventions are flavorful, but alien to a modern day American...so I had to reference the up-front cast of characters often to avoid confusion on who's who. What can you do though? The Legion has a pseudo-Egyptian flavor.
There are some slow spots. Sometimes frustrating spots...but then when you consider that these guys deal in prophesy, visions and interpretations of possible futures...it can be a little weird. It fits though...it's not jarring or anything. I guess in a way you have to expect it. Maybe it was just anticipation wanting things to GO FASTER...but then we'd miss important plot points and bits of secrets. Mwahahahahah [rubbing hands together]
Like most BL novels the reader needs to understand that the books are written from a certain perspective: In this case from the perspective (largely) of Ahriman's. The Space Wolves are wild barbaric beasts, cunning and ruthless in extremis. Almost mindless savages. Again...this is a matter of perspective. I'm interested to see what Dan Abnett does with the other half of the story.
Overall, the story is a vast landscape of knowledge to be absorbed. There's a lot of material here just in understanding of The Warp and how it works as a tool and just how pervasive it can be. The secret bits of Thousand Sons and Horus Heresy lore are tasty. Other secret bits of Warhammer 40,000 lore, like the Blood Ravens? Well...I'll leave that for you to read for yourself!
4 out of 5 Stars.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Dark Creed by Anthony Reynolds
Black Library Publishing
Dark Creed is the thrilling conclusion to the Word Bearers trilogy, and sees epic conflicts fought and old scores settled in the world of Warhammer 40,000.
Dark Apostle is the third in the Word Bearers series and the culmination of a massive plot. Of course when you consider that the Word Bearers and other Traitor Legions are over 10,000 years old and their schemes stretch over millennia it's hard to grasp the scope of such a "plot". Wheels within wheels and the Word Bearers are plotters in the extreme.
The story of Dark Apostle Marduk continues and his goal of using the ancient Necron technology to essentially propel himself higher up the food chain and bring as much chaos to the Imperium as possible is fought with peril from within and without.
As any reader vaguely familiar with the material can surmise, Chaos Space Marines, while disciplined are still suffering from some serious testosterone poisoning. They're all plotting and scheming to be the Alpha Male. That mush is established. Unlike say the World Eaters, the Word Bearer Legion has their own way of pursuing personal goals (vendettas?) and Anthony Reynolds does a great job of breaking it all down so we as readers can follow these spider-web plots (without dumbing it down too much).
Seriously...I have to commend Mr. Reynolds for his deft handling of the story. He gives good insight to the inner workings of the Word Bearers as well as the White Consuls Space Marines (and many others) who are working in opposition to Marduk's plans. Without spoiling anything let it suffice to say that the scale of the novel is pretty ginormous. Epic. Sector fleets, multiple hosts of the Word Bearers, several chapters of Astartes as well as innumerable Imperial Guardsmen and the various Titan Legions. (Most of this is inferred or happens "off-camera")
This is a novel with a lot of moving parts. Tons going on. Anthony Reynolds does a really good job of keeping it manageable for the reader. The battles range from naval engagements to gritty melee.
I've always found it difficult to get in to reading the Chaos-side of Warhammer novels. They seem so unbelievably over the top that I have a hard time suspending disbelief. Often with Space Marines as well...they seem too perfect. Chaos Space Marines in contrast become the most heinous thing ever. It's too...black and white.
Anthony Reynolds does an admirable job in keeping things believable. Granted, there are still moments where the Astartes are perfectly heroic and the Chaos Marines are perfectly heinous. Still...my spidey-sense wasn't going off and telling me to glaze over pages due to *yawn* more nail a baby to your forehead moments.
I think Mr. Reynolds does however have an excellent grasp on the dark, hopelessness of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It's a messed up place where a human is one among untold bajillions and nobody will miss your passing. The author definitely has this DOWN.
One think I do appreciate in this novel is that there appears to be very real peril around all the characters, including Marduk. Nobody is safe. Any of them can be crushed by falling beams, have their head blown off or simply die an ignoble death (which is SUCH an appropriate 40k thing).
My only complaint would be that due to the massive scope of the plot, there's a lot of interesting things going on, and it's easy to get lost. Granted Mr. Reynolds does a great job in showing us one scene, then shifting the camera elsewhere to see a scene...sometimes it's easy to start wondering "Hey, what happened to Brother Bob?" Largely the author does a great job in keeping the suspense going. Still, there are some parts that I personally would have loved to see more of...but that's really just a personal quibble. I think in reading we gravitate towards some characters more than others...and sometimes those characters aren't really the focus of the story. Meh, it happens. Still a damn good book!
Overall it's a fitting ending (?) to the Word Bearer series.
A very good read whether a part of the series or as a stand-alone novel.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Sons of Dorn by Chris Roberson
Black Library Publishing
Sons of Dorn is a thrilling new Imperial Fists novel featuring a memorable cast of characters and all the intergalactic action associated with the Black Library.
It's a familiar tale: enemy warriors fighting a desperate battle only to be snatched up and put through a grueling series of tests and implantations to become Astartes. Eventually they learn to be a team and work together (or die) as scouts, neophytes, etc. If you've read the Space Wolves Omnibus (specifically Space Wolf) by William King then you know the story. Honestly, if you're a Space marine fan of any sort you likely are familiar with the story already. That's all there is to know, right?
While the process of creating a Space Marine may be fairly well-trodden ground, this is very much an Imperial Fists book, and Imperial Fists aren't your everyday Space Marine. The Imperial Fists are one of the original founding Legions, from which many smaller "chapters" were spawned. These aren't Ultramarines or some other cookie-cutter Codex Astartes clone...and they take their identity serious. The book has a lot of unique Imperial Fist flavor to say the very least.
Add to this that Chris Roberson isn't your everyday writer. He's got a unique feel to his writing style. Where the Space Wolf stories read like Icelandic Sagas of superheroes who are greater than gods...Roberson makes Astartes supermen without making them perfect in every 4-color way. These guys have an ounce of humanity left in them. Unlike some stories that lead you to believe that Space Marines are these perfectly indoctrinated controlled psychopaths who are nigh unstoppable...Chris Roberson gives them a little bit of feeling. A bit of color. A bit of inner turmoil and gives us as readers a bit of insight in to what it would be like to undergo such a life altering event, complete with missing or fuzzy memories and added hypnotherapy weirdness...and deal with it without going nuts.
Roberson tells a good yarn. He's really good at setting the stage, pacing and misdirection. He'll trick you. Most of the time these sort of stories play out fairly predictably. Chris Roberson does a great job in keeping you going and throwing curves and twists at you.
Is it a unique story? No. It is however done in a very creative manner. To be honest, I wasn't sure if another "making of a space marine" would be anything short of a snoozer, but Chris Roberson really does a great job at taking a well-worn concept and breathing fresh new life in to it.
3 of 5 (4 of 5 for IF fans)
Definitely an enjoyable read! I want to see Chris Roberson get cut loose on some fresh material...I'm sure he'll knock our socks off!
Shadow King, a Tale of the Sundering by Gav Thorpe.
Black Library Publishing
522 Pages of visceral, bloody adventure.
When his family is betrayed and slain, Alith Anar, ill-fated prince of the Nagarythe, is forced to walk a dark path. With the island of Ulthuan in the grip of a civil war with their evil counterparts, the druchii, Alith Anar follows his destiny to become the Shadow King. Hunting his enemies from the darkness, he is now on a quest for vengeance that will never end.
A few months back Gav wrote a post in his blog regarding cutting out "faffy" words. A lot of writers use a lot of excess language to get a point across where Gav tends to cut to the meat of the story and carves his way through the pages at a fevered clip.
The Shadow King is another great example of this. To be honest I was hesitant about whether Thorpe could pull that off. I mean...over 500 pages. That seems pretty wordy to me. So I sat down and set about consuming and digesting this thick tome (larger than anything he's written to date I believe page-wise. Don't quote me but I *think* that is accurate.)
As per usual Gav gets right to it. The stage is set and things start going to hell...fast. This is the second book of The Sundering, following Malekith. I haven't read the first book, and I understand that there is some overlap between the books: the first segment covers the events of Malekith from a different angle and the second segment delves in to wholly new territory.
Now having missed out on the previous novel, the intro is breakneck. This isn't a complaint. Hardly so. I want the story...not a wordy intro on the same ol same ol. Some writers, even really good ones meander a bit when starting a novel. Gav tends to bull straight forward.
One of the best parts in reading Gav Thorpe's books is that he's a smart writer. He's a pro when it comes to hooking you right in at the first few pages. He grabs you by the nose and drags you kicking and screaming down a road that you *KNOW* is going to end badly. Especially in writing about events considered "history" in the Warhammer Fantasy or Warhammer 40,000 universe.
A lot of the time we have the broad strokes of what the story is about far in advance of the novel ever being read. The story of Alith Anar is a prime example of that. We all know that Alith Anar is the last of his line, prince of Nagarythe. His family murdered, and his revenge is eternal. Blablabla. Yeah, we know.
The Shadow King delves in to territory we didn't even know existed. He paints Morathi and the Witch King and others in vibrant colors. You get to understand a bit of the "why" of the story. You see just how far the elves had fallen in many cases and as a reader you can grasp the "why" of Alith's plight and to a certain degree understand why he snaps the way he does. It's a deep and treacherous story.
In many ways, the elves of Ulthuan are alien to us. They are elves. We're human. They are different. They see life in a very different way. Almost a manic-depressive way I guess is a good way to describe it. To a certain degree we won't fully understand the characters or their excesses...but where the writer really nails it is in illustrating them in such a manner that allows them to be seen as alien, but close enough that we can largely sympathize with the characters.
As a writer, in order to have a character we care about, we as readers need to be at least a little sympathetic. We have to understand. Thorpe is able to keep the Elves slightly alien while telling a story about a character whose whole world is utterly ruined and his subsequent rampage of death and revenge. In no way does the story leave you flat or uncaring or wanting to simply skip a page. Sometimes when we get bored with a character or what is happening we do that.
I think the main reason for this is because the characters aren't bi-dimensional, 4-color comic book toons. Alith Anar is one messed up dude. Serious. He's got problems. He's not perfect. He's not the shiny perfect High Elf lordling riding a pegasus whose farts sound like angels singing.
It's not black and white. That's really saying something considering how dark the druchii are. Think of Alith Anar as being kind of like an elven Batman. His scars are deep, and revenge...brutal. You almost feel sorry for the druchii...almost.
The battle scenes are epic in scale and seem tactically smart. Some thought on how forces would maneuver definitely went in to it. There is a definite feel of the mythic fairy tale of shimmering hosts, and gleaming spear tips and lances and coats of maille. Banners flying, beats on the ground and in the air. Seriously good battle than seems all mythic and shiny...and dwindles down in to the more brutal reality of the aftermath. Like it starts at sunrise and goes until a bloody sunset and a night of weeping over the dead. Really moving stuff. Then there are the skirmish-level bits: raiding caravans and Special Forces/ unconventional warfare stuff.
Again Gav Thorpe does a masterful job in playing our heart strings. It was a damn good read. 5/5 on this one. Previously I thought 13th Legion was his best, most visceral work. This one really matches it. I have a hard time admitting maybe better...but...maybe it is.
Five Stars out of Five!