Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: Hunt for Voldorius by Andy Hoare

Hunt for Voldorius
A Space Marines Battle Novel
Black Library Publishing
Reviewed by Earl Davis

Captain Kor'sarro Khan of the White Scars is petitioned by his Chapter Master to hunt down and destroy the daemon prince Voldorius, a warleader of the renegade Alpha Legion, thus ending his reign of terror across the stars. Hunting the beast doggedly for over a decade, Kor'sarro finally brings Voldorius to battle on Quintus, a world that has totally given itself over to the Alpha Legion. Together with their Raven Guard allies, the White Scars must fight an entire planet if they are to slay the daemon prince.

Reviewing genre fiction where there is a vocal and deeply entrenched fan base is something akin to walking through a minefield with snow shoes on. From one direction or another, the blast is coming and it’s probably going to be messy. Fortunately, genre fiction and more specifically franchise tie-ins have improved over the last two decades making the path a great deal less treacherous.

Unfortunately, there is still a mine or two left to be stepped on.

Novels in the Space Marines Battles series are snapshots in space time. They focus on a specific campaign involving specific companies within the Warhammer 40k universe. Think “Saving Private Ryan”, only instead of Tom Hanks the reader gets Kor’sarro Khan, leader of the White Scars. The strength inherent in this type of war tale lies in its intimacy. It offers a chance for the author to shine a spotlight on the grim reality of war. Readers are side by side with the combatants, tasting the dirt and blood in the air, despairing as a brother soldier flails in pain from a brutal wound and fighting with grim determination until the last gunshot fades to echo. It’s the closest we mere mortals can ever really get to marching forward under the shining light of the Emperor.

However, instead of a spotlight, Andy Hoare offers the reader a flashlight that seems to cut out at the most inopportune times.

In a character driven narrative, like Hunt for Voldorius, some weakness in plot is forgivable barring that the strength and dynamic of its main characters can pick up the slack. Kor’sarro Khan and his fellow White Scars fail in that regard. They are so one dimensional that “transparent” might be the best single word to describe them. Also, they are absent from a great portion of the novel in any real capacity. Kor’sarro himself feels more like a bookend than the protagonist of a war story. In fact, only one character feels like she has any depth at all. Malya L’nor , former leader of the Quintus resistance, is far and away the shining star of Hoare’s work. Presented with unspeakable choices and forced to make unthinkable sacrifices, Malya is the perfect example of the quality of work that Hoare is capable of producing. It is a shame that quality didn’t carry over to any other part of Hunt for Voldorius.

The failed characterizations as profound as they are though, pale in comparison to the real failing of this work; passive repetition and confounding technical choices. Entire sections of this “action” novel are written in a passive voice that ejects the reader from any sense of immersion in this fantasy world. No one in this story did anything but everyone “had done” something over and over and over again. I am at a loss to understand how those passages made it past an editor. This passive voice coupled with the author’s penchant for overly complex sentences in the middle of what should be a fast paced, assault sequence makes this a very frustrating read. Far too often, Hoare reaches for the lightning but pulls back only a handful of lightning bugs.

Warhammer 40k completionists will buy this. Some may even cheer as specific tie-in aspects that they love appear, for example the appearance of the Raven Guard chapter. Everyone else should save their cash. There are far better novels in this series that will scratch the same itch.

2 out of 5 stars

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