Fists of Mediocrity

by Arthur B

Can the Imperial Fists and their descendants turn around the decline of the Black Library? (No.)
Regular readers might have noticed that I haven't actually been reviewing Warhammer 40,000 books quite as regularly as I used to. There's various reasons for this, a major one being that I just find myself increasingly less interested in Black Library's output. Interesting experiments like the brief, abortive gamebook like have been cut short, and the dominance of disposable Space Marine-based novels, always a significant feature of the catalogue, seems to be running entirely out of control. Dan Abnett's output has slowed down alarmingly, and it seems like the Inquisition-based novels which had previously always had a healthy niche in the Library's output are vanishing entirely, and the Imperial Guard output feels like it's drying up too (though there was a mild spike this month thanks to the new Guard rules for the tabletop wargame coming out).

It wouldn't be so bad if the books in question were more entertaining. Although I wouldn't put any of the Space Marine books I've reviewed on here in the category of great literature, a few seem to have had something more going on - Imperial Fists novels like Space Marine and Sons of Dorn played around with exactly how much you can subvert the whole Space Marine deal by riffing on the wackier bits of canon like the Pain Glove, whilst Dan Abnett's Brothers of the Snake was a nice exercise in adding a little Homeric gravitas to the formula. But I'm not seeing that ambition any more - most of the Warhammer books I've read recently have aspired to be nothing more than disposable page-turners, and several fall short even of that standard.

To show you what I mean, here I've got a brace of standalone books put out more recently, each surrounding a different descendent Chapter of the Imperial Fists (or the Fists themselves), none of which really qualifies as a "keeper" by any stretch of the imagination. Let's see how they fare.


Helsreach takes place during the Third Battle of Armageddon, an epic planet-wide war against a vast force of Orkish invaders. (In retrospect, naming the planet "Armageddon" was kind of asking for trouble.) Participating in the defence of the planet is the Black Templar chapter of Space Marines, one of the first chapters to be split off from the original Imperial Fists legion. The Black Templars' schtick is that they are on a constant war footing and behave as much as possible as though the Emperor's Great Crusade - the project to conquer the galaxy in the name of humanity, wiping out all alien life along the way - is still ongoing. They are guided in this by their Reclusiarchs, the inner order of the chapter's Chaplains.

Recently promoted to the status of Reclusiarch is Grimaldus, a Marine who is still mourning the death of his mentor and predecessor in the role, Mordred. Grimaldus is convinced that he is going to die a meaningless death against an unworthy enemy on Armageddon, and when he is assigned a mission to reinforce and aid the defence of the hive-city of Helsreach rather than staying with the rest of the Black Templars on their fleet to aid the fight in space (which he considers to be far more important than protecting squishy human beings or ground facilities which will be overrun sooner or later anyway), he believes his fears are going to come to pass. In the course of leading his force of a hundred Templars into battle, as well as in his interactions with other defenders such as the Invigilata Titan Legion, however, Grimaldus finds his preconceptions about the relevance of this fight and his confidence in his suitability as a Reclusiarch tested.

My summary there makes the book sound rather more focused than it actually is. Whilst Aaron Dembski-Bowden definitely treats Grimaldus as the main character of the story, the narrative focus drifts about between a series of viewpoint characters who between them give us a broad overall picture on how the fight for Helsreach is going. That's fine in principle, but it also distracts from Grimaldus' emotional journey, which is what Dembski-Bowden is actually interested in showing us. Exacerbating this is Dembski-Bowden's bizarre and inconsistent decisions about when to narrate stuff that happens in Grimaldus' presence from a first-person perspective with Grimaldus narrating and when to go for a third person perspective - it isn't actually based on whether or not we are getting direct insight into the Reclusiarch's emotions and thought processes because whilst those are the focus of the first person bits, they are also usually narrated in the third person bits as well. It's almost as though the first person segments were written separately as a novella before being awkwardly edited into this narrative.

The other characters aside from Grimaldus are a bit hit-and-miss. The stoic Imperial Guardsman Andrej is given a speech pattern which is one comedy Russian accent away from being a really blatant stereotype (as it stands, it's merely a somewhat blatant stereotype). Princeps Zarha, leader of the division of the Invigilata Titan Legion that is helping at Helsreach, and Prioress Sindal, leader of the local Adepta Sororitas, are both old ladies who have advantages (good old-fashioned power armour in Sindal's case, a full-blown giant mecha in Zarha's) that let them punch vastly above their weight on the battlefield, which is cool. Less cool is the other major female character, Cyria Tyro, whose plot arc is your standard sexist "bossy woman is just trying to hold her own in what is really a man's field, affably roguish man ends up romancing her and penetrates her cold exterior" story.

That latter arc is an odd one, actually, because early on Dembski-Bowden introduces Cyria and her love interest Ryken as though they are going to be significant characters and then suddenly stops giving them spotlight time, letting the conclusion of their story play out in other people's observations. Maybe their later sections were cut over space considerations, maybe this is a deliberate experiment, but it just reads as though Dembski-Bowden realised he had too many viewpoint characters and just stopped catering to some of them without actually bothering to go back and edit out their earlier segments.

This, in the end, is the big failing of Helsreach - there are just a few too many instances where it feels like Dembski-Bowden submitted his first draft and it got published without much more than a check for spelling and canon errors. Grimaldus' premonition of death is handwaved away, his main medic gets all cut up over the death of a fellow Templar but we didn't really see enough of the couple earlier to really care, and too often the narration reverts to just paraphrasing the game background materials to the Third Battle of Armageddon.

To be fair, as part of the Space Marine Battles line, it was supposed to novelise one of the distinctive battles of the Chapter's past as previously established in the game background, rather than presenting a dazzlingly original flight of fancy, but at the same time part of the trick of producing such a book is to make the reader forget that the novel is basically following a script nailed down 20 years ago by game designers, and here Dembski-Bowden fails.

Rynn's World

Rynn's World is another saga of orkish invasion; this time, the titular planet is the headquarters of the Crimson Fists chapter, first among the various spin-offs from the Imperial Fists. Steve Parker introduces us in the opening section to the rituals and routine of business as usual for the Crimson Fists, as well as shining a light on the interactions between the Fists and the human vassal population they allow to share the planet with them. Then the next section details the desperate preparations for defence against the oncoming ork horde and the initial impact of their arrival (including the destruction of the Crimson Fist headquarters of Arx Tyrannus), the third section has Chapter Master Pedro Kantor lead a small part of Fist survivors and human refugees to New Rynn City, the human capital of the planet, whilst a Fist detachment sent to New Rynn prior to the invasion tries to keep the city standing against a furious ork onslaught, and the fourth section has Kantor leading the few surviving Fists on a desperate mission to secure a landing zone for the much-needed Imperial reinforcements who have finally arrived to reclaim the planet.

This is another multiple viewpoints deal. You have Kantor, whose motivations are dominated by the imperative to ensure that the Chapter does not go extinct. You have Alessio Cortez, old comrade of Kantor whose warrior instincts scream out that it'd be better to go out in a blaze of glory. You have Sergeant Huron Grimm, second in command of the mission to garrison New Rynn City, who is concerned at mission leader Captain Alvez's apparent hatred and scorn of the weak humans they have been dispatched to protect. And a scattering of others, like Maia Cagliestra, the human planetary governor whose main distinguishing features are being spoiled and silly and infatuated with the Chapter Master.

Actually, let's unpack that last part a bit. Although there are glancing references in the text to womens' regiments of the planetary defence force fighting with distinction, Parker opts to focus on none of these. The most prominent female character I can recall in the book who isn't a viewpoint character is a refugee woman who is trying to get her two kids to safety and whose main role is to quietly do what the Space Marines tell her. The sole woman who is a viewpoint character appears to be tragically unfunny comic relief; the governor's desperate fantasy that the Chapter Master will notice her is a delusion that would be indulged by nobody who understands the first thing about the Space Marines, and you'd think that sharing a planet with and serving the Crimson Fists for centuries would mean the residents of Rynn's World were about as well-informed as anyone about the nature of the Fists. Her major contribution to the war effort is to gather a group of fellow noblewomen to make themselves up all pretty (supposedly so the men on the frontline can see what they are fighting for) and distributing soup and sympathy to soldiers in a slightly patronising and out of touch way.

So, in essence we have another Warhammer 40,000 from the perspective of the boys club, carrying an assumption that women don't really understand this stuff. Charming. To be honest, there isn't much here worth understanding (and therefore not a lot for me to comment on), since it's a simplistic exercise Parker shunting about cliches in a retelling of a well-trod bit of game lore and failing to discover any means of distinguishing the Crimson Fists from any other random Space Marine chapter. (There's no sign of the Pain Glove, whilst there are references to blood-sharing rituals these don't actually get any substantial spotlight time and are more or less forgotten about after the opening sections of the book.) The one nice thing about the book is that it manages to take the orks seriously as adversaries and keep them as the primary foes, which is a rarity in Warhammer 40,000 tie-ins, except Helsreach does that too.

Seventh Redemption

In the later volumes of the Soul Drinkers series, I got the impression that Ben Counter was far more interested in the Imperial Fists than he was in their third-rate, under-achieving offspring. I wasn't too surprised, then, to discover that Counter had decided to write an Imperial Fists-focused novel in the form of Seventh Retribution; nor was I too shocked to discover that it's one of his more accomplished books, seeing how it a) concentrates on chronicling the course of a real meatgrinder of a military campaign and b) doesn't involve protagonists who spend their time being incredibly gullible and incompetent.

The story begins with the arrival of Lord Inquisitor Kekrops and his team to chase up rumours of corruption on the planet Opis. As the Inquisitor is in the process of demanding co-operation from the Aristeia, the planetary nobility who rule over Opis' feudal society, his party is brutally attacked, and when the dust settles the Inquisitor is dead. 500 and a bit days later, and the time for a grovelling apology and plea for mercy for allowing an Inquisitor to die in their backyard from the rulers of Opis has long since passed; massive planetary chastisement, along with the rooting out and extermination of whatever it is the planet's hiding, is the inevitable result.

Lending their help to the Imperial Guard and Navy assault on Opis is a crack team of Imperial Fists, led by the legendary Captain Lysander. As was feared, their aid is soon needed against the dire evil Inquisitor Kekrops was tracking - or more properly, evils, since Opis seems to have drawn to it a rogue's gallery of arch-heretics, super-mutants, witches, warlocks, and other major rabble-rousers for the forces of Chaos (including Karnikhal Six-Finger, a lone Chaos Space Marine of great puissance). The Fists soon discover evidence which makes them suspect an unknown party is behind all of this - the Officio Assassinorum, the sinister Imperial body comprising death-cults of ninja assassins, has drawn these enemies of humanity here for a very particular purpose, and in their determination to get to the truth the Fists find themselves standing with the Offico against an enemy unlike any they've seen before.

Seventh Retribution finds Counter presenting a more nuanced and interesting take on the infighting between components of the Imperium than he presented in the Soul Drinkers series. Unlike many Warhammer 40,000 authors, Counter remembers that the Imperium isn't really as monolithic as it presents itself as being - as with many feudal societies, it's really a collection of discrete but separate power blocs bound together by mutual agreement but not necessarily directly answerable to each other. Here, for instance, the Fists assert their independence from the Imperial Guard command structure in order to chase up the leads they have discovered, to the upset of the commander-in-chief of the Imperial forces, and likewise they declare that the Officio Assassinorum is on their official shit-list after the Officio's mad scientist projects cause all the trouble in the novel.

What they don't do - because, unlike the Soul Drinkers, they aren't huge spoiled babies in power armour - is cry and throw their toys out of the pram and quit the Imperium. The conclusion of the novel hints at a quiet and careful struggle between the two forces to unfold in the shadows, conducted with an eye to ensuring that the stability of the Imperium and the future of humanity isn't threatened by the opposed forces. This is a much more interesting and much more believable prospect than the Soul Drinkers turning their back on everything they know and believe in just because the Adeptus Mechanicus were mean to them.

Before this conclusion is reached, Counter treats us to a series of vignettes capturing the different theatres of war in the Imperial invasion of Opis. Characterisation is thin, but the ensemble cast is large enough that this tends not to be too much of a problem provided you are after apocalyptic fight scenes including boss monsters that show off Counter's creativity for dreaming up new adversaries that are novel to Games Workshop canon but still feel like they fit in the universe. (I do wonder, in fact, whether this was written as the script for a videogame before being turned into a novel, since many of the scenes involve struggles against various minions before a big boss fight.) If that doesn't sound appealing, you'd probably want to pass up Seventh Retribution, but then again if it doesn't appeal to you you probably want to rethink browsing Warhams tie-in fiction in the first place.

In Conclusion

There's nothing wrong with hackwork or light reading. There's a lot to enjoy in playful, enthusiastic hack writing churned out by an author who might not be working at the peak of their abilities or crafting a masterpiece, but is at least having fun with the material they're working with. At the same time, there's no good reason to peruse hack writing which comes across as just another day at the office; even if an author isn't really feeling the material they are working with and is just cranking out crap to hit a word count and grab a paycheque, you never want them to actually show that in the material they're writing. A key skill of being an actor on stage is making each performance feel as fresh and as real as possible, even when you've been going through the exact same movements and lines on the exact same stage for days and weeks on end; authors cranking out formulaic genre material kind of have to maintain the same facade.

I don't know whether it's just the sheer number of these things I've read or the sheer number of them the Black Library regulars have written, but increasingly I find myself less convinced that the Black Library writers care about the stories they are trying to tell. Even if they don't actually care, it's absolutely fatal to an author's work if the reader gets the impression than they don't care, because what you then end up is a story that doesn't actually want to be told and an audience who isn't convinced that they want to hear it.

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Comments (go to latest) at 23:44 on 2014-04-06
Are the imperial fists really popular in the game or something? They seem to feature a lot in these books.
Arthur B at 23:56 on 2014-04-06
They're popular on Ferretbrain because I'm very juvenile and am good at getting people to snigger along with me.

As far as the game itself goes, the Fists specifically, along with their offspring, have had a big presence in the game since the inception (the cover of the first ever Warhammer 40,000 rulebook features a squad of Crimson Fists being overwhelmed by Orks, possibly at the battle of Rynn's World itself, and Rynn's World was the subject of the second ever scenario published for the game, for instance). I don't know if they're the most popular faction, but they're not exactly an obscure one either.
I blame the success of the Horus Heresy books, which seems to have led the editors to assume that the future of Black Library fiction is: 1. Retellings of events that are already canonical in-game and 2. Space Marines, Space Marines, Space Marines! The interesting stuff that you got when someone came up with an idea of their own and explored it in the 40K setting--Ciaphas Cain, Gaunt's Ghosts, Shira Calpurnia etc. isn't what they're interested in any more.
Arthur B at 02:23 on 2014-04-07
I think you're right - the Horus Heresy stuff gets a huge push and more or less all the best authors are being drawn into putting out material for that.
Daniel F at 02:33 on 2014-04-07
Are the imperial fists really popular in the game or something? They seem to feature a lot in these books.

They're not the most popular Space Marine faction, though they do often get a mention or a page or two in the codex. I'd say they're around mid-tier popularity: not exactly Ultramarines or Space Wolves, but still regularly mentioned.

Curiously, for a while they had a reputation for being massacred ignominiously, to the point where the Black Library officially apologised for it. at 11:11 on 2014-04-07
To be fair, the Horus Heresy isn't ALL Space Marines. (there's like... Two books that aren't about them entirely
, just mostly.

I do rather like the Heresy novels in general, they give a nice little peek at the various legions and the "familiar but so different" feel is pretty neat. The entire "legion discovers the heresy" plot is getting a bit tired (then again, I think they've done all of them by now?) and they seem to have dropped the "beginnings of the Imperial Cult" plot thread (which was always one of the most interesting ones) but still, I rather like it.

Then again, I was always more of a fantasy man than a 40K one.

Daniel F at 12:26 on 2014-04-07
I do rather like the Heresy novels in general, they give a nice little peek at the various legions and the "familiar but so different" feel is pretty neat. The entire "legion discovers the heresy" plot is getting a bit tired (then again, I think they've done all of them by now?) and they seem to have dropped the "beginnings of the Imperial Cult" plot thread (which was always one of the most interesting ones) but still, I rather like it.

A few months back I went through a period of catching up on Heresy novels I skipped, and you're right, there really is a sense that BL are spinning their wheels and repeating their plots. I would say that I moderately enjoyed Fear to Tread, but could not help noticing that it was hitting all the same notes as Horus Rising/False Gods all over again. Ho hum, rationalist atheist crusaders of the 41st millennium discover that a universe they thought ran on scientific laws actually runs on magical laws, they meet daemons, their minds are completely blown, it's really the same story.

There are still some reasonable ideas, and I'd be very happy if they started to resolve some of their subplots. The actual course of the Heresy is mostly boring: we all know it. Maybe some people would be interested in the Cabal subplot being resolved; I personally hate it. I would be very interested to see more of the Imperial Creed plot arc (as I really enjoyed that part of The Flight of the Eisenstein), but as you say, it seems to have been dropped. A shame.

Then again, I was always more of a fantasy man than a 40K one.

I'd go out on a limb and say that Warhammer Fantasy is probably a more interesting and better-constructed setting that 40k, myself. Maybe it's just that where 40k is absolutely dominated by an Imperial narrative voice in general, not to mention a myopic focus on Space Marines and war, WHF allows itself more diversity?

I'm not sure about the novels, though. After that recent Heresy binge, I treated myself to the WHF Time of Legends imprint, and I can't quite decide whether I think it's any good or not. The idea of a full review of some of the omnibuses has been floating around in my head. There's lots to say about them; I'm just very conflicted about the ultimate verdict. at 13:05 on 2014-04-07
I actually thought/think the stuff following the Traitor Legions was a fair bit more interesting than the loyalist ones, I really liked Angel Exterminatus and it's focus on Perturabo, for instance, as well as A Thousand Sons and even The First Heretic, not neccessarily for the plot per se but for the (admittedly very hammy) character studies.

You're probably right about the WHFB novels: I liked the Vampire Genevive stuff, but it barely classifies as Warhammer. King's Tyrion & Teclis books are decent (honestly, the genocidial elf civil war has always been one of my favourite bits of the setting, so much overdrawn pathos) although it suffers from having a very similar plot/climax to another few books (whose name I can't even remember) that came out earlier.

I read the Nagash books, and they weren't very good. (although the blatant attempts to create the possibility of a pre-undead Nehekharan army list was kind of fun to spot)

I did rather enjoy the Thanquol novel that ended up with him on a boat eating his latest Boneripper :p
Arthur B at 13:06 on 2014-04-07
I think the big distinction between Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 is the scale, and the knock-on effects from that. Namely:

- Warhammer has one planet, with the focus being very much on one particular corner of that planet. The consequences of any particular story cannot radically alter the status quo being a very, very local level; a village or two might be destroyed, but nations will not fall. Warhammer 40,000 has a huge galaxy dominated by an Imperium so vast it can lose dozens of worlds through bureaucratic oversight and not really feel the pain. This means a story can have utterly cataclysmic consequences and not really trouble the rest of the setting; entire star systems and Space Marine Chapters and Imperial Guard regiments can be destroyed and provided they aren't ones which are critical to the setting it's all cool.

- The Warhammer world's fine detail is much more pinned down - every region of the world has basic details established about it, and the Empire and its neighbours are very carefully detailed, so there isn't much in the way of blank spaces on the map (aside from settlements on the scale of minor villages) for authors to adopt and make their own. In Warhammer 40,000 authors can make up entire sectors to play with if they wish.

- In Warhammer 40,000, if you aren't part of the Imperium (or a former part of the Imperium), you're an alien who's emerged in an utterly different environment from humanity, which somewhat justifies the Black Library's policy of only letting a select few authors that they trust to convey a genuinely nonhuman viewpoint to tell your stories. In Warhammer, not only is there a plurality of human nations, but nonhumans are humans' direct neighbours and in some cases live amongst humans, so the Black Library let more people like elves and dwarves because there's more commonality of experience between them and humans.
Arthur B at 13:07 on 2014-04-07
Oh, also:

The idea of a full review of some of the omnibuses has been floating around in my head. There's lots to say about them; I'm just very conflicted about the ultimate verdict.

This should never dissuade you from doing a review, "I don't know how I feel about this in the end" is a legitimate conclusion and often the process of writing a review will help you nail down your response too.
Daniel F at 14:45 on 2014-04-07
I actually thought/think the stuff following the Traitor Legions was a fair bit more interesting than the loyalist ones, I really liked Angel Exterminatus and it's focus on Perturabo, for instance, as well as A Thousand Sons and even The First Heretic, not neccessarily for the plot per se but for the (admittedly very hammy) character studies.

I suppose I would agree, though I didn't much like A Thousand Sons. I find that Heresy novels have a remarkable talent for shooting themselves in the foot at the end: I really liked both Vulkan Lives and Betrayer until almost literally the final chapter of each.

I read the Nagash books, and they weren't very good. (although the blatant attempts to create the possibility of a pre-undead Nehekharan army list was kind of fun to spot)

The Nagash omnibus was not one I picked up. I made do with McNeill's Sigmar trilogy and Thorpe's Sundering trilogy.

In Warhammer, not only is there a plurality of human nations, but nonhumans are humans' direct neighbours and in some cases live amongst humans, so the Black Library let more people like elves and dwarves because there's more commonality of experience between them and humans.

I think that might be it, really. WHF allows a variety of perspectives much more than 40k does, particularly when it comes to race/army.

This should never dissuade you from doing a review, "I don't know how I feel about this in the end" is a legitimate conclusion and often the process of writing a review will help you nail down your response too.

Oh, indeed. I should say: I have written some fairly long-winded reviews of 40k novels before, albeit on forums rather than blogs. If you ever want an opinion on Ravenwing or Betrayer, I can provide. ;)

I think that's the real enjoyment of writing a review? Defining your thoughts helps to develop them. It'd be fun to have an excuse to do that for some of those Time of Legends novels.
Time of Legends to me epitomizes the Black Library move from "here's our setting, let's get writers to set their stories in it" to "here's a bit of game background we haven't filled in yet, which of our regular writers should write it?" Other than Gotrek and Felix, I don't think there are any ongoing series at the moment set in the Warhammer Fantasy Now (the reign of Karl Franz). The whole process just feels very mechanical.

Anyone who's interested in the history of GW tie-in fiction, btw, would benefit from reading Stephen Baxter's reminiscences:
Daniel F at 14:36 on 2014-04-09
Time of Legends to me epitomizes the Black Library move from "here's our setting, let's get writers to set their stories in it" to "here's a bit of game background we haven't filled in yet, which of our regular writers should write it?"

That was very much my experience of the Sigmar trilogy in particular. I finished the omnibus very confused as to what McNeill was actually trying to say about Sigmar, or the Empire, or the later deification of Sigmar, or whatever else he might potentially have been interested in. The process of review-writing for me (I have been busy!) was a process of grappling with this question, and I don't think there is a good answer.

The conclusion I reluctantly have to come to is that the Sigmar trilogy doesn't have anything to say about Sigmar. It feels like a trilogy written out of obligation, without any genuine interest in the story it is telling.

I found it very bizarre because surely there's a lot you could say about Sigmar, particularly because the WHF setting itself has propagandised Sigmar so heavily. Barbarian hero, invincible emperor, ascended God, and so on. How your story of Sigmar interacts with the dogma of Sigmar in Karl Franz's day is a fascinating question in itself. The difficulty I ended up having was that McNeill's trilogy seemed unwilling to either fully confirm or subvert the dogmatic narrative. McNeill's Sigmar is not an invincible god amongst men (cf. a primarch); but neither does he defect from the conventional narrative enough. There would be lots of ways to do it - Sigmar the fraud, Sigmar the cunning self-propagandiser, Sigmar the composite of several heroes, etc. - but McNeill takes none. What you end up with is a Sigmar who more-or-less does everything mythologically attributed to him and who is basically a decent bloke, but nothing more.

There are lots of other things to say as well, but I think that was the core issue. It really feels like someone in an office in Nottingham sat down one day and said, "I know, we should make a Sigmar trilogy, the fans would like that"... but at no point was there any creative vision.

There are things I like about it, and if I put myself in a charitable mood I can get some interpretations out of it that work for me, at least. (I think there is a nice interpretation of Sigmar as an inverted Conan, for instance.)
Bjoern at 13:48 on 2014-05-27
I've been reading lots of Proper Literature recently and there's still lots of Proper Literature on my Mount Doom of Shame, but I feel I need a break with something that's basically dumb fun.

I've read Eisenhorn, Ravenor is on my pile as is Brothers of the Snake. Are there any WH40K books you guys would recommend to me that haven't been reviewed here? Ideally stand alone and not part of a series of Game-of-Thronesian dimensions.

Thanks in advance.
Arthur B at 14:00 on 2014-05-27
^^^ I've reviewed all the ones here I've actually read and can recommend, so I can't help but would be very, very interested in anything people can suggest.
Daniel F at 09:59 on 2014-05-28
It depends a lot on what you're after. As far as dumb fun goes, I always liked Bill King's first few Space Wolf novels. The first one, Space Wolf, is probably the best, but if you find anything entertaining about the idea of werewolf supersoldiers fighting evil, you'll have a good time.

I mentioned Gav Thorpe's Ravenwing before and I suppose I'd repeat the recommendation. It goes with Brothers of the Snake as one of the few 40k novels that really sold me on the idea of a Space Marine Chapter as a culture. The plot is pretty formulaic, and I prefer to think of it as 'a day in the life of a Dark Angel'. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it's the odd sort of book that, despite an obvious sequel hook, left me with absolutely no desire to keep reading. Ravenwing is what it is, and it is what it is so completely that I can't imagine anything a sequel could add.

...bah, I'm sure that more will come to mind eventually. Are you interested in the Heresy novels? They're patchy, but I can think of some good ones that Arthur hasn't covered here.
Bjoern at 08:09 on 2014-05-29
Werewolf super soldiers in space is right up my alley. So, I'll definitely check that one out.

Horus Heresy: I was unsure about those. Not being a lore hound, this is mostly unknown to me. But I was afraid that it's one, long, ongoing story. I take it, that's not the case?

Anyway, thanks for your input, you two.
Craverguy at 06:00 on 2015-09-30
I'm sad that Arthur seemingly won't be reviewing any more Warhams novels. Now, if I want to know if Path of the Dark Eldar, Graham McNeill's Mechanicus trilogy, the Ahriman series, or Andy Hoare's Rogue Trader duology are any good, I'll have to buy them myself. And who has that kind of money?
Arthur B at 11:08 on 2015-09-30
I'm sure I'll get around to more Warhams (morehams?) eventually, but I can't pretend I'm not enjoying the break. Plus Black Library seem to be doubling down on their narrower, less interesting direction for the fiction lines in keeping with the general Games Workshop trend of dialling back on everything which doesn't involve Space Marines or their shiny new fantasy equivalents.

Actually, I could probably get an article just griping about my feelings about the ongoing homogenisation of the Warhammer settings and the slow deliberate purging of everything exciting and flavourful from them. Would there be any interest, though?
Craverguy at 12:10 on 2015-09-30
I'd read it (if not necessarily when you post it, then some time later when I'm cycling the Random button on the homepage), but obviously I, personally, would be more interested in reading reviews of past Black Library releases like the ones I named: books that focus on xeno viewpoint characters, Rogue Traders, tech-priests, and other parts of the setting that have loads of potential but most Black Library authors don't or aren't allowed to do anything substantial with. (And Chaos Space Marines, because I like Chaos Space Marines. But that's just me.)

I mean, there's not a terribly great amount of that stuff out there, but it exists (there are, for example, at least four novels centering on Rogue Traders by three different authors; five novels, if you count the one that's billed as a standalone White Scars novel but is really a sequel), and I've noticed you saying in past reviews that you've found many of those subjects interesting enough that you'd like to see them fleshed out in their own books.

Of course, there's no reason you can't both do the article griping about the lonesome death of creativity at Black Library and do some reviewing older stuff, if your schedule permits.
Ye gods, does the new Warhammer Fantasy setting look awful.
Arthur B at 14:26 on 2015-09-30
I think there's kernels of good ideas buried in there, but not such good ideas that I think it was worth binning the old setting for.

Then again the primary reason for binning the old setting was for IP enforcement.
Craverguy at 23:40 on 2015-09-30
Does this mean that the Konrad Saga is no longer canon?

And isn't that a point in favor of wiping the slate clean?
Arthur B at 23:50 on 2015-09-30
Oh no, the old setting is part of the new setting's history so Konrad is still a thing. Though its canon status is debateable anyway since the Black Library seemed to allow it to go out of print even before the old setting got mothballed.
I thought the main reason for the new setting was that GW wanted fantasy Space Marine equivalents. How does IP fit into it?
Arthur B at 00:39 on 2015-10-01
I will go into it more as and when I do my article-length moan about the subject but in brief: it's easier to stop your competitors making fantasy Space Marine miniatures than it is to stop them making generic dwarf and elf miniatures.
Craverguy at 12:40 on 2015-10-02
So, while we're (sort of) on the subject: do you take requests, Arthur? Because there are a couple of SF series I've long been interested in hearing the Reading Canary's take on.
Arthur B at 12:49 on 2015-10-02
I do and I don't; that is to say, I take requests in the sense that I will listen to them and give them due consideration, I don't take requests in the sense that I don't feel obligated to take up any of them if I'm not feeling it.
Craverguy at 13:00 on 2015-10-02
OK, cool. I'd be interested in your opinions on Kage Baker's Company series, Kim Newman's Anno Dracula novels, and/or Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence.

In particular, the first and last ones have always seemed to me to be ripe material for a FerretBraining, since they deal with themes and subject matters that the writers and commentators around here seem to be into...and also they have premises that make me go "ooh, that's cool."
Arthur B at 13:45 on 2015-10-02
Kyra already dipped into the Company well and with occasional exceptions I don't really like to revisit territory that's already had a review on here. If I ever read the books I'm more likely to post any thoughts as comments on that article.

Anno Dracula and Kim Newman's related Diogenes Club stuff I likewise just can't get into. Alasdair (you still reading, Al?) posted some stuff previously about the series in the playpen which sounds credible.

Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence seems interesting. Have purchased the first one on Kindle, may get to it at some point.
Craverguy at 13:50 on 2015-10-02
Fair enough. I didn't realize someone had already done a company review.

How about the Corefire or Magister trilogies by C.S. Friedman?
Arthur B at 15:44 on 2015-10-02
How about I read stuff I'm interested in when I'm interested in reading it and we leave it at that? ;)
Arthur B at 18:26 on 2015-10-02
GOOD NEWS: Someone else has stepped in to take a look at Anno Dracula.

I'll look at getting it posted... right after it gets out of the BURN WARD.
Shim at 18:32 on 2015-10-02
Craverguy, I happened to have a never-finished review of Anno Dracula knocking about, which I have just polished up a bit and dropped in the holding pen. At some point it may be released if editors think it's acceptable. I can't really polish it too much as this point, it's too long since I read it, so it's a bit rough around the edges.
Craverguy at 00:50 on 2015-10-03
Cool stuff.
Orion at 16:15 on 2015-10-03
Skimming through the comments, I was briefly convinced there existed something call the "Corefister" trilogy.
Craverguy at 16:40 on 2015-10-03
And don't you kind of feel cheated now that you know there isn't?

Anyway, I'm kind of getting the impression that I might have given offense to Arthur with my last comment but one, and I'd just like to clarify that such wasn't my attention. I just wanted to bring up some works that I found interesting and that I thought he might find interesting and inclined to sample, not to try to dictate anything.
Arthur B at 17:34 on 2015-10-03
No apology needed, sorry for getting snippy - I just didn't want to turn this thread into a big repository for requests, most of which I probably wouldn't get around to doing without having to sacrifice reading I actually want to do.
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