Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 20 August 2022)
Series: Warhammer 40,000
Length: 10 hours
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
One of the fastest rising stars of Warhammer fiction, Denny Flowers, returns with his second novel in the Warhammer 40,000 canon, Outgunned, a deeply compelling and epic novel with a twisty and powerful story.
Last year I was lucky enough to read an interesting and memorable Warhammer 40,000 novel, Fire Made Flesh. The debut novel of Denny Flowers, who had previously written some interesting Warhammer 40,000 short stories, Fire Made Flesh was part of the Necromunda subseries and told a fantastic story about warring factions in a spooky underworld town. I had a lot of fun reading Fire Made Flesh, and it ended up being one of the better debuts I read in 2021. As such, I have been eager to see how Flowers was going to follow up this debut, and I was deeply excited when I saw that he had a new novel coming out, the intriguing Outgunned.
In the far future, the soldiers of the Imperium of Man fight monsters and aliens on many battlefields and there is always a need for fresh bodies to fill the gaps in the ranks. That is where Kile Simlex comes in. A talented propagandist, Simlex excels at creating moving cinematic picts to inspire the people and increase recruitment to the Astra Militarum. However, Simlex desires greater realism and seeks to travel to a battlefield to gain real footage for his greatest pict yet.
Travelling to the fetid swamp planet of Bacchus, Propagandist Simlex plans to chronicle the adventures of the Aeronautica Imperialis, the brave flying aces who traverse the skies, fighting in deadly aerial combat against the rampaging ork hordes. In particular, he hopes to make a pict about legendary fighter ace, Lucille von Shard, considered to be the greatest pilot in the Imperium, to turn her into a renowned hero. However, not everything is as it seems on Bacchus, and Simlex’s attempts to get footage may cost him everything.
Soon after arriving, Simlex begins to realise that the war on Bacchus is not going to plan. The undermanned Aeronautica forces are being overwhelmed by the supposedly crude orks who have created an elaborate fleet of fighters and are slowly destroying Imperial forces from a hidden base. At the same time, a mysterious sickness is destroying the planet itself, while its governor is determined to downplay the war no matter the cost.
However, his biggest threat may come from his chosen subject, as Lucille von Shard is an arrogant and disobedient pilot who has only avoided execution due to her peerless flying abilities. Determined to make the situation work, Simlex attempts to chronicle the reluctant Shard’s skills, while also investigating the strange occurrences on Bacchus. But is even the legendary Lucille von Shard capable of defeating the mysterious enemy waiting for them within the clouds? The Green Storm hungers for combat, and the entire Imperium may shake as it approaches.
This was a superb and deeply impressive Warhammer 40,000 read that really highlights Flower’s growing skill as a science fiction writer. Containing a unique and highly addictive narrative, Outgunned was an outstanding read that blended an exceptional story with some impressive glances at the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe. I had an amazing time getting through this book and it was one of the more exciting and compelling Warhammer novels of 2022 so far.
I must admit that while I deeply enjoyed Outgunned’s brilliant narrative, it honestly wasn’t what I was expecting when I first started reading it. Rather than a completely combat/military focused story about battles in the sky, Outgunned is a powerful and intense story that spends just as much time examining the darker aspects of the Imperium of Man as it does facing off against the ork threat. This becomes clear very early on, especially as the opening introduction from Simlex hints at the deceit, cover-up and lies that are to come. However, I was still unprepared for the full extent of the fantastic narrative that Flowers came up with, as he blends a lot of complex themes and components with some exceptional character work and clever universe expansions to create something truly special.
Outgunned’s narrative starts off hard and fast, quickly introducing Simlex and his propagandist ways, as well as his intentions on Bacchus, before throwing him briefly into the fray and introducing his fellow protagonist, Shard. From there, Simlex attempts to film the flying aces in action, but he soon begins to realise that the supposedly stupid orks have developed a giant fleet of sophisticated airships and are slowly winning the battle against the Aeronautica Imperialis. As he attempts to learn more about this, he finds himself drawn into a major conspiracy as Bacchus’s governor is determined to minimalize the impacts of the ork invasion and is actively working against it. This forces Simlex to engage in multiple efforts, including diving into the past of his desired subject, the prickly and secretive Shard and flying on several missions against the orks, only to discover just how organised and deadly they are. At the same time, he also attempts to understand what is truly going on with Bacchus and its people, as he finds many strange elements to them, including a spreading disease and a corrupt leader. These well set up storylines are not only quite compelling and intriguing in their own right but they come together to tell a complex and impressive story that I was deeply addicted to. I loved the mysteries and intrigues featured within this story, and they blended extremely well with the more combat orientated aspects of the plot and the unique character interactions that Flowers included. Everything comes together extremely well at the end, and I loved some of the brilliant revelations and secrets that come out as the story concludes. The entire narrative leads up to an excellent final fiery confrontation with the orks, which ties in nicely to many of the story elements featured throughout the book. This is an overall excellent and powerful narrative that will really draw you in, especially with its unique look at the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
I deeply enjoyed the way that Flowers set out Outgunned’s narrative as there are so many great elements to it. Told in a chronicle format from Propagandist Simlex’s perspective as he recalls the events in a more realistic and negative light. This works to tell quite an intriguing tale, especially as you get some hints of the events of the future, and the negative tint that Simlex gives to the book’s narrative was a fantastic overall tone. Despite this interesting narration choice, this novel has a brilliant, fast pace to it and the reader is never left in a dull spot, as there is always some cool action, fascinating intrigue or powerful dive into a character occurring throughout. I loved the balance of story elements, and I must highlight the fantastic moments where Simlex works on his propaganda picts and dives through his recordings of the events around him. I also had a lot of fun with the outstanding ariel combat scenes that are featured through the plot. While they aren’t as heavily featured as you would expect from a book about the Aeronautica Imperialis, there are still some great sequences that were very fun to see. Flowers really captures the magic and brutality of combat in in the air, and I loved some of the crazy scenes that resulted, especially against the ork stronghold. There is also a particularly good fight sequence in the middle of a swamp that was pretty awesome, especially as it showed one character’s particular ingenuity and fighting spirit.
Outgunned served as an impressive standalone entry in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and I deeply enjoyed how self-contained the narrative turned out to be. Flowers also did a great job explaining most of the relevant Warhammer 40,000 elements featured within Outgunned, and I felt that this book can be easily enjoyed by most science fiction fans, although established Warhammer fans will probably get the most out of it. I loved some of the very unique Warhammer 40,000 aspects that Flowers featured in Outgunned, as the author came up with some fantastic new elements that added so much more to the story. I personally thought that Flowers did a really good job examining the Imperium through his character’s eyes, and you really get to see a fun new edge to it. Not only do you get to see the Aeronautica Imperialis in action, which will appeal to many Imperial Guard fans, but you also get a cool viewpoint of the Imperium’s propaganda department. Watching the protagonist dive into the techniques and motivations of the Imperial propagandists is quite fascinating, and it gives another great edge to the already dark and gothic Imperium that make you understand that deep down, they really aren’t the good guys they try to make out. Throw in a fun blast of Imperial politics, as a corrupt planetary governor can manipulate the Astra Militarum for their own selfish ends, as well as some dark viewpoints of the brainwashing of young soldiers that occurred to certain characters, and you have a great, cynical view of the Imperium that I deeply enjoyed.
I was also quite impressed with the intriguing and cool viewpoint of the orks contained in Outgunned. 2022 has been a pretty good year for fascinating ork novels, such as Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waagh! and Catachan Devil, and Outgunned offered another great look, even though you rarely get to see the creatures in person. Instead, Flowers offers an interesting look at them through the human characters’ eyes as they try to work out just how these supposedly crude creatures are winning the war for the skies over the planet. Watching the characters slowly realise just how ingenious and clever the orks really are is pretty fun, especially as the propagandist main character has spent most of his career showing them as stupid beasts. As such, the book shows many fantastic examples of the complex ork culture through the eyes of characters who really don’t understand it, which I think worked to make it appear a lot more interesting and mysterious. Established fans of the ork faction (and what Warhammer fiction reader doesn’t love the orks?), will have a blast watching the characters, especially the sheltered Simlex, try and understand their motivations and tactics, and I felt that it was a great way of showcasing the orks without having a major ork character present. I deeply enjoyed all the awesome Warhammer 40,000 elements contained with Outgunned, and it really proved to be an amazing entry into the wider canon.
I also must quickly mention the outstanding setting of the planet Bacchus, where the entire narrative took place. A swamp world with little agricultural value, Bacchus proves to be an unlikely battleground for the forces of the Imperium; however, with an influential governor and a corrupt ruling class enjoying the wine that it produces, it soon becomes a major warzone. While I quite enjoyed this further example of how corrupt the Imperium is, its main benefit as a setting is the way that Flowers makes Bacchus appear as unpleasant and deadly as possible, and it provides a very distinctive and memorable background for many of the book’s fantastic scenes. The sickly swamp setting comes across in vivid detail, and you can feel the terrible sucking feel of it, as well as the many dangers in contains. If that wasn’t bad enough, Flowers also inserts in a mysterious rotting disease that is making Bacchus even more deadly and hostile. This disease is worked into the larger story beautifully, and it helps to give Bacchus even more of a rotting, decaying feel that makes you wonder why anyone is still fighting the orks for it. I deeply appreciated this unique and fantastic Warhammer 40,000 setting, and Flower’s masterful portrayal of it deeply enhanced Outgunned’s excellent story.
I also must talk about the outstanding characters contained within Outgunned as Flowers worked to create some impressive and complex central protagonists. While there are some great supporting figures throughout Outgunned, I am going to limit myself to the main two characters who most of the story revolves around. The first of these is Propagandist Kile Simlex, a renowned pict maker and artist who has dedicated his life to making inspirational films that inspire mankind and get them to fight the Imperium’s enemies. Not only is this a very cool position in the Warhammer 40,000 canon, but Flowers writes Simlex in a very compelling way. I loved how the character’s narration allows you to see the cynical hindsight of Simlex after he survived the events of the book and recounts his adventures, and it was fascinating to see the character slowly lose his faith in the Imperium and the system he has always served when confronted with the events of this book. The constant danger, political selfishness, betrayal, misinformation and disdain of the soldiers he is trying to help really get to him as the novel progresses, and you really see him start to doubt himself. Flowers writes some beautiful scenes around this, and the realisations that he has about the Imperium and his role in its continuing exploitation are great, even if they come back to bite him.
I also deeply enjoyed how Flowers paired Simlex with three servo-skulls who are linked to him mentally. These skulls (literal skulls that have been turned into drones) are specifically altered to act as Simlex’s cameras, and he uses them to record the combat footage and gather information as he attempts to unravel the conspiracies of Bacchus. The powerful link he has to these skulls ensures that his mind is often split between different perspectives, and he often views the world through these robotic eyes. This unique method of viewing the world becomes a key part of Simlex’s character, and it was fascinating to see how connected he was to his floating skulls, who almost become characters in their own right. Simlex proved to be an impressive centre for this entire narrative, and his dark and compelling view of the world really helped to shape this awesome book.
The other major character is Flight Commander Lucille von Shard, the greatest fighter ace in the Imperium, who Simlex is hoping to base his pict on. Shard is the scion of a legendary Imperial family whose members are serving the Imperium in distinguished roles. However, rather than being a dutiful solider, Shard is a brash, arrogant and rude figure who knows she’s the best, even when drunk, and is happy to tell everyone she knows. Always depicted with a sneer on her face, Shard appears not to care about her position, and only truly loves flying, drinking and fighting. Initially disrespectful of Simlex and everything he represents, the two eventually begin working as an antagonistic team against the orks, and Simlex soon sees Shard in a new light, especially once he discovers that much of her persona is an act. Flowers does a truly fascinating dive into Shard throughout Outgunned, and she is easily the most interesting and complex characters in the entire novel. There is so much hidden pain, unreasonable expectations and personality issues surrounding this character, and the hints about what drives her and the realities of her family and her past are just brilliant. Shard honestly had a perfect character arc and Flowers did something special with this protagonist. I honestly don’t think that Outgunned would have been as good as it was without Shard, and I had such an outstanding time getting to know her and seeing the complex backstory the author wove around her.
Like most of the Warhammer novels I enjoy, I chose to check out Outgunned in its audiobook format, which was pretty damn epic. I loved how well the Outgunned audiobook turned out, and the format really enhanced the impressive, action-packed narrative. The audiobook moves the already great story along at a brisk and fun pace, while also highlighting the excellent characters. With a run time of 10 hours, this is a pretty quick audiobook to get through, and I managed to power through it in a few days. I was particularly impressed with the voice work of narrator Phillip Sacramento, who does a wonderful job reading out this compelling book. Sacramento has a brilliant voice for the dark gothic narrative of Outgunned, and I felt that this Irish accent gave the overall narration a little more gravitas. I deeply enjoyed the great voices he attributed to the various characters of Outgunned, and every cast member was given a fitting voice that really worked for them. I felt that Sacramento really captured each of these characters extremely well, and you get a real feel of their rough emotions as they attempt to navigate the terrible situations of the book. I particularly liked the voice that was used for Lucille von Shard, as the sheer arrogance of the character practically drips into your ear, only to occasionally be replaced by a different emotion as her barriers break. This outstanding narration added so much to my enjoyment of Outgunned, and this ended up being an exceptional way to enjoy this brilliant book. As such, this format comes very highly recommended, and it is easily the best format to enjoy Outgunned.
With his second novel, Outgunned, Denny Flowers really showed the world what he is capable of as a Warhammer 40,000 author. With its outstanding and captivating narrative, Outgunned rose above the author’s previous novel and was one of the better Warhammer 40,000 novels of 2022 so far. The author wove some brilliant layers into this impressive read, and I loved the incredible characters, memorable setting and fascinating Warhammer elements that enhanced the clever story. A must-read for all Warhammer 40,000 fans, Outgunned was an absolute pleasure to read and I can’t wait to find out what Flowers has planned next.