Warhammer 40,000: Outgunned by Denny Flowers

Warhammer 40,000 - Outgunned Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 20 August 2022)

Series: Warhammer 40,000

Length: 10 hours

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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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.

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Warhammer 40,000: Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley

Catachan Devil Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 29 March 2022)

Series: Warhammer 40,000/Astra Militarum – Book Two

Length: 9 hours and 14 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Another iconic regiment of the Astra Militarum is on full display in the new Warhammer 40,000 novel by talented author Justin Woolley, with the intense and action-packed read Catachan Devil.

2022 is shaping up to be a particularly epic year for Warhammer 40,000 fiction, with a ton of brilliant novels coming out that cover a range of factions and sides of the surprisingly massive and highly compelling extended universe surrounding the famous tabletop games.  Some of the best Warhammer books of the year include Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! by Nate Crowley and Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath, which both got five-star ratings from me.  However, I have also been really drawn to the impressive novels that examine the basic human troopers of the Imperium of Man.  These soldiers, members of the Astra Militarum, better known as the Imperial Guard, come from many different planets, and are forged into unique fighters by the harsh conditions of their worlds.  I have had a great time reading some of the recent books about them, such as Steel Tread, Krieg and The Vincula Insurgency, especially as the authors dive deep into the psyches of the regiments and their members to unearth their history, mentality, and their opinions of the deadly wars they are fighting.  As such, I was excited when I saw that there was a cool book coming out that followed the legendary Catachan Jungle Fighters, Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley.

Deep in the 41st century, where war and death surrounds the fragile Imperium of Man, many serve the Imperium as soldiers of the Astra Militarum.  However, not all Imperial Guard are created equal, as Trooper Torvin of the newly formed Skadi Second Infantry is about to find out.  Conscripted to fight in the Emperor’s wars, the poorly trained and terrified Torvin suddenly finds himself on the jungle world of Gondwa VI, expected to go up against the brutal and ever-growing greenskin threat.  However, fate is about to place him in the path of a far more dangerous group of fighters.

The lone survivor of his regiment after their vital outpost is overrun and captured by orks, Torvin is accused of cowardice and faces death by firing squad.  However, he is given a chance at redemption by joining up with the men chosen to retake his fallen outpost, the legendary and lethal men of the Catachan 57th Jungle Fighters.  Led by Colonel Haskell ‘Hell Fist’ Aldalon, the Catachans are masters of stealth and jungle fighting, and the 57th Jungle Fighters have a particular grudge to bear against the orks.

Accompanying a small detachment of Catachan Devils to the fallen fortress, Torvin is in awe of the Catachan’s skill and lethality, while they view him with nothing but disdain.  Forced into the fight, Torvin soon discovers that the Catachans are just as likely to turn on him for his incompetence as they are to kill the orks they are hunting.  If he wants to survive, Torvin will need to forget his standard training and fight his hardest to gain the respect of the Catachans.  However, not even the Catachans are fully prepared for the opponents waiting for them; these orks are aware of their strengths and have taken to emulating their tactics and style.  May the best commandos win!

Woolley’s first full Warhammer 40,000 novel was a real hit, and I loved how Catachan Devil provided the reader with a powerful and deeply exciting science fiction tale that also highlights one of the more distinctive factions from the tabletop game.  Catachan Devil has a brilliant and deeply compelling story to it that I found myself powering through in only a few days.  A standalone Warhammer 40,000 book, Catachan Devil takes the reader into heart of the action quickly by introducing two of the main protagonists in the early goings of the book and showing their arrival on Gondwa VI.  These initial chapters primarily focus on the character of Trooper Torvin and show his initial attempts at being an Imperial Guardsman and his unfortunate first encounter with the orks and their fun point-of-view character.  Following this, you are introduced to the Catachans and their leader, Colonel Aldalon, who are brought in to clean up the mess made by Torvin’s regiment.

While it was a tad surprising not to see any Catachan characters until a third of the way in, I think it worked, as all the previous events set up the main narrative extremely well, while also showcasing the dearth in skill of the human soldiers at that point.  The rest of the book follows at a brilliant pace, taking the various characters on an intense and ultra-exciting adventure.  The rest of the story has a great blend of combat, universe building and character development splattered throughout it, as the three central characters all evolve in different ways as they fight against their own issues and their various opponents.  Woolley takes Catachan Devil’s narrative in some interesting directions, and I enjoyed the examination of the Catachan mission and the work done to build up a worthy set of adversaries.  This all leads up to some brilliant and highly exciting final confrontations between the Catachans and their foes, and I loved the fantastic way that Woolley was able to wrap up the main narrative of this book, as well as the three central character storylines.  Everything comes together extremely well, and readers will come away very satisfied, although if they are anything like me, they will be wanting more, even if that is a tad unreasonable.  While Catachan Devil does work as a standalone narrative, Woolley does leave some options for a sequel open in the future, which I personally would be quite interested to see.  An awesome and highly addictive narrative that was really fun to get through.

I enjoyed the way that Catachan Devil was put together as Woolley wrote it in an enjoyable and captivating way.  While this book is primarily designed to highlight a specific regiment of Imperial Guard, something that Woolley does really well, it still contains a brilliant and extremely fun narrative that can be easily enjoyed by anyone familiar with Warhammer 40,000.  However, Catachan Devil would serve as a rather good introductory novel for new readers of the franchise.  Catachan Devil contains an excellent blend of damaged characters, impressive action sequences and entertaining humour that anyone can have an awesome time with this book, and I personally found myself laughing myself silly at times (there is a fun scene where some orks are trying to lure the Catachans out), while also getting drawn into some powerful character arcs.  The entire book is very well paced out, and I particularly enjoyed how Woolley perfectly utilised three central character perspectives to tell a layered and intriguing tale.  Seeing three very different perspectives of the events occurring in Catachan Devil adds to the humour and complexity of the tale, and the three unique main characters play off each other extremely well to create an outstanding book.  I had such a great time getting through Catachan Devil and it was an exceptional addition to the Warhammer 40,000 canon.

Without a doubt the highlight of this book is the focus on the iconic Imperial Guard regiment, the Catachan Jungle Fighters.  The Catachans are a fan-favourite regiment with a distinctive look strongly based on Green Berets in Vietnam (or more likely around Rambo).  Portrayed as tough, disrespectful, and extremely deadly warriors whose fighting ability is a result of their upbringing on a jungle Death World, the Catachans have long captured the imagination of the Warhammer fandom, and they have some of the coolest models in the game.  Due to their popularity, the Catachans have featured in multiple tie-in novels and comics before, but I felt that Woolley did a particularly good job of examining this iconic faction throughout this book.  Indeed, the author really goes out of his way to showcase just how cool and impressive the Catachans are, and the reader gets an intriguing deep dive into their history, mentality and deadly ability in combat.

I felt that the way Woolley set out Catachan Devils really helped to highlight just how skilled and different they are from typical Imperial Guards.  Woolley ensures that there is a very fun and compelling comparison between the Catachans and the other Imperial Guards by first showing a normal regiment of troopers getting slaughtered by the orks while relying on their standard training.  From there, the Catachans are shown from various perspectives: an insider one from their commander, and two outsider perspectives, including from a poorly trained guardsman, which really helps to highlight the differences between the typical soldiers and these badass Jungle Fighters.  Watching the Catachans’ various ambushes, sneak attacks and brutal close combat fights was pretty amazing, and I loved the way that Woolley worked to highlight the practical aspects of their skills and techniques.  You learn a lot about the Catachans throughout this book, as all the point-of-view characters learn or reminisce about the things that drive them and the full applications of their skills and training.  I definitely came away from Catachan Devil with a new appreciation for this faction, and I loved how well Woolley focused the book on them.

To tell Catachan Devil’s fantastic story, Woolley centred the narrative on three point-of-view characters who each have multiple chapters told from their perspective.  These three characters proved to be a winning narrative combination, and you get a powerful and intriguing story as a result.  While each of them has their own distinctive personal narrative, their stories come together throughout the book, and it proves very entertaining to see their different takes on the same events.  This use of three characters was very effective, especially as you get drawn into their personal stories in some powerful ways.

The first character is Trooper Torvin, a rookie Imperial Guard from the ill-fated and newly formed Skadi Second Infantry.  Torvin, who was drafted into the Imperial Guard against his will, is thrust into the deep end on this book and soon finds himself forced to work with the Catachans, even though his inexperience and lack of any jungle training make him a major liability.  Woolley makes good use of Torvin throughout Catachan Devil, and he is the primary example used to show the differences between the common solider and the Catachans.  There are a ton of great examples scattered throughout the book that showcases the difference between a draftee like Torvin and the Catachans, who are raised from babies to be tough soldiers, from the lack of training, the bad information about opponents, and the way he lugs around a ton of unnecessary gear.  I particularly enjoyed the way in which several exerts from The Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer, an in-universe propaganda document, are quoted throughout Torvin’s chapters, often with ridiculous and untrue information that leads the character astray.

While much of Torvin’s story arc is used to highlight the Catachans, Woolley also inserts a compelling and emotionally rich narrative around Torvin as you witness his experiences as a newly minted Imperial Guard.  I felt that Woolley did an amazing job capturing the fear and uncertainty that a draftee like Torvin would experience.  The hesitation and reluctance that Torvin goes through feels very realistic, and the subsequent reactions from his superiors, most of whom would kill him if they knew what he was feeling, really got me to care for Torvin early on, and it was a great portrayal of a common man in the insane Warhammer 40,000 universe.  Naturally, Torvin develops as the book continues, especially once he is with the Catachans, and there are several great scenes as he slowly works to emulate his new comrades and gain their respect.  While it is slow going, Torvin eventually finds his courage and comes to terms with the fact that he is going to be an Imperial Guardsman for the rest of his life, and he really develops in a realistic manner.  Woolley did some brilliant character work here in Torvin, and I really appreciated how his character arc turned out.

The second major character in Catachan Devil is Colonel Haskell Aldalon, the Catachan commander known as Hell Fist due to the Power Fist he wields.  Aldalon is a lifelong soldier who has spent his entire life surviving and fighting in jungle warfare.  Portrayed as a gruff and unforgiving figure who fits the mould of the tough, impossibly muscled Catachans extremely well, Aldalon is Torvin’s polar opposite and is an interesting character as a result.  While Aldalon doesn’t change much in the book, he is dealing with some deep emotional issues after a big loss in his unit’s last battle.  He spends most of Catachan Devil keeping his emotions in check, and he ends up making several mistakes and fighting in a very un-Catachan way, just so he can kill some orks.  Aldalon is the most damaged figure in the entire novel, and it proves to be quite moving to witness him come to terms with his grief and despair to regain his old mindset.  I really grew attached to this old soldier as the book progressed and his impressive viewpoint added a lot to the quality of the entire narrative.

It is a little ironic that in a book all about the Catachans, one of my favourite characters is an ork.  Readers will be blown away by the incredible figure of Nogrok Sneakyguts.  Nogrok serves as the book’s primary antagonist and third point of view character and is a rather interesting figure that offers a fantastic alternate perspective on events.  Rather than the ultra-violent orks you typically see in Warhammer fiction, Nogrok is something special as he is a Blood Axe Kommando, an ork who has grown enamoured with human ideas of tactics and battle strategy, and who attempts to emulate these ideas in battle.  In particular, Nogrok has spent time observing the Catachans in combat and starts to use their ideas of infiltration, camouflage and sneaky kills, rather than the standard ork strategy of running towards the enemy screaming “WAAAAAAGH!”  Unfortunately for Nogrok, he is currently under the control of a warboss from another clan who doesn’t believe in tactics and is constantly berating Nogrok for his human ideas and suggestions.  I loved how Nogrok spent the entire book idolising the Catachans, and it was impressive to see an antagonistic perspective on them, especially as Nogrok acted more like a demented fanboy than anything else.  The comparisons between Nogrok’s opinions about the Catachans and his fellow orks are very entertaining, and it was so much fun seeing the long-suffering character trying and failing to talk sense into his stronger boss.  Woolley writes some interesting character development into Nogrok throughout Catachan Devil, and he ends up serving as an outstanding foil to Aldalon, especially as there is some major history between them.  Between all of this, and all the hilarious scenes featuring ork society and the hilarious discussions he becomes involved with, Nogrok’s chapters quickly ended up being a favourite of mine, and I loved how Woolley was able to build up the Catachans from this enemy viewpoint in a very funny way.

Like I have with most of the Warhammer 40,000 novels, I listened to Catachan Devil on audiobook, and I felt that this was the superior format to experience it in.  Catachan Devil ended up being a pretty exciting and fun audiobook experience, and the format works really well to enhance the action sequences and ensure that listeners can quickly power through its enjoyable narrative.  With a run time of over nine hours, this is a relatively easy audiobook to get through, and I managed to polish it off in only a few days.  I was particularly impressed with the narration by Joe Shire, who did a remarkable job with Catachan Devil.  Not only does he bring all the action and excitement to life with his excellent tone, but he also provides some fantastic voices to the various characters featured within.  All the key characters are given distinctive and very fitting voices for their dialogue, and you can really feel the emotion, anguish and bloodlust that the various figures felt.  I especially loved the various ork voices that Shire came up with throughout the book, and he captured the hilarious and vicious nature of these extremely fun characters, ensuring that all their jokes are delivered to the listener perfectly.  I had so much fun listening to Catachan Devil on audiobook and this format comes highly recommended as the best way to enjoy this epic read.

Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley was an impressive and highly entertaining Warhammer 40,000 novel that I had an incredible time reading.  Featuring a fantastic central cast, some awesome humour, compelling action and three outstanding central characters, Catachan Devil really grabbed my attention, and I had a wonderful time getting through it.  A guaranteed fun read that will appeal to both established Warhammer fans and general science fiction readers alike.

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Star Wars: The High Republic: Midnight Horizon by Daniel José Older

Star Wars - Midnight Horizon Cover

Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press (Audiobook – 1 February 2022)

Series: Star Wars – The High Republic

Length: 10 hours and 5 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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The first phase of The High Republic Star Wars novels continues to come to an intriguing end with the phase’s third young adult entry, Midnight Horizon, a deeply exciting and fun novel from the talented Daniel José Older.

Since the start of 2021, fans of Star Wars fiction have been granted a unique treat in the form of The High Republic books, a Star Wars sub-series set hundreds of years before the events of the films.  Set at the height of the Republic, the High Republic era is loaded with dangers for the Jedi, particularly that of the Nihil, dangerous raiders who seek to raid, pillage, and destabilise order, while their mysterious leader attempts a far more ambitious plan: the destruction of the Jedi.  Broken down into three phases, the first phase was pretty epic and set up the entire High Republic premise extremely well.  This phase has featured a great collection, including the three main adult novels, Light of the Jedi, The Rising Storm, The Fallen Star; some intriguing young adult books; the audio drama Tempest Runner; two awesome comic book series; as well as some other media releases.  However, this first phase has come to an end, and I just managed to finish off one of the novels that served as its conclusion with Midnight Horizon.

Midnight Horizon is the third young adult fiction novel set within the first High Republic phase, and it is probably the best.  This book was written by Daniel José Older, who has authored several great Star Wars novels over his career, including Last Shot, which was one of the books that started my recent obsession with Star Wars extended fiction, and who has been one of the key contributors to The High RepublicMidnight Horizon is set around the same time as the last adult book of the phase, The Fallen Star, and continues storylines from some of the previous books, including the other two young adult books Into the Dark and Out of the Shadows, as well as the Star Wars Adventures comic series and the junior novel Race to Crashpoint Tower.

Following the devastating Nihil attack on the Republic Fair, the Nihil raiders are finally on the run from the Jedi of Starlight Beacon.  However, not everything is as it seems, and several mysterious events and attacks are beginning to occur around the galaxy.  One of the more alarming rumours of Nihil activity has been sent from the planet of Corellia, home of the galaxy’s premier shipyards, where a now missing diplomatic bodyguard was attacked by mysterious killers wearing Nihil garb.

Determined to ensure that the chaos of the Nihil does not spread to the core planets of the Republic, the Jedi dispatch the small team of Jedi Masters Cohmac Vitus and Kantam Sy, as well as Padawans Reath Silas and Ram Jomaram, to investigate.  All four Jedi have substantial experience dealing with the Nihil, but each of them is going through their own personal internal battles as they struggle to deal with recent losses.  Nevertheless, the Jedi embark upon their investigation into Corellia and soon find unusual help from young security specialist Crash, the employer and friend of the missing bodyguard.

While Cohmac and Kantam attempt to investigate through official channels, Reath and Ram work with the chaotic Crash and her unusual security specialists to infiltrate Corellia’s high society.  Crash believes that one of her elite clients has knowledge about the Nihil infiltrators and embarks on an ambitious plan to draw them out, setting up Jedi associate Zeen as a famous singer.  However, nobody is prepared for the Nihil’s plans, both on Corellia and at Starlight Beacon, and chaos is about to be unleashed upon the Jedi and all of Corellia.  Can the Jedi stand against their foe when all hope seems lost, or will the Nihil continue to sweep across the entire galaxy?

Midnight Horizon was an exceptional entry in the High Republic series, and I was particularly impressed with the cool and epic story it contained.  Older came up with a brilliant and powerful narrative that combines a fast-paced story with great characters and some interesting High Republic developments.

This entry in the High Republic range had a very distinctive and compelling young adult story that sees all manner of chaos and action befall its protagonists.  Older wrote a very fast-paced, character driven narrative that takes the reader to the world of Corellia.  Drawing in an interesting team of entertaining and chaotic protagonists, all of whom are going through some major issues, Older sets them on a path to a major confrontation, while all of them try to come to terms with their roiling emotions.  The author sets most of the story up extremely well at the start of the book, and the reader soon gets quickly invested in seeing the Jedi investigate the Nihil on Corellia.  The story goes in some very interesting directions as everyone tries to identify the Nihil plot, with the best ones following the two Jedi Padawans as they team up with young bodyguard Crash.  Crash has some elaborate and over-the-top plans that she drags them into, including tricking a rare species eating diva named Crufeela, and this proves to be a lot of fun, while also setting up the final act of the story.  At the same time, Older also throws in some intriguing flashbacks to one of the character’s pasts, as well as showing a few scenes outside of Corellia, all of which adds some greater context to the story as well as adding to the amazing emotional depth of the novel.

Everything comes together brilliantly in the final third of Midnight Horizon, where the Nihil plot on Corellia is revealed, simultaneously occurring at the revelation of the fall of Starlight Beacon (which you knew was coming).  I must admit that until this final third, I kind of found Midnight Horizon to be a bit by the numbers, although undeniably fun, but the way everything came about near the end was pretty awesome, as the characters are thrust into an all-out war.  There are multiple pitched battles, tragic deaths and surprise reveals occurring during this part of the book, and you are constantly hit with big moment after big moment as it continues.  I honestly couldn’t stop at this point in the book, as I desperately wanted to see what happened next, and I was sure that I was seconds away from bursting into either tears or cheers.  My determination to continue really paid off, as Older saved the best revelation for right near the end as there is a really big moment that changes everything and is sure to get every Star Wars fan deeply excited.  Older leaves everything on an exciting and powerful note, and readers will come away feeling deeply moved.  It will definitely keep them highly interested in The High Republic as a whole.

The author really worked to give Midnight Horizon an extremely fast pace, and it is near impossible not to swiftly power through this book as it blurs around you.  Shown from the perspective of all the key protagonists, you get a great sense of all the impressive events occurring throughout the book, while also getting some powerful and intense examinations into their respective heads.  Older presents the reader with an excellent blend of universe building, character work, humour and action throughout Midnight Horizon, and there is a little something for everyone here, guaranteeing that it keeps your constant interest and attention.  I do think that the story as a whole could have benefited from greater development of the book’s villains.  They honestly came a bit out of nowhere towards the end and you really didn’t get an appreciation of who they were (some of it is explored in some of Older’s other works).  I really wish that Older would have shown a few more scenes from the villain’s point of view, highlighting the establishment of their plans a little better, and I felt that really would have increased the impact of the book, but I still had a lot of fun with it.

Midnight Horizon also proved to be a pretty good young adult novel, especially as it shows multiple compelling and well-written teenage characters in dangerous situations, and I loved the powerful exploration of their unique issues, especially the constant uncertainty and doubt about what they are doing.  There are also some major LGBT+ elements scattered throughout this novel, which I thought were done really well, as you get a range of different relationships, orientations, sexualities and fluid genders throughout the book, and I loved seeing this sort of inclusivity in Star Wars.  I also liked the easier flow that Older featured in the novel, which I felt was associated with the younger characters, and it worked quite well to quickly and efficiently tell this book’s fantastic narrative.  While this is a young adult book, there are some great darker themes that all readers will appreciate, and I loved how it developed into a brutal and powerful war at the end.

Midnight Horizon proved to be an interesting entry in the wider High Republic series, as it served as one of the last books in the first phase.  Since it is set alongside The Fallen Star, the readers get a whole other side of this key tragedy in Midnight Horizon, as the established characters all witness the fall of Starlight Beacon and the corresponding changes to the galaxy.  At the same time, it does some interesting exploring of the key planet of Corellia during this period, gives some hints about some events that will appear in the upcoming second High Republic phase, while also setting up some other key moments for the future.  However, the most significant thing that Midnight Horizon does for the High Republic is continue and conclude multiple key storylines and character plot lines that were started in other bits of work, such as the other High Republic young adult books.  It also provides an intriguing sequel to Older’s junior fiction novel, Race to Crashpoint Tower, and actually serves as the conclusion to The High Republic Adventures comic series, also written by Older.  The High Republic Adventures was one of the major comic lines for this phase of the sub-series, and fans of it really need to check this book out as it details the fates of several of its main characters.  I had a great time seeing how some of these storylines continue in Midnight Horizon, and Older did a great job of bringing everything together in this novel, while also making it quite accessible to newer readers who haven’t had a chance to read the comics.  That being said, good knowledge of the preceding High Republic works is probably a good thing to have for this novel, although Older does make sure to give as much background as possible as he goes.

As I have mentioned a few times throughout this review, Midnight Horizon was highly character focused, as the author brings in an interesting collection of main characters to base the story around.  All the major point-of-view characters have been featured in previous pieces of High Republic fiction before (mostly in Older’s work), and the author ensures that they all get detailed and compelling storylines in this novel that not only revisit their complex appearances in previous books, but also brings all their storylines to an intriguing close for this phase.  Older also spend a substantial time diving into the minds of these protagonists, which added some impressive emotional depth to the book, as all the characters experience deep traumas or regrets, especially after fighting the Nihil for so long.  This resulted in quite a moving read, and while I do think that Older might have used a few too-many supporting characters, this ended up being an exceptional character focused novel, and I really appreciated the clever way the author explored his protagonists and showed the events of this book through their eyes.

The best two characters in this book are the two Jedi Padawans, Reath Silas and Ram Jomaram, who serves as Midnight Horizon’s heart and soul.  I was particularly keen to see Reath Silas again, as he has been the constant protagonist of the High Republic young adult books and is a pretty major figure as a result.  Older is the third Star Wars author who has featured Reath as one of their main characters, and I do like how consistent the various authors have been while showcasing his growth and emotional damage.  Reath is going through quite a lot in Midnight Horizon, as he continues to try and balance his duty as a Jedi with the mass trauma he has experience in the last two books, his conflicted emotions, penchant for personal connections, and general uncertainty about what he is doing.  Despite this, he proves to be a steadfast and dependable character, and it is hard not to grow attached to his continued story, especially as he has developed so much from the first book from scholarly shut-in to badass warrior.  Reath’s narrative comes full circle in Midnight Horizon, and fans of this character will really appreciate how Older features him in this book.

I also had a lot of fun with Ram Jomaram, who was such a joy to follow.  Ram is an eccentric and unusual Padawan who first appeared in the concurrently released The Rising Storm and Race to Crashpoint Tower.  A mechanical genius with poor social skills and who is always accompanied by a group of Bonbraks (tiny sentient creatures), Ram brings most of the fun to the book with his antics and complete lack of situational awareness.  While I initially didn’t like Jam (mainly because I found out he was the Jedi who first came up with calling cool things “Wizard”), he really grows on you quickly with is exceedingly perky personality.  It was so much fun to see him in action throughout the book, and he gets into some unusual situations as a result.  Despite mostly being a friendly and cheerful figure, Ram is also going through some major emotions in Midnight Horizon, as he witnessed his home planet get ravaged by the Nihil in The Rising Storm, and he is now very uncertain about the emotions he feels while getting into battle.  This sees Ram form a great friendship with Reath throughout the book, and the two play off each other extremely well, bringing not only some fun humour but an interesting mentor-mentee connection.  Ram ends up showing everyone just how much of a badass he is towards the end of the book, and I honestly had an amazing time getting to know this character.

There is also an interesting focus on the two Jedi Masters, Cohmac Vitus and Kantam Sy.  Both go through some interesting and major moments in Midnight Horizon, and you really get some powerful insights from both.  Cohmac’s story is an intense and intriguing examination of trauma as you see this Master continue to struggle with his history and inability to process emotion.  These issues have been building within Cohmac since his introduction in Into the Dark, and it was fascinating to see them continue to impact him here, especially once he discovers what happened at Starlight Beacon to one of his closest friends.  Kantam Sy is a nonbinary character who has been primarily featured in The High Republic Adventures comic.  You get a much more in-depth look at Kantam in this book, especially as Older spends time developing several flashbacks around him that examine his complex past as one of Yoda’s students.  Kantam’s team-up with Cohmac proves to be an intriguing part of the book’s plot, and it was compelling to see the more balanced Kantam witness Cohmac’s building anger and frustration.

The final two major characters are Zeen and Crash, both of whom have some interesting storylines in this book.  Zeen, a Force-sensitive teen who assists the Jedi, is one of the main characters from The High Republic Adventures comic, and many of her storylines are finished off here a little abruptly although in some interesting ways.  Most of her storyline is focused around her growing romantic relationship with Padawan Lula Talisola, who she has been close with during the series, and the resultant internal conflict as she tries to decide whether to act on it.  There are also some more damaging emotional moments for Zeen as she comes to terms with the actions of her old friend Kamerat and the tragedy of Starlight Beacon.  The other character is Alys Ongwa, better known as Crash, a diplomatic protection officer who specialises in protecting Corellia’s fractious and deadly political elite.  Crash is an interesting character who was first introduced in a one-shot comic written by Older, Crash and the Crew Do What They Do, and it was interesting to see her brought back here.  A skilled bodyguard and leader, Crash is an intense and highly motivated figure who enacts multiple crazy schemes to get what she wants, while also trying to be a good friend and boss.  Crash hits some major crossroads in Midnight Horizon, especially when she is forced to balance her oath as a bodyguard against justice for her friend and the safety of her city, and she is constantly forced to keep her own intense emotions in check.  I found Crash to be one of the most entertaining and enjoyable figures in Midnight Horizon and watching her and her chaotic crew of bodyguards in action is a lot of fun, especially when she plays of all the other protagonists really well, bringing out the recklessness in all of them.  However, Crash is also quite emotionally vulnerable, and it was nice to see her try to become a better friend while also working on her romantic attachments to a beautiful alien singer and lifelong friend.  I had a wonderful time with all these major characters in Midnight Horizon, and Older did a remarkable job highlighting them and ensuring the reader was aware of their many issues.

As with most Star Wars novels I read, I chose to grab a copy of Midnight Horizon’s audiobook format, which was the usual exceptional experience.  Featuring a short run time of just over 10 hours, Midnight Horizon is a quick and fun audiobook to get through, and I loved the various ways this format enhanced the fantastic story.  As usual, Midnight Horizon features all the amazing Star Wars sound effects for lightsabers, blasters and ships, which are used to punctuate the story elements being described and perfectly bring listeners into the moment.  It also made good use of some of the classic Star Wars music, which, even though it was used a little more sparingly in Midnight Horizon, deeply added to the atmosphere of the book and perfectly enhanced the emotional impact of several key scenes.

While the sound effects and music where as cool as always, the thing that really impressed me about the Midnight Horizon audiobook was the great choice of narrator in Todd Haberkorn.  I didn’t realise that Haberkorn was going to narrate this book until I started listening to it, and I was pretty blown away the second I realised that I got to listen to an audiobook read by Natsu himself.  I am a massive fan of Haberkorn’s work as the English voice actor for dubs of awesome anime like Fairy Tail and Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood, so it was really cool to have him narrate this audiobook.  Not only that, but Haberkorn did an outstanding job bringing the various characters to life in Midnight Horizon and moving the story along at a blistering and fantastic pace.  Haberkorn’s voice perfectly fit the frenetic energy of this story, and I loved the distinctive and very fitting voices he gifted to the novel’s eccentric characters.  He also had a lot of fun voicing some of the unique alien creatures featured in the book, such as the Bonbraks, and he got to do a particularly good Yoda voice as well.  I had an absolute blast listening to Haberkorn narrate this awesome audiobook, and when combined with the great music and impressive sound effects, this was an exceptional way to listen to Midnight Horizon.  I would highly recommend this format as a result, and it probably added a few points to my overall rating because of how impressive it was.

Overall, Midnight Horizon was an excellent High Republic young adult novel that was a real treat to read.  Daniel José Older came up with an outstanding and fun story that was both exciting and powerful as he dives into his various fantastic and damaged protagonists.  Loaded with some awesome moments and epic developments, this was a great addition to the Star Wars canon, and I loved every second I spent listening to it.

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Throwback Thursday: Warhammer: Vampireslayer by William King

Vampireslayer Cover 2

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – August 2021)

Series: Gotrek and Felix – Book Six

Length: 11 hours and 13 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For my latest Throwback Thursday I continue my recent obsession with Warhammer Fantasy fiction by checking out another entry in the iconic Gotrek and Felix series by William King, Vampireslayer.

I have been on a real roll with looking at the cool fiction associated with the now defunct Warhammer Fantasy tabletop game over the last few weeks, including the fantastic novels Runefang and Van Horstman.  However, few Warhammer Fantasy books have grabbed my attention or interest more than the Gotrek and Felix series, which serves as one of the central pillars of Warhammer fiction.  The Gotrek and Felix books, which were originally written by William King, follow the titular characters, dwarf slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his sworn human companion Felix Jaeger, as they journey around the Warhammer Fantasy realm, finding monsters to fight and kill, all in the hope of finding a worthy death for Gotrek.  This is an awesome and unbelievably exciting fantasy series that take the reader to some of the darkest parts of the Warhammer Fantasy world and sees them face off against all manner of crazy foes.

I have had an absolute blast getting through the Gotrek and Felix books over the last year, as there have been some cracking reads in there.  The previous books, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer, Dragonslayer and Beastslayer, have all had their own unique charm, and all of them have been well written and compelling reads.  Vampireslayer is the sixth book in the series, and as the name suggests, it pits Gotrek, Felix and their allies against one of the most dangerous creatures in the Warhammer canon, an ancient and deadly vampire count.

Following their victory at the siege of Praag, Gotrek, Felix and their surviving allies, have finally been able to relax after a never-ending series of battles. However, the ever-restless Gotrek is still determined to find a worthy death to fulfil his suicidal oath, and Felix knows it is only a matter of time before they journey out to face the rising hordes of Chaos that are building around the realms of man.  But before Gotrek and Felix can head out, a new evil rears its head; one that is far more cunning and ancient than anything they have faced before.

After accepting a job from a wealthy Praag nobleman, Gotrek and Felix find themselves investigating a mysterious man who is attempting to steal one of their client’s treasured artifacts.  But the closer they look, the more apparent it becomes that their target is no ordinary man, but a powerful ancient vampire named Adolophus Krieger, who has been stalking the streets of Praag, feasting on the innocent.  Determined to slay this beast, Gotrek and Felix’s confrontation goes poorly, when the vampire outsmarts them, steals the artifact and takes their companion, Ulrika Magdova, hostage.

Determined to save Ulrika and get their revenge on their foe, Gotrek and Felix, as well as their allies, Snorri Nosebiter, Max Schreiber and Ulrika’s father, Ivan Straghov, pursue the vampire lord.  To kill Krieger, they will have to travel to one of the most dangerous places in the Old World, the haunted lands of Sylvania.  Controlled by the Vampire Counts for generations, Sylvania is a wicked place where the dead never rest, and dark creatures lurk around every corner.  Worse, their foe is powered by an ancient artefact forged by Nagash and has designs on becoming the supreme vampire ruler, leading them in a new war against the living.  With the odds stacked against them, Gotrek, Felix and their companions must dig deep if they are to kill Krieger, rescue Ulrika and save the world.  But after spending time trapped with the vampire, can Ulrika truly be saved?

King once again shows why his Gotrek and Felix books were the defining Warhammer Fantasy series with this epic and fast-paced read.  Vampireslayer is easily one of the stronger entries in the series and takes its distinctive protagonists on an intense and captivating adventure that I deeply enjoyed.

Vampireslayer had an amazing fantasy narrative, and I think this was one of King’s more impressive and enjoyable stories.  Taking off right after Beastslayer, the initial story sees Gotrek, Felix and their allies still at the city of Praag, planning out their next adventures.  They quickly find themselves dragged into another adventure when a distant relative of Ulrika reaches out to them for help with a mysterious threat.  This initial part of the book was rather interesting, and not only does it have some great follow-ups from the previous entry in the series but it also sets up the narrative and the current characters really well.  There is a fantastic cat-and-mouse game going on in the early stages of the novel, as the protagonists attempt to discern the new evil they are going up against, while their vampiric assailant, Adolophus Krieger, puts his plans into motion.  Following the first encounter between the heroes and the vampire, which is set up and executed to drive up anticipation for later interactions, Krieger escapes and the protagonists are forced into a deadly chase across the world.

The rest of the novel is primarily set in the dread realm of Sylvania, and sees the protagonists chase after the vampire and his kidnapped victim.  This second part of the book is filled with some fun and exciting classic horror elements as the protagonists go up against a variety of foes from the vampire count’s army.  There is a lot of great action, fantastic chases, and some substantial character development occurring during this part of the novel, as the author brings together many of the threads from earlier in Vampireslayer, while also introducing some intriguing new supporting characters.  King makes particularly good use of multiple character perspectives throughout this part of the book, and I loved seeing the conflicted thoughts of the main protagonists (minus Gotrek as usual), as well as the many plots of the villain and his new minion.  This all leads up to the big confrontation between the protagonists and their foe at the legendary Drakenhof Castle, as the heroes face off against an army of the undead and the vampire himself.  The action flows thick and fast here, and King pulls no punches, showing the brutal and dark nature of the Warhammer Fantasy universe.  I did think that the final confrontation was a bit rushed, with the anticipated battle against Krieger lasting only a short while, but it was pretty fun to see.  There are a couple of good tragic moments in this conclusion, as well as some interesting developments for some long-running supporting characters, and King brings everything to a good close as a result.

I think that one of the things that made this story particularly enjoyable was that it was a lot more focused than some of the other books in the series.  This was mainly because it was the first book since Skavenslayer not to feature a sub-story that focused on recurring villain, Grey Seer Thanquol.  While Thanquol’s perspective was good for Skavenslayer, its use in the following novels, while usually very fun and entertaining, seemed a bit unnecessary and often affected the pacing or stole the impact away from the book’s actually antagonists.  This became more and more apparent in Dragonslayer and Beastslayer, especially when Thanquol’s actions rarely had any impact on the main plot.  As such, not having a Thanquol focused side story in Vampireslayer was a bit of a blessing, and it really increased the impact of the remaining storylines.  It also ensured that the parts of the book told from Krieger’s perspective really pop, as he was the only villain you could focus on.  I had a brilliant time with this impressive story and it ended up being an excellent adventure to follow.

Vampireslayer proved to be a pretty awesome entry to the wider Warhammer Fantasy universe, and I loved the cool details and references that King added in.  Like most of the books in the Gotrek and Felix saga, Vampireslayer can be read as a standalone novel (probably more so than the last three books in the series), and very little pre-knowledge about the Warhammer Fantasy or the previous books in the series is required to enjoy this excellent book.  King does a great job of once again introducing the key elements, recurring characters, and wider evils of this universe, ensuring that new readers get the information they need without making it too repetitive or boring for established fans.

One of the things that makes Vampireslayer standout a little more from some of the recent entries in the series is the move away from Chaos focused opponents and instead brings in a new faction from the universe in the form of a vampire and his undead hordes.  This is a fantastic change of pace, and I rather enjoyed seeing one of the more compelling factions from the game, even though I have bad memories of facing my brother’s Vampire Counts army.  King does a brilliant job diving into the lore and history of vampires and the general undead in the Warhammer universe, and the protagonists get a good crash course on them, which new readers will deeply appreciate.  I loved seeing a vampire antagonist in this novel, especially as it is one of the classic Vampire Counts types (a Von Carstein vampire).  This vampire has a lot of the classic European elements associated with Dracula, and it was fun to see the protagonist deal with this sort of creature, especially as Krieger takes the time to taunt them in a way they’ve never dealt with before.  King also adds in several of cool units from the Vampire Counts book, and it was pretty fun to see them in action in some brilliant fight scenes.  I also deeply enjoyed the dark setting of Sylvania, where much of the story takes place.  Sylvania, a Warhammer realm based deeply on Transylvania and ruled over by vampires, has always captured my imagination and it was fun to see it used in Vampireslayer.  You really get the sense of fear and despair surrounding the countryside, and all the locals, many of whom are just a step away from becoming some form of creature, are a depressing and scared group.  Watching the characters attempt to traverse this land was really entertaining, and I think all these awesome Warhammer Fantasy elements helped to make this great story even more impressive.

I also found some of the character work in Vampireslayer to be pretty intriguing, as King examines several great characters in this book.  The central two characters are naturally Gotrex and Felix, although not a great deal of character development went towards them in this book.  Gotrex is his usual gruff, murderous and unreadable self, who is essentially shown as an unkillable beast at this point, and you really don’t get much more from him, especially as Gotrex’s perspective is deliberately not shown.  Felix also doesn’t get much growth in this book, although he does serve as a primary narrator, recording and observing the events of the book.  Despite this lack of growth, Felix is a great everyman character to follow and it is really entertaining to see his quite reasonable reaction to facing off against the evils that gravitate towards Gotrek.

A large amount of focus went to the supporting characters of Max Schreiber and Ulrika Magdova, who have been major parts of the series since Daemonslayer.  The attention on both has been growing substantially through the last couple of books, especially in Beastslayer, and they had a massive presence in Vampireslayer.  Max, the team’s wizard, is pushed to the brink in this book after investigating a dangerous magical artefact and having his companion Ulrika kidnapped.  Max, who has always had a crush on Ulrika (it was pretty creepy at first, but better now), becomes obsessed with saving her before its too late, and this drives him to some extremes in this book.  Ulrika, on the other hand, must survive the evil attentions of the book’s villain, especially once the vampire takes an unhealthy obsession with her.  I must admit that I have always found Ulrika to be a fairly annoying character (which isn’t great when she’s usually the only female figure in the books), however, this was one of her best appearances as she goes through a physical, mental and magical wringer.  Her attempts to resist the vampire are extremely powerful and her eventual fall to darkness is one of the more compelling and best written parts of the book.  This was an excellent outing for both these supporting characters, and it actually serves as a wonderful final hurrah, as I know they don’t appear in many books in the future.

The final character from Vampireslayer that I need to talk about is the book’s primary antagonist, the titular vampire Adolophus Krieger.  Krieger, a centuries-old creature with connections to Vlad von Carstein, serves as a brilliant villain for this adventure novel, especially as King takes a substantial amount of time to dive into his history, personality and motivations.  Rebelling against his sire and attempting to become the next vampiric master of the Old World, Krieger is shown as a complex and intense being with some major issues.  Not only does he have to temper his intense ambition, but he also finds himself mentally deteriorating towards savagery and must constantly fight for control as his afterlife’s goals comes to fruition.  King does a great job capturing this compelling figure throughout the book, and I particularly enjoyed his introductory chapters where his temper and inability to suffer fools is shown with gruesome results.  Krieger has a brilliant presence throughout the novel, and he was a great villain opposite Gotrek and Felix with his gentlemanly airs (he has a great comeback to a line from Snorri Nosebiter).  I deeply enjoyed all the outstanding characters in Vampireslayer, and King did some superb work with them throughout this novel.

After reading paperback versions of Dragonslayer and Beastslayer, I’ve finally gotten back onto the Gotrek and Felix audiobooks with Vampireslayer, which was a lot of fun to listen to.  The audiobook format did an amazing job of capturing the dark tone and fast-paced action of this intense novel, and I felt that listening to Vampireslayer on audiobook really helped me appreciate a lot of the book’s more interesting details.  With a runtime of just over 11 hours, this is an easy audiobook to power through, and I personally managed to get through it in a few days.  This great audiobook was further enhanced by the excellent narration of Jonathan Keeble, who has narrated most of the other Gotrek and Felix audiobooks.  Keeble has an amazing voice for this sort of novel, and I loved the fantastic way he was able to move the story along at a brilliant pace while also enhancing the book’s horror and action elements.  I particularly loved the range of excellent voices he attributes to the various characters, many of which are carried over from his previous audiobook experiences.  All the characters get some distinctive and very fitting tones here, which I think worked extremely well.  Examples of some of the best voices include Felix, whose calm voice of reason, serves as the narrator’s base tone for most of the story; Gotrek, who is given a gruff and menacing voice that contains all the character’s barely restrained anger and regret; and even the new vampire character, Adolophus Krieger, who is gifted a French/European accent to match the classic vampire vibe that goes with the Vampire Counts characters in Warhammer, and the character’s likely origins as a Bretonnian Knight.  This expert voice work was extremely good and I had a brilliant time listening to this version of Vampireslayer.  As such, this format comes highly recommended and it is usually one of the best ways to enjoy a cool Warhammer novel.

Vampireslayer was another epic entry in the fantastic and ultra-fun Gotrek and Felix series by William King.  Bringing in a great new opponent who pushes the protagonists to new lows, this was an excellent adventure novel that shows some of the best parts of the Warhammer Fantasy world.  With a captivating and fast-paced narrative, this was one of the better entries in the series and I had an outstanding time getting through Vampireslayer.  An awesome read for all Warhammer and general fantasy fans, especially on audiobook.  I love this series so much!

Vampireslayer Cover

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Waiting on Wednesday – The Winter Soldier: Cold Front by Mackenzi Lee

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this latest Waiting on Wednesday, I highlight a fantastic upcoming comic book tie in with the anti-hero focused The Winter Soldier: Cold Front by Mackenzi Lee.

The Winter Soldier - Cold Front Cover

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Back in 2019 I was lucky enough to listen to a copy of a fantastic young adult tie-in novel, Loki: Where Mischief Lies, by the talented Mackenzi Lee.  Where Mischief Lies was an intriguing read that followed a young Loki and showed one of his unique adventures in 19th century London, where his lies, tricks and morality where strongly tested.  This was a fantastic book and it served as a great first entry in a new Marvel young adult tie-in series from Lee, with all the planned entries looking at conflicted anti-heroes and villains from the Marvel universe.  This series was followed up last year with the intriguing Gamora and Nebula: Sisters in Arms, which looked at the two fan favourite characters from Guardians of the Galaxy, Gamora and Nebula, as they worked a complex mission for their father.  While I have not had the pleasure of reading Sisters in Arms yet, it sounded really fun and I have been meaning to check it out for a while.  Luckily, due to the standalone nature of these series, I don’t have to read it before getting excited for the next Marvel novel from Lee, as there is a third book in the series coming out early next year with The Winter Soldier: Cold Front.

Synopsis:

1954: The Winter Soldier is the Soviet Union’s greatest weapon. Assigned the most dangerous covert missions from the USSR’s secret military branch, and guided by a handler who knows him better than he knows himself, he has only one purpose: to obey orders.

But he wasn’t always the Winter Soldier . . .

1941: As World War II begins, sixteen-year old Bucky Barnes is determined to enlist in the US army—if only the local commander will stop getting in his way. When Bucky is offered enrolment in a training program with the British Special Operations Executive—the UK’s secret service—he leaps at the chance to become a hero. But Bucky has hardly touched down in London when he finds himself running from a mysterious assassin and accompanied by an English chess champion fond of red lipstick and double crosses. She’s in possession of a secret every side is desperate to get their hands on. If only they knew what it was . . .

Decades later, the Winter Soldier struggles to solve the same mystery Bucky is just beginning to uncover. As their missions intersect across time, their lives collide too—in a way that neither of them would have expected, and that will change the course of their respective wars.

In The Winter Soldier: Cold Front, on-sale on February 7, 2023, New York Times best-selling author Mackenzi Lee explores the youth of one of Marvel’s most compelling characters, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes—and the enemy soldier he is forced to become.

Now, I first have to geek out a little about there being an upcoming book about the Winter Solider.  I love this cool character (pun intended) and have been a massive fan of the unique way they brought back Bucky ever since his appearance in the comics.  His brilliant use in the MCU movies has only increased my love of this character, and there are honestly few anti-heroes in the Marvel canon more conflicted than the Winter Soldier.  As such I am very excited to read a whole novel about him, especially one that sounds as great as Cold Front.

I am deeply intrigued by the amazing synopsis featured above, especially as it looks like Lee is going to use multiple time periods to tell a complex and interlocking story.  The plan to focus on various points in Bucky’s life, including his time in the army before meeting Captain America, as well as his early days as the Winter Soldier in the 1950’s Soviet Union sounds extremely awesome, and something I am very keen on.  Watching the various phases of this character’s life is going to be great, and I am particularly keen to see how the author portrays the brain-washed version of the Winter Solider in comparison to the carefree teenager.  I am also interested in seeing how the storylines interlock, and it sounds like the two time periods are going to come together in some fantastic ways.

I honestly was keen to check this book out the moment I heard that Mackenzi Lee was writing anything about the Winter Soldier.  However, Cold Front has a great plot to it, and it sounds like it is going to spend a lot of time diving into the mind of the titular character and show multiple key parts of his life.  Set for release in February 2023, Winter Soldier: Cold Front, is going to be epic, and I reckon that I am going to have an outstanding time reading this upcoming read.

Throwback Thursday – Warhammer: Van Horstmann by Ben Counter

Van Horstmann Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – 1 February 2013)

Series: Warhammer Fantasy

Length: 415 pages

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For my latest Throwback Thursday I review another awesome Warhammer Fantasy novel, the compelling and unique Van Horstmann by Ben Counter.

Another week, another Warhammer tie-in novel that I must review.  I have been really diving into this franchise over the last year; to be fair, there are some incredible books there, including the two 2022 Warhammer 40,000 releases that got a full five-star rating from me, Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! by Nate Crowley and Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath.  Some of the best of these books are tie-ins to the now destroyed Warhammer Fantasy universe, including the novel from last week’s Throwback Thursday, Runefang by C. L. Werner.  Well, my current obsession with all things Warhammer continued again as I recently read the awesome Van Horstmann by Ben Counter.  Counter is a well-established author of Warhammer fiction, having made a ton of impressive contributions to the franchise, including his Grey Knights and Soul Drinkers series, as well as his entries in the massive Horus Heresy series.  I was really drawn to Van Horstmann when I picked it up, not only because it has a great cover (love a cover with a dragon on it), but because of its intriguing plot, which sounded extremely awesome.

In the human realm known as the Empire, magic has been feared and mistrusted through most of its history, with practitioners hunted down and burned at the stake.  However, following the Great War against Chaos, the elven mage Teclis was allowed to train various talented humans in the use of magic, establishing the eight Colleges of Magic that train scholars and battle mages to help the armies of the Empire.  Out of all the colleges that were formed, the most revered are the College of Light, whose powerful light magic can be used to push back the darkness of Chaos.

Years after its formation, a young wizard manages to find the College of Light, hidden behind a magical barrier in the Imperial capital, Altdorf.  This wandering wizard, Egrimm van Horstmann, is a talented young mage whose desire for knowledge and skill at manipulating the Wind of Hysh immediately impress his new teachers, and many believe that he will rise high in the order.  However, van Horstmann has a dark secret that burns deep within him, and knowledge, power and ambition aren’t the only reasons for his joining the Light Order.

As van Horstmann rises in the ranks of his order, it soon becomes apparent that he has a diabolical plan.  Working with dangerous forces, including daemons, cursed items and even the Chaos god Tzeentch, van Horstmann begins to manipulate his order, the other colleges, and even the emperor to get what he wants.  But the closer he gets to achieving the goal, the more enemies he makes, and soon factions within the Light Order and the greater Empire begin to move against him.  Can van Horstmann succeed in his mission before his dark purpose is discovered, or will his dastardly designs unleash the great and uncontrollable power hidden at the very heart of the College of Light?

This was an impressive and deeply captivating Warhammer Fantasy novel, and I absolutely loved the elaborate and clever narrative that Counter came up with.  Focusing on an intriguing villainous figure and crafting an addictive story around him that also explores key aspects of the franchise’s lore, Van Horstmann was an outstanding novel, and it was probably the best Warhammer fantasy novel I have read so far.

Counter has come up with an excellent and impressive narrative for Van Horstmann, which, as the name suggests, is completely focused on the character of Egrimm van Horstmann.  For those who don’t know, van Horstmann was a minor special character for the Chaos army in some of the earlier editions of the games, but he didn’t have that much background or lore surrounding him.  I personally knew him due to his name being associated with one of my favourite magical items available to Empire armies in the later editions, Van Horstmann’s Speculum, which is a very fun surprise for an unwary foe (I have fond memories of using Van Horstmann’s Speculum in a game to switch stats between my Master Engineer and my brother’s Manfred von Carstein in a duel.  The look on his face as his ultimate general was suddenly weaker than my minor hero was just hilarious).  However, Counter manages to take the short background summary of the character and uses it as the basis for this novel, expanding on the tale of van Horstmann and showing how and why he infiltrated the Light Order and ended up betraying them, which results in an epic story.

Van Horstmann has a bit of a slow start to it, as Counter takes the time to set up key parts of the story, including an intriguing prelude that examines the first wizards of the Empire and their darkest secret.  From there, the story introduces the main character, van Horstmann, and shows his entry into the Light Order and his start as a student.  The story gets quite interesting after this, especially as you see van Horstmann involved in a demonic exorcism, which quickly highlights just how ruthless and cunning he can be.  The story picks up pace from there as you begin to witness van Horstmann’s inevitable rise to power as the full scope of his desire and despicable nature become fully apparent.  Most of the middle of the book showcases the characters careful and evil manipulations, as he manages to fool everyone and become more and more powerful through deals with daemons and the Chaos gods.  There are some brilliant scenes here as you witness the full scope of his plans, from a great battle scene against the skaven, to organising several duels between the various magical factions, all in the name of gaining power.  Counter really does a good job of showcasing this viewpoint through multiple perspectives, and while much of the focus is on the gloating van Horstmann, you also see how his actions impact several supporting characters, many of whom start to get suspicious.  The entire narrative has a great dark fantasy edge to it, that occasionally borders on horror (especially when the character interacts with some of the daemons and their dark gods), and I found myself really getting drawn into this story once everything had been set up.

This leads up to the epic conclusion that sees van Horstmann’s master plan enter its final phase while his enemies begin to realise his evil nature.  This ended up being an extremely impressive conclusion, and it really becomes apparent just how much stuff Counter had set up in the first two-thirds of the book.  Everything comes together here, as compelling story elements such as van Horstmann’s long-term plans, his troubled past, all his terrible actions while part of the order, the revelations about the foundation of the Light Order, several great secondary character arcs, and the attempted investigation by van Horstmann’s enemies, all pay off.  I really appreciated the brilliant and dark way that these storylines worked out, and there are some great revelations, especially around van Horstmann’s motivations and the full scope of his careful actions.  I loved the deep and very personal reasons behind the events, especially as van Horstmann has some extremely fantastic revenge planned, which was pretty epic to behold.  The entire novel ends on a brilliant note that sets up the character for his future appearances as a special character in the tabletop game, while also stabbing home that van Horstmann isn’t the absolute master manipulator that he thought it was.  This clever conclusion was the perfect ending to this gripping plot about a conniving and dangerously intelligent villain, and it was so much fun to see how everything ended.  These final pages and the outstanding conclusion they contained, definitely increased the overall awesomeness of the entire narrative, and seeing just how well every great twist and turn was set up is incredibly awesome.

This ended up being an excellent addition to the overall Warhammer Fantasy canon, and Counter did a wonderful job of working this elaborate and impressive story into the wider universe.  As I mentioned above, Van Horstmann adapted basic character notes from an older game book, and I felt that Counter expanded on all these details extremely well, working them into the wider history of the Empire.  There are some great explorations of several key factions throughout this novel, particularly the Empire and some of the forces of Chaos, and the reader really gets an impressive view of the iconic setting of Altdorf, where much of the narrative takes place.  However, the most detailed and fascinating part of Counter’s dive into the Warhammer Fantasy world revolves around the exploration of the Colleges of Magic in the Empire.  Without a doubt, Van Horstmann contains some of the best explanations of how human wizards perceive magic that you are every likely to see in a Warhammer novel and Counter spends a ton of time examining this.  While some of the explorations surrounding magic do get a bit overly metaphysical for their own good, they are always pretty compelling to see, and I loved how there is a fun focus on the various different orders of magic, especially Light and Gold magic, as there are some awesome fights between these groups.  However, it is the Light Order that gets the most attention in this novel, as the main character is nominally a member of this group.  There is so much detail put into showcasing the Light Order’s elaborate, hidden headquarters, as well as how their particular brand of magic works, and you come away with a pretty intense understanding of this, which I deeply enjoyed.

Now, due to the sheer level of intriguing detail and Warhammer Fantasy lore contained within this novel, Van Horstmann is a book best enjoyed by those already a fan of the franchise.  Counter dives into some fantastic and occasionally obscure parts of the lore, and established Warhammer fans will really appreciate the clever touches and revelations featured within.  That being said, Counter also spends time ensuring that new readers will be able to follow the narrative rather easily, and a lot of the book’s exposition is spent establishing the history, magical elements, and some of the key factions for new readers.  As such, pretty much anyone who loves a good dark fantasy story can easily enjoy Van Horstmann as a novel, and I am sure that most people will have an excellent time with its very clever and intense narrative.  However, Warhammer fans are going to get the most out of it, and this probably isn’t the best first book for those readers interested in exploring the Warhammer Fantasy universe (the Gotrek and Felix novels, such as Trollslayer, would be my recommendation).  Nevertheless, this is an exceptional Warhammer Fantasy read that will appeal to a wide cadre of readers.

There is some great character work featured in Van Horstmann, which naturally focuses primarily on the titular character.  Counter really gets into the mind of van Horstmann in this book, and while most of the time you only see the supremely confident wizard who delights in manipulating men, wizards and daemons, there is a lot more under the surface.  This includes a tragic backstory that serves as the motivation that drives him to do all the terrible things he wants to do here.  While it would be rather easy to hate this character, especially with his inherent arrogance, I found myself getting drawn into his multiple plots and machinations, and you end up rooting for him just to see how all his plans unfold.  Despite that, it is also quite fun to see misfortune strike him, especially the fun twist at the very end of the book where his overconfidence comes back to bite him in a big way.  I had an outstanding time following van Horstmann in this fantastic novel and he proved to be a very fun central figure in this book.

Due to the massive focus on van Horstmann, Counter doesn’t spend a lot of time building up a lot of the side characters.  Despite that, there are a few interesting supporting characters and storylines that add a fair bit to the narrative and which have some compelling connections to the main plot.  Various members of the Light Order are featured throughout, and I liked the way that Counter portrayed them as mostly being quite full of themselves and unable to consider treachery from within their order.  Watching them get taken down a massive peg by van Horstmann is a little satisfying at times, especially when their fates are well deserved, although there are a few tragedies thrown in at the same time.  Other great characters include the manipulative Skull of Katam, a sentient magical skull who guides van Horstmann for its own reasons, and who served as an untrustworthy accomplice for a good part of the book.  Finally, there is also the interesting character of Witch Hunter Argenos, a rabid religious zealot who hunts agents of dark magic and the Chaos gods.  Argenos serves as a good counterpoint to many of the more magical characters, and his deep drive and desire for religious justice, helps to turn him into an excellent threat to van Horstmann.  These side characters, and more, have some interesting moments in the book, and I liked their excellent contributions that combined with Van Horstmann’s main tale in some fantastic ways.

Containing an addictive, powerful and brilliant story, Van Horstmann by Ben Counter is an incredible and awesome Warhammer Fantasy novel that follows a fantastic villain as he dives deep into the world of magic.  I loved the elaborate and captivating tale of revenge and dark power that Counter came up with here, and readers will swiftly get drawn into this amazing novel.  An excellent in the Warhammer Fantasy canon, Van Horstmann is an exceptional read that comes very highly recommended.

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Warhammer 40,000: Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath

Assassinorum Kingmaker Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 2 April 2022)

Series: Warhammer 40,000

Length: 11 hours and 12 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 hours

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The most lethal assassins in the Warhammer 40,000 universe go face to face with a gigantic foe in the impressive and deeply thrilling Assassinorum: Kingmaker by amazing author Robert Rath.

I know I’ve said this before, but 2022 is turning out to be a fantastic year for Warhammer fiction.  Thanks to my recent obsession with this franchise, I have been deeply enjoying all the new tie-in novels associated with this table-top game, as a bevy of talented authors seek to expand on the already massive lore.  I have already had a lot of fun with books like Steel Tread, The Bookkeeper’s Skull, Day of Ascension, Kreig, Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waagh!, Reign and The Vincula Insurgency, but I may have just finished one of the most purely entertaining and awesome new entries, Assassinorum: Kingmaker.  Written by Robert Rath, who previously wrote the intriguing Necron focused book, The Infinite and The Divine, Assassinorum: Kingmaker had a very appealing story that instantly grabbed my attention and which ended up being an outstanding read.

In the 41st millennium, a new generation of war has engulfed the Imperium of Man, as the forces of Chaos press mankind from all sides and the recently resurrected Roboute Guilliman leads his forces on a new crusade.  Enemies attack the Imperium from all corners, often hidden in the shadows, and all the Emperor’s agents must work to find and eliminate them.  The most deadly, effective and feared of these agents are the members of the Officio Assassinorum, elite modified assassins who kill all of the Emperor’s enemies without mercy or fear, and who many believe are merely myth.

When the mechanical warriors of the Knight World of Dominion fail in their duty, the Imperial overlords task Vindicare assassin, Absolom Raithe, to travel to the planet and kill Dominion’s High Monarch, Lucien Yavarius-Khau, and managed the succession of a suitable replacement.  However, this will be no easy kill as the High Monarch has long ago bonded himself to his massive war machine, remaining permanently within its heavily armoured cockpit.  To kill this near-invulnerable king, Raithe is forced to recruit a kill-team with variable talents, featuring the Callidus assassin Sycorax and the Vanus assassin Avaaris Koln.

Infiltrating the planet using returning Knight, Sir Linoleus Rakkan, who has been co-opted into their plans, the assassins arrive to find a world in turmoil.  The planet’s two rival ruling houses are in constant battle with each other, and in the ensuing chaos, anti-Imperial sentiment is high, and the already invincible High Monarch is under heavy guard.  Seeking to infiltrate the court of Dominion, the kill team begin to manoeuvre themselves into position, while manipulating the feuding knights around them.  However, the assassins soon begin to realise that not everything is as it seems, and a dark secret lies at the heart of this noble planet.  Can Raithe’s team achieve their goals, or are they destined to die at the hands of a dangerous foe with malicious plans for the entire Imperium?

Damn! Damn! Damn! What an over-the-top and extremely cool Warhammer 40,000 novel that I deeply, deeply loved.  Robert Rath really went out of his way to make Kingmaker as awesome as possible, and the result is an extremely thrilling, electrifying and epic read, loaded with so many cool elements.  This was honestly one of the best Warhammer novels I have had the pleasure of reading and I have very little choice but to give it a full-five star read.

I really, really loved the cool story in this book, which essentially boiled down to ultra-elite assassins attempting to kill the king of a planet of mecha, which is such an awesome idea.  Despite this being a heavy concept to achieve, Rath managed to achieve it in spades, providing readers a fantastic and clever narrative that instantly grabs your attention.  This book starts off extremely well, introducing the world of Dominion, the unique mission, and the four central characters of the three assassins, and their Knight patsy, and generally setting up all the key elements of Kingmaker to ensure some outstanding moments later.  From there, the story turns into a bit of an espionage thriller, as the three assassins begin their infiltration of the court, impersonating the knight Rakkan, and coming to grips with the unique world they have arrived at.  Rath provides an excellent balance of story elements in this first half of the novel, and the reader gets a fantastic mixture of character development, massive universe building, political intrigue, spy elements and some early mecha-action, all of which is a ton of fun and ensures that the reader is firmly addicted with this novel.

While I deeply enjoyed the excellent story elements contained with this first half of Kingmaker, it’s the second half that made me a major fan of this book, as Rath amps up the action, excitement and thrills in a massive way.  Following a major, action-packed moment around the halfway mark that sees all the characters in their element, the protagonists soon have a new objective.  This leads to several great sequences of entertaining mayhem and death as the protagonists attempt to manipulate local politics to their advantage.  However, the fun doesn’t last much longer, as the book enters its final phase and big conclusion.  While it initially appears that everything is going to plan, you just know it will end badly as there is still a lot of book left to go.  However, you do not appreciate just how bad things have gotten for the protagonists until they are suddenly hit from every direction and hell reigns down all around them.

The story essentially devolves into all-out war for its last quarter, as the protagonists find themselves facing enemies all around, and all four main characters are forced go in some amazing directions at this point as they attempt to stymie the damage before them, with varying degrees of success.  Rath really pulls out all the stops here, and the reader is dragged into non-stop action on every front, from a mass of deadly mecha fights, close combat against abominations in the bowels of an ancient castle, and an intense gun fight against overwhelming numbers.  At the same time, there are a ton of big revelations occurring here as a lot of the storylines Rath has been patiently setting up throughout the rest of Kingmaker finally come to fruition.  I honestly did not notice some of the clues that Rath set out in the earlier stages of the novel, but once you realise what he has done, it really becomes apparent how much detail and planning the author put into the story.  Everything comes together extremely well at the very end, and Rath wraps up most of the storylines perfectly, leaving the reader very, very satisfied, with all their action needs firmly quenched.  However, he also leaves a couple of storylines opened, which could potentially lead to some form of sequel in the future, which I would be very excited for.  An, epic story with so much going for it!

Rath has a great and exciting writing style which I deeply enjoyed and which I found to really enhance the cool story.  The author was able to successfully blend multiple key elements together into a very cohesive narrative which delivered the right combination of action, intrigue, character moments, world building, a little humour and more.  This was a very fast-paced and exciting story, especially during some of the key moments at the centre and towards the end, and there was honestly not a single slow moment that made me even considering turning this book off.  With the use of multiple character perspectives, particularly of the four main characters, the reader is gifted a massive overarching view of the key events occurring throughout the novel, and they are always right in the centre of the story.  I particularly need to highlight the very impressive action sequences, as Rath had a real talent when it came to displaying violence and death, whether it be by the hands of the assassins, or via the multiple Knights featured throughout the book.  There is a wonderful interchange between perspectives during some of the more impressive action sequences, with the reader is shown multiple angles of key events, which really helped to enhance how epic they were.  I was really drawn to one sequence where you see a group of characters “talking” before it flashes over to another character quickly and efficiently killing everyone nearby.  Elements like this really drew me into Kingmaker’s story and were a lot of fun to see in action.

Kingmaker proves to be a very impressive addition to the Warhammer 40,000 canon, especially as Rath ensures that the reader leaves with a healthy amount of knowledge about the universe, and several major factions within it.  Ostensibly a standalone read (although there is room to expand out into an extended series), this is a book that will appeal to a wide range of Warhammer fans, especially as it focuses on two particularly unique and brilliant Imperial sub-factions, the dual use of which clash together perfectly to create an awesome narrative.  As such, a little bit of pre-knowledge about the Warhammer 40,000 universe, its recent history and the various major groups are useful to help you enjoy this story fully.  However, Rath did a great job of explaining a lot of these key universe elements throughout his story, and general science fiction fans should be able to pick up on the context easily enough.  As such, Kingmaker has a pretty broad appeal, and I loved seeing the great ways he expanded and explored some crazy groups.

The first faction that Rath deeply explored in Kingmaker is the Officio Assassinorum, the Imperium’s elite, hidden network of ruthless trained killers, who most people believe are a myth.  Trained, conditioned and modified to become the deadliest killers in the galaxy, the Officio Assassinorum are a pretty badass part of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and there are only a few novels currently about them.  However, Rath really goes to town exploring them, and as they come together as a Kill Team to take facilitate the plot’s main mission.  Kingmaker features three different types of Imperial assassins from Officio Assassinorum temples, each of whom has their own unique skills, methods and technology.  As such, you are given a great insight into three additional sub-factions, with the Vindicare, Callidus and Vanus temples all featured here.  Rath really does a great job showcasing these different assassins throughout Kingmaker, and you come away with some major insights into how these assassins operate, what their skills are, and how they work or don’t work together.  There is also a deep and intriguing examination of the inner minds of these assassins, and you get a good idea of their opinions on the events unfolding, as well as their general thoughts on being deadly killers in service to the Emperor.  I really enjoyed the unique and compelling team-up of assassins featured in Kingmaker, and their technologically focussed attacks and elaborate methods worked well in contrast to the other major faction in this book, the Imperial Knights.

Imperial Knights are another great human sub-faction from the Warhammer 40,000 game, and one that I really didn’t know too much about before this novel.  However, that changed really quickly as, despite Kingmaker being labelled as an Assassinorum novel, Rath spent just as much time, if not more, examining members of a Knight World.  Knight Worlds in the Warhammer 40,000 universe are unique planets that have evolved into a feudal system equivalent to Earth’s medieval period, with peasants and other servants serving the noble houses who field Knights for war.  I always love seeing the cool range of different societies, cultures and technology levels throughout the Warhammer universe, and the Knight Worlds are especially fun, as they have gone out of their way to stay as a feudal society, rather than become standard Imperial worlds.  The contrast between the spoiled nobility and the poorer peasants in this futuristic context is just great, and I loved seeing so many Medieval elements being altered to fit into a degree of advanced technology, while still retaining a lot of traditional elements (e.g. footmen with laser rifles).  However, rather than riding to battle on a horse, these knights are mounted in the Imperial Knight war machines, massive mecha that, while not as large as the god-sized Titans, are still impressive walking weapons.  Rath has a lot of fun showcasing these Knights throughout Kingmaker, and you end up getting a good look at the unique machines, which are bounded to their pilot, and which contain the spirts of all their previous riders.  The impressive Knight-on-Knight battles throughout the book are extremely good, no matter their context, and I particularly enjoyed the focused look at the war machines’ apparent sentience, as the riders are bombarded with the thoughts and voices of the previous riders.

Dominion also proves to be a great and complex setting for Kingmaker, and I loved all the unique politics and elaborate back stabbings it created.  Featuring two rival houses, Stryder and Rau, as they battle for supremacy, Rath explores its rather elaborate and distinctive rulership and court as the assassin characters search for a weak spot.  Dominion’s status as a somewhat independent planet in the Imperium was also pretty intriguing, and it was fascinating to see members of the planet arguing over whether they should serve themselves or help the Emperor.  An overall deeply impressive examination of the Imperial Knights and their worlds, I deeply enjoyed how well Rath was able to work this faction into his complex narrative and it really highlighted his attention to detail and his love for the lore.

I also need to highlight the great characters featured within Kingmaker as Rath has created an excellent collection of enticing figures whose unique personal stories deeply enhanced the overall tale.  This was a fantastic group of deep and complex characters, and their statuses within this universe ensured that they all had some unique experiences.  Most of Kingmaker’s narrative is spread amongst the three members of the Assassinorum who represent a different Assassinorum Temple, and as such have very different viewpoints on the universe and the best way to operate as killers.  This provides some compelling initial conflict amongst them as they try to work together, something none of them are really good at.  However, they soon start to come together as a team as the novel continues, and they ended up playing off each other’s strengths and personalities to create an excellent, core group of protagonists.

The Assassinorum characters in Kingmaker are headlined by Absolom Raithe, the Vindicare assassin who has been appointed team leader.  An infamous sniper, tactician, and resolute loner, Raithe struggles the most with working as a team, and his initial attempts at leadership aren’t that successful.  The author adds in some additional issues for Raithe as the story continues, especially as he is forced to deal with an injury and taking on roles that are outside his comfort zone, producing some dangerous risks for the team.  However, Raithe ends up growing a lot as a leader as the book continues, while his multiple sniper scenes contain some of the best action in the entire novels.

Apart from Raithe, there is also a lot of focus on Sycorax, a Callidus assassin who specialises in infiltration and whose enhanced abilities allow her to morph her shape.  Due to her role impersonating Rakkan for most of the novel, Sycorax is one of the most significant characters in the book, and she ends up with some thrilling and intrigue laden sequences.  Watching her take on multiple personalities throughout the novel is really cool, and it was captivating to watch her more elaborate methods strongly clash with Raithe’s more direct attempts throughout the book.  Sycorax also provides the reader with some of the best and most intense insights into being an Imperial Knight pilot, as she is required to bond with Rakkan’s Knight Jester for much of the book.  Seeing an outsider character interact with Jester’s mind, which contains the spirits of its previous riders, was extremely fascinating, and you get a good sense of the difficulties and insanities involved with piloting such a machine.  In addition, the experiences and memories she obtained from the link impacted on Sycorax’s psyche and ensure that she gets some fantastic interactions with Rakkan, while also gaining a better understanding of the people and machines she is trying to manipulate.

The final assassin character in Kingmaker is Koln, a Vanus assassin with a skill in technology, data manipulation and analysis.  Even though Koln tended to get the least focus of the assassin characters, I really grew to like this tech-focused assassin, especially after her awesome introduction at the start of the book.  Koln proved to be an excellent third member of the Assassinorum team, balancing out the impulsive Raith and manipulative Sycorax well.  Her ability to kill just by manipulating some data, providing an elaborate forgery, or by hacking into a device was really fun, and I really appreciated the examination of the lesser utilised Vanus assassins.  Koln had some interesting story moments in Kingmaker, particularly towards the end of the novel, and it sounds like the author has some intriguing plans for her in the future.

I also need to highlight the character of Sir Linoleus Rakkan, a noble of Dominion who is co-opted into the plans to kill the high monarch and becomes a member of the assassin team.  At the start of the book, he is introduced as an ambitious pilot attempting to raise his fortunes.  However, after nearly being killed, he becomes a mercenary Freeblade, fighting against the forces of Chaos, before being kidnapped by the assassins.  Initially a depressed prisoner who relies heavily on drink to mask his emotional pain and the issues surrounding his disabled legs, the assassins manage to convince him to help Sycorax impersonate him on Dominion and use his return to gain access to the court.  Due to being a son of both the rival Stryder and Rau houses, Rakkan provides some great insights into both houses and the royal court, as well providing instruction on how to pilot a Knight.  It was a lot of fun to see Rakkan’s reactions to many of the early events of the book, especially as he is forced to watch himself being impersonated, providing information to help them pull off the charade.  While Rath could have left Rakkan as a useful, one-note character, he instead spent a good portion of the novel evolving Rakkan and ensuring that he ended up being a key part of the plot.  Not only does he mature greatly after witnessing some of the key moments of the mission and Sycorax’s impersonation of him, but Rath also dives into his past and the connection he has to his father, a Dominion hero whose glorious death Rakkan continually witnesses due to his connection to Jester, which his father died in.  This obsession with his family and the past eventually leads him to some big revelations in the present, and he ends up having some major and exciting moments in the last half of the novel.  Rakkan ended up being one of the most complex and entertaining characters in Kingmaker, and I really appreciate the excellent way in which the author developed him.

Aside from these four main characters, Kingmaker is loaded with an excellent group of supporting characters, most of whom are members of the Dominion nobility.  As I mentioned above, I had an amazing time seeing the diverse and contentious Knights of Dominion, especially as most of them are engaged in a brutal blood feud between the two ruling families.  Several of these noble characters have some intriguing storylines throughout Kingmaker, with an interesting focus on the members of the Court, the king’s inner circle who are hiding some major and disturbing secrets.  Of the rest of the noble characters, the best is probably Rakkan’s mother, the leader of the Stryder family, Baroness Hawthorn Astair-Rakkan, a domineering and ambitious woman who spends most of the novel trying to manipulate Rakkan for her own gain.  Baroness Hawthorn had some excellent moments throughout the novel, and I especially loved her collection of hounds, each of whom are humorously named after famous Imperial commanders, just to show off her arrogance and disrespect to the Imperial Guards.  Hawthorn’s story arc really changes towards the end of the book, and it will be interesting to see if we get some extra appearances from her in the future.  The other major supporting character of Kingmaker is Gwynne, Rakkan’s loyal Sacristan (Jester’s mechanic, a low-level Tech Priest with some additional cultural restrictions).  Gwynne serves as another ally to the main characters, and her knowledge of the Knights and their inner workings proves invaluable, as does her inquiring mind.  The author weaves some subtle, but important, storylines around Gwynne in Kingmaker, and she ends up serving a key and impressive role.  Overall, this was an excellent collection of characters, and I deeply enjoyed how well Rath used them throughout Kingmaker’s narrative.

Like many of the newer Warhammer novels I have been lucky enough to enjoy, I chose to check out Kingmaker on audiobook, which I found to be an awesome way to enjoy this book.  Coming in with a run time of just over 11 hours, this was a decently long Warhammer novel, but I honestly flew through it in just a few days, especially once I got fully addicted to its impressive story.  The audiobook format really helped me dive into the highly detailed setting and narrative, and I deeply appreciated how much more epic it made the action sequences.  Having the intense and over-the-top fighting between the various mechanical Knights was an outstanding experience, and you got the full impact of every powerful strike.  I also really enjoyed the excellent narration of veteran audiobook voice actor Gareth Armstrong, who has done a ton of other narration for the Warhammer franchise.  Armstrong’s work in Kingmaker was very good, and I loved the great array of voices he features for the various characters, capturing the ethereal and strange nature of the assassin characters and the more robust, proud and arrogant nobles of Dominion.  There was a great contrast between these two groups, and I loved how Armstrong succeeded in making every single character stand out on their own.  An overall exceptional way to enjoy this wonderful Warhammer book, the Kingmaker audiobook is without a doubt the best way to enjoy this novel, and I deeply enjoyed every single second I spent listening to it.

I think it is fair to say that I deeply enjoyed Assassinorum: Kingmaker.  Robert Rath crafted together a brilliant and exceptionally entertaining Warhammer 40,000 novel that was loaded with action, fun and great characters.  Featuring lethal assassins facing down massive Imperial Knights, Kingmaker has a little bit of everything, including political intrigue, impressive use of Warhammer elements, and some fantastic war sequences towards the end.  Easily one of the most impressive and captivating Warhammer novels of 2022, Kingmaker is a must-read for all fans of the franchise, and you are guaranteed to have an incredible time with this epic book.

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Warhammer 40,000: The Vincula Insurgency by Dan Abnett

The Vincula Insurgency Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 21 May 2022)

Series: Ghost Dossier – Book One

Length: 6 hours and seven minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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One of the leading authors of Warhammer fiction, Dan Abnett, returns to his iconic Gaunt’s Ghosts franchise in a big way with the compelling military thriller, The Vincula Insurgency.

Few people have excelled at tie-in fiction in the same way that acclaimed author Dan Abnett has over the years.  Not only has he written multiple awesome comics and several original novels but he has contributed tie-in books to several different fandoms, including Doctor Who and Tomb Raider.  However, his most significant work has easily been within the Warhammer extended universe.  Abnett has produced a ton of impressive and compelling Warhammer novels over his career in both the Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy sub-series.  Some of his more notable works include some cool-sounding Warhammer comics, the Tales of Malus Darkblade novels (I’ve got a copy on my shelf waiting to be read), and some major Warhammer 40,000 novels, including multiple entries in the massive The Horus Heresy series, as well as his Eisenhorn, Ravenor and Bequin novels, which together paint one of the most complete pictures of the Imperial Inquisition).  However, I would say that his most notable series is probably the Gaunt’s Ghosts series of novels.

Set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels are part of the larger Sabbat Worlds crusades arc of fiction (which have come out of this series) following a unique regiment of soldiers, the Tanith First and Only.  The Tanith First and Only, also known as Gaunt’s Ghosts in respect to their commander, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, are a highly skilled unit who specialise in stealth and scouting missions.  Their planet, Tanith, was destroyed shortly after their formation, hence the designation First and Only.  The Gaunt’s Ghosts series follows their battles through the Sabbat Worlds as a major part of the crusades.  This series began back in 1999 with the awesome novel, First and Only, and the latest novel, Anarch, (book 15) came out in 2019.  Generally considered one of the most iconic and compelling series in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, I have been meaning to properly read this series for ages, although so far I have only had the chance to check out First and Only.  However, Abnett recently revisited this series with the intriguing The Vincula Insurgency.  The first entry in Ghost Dossier series, which presents never-before-seen stories of the Ghosts, The Vincula Insurgency acts as a prequel to the main series and tells an impressive and fun new tale of the early regiment.

Before the battles that would make them famous throughout the Sabbat Worlds Crusades, the Tanith First and Only, under the command of Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, are still coming together as a unit.  After fighting a gruelling campaign on the planet of Voltemand, politics has forced the Tanith to remain and take over security for a backwater agricultural province and its capital, Vincula City.  Determined to get off-world and back to the frontlines, Gaunt and his regiment grudgingly prepare for the arrival of a new provincial governor and his administrators.  However, life is about to get very interesting for the Tanith forces.

A highly skilled and deadly insurgency movement has emerged within Vincular City, determined to cripple the Imperial forces within and disrupt their ability to assist the rest of the crusade.  After a series of brutal bombings, Gaunt and his troops attempt to keep the peace within the province.  However, their actions are countered at an impressive rate by the local insurgency elements, who are receiving outside help and training from a dangerous opponent who knows all the Tanith’s tricks.  Can Gaunt and his unit pull together to defeat this deadly foe?  And what happens when they discover that their mysterious opponent is linked to the Ghost’s long-dead planet?

This was another extremely awesome Warhammer novel from Abnett who has produced an intense and clever prequel to his existing Gaunt’s Ghosts novels.  The Vincula Insurgency is a relatively short novel, with a somewhat compressed story.  However, despite this length, Abnett manages to achieve quite a lot.  Not only does it set up plot points for the main series, but it also features a brilliant and very entertaining self-contained narrative that is guaranteed to keep the reader entertained.  Shown from the perspective of several of your favourite Ghosts, the author tells an excellent story that sees the protagonists under attack from a well organised insurgency group.  This results in a very fast-paced narrative that perfectly brings together the science fiction Warhammer 40,000 elements with a military thriller storyline as the Ghosts attempt to overcome the enemy attacking them from all sides.  The action flies thick and fast here, and features some impressively written battle sequences that really drag you into the heart of the fighting.  In addition, the author keeps the tension levels high throughout most of the story, and the feeling that some bad things are about to happen is never far from the reader’s mind.  The multiple character driven storylines come together extremely well within The Vincula Insurgency to create a comprehensive and powerful narrative, and I really appreciated some of the unique story elements that Abnett came up with.  This cool novel ends on an interesting note, and I will be quite intrigued to see what additional new Gaunt’s Ghosts’ stories Abnett has planned.

This was a very interesting addition to the Warhammer canon as Abnett dives back into the earlier days of his established series.  The Vincula Insurgency serves as an excellent prequel to the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, and it was great to see more of the early history surrounding this awesome unit.  Abnett makes sure to load up the book with a ton of references and hints of the events that are to come in the series, which established fans will really appreciate.  However, even those readers who are unfamiliar with the Gaunt’s Ghosts series can have fun here, as Abnett tells a very inclusive narrative that anyone can enjoy, with plenty of exposition about who the Tanith are and what is happening in the Sabbat Worlds Crusades.  Indeed, The Vincula Insurgency serves as a very good introduction to the series’ characters and storylines, and many readers could use this as a jumping point into the main Gaunt’s Ghosts novels.  Abnett also takes this opportunity to do an interesting bit of lore expansion with the Tanith troops.  Due to certain plot points, the characters dive into the Tanith culture and history, which proves to be very fascinating, especially when it may connect to a new enemy.  This also serves as a very good introduction to the wider Warhammer 40,000 canon, especially as it showcases the common trooper’s role in this chaotic universe.  I often say that stories about the common Imperial soldiers result in some of the best Warhammer 40,000 novels (Steel Tread and Krieg for example), and this was extremely true in The Vincula Insurgency.  Abnett really nails the feel of an armed insurgency in the Warhammer 40,000 setting, and the parallels between the battles in this book and in some real-world conflicts are pretty uncanny (think Iraq or Afghanistan with laser rifles).  An overall excellent addition to both the Warhammer and Gaunt’s Ghost canon that is really worth checking out.

I had a lot of fun with the characters in The Vincula Insurgency, especially as Abnett features slightly younger versions of all your favourite original Gaunt’s Ghosts protagonists.  This is a slightly different version of the Ghosts that you have seen before, as they are still coming together as a regiment and aren’t yet a fully cohesive team.  Abnett does a brilliant job featuring multiple key Gaunt’s Ghosts characters in this book, with many getting their own distinctive storylines.  I liked his portrayal of unit leader Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, who is still relatively new in his command of the regiment.  While he is still incredibly confident, skilled and an absolute badass, it was interesting to see a few differences here, such as his inability to remember the names of the members of his unit.  Other key characters include Colonel Colm Corbec, the regiment’s second in command who is sent on an alternate mission for most of the book where he learns all the joys of interacting with the upper echelons of the Imperial Guard.  Major Elim Rawne, the rebellious member of the unit has a great outing in this book, not only showcasing his established resentment for Gaunt, but also featuring him in an intriguing romance with an Administratum official that deeply impacts him.  Brin Milo, the youngest member of the Tanith, also has a major arc in this book, with the novel focusing on both his uncanny insights, and his rise to become Gaunt’s official aid.  Other characters who get some good showings in this book include Ceglan Varl, Bragg, Tolin Dorden, Oan Mkoll, and more, with all of them getting their moment to shine in this book.  I had a brilliant time seeing earlier versions of these great characters, and Abnett clearly had fun revisiting them and showcasing their older attitudes.

I ended up grabbing The Vincula Insurgency audiobook, which proved to be an excellent adaptation of this book.  With a runtime of just over six hours, listeners can really speed through The Vincula Insurgency audiobook, and the story just flows along, especially with the impressive narration from Toby Longworth.  Longworth, who is one of the more prolific Warhammer narrators, having voiced all the previous Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, is a very talented voice actor who brilliantly brings this compelling story and its great characters to life.  Not only does he address every bit of action and exposition for a powerful and impressive tone, but each of the characters are given their own distinctive and fitting voice throughout the book.  I particularly liked how he gave all the Tanith characters similar accents to denote that they all come from the same planet, and it was a very nice touch, especially as it contrasts well with the various non-Tanith characters, some of whom have other, often strongly European, accents.  This incredible voice work really helped to drag me into this captivating story, and I found myself getting a lot more invested in the characters and the plot as a result.  Easily the best way to enjoy The Vincula Insurgency, this audiobook comes highly recommended.

The always impressive Dan Abnett returns with another awesome addition to his fantastic Gaunt’s Ghosts series with The Vincula Insurgency.  Featuring an outstanding and exciting prequel narrative, The Vincula Insurgency takes an earlier version of the Tanith First and Only on an intense and action-packed adventure in captured enemy territory.  Tense, fast-paced, and loaded with compelling characters, The Vincula Insurgency is an excellent and highly enjoyable Warhammer 40,000 novel that will appeal to wide range of readers.

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Star Wars: Brotherhood by Mike Chen

Star Wars - Brotherhood Cover

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 10 May 2022)

Series: Star Wars

Length: 12 hours and 46 minutes

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

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2022 is a great time to be a Star Wars fan as we are currently being bombarded with a string of awesome shows, cool comics, and fantastic novels (a movie also would be nice, but apparently there are issues there).  Fans like me are currently having a great time with the Obi-Wan Kenobi live-action show that has been all manners of fun, especially as it brings Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen back to their iconic roles as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.  However, this is not the only recent Star Wars release that focuses on this iconic duo, as author Mike Chen presents Star Wars: Brotherhood.  This is Chen’s first Star Wars novel and follows these two great characters as they embark on a dangerous political adventure right after the events of the film, Attack of the Clones.

It is dark days for the galaxy as the destructive Clone Wars between the Republic and the Separatists have just begun.  As the galaxy splits down the middle and more and more systems join the war on opposing sides, the Jedi begin to take a new role as soldiers, the fragile peace they have long guarded slowly disappearing.

When an explosion devastates the neutral planet of Cato Neimoidia, home of the Trade Federation, the Republic is blamed by Count Dooku and the Separatists.  Desperate to keep Cato Neimoidia from joining the Separatists, the Jedi dispatch Obi-Wan Kenobi to the planet to investigate the explosion and attempt to maintain the peace.  However, Obi-Wan has his work cut out from him as he encounters a hostile planet, blinded by mourning and a long history of prejudice from the Republic.  Worse, not everyone wants him to solve the crime, as Count Dooku’s sinister agent, Asajj Ventress, is also on Cato Neimoidia, attempting to turn the populace against the Republic.

At the same time, Anakin Skywalker has been promoted to the rank of Jedi Knight and works to balance his new responsibilities with his secret marriage.  Despite orders not to intervene on Cato Neimoidia, when Obi-Wan finds himself in himself trouble, Anakin races to help him, dragging along a promising Jedi youngling.  However, with their relationship forever changed by Anakin’s promotion, can the two Jedi brothers still work together as they attempt to grow beyond master and apprentice?

This was a fantastic new addition to the Star Wars canon that fans of the franchise are really going to enjoy.  Containing an interesting character-driven story, Brotherhood was a great first outing from Chen, who successfully explored some of the best characters and settings of the Star Wars universe.

Brotherhood has a rather interesting multi-perspective narrative that I felt was pretty good.  This cool Star Wars novel is set right at the start of the Clone Wars and seeks to not only highlight some early aspects of the conflict but also dive into the minds of the iconic protagonists, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.  The book has a strong start to it, with a devastating bombing going off on a neutral planet that forces Kenobi to investigate by himself.  Arriving on a planet thick with emotion, undue influences and conspiracies, Kenobi finds himself in all manner of danger, while his former apprentice, Anakin, is forced into a far less interesting mission.  Chen does a good job introducing the key elements of this book, and you soon get invested in the protagonists’s storylines, as well as the deeper emotions raging within them and other supporting characters about the bombing and wider events in the galaxy.

While I liked the start of the book, the centre of Brotherhood honestly dragged for me.  Now part of this is because I had to have a break from audiobooks for a few weeks, but even when I started listening to Brotherhood again, I had a hard time making much progress.  The slow investigation and Anakin’s slightly lumbering narrative, combined with the occasionally unnecessary plot around Mil Alibeth, just didn’t hold my attention as much as I had hoped, and it ended up being a bit of slog to get through it.  Luckily, the pace really picks up towards the end as the various storylines start to coalesce into a more compelling and exciting read.  I managed to get through the final third of the novel a heck of a lot quicker, and I was substantially invested in the characters, including a few supporting figures, and the narrative as a result.  Everything comes together pretty well in the end and Chen delivers a mostly satisfying conclusion that hints at the wider threat to come.  An overall entertaining, if slightly staggered narrative, I did have a lot of fun getting through it.

I mostly enjoyed how Brotherhood was written, as Chen did an outstanding job of blending compelling plot elements with deep character development and some fantastic universe-building.  The main story itself features a mixture of investigation, conspiracy and personal conflicts, as Obi-Wan visits a hostile planet impacted by all manner of anger and mistrust.  The author makes excellent use of multiple character perspectives to tell a complete and wide-ranging narrative.  While a good portion of the plot focuses on the main two characters, Chen routinely throws in the perspective of several great supporting figures, including some antagonists, and it was fantastic to get some alternate views on the events occurring.  As I mentioned above, I found the pacing was a bit off in the middle of the novel, and there were certain parts of the story that I had a harder time getting through.  For the most part, though, the book flowed pretty well, and the switch between various characters helped facilitate that.  While this is primarily a character-focused book, I did think that Chen did spend way too much time having his characters over-analyse everything in their heads, as the constant contemplation of their emotions or actions slowed the story down in places.  However, I did think that the author was particularly good at capturing action, with some brilliant and intense scenes featured throughout the book.  The ones that really shined to me where the sequences that showcased the Jedi character’s abilities in battle, as Chen made them come to life in a vibrant and powerful way.  Overall, I thought that this was a mostly well written story, I loved how Chen’s distinctive style helped to enhance the narrative in places.

Brotherhood proves to be a particularly interesting piece of Star Wars fiction as Chen sought to not only expand on the main characters but also explore the wider universe during the early Clone Wars period.  Written mostly as a standalone novel, Brotherhood has a lot of interesting canon elements that established fans of the franchise will deeply enjoy.  The book is closely connected with both the events of the second prequel film, Attack of the Clones, and the following Clone Wars animated series.  It was also apparently written somewhat in sync with another 2022 Star Wars novel, Queen’s Hope by E. K. Johnston, which I haven’t had a chance to read.  However, despite this, most readers familiar with the films should easily be able to jump in and read Brotherhood without any issues as Chen does a great job of explaining all the key characters, concepts and other elements.  There is also a ton of stuff for established fans of the franchise to enjoy as Chen spends a bit of time adding in some interesting elements and some great fan service.

One of the more interesting things featured within this novel is the examination of the early days of the Clone Wars.  This hasn’t been greatly explored in the current canon too much, so it was cool to see the start of the war, with some of the earlier battles, conflicts and issues surrounding this galactic civil war.  Chen spends a bit of time showcasing how the Clone Army was incorporated into the existing Republic structure, as well as the militarisation of the Jedi as they became commanders and generals.  There is also an interesting examination of the rise of extremism during the Clone Wars, as various factions start to cause trouble outside the actions of the main armies.  As a result, Brotherhood serves as an excellent bridging novel between Attack of the Clones and some of the preceding material, and I loved how Chen spent time setting up a few things for the Clones Wars animated series, although the sudden and unexplained appearance of a female clone was a bit odd.  I also had a lot of fun seeing some of Palpatine’s machinations here as he subtly manipulates events to get the Jedi even more involved in the war and more integrated with the clones.  There are also some key moments of the corruption of Anakin that occur here, and it was fascinating to see the moment that Anakin revealed his massacre of the Sand People to his future master.

While I deeply appreciated all the above, the most fascinating bit of Star Wars universe-building in Brotherhood had to revolve around the planet of Cato Neimoidia, the capital of the Trade Federation as Chen really went out of his way to explore this planet and its people, the Neimoidians.  For years the Neimoidians have mostly been seen as the exploitive and evil villains from The Phantom Menace and were never really explored in that much detail.  Chen spends a massive part of the book providing a deeper look at them and it soon becomes quite a compelling part of the novel.  In particular, the Neimoidians and their Trade Federation are shown to be mostly neutral, trying to stay out of the war and disavowing the actions of Nute Gunray and his faction who are supporting the Separatists.  When Obi-Wan arrives at Cato Neimoidia, he is introduced to their rich culture, unique society and a distinctive mindset that relies heavily on calculation and risk-assessment.  However, Obi-Wan soon discovers that there is far more to being a Neimoidian than he ever realised, as the Neimoidians have a long history of being ignored, ridiculed and prejudiced against by the Republic.  This long history of abuse, combined with the bombings on their planet, proves to be a deeply captivating and powerful part of the story.  All these great Star Wars elements add a lot to the narrative of Brotherhood, and I had an outstanding time seeing all the clever new ways that Chen worked to expand and explore this iconic universe.

While the story and Star Wars universe are key parts of this book, Chen spends most of his time working on the characters.  Brotherhood features a great cast of point-of-view protagonists who all have their own deep and unique journey through the book.  However, the focus is on the pairing of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, whose relationship lies at the core of the book.  Both characters are featured very heavily throughout Brotherhood, and you are soon deeply invested in their individual narratives as well as their joint story.  Chen paces out their appearances together very well, and you get to see them act as both a team and independently, although one of the main themes of the book is the examination of how well they work together as a team and how close they are.  The author spends a lot of time exploring the unique relationship this master and apprentice duo have especially now that Anakin has become a full Jedi and they are now equals.  This proves to be a fascinating element to focus on and I loved how powerful the character work around the pair and their relationship was.

On an individual level, Chen spares most of the focus to look at Anakin, who is going through a lot at this point in his life.  Not only is he dealing with the sudden abilities of having to be a Jedi, but he is now secretly married to Padme, is trying to get used to his new robotic hand, and also bearing some anger and guilt at his actions of Tatooine.  This presents many complications for Anakin, and he is constantly battling his emotions, desires and the feelings of disconnection that he feels to the rest of the Jedi.  Chen does a great job of exploring the complex emotions and history surrounding Anakin, and you get a real sense of the inner conflict he feels all the time, especially when it is reflected in other characters.  He does end up coming to grips with many of these issues as the book progresses, although some of them remain, leading to darker events in the future.  The author’s focus on Obi-Wan is a little less intense, although there are still some very interesting elements there.  Most of Obi-Wan’s concerns reflect his current mission as he finds himself dealing with a culture he doesn’t understand and whose emotions he has trouble responding to.  At the same time, Obi-Wan is deeply concerned for Anakin, and his constant worries and examinations of their strained relationship deeply impact him.  I found it fascinating to see Obi-Wan’s observations during this period, especially as he witnesses and chooses to ignore some warning signs around Anakin.  Chen does a good job of trying to establish the more confident and wiser version of Obi-Wan that we see in The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith, and I it was very fun to see him negotiating and investigation on Cato Neimoidia.

Aside from these central characters, Brotherhood contains some other great characters whose storylines prove quite fascinating.  The most prominent of these is Jedi youngling Mil Alibeth, whose unique connection to the Force makes her very sensitive to the pain people are feeling, so much so that she spends much of her earliest appearances trying to cut herself off from the Force.  Mil finds an unlikely mentor in Anakin in this novel, and I appreciated the impromptu master-apprentice relationship they formed, especially as it benefits them both.  Two Neimoidian characters, royal guards Ruug Quamom and Ketar Kor, also serve a significant role in the story, although in two different ways.  The younger Ketar, whose family suffered greatly due to Republic prejudice, is extremely hostile to Obi-Wan and becomes a secondary antagonist, driven by his rage, anger and the manipulations of others.  Ruug, on the other hand, is a veteran soldier and commando whose more cynical world view, a result of her long life of violence and black ops missions, allows her to see past her emotions and investigate the bombing properly.  This results in Ruug becoming an ally to Obi-Wan as she tries to find the truth to save her people from more pain.  Ketar and Ruug serve as interesting counterpoints to the Neimoidian emotional spectrum, and their separate impacts on the story are extremely fascinating.  You really grow to like Ruug through the book, especially as she sticks to her principles, while Ketar, despite being an easily manipulated idiot, is one of the more understandable Star Wars antagonists you will encounter in, and his dive towards extremism is both powerful and understandable.

I also loved seeing fan favourite The Clone Wars’ character Asajj Ventress in this book, who serves as Brotherhood’s primary antagonist.  The events of this book represent Ventress’s first canon interactions with Obi-Wan and Anakin, and it was fascinating to see them attempt to work out who or what Ventress is.  Ventress ends up being very slippery and manipulative throughout Brotherhood, and she swiftly outmanoeuvres Obi-Wan by playing to the Neimoidian prejudices and emotions.  I loved seeing this early Ventress appearance, and her conversations with Obi-Wan are really fun, especially as Ventress’s sarcasm, venom and contempt shine through in every sentence, only to be met by Obi-Wan’s politeness.  This ended up being a great first major outing for Ventress, and I really enjoyed seeing how her rivalry with the Jedi began.  The interactions, development and introductions of these great characters serve to really strengthen Brotherhood as a whole and I had a great time seeing Chen’s interpretations about all this amazing figures.

Naturally, I decided to check out the audiobook version of Brotherhood, which turned out to be an excellent decision.  The Brotherhood audiobook was a fun experience that once again makes great use the classic and iconic Star Wars sound effects and music to enhance the story.  At 12 hours and 46 minutes, this is a pretty standard length for a Star Wars audiobook, although it took me a little while to get through it.  I had a lot of fun again with the sound effects which do a great job providing the ambient noise of the story that helps to bring the listener into the story.  In addition, the always awesome Star Wars score is utilised to amazing effect during key parts of the book, and it is really impressive how much John Williams’s epic music can increase the impact of a scene.

In addition to the music and sound effects, the Brotherhood audiobook is greatly enhanced by its excellent narrator, Jonathan Davis.  Davis is one of the best Star Wars narrators out there and his outstanding voice has been well utilised over the years.  I have personally enjoyed Davis works in several fantastic audiobooks such as in Lords of the Sith, Kenobi, Maul: Lockdown, Master & Apprentice, Dooku: Jedi Lost, Doctor Aphra and Tempest Runner, and he is always great value for money.  This was once again true for Brotherhood, as Davis does an outstanding job presenting the complex story to the listener while also bringing the various characters to life.  Davis does a particularly good Obi-Wan Kenobi voice, which really helped here considering the character’s prominence in the plot.  The rest of his voices are also very good, with multiple major and iconic characters come across in distinctive ways that fit how they have been portrayed in other media, particularly Yoda.  In addition, the various new characters introduced in Brotherhood are also gifted fantastic and appropriate voices that allow the listener to distinguish who is talking.  This excellent voice work, alongside the music and sound effects, really helps listeners to enjoy the compelling story and this is easily the best format to enjoy Brotherhood in.

This was another awesome addition to the rapidly expanding canon of the Star Wars universe.  Mike Chen’s Brotherhood had an impressive and compelling narrative that not only explores some intriguing areas of Star Wars lore, but which also perfectly features two of its most iconic protagonists.  A fantastic read that will appeal to anyone currently enjoying the Star Wars universe, Brotherhood is really worth checking out and I look forward to seeing what other awesome novels are added to this brilliant, expanded universe later this year.

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Throwback Thursday: Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf by William King

Space Wolf Original Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – 1999)

Series: Ragnar series – Book One

Length: 266 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For this latest Throwback Thursday I dive into the world of the Space Wolves chapter of Space Marines with the classic Warhammer 40,000 novel, Space Wolf by William King.

The Warhammer 40,000 expanded universe is truly blessed with the sheer range of unique stories that it contains.  From pulse-pounding crime novels (Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty), deeply fascinating novels about aliens (Ruin, Reign and Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh!), haunting horror tales (The Bookkeeper’s Skull), and even brutal war stories by common soldiers (Steel Tread and First and Only).  However, at the end of the day, most of the more intriguing stories focus on the iconic and awesome Space Marines.  These genetically enhanced and over-armoured warriors are often the true MVPs of the Warhammer canon, with some great series based on them (for example, the 50+ book Horus Heresy series).  There are a ton of great Warhammer 40,000 series around the Space Marines that I am exceedingly keen to get into, and I was recently lucky enough to find a copy of the first book of one of them which I immediately dived into.

That book was Space Wolf by William King, who I best know from his epic work in the Warhammer Fantasy franchise with his Gotrek and Felix series (check out my reviews for Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer, Dragonslayer and Beastslayer).  Space Wolf is the first book in King’s six-part Ragnar series (also known as the Space Wolf and Wolfclaw series).  Focused on the character of Ragnar, a legendary member of the Space Wolves chapter, this series sounded really cool, especially as I have been really enjoying King’s writing lately.  I ended up having a great time with this novel which contains an awesome and very fun story.

In the far future, humanity is constantly at war with aliens, daemons, traitors, and heretics, all of whom wish to tear the massive and fragile Imperium of Man to shreds.  Humanities best and often last line of defence are the mighty Space Marines, the Emperor’s angels who fight the very worst xenos and spawns of the Chaos Gods.  Out of all the Space Marine chapters, one of the most respected, feared and honoured chapters are the Space Wolves.  Born from the genetic material of their legendary founder, Leman Russ, and bearing the touch of the wolf, the Space Wolves have stood tall time and time again.  But how does a mere man become a bestial and lethal Space Wolf?

On the planet of Fenris, Ragnar Thunderfist is a young warrior, content to work on his father’s ship and contend with the many dangers of his fierce and low-tech home world.  During a raid upon his village by a rival tribe, Ragnar is killed in a mightily duel after felling many enemies.  However, this is not the end of Ragnar’s journey; instead he finds himself waking up healed, resurrected by one of the mysterious Wolf Priests who watch over the planet.  Taken from the ruins of his village with other worthy aspirants, Ragnar learns that he has been chosen to become a member of the next generation of Space Wolves.

However, earning the right to join the Space Wolves is no easy task, and Ragnar soon embarks on a gruelling and lethal training regime that will test him to his very limit.  Working to hone himself into a living weapon, Ragnar will face trials, monsters and deadly rivalries as he attempts to prove himself.  But even if he is found worthy, the greatest trial involves the final transformation into a Space Marine.  The Canis Helix, which is implanted into all Space Wolves, bears a dangerous curse, which may turn even the strongest of wills into wild beasts.  Can Ragnar overcome the bestial rage that comes with this awesome gift, or will he lose his mind before he can serve the Emperor?  And what happens with the legions of Chaos arrive upon Fenris?

Space Wolf Cover 2

This was another exceptionally exciting and compelling read from William King, who perfectly starts another epic Warhammer series.  Space Wolf had a very different tone and structure to some of King’s other books that I have enjoyed, and I found myself getting really invested in this intriguing story of survival, self-discovery, and destiny.  Starting with an intriguing glance at the present, Space Wolf jumps back into the protagonist’s past, showing Ragnar’s formative years and the events that led to him being chosen by the Space Wolves.  Primarily told from the perspective of Ragnar, with a few sections told by an antagonistic alternate narrator, Space Wolf quickly turns into a fascinating examination of the intense training faced by potential Space Wolves recruits.  Most of the story follows the various stages of this intense military training and eventual genetic modification, and it was absolutely fascinating to see the changes the protagonist goes through.  While there is a lot of focus on expanding the lore and the character changes associated with it, King tells a concise and powerful story that really dives into the mind and personality of its protagonists.  This extended and brutal training sequence and initiations eventually leads up to the protagonist’s first mission as a Space Marine, which sees him and his team, many of whom you have also come to know, face off against an insidious foe on their own home world.  This last part of the book provides a ton of action, some intriguing horror aspects, and the introduction of a compelling antagonist who will likely show up in future entries in the series.  This final section really brings the entire narrative together extremely well, showcasing what the protagonist has been working towards, while also resolving some great character arcs.  I had a really fun time with this entire novel, and it has definitely made me keen to check out the rest of the series when I get a chance.

One of the most intriguing parts of Space Wolf was the way that it fits into the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe.  Specifically, this novel serves as a particularly good introduction to the legendary Space Wolves Space Marines chapter, who are one of the more popular factions in the extended universe.  King chooses to look at them from a rather unique direction, showing them purely from the perspective of the protagonist Ragnar, an inhabitant of a Norse-esque society with no concepts of space travel, advanced technology, or the wider universe outside of their lands, and whose understanding of the Emperor, the Chaos Gods, the Space Marines and more comes purely from myths and legends.  As such, for much of the novel Ragnar and his fellow initiates have no idea who the Space Wolves are, or what they have been chosen for.  The snippets they continue to get slowly inform them of the wider picture, and it was fascinating to see their blind faith that they were working towards something greater.  Their eventual initiation comes as a great shock to them, and seeing these previously simple warriors become elite Space Marines with knowledge of the wider universe results in some awesome and intriguing scenes.  I found it really fun to see the similarities and differences between the characters when they were normal and when they were Space Wolves, and it was fantastic to witness how their harsh roots results in Space Marines with some major Viking vibes to them (it’s one of the things that make them such a cool chapter).

However, King also ensures that the reader is given some intense insight into the dark side of the Space Wolves.  While their training is often harsh and lethal, and their treatment of the tribes of their home planet is very manipulative, there is something far more worrying lying beneath the surface.  The genetic manipulation that goes into creating them awakens a beast within them, with many losing their sanity or even their humanity entirely, reverting into beastlike creatures known as the Wulfen.  King does an awesome job highlighting the various ways in which the characters are changed, body and mind, throughout the course of Space Wolf, and there are some powerful scenes where they are forced to battle to control their new inner nature.  This really ends up being a particularly fascinating and well-balanced examination of the Space Wolves chapter, and I honestly could not think of a better introduction to this faction.  This cool lore, as well as the Norse-inspired aspects and Nordic-like wild settings, serve to beautifully enhance the entire narrative, and King’s choice to show all events from an uninitiated character’s perspective was just brilliant.  The use of Ragnar as a narrator also ensures that readers unfamiliar with the Warhammer franchise can also easily enjoy this novel, as they can learn about the wider universe at the same time as the protagonist.  Established fans, on the other hand, will get a lot of joy out of seeing the Space Wolves in this much detail, and they will no doubt have fun viewing the myths and unique interpretations that the various Fenris tribes place on the Space Marines and other elements of Warhammer lore.  As such, this is a novel that will really appeal to a lot of different readers, and anyone with interesting in fantasy, science fiction, or even historical fiction, will probably have a great time reading Space Wolf.

Finally, I must highlight how good Ragnar was as a point-of-view protagonist.  Not only do we get the great insights into Space Wolves initiatives that I mentioned above, but there are multiple intriguing personality and mental aspects to his character that come across extremely well in the narrative.  Ragnar starts the book as a young warrior whose life is changed in a single day as his tribe is destroyed by a rival clan, his family is killed, and he himself is killed and then resurrected by the Space Wolves.  Worse, he is resurrected alongside the man who killed him, Strybjorn Grimskull, and is forced to train and work with him, despite their hatred for each other.  This results in a great deal of inner struggle for Ragnar as he is constantly torn between his honour and new responsibilities to the Space Wolves and his desire for revenge against Strybjorn.  Watching these two constantly circle each other through the training parts of the novel is awesome, and their issues get even more intense once they undergo the genetic change and become Space Wolves with bestial urges.  These intense inner issues and rivalries proved to be an excellent central plotline for much of the novel, and I felt that they dramatically enhanced the entire narrative very well, adding in some much need drama, comradery, and character development.  I cannot wait to see more of Ragnar and his fellow Space Wolves in the future, especially after how his first mission turned out.

Overall, Space Wolf was just as impressive and awesome as I hoped it would be.  William King did an exceptional job writing a fantastic introductory Space Wolves tale, and he continues to remain one of my absolute favourite Warhammer authors, especially with the excellent range he showed here.  Readers will love this outstanding dive into the Space Wolves and the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe that this novel contains, and Space Wolf is a highly recommended novel to anyone looking for an action-packed and exciting read.

Space Wolf Cover

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