Warhammer 40,000: The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley

The Wraithbone Phoenix Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 30 August 2022)

Series: Warhammer Crime

Length: 11 hours and 6 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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The entertaining team of Baggit and Clodde return for another Warhammer Crime adventure in the rip-roaring and deeply exciting science fiction thriller romp, The Wraithbone Phoenix by the impressive Alec Worley.

Last week I presented a review that talked about the intriguing Warhammer Crime series that combined crime fiction narratives with elements of the iconic Warhammer universe to create some amazing reads.  While some Warhammer novels already feature some intriguing crime fiction elements, such as in Necromunda novels like Kal Jericho: Sinner’s Bounty by Joshua Reynolds, the Warhammer Crime books are a much more complete melding, with cool thriller plots and complex mysteries.  I was rather intrigued by this concept, especially as I love it when authors combine wildly different genres together, and I mentioned how I planned to try out one of those books next.  Well, that book was The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, an awesome and captivating read set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  A follow-up to Worley’s 2020 full-cast audiobook, Dredge Runners, The Wraithbone Phoenix is a full-length novel that brings back the protagonists of the original audiobook and puts them in another unique and deadly situation.

In the far future of the universe, there are few places more corrupt and chaotic than the crime-ridden city of Varangantua.  Life is cheap on the mean streets of Varangantua, and death waits around every corner, especially if you have a massive bounty on your head.  Unfortunately, the most wanted in the city currently are the abhuman deserters turned criminals, Baggit and Clodde.  Baggit, a tricky ratling always looking for the next score, and Clodde, his ogryn friend with a rare facility for thought, have made an enemy of one of the most dangerous men in the city, and now everyone is after their heads.  Hiding out within one of the city’s industrial salvatoriums, Baggit and Clodde have taken on new identities until the heat dies down.  However, the twos natural inclination for getting into trouble soon breaks their cover, and they are soon forced out into the open.

Desperate to find a way to pay off their debts, Baggit hears an interesting bit of news that could change all their fortunes.  One of the nearby salvatoriums is dismantling the decommissioned Imperial Navy ship, Sunstriker, the reputed home of a long-lost treasure, a xenos artifact known as the Wraithbone Phoenix.  Guided by the rumours he heard when previously served about the Sunstriker, Baggit believes that the Wraithbone Phoenix is still hidden aboard, and its value is more than enough to get rid of their bounty.

But no secrets every remain safe in Varangantua, and as Baggit and Clodde make their preparations to sneak into the Sunstriker, news of their location and their potential treasure leaks out.  Soon every criminal, bounty hunter, treasure hunter and mercenary is on their way towards the Sunstriker, desperate to claim either the bounty on Baggit and Clodde’s head, or the Wraithbone Phoenix.  Forced to face off against the very worst killers that Varangantua and its main criminal cesspool, the Dredge, has to offer, Baggit and Clodde attempt to do the impossible, recover the artefact from the ship and get out with their heads intact.  But can even the clever Baggit and the indomitable Clodde escape the deadly wave about to crash down upon them?

Wow, now this was one of the most entertaining and thrilling Warhammer 40,000 novels I have read all year.  Worley has produced an amazing novel in The Wraithbone Phoenix that did a wonderful job blending Warhammer elements with an impressive crime fiction narrative.  Filled with a ton of action, some amazing humour, and so many outrageous characters, The Wraithbone Phoenix is an outstanding read that proves to be extremely addictive.

I had such a brilliant time with The Wraithbone Phoenix, especially as Worley pulled together an extremely impressive and intense narrative that is very hard to put down.  Set in a particularly crime-ridden and corrupt city, the novel sees the chaotic duo of the ratling (halfling/hobbit) Baggit and the ogryn (ogre) Clodde, get into all manner of trouble.  Featuring a range of character perspectives, the first third of the book is pretty firmly focussed on the main duo, with some fun scenes from the contemptable villain Lemuel Scratchwick.  Forced into hiding due to past mistakes, Baggit comes up with an ambitious plan to recover the Wraithbone Phoenix, a legendary xenos treasure that is rumoured to be hidden in a nearby ship being scrapped (the theft and hiding having been cleverly set up in some early interludes).  However, after Lemuel overhears and spills the beans in a very public way, the entire city knowns what the two are planning, and a horde of killers and thieves head towards the ship.  The book starts spreading its focus to several other outrageous figures, all of whom are interested in either the Wraithbone Phoenix or killing Baggit and Clodde.  The author does a wonderful job introducing each of the characters, and you soon become invested in their hunt, as all of them are pretty amusing in their own way.  The action ends up in the decommissioned ship, were everyone starts their search for the missing treasure, and it doesn’t take long for everyone to start fighting each other in a series of bloody battles.  You honestly have no idea who is going to survive the various encounters, and it is very fun to see the distinctive characters dying in surprisingly and compelling ways.  At the same time, the characters also attempt to solve the mystery of the hidden Wraithbone Phoenix, and the various hints about its initial disappearance are cleverly woven into the modern tale, requiring the protagonists to solve it.  Eventually, only a few characters are left, and there is a great series of twists and turns that sees everyone get what they truly deserve.  While I did think that Worley perhaps went one twist too far (the final one was a bit too metaphysical for my taste), the reader comes away extremely satisfied, and highly entertained.

I had a wonderful time with this awesome book, and I think that Worley did a great job setting the entire narrative out.  The combination of crime fiction elements and the great and grim Warhammer 40,000 setting worked extremely well, and you ended up with a high-octane thriller that saw futuristic and half-crazed killers go against each other in a deadly contest for money and treasure.  The use of various perspectives allows you to get to know the various outrageous killers and participants in a very short amount of time, and you are soon invested in them and their various personal struggles as they duke it out.  I was getting a very cool and cinematic vibe from this story that put me in mind of films and books like Smoking Aces, Snatch or Bullet Train, with big casts all working against each other for the same goal.  While you are generally rooting for the main two characters, it is also very fun to see the other players in action, and the multiple unique interactions all these crazy figures have results in an impressive and frenetic read.  Worley backs this up with a ton of brilliantly written and highly detailed action sequences, and you really won’t believe the range of destruction and deliciously devious deaths that occurs.  There are so many impressive and cleverly set up moments throughout this narrative, and the deaths of several characters are usually the result of some well-placed bit of trickery that occurred chapters ago.  All this action, intrigue and character development is perfectly bound together by the book’s overarching humour, which helps to balance out the more intense elements of the novel, while also keeping everything darkly funny.  There are so many good jokes or hilariously over-the-top moments scattered throughout the novel, and I had a lot of great laughs as I powered through it.  Heck, even the title, The Wraithbone Phoenix, is a play on the classic noir book/film, The Maltese Falcon.  Everything comes together so perfectly throughout the book, especially as Worley also includes several outstanding interludes, some brilliant flashbacks, and even some hilarious in-universe text excerpts and announcements, all of which add perfectly the funny, but grim, tone of the book.  This was an incredibly well written and captivating read, and it proves quite impossible to put down at times.

While The Wraithbone Phoenix does have an outstanding crime fiction narrative, this book wouldn’t be anywhere near as good if it weren’t set in the grim future of Warhammer 40,000.  Worley did a remarkable job setting the book in this futuristic world, and it was great to see the various technologies and factions from the game being utilised in a crime story.  The author really works to explain many different elements from the Warhammer 40,000 lore here, and readers new to the franchise can easily dive into this book and start appreciating its clever story and settings.  I particularly loved the primary location of the corrupt city of Varangantua.  The author expands on this city a lot in this new book, giving more depth than it had in Dredge Runners, and you see more of the massive industries the planet supports, and the terrible conditions the people forced to work there endure.  Worley continues to hammer home just how much of a dark, dystopian society Varangantua, and the larger Imperium, really is for ordinary human citizens, and that their supposedly enlightened rulers are in many ways just as bad, if not worse, than the various monsters and the forces of Chaos they fight against (at least Chaos worshippers are honest about their intentions).  You can really sense the woe and control that Varangantua’s rulers have over the populace, and this is only enhanced by the various propaganda announcements that are played at various intervals throughout the book.  The propaganda posts are very obviously biased in their attempted manipulations and exhalations for service and order, that they are all extremely funny, even as they show just how bad things are by denying them.  However, Worley takes this even further by showing the darker, criminal side that surrounds the city, and it was really cool to see just how much worse things could get.

One of the most intriguing Warhammer 40,000 elements that Worley explores in The Wraithbone Phoenix is how the Imperial abhumans are treated.  Abhumans are genetically diverse humans who come in many shapes and sizes, like the small and sneaky ratlings and the gigantic, but dumb, ogryn.  Tolerated by the Imperium for their usefulness, these abhumans are treated as second-class citizens, looked down on by everyone just for the way they were born.  While this has been explored in other books, Worley really hammers it home in The Wraithbone Phoenix, especially as the two main characters are both abhumans.  You get a brilliant examination of how abhumans are regarded throughout the Imperium, both in the Astra Militarum and in general society, and the results are pretty damn grim.  Not only do all the humans treat them terribly and generally tell them they are worthless (there is an entire litany they need to learn about them being abhorred, unclean, but forgiven), but there are multiple examples of abhumans being killed or maimed, just for what they are.  Not only is this fascinating, while also enhancing the dark nature of the Imperium and the supposedly righteous humans, but it also becomes quite a key plot point throughout the book.  There are multiple scenes that focus on the protagonists struggling to deal with the prejudice they have suffered throughout their life, which defines them and drives them.  In addition, the plot around the hidden Wraithbone Phoenix is down to a mistreated ratling trying to get his revenge after being unfairly targeted and left filled with hate.  This proves to be quite a fascinating and well-written aspect of The Wraithbone Phoenix, and I loved being able to see everything from the abhumans perspective.

I also have a lot of love for the excellent characters that Worley set his story around.  There is such a great range of distinctive and captivating characters throughout The Wraithbone Phoenix, and you really get drawn into their individual tales and battles for survival and redemption.  Most of the focus ends up going around the main characters of the book, Baggit and Clodde, abhuman Astra Militarum deserters turned criminal entrepreneurs who were introduced in Dredge Runners.  Worley ensures that new readers can quickly pick up who Baggit and Clodde are, and it was so much fun to follow this ratling/ogryn combination, especially as they continued their chaotic lives of crime.  Both protagonists have their own brilliant characteristics, including Baggit’s (I assume the name is a fun homage to Bilbo/Frodo Baggins) enjoyment of plans and schemes that never work out, and the surprisingly smart and philosophical nature of Clodde (that’s what happens when you get shot in the head).  The two characters play off each other perfectly, with Baggit taking on the role of leader and carer for his big comrade, and Clodde letting him, while also not allowing him to get away with anything, thanks to the increased understanding he has.  We get a bit more history surround these two characters, including their time in the army, and while it is not fully explored yet, you get to see the fantastic bond they have.  Baggit ends up getting a bit more of a focus in this book than Clodde, mainly because the central plot point is so tightly tied to the fate of a mistreated ratling.  Baggit, who suffered his own abuse from humans while serving, becomes obsessed with the fate of this long dead ratling, and he is determined to find out what happened to him and whether he got his revenge.  Baggit really emphasises with him as the story continues, and his obsession for answers lead him to make some big mistakes, especially once he learns all the ancient ratling’s secrets.  Both Baggit and Clodde are extremely likeable, and you can’t help but fall in love with the scheming ratling and the sweet, if brilliantly weird, ogryn.

Aside from Baggit and Clodde, Worley also fills The Wraithbone Phoenix with an eclectic mix of characters, with some very diverse storylines and characteristics to them.  The most iconic and heavily featured are the various assassins, bounty hunters and other individuals who are flocking to the Sunstriker for various reasons, be it money, treasure, or a chance of redemption (sometimes all three at once).  This list of crazy characters includes a genetically enhanced killing machine, a cult of phoenix-worshiping wackjobs, a team of elite mercenaries, an ageing bounty hunter trying to regain his reputation, a sadistic archaeologist with a love of whips, another ratling with a past connection to Baggit and Clodde, a disgraced and drunk Imperial Navy officer with a dream of finally impressing his dead mother, and the mysterious hooded assassin known only as Death.  Worley did a really good job of introducing each of these unique figures, and you swiftly get drawn into their compelling personal stories and outrageous personalities, especially after witnessing several scenes from their perspective.  While I could go on for ages about all of these dangerous people, I’m mainly just going to give a shoutout to the character of Lemuel Scratchwick, a steward at the plant Baggit and Clodde were working at, who really grows to hate the pair.  Dragged down from his high perch by them, Lemuel spends the rest of the book trying to get even and comes across as the most arrogant and detestable villain.  It is so amusing to see Lemuel in action, especially as his pride often gets the better of him and nothing goes his way, much to my delight.  He forms quite an unhealthy rivalry with Baggit which draws them both into taking stupid risks.  All these over-the-top, but deeply likeable characters, really enhanced my enjoyment of this book and I can’t wait to see what impressively outrageous figures appear in Worley’s next novel.

Unsurprisingly, I chose to listen to The Wraithbone Phoenix on audiobook, which is really one of the best ways to enjoy a great Warhammer book.  This was a moderately long audiobook, coming in at just over 11 hours, and I found myself getting through it in a relatively short amount of time, including powering through the last several hours in a day trying to get to the conclusion.  This was a very fun and entertaining audiobook, and I had a great time listening to the awesome humour and intense violence unfold, especially as the narration by Harry Myers painted quite an impressive picture.  Myers, whose work I previously enjoyed in another recent Warhammer 40,000 novel, Day of Ascension by Adrian Tchaikovsky, does a pretty epic job in The Wraithbone Phoenix, and I loved his narrative take on the captivating story.  Every character in this audiobook is given their own distinctive and fitting voice, which I deeply enjoyed, especially as it helps the listener to connect more to them and the story.  Myers clearly had a lot of fun when it came to voicing all the outrageous figures and some of the voices he came up with were very amusing.  I really appreciated the squeakier voice he used for the rattling characters, as wells as the deeper boom of Clodde, and the rest of the voices he came up with were not only distinctive and fun, but they also helped to enhance the inherent traits of the character it was associated with.  For example, he really conveyed the deep arrogance and distain contained within the character of Lemuel Scrathwick, as well as he dramatic decline in sanity as the book unfolded, and I really appreciated the narrator’s attention to detail with that.  Myers really impressed me as a narrator in The Wraithbone Phoenix, and I liked how some of his scenes, namely those depicting the in-universe propaganda, were enhanced with some serious and inspiration music and sound effects, which made the absurd declarations even more hilarious.  This was such a good audiobook, and I cannot recommend it enough as a way to enjoy this epic Warhammer novel.

Overall, this was an outstanding first Warhammer Crime novel from me, and I had such an incredible time getting through this book.  The Wraithbone Phoenix is an impressive and highly addictive Warhammer 40,000 read, and I loved the elaborate story that Alec Worley came up with for it.  Containing some brilliant characters, a highly entertaining story, and a great combination of crime fiction and Warhammer elements, The Wraithbone Phoenix comes highly recommended, and you are guaranteed to have an exceptional time reading this witty and intense read.

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Quick review – Warhammer 40,000: Dredge Runners by Alec Worley

Dredge Runners

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 8 August 2020)

Series: Warhammer Crime

Length: 1 hour and 1 minute

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Prepare to dive into the dark and fun world of the Warhammer Crime subseries with the short but incredible hilarious audio drama, Dredge Runners by Alec Worley.

Fans of this blog will be well aware of my current obsession with all things Warhammer fiction, as I have been making an effort to try out a range of their recently released books, all of which have been highly entertaining reads.  One of the main things that I love about the tie-in fiction that surrounds the Warhammer tabletop games is the sheer range of different stories that can be told, especially as the various authors associated with this franchise often go out of their way to blend it with other genres and story types.  As a result, there are several great Warhammer sub-series out there at the moment, including the Warhammer Crime books, which dive into the criminal underbelly of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and presents the readers with some intriguing and unique adventures.

I have been meaning to check out some Warhammer Crime novels for a while, especially as there are some quite fascinating sounding books already part of it.  I love the idea of the grim and gothic Warhammer universe blending with a more traditional crime fiction read, and I know I am going to have a lot of fun with all of them.  As such, when I saw that a new Warhammer Crime book, The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, was coming out, I thought that it would be a good entry point to the wider Warhammer Crime sub-series.  However, I noticed that The Wraithbone Phoenix was actually a follow-up to a previous short story by Worley, Dredge Runners, which was released in 2020 as a full-cast audio drama.  Well, I am a reviewer who likes the get the complete picture and considering that Dredge Runners was just over an hour long I figured I would listen to it quickly to get some context before diving into The Wraithbone Phoenix.  As such, I listened to the whole of Dredge Runners in one go this morning, and it proved to be quite an amazing and amusing listen.

Goodreads Synopsis:

A Warhammer Crime Audio Drama

Baggit the ratling and Clodde the ogryn fight to survive on the mean streets of Varangantua as powerful enemies close in from all sides.

LISTEN TO IT BECAUSE
Experience the sounds of a crime-ridden city and enjoy the twists and turns of a tale starring some of the more unusual inhabitants of the Imperium of Man.

THE STORY
Baggit is a fast-talking ratling sniper with a greedy eye and loose morals. Clodde is an ogryn, a brute with a core of decency and a desire for a better life. Two abhuman deserters turned thieves, at large in the monolithic city of Varangantua, where only the tough or the ruthless survive. Having landed in debt to a savage crime lord, Baggit and Clodde end up in the crosshairs of the meanest, most puritanical sanctioner in the city. Caught between two powerful enemies, and with innocent lives at stake, the unlikely companions must think fast and hustle hard before death points a las-pistol in their direction… 

Unsurprisingly, Dredge Runners turned out to be just as amusing and fantastic as the plot synopsis suggested.  I loved the idea of two abhumans, in this case a ratling (a futuristic halfling sniper) and an ogryn (ogre), getting involved in a series of disastrous criminal enterprises after getting caught between the city’s biggest crime lord and a puritanical sanctioner (law enforcement official).  Despite its short runtime, Worley achieves a lot with Dredge Runners, perfectly introducing his excellent protagonists and taking them on a wild science fiction thriller adventure that includes hilarious exchanges, failed undercover operations and explosive heists.

Told completely through dialogue (with some sound effects giving off extra context), Dredge Runners’ story draws you in within the first few minutes as the author blends the more outrageous elements of the Warhammer 40,000 universe with a dark but amusing crime fiction narrative.  Due to the length, you do not often get the full story of the events taking place, but the subsequent reaction by the characters allows you to imagine the full destructive scope of their actions, and it often proves funnier this way.  There is a real focus on humour in this short production, and I was constantly left in stiches at some of the fantastic antics that the main characters get up to as a chaotic team.  However, the story also has some real heart to it, especially towards the end when the protagonists are forced to make some tough decisions about their future, and they find their greed crashing up against their moral responsibility to other abhumans.  Throw in some memorable and deeply cynical propaganda messages from the city authorities that shows just how corrupt and repressive the entirety of Imperial culture is in the Warhammer 40,000 universe (the one that concluded the story had me laughing hard), and this proves to be an outstanding Warhammer production that I had an absolute blast getting through.

One of the main things that Worley achieved with Dredge Runners is the successful introduction of protagonists Baggit and Clodde, who serve as a fantastic central duo.  On the surface, Baggit is a thieving rattling who serves as the team’s leader and plan maker, while Clodde is the muscle, going along with Baggit’s plans and often messing them up by not understanding them.  However, there is a lot more to both of them.  Baggit is desperate to escape the dark life they currently have in Varagantua and feels a responsibility to Clodde due to their connected past.  Clodde, on the other hand, is a rather unique and amusing ogryn character, who has an unusual intellectual side after getting shot in the head (by Baggit).  As such, Clodde comes off as surprisingly deep and philosophical, and he is way smarter than he appears, especially when it comes to Baggit’s antics.  These two play off each other perfectly, especially with Clodde acting as the group’s conscious, and their eventual attempts to get justice and do the right thing, paints them in a much different light that makes them even more likeable.

I really need to highlight the outstanding way that this audio drama was presented, as the fantastic production melded well with Worley’s great script.  Acted out by a full cast of talented voice actors and narrators who tell the entire story through dialogue, this was a really fun Warhammer presentation to listen to, especially as the dialogue was also enhanced by some great sound effects and small bits of music.  I was particularly impressed by the voice actors, as each of them gave it their all when it came to their specific character/characters, moulding their voices to fit their distinctive traits and personalities.  The cast was led by Jon Rand (Baggit) and Paul Putner (Clodde), who I previously deeply enjoyed in Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh!.  These two actors did an outstanding job with their abhuman characters in Dredge Runners, and they play these two humorous figures perfectly, showcasing their different natures while also slowly revealing their outstanding hidden hearts.  These two are expertly matched by Emma Noakes and Kelly Hotten, who play the antagonistic crime lord and sanctioner respectively.  Noakes and Hotten both bring some outstanding menace to their roles, and I loved hearing these more serious characters attempt to deal with the chaotic main characters.  The voice cast is rounded out by veteran narrators, David Seddon and Andrew James Spooner, who narrate some of the fun supporting characters, and I loved some of the unique and compelling voices they brought to the table.  This entire audio drama comes together extremely smoothly, and listeners are constantly aware of all the actions going on in the story, especially with the fantastic cacophony of explosions, gunshots and screams that often happen around Baggit and Clodde.  I had a wonderful time listening to Dredge Runners in one go, and you will not be disappointed with this excellent audio production.

Overall, Dredge Runners was an awesome and highly impressive Warhammer 40,000 short, that is well worth checking out.  Not only did Alec Worley come up with a captivating and deeply hilarious narrative and script for this production but it features an outstanding and talented voice cast who perfectly perform it.  As such, Dredge Runners was a particularly epic introduction to the Warhammer Crime sub-series, and I had an outstanding time seeing just how amazing and unique crime fiction in the Warhammer 40,000 universe can be.  I am really glad that I chose to check out Dredge Runners first, and I honestly was surprised at just how perfectly entertaining this short audio drama turned out to be.  As such, I am giving it a five-star review and I am now extremely excited to see how the next adventure of Baggit and Clodde turns out in The Wraithbone Phoenix.

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Throwback Thursday – Warhammer 40,000: Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill

Storm of Iron Cover 2

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – July 2002)

Series: Warhammer 40,000

Length: 11 hours and 3 minutes

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 some old-school Warhammer 40,000 fiction with the exceptional Storm of Iron by one of the most prolific Warhammer authors, Graham McNeill.

Readers of this blog will know that I have been really getting back into Warhammer fiction in the last few years, and I have had an outstanding time reading all the exciting and captivating reads the franchise’s extended universe contains.  I have been particularly impressed by the sheer number of talented authors who contribute to this extended universe, and I already have a few favourites due to how epic and complex their novels have turned out to be.  However, one of the main contributors to the current Warhammer canon I had not really explored yet is the superbly talented Graham McNeill.  McNeill has been writing Warhammer fiction for 20 years now, and he has produced multiple books for both the Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy sub-franchises.  Best known for The Ambassador Chronicles, Legend of Sigma, Ultramarines and Forges of Mars series, as well as his entries in the massive Horus Heresy series, McNeill has produced some outstanding sounding books throughout his career (including several books I really want to read) and had an incalculable impact on Warhammer fiction universe.  I however, have not had too much experience with his works, although I do have several of his novels sitting on my shelf.  I am hoping to read more of his stuff in the future, but I ended up starting with one of his earlier books, the standalone Warhammer 40,000 novel, Storm of Iron.

The Adeptus Mechanicus Forge World of Hydra Cordatus is a barren and desolate place, garrisoned by Imperial Guard of the 383rd Jouran Dragoons and members of Adeptus Mechanicus, who rule from one of the mightiest and seemingly impregnable fortresses in the galaxy.  No-one ever expected that the many wars that plague the universe would ever come to a planet as seemingly inhospitable as Hydra Cordatus, but hell has descended upon the planet in the form of Chaos Space Marines from the feared Iron Warriors legion.

Under the leadership of the dread Warsmith Barban Falk, the Iron Warriors have arrived on Hydra Cordatus in substantial numbers, determined to destroy all the Imperial defenders and take the planet’s main citadel.  After a blistering landing upon the surface of the planet that cuts off all hope of relief, the Iron Warriors deploy their full force of warriors, slaves, labourers and even several corrupt Titans to assault the enemy.  But they have not chosen an easy target, as the citadel of Hydra Cordatus is no ordinary fortress.  It is an ancient and mysterious stronghold, whose walls are designed to stymy any attack, and few foes would have a chance of defeating its defences.

However, the Iron Warriors have long been considered the greatest siege warfare specialists in all the universe.  Having honed their bloody craft for millennia since their betrayal of the Emperor, the corrupt Iron Warriors soon embark on an ambitious and fast campaign that soon threatens to completely destroy the Imperial forces.  Only the arrival of members of the Iron Warrior’s greatest enemies, the Space Marines of the Imperial Fists, gives any hope to the defenders.  But can even the legendary Imperial Fists stand against the ancient fury of the Iron Warriors?  And what secrets truly lay hidden in the depths of Hydra Cordatus’s citadel?

Well, this was a pretty damn awesome Warhammer book.  McNeill did a remarkable job with Storm of Iron, producing an intense and action-packed novel that might be one of the best siege novels I have ever had the pleasure of reading.  Loaded with impressive battle-sequence after impressive battle-sequence, as well as a ton of intriguing and fun characters, Storm of Iron was an outstanding read, and I had so much fun getting through it.

I will admit that one of the things that really drew me to Storm of Iron is that it showcases a massive siege in the gothic future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  I have always deeply enjoyed books with sieges in them, and the Warhammer universe is naturally filled with some good examples of this, although these mostly occurred in the fantasy focussed books.  As such, I was quite intrigued to see how a science fiction siege would occur, and McNeill really did not disappoint, painting a powerful and captivating picture and using the Iron Warriors and Imperial Fists, both of whom are known for their siege craft, as central figures in the narrative.

McNeill starts Storm of Iron off with a bang, showing the Iron Warrior’s initial move as they launch a lightning-fast raid and landing upon Hydra Cordatus in the opening chapters.  From there, the siege of the citadel starts in earnest as the Iron Warriors deploy their entire army towards it.  Told from multiple character perspectives of both the attackers and defenders, you swiftly get to know all the key players of the book and see their various personal and military struggles as the siege unfolds.  The author sets everything up perfectly, and you are soon engrossed in the novel-spanning siege, which McNeill explores in intricate detail, examining the various moves and countermoves that the two sides are doing.  You get some awesome scenes throughout Storm of Iron, and it really has everything you could want from a siege book, including artillery barrages, trench warfare, sapping, sallies, reinforcements, counterattacks and desperate fighting in breaches.  The entire story moves pretty quickly, and there are barely any pauses in between battle scenes.  Any delays that do occur serve an essential part of the plot, showing the various personal issues impacting the participants, introducing new characters, or exploring some of the hidden intrigue going on within the besieged citadel.

The story picks up even further around the middle, with the arrival of the Imperial Fists Space Marines who give the defenders more of a fighting chance.  As such, you are never quite certain how the book is going to unfold, and the battle really could go any way.  I liked how McNeill balanced the book between the Chaos and Imperial characters (or the attackers and defenders), and I deeply enjoyed seeing how each side conducted their war, especially as both had to deal with internal dissension and setbacks.  I think that the narrative had a great blend of cool story elements, and the combination of action, intrigue and character work fit the story very well.  Naturally, the best part of the book is the exceptional battle scenes, and thanks to author’s detailed depictions, it is extremely easy to envision all the intense fight sequences that unfold.  There are some outstanding scenes here, and there is a little bit of everything, included destructive ranged warfare, brutal close combat fights, desperate last stands and even some over-the-top battles between the massive Titans (essentially intense mecha warfare).  This entire story comes together pretty well, and I really liked the fantastic and dark notes that McNeill left it on.  While I wasn’t too shocked by one of the book’s main twists, there honestly wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t entertained by Storm of Iron’s story, and I had such a fantastic time seeing this entire epic siege unfold.  I managed to power through this book extremely quickly, and I had so much fun seeing how this protracted battle unfolded.  As such, this is a must-read for all those who love a good siege book, and I really appreciate the awesome story that McNeill featured here.

I love all the cool Warhammer 40,000 elements that McNeill was able to fit into this awesome book, and fans of the franchise will appreciate his attention to detail and fun depictions of the various factions and their iconic regiments/toys.  While the Imperial Guard, Adeptus Mechanicus and Imperial Fists are all featured here, this book is mainly about the Iron Warriors, and it was fascinating to see them in action.  These traitorous and corrupt siege specialists have a rich history of hatred, and while the author doesn’t go completely into their fall from grace, you get a good idea of why they turned and some of the terrors they have inflicted.  Indeed, all the depictions of the Chaos side are extremely powerful, and you get an impressive view of just how twisted and dangerous they and their dark gods are.  That being said, you get a much more nuanced viewpoint of the Chaos side here than most Warhammer books have, and it was utterly fascinating to see their views on the conflict.  That, combined with some of the secrets that the Adeptus Mechanicus are hiding, continues to reinforce one of the key concepts of the Warhammer 40,000 universe: that there really are no good guys here, just winners and dead people.  Thanks to author’s ability to highlight key universe and faction details, this is one of those Warhammer 40,000 books that could serve as a great introduction to Warhammer fiction, and if a massive and bloody siege doesn’t get your attention and make you interested in this franchise, nothing will.  As such, you don’t need to come into Storm of Iron with too much pre-knowledge of the Warhammer 40,000 universe to enjoy this book, although established fans will naturally get a lot more out of it.  I am personally glad that, of all of McNeill’s books, I chose to start with Storm of Iron, especially as it apparently sets up some of his future Warhammer entries.  In particular, it introduces one of the key antagonists of his Ultramarines series, which has long been on my to-read list, and I look forward to enjoying more of McNeill’s epic Warhammer books in the future.

I also deeply appreciated some of the excellent character work that was featured within Storm of Iron.  Due to how McNeill writes the story, the book features a huge range of different point-of-view characters, broken up between the Iron Warriors and the members of the 383rd Jouran Dragoons who are defending the citadel.  While the quick-paced story and multiple character perspectives cuts down on development a little, you do get to know all the key characters very quickly, and McNeill fits in some absolutely fascinating character arcs that I deeply enjoyed.  Three of the most interesting characters are the Iron Warriors captains who are leading the assault on Hydra Cordatus, Honsou, Forrix and Kroeger.  All three are pretty interesting in their own right, with Honsou the true believer ostracised by his comrades due to his heritage, Forrix the disillusioned veteran, and Kroeger the mad berserker who is slowly going insane serving the Blood God Khorne.  Their personal storylines are all amazing, but the real fun is seeing their interactions, especially as they all hate each other and are vying for their master’s favour.  McNeill spends a lot of time with these three villains, and you really get a sense of whole Iron Warrior’s legion through their disparate viewpoints.  I will say that I didn’t think any of the Imperial characters quite measured up to these Chaos characters, especially as McNeill really worked to make them as compelling as possible.  I did deeply enjoy the character of Guardsman Julius Hawke, a slacker who finds himself alone in the wilds and serves an interesting role in the battle.  I was also quite intrigued by Lieutenant Larana Ultorian, a defiant soldier who is captured by the Chaos forces and slowly driven insane by her forced service to them.  These characters, and more, all help to turn Storm of Iron into a much more complex and powerful read, and I had a great time explore all their unique stories and histories here.

I doubt anyone is going to be too surprised that I made sure to grab the recently released audiobook version, which in my opinion is one of the best ways to enjoy a cool Warhammer book.  The Storm of Iron audiobook was a pretty good example of this, as I quickly got drawn into it, especially as the awesome action sequences became even more epic when they are read out.  With a run time of just over 11 hours, this was a decent length Warhammer audiobook, although I managed to power through it in less than a week, mainly because of how much I got caught up in the story.  I was also pretty impressed by the narration from Michael Geary, who really dove into the various roles contained within Storm of Iron’s story.  Geary clearly had a lot of fun telling this dark tale, and I felt his fast-paced narration really added the intensity and excitement of the story.  I also felt that he did a great job bringing the various characters of Storm of Iron to life, and each of the main figures is given a unique voice or accent to help set them apart.  While I liked all the cool voices he did, Geary’s take on the various Chaos Space Marines was very memorable, especially as he really captures the cruelty, hatred and dark demonic influences that affect them.  An overall excellent Warhammer audiobook, I had such an exceptional time listening to this version of Storm of Iron, and this format comes highly recommended.

Overall, I am extremely happy that I chose to read this fantastic Warhammer 40,000 novel, and it was one of the more interesting older entries in the franchise I have so far read.  The extremely talented Graham McNeill did a wonderful job on Storm of Iron, and I had such an amazing time getting through its elaborate and action-packed narrative.  This book featured such an impressive depiction of a siege in the gothic far future, and readers are in for an intense and captivating time as they see this complex battle between besiegers and defenders unfold.  Clever, compelling, and filled with pulse-pounding fun, Siege of Iron was an excellent book and I look forward to reading more of McNeill’s Warhammer books in the future.

Storm of Iron Cover

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Waiting on Wednesday – Warhammer 40,000: Witchbringer by Steven B. Fischer

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.  In this latest Waiting on Wednesday, I dive back into the dark future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe with the awesome upcoming entry, Witchbringer by Steven B. Fischer

Warhammer 40,000 - Witchbringer Cover

Amazon     Book Depository

I have made no secret of my love for the Warhammer extended universe in recent years, particularly the current Warhammer 40,000 universe set in a dark far-future.  I have had an incredible time getting into the impressive and extensive extended universe that has sprung up around these iconic tabletop games, especially as the vast team of authors that contribute to it have produced some outstanding and complex novels that expertly explore the elaborate lore that has been developed since its inception.  2022 alone has been a particularly epic year for Warhammer 40,000 fiction, with exceptional books like Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! by Nate Crowley, Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath, The Bookkeeper’s Skull by Justin D. Hill and Day of Ascension by Adrian Tchaikovsky, all proving to be outstanding reads that perfectly explore different aspects and corners of the Warhammer universe.

While I have been enjoying the cool variety of Warhammer novels coming out, I have always maintained that some of the best books in this franchise follow the common human solider as they attempt to fight against the vast armies of monsters and demons arrayed against them.  Indeed, there have been several particularly good examples of these in recent years, from the Gaunt’s Ghosts books by Dan Abnett (such as First and Only and The Vincular Insurgency), to more recent books like Steel Tread by Andy Clark, Krieg by Steven Lyons, Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley and Outgunned by Denny Flowers.  All these impressive books did a fantastic job diving into the complex and often short-lived soldiers of the Imperium of Man, and I loved the way they all highlighted some of the more iconic regiments and soldiers fighting in the universe various wars, often through some clever and deeply compelling narratives.

Due to how awesome some of these recent soldier-focused Warhammer books have been, I have been keeping a close out for any more upcoming entries in this franchise and I was very excited to see that a very cool one is coming out in December 2022.  This book, Witchbringer by new author Steven B. Fischer, will explore a whole new aspect of the Astra Militarum in another bold and fun adventure.

Plot Synopsis:

Delve in to the Scholastica Psykana in this great novel from Black Library

Suffer not the witch to live, unless by their service they might earn redemption.

This is the creed of the scholastica psykana, a brutal foundry in which those with psychic power might be taught to serve. On the eve of her sanctioning as a primaris psyker within these very halls, Glavia Aerand, former captain of the Cadian 900th Regiment, receives a startling premonition – one concerning her old unit and a dangerous psychic artefact hidden on the planet where they are deployed.

After a reunion she never expected – or wanted – Aerand finds herself mired in a vicious campaign on the psychically active world of Visage, where the shallow seas and endless fogs are rumoured to swallow the souls of the dead. Haunted by growing suspicions of her new commander and the manifestations of the sinister relic, Aerand must trust in her new-found abilities to keep her former comrades alive, and confront an ancient threat that could consume Visage entirely.


Ok, now this is a very awesome sounding
Warhammer 40,000 book.  The idea of a sanctioned psyker, a being who is barely tolerated by every other human in the Imperium, being forced to return to help a regiment they used to command, has so much damn potential.  With this plot alone, Fischer has already guaranteed that Witchbringer is going to be one of the more emotionally charged Warhammer novels of the year, especially as the return of protagonist Glavia Aerand, is going to raise so much tension and fear within an already stressed regiment.  I am also extremely excited for the deep dive in the lethal but maligned sanctioned primaris psykers, especially as it sounds like we are going to get a look at the scholastica psykana, the deadly and cruel schools that turns people with psychic powers into loyal and controllable weapons.  Throw in a mysterious artefact, an untrustworthy replacement commander, a deadly planet and a likely ton of cool Warhammer action, and this book has so much going for it.

Look, due to how much I have been loving all the recent additions to the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, there is no way I am going to miss Witchbringer when it comes out later this year.  However, after reading the above awesome synopsis, I am now pretty damn excited for this book and I think it has the potential to be one of the more intriguing and compelling Warhammer entries of the year.  I can’t wait to see how Steven B. Fischer’s first Warhammer 40,000 novel turns out and I have a feeling Witchbringer is going to be something extremely memorable.

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

Amazon

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.

Amazon

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

Amazon     Book Depository

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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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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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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Throwback Thursday – Warhammer: Runefang by C. L. Werner

Runefang Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – 24 June 2008)

Series: Warhammer Fantasy

Length: 413 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 week’s Throwback Thursday I have a look at a classic Warhammer Fantasy adventure novel with the entertaining fantasy thrill ride, Runefang.

I have been reading an awful lot of Warhammer 40,000 novels lately, but deep down my heart will always belong to the Warhammer Fantasy franchise, as that was the game that I played back in the day.  Even though the Warhammer Fantasy game has ended (replaced by The Age of Sigmar), while it was going the Black Library invested a lot of time into creating some excellent novels in this setting, which I have also been enjoy recently.  This includes the awesome Broken Honour and some of the earlier entries in the iconic Gotrek and Felix series (including Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer, Dragonslayer and Beastslayer).  Even after reading these, I am still in the mood for more fun Warhammer Fantasy adventures and so I just read Runefang by established Warhammer fiction author C. L. Werner.  Werner, whose other writing credits include the Witch Hunter, Thanquol & Boneripper and The Black Plague series, came up with a compelling idea for this novel which I had a lot of fun getting through.

As civil war, discord and political instability rock the human realms of the Empire, a far greater threat marches upon it from the south.  A massive horde of undead creatures has been raised from the grave and is  cutting its way through the heavily populated province of Wissenland.  As the forces of Wissenland gather to fight, they are disheartened to find that these are not the typical shambling herd of undead horrors, but a well-organised, highly disciplined force of relentless fighters with dangerous magic backing them up.  Worse, the leader of this force is a true monster, the wight lord Zahaak, an ancient general of the legendary dark necromancer, Nagash, who has risen from his last defeat to finally achieve the victory he promised centuries before.

After several devastating slaughters, it becomes apparent that the undead force before them is unstoppable and the only way to defeat it is to kill the unkillable undead general.  In desperate need of anything that will save his realm, the Count of Wissenland and his advisors come up with an unlikely plan: recovering the Solland Runefang.  Lost years before when an orc raid destroyed the former province of Solland, the stolen Runefang, one of the legendary 12 swords signifying rulership of the Empire’s provinces, is rumoured to be the only weapon capable of killing Zahaak.

The task of finding the Runefang falls to Baron von Rabwald, who pulls together a small expedition of soldiers, knights and adventurers and leads them to the Runefang’s purported hiding place in the Worlds Edge Mountains.  However, this is no easy quest, and the chances of success are low, especially as the Worlds Edge Mountains are a notorious haunt for monsters, orcs and innumerable other dangers.  Worse, they are not the only group seeking the lost Runefang, and the fell magic of Zahaak is never far behind.  Can the expedition recover the Runefang before it is too late, or will Wissenland fall at the hands of its greatest foe from the past?

This was an outstanding and extremely exciting Warhammer Fantasy novel that I had a wonderful time reading.  C. L. Werner did an excellent job providing readers with an amazing fantasy adventure, and Runefang has a lot of great elements that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

At the heart of Runefang lies a captivating and highly enjoyable fantasy narrative that quickly drags the reader in with its impressive action, enjoyable characters, intriguing examination of the Warhammer world, and exciting adventure narrative.   Starting off with a fantastic introduction that sees the Wissenland army’s first disastrous attack against the undead horde, you are swiftly brought into the middle of the conflict as you witness the aftermath of the defeat, which also introduces several of the main characters.  Following some compelling exposition about the enemy they are facing, the story splits into two parts, with Baron von Rabwald leading most of the supporting cast off to find the lost Runefang, while the rest of the story focuses on the Count of Wissenland’s attempts to delay the undead army to give the adventurers time.  This split works really well, and seeing the disasters unfolding in Wissenland heightens the stakes of the expedition’s adventures and ensures that the reader is even more invested in its outcome.  The expedition storyline encounters multiple obstacles throughout their adventure, including monsters, traps, and orcs and goblins.  They are also forced to deal with a rival force of humans who are also hoping to claim the Runefang, untrustworthy mercenaries, as well as a traitor within their ranks who is helping the enemy.

This all translates into a very good and action-packed adventure, and I loved seeing all the epic events unfold through the eyes of the varied characters.  The story chugs along at a quick and exciting pace, with a good combination of action, dark moments and some fun, if grim, humour that I quite enjoyed.  Werner also ensures readers are in for a wild ride by not being sentimental when it comes to character survivability.  This became really apparent around halfway through Runefang when several key characters, many of whom had been built up in a big way for most of the narrative, were very suddenly killed off, and one of the supporting cast took the reigns as lead protagonist.  While this was a little surprising, I think it worked rather well, and it added to the suspense and drama of the tale, as the new protagonist is forced to make some big choices and deals to keep the quest alive.  Following this, the story keeps advancing at a great pace, with new foes and dangers appearing the closer the protagonists got to their goal.  This leads up to the epic final sequences of the expedition narrative, and it was fantastic to see the surviving protagonists go up against all the villains that had been chasing them in a big, extended confrontation, and Werner kept continuously hitting the reader with twists, surprises and dangers.  The reveal about the traitor in the ranks was pretty good, especially as Werner threw in an excellent red herring character (although by the time it is revealed, there were limited potential characters who it could be).  Everything comes together extremely well, with all the storylines and character arcs reaching their natural end, and I felt that it was an excellent, if rather bittersweet, conclusion.

I have to say that this was a particularly good and accessible entry in the wider Warhammer Fantasy canon, which is very well suited to this sort of immense and powerful story.  While Werner could have just phoned in Runefang with a generic adventure story set in the universe, he does a great dive into the lore.  This novel is set well before the events of most Warhammer Fantasy novels and takes place during the Age of the Three Emperors, where the Empire was split by a raging civil war.  As such, the province of Wissenland is on its own throughout the novel and must also deal with the substantial machinations of its neighbours as it fights to survive, which gives it a great additional edge of intrigue.  The author also spends a great deal of time focusing on the ruined province of Solland and the importance of its lost Runefang.  It was fascinating to see the ruins of Solland in Runefang, as it was still badly scarred by the orc invasion that destroyed it, and the impact of Wissenland’s absorption of it was quite interesting.  I also really appreciated the fantastic portrayal of the notorious Worlds Edge Mountains, the former realm of the dwarfs that is now controlled by orcs, bandits, and monsters.  The author did a really good job showing this to be a desolate and dangerous place, and he really did not disappoint when it came to featuring the variety of cool creatures and threats it contains, forcing the protagonists up against dangerous odds again and again.

Finally, I must highlight the author’s excellent use of the undead army in this book.  Rather than using the armies of the Vampire Counts or the Tomb Kings (which were the two undead factions at the time of Runefang’s release), Werner features a historic army of undead creatures who have risen after their defeat during the early days of the Empire to have their vengeance.  As such, they are a unique force of undead creatures, and I loved seeing them in action, particularly as you get some awesome reactions of terror from the human characters observing them.  Overall, I really loved the cool use of Warhammer Fantasy elements, history and settings in Runefang, and I felt that this was the sort of Warhammer novel that any fantasy fan could pick up and enjoy.

I also need to highlight all the impressive action featured throughout Runefang, and Werner has a clear talent for making fight scenes come to life in a big way.  There are so many battles throughout this book, and each of them is showcased to the reader in exquisite detail.  Whether it be a small skirmish, a one-on-one fight, a brawl against a giant monster, or a large pitched battle between armies, the author ensures that the reader gets the full sense of everything that his happening.  It was extremely cool to see all these fights unfold, and I was able to mentally see every sword swing, desperate charge and epic moment.  I liked how some of these fights emulated the battles from the table-top Warhammer Fantasy game, and you could really envision how they would have looked being played out on the board.  These action scenes combined well with the awesome and exciting story, and I think that they strongly enhanced my enjoyment of Runefang.

The final thing I want to talk about is characters, as Runefang features an excellent and massive cast of distinctive protagonists and villains.  Now, I am not going to go into too much detail about character arcs or development here, as to do so might ruin which key characters are killed off early.  However, I have to say that I was really impressed with the awesome way that Werner introduced each of the major figures in the book.  As such, you quickly grow to like many of the figures in Runefang, especially as Werner goes out of his way to feature a unique and often damaged group of protagonists to fit the story around.  I will say that I deeply enjoyed the Baron’s notorious and scarred champion, Kessler, who has some great moments; the dwarf Skanir, who serves as cantankerous guide; and the fantastic duo of the halfling Theodo Hobshollow and his ogre sidekick, Ghrum, who were an excellent and entertaining comic relief team.  There are also some really good villains in this novel, including the bandits who are also after the Runefang (featuring a brilliantly despicable leader and an entertaining pair of cowards), and an extremely dangerous orc warlord, Uhrghul Skullcracker.  Uhrghul was a particularly fun character, and I liked both his philosophical insights about being an orc leader as well as his effective way of questioning human prisoners (eating my legs in front of me probably would get me to talk).  I did think that the main villain of Runefang Zahaak was a tad underdeveloped, even if he was shown to be an epic badass with major historical cred to his name.  However, this might have been a deliberate choice by Werner to highlight the uncomplicated nature and motivations of the undead compared to the more insidious, evil, or animalistic plots of the humans and orc villains.  I had an amazing time following these characters, just try not to get too attached to any of them.

Filled with fantastic action, a compelling adventure storyline, fun characters and great use of the Warhammer Fantasy setting, Runefang was an outstanding novel from C. L. Werner that I had an amazing time reading.  Werner really went out of his way to create the most impressive and exhilarating fantasy adventure he could, and the result is really worth checking out.  A highly recommended Warhammer fantasy novel that you are guaranteed to have fun with.

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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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