Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – 1 November 2001)
Series: Last Chancers – Book Two
Length: 277 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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. In my latest Throwback Thursday, I review the second epic entry in Gav Thorpe’s ultra-fun Last Chancers series with Kill Team.
I have been going through a real Warhammer phase in the last few months, especially as I have been lucky enough to find some awesome older paperbacks in second hand shops. I was particularly happy to find a copy of was the first two books in Gav Thorpe’s Last Chancers series. Following a rotating team of convict Imperial Guardsmen as they engage in suicide missions for their freedom, the Last Chancers books are essentially The Dirty Dozen in space, and I love the awesome and brutal stories that emerge. The first book, 13th Legion, was one of the very best Warhammer 40,000 novels I have had the pleasure of reading, and I have been trying to fit the sequel, Kill Team, into my reading schedule for a while. I finally got a chance last weekend, and boy was it worth making the time for as the second Last Chancers novel had another outstanding and action-packed story to it.
In the far future, the armies of the Imperium contain multitudes of scum and villains, all of whom are considered useful in the service of the Emperor. However, after blowing his last chance at redemption after completing an impossible suicide mission, Lieutenant Kage has been cast aside, locked inside an Imperial detention centre away from the one thing he is good at, fighting the Emperor’s enemies. When his former commander, the mysterious and ruthless Colonel Schaeffer, returns with another deadly assignment, Kage is swift to accept and become useful again, even if he no longer has a chance at freedom.
The Colonel has been tasked with leading a small, disposable team to assassinate a prominent Tau commander and he needs a new version of the 13th Penal Legion, the infamous Last Chancers, to pull the mission off. Placed in command, Kage must recruit a ragtag group of the worst killers, deserters, and malcontents that the Imperial Guard have cast out. Forcing them into a harsh training regime to bring them together into an effective squad, Kage soon finds himself leading a new squad of Last Chancers, many of whom are as desperate for freedom and the fight as he is.
However, their mission is another lethal suicide mission. Working with an immoral Imperial Inquisitor, the team is covertly inserted into Tau space and must infiltrate the political and military circles surrounding their target. But not everything is as it seems and soon the squad must content with treachery, personal enmity, and the superior technology of the Tau. Can these new Last Chancers succeed when so many before them have perished, or will the only redemption they find be in death?
Thorpe continues to give me all the Warhammer 40,000 fun I can ever need with this amazing and intense read. Serving as an outstanding sequel to 13th Legion, Kill Team proved to be a fun and compelling novel, loaded with action, adventure and some intriguing characters.
Readers are in for another intense and brutal story with Kill Team, as Thorpe once again utilises The Dirty Dozen format to successfully set the scene. However, rather than having a massive regiment get whittled down until the toughest survivors are left, this time the protagonist and main narrator, Lieutenant Kage, is forced to choose his own team of criminals to lead on the Colonel’s new suicide mission. I really enjoyed the starting scenes of Kill Team, especially as you see Kage go from cell to cell choosing the best individuals for his team, before engaging in an extended and deadly training montage, which mirrored the hell he went through in the first book. As Kage is dealing with that, and his own substantial personal issues, the main mission of the book is set up as the Last Chancers are sent into Tau space to assassinate an ambitious, warmongering commander. Initially infiltrating in as diplomats and mercenaries, the team travel to several Tau planets before beginning their attack. The final third of the book is primarily focused on this deadly mission as the team find themselves in the middle of a bloody battle against the very worst the Tau can throw at them. The subsequent fight is pretty intense and brutal, and the readers are treated to some great scenes of warfare in various unique scenarios. The ending is well set up, with betrayals, fun reveals and some brilliant character focused moments as the team finally come together to succeed. I do think that Thorpe might have gone one twist too many at the end, but the overall story was extremely satisfying, and I deeply enjoyed how the entire thing came together.
I had a lot of fun with this second Last Chancer’s novel, and I am really glad that The Dirty Dozen plot basis didn’t wear thin in the second entry. Thorpe did a great job of following on from the story elements he introduced in 13th Legion, especially when it comes to the two main characters, who have a fantastic new dynamic in Kill Team. Like the first book, Kill Team is very fast-paced, and I had a ton of fun at the start when the new characters are recruited, as well as all the awesomeness of the extended battle sequence at the end. However, unlike the episodic storytelling Thorpe utilised in 13th Legion, Kill Team has a more straightforward plot line, which worked well to set it apart from the previous entry. You really get dragged into the struggles of the new Last Chancers, as well as the eternally battered Kage, who serves as the book’s primary narrator. While there are a lot of references to the first book, Kill Team can easily be read as a standalone read and it isn’t necessary to get through 13th Legion first. However, I deeply enjoyed seeing the continued development of the protagonist and fans of the first book will probably get a lot more out of Kill Team as a result. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the book’s focus is on the action and combat, and Thorpe really doesn’t disappoint when it comes to that. The author does a wonderful job capturing every single firefight, brawl, and pitched battle that occurs within Kill Team, and you can see and feel every single shot, punch and stab that is thrown as a result. The presence of a few too many characters guaranteed to survive did occasionally lessen the impact of some dramatic fight scenes, however, you still get caught up in the violence and I deeply enjoyed how well Thorpe supported his narrative with his great writing.
Kill Team also serves as an intriguing entry in the wider Warhammer 40,000 canon, especially as it is one of the stories that follows a common soldier as he experiences the alien perils of the wider galaxy. Just like with 13th Legion, readers don’t need a lot of background knowledge of the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe to enjoy Kill Team, and the Last Chancers books are actually a pretty good introductory series for those unfamiliar with the franchise. I loved some of the fun references and factions contained within Kill Team, not only because you get to see more of the dark side of the Imperial Guard, but you also get quite an in-depth look at the Tau. The Tau are one of the more interesting factions in the Warhammer canon, and frankly there aren’t enough books focusing on them. I had a lot of fun seeing them in Kill Team, mainly because you got to see the inexperienced human characters encountering them for the first time. Their reactions at the Tau culture, politics, and weaponry, makes for a great part of the book’s middle plot, and it was really fun to see them comparing their own lives in the Imperium to what the Tau have (that scene when they’re exploring the Tau ship’s bathroom was just great). While Thorpe did nerf the Tau when it comes to their battle prowess, as the Last Chancers mow down waves of Fire Warriors, you get a great idea of their military capability throughout Kill Team and I loved seeing the Battlesuits in action. There are a lot of great elements that Warhammer fans will get a kick out of in Kill Team and I really enjoyed some of the stuff Thorpe added in.
For me, the real highlight of Kill Team was the exceptional character work, especially when it came to Lieutenant Kage. Kage is a natural survivor who has gone through a lot in his life, especially since joining the Last Chancers. The Kage we met in 13th Legion was a gritty survivor, just looking for his freedom at any cost. However, after the success and trauma of his mission and his subsequent failure to stay out of trouble, Kage has come back a little broken and a little bit more unhinged, especially as he is now racked with guilt over the fate of his original Last Chancers. After a lengthy, violent prison sentence, Kage is once again under the heel of Colonel Schaeffer in Kill Team. Kage actually ends up becoming more like Schaeffer in this book, especially when he chooses, trains and controls his own team of rogues, and the realisation that he will be responsible for their deaths weighs very heavily on him. This guilt, and his own mental trauma, plays a big part in how Kage interacts with many people in Kill Team, and there is something very wrong with Kage throughout this book. Despite this, he is still the ruthless survivor that he was in 13th Legion, and, if anything, Thorpe possibly made him a little too unkillable and deadly for this sequel (he’s not really a common soldier anymore). The best scenes involving Kage are still the ones when he faces off against Schaeffer, and the have some great interactions throughout the book, especially as Kage blames Schaeffer for everything that happened to him. Kage honestly hates and fears the Colonel more than anyone else, and yet he still follows him, even though his own chance of freedom has already been spent. This results in some brilliant encounters between the unhinged Kage and the taciturn Schaeffer, and I cannot wait to see how their relationship evolves in the other Last Chancers books.
Aside from Kage and Schaeffer, there is a good collection of supporting characters featured throughout Kill Team. Most of the prominent ones are the new members of the Last Chancers who Kage recruits for the mission. Thorpe features a great introduction for all these new characters at the start of Kill Team and you soon get drawn into their unique storylines. Each brings something new to the book, even if it is only briefly, as you know well in advance that most, if not all, of these character are going to die. I liked the more specialist focused characters featured in Kill Team, as it was an intriguing departure from the more generalised grunts in 13th Legion, although this did slightly pigeonhole these characters in certain ways. Still, all the new Last Chancers characters formed an excellent base for the story, and it was fascinating to see how they interacted with Kage, who see him in the same way that Kage viewed Schaeffer in the first book. Other awesome characters featured within Kill Team includes a wily Inquisitor, some alien diplomats and a mysterious passenger waiting in the wings. All these, and more, add so much to the plot, and I had a great job seeing how they, and their seemingly inevitable deaths, played into this awesome book.
Overall, Kill Team was exactly the sort of fun read that I thought it would be, as Gav Thorpe did a wonderful job in this second Last Chancers book. Loaded with action and highly damaged characters, Kill Team was another fantastic and electrifying romp through the chaotic and deadly Warhammer 40,000 universe with a crew of convicted soldiers. Sharp, brutal, and highly addictive, I powered through Kill Team very quickly and had an awesome time doing so. Hopefully I will be able to lay my hands on the next Last Chancers novels at some point in the future and I cannot wait to see what carnage they get up to next.