Warhammer 40,000: Sepulturum by Nick Kyme

Warhammer 40,000 Sepulturum Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 3 March 2020)

Series: Warhammer Horror

Length: 7 hours and 9 minutes

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

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My obsession with Warhammer continues as I check out the grisly Warhammer Horror book, Sepulturum by Nick Kyme.

Over the last couple of years, I have had a lot of fun diving down into the epic Warhammer 40,000 universe.  This universe features so many epic and unique stories and characters, and I love all the fantastic tales that can be told across the genres.  One sub-genre of Warhammer fiction I’ve only had a little experience with so far is the Warhammer Horror books which, as the name suggest, blend gruesome horror elements with the already grim Warhammer universe.  I have so far enjoyed one Warhammer Horror book, the creepy and clever The Bookkeeper’s Skull by Justin Hill, which was brilliantly written and showcased.  I have been meaning to check out some other horror related Warhammer books, and when I saw that there was a zombie-centric Warhammer book, I knew it was something I would have to read.  This book is Sepulturum, a compelling read written by new-to-me author Nick Kyme.  Kyme is a veteran Warhammer writer, and I’ve got a couple of his other books sitting on my shelf already waiting for my attention.  However, my first experience of him was through Sepulturum, which proved to be a really fun and interesting adventure.

Something dark and deadly, something which hungers for blood and flesh, is stirring in the low-hive of Blackgheist.  The only person who can stop it is Inquisitor Morgravia Sanctus of the Ordo Sepulturum, whose investigation in Blackgheist revealed a terrible presence.  However, before she could act, something happened that destroyed her memories and left her scarred, broken and hunted.  Now with only one acolyte left, Morgravia attempts to find a psyker capable of restoring her mind to let her figure out what is chasing her and what their plans are.

Meeting with a broker from the criminal underworld, Morgravia believes that she has finally found the solution to her problems.  However, before she can proceed, a terrible attack is launched across Blackgheist which no one is prepared for.  The people of the hive have been turned into something violent, no-longer alive, and desperate to devour everything they come across.  These creatures are soon swarming across Blackgheist, destroying all before them and leading to untold chaos and destruction.

Soon, only small bands of survivors are left who hope to escape from the horrors surrounding them.  But as Morgravia leads one such group to safety, she soon discovers that not everything is as it seems.  Other deadly monsters are hunting throughout Blackgheist, while deranged cultists take the opportunity to seize power for themselves.  The truth behind the terrible events unfolding lies only within Morgravia’s mind, but is she truly prepared for the horrific secrets that are about to be unleashed?

Sepulturum was a fantastic and dark read that proved to be an outstanding addition to the Warhammer Horror range.  Kyme has produced a fast-paced and gruesome zombie story in an amazing novel that combines a clever story with some excellent horror elements.  The story itself is a fun zombie narrative as several characters attempt to survive a sudden onslaught of deranged and hungry former humans overrunning the city.  The story primarily focuses on the damaged Inquisitor Morgravia and a couple of her companions as they attempt to escape the horrors unleashed upon them and find its cause, although a second storyline revolves around a normal labourer, Cristo, as he tries to get his daughter to safety.  Both groups first encounter the zombie creatures in some pretty horrifying situations that leave them badly shaken and alone, and they are forced to navigate through the rest of the chaos in a daze.  Their subsequent attempts to evade the zombie creatures lead them further into danger, especially as there are other dark forces out in the city that provide additional awesome complications and conflicts, and there are betrayals, insanities and the feeling that the zombies are only a small part of the larger picture.  Everything leads up to some pretty disturbing final sequences that are loaded with brutal twists and major confrontations, especially as nobody is who they seem, and there is high need of some bloody self-sacrifice.  Readers will come away pretty satisfied with how the story ends, with horror fans no doubt liking the high body count, and the potential hint of a continuation in the future.

I loved how Kyme set out the story in Sepulturum, and it proves to be an outstanding read about survival and desperation in a Warhammer city.  The main setting for Sepulturum is already pretty gritty and unsavoury before the zombies, but everything only gets worse as the story unfolds.  The slow reveal of the zombie creatures is handled well, and I loved the slow-burn panic that sweeps the city.  The blend of character perspectives works well throughout the story, and while Morgravia and Cristo prove to be the main narrators, several other supporting cast members, often in Morgravia’s party, give an excellent alternative edge to the narrative while adding some fun moments to it.  Cristo’s separate storyline also works well in concert with the main narrative surrounding Morgravia and her survivors, and it was interesting to see their two stories play out simultaneously without the groups ever meeting.  Kyme has a lot of fun setting out some excellent elements of the story, and I particularly loved the attention to detail when it came to some of the fight scenes and the horror creatures the protagonists have to deal with.  There are also several great twists and reveals towards the end of the book, and while some are well foreshadowed, there is also one genuine surprise that I thought was pretty damn brilliant.  I did think the big conclusion ended up being a little to over-the-top metaphysical for its own good, but it was most a good ending with a fun last-minute inclusion from a whole other faction.  This ended up being a pretty good self-contained, standalone read within the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe, and not too much pre-knowledge of the Warhammer universe is needed to fully appreciate it, especially with the zombies there.  However, fans of the franchise will have the best time with it, and I felt this was a great inclusion into the wider Warhammer universe.

Naturally the real highlight of Sepulturum is the zombies, and it is always fun to see how Warhammer stories turn out when combined with genres like horror, especially as this universe already has some terrifying and shocking elements to it.  The zombies in Sepulturum are interesting inclusions to the story, especially as Kyme does a good job of brutally introducing them and then unleashing them upon a wider world.  While some members of the Warhammer 40,000 universe do have some concepts of what a zombie is, the vast majority do not, so the inherent panic and horror at what the creatures are is pretty crazy, and you have to love the reactions of the people who don’t know what they are dealing with.  All the zombie scenes are pretty ferocious, and the unstoppable horde coming at you is always pretty freaky to deal with.  I did quite like how the zombies themselves weren’t exactly what you thought they were from a Warhammer 40,000 lore perspective, and their presence heralds another threat, with some creepy alternate creatures.

In addition, Kyme also enhances other dark elements of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and uses that to increase the horror feel of the book.  The author affects a brooding and repressive tone across the entire book, and all the characters are caught up in intense feelings of despair and horror at what they are experiencing and the creatures they are encountering.  Kyme also introduces some gruesome body modification elements that work well with the zombies to create a terrifying read.  Body horror, including some of the more shocking elements around servitors, argumentation and other body modifications, is always close to the surface of any Warhammer story, but it was particularly bad here, especially as some characters are dissected or have elements contained within their bodies that Kyme showcases in distressing detail.  A lot of the horror is also derived from the craziness within people’s minds, as many of the characters break down in different ways after the initial zombie attack.  Watching characters go insane in various ways, whether through suicidal thoughts or with bloody religious fervour, really adds to the overall horror elements of the book, and I felt that Kyme had the right balance between outer and inner horror throughout this book.  The combination of the darker tone, zombies and other cool horror elements, really fits into the Warhammer universe well and I enjoyed the dark tale that Kyme told around it.

As is my usual practice, I ended up listening to Sepulturum on audiobook rather than seeking out a physical copy.  As always, it proved to be pretty epic.  I always love how well the audiobook format works to enhance the fantastic stories in the Warhammer universe.  This was especially good with Sepulturum, as the audiobook version helped to bring out some darker elements of the story and make Sepulturum feel even spookier.  Narrated by veteran audiobook narrator Antonia Beamish, who has worked on several Warhammer Horror books previously, the audiobook ensured that the darker tone and desperation of the characters really came through.  You really get a sense of the characters’ panic and despair through Beamish’s great narration, and I deeply appreciated how gruesome and ghastly all the horror details sounded when she described them.  The additional voices she used for several of the characters were pretty good as well, and you end up getting a good sense of each character’s personality, especially during the terrible encounters they go through.  Beamish’s voice work really helps to bring this entire audiobook together, and this ended up being an outstanding way to enjoy Sepulturum.  With a run time of just over seven hours, you can power through this audiobook quickly, and I deeply enjoyed listening to this gory book in this format.

The Warhammer universe offers further treasures as Nick Kyme has some zombie fun in Sepulturum.  A fantastic addition to the Warhammer Horror subseries, Sepulturum takes some great characters on a particularly dark and shocking adventure loaded with all manner of horror.  It’s an excellent and exciting read for fans of both Warhammer and horror fiction.  I deeply enjoyed this book and can’t wait to try out more awesome Warhammer Horror in the future.

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Throwback Thursday – Warhammer 40,000: Malleus by Dan Abnett

Warhammer 40,000 - Malleus Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Trade Paperback – 27 December 2001)

Series: Eisenhorn – Book Two

Length: 10 hours and 13 hours

My Rating: 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 continue my extensive dive into the Warhammer 40,000 universe with the awesome, galaxy-spanning thriller, Malleus by Dan Abnett.

For one of my latest Throwback Thursday reviews, I took a look at one of Dan Abnett’s iconic Warhammer 40,000 novels, Xenos, the first book in the incredible Eisenhorn trilogy.  This fantastic book, which followed Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn, a hunter of dark influences in the Imperium of Man, was a clever and compelling read that saw Eisenhorn face off against a range of terrible foes who seek to destroy humanity from within.  I had an outstanding time with Xenos, which really showcased Abnett’s skill as an author (I have also really enjoyed his Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, including First and Only, Ghostmaker and The Vincula Insurgency).  Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I quickly decided to continue the Eisenhorn trilogy by listening to the second book in the series, Malleus, another exceptional read that takes its protagonist on another dark and engrossing adventure.

In the 41st Millennium, the dark enemies of mankind, whether they be heretical, daemonic, or alien in nature, continue to try and destroy the Imperium of Man from within.  It falls to dedicated inquisitors, such as Gregor Eisenhorn, to battle their malign influences by whatever means they deem necessary.  But what happens when the very institutions that Eisenhorn has long fought to uphold are turned against him?

Whilst battling against deadly alien influences on an isolated planet, Eisenhorn is made aware of certain allegations against his character which suggest that he has been corrupted by the influence of Chaos.  Initially planning to ignore the rumours and continue his vital work safeguarding humanity, his plans are put on hold when a terrible act of destruction unfolds on the planet of Thracian Primaris.  Investigating its causes, Eisenhorn is thrust into another deadly conspiracy, one tied to a foe he last encountered 100 years before, the daemonhost Cherubael.

Chasing after Cherubael and his minions, Eisenhorn attempts to discover what their latest unholy plan is.  However, his investigation reveals that Cherubael is just a pawn, and that the true mastermind of the plot he has uncovered may be a fellow inquisitor.  However, before Eisenhorn can find and confront them, he himself is declared a heretic and renegade by puritan members of his order, forcing him to flee.  Chased by the members of the Ordo Malleus, as well as other deadly hunters loyal to Imperium, Eisenhorn must work outside the bounds of his usual authority to prove his innocence and find the true culprits.  But to defeat his enemies, Eisenhorn may be forced to cross a dangerous line and become the very thing he has sworn to destroy.

Damn, Abnett was on a major roll when he wrote the Eisenhorn novels, as the second book, Malleus, is getting another five-star rating from me.  Brilliantly combining a taut and intrigue-laden plot with the darkest elements of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Malleus is an addictive and powerful read that proves near impossible to stop listening to.

Malleus has an incredible story that I found to be pretty damn addictive.  Set 100 years after the events of Xenos, Malleus continues to follow Inquisitor Eisenhorn as he investigates several malign cults and figures throughout his sub-sector of space.  The story soon ties into some of the lingering storylines from Xenos as the daemonhost Cherubael makes another appearance, framing Eisenhorn as a heretic.  After a massive and suitably destructive series of events, Eisenhorn is thrust into a whole new investigation, trying to finally hunt down the figures that vexed him during the events of Xenos.  Traversing the sector in pursuit of Cherubael and other rogue inquisitors, Eisenhorn finds himself thrust into battle after hopeless battle, and his constant losses war with his determination to finish the case.  The protagonist faces several major hurdles towards the middle of the book, including capture and imprisonment by a fellow inquisitor for false crimes.  Eventually escaping, Eisenhorn spends much of the book as a fugitive hunted by loyalist forces, which is an exciting new element that Abnett plays to full effect to enhance the plot.  The overarching mystery/conspiracy plot of the book comes together extremely well, and I loved the outstanding investigation angle that follows as Eisenhorn desperately tries to find the evidence that not only ends the threat but exonerates him.  This hunt for answers is actually set over a substantial period of time, mainly due to the delays associated with space travel, but this only increases the power of the plot as you witness Eisenhorn lose years of his life being hunted.  Everything leads up to a massive confrontation with plenty of bloody battles and dangerous decisions that leave several fantastic characters dead or damaged.  The ultimate conclusion is pretty impressive, especially as Abnett really starts to showcase his protagonist’s inevitable fall from grace here, and he leaves the book on a particularly dark note that was so damn awesome.

Just like with Xenos, Abnett has a fantastic writing style that really helps to enhance Malleus’s narrative and make the book very addictive and exciting.  Perfectly utilising an excellent chronicle style that allows you to see inside Eisenhorn’s head, you are swiftly drawn into the complex plot.  Abnett keeps up a swift and intense pace the entire way through, and you barely have a moment to stop and breathe before the next intriguing event takes over.  The blend of intrigue, Inquisition politics, sector-spanning conspiracies, complex character development, unique Warhammer concerns, and impressive action is a heady mix and you get really get caught up in the hunt for the antagonists and Eisenhorn’s fight to prove his innocence.  I loved how intense and deadly some of the crazy battle scenes got and Abnett has great skill at showcasing his characters in mortal danger.  His attention to detail also results in some breathtaking sequences, and I was really impressed by that epic parade sequence, especially its ultra-chaotic ending.  Abnett also takes the time in Malleus to set up some future storylines and alternate books, with some fun hints at novellas/short stories you should check out, while also quickly introducing his next major protagonist, Ravenor.  All these brilliant writing elements, and more, really help to drag you into this elaborate narrative, and I deeply enjoyed the more intrigue-focused stories that are the hallmark of the Eisenhorn books.  A worthy and powerful sequel to Xenos that really showcases the awesome characters and continues the outstanding and elaborate storylines.

I really loved the elaborate Warhammer 40,000 elements that Abnett featured within Malleus as the author dives right into the heart of the Inquisition and their battles.  Just like with Xenos, you get a great understanding of the various internal threats that the Imperium faces in this universe, as Eisenhorn attempts to combat various conspiracies and threats.  However, there is also a much deeper look at the inner workings of the often hidden Inquisition Ordos, especially as Eisenhorn is forced to work against the factions associated with them, including the Ordo Malleus, who think he has been compromised.  The ensuing hunt for answers leads the protagonist, and by extension the reader, on a mighty chase around various unique planets in the Imperium, including Cadia before the fall, and Abnett has a lot of fun exploring the intriguing elements associated with these locations, as well as the general lore surrounding inquisitors, daemons and more.  I did find it interesting that one of the major McGuffins of the book, the mysterious pylons of Cadia, ended up seeming a little more important in hindsight after the 13th Black Crusade, and you have to wonder if the antagonist’s villainous plan didn’t actually have some merit.  I felt that this was a particularly awesome Warhammer 40,000 book and I deeply appreciated how the universe’s unique elements and lore were able to seamlessly support the elaborate tale that Abnett wrote here.  Due to Abnett’s detailed and compelling writing style, new Warhammer readers could easily start their exploration of the franchise with Malleus and get a rather good idea of the universe.  However, I would really recommend starting with Xenos, as you get a much better introduction to key details and characters there.  An overall exceptional read that makes full use of the massive, extended setting.

A highlight of any Abnett book is always the outstanding and highly complex characters, and Malleus has those in spades.  The focus is once again on series protagonist and narrator, Gregor Eisenhorn, who grows as a character with each passing adventure.  I really liked how Abnett portrayed Eisenhorn in Malleus and his compelling mission for justice and redemption is pretty intense.  The Eisenhorn here is a different creature to that in Xenos, especially as, after 100 additional years in the Inquisition, he is a lot more experienced and skilled in his work.  Now commanding a small army of followers, Eisenhorn has different methods and resources than before, but the same determination, loyalty and kindness (at least compared to other inquisitors) is still there.  However, Malleus sees Eisenhorn go through some major battles, both mentally and physically, as he is forced to confront an enemy within his own order while defending his own methods and character.  Watching him declared a heretic by his fellow inquisitors is pretty brutal, and Abnett throws in a heartbreaking prison scene to keep the readers intrigued.  These events, coupled with some personal losses, and the continued presence of beings far more powerful than him, force Eisenhorn to make deals and cross lines he really shouldn’t.  I love how each of the Eisenhorn books show the protagonist’s slow fall towards radicalism, and Malleus is an interesting starting point for that, as you understand why Eisenhorn is forced to go down this route.  While he ends the book with most of his humanity and integrity intact, that brilliant final scene shows that he is getting awfully comfortable with his feet over a line he previously feared, and I cannot wait to see how far he falls in the next Eisenhorn novel.

On top of Eisenhorn, Abnett features a pretty awesome collection of supporting characters who assist the inquisitor in his investigation and they each add their own distinctive personality to the narrative.  There is a good continuation of character arcs from the first book as several of his followers from Xenos make a return here, including the entertaining Savant Aemos, former Arbites investigator Fischig and his dedicated psychic blank Bequin.  Each of them is a little older, wiser and more familiar with the hardships of being an inquisitor’s acolyte, and I liked the stronger relationships that developed amongst them, particularly Bequin, who really comes into her own in this book as a veteran.  There are several interesting new characters added as well, such as the bounty hunter Nayl or brash pilot Medea Betancore (replacing her father Midas), and I felt that their distinctive personalities added a fun and entertaining edge to the narrative.  I was surprised that new character Gideon Ravenor, who goes on to get his own spinoff series, only had a relatively small appearance in this book, as I figured he would be a pretty major character to get his own story.  Still, he gets a good introduction here and it will be interesting to see how his arc plays out in the future.

Malleus also features several intriguing antagonists, each of whom test Eisenhorn and his colleagues in different ways.  While there are the usual array of cultists, aliens and other creatures, most of the antagonists in this novel prove to be other inquisitors, who are either working on their own radical plots or who believe that Eisenhorn is the true heretic who needs to be stopped.  This adds a very interesting dynamic to the story and it was fascinating to see the varied philosophies and plots amongst the rival orders and factions.  I did find it interesting that the main villain of the story, a mysterious inquisitor acting from the shadows, only had a very minor appearance in the book, and while you feel his presence, a bigger appearance from him might have been in order.  However, this character is more than made up for by his principal minion, the daemonhost Cherubael, who returns after his fantastic appearance in Xenos.  Cherubael is a brilliantly sinister character who steals every single scene they are in thanks to their menacing monologues and intriguing insights.  The outstanding obsession he forms with Eisenhorn is a great deal of fun and I loved seeing this evil figure toy with the inquisitor and force him to go to great lengths to defeat him.  Abnett really knows how to write an outstanding character, even in a limited amount of time, and it will be fascinating to see what happens to these characters in the next Eisenhorn book.

I of course chose to listen to Malleus on audiobook, as it is my preferred way of enjoying great Warhammer books, and I was not disappointed with how it turned out.  This fantastic format once again deeply enhanced the quality of the story and you can practically see the awesome battle scenes and other breath-taking elements of the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe.  Narrator Toby Longworth, who is the go-to narrator for all of Abnett’s Warhammer audiobooks, does another outstanding job with Malleus, and I loved how he was able to keep the pace of the production going.  He also has an outstanding voice that really conveys the dark and dangerous nature of the universe, while also perfectly bringing the characters to life.  I deeply appreciated how Longworth made sure to utilise the same character tones that he previously featured in Xenos here, and it gave the Malleus audiobook a great sense of continuation.  All the new characters are also given excellent voices, and I loved how awesome he made them sound, especially the more supernatural or alien beings that the protagonist comes across.  I was frankly hooked on this audiobook from the very start, and it is an exceptional way to enjoy this epic narrative.  With a run time of just over 10 hours, I managed to power through this audiobook very quickly, and this is definitely the best format for the Eisenhorn series.

Dan Abnett continues to showcase why he is one of the absolute best Warhammer authors out there with the second book in his superb and beloved Eisenhorn trilogy, Malleus.  Featuring a powerful and incredibly captivating narrative of conspiracy, heretics and desperation, Malleus takes Abnett’s compelling protagonist on an even darker journey of despair, compromise and hard choices.  Brutal, intense and impossible to put down, Malleus is easily one of the best Warhammer books I have ever read, and I cannot get over how exceptional it was.  A very highly recommended book, I plan to check out the third and final Eisenhorn book soon as I can to see how this epic series ends.

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Warhammer 40,000: Grim Repast by Marc Collins

Warhammer 40,000 - Grim Repast Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 25 September 2021)

Series: Warhammer Crime

Length: 9 hours and 52 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Prepare for a gruesome and dark murder mystery novel in the gritty Warhammer 40,000 universe with the incredible and awesome Warhammer Crime novel, Grim Repast by Marc Collins.

I have made no secret of the fact that I am currently in the middle of a big Warhammer reading frenzy, having recently reviewed several awesome books, including two novels in my last Throwback Thursday posts (Xenos by Dan Abnett and Deus Encarmine by James Swallow).  However, I am still not done with the tie-in books in this very cool franchise as I have just finished another outstanding read, this time a book which is part of the Warhammer Crime sub-series.

The Warhammer Crime books are a fantastic and captivating series which, as the name suggests, blends crime fiction storylines with the epic Warhammer 40,000 universe.  All set within the tortured and sprawling human city of Varangantua, these great novels tell a range of entertaining and complex crime stories, including dark murder mysteries and elaborate thrillers, which make great use of the gothic futuristic setting.  I have so far enjoyed two Warhammer Crime entries, Dredge Runners and The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, both of which were pretty epic reads.  These initial awesome reads really sold the Warhammer Crime series to me, and I have been interested in enjoying another entry.  I ended up choosing the great sounding read, Grim Repast, by rising Warhammer author Marc Collins.  One of Collins’s first full-length novels, Grim Repast is an exceptional read with one of the darkest crime narratives I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

“This city eats men….”

Veteran probator Quillon Drask thinks that he has seen all the dangers, depravities and villains that Varangantua has to offer, but he is about to discover a whole new level of horror.  Already traumatised and ostracised after his last lethal case and the betrayal that accompanied it, Drask’s first new investigation is not the simple job he was hoping for, as a body has been found in the dying district of Polaris.  The victim, a businessman on the wrong side of town, has been gruesomely mutilated, the implications of his injuries have frightening implications.

As more bodies are discovered, Drask finds himself chasing after a deadly killer who murders and dismembers without compunction and who has a sudden obsession with tormenting Drask.  Forced to play a deadly game that uncovers the corruption of his own organisation and sets him against the city’s elite, Drask finds himself alone and afraid against an enemy he doesn’t understand.  Only his twisted insights into the criminal mind, as well as the lessons of his career and devious dead mentor, offer the answers that he needs to solve the case and stop the killer.  However, not even Drask’s dark mind can comprehend the true horrors that lie beneath his city, one that connects to Varangantua’s past and a dangerous hunger that has always controlled people like him.

Wow, Marc Collins really came out swinging with this epic and outstanding Warhammer Crime entry.  Grim Repast is probably one of the best pure mystery novels set in the Warhammer universe that I have so far read, and I loved how seamlessly Collins was able to blend a dark, psychological crime fiction narrative with the grim and repressive atmosphere of a Warhammer 40,000 city.

Collins has cooked up a pretty wicked story for Grim Repast, which brings together multiple elements from across the genres to really highlight just how epic and complex a Warhammer story can be.  Following the compelling and damaged protagonist and narrator Probator Quillon Drask through the deadly streets of Varangantua as he chases after a lethal serial killer, Grim Repast is first and foremost a crime novel, and one that really grabs the reader’s attention.  Coming off as a dark psychological thriller with classic noir detective elements to it, the protagonist is forced to delve into the darkest heart of his massive, gothic city when he investigates several connected murders whose victims have been butchered in inventive and dark ways.

Collins sets up the case extremely well and then adds some intriguing complications to it where Drask is forced to investigate against the opposition of his bosses and their corporate controllers.  Bringing together a ton of character growth, disturbing developments in the murder case, as well as some fun action as Drask comes face-to-face with the killer in disguise, the plot moves quickly, and you are soon very hooked on finding the killer and the people pulling the strings behind them.  Forced to contend with the interference of a giant corporation, the protagonist finds himself in the middle of a dark conspiracy and, after the typical cop requirement of being suspended without his gun or badge, investigates on his own.  The mystery itself is well-set out and slowly unfolds, even if the overall culprit behind it isn’t too surprising.  However, the obvious suspect isn’t a narrative weakness, as the power of the story revolves around the protagonist fighting through the corruption and the insanity to confront his suspect, as well as the wider implications and horrors his investigation reveal.  The last third of the story is particularly brutal and grim as the protagonist uncovers some pretty horrendous crimes tied into the dark past of Varangantua, and is forced to face them by himself.  Everything ends in a pretty bloody manner, and I had a wonderful time seeing how this entire awesome crime narrative came together.  I loved the cool conclusion of this book, and the hints at some potential adventures for this character is something I would be extremely keen for.

This was a very well written book, and I really appreciated how Collins was able to tell such an effective and powerful story.  Featuring a quick pace and a brilliant focus on a very damaged protagonist, Grim Repast keeps you on your toes the entire time, and I loved how well it blended multiple crime fiction elements for the story while also making full use of the grim Warhammer setting.  The crime itself has some outstanding elements to it, and I was getting some major Jack the Ripper vibes from the plot as Drask receives several taunting notes from the killer.  Collins really brings about a dark and desperate tone around the characters and the city itself, and this lends itself perfectly to the complex crimes, especially as the murders have far deeper meaning and consequences than are initially seen.  The use of corruption and dangerous corporations helped to ensure that the character had even more mysteries and obstacles to overcome, which I thought was an outstanding bonus hook to the story.  The fantastic focus on murder and mystery rather than on wider universe elements ensures that Grim Repast also serves as a pretty good entry into Warhammer 40,000 fiction, especially for crime fiction lovers.  While some elements of the story hint or briefly discuss larger events or bits of the universe’s wider lore, you really don’t need to understand it to enjoy this book, and anybody who loves a complex and gloomy crime fiction can easily have their first taste of Warhammer fiction here without any issues.

Perhaps one of the best elements of Grim Repast that Collins featured was the setting of Varangantua itself.  While the continent-spanning city of Varangantua has appeared in the other Warhammer Crime books, I don’t think I fully appreciated just how good a setting it is until reading Grim Repast.  Collins sets out to make the city as dreary, deadly and dark as possible, and you find yourself getting lost amongst its constricting streets, compelling people and many hidden dangers.  The author honestly sets the city up as a character in itself, and it is quite powerful to see the protagonist move amongst its streets as Varangantua works to consume him, mind, body and soul.  To just make things a little grimmer, Collins chooses to set most of the story in the section of the city known as Polaris, an icy, desolate part of town that is slowly dying due to a lack of commerce.  I love how Polaris’s fortunes seem to match that of the protagonist himself, and Collins really amps up the noir vibes of Polaris with a ton of neon signs, dingy apartments and corrupt cops, making it feel that little bit more like a classic police story.

However, no matter how dingy and gothic Varangantua may be, it is still a futuristic city, so the universe’s advanced technology and other wider Warhammer elements are integrated into the city as well.  There are some great scenes where the city’s law enforcement utilises interesting investigation methods to solve the brutal murders, and I liked seeing the set up of a police force within the Warhammer 40,000 setting, especially as it is as corrupt or degraded as most things within the Imperium of Man.  I also really enjoyed how Collins was able to tie the mystery into the history of the city itself, with key parts of Varangantua’s past coming to the surface during the course of Grim Repast.  This gives the book a lot more substance when it is fully revealed, especially as it increases the overall stakes of the book, and I really appreciated and enjoyed how Collin’s utilised this brilliant setting throughout his book.

I also have to highlight the outstanding central protagonist and point-of-view character, Quillon Drask.  Collins created a wonderful character in Drask, a beaten down and emotionally damaged cop, reminiscent of classic pulp or noir detectives and investigators.  Still emotionally traumatised by the betrayal of his mentor during the last case, Drask attempts to find some normalcy in his work.  However, Drask is now isolated from the rest of his force, not just because of his propensity for finding the weirdest cases, but because of the taint surrounding his mentor.  Drask channels much of his anger and trauma into the new case, but he soon confronts forces that even he can’t fight through.  His obsession with this new case, his well-founded hatred of the aristocracy, and his desire for redemption, lead him to continue his investigation despite his boss’s orders, which leads him into all manner of trouble.  Collins did an outstanding job showcasing this character’s intense mental trauma throughout Grim Repast, and he really comes across as a complex and dark individual.  Despite being a troubled soul, you can’t help but like Drask, as his grim stubbornness just keeps forcing him towards the abyss, and nothing he does in the book, not even solving the murders, brings him any real comfort.  I loved how Collins also explored his penchant for getting into the darkest parts of the human mind and empathising with killers, and he reminded me a bit of Will Graham from the Hannibal Lector franchise, which isn’t too surprising considering that there are some major Thomas Harris influences in this book.  Drask gives a great running commentary on his dark observations of the city around him, and Collins really dives into the mind of his character throughout the course of the book.  This really adds to the book’s overall tone and quality, and I absolutely loved how Collins set out his central protagonist.

If I were to make one major complaint about Grim Repast, it would be that Collins relied a little too much on people reading his short story, Cold Cases, first.  Appearing in the Warhammer Crime anthology book, No Good Men, Cold Cases was the previous (and first) appearance of Quillon Drask, in which he hunted down another notorious killer.  Collins brought up Cold Cases multiple times throughout the course of Grim Repast, as the events helped form the protagonist and led to his mental/profession state in Grim Repast.  While I appreciate that Collins was trying to tie his new book back into this introductory story, I found it a bit confusing and irritating at times, mainly because I haven’t read Cold Cases.  I kind of got a little tired of the continued references to Cold Cases throughout Grim Repast, as it messed with the initial flow and enjoyment of this novel.  While you can pick up the events of Cold Cases through context as Grim Repast continues, I felt that Collins could have either eased up on the references a little or featured a better summary of this short story at the start, especially as it was such a big part of the protagonist’s motivations.  While this wasn’t a massive issue in my enjoyment of Grim Repast, it bugged me the entire way through, and it is something readers interested in Grim Repast should be aware of.  Overall, though, this was a pretty epic read, and I would recommend it, even with this issue.

To no-one’s surprise I ended up listening to the Grim Repast audiobook, which was pretty damn awesome.  I have so much love for Warhammer 40,000 audiobooks, especially as they are always so successful at capturing the dark tone of the settings as well as the complex stories.  I felt that Grim Repast was a particularly good example of this, as its audiobook really drew the reader into the cold surrounds of Varangantua and refused to let you leave.  It helped that Grim Repast was narrated by the highly talented Richard Reed, who previously impressed me with his narration of Nate Crowley’s The Twice-Dead King books, Ruin and Reign.  Reed has a naturally tough and rugged voice that does Grim Repast’s story a lot of justice, as his tones perfectly fit the noir-esque city of Varangantua.  I especially enjoyed how he portrayed Quillon Drask throughout the book, giving him a very gravelly tone that showcased his gruff exterior, while also expertly conveying the protagonist’s inner turmoil and pain.  You really get the full sense of who Drask is through Reed’s great voice work, and I really cannot emphasise how much value Reed’s narration added to this awesome audiobook.  With a runtime of just under 10 hours, Grim Repast is an easy audiobook to quickly power through, and you will really find yourself getting dragged into this elaborate and powerful tale in this format.

Fans of crime fiction, Warhammer fiction and everything in between should look no further than Grim Repast by Marc Collins for their next epic read.  Bringing together a complex and twisted murder mystery with the iconic setting of Varangantua in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Grim Repast is an outstanding amalgamation of mystery, a dark psychological thriller, and the madness of the grim Warhammer 40,000 future, all of which makes for one hell of a dark and emotionally charged story.  I had an amazing time reading this powerful read, and it comes very highly recommended.

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Star Wars: The High Republic: Convergence by Zoraida Córdova

Star Wars - Convergence Cover

Publisher: Del Rey/Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 15 November 2022)

Series: Star WarsThe High Republic

Length: 13 hours and 28 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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The next phase of the High Republic is in excellent form as outstanding author Zoraida Córdova presents a particularly awesome new tie-in novel with Star Wars: Convergence.

For last couple of years, the focus of the Star Wars extended universe has been The High Republic, an intriguing prequel series of tie-in media that expands and explores the iconic Star Wars universe in the centuries before the Skywalker Saga.  Set hundreds of years before The Phantom Menace, the High Republic series examines the Republic and the Jedi at the height of their influence, as well as the many dangers they encountered during this time.  I have had an awesome time with the High Republic series, and there are some excellent stories contained within this elaborate prequel sub-series, written by a great collection of writers.  Highlights so far include the main novels Light of the Jedi, The Rising Storm and The Fallen Star, as well as great young adult novels such as Midnight Horizon, all of which come very highly recommended.

The latest batch of High Republic books are currently part of the second phase of the series, which acts as a prequel to the first and upcoming third High Republic phases.  Set even further back in the Star Wars timeline, the second phase provides intriguing context to the previous entries, including the origins of the main antagonists and the reason for their hatred of the Jedi.  I have so far read the preceding second phase novel, The Path of Deceit, a fantastic young adult read, and I have been excited for Convergence for some time.  Written by talented new Star Wars author Zoraida Córdova, Convergence was an amazing read that I had a wonderful time listening to.

It is a time of great expansion, exploration and diplomatic strides in the galaxy as the Republic seeks to expand its influence.  Led by the Jedi, Republic pathfinder teams are constantly journeying out into the furthest reaches of the galaxy, seeking out new civilizations and planets.  However, not everyone is excited to see the Republic or the Jedi, and chaos is always around the corner.

Nowhere is this clearer than the closely neighbouring planets of Eiram and E’ronoh, which have been at war for generations.  Bound to the fighting by hatred and years of conflict, the end of both planets looks to be near, as the war has resulted in nothing but drought, starvation and despair.  However, after an unexpected tragedy brings the two heirs of Eiram and E’ronoh together for the first time, a solution to the ongoing war comes clear and the mediating Republic are able to broker a marriage alliance between the two royal families.

But before wedding preparations can begin, an attempt is made on the lives of the young couple, which once again brings the planets close to war.  Determined to keep the peace, young Jedi Knight Gella Nattai is chosen to act as the couple’s bodyguard and journeys across both planets with them as they attempt to sell the peace to their people.  A serious and dedicated Jedi, Gella is unprepared for another companion for the journey as Republic Chancellor Kyong also sends her son, Axel Greylark, to represent the Republic.  A rogue and cad of the highest quality, Axel swiftly gets under the group’s skin, especially as his disdain for all Jedi, including Gella, is plainly evident.  However, the new companions need to work as a team, as they find themselves caught in a deadly conspiracy that can impact not only the warring planets but the entire Republic.  Can they get to the bottom of this plot before it is too late, and are they truly ready for the consequences if they do?

Damn, now this was a pretty awesome Star Wars novel from a very talented author.  Córdova came up with a remarkable and powerful narrative for Convergence that not only contained its own brilliant character-driven plot, but which also sets up some awesome narrative threads for the future.  I had an amazing time getting through Convergence, and it was one of the better Star Wars books I read in 2022.

Córdova brings out an impressive and complex story for Convergence that drags you in quickly and hits you with a ton of great elements from this new High Republic era.  Primarily set around the war-torn twin worlds of Eiram and E’ronoh, Convergence starts off with the two once again on the brink of war after an unfortunate space battle.  However, the battle leads to the intervention of the Jedi and the Republic, who attempt to force peace, as well as the chance meeting between the planet’s two royal heirs.  What follows is a compelling bout of political intrigue, as the two planets negotiate, while various elements with ulterior motives try to sabotage it.  This early part of the book is pretty damn compelling, as the author spends a good amount of time introducing the complex characters as well as the well-crafted background setting and war story arc.

Thanks to some mysterious murders and sabotages, the middle of Convergence evolves into an exciting road-trip narrative, as the two royals, their new Jedi bodyguard and the unrepentant party boy Axel Greylark, embark on a goodwill mission to both planets, which results in further action and adventure, while also taking the time to build up the four main characters and establish some intriguing relationships between them.  After some excellent and often heartbreaking sequences, the story enters a whole new phase as the deadly outside influences trying to disrupt the peace process are revealed.  There are series of great twists and turns around here, including one massive reveal that severely impacts a major character, and everything you think you know about the plot is changed as hidden motivations are revealed.  The last third of the book is easily the most exciting, as you wait for the various characters to explode when everything is brought to the light and the full scope of the various plots are revealed.  The author really amps up the action towards the end, including one of the most chaotic wedding sequences in Star Wars history, and there is no shortage of intense interactions as certain characters come face to face.  Everyone walks away from Convergence with their emotional and excitement buckets filled and I really appreciated the fantastic swings that Córdova took in this major High Republic book.

I deeply enjoyed how this excellent narrative came together, and Córdova has a great writing style that lends itself to an intense character-driven plot.  Told from multiple compelling character perspectives, Córdova has produced an excellent narrative that combines adventure, intrigue and character growth with the lore-heavy Star Wars universe.  While there is plenty of action and some great universe building featured here, most of the book is constructed around intense character emotions as the central protagonists attempt to overcome their pasts and the dangerous secrets they all hide.  The author keeps the pace of Convergence’s narrative pretty constant throughout, and there were no major areas that slowed down or got stuck, and I enjoyed the continued build-up of disasters and betrayals that occurred.  The various action scenes featured throughout a very well written and make sure to highlight both the emotion behind each battle, but the iconic Star Wars elements such as the Jedi.  There is also a great sense of mystery and betrayal throughout the book that gives it a powerful overarching tone, and you really get drawn in trying to see how the characters are going to implode with their own inner chaos.  It really proved quite impossible not to enjoy this captivating read, and I really think that Córdova showcased just how impressive her writing ability is with this outstanding read.

In addition to having an outstanding story, Convergence also serves as a great entry in the second phase of the High Republic and I loved how it continued certain awesome storylines as a key novel in this sub-series.  I have mentioned a couple of times previously on my blog that I was surprised they started off the second phase of this sub-series with the young adult book, Path of Deceit.  However, after getting through Convergence, I now completely understand why they did this, as the more subtle Path of Deceit really helped to set up certain key overarching plot elements, as well as the wilder aspect of this period of the Star Wars timeline.  Convergence had a narrower narrative focus which, which really benefited from not having to introduce a whole new batch of major antagonists in too much detail.  Córdova was able to expertly utilise and then expand some of the elements from Path of Deceit throughout Convergence’s narrative, which I think really enhanced the overall story, and made it a bit more gripping and connected with the wider series.  I do think that at this point in the High Republic, Convergence is a very hard novel for those non-Star Wars fans to easily jump in and fully appreciate.  A lot of the joy of Convergence and the other books in the prequel second phase is in seeing the origins of key characters, organisations or events that are featured or discussed in the first phase.  As such, you can only fully appreciate this book if you have read a few of the key novels from the first phase, and this makes Convergence a little less accessible as a result.  Luckily, Convergence really is geared towards established fans of the franchise, who are guaranteed to have a wonderful time with this book.

I really must highlight the outstanding settings that were such a key part of Convergence’s narrative and tone.  Part of this comes from the even earlier timeline that the book is set in, as this period of the High Republic is a lot wilder and less civilized in places, more resembling a space western than the golden age seen in the first phase.  While the story doesn’t spend a lot of time in the wider Star Wars universe, you get an idea of the different society and times in this new phase, and it really feels like a period of flux and new ideas.  However, the story primarily takes place on the twin worlds of Eiram and E’ronoh, both of which have been featured to a degree during the first phase (Into the Dark and The Fallen Star for example).  Both planets are shown in even more detail in Convergence, especially as the characters spend most of the book there.  Stuck in an endless cycle of war and destruction, both Eiram and E’ronoh are in very dire straits when Convergence begins, which adds a great layer of politics, strife, and desperate characters to the narrative.  The protagonists are forced to dive into the history and culture of both planets to resolve the war, which reveals some major emotional edges as the dark similarities and differences between them make peace seem impossible.  Córdova does a remarkable job highlighting both planets throughout the course of Convergence and I really cannot emphasise how impressive they were as a background setting, especially as there is a tangible tension and threat of violence permeating both.  I deeply enjoyed this cool setting and I look forward to seeing another author’s take on these planets, and the wider Star Wars universe at this time in the next High Republic books.

While I loved the epic story and impressive Star Wars elements, the best part about Convergence for me was the exceptional characters that Córdova introduced and strongly featured throughout the course of the narrative.  Each character is pretty intriguing in their own way, and many are clearly set to become central figures in this second phase and will no doubt be reutilised again by other authors in the future.  The plot of Convergence, however, primarily rests around four complex and well-written protagonists who tend to serve as the main point-of-view characters of the book.

The first two characters I need to talk about are Jedi Knight Gella Nattai and political scion Axel Greylark, who form an intriguing odd-couple pairing for much of the book.  Gella is naturally the more serious and stoic Jedi character, who is dealing with regrets and uncertainty after a failed mission that saw the order lose confidence in her.  Now forced to work under more experienced Jedi Masters, Gella is uncertain what her future holds, but her impulsive nature brings her into the middle of the conflict on the two warring planets.  She is eventually relegated to the role of bodyguard for the royal characters and is teamed up with Axel, who is easily the most entertaining and fun character in this entire book.  The son of one of the Supreme Chancellors, Axel is a pampered rogue and troublemaker who spends most of the book gambling, flirting and doing irresponsible things (think Lando dialled up to 11).  Introduced in a very entertaining early chapter which ends with him shooting up an illegal casino, Axel is sent by his mother to the twin planets as her envoy and is recruited as an extra bodyguard when things go bad.  He immediately goes to work annoying Gella, not just because of her uptight personality, but because he also has a great dislike of the Jedi in general after they failed his family as a child.  While it is easy to see Axel as a one-note character, he is one of the most complex figures in the entire novel and he has one of the best character arcs.  I loved the unique partnership he formed with Gella, which initially begins with great antagonism but eventually morphs into something else, that really changes both for the better.  Of course, there is a further great twist around Axel that changes the entirety of his story, and it will be fascinating to see how that evolves in some future books.

The other two major characters are the heirs to Eiram and E’ronoh, Princess Xiri A’lbaran of Eiram and Prince Phan-tu Zenn of E’ronoh, who suddenly find the fate of both worlds resting on their shoulders when they have a chance meeting.  Both are very different from each other as Xiri is a tough and practical warrior from a proud lineage, while Phan-tu is a kind and somewhat gentle former orphan who was adopted into the royal family.  Despite their differences, both are dedicated to their respective planets and initiate the peace process through an arranged marriage that will unite their houses.  While initially uncertain of each other, the two begin to grow closer as the book continues, not only because of their duty but because of their legitimate feelings as they prove themselves to their future spouse.  The author features a slow-burn romance between the two that builds throughout the course of the story and has a lot of roadblocks to it, including both characters’ families and pasts filled with tragedy.  Xiri and Phan-tu prove to be exceptional partners as the book proceeds, and I also really enjoyed the fantastic friendship group they formed with Gella and Axel during their travels, as the four stay to play off each other perfectly.  These four end up really carrying the book on their shoulders, and I really must compliment Córdova on how well they were crafted and the amazing stories woven around them.  Backed up by an amazing supporting cast of big personalities, this was an amazing character-focused book, and I cannot wait to see how some of these figures are featured in future High Republic works.

I doubt that anyone who is familiar with my blog and my love for Star Wars novels is going to be too surprised that I chose to check out Convergence on audiobook rather than reading the physical book I received.  I love, love, love all the Star Wars audiobooks, especially as the production team behind them always features iconic Star Wars sound effects and music throughout the runtime, which I find adds to the overall ambience and emotional impact of the plot.  Convergence was another exceptional example of this, and I especially enjoyed how the awesome music made every major scene feel that little more epic.  At the same time, Convergence also featured the outstanding voice work of Marc Thompson, who is easily one of the best Star Wars audiobook narrators of all time.  I always enjoy Thompson’s brilliant voice work in Star Wars fiction (such as in the audiobooks for Thrawn, Chaos Rising, Greater Good, Lesser Evil, Scoundrels, Dark Disciple and more), and he once again hit it out of the park in Convergence, giving each of the characters their own distinctive voice that really brought out their personalities and inner emotions.  I really loved some of the cool voices that Thompson brought out for Convergence, especially as they were well tailored for the relevant characters and their backgrounds, and this ended up being an epic performance from him that allowed listeners to power through the audiobook.  Coming in with a runtime of roughly 13 and a half hours, Convergence has a decent length, but dedicated listeners should have no trouble powering through it quickly.  I personally thought this was an outstanding way to enjoy this amazing book, and I even featured Convergence on my favourite audiobooks of 2022 list before I’d even finished it.

The brilliant High Republic series of Star Wars fiction continues to roll on at an unstoppable pace with the latest epic read, Convergence by Zoraida Córdova.  Featuring an exceptional plot, amazingly complex characters and serving as an intriguing prequel to the previous run of High Republic books, Convergence was an outstanding read that I cannot recommend enough.  One of the best Star Wars books of 2022, Convergence was extremely impressive and captivating and I am now very excited to check out all the High Republic entries of 2023.

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Throwback Thursday – Warhammer 40,000: Blood Angels: Deus Encarmine by James Swallow

Deus Encarmine

Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – 1 December 2004)

Series: Blood Angels – Book One

Length: 252 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.  This is actually my second Throwback Thursday post today as I also put up a review for the Warhammer 40,000 novel Xenos by Dan Abnett.  However, I have been in an extreme Warhammer mood lately so I figured I would do a double feature and review the other Warhammer 40,000 book I finished this week, the first entry in James Swallow’s Blood Angels series, Deus Encarmine.

One of the main things that really draws me into the Warhammer extended universe is that it contains works from a ton of awesome authors who have experience across the writing spectrum.  For example, James Swallow is a highly regarded thriller author who also contributed his talents to several extended universes, including the elaborate Warhammer universe.  While many readers may be familiar with his entries in the Horus Heresy sub-series, Swallow’s other major contribution to the Warhammer canon is the Blood Angels books, which provide dark adventures for one of the most iconic Space Marines chapters, the Blood Angels.  I managed to grab the first two books in this series from a second hand shop a few months ago and I just finished off the first entry, Deus Encarmine, this week.  It proved to be a fantastic and dark read that showcases the Blood Angels in a whole new light.

Out of all the Space Marines chapters who faithfully defend the Imperium of Man, few are as revered, respected or feared as the legendary Blood Angels.  The genetic descendants of the angelic primarch Sanguinius, the Blood Angels are proud warriors whose martial prowess and resolve are known across the galaxy.  However, their strength comes at a great cost, as the traumatic death of Sanguinius millennia before during the Horus Heresy still lingers in their shared genes and has the potential to drive even the best of them mad.

As the Imperium once again finds itself invaded by the forces of Chaos, one of the Blood Angels’ greatest tests is about to begin on the planet of Cybele.  A grave world dedicated to the memory of fallen Imperial warriors, Cybele is brutally invaded by Chaos Space Marines of the traitor Word Bearers legion, who overwhelm the Blood Angels honour guard stationed there and a relief force from the Blood Angels battle barge Bellus.  Only an ambitious plan by a young Battle-Brother, Arkio, turns the tide against the forces of Chaos, a victory that is considered by many to be a miracle.

As the Blood Angels follow the Word Bearers back to their base of operations, the conquered planet of Shenlong, more miracles seem to surround Arkio, leading his fellow Space Marines to believe that he is the blessed reincarnation of Sanguinius himself.  The only Blood Angel who doubts is Arkio’s older brother, Rafen, who notices strange changes in his sibling that his fellows are too blinded to see.  Only Rafen can discover whether Arkio’s gifts are a Chaos plot or the divine will of Sannguinius, but will he find out the truth before humanity’s greatest protectors are torn apart from within?

This was an excellent and captivating Warhammer novel from Swallow that tells a bleak and compelling story of faith, betrayal and family.  Making full use of the grim Warhammer 40,000 universe and the focus on the iconic Blood Angels, Deus Encarmine set up this first part of this series perfectly and you come away from this book extremely satisfied.

I really enjoyed the complex and dark story that Swallow featured in Deus Encarmine, especially as there are multiple layers to the narrative that drag you in with clever twists and turns.  Starting quickly and effectively with an extended and bloody war sequence, you really get a sense of the Blood Angels’ determination and resolve, as well as some of the deeper elements that impact them.  However, the real story doesn’t begin until after the massive battle at the start, as the characters are drawn into a deadly plot based around the Blood Angels’ history and beliefs.  Thanks to the efforts of a manipulative Inquisitor, as well as their own arrogance and faith, the Blood Angels are led to believe that the young Battle-Brother Arkio is the reincarnation of their founder, and they decide to follow him on a doomed quest to a Chaos controlled planet.  The build up to the invasion is amazing, especially as you get to see the various enemy moves to confuse the Blood Angels, as well as the failed attempts by the protagonists to discover what exactly is going on with Arkio.  Everything comes to a head when they reach their target, and the massive and brutal battle that follows reveals some dark truths about the despicable plans to destroy the Blood Angels.

I really got drawn into this awesome and compelling narrative and I loved the many impressive layers that Swallow added to it.  While many readers will be drawn in by the detailed and bloody war sequences, the real joy is in the intense manipulations and deceits that the villains unleash as the protagonists find themselves confronted by their own beliefs in dark times.  Swallow makes perfect use of the grim setting and the interesting history of the Blood Angels to turn this into an intense read, and you really get drawn in as you attempt to discover the truth behind Arkio and the enemy plan.  The author features various character perspectives to really showcase the differing views of the Blood Angels, as wells as the moves of the antagonists, and I loved how everything unfolded.  Readers come away from Deus Encarmine very satisfied, although the bleak cliff-hanger ending makes you instantly want to get out and grab the sequel.  I also felt that this was a pretty good entry novel for those readers looking to get into Warhammer fiction, as Swallow expertly introduces key elements of the wider universe and showcasing just home grim and deadly the war between Chaos and humanity can be.

Unsurprisingly, this first book in the Blood Angels series spends quite a bit of time focused on the titular chapter of Space Marines, the Blood Angels, who proved to be as awesome as always.  The Blood Angels are one of the most iconic and beloved factions in the entire Warhammer universe.  While all Space Marines are compelling and contain great potential for exciting stories (see my reviews for Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steven Parker and Space Wolf by William King), the Blood Angels are particularly complex and striking figures.  Deadly and honourable warriors, the Blood Angels have a religious obsession with blood which borders on the vampiric, as well as major psychic daddy issues from their dead progenitor that can potentially drive them mad.  All this has tugged at the imagination of generations of Warhammer fans and Swallow uses that to full effect in Deus Encarmine.  Not only do you see these deadly warriors in multiple battle sequences, but Swallow dives into the history, culture and spirit of the chapter, including all the factors that helped turn them into such efficient and unstoppable killers.  All the key aspects of the Blood Angels experience are artfully captured and utilised throughout Deus Encarmine and fans of this chapter will be particularly excited, especially as Swallow adds in a ton of references and homages to various parts of the lore and previous fictional releases (I spotted a couple from Bloodquest).  I particularly loved that Swallow featured a Death Company in one of the battles, which was so damn cool as you got to see Blood Angels inflicted with the Black Rage tear apart their enemies one last time.  I also really appreciated how Swallow utilised the past and trauma of the Chapter as a key story point, and their faith and dedication to their primarch is used against them by their enemy.  All these elements, and more, make Deus Encarmine a must-read for all Space Marines fans, especially those who love to field/read about the Blood Angels, and Swallow had a wonderful time showcasing this faction.

I had a great time with the characters featured in Deus Encarmine and Swallow perfectly set them up and then inserted them into the complex tale.  Nearly all the major characters are members of the Blood Angels, and they share a joint history of suffering and bloodshed that binds them together.  While their training and history ensures some similarities, Swallow ensures that the central cast had some key differences and personalities.  The main character of Rafen was particularly compelling, and Swallow puts an interesting history around him.  His constant battle between the needs of his chapter and his loyalty to his brother is a major part of the book’s drama, and it is hard not to feel for him when he is the only one able to see that something is going terribly wrong.  The character of Arkio was also a fantastic addition to the cast, and I loved his gradual change throughout Deus Encarmine from a humble warrior to a dangerous religious figure.  Other characters, including the arrogant Sanguinary Priest Sachiel, the grizzled and suspicious veteran Koris, and even the entertaining Word Bearers characters who acted in counterpart to the protagonists, were all well written and I loved the elaborate narrative threads that Swallow wove around them.  However, my favourite character in Deus Encarmine was probably Inquisitor Stele.  Initially shown as an effective, if arrogant, ally, it is slowly revealed that Stele is a manipulative and callous being who is leading the Blood Angels towards a darker objective.  Watching him carefully and effectively divide and control the various Blood Angels characters was really awesome and I loved watching his dark scheme unfold.  I deeply enjoyed how Swallow utilised his characters in Deus Encarmine, and it will be intriguing to see who survives the deadly events of the next book.

Overall, I felt that Deus Encarmine was a pretty epic read and a powerful addition to the Warhammer canon.  James Swallow has written an excellent and captivating read here that perfectly blended intrigue, betrayal and an intense war story with the complex history and culture of the iconic Blood Angels Space Marines chapter.  An intense and addictive read, I absolutely loved this first Blood Angels and I plan to check out the sequel, Deus Sanguinius next, especially as I want to see how Swallow ends this fantastic duology.

Blood Angels Cover

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Throwback Thursday – Warhammer 40,000: Xenos by Dan Abnett

Warhammer 40,000 - Xenos Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 1 May 2001)

Series: Eisenhorn – Book One

Length: 9 hours and 55 minutes

My Rating: 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.  In my latest Throwback Thursday I continue to review the awesome Warhammer 40,000 works of Dan Abnett with his impressive and dark space thriller, Xenos.

For my Throwback Thursday last week, I talked about legendary Warhammer fiction author Dan Abnett and his Gaunt’s Ghosts series, which is one of the pillars of Warhammer 40,000 fiction.  I have already had a lot of fun reading several of the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels (including First and Only, Ghostmaker and The Vincula Insurgency), so I thought I would take the opportunity to check out one of Abnett’s other major Warhammer entries, the Eisenhorn series, which I have heard some extremely good things about.  Set in a different area of the Warhammer 40,000 universe than the Gaunt’s Ghosts books, the Eisenhorn books are a darker and more intense series that follows a troubled Imperial Inquisitor hunting down a deadly conspiracy at the heart of humanity.

In the dark future, the Imperium of Man is under constant attack from aliens, monsters and daemons who seek to destroy or corrupt all within.  However, the greatest threat to the Imperium comes from within as diabolical heretics, witches and cultists work from the shadows to weaken the Imperium, worship the forces of Chaos, and bring humanity crashing down around them.  The only protection humanity has against these nefarious and hidden threats are the members of the Inquisition, deadly agents who wield great power and authority to pursue their investigations by any means necessary.

Gregor Eisenhorn is a talented and experienced Inquisitor who has long fought against the shadows constantly threatening stability and order.  When he finally corners and kills an old adversary amid a dark ritual, Eisenhorn hopes that his actions have permanently ended an ongoing source of Chaos and despair in the Imperium.  However, evidence he recovers from the crime scene hints at a greater conspiracy that threatens several local systems.

Travelling to a prosperous system hub, Eisenhorn restarts his investigation, determined to get to the bottom of this new danger.  However, he is unprepared for the full scope of the hidden forces of Chaos that wait for him, as a massive and hidden cabal rises in opposition against him.  As multiple planets within the system burn due to the action of the Chaos cultists, Eisenhorn works with a series of unique allies to bring this cult to heel before they cause irreparable damage to the Imperium.  However, the more sinister danger may come from the prize that his enemies are seeking, an ancient and dark tome of knowledge, known as the Necroteuch, which has the potential to burn the universe and turn the entire Inquisition against Eisenhorn.

Xenos was another exceptional novel from Abnett, and one that really showcases his ability to tell a varied and complex tale.  This is a dark, powerful, and impressive character-driven read, and I loved the switch to dark intrigue and heretical investigations, which made for such an incredible story.  I was an instant fan of Xenos’s clever and highly addictive plot, and I must give it a full five-star rating for how awesome it was.

I was deeply impressed with the outstanding and compelling story that Abnett featured in Xenos, especially as it was very different in style and substance to his previous works I have enjoyed.  While the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels are gritty war stories that focus on the common soldier, Xenos was a powerful and twisty space thriller that saw a determined Inquisitor attempt to root out the manipulations of Chaos far away from the battlefields.  The story itself is extremely clever and well-paced, and it swiftly draws you in with its dark events, especially its intense and action-packed introduction.  Despite killing his nemesis early in the story, Eisenhorn is forced to keep digging even further as he uncovers more conspiracies and plots.  Utilising undercover methods, interrogations, obscure evidence and a series of bloody fights, Eisenhorn and his unique comrades follow the trail across the sub-sector, attempting to discover the true plot of their enemies.  This leads to several large and memorable set pieces, and I loved the constant change of locations, especially as it allowed you to get a whole new idea of the scope of their foes plans and the desperate battles being fought to stop them.  I also enjoyed the quieter scenes that were laid out between them as they not only added some great intrigue, but also highlighted the personal nature of the protagonist’s quests and the bonds he forged along the way.  The plot is eventually resolved after several major battles, including some very trippy sequences, and I came away from this book very satisfied and wanting more, especially as Abnett laid some intriguing hints about deeper conspiracies towards the end.  I was absolutely hooked the entire way through this narrative and I had such an amazing time reading this exciting and compelling story.

Xenos was an extremely well written Warhammer novel, and I really appreciated how Abnett was able to seamlessly change writing style and tone for this darker read.  The author makes excellent use of a first-person perspective for Xenos, as the story is in a chronicle format being written by the central character of Inquisitor Eisenhorn.  This allows for a much more personal and protagonist-centric narrative which really draws you into the hunt as you see the protagonist’s obsession with capturing the heretics and ending the threat to the Imperium.  Abnett keeps the pace pretty fast and intense throughout the entirety of Xenos, even during the sequences between the main action-packed scenes, and you are constantly engaged with the hunt or the intriguing relationships between the characters.  I was personally very impressed with how Abnett was able to blend a lot of distinctive story elements together throughout Xenos to produce an excellent story.  The way that the author combines Warhammer, thriller, mystery, science fiction and even horror (the Chaos creatures can get pretty bad at times) elements together is just amazing, and it opens up the appeal of the book to a wide range of readers.  I loved the continued and powerful hunt throughout the Imperium, especially as all the protagonist’s actions and attempts to end the threat result in major consequences for those around him.  This was a deeply captivating and intense read, and I cannot empathise how addictive and fun I found it.

One of the main reasons I chose to check out Xenos and the Eisenhorn series, aside from generally loving Abnett’s writing, is it is generally considered to be one of the best series to start a dive into Warhammer fiction.  After powering through Xenos, I can confirm this as Abnett uses the lore and the darker side of the Warhammer universe to its full advantage throughout this fantastic thriller tale.  While some slight knowledge of the large Warhammer 40,000 universe might be helpful to understand parts of Xenos, new readers unfamiliar with the franchise can easily dive into this book and follow the story with no problem, and any science fiction fan can have an amazing time reading it.  Abnett patiently and competently explores key details of the Warhammer universe as the story continues, although never in a way that interferes with the captivating flow of the book.  As such, you get a good view of the overall state of humanity and the Imperium during this novel, with a particular focus on the Inquisitors and their mission.  The Inquisitors have always been a fascinating and complex part of Warhammer 40,000 lore, and this series really highlights just how dangerous their tasks are, as well as the fine line they walk in their hunt for justice and purity.  Naturally, this dive into the Inquisition will also make this book very appealing to experienced Warhammer readers as well, and Abnett is considered to be one of the best franchise authors for a reason.  I have a deep appreciation for all the cool lore elements that were featured here, and I particularly enjoyed how Xenos offers a very different story to many of the other Warhammer 40,000 books out there, and really highlights just how complex the universe can be.

I was also very impressed by the exceptional character work that Abnett featured with Xenos, as this compelling read features some great characters.  The primary figure of this book is naturally Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn, who serves as the main protagonist and narrator of the story.  I felt that Xenos served as a particularly good introduction to this iconic Warhammer figure, and I found myself getting quite attached to his journey.  A no-nonsense and extremely practical Inquisitor, Eisenhorn is seen by many as a cold and calculating man, although deep down he is a caring individual who feels great attachment to his friends and comrades.  Abnett portrays Eisenhorn as a pretty reasonable figure, preferring subtle investigations, which makes him appear a bit radical to some of his fellow Inquisitors whose preferred methods are to kill anyone with any potential for evil.  It was very interesting to see him as a pretty strait-laced guy in Xenos, especially as I have heard of how radical he gets in the future, and I think it was very smart of Abnett to showcase him in this way first to enhance the impact of his future actions.  However, Eisenhorn does go through a lot in Xenos, including mental, psychical and spiritual tortures, and you can really see the damage done to him and how his desire for vengeance and getting the job done by any means grows.  I cannot wait to see how his story advances in the next few books, as I know that Abnett has damaging days in store for him.

In addition to Eisenhorn, Abnett loads Xenos with a ton of interesting supporting characters, all of whom are seen through Eisenhorn’s eyes.  This includes Eisenhorn’s eccentric entourage of follows and agents, including a data-obsessed scholar, a skilled pilot, a grim justice operative and his newest associate, Bequin, a psychic blank who is drafted into the war against Chaos against her will.  This unusual team prove to be great backup to the dour Eisenhorn, and I liked the genuine connection that Eisenhorn forms with them, especially as it shows that he really isn’t the monster many people think he is.  Other characters of note include the varied and distinctive fellow inquisitors that either assist or oppose Eisenhorn, and the various deadly enemies he goes up against.  Rather than have one specific antagonist in Xenos, Abnett featured a cabal of Chaos worshipping foes, each of whom despises Eisenhorn for what he represents.  While there isn’t a massive focus on any specific villain, each of the major players in the cabal are pretty distinctive, and I liked the overall effect that Eisenhorn is fighting a multi-faced beast in Chaos, rather than a specific evil.  These outstanding characters really enhanced this epic and captivating narrative and I look forward to seeing what other insane figures show up in this series as it progresses.

Unsurprisingly, I chose to enjoy Xenos in its audiobook format, which is frankly the best way to experience any Warhammer novel.  With a run time of just under 10 hours, I absolutely powered through this audiobook and I found that it perfectly conveyed all of Abnett’s elaborate and compelling story elements.  This was partially due to the brilliant narration of veteran voice actor Toby Longworth, who has lent his fantastic vocal talents to most of Abnett’s Warhammer books.  Longworth did another remarkable job here with Xenos, and I loved his take on this slighter darker narrative.  I deeply appreciated all the voices he provided to the characters in Xenos, especially as he is not just recycling the voices he uses in the Gaunt’s Ghosts books.  Each of the voices here are pretty fitting to their respective character and there is some fantastic variation based on plot details such as the speaker’s planet of origin, species, inclination, and personality.  This excellent voice work really enhanced my enjoyment of this captivating read and I would strongly recommend this format to anyone interested in reading Xenos.

The first entry in Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn series, Xenos, lives up to all the hype surrounding it as it proved to be an exceptional and highly addictive read.  Perfectly combining an elaborate thriller story with the dark Warhammer 40,000 universe, Xenos was a joy to read from start to finish.  I cannot recommend this novel enough and my plan is to listen to yet another book from Abnett in the next couple of days.

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Throwback Thursday – Warhammer 40,000: Ghostmaker by Dan Abnett

Warhammer Ghostmaker Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – January 2000)

Series: Gaunt’s Ghosts – Book Two

Length: 10 hours and 15 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 check out another Warhammer 40,000 novel with an epic entry from Dan Abnett’s classic Gaunt’s Ghosts series, Ghostmaker.

I have been in a real Warhammer 40,000 mood lately so I thought I would continue to explore some outstanding books from legendary Warhammer author Dan Abnett.  Abnett is one of the most prolific and highly regarded contributors to the extended Warhammer universe, having created a huge range of compelling series and unique standalone books, most of which are considered the gold standard of Warhammer tie-in novels.  One of his most significant contributions to the Warhammer 40,000 universe is the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, which follows a ragtag group of human soldiers as they are dragged from deadly battleground to deadly battleground.  Made up of 15 novels, a ton of short stories and some other intriguing inclusions, the Gaunt’s Ghosts is a very iconic series in Warhammer 40,000 lore, which has spawned some awesome spinoffs and stories.  I had an outstanding time reading the first entry in the series, First and Only, and I also recently read the prequel novel, The Vincula InsurgencyGhostmaker was another impressive early entry in this series, and I had a wonderful time listening to it last week.

Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt and the men of the Tanith First-and-Only, also known as Gaunt’s Ghosts, are some of the toughest soldiers serving the Imperium of Man.  The only survivors of the now dead world of Tanith, the Ghosts bear a substantial grudge against the forces of Chaos, as well as a complex relationship with their commander who saved their lives by abandoning their planet.  Now deployed to the jungle world of Monthax, the Ghosts prepare for their next inevitable battle against the Chaos host.

As the Ghosts await their next confrontation, Gaunt walks the lines, reliving the events that made his regiment what it is, while also growing close to the unique individuals he commands.  Each member of the Ghosts has their own story, and all have been forged in the crucible of war alongside their fearless commander.  But when battle is joined again the Ghosts find themselves in a unique confrontation that pulls on their tragic history and forces them to relive the worst day of their lives.  Is this the event that will forge the Ghosts into a legendary regiment, or will the survivors of Tanith break when they are needed most?

Abnett once again showcases why he is one of the very best Warhammer authors out there with this brilliant second entry in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series.  Bringing together several fantastic narratives into one character-driven plot, Ghostmaker is a key and compelling entry in this wider series that I absolutely powered through in a couple of days.

Ghostmaker is a compelling and powerful Warhammer 40,000 novel that continues to explore the intriguing members of the Tanith First-and-Only regiment.  Abnett spins a unique narrative in Ghostmaker, as this book reads more like a short-story collection than a typical novel.  Broken up by several brief sequences in the present on Monthax, most of the book revolves around a series of self-contained, character-driven background stories that showcase the history of the regiment and its members.  This includes a dive into the tragic formation of the regiment and the death of the planet Tanith, and you also get a view of some of the earliest battles the Ghosts fought in.  As Ghostmaker continues, the next series of stories each contain a more focussed narrative that dive into specific members of the regiment.  These shorter stories usually showcase one of these focus characters’ key battles or moments as a Ghost, while also diving into their personality and personal histories.  This deep dive into the key characters really helps you bond with the cast of this series in a whole new way, and I liked seeing more of these unique figures.  Everything comes to a head in the final quarter of the novel, when the story is dragged back to the conflict on Monthax as the Ghosts advance into battle.  Several key plot threads and recurring characters from the previous short stories make a reappearance here, and I loved how Abnett was able to connect this storylines together to make a cohesive and captivating overarching plot.  The final sequences are loaded with some of the deadliest fights in the entire novel, while also resolving a ton of character arcs and personal storylines raised in the previous entries.  The end result is a powerful and compelling overall story that really drags you in while giving you additional insights into some of Abnett’s best characters.

I really appreciated how Ghostmaker came together, and Abnett really showed off his writing skill by combining these shorter stories together the way he did.  I especially enjoyed how the multiple short stories gave Ghostmaker various tones as the reader continued through it.  For example, while most of the stories featured battles and war, there were also some more subtle stories of politics and investigations.  Abnett also featured some dark psychological stories as well as some deeply personal and brutal survival tales.  This variation in narratives and settings gave the book an eclectic feel, but I think that was very appropriate considering the regiment that Abnett was writing about.  All the shorter stories contained within Ghostmaker were entertaining in their own way, although a few definitely stood out over the rest.  Each story was extremely well written, concise, and fast-paced, and any leftover narrative threads are clipped off in the final entry, so the reader isn’t left wondering about anything.  The book also features a ton of awesome battle sequences in nearly every chapter and Abnett has a great skill at showing the horrors the men face during their dangerous battles, especially when they go up against supernatural or horrific foes.  Abnett also presents this book as a gritty war novel, with many of the stories focusing on the damaged and traumatised common troops who have been dragged into a series of terrible situations.  I have often said that some of the very best Warhammer novels focus on the common human soldiers (for example Steel Tread or Krieg), and Ghostmaker was one of the better examples of this I have seen in Warhammer fiction.  You really can sense the characters pain through the various chapters, especially when reminded of their home, and this makes for quite an emotionally rich read at times.

As I have mentioned a few times above, one of the major strengths of this book, and indeed the entire Gaunt’s Ghosts series, are the outstanding characters that Abnett focuses his stories around.  Throughout the course of the series, Abnett has introduced a great core of complex central protagonists who you really grow attached to.  However, Ghostmaker perhaps gives the best look at these characters, as it showcases their histories while also chucking them into deadly and deeply personal situations.  You really grow attached to these protagonists as the book proceeds and Abnett crafts some outstanding and wildly entertaining narratives around many of the cast, which are really fun to read.

As with most books in the series, a lot of Ghostmaker’s plot is focussed on the central character of Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, the Ghost’s commander.  Abnett continues to paint Gaunt as a caring and charismatic leader who recognises the sacrifice his men have made and is determined to keep as many of them alive as possible.  Most of Gaunt’s personal history before the events of Tanith was covered in the last book, and Abnett doesn’t rehash that in Ghostmaker.  Instead, you get to see Gaunt’s actions during and after the fall of Tanith, and I loved the examination of the guilt and responsibility he feels for abandoning the planet.  While the first chapter of this book primarily focuses on Gaunt, he also appears as a major figure in all the other protagonist’s stories, and it was fascinating to see the other Ghost’s opinions of him, especially as many have both resentment and respect for him.

Ghostmaker also spends a ton of time exploring several other key Ghosts, and Abnett does an excellent job of perfectly utilising all these great characters.  There are some brilliant tales surrounding these figures, and many also appear as supporting characters in other chapters, with some storylines crossing over.  Naturally, some of the characters stand out a little more than others, due to having personal plots that were particularly fun or intense.  Colm Corbec, the regiment’s second-in-command, is a major figure throughout most of the book, and I liked how Abnett expanded on him and focused on his different leadership style to Gaunt.  The story surrounding the seemingly stupid Trooper Bragg was extremely funny, especially with the slow-burn reveal of the character’s deep cunning, and you must love how funny and likeable Bragg is.  The story around the Ghosts’ medical officer, Tolin Dorden, was also very good, as it not only highlighted his position as the oldest Ghost, but also his refusal to sacrifice a life.  Other highlights include the trippy story of ace sniper Hlaine Larkin, who loses his mind during a mission, or the intense and compelling tale of elite scout Sergeant Mkoll, whose keen senses serve him well in the most hostile of environments.

However, I felt that the best two stories in Ghostmaker revolved around the characters of Major Rawne and Brin Milo.  Rawne is a murderous and slippery character who bears a great deal of hate and disdain towards Gaunt following the destruction of Tanith.  His story sees himself and Gaunt trapped together on an ice planet, which forces the two to work together.  Seeing the hateful Rawne trying to work out whether to kill Gaunt in cold blood or resolve their differences another time, makes for some compelling reading, and Rawne is probably one of the most complex and intense figures in the series.  Milo on the other hand is Gaunt’s young adjutant and the only civilian who survived the destruction of Tanith.  Milo serves a unique position in the Ghosts, and I really appreciated how Abnett explored how the rest of the regiment views him.  Milo’s story was particularly good, as politics sees him getting investigated by an Imperial Inquisitor for potentially having psychic abilities.  The scene where Milo manages to outplay the Inquisitor during his interrogation is one of the best scenes in the entire book and it really shows you just how clever he is, while also hinting at a potentially deeper secret.  All these characters, and more, help to turn Ghostmaker into a particularly enjoyable and fun read and I was very glad that Abnett gave us a closer look at the main supporting cast in this novel.

I felt that Ghostmaker was a great addition to the wider Warhammer 40,000 canon, as well as a great entry in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series.  While it is the second novel in the series, readers can easily get into Ghostmaker without any knowledge of the prior books, especially as Abnett spends so much time exploring the characters and the unit’s history.  While some of the narrative is set after the events of First and Only, Abnett does a great job reintroducing any relevant elements again in Ghostmaker and you don’t need too much pre-knowledge to enjoy the plot.  Ghostmaker would also serve as an interesting entry point for those who aren’t familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 franchise.  Abnett makes his novel very accessible to new readers, and I liked how he carefully and subtly introduced key elements of the wider universe, mainly those that concern the common soldiers.  The continued expansion of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade made for an interesting background to the book, and Abnett introduces or references several factions or regiments here that will go on to have a bigger role in later novels.  For example, Ghostmaker introduces readers to the Royal Volpone regiment (better known as the Bluebloods), who serve as rivals to the Ghosts and who recently got their own novel.  I had an incredible time diving back into the Warhammer 40,000 universe in Ghostmaker, and Abnett did a great job of expanding this already elaborate universe.

As with most Warhammer novels I enjoy, I chose to listen to Ghostmaker’s audiobook version, which was an excellent way to dive into this compelling read.  The audiobook format really allows the reader to get transported into the middle of the epic fights that are the hallmark of this fantastic series, while also ensuring that the reader absorbs all the key information about the surrounding universe.  Coming in at just over 10 hours in length, this is an easy audiobook to get through quickly, and I tore through the Ghostmaker audiobook in short order.  It helped that Ghostmaker was narrated by the very talented Toby Longworth, who voices most of Abnett’s Warhammer audiobooks.  Longworth has an excellent voice that fits the intense, character-rich tone of Ghostmaker extremely well, and he can move the plot along at a fast and compelling pace.  In addition, he has a brilliant take on all the key characters featured within the series and he provides everyone with a unique and fitting voice.  He also has the fantastic ability to capture the emotions and personality traits of the various characters with his tones, and you really get inside their heads when he talks.  This was an outstanding audiobook and I would strongly recommend it as the best way to enjoy this amazing novel.

Overall, Ghostmaker was a fantastic and impressive read by Dan Abnett and I am really glad I took the time to read another Gaunt’s Ghosts novel.  Featuring a distinctive format and some amazing character-driven stories, Ghostmaker beautifully expanded on the groundwork Abnett laid down in First and Only and this serves as an excellent and powerful addition to the series.  I deeply enjoyed this book, and I can think of no better way to illustrate this than to mention the fact that the moment I finished Ghostmaker I immediately started listening to the other Dan Abnett audiobook I had loaded on my phone, Xenos.  I really cannot recommend this series enough, and if you are interested in trying out some Warhammer 40,000 fiction, then the Gaunt’s Ghost series is the perfect place to start.

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Red Winter by Marc Cameron (based on the series by Tom Clancy)

Red Winter Cover

Publisher: Sphere (Trade Paperback – 13 December 2022)

Series: Jack Ryan series

Length: 419 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Prepare for another adventure from classic spy thriller character Jack Ryan as Marc Cameron once again visits Tom Clancy’s iconic universe for an amazing read with Red Winter.

Now, I am the first to admit that I have more than a few gaps in my reading knowledge, especially when it comes to some of the classic, long-running crime fiction or thriller series.  Perhaps one of the most significant of these are the works of Tom Clancy, whose books, particularly those featuring protagonist Jack Ryan, are very highly regarded and have resulted in many films and other adaptations.  The Jack Ryan novels have continued for years, even after Clancy’s death, with several authors contributing great new stories to the wider series.  Well, I am about to dip my toe into Clancy’s universe for the first time by checking out the new Jack Ryan novel, Red Winter.  Written by established thriller author Marc Cameron, who has already contributed several recent entries to the series, Red Winter was an intriguing and enjoyable read with some great spy thriller elements to it.

Berlin, 1985.  The crushing stalemate of the Cold War continues as the East and the West engage in their usual espionage games.  The most valuable piece on the board is an apparent Stasi source embedded deep within the CIA, providing invaluable information to the East Germany intelligence agency.  However, the espionage balance is about to tip once again, when a young American embassy worker is handed a note in mysterious circumstances, apparently from a high-ranking member of the Stasi who wishes to defect to the West with a trove of information.

Unwilling to trust the CIA team in West Berlin, the traitor requests that a new face journey to East Berlin to discuss his upcoming defection.  Forced to look outside the box of their usual operatives, the CIA decide to send Jack Ryan to make contact.  Accompanied by a talented agent and shadowed by a deadly CIA killer, Ryan begins the dangerous journey to East Berlin to determine the legitimacy of their new source.  However, there are few places more dangerous for a CIA agent like Ryan than East Berlin, and he soon finds himself surrounded by tricky foreign agents, deadly assassins and desperate informers, all of whom pose a dire risk to Ryan and his mission.

However, the plan gets even more complicated when an experimental US military aircraft crashes down in the Nevada desert, right in front of an undercover Stasi agent.  Securing a vital piece of military hardware, the Stasi agent flees across America, aiming for an extraction by his masters while the FBI, Air Force and local police hunt for him.  Desperately needing information on the Stasi agent in America before it is too late, Ryan must work hard to bring the defector to their side and find out where the fugitive is going.  But with the KGB, Stasi, and the CIA traitor moving in for the kill, can Ryan escape East Berlin with the information he needs, or will the stolen technology allow the East to once again heat up the Cold War?

Red Winter was an excellent and highly exciting spy thriller novel that takes readers back to the classic Tom Clancy setting of Cold War Europe.  Marc Cameron has produced a very entertaining and compelling read here, and I was swiftly sucked into the awesome story.  The narrative itself has a lot of moving parts to it as Cameron focuses on several closely related storylines or character arcs at the same time.  While much of the focus is on Ryan and his comrades as they attempt to infiltrate East Berlin and make contact with the defector, you also get familiar with several other great characters in the vicinity.  This included the CIA mole, an East German singer who is being abused by a Stasi agent, members of the various spy agencies working on both sides of the Wall, and a deadly American operative who is shadowing Ryan to keep him alive.  The book also shows the hunt for the fugitive Stasi agent in America, who is attempting to flee with the stolen military equipment.  This American part of the book is further split between different perspectives, with the reader seeing events from the eyes of both the Stasi operative and the FBI agent hunting them.

These diverse storylines come together extremely well, and I really liked the interplay of different characters and plot lines in the second half of the book.  There are some great storylines going on throughout the plot, with my personal favourite being the compelling fugitive scenes in America.  The sequences set in Germany are also very intriguing, especially as Cameron provides some excellent descriptions of tradecraft and the various counterplays by the spies, as both sides battle it out for espionage supremacy.  I really appreciated the dark dive into life within East Germany during this period, and the compelling looks at several East German characters who are attempting to survive added some intensity to the book.  There is also an excellent look at the traitor with the CIA and their complex position and their reasons for betraying their country are an excellent part of the plot.  While the first half of the book is pretty intense, everything kicks up a notch once Ryan and his colleagues arrive in East Germany.  There are a ton of destructive and high-impact action sequences here which really get the blood pumping and keep the story going at a very fast pace.  I deeply enjoyed the cool action sequences, especially as Cameron does a great job of writing them realistically, showcasing the talent of the professionals and Ryan’s lack of fighting ability.  There are a few good twists towards the end and Cameron keeps the conclusion hopeful, but dark, highlighting that there are very few heroes in the Cold War.  Red Winter was an amazing and very fun spy thriller, and I loved how this compelling narrative came together.

I also had a lot of fun coming into to this series as a Tom Clancy newbie.  My only experience with Tom Clancy and the Jack Ryan books comes from some of the film adaptations, such as The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games.  However, I found that this was more than enough to enjoy Red Winter, and my lack of any real knowledge of Tom Clancy’s original books didn’t really hamper me at all.  While I am sure that I missed out on a bunch of clever throwbacks, Cameron did a great job of reintroducing all the key characters so that new readers can follow their storylines.  There are multiple references to some of the previous events that occurred canonically before the events of Red Winter, but none of them have any major impacts on the story, and I felt that any thriller fan could dive in here with a minimal amount of knowledge and still enjoy the fantastic story within.  Red Winter also apparently serves as a bridging novel between The Hunt for Red October and The Cardinal of the Kremlin, with Ryan meeting several of the supporting characters from The Cardinal of the Kremlin in advance here.  I felt that this was a very clever inclusion by Cameron, and fans of Clancy’s original work are going to love seeing some of the intriguing hints of the events that are to come.  This also ends up being the first canonical time that recurring character John Clark sees Jack Ryan, having travelled to Berlin to help him, although Cameron uses circumstance and training to make sure they don’t actually talk.  Personally, I thought this was a great introduction to the wider world of Clancy’s writings, and I will have to try and read some of his earlier works when I get a chance.

Overall, I had a wonderful time reading Red Winter and I really enjoyed Marc Cameron’s latest addition to Tom Clancy’s spy universe.  Cleverly adding to the well-established Jack Ryan series, Red Winter features some awesome spy action while perfectly showing off the dangers of Berlin during the Cold War for all spies and government agents.  Fast-paced, action-packed, and loaded with some classic Tom Clancy moments, Red Winter was an intriguing and captivating novel that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

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Star Wars: The High Republic: Path of Deceit by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland

Star Wars - Path of Deceit Cover

Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press (Audiobook – 4 October 2022)

Series: Star Wars: The High Republic – Phase Two

Length: 8 hours and 10 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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The second phase of The High Republic begins with an absolute banger as the team of Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland introduce Star Wars fans to a bold new young adult novel that ends up being epic in all the right ways with Path of Deceit.

For the last two years, Star Wars extended fiction has been firmly focused on the compelling multimedia project, The High Republic.  Set centuries before the prequel films, The High Republic takes readers to a whole new period of Star Wars history, where the Republic and the Jedi were at the absolute height of their power and influence.  However, not everything is perfect, and the Jedi characters are soon forced into conflict with dangerous forces bent on destroying them.  The first phase of The High Republic introduced readers to this new time period extremely well, while also setting up several fascinating characters, as well as the villainous Nihil, a group of space marauders who seek to destroy the order that the Republic represents.  I quickly fell in love with this cool new Star Wars subseries, and I enjoyed the massive range of different media present in this first phase, including comics, manga, children’s books, audio productions and a ton of novels.  The main story of this series is expertly told across the three main adult books, Light of the Jedi, The Rising Storm, and The Fallen Star, while other compelling, and often vital, stories take place in young adult books like Into the Dark, Out of the Shadows and Midnight Horizon, the associated comic series, as well as the audio production Tempest Runner.  This entire first phase came together extremely well, and I was really impressed with the range of stories they told, as well as the excellent new characters and elaborate new universe expansions that occurred.

After completing the first phase earlier this year, the various writers associated with The High Republic project, have just embarked on their ambitious second phase of High Republic fiction.  The second phase goes back even further into Star Wars history by being set 150 years before the events of the previous High Republic books.  The idea is that the second phase will act as a prequel to the first, showing how the Nihil were formed and the reasons behind their leader’s hatred for the Jedi.  These details will no doubt become extremely important for the third phase, while also helping the reader understand why the events of the first phase unfolded.  The first book in this second phase is Path of Deceit, written by the team of Star Wars fiction newcomer Tessa Gratton and established Star Wars writer Justina Ireland, who made a name for herself in the first phase with her young adult and middle school books.  Both authors really throw their heart into Path of Deceit, and the result in a fantastic and captivating read that presents Star Wars fans with something very epic indeed.

It is a time of exploration and discovery in the galaxy as the Republic enters an age of expansion.  Under the guidance of the Jedi, teams have been sent into the furthest corners of the Outer Rim, seeking out new planets, civilisations, and people to add to the delicate tapestry of life, diplomacy and trade that forms the basis for the Republic.  However, not all the discoveries being made are good, and many dangers lurk out in the far reaches of space.

Of these dangers, the most benign appear to be a small Force cult on the remote planet of Dalna.  Known as the Path of the Open Hand, this group believe that the Force should be free, and that no one should have the power to use and abuse it, including the Jedi.  Led by the charismatic Mother, the Path of the Open Hand is small, but features a fervent congregation of believers, including a hopeful young woman, Marda Ro.

Marda Ro always dreams of leaving Dalna to preach the message of the Path throughout the galaxy.  However, protected by her free-spirited cousin Yana Ro and held back by the Mother, Marda appears destined to remain always on Dalna.  That is until two Jedi, Jedi Knight Zallah Macri and her Padawan Kevmo Zink, arrive on Dalna, investigating the theft of several Force artifacts from surrounding systems.  Believing that the thefts are related to the Path, the two Jedi begin to investigate the group, and Marda and the young Kevmo soon form a tight bond as their connection grows.  However, not everything is as it seems on Dalna, and soon the Mother reveals a dark secret that will reverberate throughout the galaxy for centuries to come.

I have to admit that even before I started reading Path of Deceit, I kind of had some doubts about whether I was going to really enjoy it.  Not only was I surprised that this second phase of the High Republic was starting out with a young adult book, rather than the upcoming adult novel, Convergence, but I was also apprehensive about the reverse time skip between phases.  Setting this second phase 150 years before the events of the first phase was a bold choice, especially considering that The High Republic is a prequel series in itself.  However, if Path of Deceit is any indication of what is to come, then the entire second phase of The High Republic is going to be pretty damn impressive and fit into the wider High Republic extremely well.  The team of Gratton and Ireland did a remarkable job here, producing a slick, slow-burn Star Wars story that introduces many key elements of this new timeline while also giving some fantastic hints of what is to come.  I had an absolute blast getting through this book, and it is has definitely gotten me excited for the next round of High Republic fiction.

I was deeply, deeply impressed with the captivating story that the authors came up with for Path of Deceit.  Due to its position in this new High Republic phase, Gratton and Ireland had to achieve quite a lot during the narrative, not only introducing key characters and settings, but also tying them into the wider High Republic history.  However, I think they achieved this goal extremely well, and the subsequent story is very intriguing and intense.  I do need to warn people that the Path of Deceit does start of fairly slow and takes a long while for all its excellent storylines to pay off.

The book is primarily set on the planet of Dalna and follows three young central characters as they find themselves caught up in the actions of the mysterious Path of the Open Hand.  These central characters include Marda Ro, a devout member of the Path, her cousin Yana Ro, who leads the Path’s covert unit that steal Force artifacts, and Kevmo Zink, who arrives on the planet to investigate the Path and the recent thefts.  The first half of the book sees the various characters gradually get to know each other, while Marda and Kevmo grow closer, despite their different viewpoints of the Force.  As the story continues, you start to see some cracks in the serene appearance of the Path, with Yana growing more and more determined to leave as she begins to see the Mother for what she really is.  However, even with a few action scenes and a great flood sequence, the story is still moving at a gradual pace, with the authors laying down some subtle hints of what is to come.  All that changes in the last quarter of the novel, as everything comes together in a big and shocking way.  While the narrative appears to be heading in one certain direction, the authors suddenly unleash a pretty major twist that really surprised me.  This twist was extremely brilliant, not only because of how well set up it was but because its execution was very sudden and a major gamechanger.  The entire tone of the novel changes after that, with the characters taking on new roles, and you see just how well-connected Path of Deceit is to the books of Phase One.  This twist honestly makes you really appreciate the slow and careful pace of the rest of the book, and you realise just how cleverly they were setting everything up.  The entirety of Path of Deceit ends on an excellent and powerful note, and the reader is left eagerly looking forward to seeing how the rest of this second phase comes together.

The team of Gratton and Ireland set out this story in a very awesome way, and I felt that everything came together extremely well to enhance the fantastic narrative.  The split between the three main perspectives helped to produce a balanced and multifaceted narrative, and I liked seeing the distinctive alternate viewpoints of the cool events occurring.  While the pacing was initially a bit slow and there was a little less action than your typical Star Wars novel, Path of Deceit makes up for it by focusing more on the characters, setting up the new version of the universe, and featuring a great young adult story that will really appeal to the teenage audience.  The way that the characters interact and focus on their attractions is very typical of most young adult books, but I felt that it didn’t get too over-the-top.  Instead, it is just enough to help bring the younger reader in, while also still being intense and compelling enough to keep older readers still attached and entertained.  I personally deeply enjoyed how the story was presented, especially once the pace increased towards the end, and this entire novel was an absolute joy to read.

As I mentioned before, quite a lot of importance is attached to whether Path of Deceit did a good job featuring the relevant Star Wars and High Republic elements.  I say that Gratton and Ireland strongly succeeded, as they not only provided a great viewpoint of this new period of Star Wars fiction but they also provided some captivating and clever links to the first phase.  While most of the focus of Path of Deceit is primarily on one planet, so you don’t get the full galaxy view, I did like the initial glimpse of this universe.  There is a real Western frontier vibe to the entire setting, with explorers, settlers, pilgrims, and people looking for a fresh start interacting with new elements from the Outer Rim.  There are also some hints about how this version of the Republic and the Jedi are set up, and there is a very good mixture of elements that I think are going to come together very well in the future.  I also really enjoyed the mysterious and captivating Path of the Open Hand, who were introduced as an alternative Force cult who are completely opposed to the actions of the Jedi.  Their curious viewpoint of the Force, and their methods for preserving it, make for quite a fascinating group and I deeply enjoyed how they developed.  As for connections to the first High Republic phase, well let us say that Path of Deceit is a very key novel regarding this, as several key characters with connections to the future are brilliantly set up here.  So many key elements or organisations from the first phase are introduced in a completely different form here, and you will be surprised at the origins of some of the best bits from the established High Republic books.  I loved some of the impressive set up that Gratton and Ireland featured in Path of Deceit, and this young adult novel is a very key part of this phase of the High Republic, with story elements from it set to reverb through certain upcoming books all the way to the future in the third phase.

Now, one of the main questions I am sure many people are wondering is how much knowledge of the High Republic and wider Star Wars universe people need to enjoy Path of Deceit.  Naturally, as the introductory book in the second phase of an established Star Wars sub-series, people who have read the previous High Republic books are going to have a better time with Path of Deceit that readers who have not.  Not only do you have a better idea of what the earlier Star Wars period are going to look like, but you also will appreciate some of the revelations that appear in this book and have a better ability to make connections between this phase and the previous one.  As such I would strongly recommend checking out all the key previous High Republic content first (the three adult books at the very least), as you a really going to have a better time with Path of Deceit that way, especially as the big twist towards the end makes a lot more sense if you do.  However, this isn’t the absolute worst book to start the High Republic with, and maybe reading the prequel second phase first is a better way of enjoying these books.  Either way, Gratton and Ireland do a good job of making this book pretty accessible to new readers, and I think that anyone with a decent knowledge of Star Wars fiction will probably be able to enjoy and appreciate this book.

Path of Deceit contains a great group of central characters that the authors do an excellent job of introducing.  This includes three intriguing teenage protagonists who have a complex and fascinating narratives that see them engage with this new world in very different ways.  Marda Ro is the devoted adherent to the Path of the Open Hand, who believes in their mission and their leader with all her heart.  Marda has a deeply compelling and well-laid-out story arc in Path of Deceit that eventually sees her question her believes and connections to the Path once she meets Jedi Padawan Kevmo Zink.  Already feeling disconnected from the galaxy and people due to her species, which is renowned and reviled for unknown reasons, Marda was a real emotional tinderbox in this book, and her relationship with Kevmo only complicates this further.  However, the events of the book change her in a way no-one could really predict, even with the hints her name contain, and her metamorphosis from sweet character to something else is very clever and quite impactful.  I have a feeling that she is going to have one of the best character arcs in the entire second phase, and I look forward to seeing how her narrative completely unfolds.

I also like the storylines surrounding the main Jedi character, Padawan Kevmo Zink, and Marda’s cousin Yana Ro, both of whom have their own distinctive arcs that I was quite intrigued by.  Kevmo Zink is a great young Jedi character who is drawn by his own romantic urges and desire for connections as much by the Force.  Kevmo serves as a great newcomer character to Dalna and the Path of the Open Hand and provides a great alternate perspective to Marda’s strict commitment to their ways.  He also serves as an intriguing love interest to Marda, and the classic Star Wars relationship between a conflicted Jedi and a forbidden girl made for some great reading, without being too silly or over-the-top.  I had a lot of fun with Kevmo, and I liked his infectious humour and his extremely positive view of the universe.  His storyline also goes in some very surprising directions, and this ended up being a very intriguing character to follow.  Yana Ro on the other hand is a more wild and exciting addition to the cast, who acts extremely differently to her cousin Marda.  A less indoctrinated member of the Path, Yana knows that there is something rotten at their heart, and seeks a way out, mainly by stealing Force artifacts for the Mother.  Her journey is very emotionally rich, and a little bit tragic, and I had a wonderful time seeing her storyline come to fruition, especially as it puts her in a very exciting position for future entries in the series.  Yana’s realistic viewpoint of the Path, as well as her own species’ inclinations and reputation, stands in great contrast of that of Marda, and her more grounded and aggressive mindset also makes her stand out compared to Kevmo.  As such, there is a good balance of personalities in Path of Deceit amongst the point of view protagonists, and this helps to produce a fantastic and compelling read.

There are also several great side characters who add their own spice to the story.  The most prominent of these is Kevmo’s Jedi master, Zallah Macri, an extremely serious Jedi Knight who serves as Kevmo’s mentor and guide.  Zallah is a suitable cautionary figure throughout the book, trying to keep Kevmo focused on the Force and their investigation, despite his obsession with Marda.  The other side character I really want to focus on is the Mother, the Path of the Open Hand’s mysterious leader who has managed to take over the cult through to her apparent strong connection to the Force.  The Mother serves as a rather compelling antagonist throughout the book, especially as you spend most of the time wondering if she is really Force sensitive, or whether she is running a long con on her followers.  An aloof and secretive antagonist, it soon becomes very clear that the Mother has her own objectives and plans that run contrary to that of her followers, and the full extent of them proves to be very exciting and destructive.  I felt that the Mother was an excellent alternative character for Path of Deceit, especially as her plans have some major long-term impacts on the point-of-view characters, and she has some dark secrets that need to be explored further.  These, and other characters, really add to the overall strength on the novel and I deeply enjoyed the way that Gratton and Ireland introduced them and took them through a fascinating emotional ride.

As with most Star Wars novels, I chose to check out Path of Deceit’s audiobook format, which was a pleasurable and fun experience as always.  At just over eight hours, this was a relatively quick audiobook, and I managed to knock it out pretty quickly.  This format did an excellent job of presenting Path of Deceit’s compelling narrative, and I had fun having this book read out to me.  However, the real joy of a Star Wars audiobook always lies in the excellent extra production elements that have been added in.  The classic Star Wars sound effects are used very well throughout Path of Deceit’s audiobook, and hearing blasters, lightsabers and even the sounds of people in the crowds, helps to drag listeners into the story and its surrounding universe.  However, I am always more impressed with the fantastic use of the iconic Star Wars musical score that is threaded through multiple scenes in the audiobook.  Path of Deceit has a pretty cool selection of scores playing throughout it, and I liked how the music often reflected the more rural setting and the mystical elements it was exploring.  The various bits of music work extremely well at enhancing key scenes throughout the book, and there were several times when the careful application of these tunes enhanced the emotional impact of the entire book.

On top of the cool sound effects and powerful musical inclusions, much of my enjoyment of Path of Deceit’s audiobook lies in the excellent narrator who was telling the story.  Path of Deceit is narrated by actress Erin Yvette, who has done a lot of voice work recently in the video game space.  While Yvette hasn’t provided narration for too many Star Wars books yet, she did a great job here in Path of Deceit, and I loved how she read out the book.  Yvette’s voice fits the young adult tone of this Star Wars novel extremely well, and she ensures that the compelling tale is effectively shared out to the listener.  In addition, she also provides a range of excellent voices to the various characters featured throughout the book.  Each of her voices really fits the respective character, and you get a real sense of their nature, their bearing, and their emotional state as you hear Yvette narrate them.  Not only does she capture the youthful nature of characters like Kevmo Zink and Marda Ro well, but she also gets the proper Jedi character Zallah Macri, the more self-serving voice of Yana Ro, and the mystical, manipulative voice of the Mother, down perfectly.  This voice work is pretty damn impressive, and when combined with audiobook’s sound effects and outstanding Star Wars music, it helps to turn the Path of Deceit audiobook into an outstanding experience.  This was such an awesome way to enjoy this latest High Republic novel, and audiobook remains my absolute favourite way to enjoy a Star Wars tie-in book.

I am feeling a heck of a lot better about the second phase of the High Republic after powering through Path of Deceit.  The wonderful team of Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland produced an outstanding young adult Star Wars novel that did a lot of remarkable things.  Featuring a well-crafted story that slowly but surely hooks you and some fantastic characters, Path of Deceit charts its own course while also brilliant tying into the High Republic novels that have come before.  I can’t wait to see where this phase goes following this impressive story in Path of Deceit and I am planning to read the next High Republic book as soon as I can.

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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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