Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 1 April 2023)
Series: Warhammer 40,000
Length: 8 hours and 13 minutes
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Veteran Warhammer 40,000 author Phil Kelly once again dives into his favourite topic, the T’au, with this new fast-paced and intense novel focused on the intriguing figure of Commander Shadowsun, Shadowsun: The Patient Hunter.
I have been having a lot of fun with Warhammer 40,000 novels this year, and I have already had the opportunity to read some major classics. Many of these appeared in my recent Favourite Warhammer 40,000 novels list, and I have been keen to read more Warhammer fiction as a result. As such, I decided to dive into one of the more recent Warhammer 40,000 novels, Shadowsun: The Patient Hunter, an excellent novel focusing on the intriguing T’au faction. Shadowsun is the latest Warhammer 40,000 novel from Phil Kelly, who is probably best known for his work as a background writer on the various codexes and campaign books released as part of the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game. However, Kelly has also produced several Warhammer 40,000 novels over his career, with a particular focus on the T’au, having written several of the more prominent novels for the alien faction, including his Farsight novels and Blades of Damocles. This latest book sees Kelly once again focus on Commander Shadowsun as she leads the latest T’au expansion, only to encounter more horrors than she ever expected.
Commander Shas’O Shaserra, better known to her foes as Shadowsun, has long led the forces of the T’au into war against all manner of foes. A former contemporary of the legendary Commander Farsight, Shadowsun has since earned her own substantial reputation across various theatres. Her latest action sees her leading the T’au Empire’s Fifth Sphere Expansion on the other side of the Startide Nexus, capturing many former Imperial worlds and bringing them under the sphere of the T’au’s influence.
A calculating tactician and a master of the philosophy of war that emulates the Patient Hunter, Shadowsun has known only success during this new phase of expansion. But the surprise appearance of a massive fleet of decaying and indestructible warships soon throws all her plans into turmoil as she faces an enemy unlike anything T’au have dealt with before, the Chaos Space Marines of the Death Guard.
Ancient and deadly warriors sworn to the Chaos God of disease and decay, Nurgle, the Death Guard are a force unlike any other in the galaxy. Employing deadly diseases, unstoppable daemons and other deranged horrors that defy all laws of physics and sanity, the Death Guard effortlessly brush through the T’au resistance. Unable to counter their terrible tactics, Shadowsun desperately looks for a way to strike back against the Death Guard. But with her own body consumed with disease and rivals within the T’au seeking their own sinister objectives, can even the great Commander Shadowsun succeed against these relentless opponents?
This was a pretty fun and intense Warhammer 40,000 novel from Phil Kelly, who had a great time really showing off two very different factions from the game. Shadowsun: The Patient Hunter was a very interesting and action-packed read that will really appeal to fans of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise.
The plot of Shadowsun follows the character of Commander Shadowsun in her most lethal adventure yet. This is a very brutal and quick-paced narrative that wastes no time diving into the action and intrigue to grab the readers full attention. Starting with a good introduction to the character of Shadowsun and the complex politics of the T’au, the reader is soon introduced to the gruesome threat of the Death Guard, who soon make a major impact on the plot. This takes the form of an extended and very over-the-top battle sequence on a T’au controlled human planet which Shadowsun was visiting, and she soon must contend with the full threat of the Death Guard. Kelly really does not hold back at this part of the book, producing a brilliant and very lengthy connected sequence in which Shadowsun encounters the full, fly-infested horrors of Nurgle, as the Death Guard unleash their terrible might. These scenes are pretty damn intense, at times bordering on pure horror, as the characters encounter diseases, decay, daemons and plague zombies, each of which test Shadowsun and her forces in very different ways. This major sequence takes a substantial chunk of the book, and it really served to grab the reader’s attention early on with very high plot stakes.
The second half of the book deals with the fallout of this conflict, as an infected and weakened Shadowsun finds all her strategies and plans in ruin, and must find a new way to strike back, despite being hamstrung by internal T’au politics, a growing conflict between the T’au and their alien levies, and a sinister conspiracy from her superiors. The resolution to this is a desperate boarding action against the Death Guard flagship, with Shadowsun leading a small force on a deadly suicide mission. While not as extensive as the previous major confrontation, this final third of the book is extremely good, as Kelly envisions another complex battle that pits T’au tech against ancient, unclean horrors. This sequence gets a little crazy in places, especially as Kelly brings in a couple of unique aliens as backup for the protagonist, and the Death Guard ship is loaded with horrors. The big fights that emerge are extremely deadly and well written, and you will be enthralled at the carnage that emerges and the unique encounters that occur. At the same time, the character of Shadowsun continues to grow as a warrior and a commander, fully trusting in her new squad of aliens, while also beginning to understand there is far more going on in the universe than her superiors have let her know. Everything comes together extremely well, with a fun conclusion that is very satisfying for readers and leaves quite a few questions open that I am sure Kelly will try to answer in the future. I liked the more metaphysical examination of the T’au towards the end of the book, and it gave the story a really unique conclusion that I will definitely remember.
I felt that Shadowsun was an overall pretty good Warhammer 40,000 novel as Kelly produced an excellent and highly exciting narrative that makes full use of the book’s action, heavy doses of lore intriguing characters. The various fight sequences are very well written, and the author goes out of his way to try and capture the full horror and considerations of the battlefield, especially when regular soldiers face off against something strange and terrifying. The two lengthy battles that much of the plot of Shadowsun focuses on are true highlights of the novel, and I love how intense, captivating and devastating the author made them. Due to Kelly’s obvious passion for the game, this is a very, very detailed novel as the author goes out of his way to highlight the various factions, their motivations, and the state of the Warhammer 40,000 universe at this point in the canon timeline. Every scene is loaded with some fascinating description of technology, lore, politics or factional history, which is fun in its way, especially for established fans of the games and the surrounding canon. However, this does mean that Shadowsun might be a bit of a harder book for more casual readers to enjoy, as a certain level of understanding about the T’au is needed to fully appreciate the plot. As such, I would probably recommend this book to fans of the T’au and dedicated Warhammer 40,000 readers, although newer readers will still be able to have some fun with Shadowsun.
Due to Kelly’s familiarity with the T’au, quite a lot of the book is dedicated to showing them in all their glory, from their advanced technology, their complex society, and their reliance on allied races to help their expansion. While I am familiar with the T’au, I haven’t read a lot of books from their perspective, having instead only read books where they’re the enemy (Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker and Kill Team by Gav Thorpe). As such, I really appreciated this highly detailed and compelling focus on the T’au, and I had a lot of fun exploring their recent history, including their expansion throughout the galaxy. There are so many great elements to their inclusion in Shadowsun, such as getting to see their awesome advanced weapons in combat, which are so very different from the human technology that most of the other Warhammer 40,000 books feature. I also appreciated the compelling look at several of the client species that make up the T’au auxiliary forces, such as the Kroot. Kelly features several intriguing different alien species throughout Shadowsun, making for some unique scenes as a result, and I appreciated the examination of their thoughts about the T’au allies, especially with how it plays into their faith and how they view the rest of the galaxy.
In addition, Kelly layers this book with so many complex bits of T’au day to day life, and you must admire his dedication and attention to detail. Every conversation or discussion between T’au characters provides you some intriguing insights into their society, and I loved seeing their perfectionist mindsets or their fascinating interactions, such as those meaning-laden hand signals. There are also some cool examinations of the various castes, their reliance on technology (such as Shadowsun’s two drone companions), and their desire to expand and bring word of the “Greater Good” to the rest of the galaxy. While there is some definite love for the T’au throughout Shadowsun, Kelly also makes it a point to examine the darker side of their society, including the deadly secrets of the Fourth Sphere Expansion force and the typical manipulation of the Ethereal caste. Commander Shadowsun, who starts the story off relatively naïve about some of the darker aspects of her race, begins to get an understanding of some of the secrets being kept from her, especially when she encounters some of the forces of Chaos and the secrets of the Warp. The attempts to shut down any discussion about daemons or what happened to the allied species when they went through the Warp gave some of the T’au focused scenes a darker and more sinister edge, and it will be interesting to see whether Shadowsun continues to blindly follow the Ethereals in the future. I also liked how Kelly really showcased the inherent arrogance of the T’au, especially when it comes to their opinion of other races in the universe, such as humans from the Imperium. Their haughty belief that they understand the universe is quite amusing, especially when they come face to face with something completely insane.
To balance out the T’au, Kelly also strongly features the Chaos Space Marines of the Death Guard legion in Shadowsun, who are pretty epic antagonists. Followers of the Chaos God Nurgle, the Death Guard are dedicated to all things disease, decay and corruption, which results in some pretty horrific mutations for their plague infested bodies. The Death Guard are always pretty gruesome when featured in fiction, but I felt that Kelly did a particularly fantastic job of capturing them in their fully festering glory. All the Death Guard encountered in this book are covered in putrefying mutations or growths to some degree, and Kelly really goes out of his way to describe just how unsettling they are. This includes a compelling look at a Death Guard battle cruiser, whose interior is just covered in growths, mould, various liquids that fill up entire corridors, and loaded with so many other over-the-top elements, which really pop in Kelly’s talented hands. I also loved how the author tries to capture the Death Guard’s highly positive and benevolent natures, which are reflections of their “kindly” god, Nurgle, and which honestly makes them even more sinister. He further disturbs the reader by showing the Death Guard unleashing their full horrors on the T’au with, diseases, plague zombies, daemons, dark magic and more used against them, totally devastating them.
Watching the T’au get overwhelmed by these weird and terrifying elements is pretty intense, and the main T’au perspective character, Commander Shadowsun, keeps getting more disturbed by their unpredictable tactics and terrible weaponry. I loved the compelling comparisons the author makes between the Death Guard and the T’au, and the two are honestly the antithesis of each other in aesthetics, combat styles, and mindset. This ensures that their conflicts are pretty damn epic and watching the T’au forced to come up with some new tactic while freaking out made for some thrilling reading. I did think that to make the Death Guard see even more threatening and dangerous, Kelly did slightly nerf the T’au in places, especially during their earlier battles, which fans of the faction probably won’t love, however, the protagonist makes up for that by taking out a Great Unclean One at one point. Kelly’s decision to feature the Death Guard as the antagonists was an outstanding choice and one that made Shadowsun standout to me even more.
As with most Warhammer 40,000 novels that I have the pleasure of enjoying, I chose to check out Shadowsun on audiobook, which was a fun decision as always. Coming in at just over eight hours, this was a quick audiobook to power through, especially when you get to some of the more epic battle scenes. This format served to really enhance some of the best elements of the Shadowsun book, including the cool action and the sheer horror of some of the scenes where the protagonists go up against the forces of Nurgle. Having someone reading out all the disgusting things this foul horde contains makes the book seem even more terrifying, which I deeply appreciated. Narrator Helen McAlpine does a very good job bringing this compelling plot to life with her great voice work, and I really appreciated her take on several of the characters and big scenes within Shadowsun. The voice that she gives to the main character of Commander Shadowsun is highly fitting, and I felt that McAlpine managed to capture her emotions, particularly that of distress of despair, very well throughout this audiobook. Due to this, and more, I would once again strongly recommend this Warhammer 40,000 audiobook to anyone interested in checking out Shadowsun, as it is easily the best way to enjoy any book from this franchise.
Overall, Shadowsun: The Patient Hunter is an excellent Warhammer 40,000 novel and one that I really had a fun time with. Phil Kelly did an outstanding job featuring the T’au again and it was great to get a deeper look at one of the more fascinating alien factions in the canon. Loaded with action, horrifying moments, and some deep lore drops, Shadowsun is an awesome read that fans of Warhammer 40,000 fiction can have a lot of fun with.