Call of Empire by Peter Watt

Call of Empire Cover

Publisher: Macmillan (Trade Paperback – 25 October 2022)

Series: The Colonial series – Book Five

Length: 368 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Australia’s master of the historical adventure returns with another deeply exciting and highly intriguing character driven read that follows one historical family as they embark on war and adventure across the world, Call of Empire by Peter Watt.

Towards the end of each year, I always know that I am about to have my historical action and adventure quota filled as the new Peter Watt is coming out.  Watt has been a particularly enjoyable and compelling Australian author for years, producing intriguing historical fiction books with a focus on Australian history.  His works have so far included the long-running Frontier series and his compelling Papua trilogy, both of which contained some remarkable historical adventures.  However, I personally have been really getting into his currently body of work, The Colonial series, which I have had a wonderful time reading in recent years.

The Colonial series started of back in 2018 with The Queen’s Colonial, an intriguing read that followed young Australian Ian Steele in 1845 as he switched places with an English nobleman to take up his commission in a British regiment.  Becoming Captain Samuel Forbes, Steele found himself drawn into several of England’s deadly 19th century wars, while also forced to confront several dangers back in England as the real Samuel Forbes’ family sought to have him killed.  This fantastic series continued for two more books, The Queen’s Tiger and The Queen’s Captain, both of which were excellent reads.  Watt continued the series last year with The Colonial’s Son, which jumped ahead a couple of decades to follow the main character’s oldest son as he followed in his father’s footsteps and become a soldier in the Queen’s army.  I had a great deal of fun with these exciting books, and I was very happy when I received the next entry in the series, Call of Empire.

Starting in 1885, several years after the conclusion of The Colonial’s Son, Call of Empire sees protagonist Ian Steele finally living the quiet life in New South Wales, enjoying time with his family and friends, and expanding his business empire.  However, the British Empire is constantly finding itself in conflict across the globe, and soon the young New South Wales colony is called upon to send troops to assist the British campaign in Sudan.

Determined to serve the Empire once again, Ian’s oldest son, Josiah, takes a commission in the New South Wales army and journeys to Africa to fight the Sudanese forces for the British.  However, his decision will alienate him from the love of his life, Marian Curry, who is determined that he stop fighting in imperialistic wars.  At the same time, Ian’s younger son, Samuel, is learning the family business out in the Pacific with the family’s friend, Ling Lee.  However, Samuel and Lee are soon dragged into a dangerous plot to smuggle guns for the Chinese, as Lee’s obsession with freeing China from European control leads them into mortal danger.

Soon the entire Steele family finds themselves in deep trouble across the world, and only the most daring of actions will help them survive.  But as the Empire’s wars continue and the Steele family and their friends are drawn into even more conflicts, can even their legendary luck continue?  Death and tragedy awaits them all, and soon the Steele family will face a loss they never expected.

This was another fantastic and deeply exciting novel from Watt, who continues to dazzle with his fast-paced writing and impressive historical insights.  I loved the awesome story contained in Call of Empire, and I ended up powering through this book in less than a day.

Watt produces another exciting and ultra-fast paced story for Call of Empire that takes the reader on a wild and captivating journey through some interesting parts of late 19th century history.  Starting in 1885, Call of Empire primarily follows the three male members of the Steele family as they attempt to overcome the various challenges they face in their respective endeavours.  Watt tells a multi-layered, multi-generational, character driven story that follows multiple characters simultaneously as they engage in their own story.  This means that readers are often treated to a range of different storylines in the same chapter, having one character engaged in war, while another deals with issues at home, and at the same time a third finds themselves caught up in adventures at sea.  This makes for quite a complex read, although the range of storylines are well balanced and never oversaturate or confuse the story.  Indeed, Watt is a pretty clear and concise writer, and the reader is able to have a lot of fun with several of the storylines at the same time.  Watt features an outstanding range of storylines throughout Call of Empire, and I loved the blend of war, politics, exploration, business, romance, character development and legal concerns that were featured at various points throughout the 15 year long plot.  This reminded me a lot of the author’s previous Frontier novels, especially the focus on one big family, and I had a wonderful time seeing the elaborate narrative he wove around his characters.  Watt really takes this story in some interesting directions, and there are a few big surprises, as well as some tragedies that established readers of this series will be hit hard by.  This proved to be quite an addictive read, and I loved seeing his characters continue to traverse through life in their chaotic and adventurous ways.  The book ends at the start of the new century, and it looks like Watt will be taking his characters in World War I next time, which I am sure will be suitably traumatic.

Easily my favourite thing about this book was Watt’s excellent dive into the always eventful colonial history of Australia.  In particular, Watt examines several lesser-known wars and conflicts from the 19th century, with a particular focus on the role of New South Wales.  This starts early in the plot with one of the characters getting involved in the Suakin Expedition in Sudan, which was part of the larger Mahdist War.  This deployment saw a battalion of New South Wales soldiers travel to Sudan as part of the war effort and was the very first military force to be raised and deployed overseas by Australia.  While there wasn’t a lot of fighting involved with this campaign, I was deeply intrigued by the history and the politics behind it, and Watt did a wonderful job of exploring it in great detail throughout the book by inserting his characters.  Watt continued this trend throughout the rest of the book, which saw several of his characters involved in both the Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion in China.  Both conflicts had Australian soldiers involved, fighting on the side of the British, and Watt took exquisite care to explore what role the Australians played in them, and how they came to be involved in the conflict.

Out of all of them, I particularly enjoyed the captivating examination of the Boer War in Africa, which was one of the more deadly wars Australians fought in during the 19th century.  This war, and one of the character’s roles in it, dominated a good part of the book, and Watt did an amazing job of bringing different parts of the conflict to life.  The author really captured just how dark and bloody this war was, from snipers in the African bush, to the horrors inflicted on the Boer settlers.  However, Watt saves some of his best writing for the Battle of Elands River, a protracted battle that saw the Boers surround a force of Australians and their allies in a brutal siege for 13 days.  Naturally, one of the characters is right in the middle of this fight, and Watt really showcased the carnage and terror that the Australians would have felt being surrounded and bombarded.  I honestly didn’t know a great deal about some of these early Australian military conflicts, and it was absolutely fascinating to see them come to life in the hands of this talented author.  Having this great historical background really enhanced the overall quality of the novel, and I had a wonderful time diving back into these sometimes overlooked parts of Australian military history.

As I mentioned above, Call of Empire was a very character focused book that featured a range of fantastic point of view protagonists through whose eyes the story unfolded.  Watt features a great combination of characters, with a compelling mixture of younger figures who were the focus of The Colonial’s Son, and even a few characters from the first three Colonial books.  There was quite a range of different character storylines in Call of Empire, and you swiftly get drawn into the various unique adventures of each of the characters.  It was fascinating to see how the older characters had evolved since their original adventures, and I liked how Watt started focusing more on the next generation, including by expanding the role of the younger Steele son, Sam, who had an amazing outing here.  There is a great examination of the events that help to form these figures character, and it was fantastic to see them overcome so much adversity at various parts of their life.  I will say that some of the male Steele characters did tend to blend personality wise as the book proceeded, mostly as they are cut from the same adventurous cloth, but you still grow to like all of them, and you ended up getting touched when bad things happen to them.  There are some very interesting and powerful developments that hit the main characters in this book, and this ended up being a very key novel in the family history.  I had a wonderful time seeing the latest exploits of the Steele family, and with the next generation being introduced towards the end of the book, you know that they have even more adventures to come.

Peter Watt continues to showcase his talent as Australia’s premiere author of the Australian historical adventure with his latest Colonial novel, Call of Empire.  Bringing back several of his fantastic protagonists from the previous books, Watt crafts together another exciting read that dives into some intriguing parts of Australia’s military history.  Fast paced and full of awesome action, Call of Empire is another amazing read from Watt, and one that I had a lot of fun getting through.

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Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel by Beth Revis

Star Wars - The Princess and the Scoundrel Cover

Publisher: Del Rey (Trade Paperback – 16 August 2022)

Series: Star Wars

Length: 348 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Outstanding author Beth Revis presents an intriguing and enjoyable new entry in the extended Star Wars canon, with the fantastic tie-in novel, The Princess and the Scoundrel.

2022 has been a rather interesting year for Star Wars fiction.  While the focus has primarily been on the High Republic sub-series, several great authors have produced some awesome reads set around the various film trilogies (such as Star Wars: Brotherhood by Mike Chen).  However, one of the most exciting recent Star Wars tie-in novels is a character-driven read that focuses on the relationship between Han Solo and Princess Leia, The Princess and the Scoundrel, which was written by exciting author Beth Revis.  Revis, who already has some experience with the Star Wars canon, having written the 2017 novel, Rebel Rising, came up with an awesome story in The Princess and the Scoundrel that I had a wonderful time reading.  Not only does The Princess and the Scoundrel explore an interesting period of the complex and inspiring Star Wars canon, but it also contained a fantastic romantic heart that will appeal to a wider range of readers.

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Death Star is destroyed. Darth Vader is dead. The Empire is desolated. But on the forest moon of Endor, amongst the chaos of a changing galaxy, time stands still for a princess and her scoundrel.

After being frozen in carbonite, then risking everything for the Rebellion, Han is eager to stop living his life for other people. He and Leia have earned their future together, a thousand times over. And when he proposes to Leia, it’s the first time in a long time he’s had a good feeling about this. For Leia, a lifetime of fighting doesn’t truly seem over. There is work still to do, penance to pay for the dark secret she now knows runs through her veins. Her brother, Luke, is offering her that chance—one that comes with family and the promise of the Force. But when Han asks her to marry him, Leia finds her answer immediately on her lips . . . Yes.

But happily ever after doesn’t come easily. As soon as Han and Leia depart their idyllic ceremony on Endor for their honeymoon, they find themselves on the grandest and most glamorous stage of all: the Halcyon, a luxury vessel on a very public journey to the most wondrous worlds in the galaxy. Their marriage, and the peace and prosperity it represents, is a lightning rod for everyone in the galaxy—including Imperial remnants still clinging to power.

Facing their most desperate hour, the soldiers of the Empire have dispersed across the galaxy, retrenching on isolated worlds vulnerable to their influence. As the Halcyon travels from world to world, one thing becomes abundantly clear: The war is not over. But as danger draws closer, Han and Leia find that they fight their best battles not alone but as husband and wife.

I had a fantastic time getting through The Princess and the Scoundrel as Beth Revis wrote a pretty awesome and captivating Star Wars novel that covered a lot of bases.  Split between the alternating perspectives of Han and Leia, The Princess and the Scoundrel takes off right after Return of the Jedi.  While the victorious Rebellion plans their next moves, Han and Leia decide to make the most of their sudden freedom to get married after their traumatic year apart.  While both are still reeling from the events of the original trilogy, they come together in a fun wedding scene, before leaving on a glamorous trip that will be part honeymoon part propaganda show.  While initially trying to enjoy their honeymoon, both quickly fall into their old patterns, with Han chafing at the formality, while Leia continues to try and do her work as an ambassador and planner.  Arriving at an isolated ice planet, Han and Leia soon discover a destructive Imperial plot and must come together as a couple to thwart it.  This ended up being a really distinctive read, as Revis worked a more romantic plotline into the always entertaining Star Wars canon.  I loved seeing this fantastic tale of Han and Leia’s first adventure as husband and wife, and Revis ensured readers got an excellent blend of action, intrigue, and character development, as you witnessed these two amazing protagonists try to come together as a married couple.  There is a little something for everyone in this great read, and I found myself getting caught up in the action and the impressive focus on two of my favourite fictional characters.  An overall brilliant book that is really easy to enjoy and appreciate.

The Princess and the Scoundrel proved to be a very interesting addition to the current Star Wars canon.  While the romance between Han and Leia was strongly explored in the previous Legends canon, the current Disney canon has not featured it as much, and as such you see some fascinating events from their lives here for the first time.  Revis paints quite a fun picture of the sudden wedding these two have, which features entertaining interruptions from several key characters, some tricky manoeuvrings from Lando to get Han into a nice outfit, and, of course, a ton of Ewoks, while the honeymoon is as chaotic as you would expect from these two.  As such, this is a pretty key book for all fans of these two iconic characters, and I think that Revis hit an excellent tone when it came to some of these key events.  The author also fits in a lot of fantastic references and moments that a lot of Star Wars fans will appreciate, most of which are covered in a very fun way.  For example, the characters finally address that infamous kiss between Luke and Leia at the start of The Empire Strikes Back, with Han and Luke having a rather awkward conversation about it, before agreeing never to bring it up again.  Revis also makes quite good use of an interesting Han Solo villain from one of the previous canon books, and it was great to see some continuation from the previous intriguing storyline.  That, and several other amusing references, help to make this quite a key book for Star Wars fans, and I had a wonderful, nerdy time getting through it.

Aside from the direct references to the book, I was personally intrigued to see more about the period of Star Wars history that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Death Star’s destruction in Return of the Jedi.  Despite the death of the Emperor, the war between the Empire and the Rebellion (now renamed as the New Republic), is still ongoing, and indeed some of the toughest fighting is still to come.  Several authors have covered this frenetic period in the current canon with some recent books, such as the Alphabet Squadron trilogy by Alexander Freed (made up of Alphabet Squadron, Shadow Fall and Victory’s Price).  However, I particularly enjoyed how The Princess and the Scoundrel covered this period, as it shows events literally hours after the end of the film.  Quite a bit is shown of the Rebellion’s initial strategies following the battle of Endor, as well as the Empire’s reactions to the death of the Emperor and the sudden shift in power.  While some of the wider campaigns aren’t shown, you get an interesting idea of what the military and political situation was at the time, which I deeply enjoyed.  Revis also spends time examining how members of the general public reacted to the news, and there is an interesting variation of responses.  Not only did some people straight out disbelieve that the events even occurred, with many assuming it was fake propaganda from the Rebellion, others who were associated with the Empire, or who had members of their family aboard the Death Star, acted quite hostile to the change in the established status quo.  These diverse reactions not only reflected some current real-world societal issues, but also provided a compelling insight into just how much influence the Empire had, even on the way to its downfall.  Throw in some hints and previews of the upcoming Operation Cinder, and this proved to be a very interesting addition the Star Wars canon that many established fans will really enjoy.

One of the strongest elements of The Princess and the Scoundrel is its impressive focus on the two main characters, Han Solo and Princess Leia.  While this book does contain a lot of action, intrigue and fantastic Star Wars elements, at its heart it is a romance novel between two well-established and complex characters, both of whom have experienced a lot of trauma and anguish in recent years.  Revis does a remarkable job of diving into both characters throughout the course of The Princess and the Scoundrel, and you really get a sense of their feelings, concerns and traumas following their victory.  However, there is also a great focus on their relationship, and you can really see the strong bond they have, even if they are still coming to terms with their feelings and their wildly different personalities.  I felt that Revis painted a realistic view of their relationship, which contains some difficulties early on, especially with their independent streaks.  However, the author also shows that the two characters are much stronger together, and they can work through any issues that come their way.  I think that this much better than just showing them having a fairy tale relationship, and I really appreciated the authors compelling take on one of the most iconic relationships in fiction.

Aside from their relationship, Revis also did a great job of diving into the complex emotional issues facing both central characters.  For example, Revis makes sure to explore the trauma surrounding Han after being trapped in carbonite for over a year.  Not only did he miss out on a lot of key events in his friends’ lives, but at this point of the book he has only been awake again for a few days, and some of his decisions are based on his concerns and fears about being trapped again.  Leia is also going through a lot after the discovery that Luke is her brother and, more importantly, that Darth Vader was her father.  As such, Leia spends much of the book attempting to reconcile the fact that her real father was a genocidal maniac who tortured her and is partially responsible for destroying her home planet.  This proves to be quite a deep and intriguing part of her character arc, especially since, unlike her newly discovered brother, she is unable to forgive Vader for everything he did.  There is also an interesting look at Leia’s early attempts to connect with the Force, after Luke reveals her Jedi potential.  Watching her attempts at using the Force is very fascinating, especially as she battles with her feelings about Vader while doing so and is reluctant to even try to use the abilities that he could do.  All these unique character examinations, and more, really help to showcase just how complex and traumatised Han and Leia were at this period, and how much their relationship helped them get past it.

Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel by Beth Revis is an amazing read that provides Star Wars fans with something a little different to the typical tie-in novel.  Featuring a continuation of one of film’s most iconic romances, The Princess and the Scoundrels is at times touching and romantic, while also exploring the grim realities of the war-torn galaxy, all topped off with some classic Star Wars action and humour.  With an outstanding focus and understanding of its two main characters, The Princess and the Scoundrel was a fantastic novel that is well worth checking out.

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In the Shadow of Lightning by Brian McClellan

In the Shadow of Lightning Cover

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 21 June 2022)

Series: The Glass Immortals – Book One

Length: 24 hours and 53 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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One of the most inventive and compelling authors of fantasy fiction, Brian McClellan, kicks off an awesome new series with In the Shadow of Lightning, the first book in The Glass Immortals series.

Few authors over the last 10 years have had more of an explosive impact on the world of fantasy fiction then Brian McClellan.  Debuting in 2013, McClellan quickly set the world ablaze with The Powder Mage trilogy, which saw chaos and destruction unravel in a new fantasy world where gunpowder-powered mages face off against an enraged god.  I had a brilliant time with the first book in the series, Promise of Blood, and McClellan followed this initial trilogy off with the sequel, Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy, set in the same universe.  While I still need to finish the Powder Mage novels off, I was very excited to hear that McClellan was starting a new series with In the Shadow of Lightning, the first book in the author’s The Glass Immortals series.  This is an impressive and outstanding read that introduces readers to a distinctive new fantasy world, this time with a fascinating focus on glass magic.

Demir Grappo was once one of the most respected politicians, tacticians and glassdancers in the Ossan Empire.  A rising star in the assembly, a proven governor, and the only son of a prominent family, Demir’s promising career is suddenly shattered in the immediate aftermath of his greatest military victory when his army sacked and destroyed the entire city of Holikan, apparently on his orders.  Mentally broken by the massacre done in his name, Demir abandons his army and vanishes into the provinces, giving up his life of privilege for one of anonymity.

Now, nine years after the sacking of Holikan, Demir is a very different man, having spent the intervening time as a grifter with no true home.  However, everything changes when news reaches him that his mother was murdered, brutally beaten to death in public in an apparent political attack.  Determined to find her killers, Demir returns to the city of Ossa to reclaim his seat as the head of his family.  But not everyone is happy that he has returned, and Demir soon finds himself in the midst of several deadly conspiracies, while Ossa goes to war against its neighbour, all in the name of avenging his murdered mother.

To get to the centre of these conspiracies, Demir must find allies, including old friends and new acquaintances if he is to gain the power and influence he needs find answers, especially those hidden by the powerful guild families who rule Ossa.  However, as he searches, and soon finds a much more troubling secret: godglass, the source of magic within the world, is running out, and when it goes, chaos will reign.  The key to securing the future may lie in a device that could re-power inert pieces of godglass, and only one girl appears to have the skill to create such a device.  But as Demir fights to secure this new vital ally, he finds himself fighting against a mysterious new enemy, one that seems determined to destroy anyone who gets in their way.

McClellan impresses again with another incredible fantasy novel that had me instantly enthralled.  Presenting the reader with a multifaceted narrative that combines great characters with intriguing fantasy elements, In the Shadow of Lightning proved to be an outstanding start to McClellan’s new series and I had an exceptional time reading it.  Epic in scope, ambition and potential, In the Shadow of Lightning gets a full five-star rating from me and I am still reeling from just how good this was.

In the Shadow of Lightning is a particularly addictive novel, especially as McClellan presents the reader with an outstanding and complex narrative that pulls them in on so many levels.  Starting off with a compelling prelude that perfectly introduces central protagonist Demir Grappo and shows his dramatic and bloody fall from grace and sanity, the novel then undergoes a time skip which takes the reader into the current storyline, right as events are kicking off.  The initial focus is on Demir, who, after finding out his mother has been murdered, returns to Ossa to take over the family business and discover her murderers.  However, he soon finds that his mother was involved in complex dealings that might have led to her death, and that her assassination has been blamed on a neighbouring city Ossa is going to war with.  The story then splits as McClellan introduces three additional point-of-view characters, each other whom has their own distinctive story arc, closely related to Demir and the politics of Ossa.

These new characters include Thessa Foleer, a siliceer (godglass worker) from Ossa’s neighbour Grent, the breacher Idrian Sepulki and Kizzie Vorcien, an enforcer for a powerful guild-family who Demir hires to investigate his mother’s death.  Each of these new characters have their own individual storylines that tie into the plot points introduced in Demir’s initial chapters.  While these character arcs go in their own direction, their storylines are loosely connected together and form a great overarching narrative as they are dragged into war, imprisonment, political battles, conspiracies and criminal investigations.  I loved the cool blend of character-driven storylines, and everything comes together extremely well to show that something very rotten is going on within Ossa.  This is a very fast-paced story, and McClellan keeps multiple compelling plotlines running simultaneously to keep the reader’s attention, with some great reveals and amazing fight scenes scattered throughout the book.  Most of these reveals are set up and foreshadowed extremely well, with a couple of exceptions, and I didn’t see some of the twists coming, which was pretty fun.  Everything comes to a head towards the end of the novel, as all four characters find themselves in their own extremely dangerous and concerning situation.  Not only is there a massive battle for the future of Ossa but there are some shocking revelations about who is involved in the conspiracy and why.  The author leaves everything on an amazing note that not only leaves readers satisfied with the conclusion of some of the storylines but which also leaves a lot of questions unanswered and the reader wanting more.  An excellent and impressive story that dragged me in extremely quickly.

I was very impressed with how In the Shadow of Lightning’s story came together, as McClellan presented an epic and addictive offering that I snapped up extremely quickly.  I especially loved the use of four separate narrators to tell this story, and McClellan did an outstanding job of separating out their narratives.  Each narrator has their own unique story to tell, and what is really good is that they also explore a different aspect of the author’s new fantasy world, which often breaks across the associated genres.  For example, Thessa’s story focuses on the magical science behind godglass, and examines the political and social elements associated with this branch of magic.  Idrian’s tale comes across as a war tale as he is forced to participated in the deadly conflict between Ossa and Grent, where his particularly magical expertise makes him a living weapon.  Kizzie’s chapters come across as an investigation arc, as she attempts to uncover who killed Demir’s mother, and is forced to dive into the intrigues and shifting allegiances amongst the Ossan families, uncovering a deep conspiracy.  Demir serves as a bit of a joining figure; while he also has his own unique adventures, especially around Ossan politics, a lot of his arc involves interactions with the other three point of view characters.  Not only does this ensure that we get another viewpoint on the other character’s actions, as he gets involved in the godglass, espionage and the war elements that they are solely focussed on, but he helps to bring the other protagonist’s disparate storylines together into one solid and compelling narrative.

All four character-driven storylines are pretty exceptional in their own right, and this was one of those rare multi-perspective novels where you honestly can’t choose which character arc is the most intriguing or enjoyable.  I was particularly impressed with how McClellan brought these storylines together into one outstanding novel, and it makes for quite the epic read, especially as the author ensures you get the right blend of intrigue, action, magic and mystery throughout.  Despite its longer length, In the Shadow of Lightning has a pretty fast pace to it, and the readers are constantly treated to fantastic scenes that really keep your interest, either by being directly exciting, or featuring excellent examples of character development or world building.  I also really have to highlight the outstanding and amazing action sequences featured throughout this book.  McClellan has an impressive way of making these fight scenes really come to life in your mind, and it so easy to see all the epic events unfold.  These action scenes are particularly impactful when combined with the new magical features that the author has come up with, and I had so much fun seeing them unfold.  This really was an exceptional and highly entertaining read, and I loved how this entire amazing story was presented to the reader.

One of the things that most impressed me about In the Shadow of Lightning was the way in which McClellan envisioned and introduced the reader to an entirely new fantasy realm, equipped with its own distinctive magical system, all of which was substantially different from the elements featured in his previous Powder Mage novels.  While there are some similarities, namely that the Glass Immortals series also features magic, firearms, and a similar level of technology, there are quite a few differences which really make this new series stand out.  Most of the book is set in the Ossan Empire and its capital city of Ossa, which proves to be an excellent background location for the complex story.  Ossa, as well as some of the other nations mentioned reminded me of an Italian city-state, and I felt that it was an interesting change of pace to the French/English influences of Powder Mage universe.  The city is ruled by rival merchant guild families who are constantly battling for dominance, while the influence of the cities extends out to various provinces in the extended empire.  There is an intricate society set up around Ossa, and I loved the compelling interplay of industries, politics and intrigue that resulted.  McClellan examines various aspects of Ossan society, including sports, leisure, the military, and the various social levels, all of which were pretty intriguing to discover, and which painted Ossa and its people in a compelling light.  I particularly enjoyed their innate love for intrigue, contracts and business above everything else, and the fact that their national sport involves two magically enhanced people beating each other with cudgels tells you a lot about them.  Throw in some compelling snapshots of other relevant nations, as well as some sneaky hints at other mysterious beings, and the reader is given a really impressive and detailed introduction to this new world in this first book in the series, which McClellan did an outstanding job setting up.

However, the most distinctive part of this new universe is the cool magical system that forms the basis for much of the plot.  Just like with the Powder Mage novels, there are actually several different variations of magic and magic users in this series, which are connected to various forms of glass.  The first of these is the magical godglass, empowered glass items that give its users various abilities, such as strength, intelligence and enhanced senses, or which can be used to control a person.  Godglass is the most common form of magic in this series, which anyone can use, and indeed the entirety of human society in this world is based around the use of these items.  Pretty much every action a character does in this book is helped out in some way with godglass, resulting in some excellent sequences, especially during fights, and McClellan spends a lot of time exploring how it fits into his new world.  This includes multiple scenes set inside glassworks, where the godglass is forged, and you get an idea of how it is made and the significance it holds to the people of this world, including the fact that many of the characters have piercings that allow them to attach godglass to them.  Godglass actually becomes a key part of the book’s plot, once it is revealed that the supplies of magical cindersand that is used to create it is running low, resulting in an undercover war to control the remnants or finding a means of regenerating it.

The other magical elements of this new series involve the inbuilt talents of several characters, who have various degrees of sorcery in them.  The most prominent of these are the glassdancers, sorcerers who can control glass (except godglass) to an astonishing degree, and use it as a weapon.  There are multiple glassdancer characters featured throughout In the Shadow of Lightning (including the central protagonist), and you get to see multiple fights involving them, which are pretty badass.  You would never consider just how dangerous someone controlling glass could be until reading this book, and the brutal and quick ways in which they kill their opponents are pretty damn impressive.  The other major form of magical user are glazalier, who have more of a passive ability that allows them to resist the negative impacts of godglass (too much magic starts to eat away at someone) while still being able to use them.  These glazaliers are deployed as breachers, heavily armoured soldiers equipped with a ton of godglass that make them unstoppable tanks in battle, capable of killing units of men by themselves.  Acting as both a hammer and shield to their comrades, they are a lot more brutal than the subtly lethal glassdancers, and I loved the compelling contrast between the two major magical soldiers featured in this book.  McClellan does an outstanding job introducing, explaining and showcasing all these different magical elements in this first book, and I deeply enjoyed seeing the many cool ways these magical abilities and the godglass could be used, especially in the book’s many awesome action sequences.  I look forward to seeing how McClellan expands on them in the future, and I am still so impressed by how much magic the author could work into glass.

Another area where McClellan really excels as a writer is with the complex and multi-layered characters he is able to create.  This was really evident in his new novel, where several great point of view protagonists and fascinating supporting characters are perfectly introduced to the reader and become exciting focal points for the brilliant plot.

The most prominent of these is central protagonist, Demir Grappo, a brilliant strategist and politician, whose entire life is shattered in the opening prologue.  Forced back into public life after the death of his mother, Demir takes control of his family and attempts to rebuild his legacy while also finding answers.  Utilising the swindling, bluff and manipulation skills he built in the decade he was away, Demir proves to be a tough political adversary and quite an interesting figure to follow.  I loved his impressive and unique storyline, and watching him regain his political skills and self-confidence was really enjoyable, especially as he acts as a deadly glass sorcerer, businessman, politician, leader and even a general.  There are great sequences that highlight his skills, and I loved how he was able to manipulate everyone in many different ways, from being an agreeable political ally, to acting like a smarmy lord who is able to bluff his way around by sheer force of personality.  While he does come across as arrogant at times, which is partially due to the fear and respect everyone gives him due to his sorcerous abilities, McClellan ensures that the protagonist is aware of it, and works to fix his character flaws as he goes.  However, the biggest character aspect of Demir involves the trauma he carries after his actions apparently led to the massacre of an entire city.  Still haunted by the scenes from that night, Demir is forced to revisit them throughout the course of the book, especially when he meets a survivor while trying to find out who was actually responsible.  His roiling emotions around these events are his one weak spot, and the author slips in some powerful and understandable scenes where he loses control.  McClellan did a great job setting up Demir in this first book, and I have no doubt his story is going to get even more complex and painful.

McClellan ensures that all his intriguing characters have their own distinctive and compelling motivations, as well as a dark history that is explored throughout the course of In the Shadow of Lightning.  This includes Thessa Foleer, whose heartbreaking narrative and past worked perfectly in concert with Demir’s, which was appropriate as their storylines were the most closely linked.  Thessa’s story is one of constant loss, especially as everyone who seems to get close to her dies or suffers in some way, and the character goes through some major grief and trauma as a result.  The author does a good job balancing the focus on her past and her feelings of loss, with the scenes depicting her work as a siliceer, and I liked how you get some of the best insights about this book’s primary fantasy elements throughout her chapters.  McClellan sets up Thessa as quite a major character in this novel, and it will interesting to see how her story progresses in the future.

The other two point-of-view characters are Idrian Sepulki and Kizzie Vorcien, who add a lot more excitement and fun to the story.  Idrian’s scenes are some of the most action-packed, and it is very cool to see him in battle, especially as he tends to plough through entire units of men like a human tank.  However, Idrian is one of the most caring and likeable figures in the entire novel.  Primarily concerned for the lives of his comrades, Idrian goes into the battle to protect them, and the close friendships he builds with his men help define him.  However, Idrian is also battling some inner demons, and it is clear that McClellan has some tragedy planned for him in the future.  This is a little heartbreaking, as you really cannot help but enjoy Idrian’s straightforward nature and natural integrity, and anything bad that happens to him is going to strike the reader twice as hard as a result.  Kizzie, on the other hand, is a scrappy enforcer, forced to survive the intense politics of the city’s guild families.  The bastard daughter of the Vorcien family head, Kizzie desperately seeks legitimisation and acceptance from her father, if only to protect her from vicious brother.  Dragged into Demir’s hunt for his mother’s killers, Kizzie dives into the world of political intrigue and family espionage, only to find herself conflicted by the answers she seeks.  Forced to choose between friends and family, as well as between her desires and what his right, Kizzie has some great moments in this book, and her inner conflicts add a great amount of drama to the plot.

These central protagonists are well rounded out by an impressive and enjoyable series of supporting characters, each of whom add to the plot in their own unique way.  McClellan does a great job introducing all the key supporting characters featured in the plot, and there are some amazing and distinctive characters featured here, from long-time friends of the characters, to bitter enemies with their own agendas.  My favourite supporting character would probably be Baby Montego, Demir’s adopted brother who returns to help Demir with his exploits and find out who killed their mother.  A massive brute of a man and a former cudgeling world champion, Baby is considered to be the deadliest man on the planet, even though he doesn’t have any magical abilities and can’t use godglass.  He more than lives up to this reputation throughout the book, and he has some of the most exciting and action-packed sequences in the entire novel as he casually deals out violence.  At the same time, he is also a cunning thinker, and his dry humour and complete self-confidence really make him standout.  It was fantastic to see amazing characters like Baby interact with the point-of-view characters, and you get some impressive moments as a result.  Honestly, every character featured in this book was amazing in their own way, and I cannot emphasise enough how well McClellan wrote them.

As I tend to do with most massive fantasy novels, I chose to check out In the Shadow of Lightning in its audiobook format, which proved to be pretty damn awesome.  Coming in with a runtime of just under 25 hours, this is a lengthy audiobook to listen to (it comes in at number 15 on my latest longest audiobooks I have listened to list), and it took me a decent amount of time to get through it.  However, I felt that was time well spent, as I was relentlessly entertained every single second I spent listening to In the Shadow of Lightning, and there were times I wished it was even longer.  This epic novel really came to life in the audiobook format, and I loved how impressive and cool some of the big action sequences and confrontations felt when being listened to.  While I did initially struggle to keep track of the side characters in this format (having the ability to easily go back and figure out who people were would have been helpful), I was soon able to figure out who everyone was, while also absorbing a heck of a lot more detail about the new universe and its unique elements.

I was also deeply impressed with the outstanding narration In the Shadow of Lightning featured, thanks to the work of Damian Lynch.  Lynch is a veteran audiobook narrator with several epic fantasy series under his belt and he swiftly made me a big fan with his great voice work here.  He really dove into the various characters featured in the book, and you got a great sense of their personalities, emotions and actions as he narrated them.  I had fun with several of the voices he provided in this book, and I thought that protagonists like Demir, Idrian and Baby Montego, were really good, especially as you get notes of weariness in the old veteran Idrian, and the barely contained violence that resonates off Baby every time he talks.  I particularly liked the cool European accents that Lynch gave to the various characters, which helped to reinforce the Italian city-state nature of the main location, and people from other nations or cities had subtly different accents, which I thought was a very nice touch.  All this, and more, makes for an outstanding audiobook and this is easily the best way to enjoy In the Shadow of Lightning.  I had a wonderful time with this exceptional audiobook and I will definitely be grabbing the next book in this format when it comes out.

As you can no doubt see from this lengthy review, I deeply enjoyed In the Shadow of Lightning, which was such an epic book.  Brian McClellan did a remarkable job with this new novel, and he really proved his ability to set up another distinctive and exceptional fantasy series.  Loaded with so many amazing story elements, a cool new fantasy world with unique magical elements, and some impressive and complex characters, In the Shadow of Lightning was so very addictive, and I really could not stop listening to it.  A highly recommended read, especially in its audiobook format, In the Shadow of Lightning was one of the best books of 2022 and is a must read for all fantasy fans, especially those who have enjoyed McClellan’s work in the past, and I am exceedingly excited to see how The Glass Immortals series progresses from here.

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Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Sieges in Literature

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday revolves around favourite words, which, while interesting, isn’t something that I felt I could really contribute to.  So instead, I thought I would dive into one of my favourite story elements from fiction, the good old-fashioned siege.

Now I have made it very clear over multiple reviews that I absolutely love sieges in fiction.  To me, there are few battle scenarios more awesome, more epic, and more impressive than watching a powerful attacker attempting to wipe out a fortress garrisoned by a group of desperate defenders.  Whether you are rooting for the besiegers or the defenders, there are so many outstanding moments that can be woven into a siege scenario.  From fighting on the walls, to a desperate stand in a breach, to watching an attacker slowly gain ground on the defender by a careful and elaborate series of siegeworks, artillery bombardments and the careful administration of traitors from within the walls, everything about a siege is just so amazing to me and I love reading about them in fiction.  Sieges don’t even have to be that long or epic, as even a quick and bloody siege can be pretty impressive, especially if the attackers are desperate to achieve their goals.

Fans of this blog might have noticed that in recent weeks I have read a couple of books that contain some great sieges.  Well, after getting really caught up in a few of them, it started making me think back to all the other awesome sieges scenes I have enjoyed over the years.  Naturally my only option then was to come up with a list of my favourite sieges in literature and it did not take long for me to come up with an intriguing list of books.

This proved to be quite a fun list to come up with, and it was really interesting to dive back into some books from the past to see what great sieges I could find.  I didn’t put a lot of limits on this list, and if the scenario in the book could be considered some sort of siege, I would consider it for this list.  I did try to come up with a few examples that were outside the traditional medieval castle situation most people would associate with a siege, and I wanted to show a little variety.  Despite that, most of the books I have featured on this list ended up being fantasy reads, which isn’t too unexpected.  There are a few good historical fiction reads thrown into the mix, as well as entries from other genres, and I think this ended up being a very well-balanced top ten, with my usual generous honourable mentions section.  So, lets dive into the breach and find out which glorious sieges made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

River of Gold by Anthony Riches

River of Gold Cover

A fantastic historical fiction read that saw an outnumbered group of elite Roman soldiers take control of an abandoned fort in the middle of Africa to stop an invading army.  An excellent example of a Roman siege from historical fiction.

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Devolution by Max Brooks – Siege of Greenloop

Devolution Cover

One of the more unusual examples I could think of was the fantastic novel Devolution by World War Z author Max Brooks.  Devolution sees the residence of a small, elite community get cut off from the rest of the world by a natural disaster, only to be then attacked by a group of sasquatches driven out of hiding by the same calamity.  Forced to defend themselves against the hungry beasts, the community finds themselves in an impromptu siege against a group of monsters, which results in a very inventive and intense read.

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Warhammer: Beastslayer by William King – Siege of Praag

Beastslayer Cover

William King has featured several awesome sieges in his legendary Gotrek and Felix Warhammer Fantasy series, however, my favourite so far had to be the siege of Praag in Beastslayer.  This book-long siege sees the doomed duo face off against all manner of monsters and demon worshipers on the walls, while traitors attempt to destroy them from within.  A classic siege scenario that fit perfectly into the iconic Warhammer setting.

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Inheritance by Christopher Paolini – Siege of Aroughs

Inheritance Cover

I have a lot of love for Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, especially as it features several awesome sieges.  However, my favourite probably occurred in the final book, Inheritance, when the protagonist’s cousin, Roran, is sent to take the fortified town of Aroughs with a small force.  Running out of time and resources, Roran uses some unconventional tactics to invade it.  Not only did this show how much Roran had grown as a tactician and commander over the series, but it featured some fantastic scenes of a great siege.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Legend by David Gemmell – Siege of Dros Delnoch

Legend

Let us start this list off with the book that might have the very best siege scenario I have ever read, with Legend by David Gemmell.  Legend is an exceptional read that sees an invincible army attempt to conquer their world’s most impregnable fortress, Dros Delnoch.  Utterly outnumbers, the defenders of Dros Delnoch have one advantage aside from their six walls, they are led by Druss the Legend, the greatest hero of all time.  This is such an epic siege, which the late, great, David Gemmell, set up perfectly.  Loaded with amazing characters, you really grow close to the defenders as you watch their desperate battle to hold off an unstoppable enemy till the very end.  A must read for all fans of the siege; you will not be disappointed by this book.

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Servant of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist by Janny Wurts – Siege of the Acoma Suite

Servant of the Empire Cover

Next, we have a book that shows that sieges don’t have to feature giant fortresses to be epic, with Servant of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.  The second book in the outstanding Empire trilogy, Servant of the Empire has many amazing moments, but the best is the compelling and intense siege of the Acoma Suite in the Imperial Palace.  Following a massive calamity that plunges the Empire into chaos, all the great lords flock to the Imperial Palace to be close to the action.  However, many take this as an opportunity to take out their rivals and the protagonist, Mara of the Acoma, finds herself one of the main targets.  Barricaded in her suite in the palace, Mara, her allies, and their bodyguards must fight off waves of assassins that come for them during the night.  This proves to be extremely impressive, and you really get caught up in the action watching the defenders attempting to hold a luxury apartment against an unending horde of assassins.  A clever and amazing siege that makes full use of its smaller setting and intriguing scenario to create some exciting moments.

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Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K. J. Parker – Siege of the City

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City Cover

I had to feature the brilliant and hilarious Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K. J. Parker, as it contained an extremely fun take on the siege concept.  This hilarious read sees the massive City besieged by an army of vengeful folk, intend on killing everyone within.  With their army already destroyed, the defence of the city falls to a conman siege engineer, who uses his engineering knowhow and ability to BS anyone, to establish one of the most elaborate and inventive defences ever.  This ended up being an incredible story, that perfectly blends humour and fun characters with the compelling siege scenario, to create an utterly addictive read.  I have so much love for this siege novel, and Parker followed it up with the equally good How to Rule and Empire and Get Away With It, that showed the surprising outcome to the siege, which I really loved.

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Fire in the East by Harry Sidebottom – Siege of Arete

Fire in the East Cover

While much of this list is focussed on fantasy fiction, I had to include the outstanding historical fiction read, Fire in the East, the debut novel of the amazing Harry Sidebottom.  Set in AD 255, this book follows Roman siege specialist, Ballista, who travels to the Roman town of Arete to reinforce it against a besieging Persian army.  Forced to hold out for months with no reinforcements, Ballista prepares a complex and deadly defence, while dealing with traitors and discontent from within his walls.  A fast-paced, but extremely detailed read, this is easily one of the best historical sieges I have ever read, and it made me a life-long fan of Harry Sidebottom, who is still releasing distinctive and captivating historical fiction reads.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling – Siege of Hogwarts

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Cover

After six books spent within the magical castle of Hogwarts, it was appropriate that the Harry Potter series end there, and the author chose to finish everything off in a big way.  With Harry, Ron and Hermione attempting to find and destroy the final Horcrux, Lord Voldemort sends all his forces in a massive assault on the magical school, facing off against students, teachers and the Order of the Phoenix.  This is a pretty epic siege, which, while great in the movie, comes across as a lot more exciting and complex in the novel.  Seeing the various dark forces attempt to destroy the castle you have come to know and love is pretty heartbreaking, and you can’t help but cheer at the desperate defence the supporting characters put up to give Harry time.  Throw in a ton of tragic deaths, as many of your favourite characters are brutally killed off, and this becomes a key moment in the series that you will never forget.

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The Martyr by Anthony Ryan – Sieges of Walvern Castle and Highsahl

The Martyr Cover

One of the more recent siege-based books I have read, The Martyr is the second Covenant of Steel novel by Anthony Ryan, and its elaborate chronicle narrative quickly drags the reader in with an amazing siege scenario.  The Martyr actually has two sieges in it, but as they occur back-to-back early in the book, I decided to combine them.  The first, sees the protagonists occupy and defend a dilapidated castle against a massive host in a foreign land, which proves to be a lot of fun as the series canny protagonist and his apparently blessed leader, engage in quite an elaborate defence of their new bastion.  I got pretty stuck into this book during the first siege and was pleasantly surprised when Ryan immediately followed it up with a second siege, with the protagonists this time acting as the attackers.  Using the lessons they learned from defending the first time, they soon attempt a deadly attack on the city, which results in a particularly bloody and intense struggle through the breach.  I had an outstanding time with this book, and I was absolutely spoiled with the two sieges it contained. 

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Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie – Siege of Dagoska

Before they are Hanged Cover

The First Law trilogy is one of the bloodiest dark fantasy series out there, so naturally it is going to feature at least a couple of great sieges.  There are actually several impressive sieges I could talk about here, especially in the third book, Last Argument of Kings, but my favourite siege occurred in the second book, Before They Are Hanged.  This novel sees fan-favourite character, the crippled Inquisitor Glokta, take control of the city of Dagoska and hold it against a massive Gurkish army.  Striking a devil’s bargain with a mysterious benefactor for resources, Glokta is able to fund a sustained defence, while trying to keep the city from turning against his forces.  However, his greatest threat is within the walls, as several magical assassins are planning to kill and eat him to win the battle.  This is such an awesome siege, especially as it sees Glokta in his element as a master manipulator, and there are some amazing scenes set around it.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkein – Siege of Helm’s Deep

The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers Cover

I was never not going to include a siege from The Lord of the Rings on this list, and naturally I had a couple of good choices here, such as the siege of Minas Tirith in The Return of the King.  However, based on the recommendation of my wife, who recently re-read these books, I went with the siege of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers.  A much more fast-paced siege, the battle of Helm’s Deep sees a small force from Rohan face off against a giant army of Uruk-hai over a single night in their ancestral fortress.  A classic siege which got an easy place on this list.

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Warhammer 40,000: Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill – Siege of Hydra Cordatus

Storm of Iron Cover 2

I had a hard time coming up with any good science fiction books for this list, but luckily, I only just finished reading an older Warhammer 40,000 novel, Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill, that was essentially one giant siege.  This book sees the defender of the planet Hydra Cordatus, come under attack by a massive army of Iron Warriors Chaos Space Marines, who besiege the planet’s seemingly impregnable fortress.  However, the Iron Warriors are the universes’ best siege engineers, and they soon start smashing down the walls to get to their foes.  A very elaborate and detailed siege book, there is so much incredible action in this book, and McNeill did an outstanding job setting up a siege story in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

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City of Lies by Sam Hawke – Siege of Silasta

City of Lies Cover

The final entry on this list is the extremely impressive City of Lies by Australian author Sam Hawke.  Another great fantasy read, this novel sees the culturally rich city of Silasta suddenly come under attack by a mysterious army, intent on destroying it.  With their army mostly away, the cities artists are forced to abandon their works and take up weapons.  At the same time, the book’s protagonists, a pair of poison-eating siblings, work to defeat a massive conspiracy that is building within their walls.  The encroaching attackers adds a great layer to the intrigue and politics going on within the walls in City of Lies, and I loved how well Hawke established this siege in this fantastic book.

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Well, that is the end of this list.  As you can see from the above entries, I have had a lot of fun reading about sieges over the years, and I love when they are fit into a good book.  All the above books have some exceptional sieges in them, and they all come highly recommended to those people who love a great siege storyline.  I am pretty happy with how this list turned out, and I will probably revisit this at some point in the future, especially if I am lucky enough to read some more siege-focussed books.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite sieges in literature are in the comments below.

The Martyr by Anthony Ryan

The Martyr Cover

Publisher: Orbit/Hachette Audio (Audiobook – 28 June 2022)

Series: The Covenant of Steel – Book Two

Length: 19 hours and 42 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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The always impressive Anthony Ryan continues his outstanding Covenant of Steel series with The Martyr, which was hands down one of the best fantasy novels of 2022.

Anthony Ryan is an extremely talented author who has been one of the leading authors of fantasy fiction for the last decade, producing several intriguing and major series.  Best known for his Raven’s Shadow trilogy (which was followed on by the Raven’s Blade duology), Slab City Blues, The Draconis Memoria and Seven Swords series, Ryan has a substantial catalogue of fantasy works to his name, most of which sound pretty damn epic.  However, I have so far only read the books from his latest series, The Covenant of Steel series, which has proven to be exceptional.  The first book in The Covenant of Steel was last year’s deeply compelling release, The Pariah, an excellent novel that set up a deeply intriguing and highly addictive character-driven tale of adventure, conspiracy and war.

The Pariah told the adventure of Alwyn Scribe, a young outlaw who was raised by brutal bandit chief.  However, his time as a member of a notorious band of villains came to a bloody end when his entire gang is brutally killed by the crown and his mentor is executed.  Imprisoned in a mine, Alwyn finds a new mentor in an imprisoned religious figure, who teaches him to be a talented scribe, and he is eventually able to escape.  Chance and self-preservation lead him to join the Covenant Company of Lady Evadine Courlain, a pious woman whose religious visions, sermons and sheer faith allow her to bring together a band of dedicated soldiers.  Swiftly growing loyal to her, Alwyn becomes one of her key followers, and saves her from certain death several times as they fight across the Kingdom of Albermaine.  I deeply enjoyed the elaborate and extremely addictive narrative contained within The Pariah, and this ended up being one of my absolute favourite books and audiobooks of 2021 (as well as being one of my favourite new-to-me authors of the year as well).  As such, I was extremely happy to receive a copy of The Martyr a little while ago, although I held out reading it until I could get a copy of the audiobook version as well.

The Martyr takes places shortly after the bloody conclusion to The Pariah and sees Alwyn Scribe now firmly in the service of Lady Evadine Courlain, whose apparent resurrection has led to her being proclaimed a living martyr of the Covenant church.  However, this and the fanatical devotion of the faithful of Albermaine have placed her in the crosshairs of both the Crown and the Covenant, both of whom see her as a dangerous pretender to their power.  Unable to kill her without starting a religious rebellion, the king decides to use Evadine for his own purposes.

Sent south to the Duchy of Alundia to put down a rebellion and stop a series of religious attacks upon the Covenant faithful, Alwyn, Evadine and the Covenant Company take up residence in a small, dilapidated castle, which soon draws the attention of the Alundian nobility.  Besieged by a massive army, Alwyn and his companions must survive the onslaught if they are to pass on Evadine’s message for the future.  However, not everything is as it seems.  Dark forces are in play and Alwyn soon finds himself in the middle of treacheries, both new and old, as he desperately stands beside his mistress.  Forced to dive into the secret past of the land, Alwyn soon discovers that many of the things that Evadine preaches are true, including the legend of the Scourge that destroyed the world and threatens to re-emerge.  But is Alwyn fully prepared for all the heartache, betrayal and bloodshed his quest is about to unleash?

Anthony Ryan is on fire once again with his second book in The Covenant of Steel series.  The Martyr is an epic and deeply addictive read that perfectly follows on from Ryan’s previous book and in some ways surpasses it with its impressive storytelling and amazing characters.  Thanks to its incredible story and cool expansion of Ryan’s fantasy universe, I had an outstanding time getting through The Martyr, and it receives an easy five-star rating from me.

I had such an outstanding time with the epic story that Ryan pulled together for The Martyr, especially as it cleverly expands on the narrative from the first book, while also taking the characters in some awesome new directions.  The book has a very strong start to it, which follows on from a useful, and slightly humorous, summary of the events of The Pariah.  From there, we quickly see the fallout from the last book, with the protagonist Alwyn and his comrades forced to engage in the politics of the realm to ensure that living martyr Evadine is allowed to continue her work.  The narrative is still told from Alwyn’s perspective as he recounts the events in chronicle form, so I was quickly hooked, and I liked the immediate dive into fantastic political intrigue and compelling universe building.  However, the story only gets even more awesome from there, as the protagonist and his company are deployed to a war setting, which turns out to be particularly epic as they are soon caught up in some outstanding siege scenarios.

Now, I frankly had no idea how Ryan was going to improve on the outstanding story from The Pariah, but having a siege storyline was a pretty good way to go about it.  I love sieges, and Ryan featured an incredible example here, as a large amount part of the book revolves around two amazing battles between attackers and castle defenders.  The first of these sees the protagonists trapped inside a dilapidated fortress facing off against a larger army, which proved to be a lot of fun.  The author really captures the chaos and drama of an impromptu siege with this earlier one, and the carnage comes quick and fast as the characters are forced to bring the attackers to battle before repelling them, using their wits and limited resources.  The action here is pretty intense and shown in excellent detail, as Ryan does not hold back on the brutality and the complexities of a siege.  I had such a great time with this first siege, and words cannot describe how ecstatic I was that he followed it up with a second siege, with the protagonists now acting as besiegers, in a more traditional siege, with artillery, sapping and even a deadly storm of the breach with the point-of-view character in the front.  These two sieges were pretty damn exceptional and have some of the best and most bloody action scenes in the entire book.  I particularly liked how well the author contrasted the differing experiences that the protagonist experienced as both a defender and an attacker, and it was fascinating and very fun to see him on both sides of the wall, especially as he learns from his experiences to become a better invader.  However, it is not all about the action, as you have some compelling political considerations going on here, as well as some great character development and the protagonist gets closer to some of the other characters during the heat of combat.

Following the sieges, the story goes in some interesting and unique directions, as Ryan continues the epic of Alwyn Scribe by expanding the universe around him.  This includes a visit to a dangerous foreign land, where he learns some harsh and surprising truths about the universe he lives in and his place within it.  This results in some trippy but deeply fascinating scenes, especially as there are some interesting reveals and some great hints for the future.  Ryan also once again dives into the political intrigue, as the protagonists are involved in some great fights for the future of the realm.  Watching the protagonists fight both on and off the battlefield is pretty cool, and the sheer threats growing around them in the last quarter of the book bode well for the future of the series.  There are some interesting reveals towards the end of The Martyr, and Ryan also works to tie up a few loose ends from the previous book, which I was very happy to have closure on.  Everything ends on a very intriguing note, as Ryan leaves behind a great little cliff-hanger reveal that will be very thought-provoking in the lead-up to the next book.  I had such a great time with this story, and it really drew me in with its fantastic moments and complex, overarching storylines.

I am a pretty big fan of how The Martyr’s story came together, and Ryan has a great writing style that really enhanced the whole experience.  I absolutely loved the chronicle style that he uses to detail the plot.  Told completely from the protagonist’s perspective as he writes down all he experiences, you get a unique view of the events occurring, especially as the protagonist writes in funny or insightful comments that show his opinions of the events in hindsight.  At the same time, they allow the protagonist to air his many regrets, and you get a certain sense of foreboding for some of the events that are to come, either in this book or in the rest of the series.  I was pretty consistently entertained by this style of writing, and I think that it also added in some extra humour to a somewhat darker fantasy story, especially as the protagonist is quite a funny and unconventional figure.  The Martyr’s story has an amazing blend of different elements, and while I lavished my love above on the great action, especially during the siege sequences, most of the book is about the development of the protagonist and his attempts to keep Evadine alive.  This results in a brilliant combination of politics, intrigue, great interactions between figures, and some awesome character development, which works to produce quite an addictive read.  Watching Alwyn trying to come to grips with the many dangers threating his friends, while also unpicking the multitude of mysteries and secrets surrounding him is just great, and Ryan keeps adding in new secrets and supporting storylines to keep the reader interested.  While there is a lot going on within The Martyr, the pace is pretty fast and consistently exciting, and at no point was I not immensely entertained, either by the powerful action or fascinating world building.  Due to the amount of lore and history featured in the first book, I would strongly suggest that interested readers get through The Pariah before trying out The Martyr, and fans of the first book will really enjoy where this second book goes and how Ryan effectively tells the story.

I was very impressed with all the cool ways that Ryan expanded the series’ setting in The Martyr, as he adds in some great additional history, expands on some of the mysterious religious and mystical aspects of the first, while also showing off some fascinating new lands.  This additional context around parts of the nation of Albermaine proves to be pretty damn intriguing, and you learn a lot more about it, while also seeing a lot more about its internal politics and rule, especially as the characters are forced to deal with the royalty and the church.  The inclusion of the Duchy of Alundia, where much of the plot takes place, was also pretty excellent, especially as Ryan portrays it as a more rugged and dangerous locale, whose unique take on the Covenant religion leads to a veritable holy war when Evadine and her company arrive.  However, the most captivating new part of the book has to involve the protagonist’s journey to the Caerith Wastes.  Alwyn has been haunted by members of the mysterious Caerith race since the start of The Pariah, and their strange ways and powerful magics have been both a boon and a curse to him.  As such, a journey to their homeland was always inevitable, and Ryan ensures that there are many surprises, mysteries and some interesting reveals for the protagonist when he finally arrives.  Ryan did a really good job introducing this new race of people in the story, and there are some great scenes where Alwyn attempts to learn more of them, while using his own personal history to stay alive with them.  The subsequent reveals about some of their powers and how it has been impacting Alwyn are pretty amazing.  One reveal, which illuminates the origins of Alwyn’s historical chronicle that the entire series is based on, was particularly compelling, and it sheds a whole new light on everything you have been reading.  Overall, Ryan did a fantastic job expanding his fantasy realm in The Martyr, and I look forward to seeing what cool inclusions he features in the next book.

Easily one of the best things about The Martyr was the outstanding and complex characters that were such a key part of the book.  Ryan expands on many of the great characters from the first book and takes their unique narratives in some amazing new directions.  The compelling and dramatic interactions that occur between these figures results in some powerful moments and I deeply enjoyed seeing the outstanding ways their tales and lives evolved in this second book.

The character who naturally gets the most focus is central protagonist and sole point-of-view character, Alwyn Scribe.  A former bandit who, thanks to a series of influential leaders and friends, became first a talented scribe and then a soldier, Alwyn is a man with a past and a fast mind who now finds himself in the centre of his nation’s crisis.  Dedicated to the Lady Evadine, Alwyn spends much of this book advancing her cause, while also evolving further as a character.  While he still primarily considers himself to be a scribe, Alwyn ends up taking on more and more different roles as he finds himself thrust into Evadine’s adventures, including being a knight, a military commander, a politician and a spymaster.  As such, you see him go through some major leaps and developments as he tries to reconcile what he is with what he needs to be to keep those around him alive.  This proves to be quite fascinating, and I loved the various unique situations he finds himself in, especially as he begins to realise some of the mystical mysteries the world contains and his place in them.  Alwyn continues to be an excellent main character for this series, and I loved his depictions of how the events of the book unfold, especially as his later insights from when he chronicles his adventures add both weight and humour to the current story.  His unique background as a criminal and a scribe continues to serve him well in The Martyr, and he has some very inventive ways of solving problems that often rely on his criminal or academic past.  I also deeply enjoyed seeing him take on a role as a teacher and mentor to several younger characters in this book, and it was a nice to see Alwyn come full circle after all the mentorship he received in the first book.  I had a great time seeing how he grew into the new roles in this book, and it will be fascinating to see what different positions he takes on in the future, especially as he becomes more and more devoted to Evadine, not matter how crazy their adventures become.

That leads nicely to the other major character I wanted to highlight, Lady Evadine Courlain.  Evadine is a fascinating figure in this series, a pious and devote noblewoman who has been receiving prophetic visions all her life.  Believing these visions to be from the Seraphile (the divine focus of the Covenant religion), Evadine created her own military company in the hopes of averting the Second Scourge (an apocalyptic calamity).  After miraculously recovering from a fatal wound, Evadine has now been declared a Risen Martyr, and believes herself to have been raised up by the Seraphile, despite it actually being caused by a magical bargain struck by Alwyn.  Now a major religious figure, Evadine has become a threat to both the church and the crown and must deal with their attempts to destroy her while she attempts to achieve her mysterious goals.  I deeply enjoy Evadine as a character, particularly as there is such an inherent mystery behind her, as you have no idea whether she is actually divinely blessed or just crazy.  Ryan portrays her as both at times, and while it is easy to assume the latter, she keeps coming up with knowledge and insights that should be impossible to achieve.  Watching her continue to evolve as a religious figure in The Martyr is both fascinating, and a little concerning, as you really have no idea where her story is going to go, or what insanity or divine revelation may come from her next.  Evadine serves as a quite a good foil to the more cynical character of Alwyn, and they become quite an intriguing team in The Martyr, with Alwyn providing the means to many of her successes, while strongly disbelieving her divine status.  There is also a certain growing instability in Evadine that underlies much of the book and adds to the general tension between her an Alwyn.  This, as well as a few intriguing reveals, makes Evadine one of the most compelling and unique figures in the series and it is clear that Ryan has some very, very interesting plans for her future.

Aside from Alwyn and Evadine, The Martyr is loaded with a ton of great supporting characters who add a substantial amount to the overall narrative.  Many of these characters carry over from the first book, and there are some intriguing and dramatic developments that occur in The Martyr that prove to be quite shocking and fun in places.  Great examples of this include the disgraced knight Wilhum Dornmahl, who is a major figure in the Covenant Company’s ranks, Ayin a murderous young girl Alwyn takes under his wing and teaches, and the mysterious Sack Witch, who haunts the character, despite barely appearing in the book.  In addition, Ryan introduces many new great characters in the second book, or else finally introduces and expands on characters mentioned in The Pariah.  Two minor characters from the first book who really stood out to me in the sequel were Princess Leannor, the king’s sister, who serves as a canny and complex political adversary to Alwyn; and Ehkbert Bauldry, a legendary knight who Alwyn bears a grudge against, but who also proves to be an interesting ally.  Both have some intriguing interactions with Alwyn, especially as they know he has some substantial dirt on them that makes him quite a threat.  I also must highlight outstanding new characters like Juhlina, better known as a The Widow, a deadly Covenant Company soldier with a tragic backstory and unstoppable rage, and Lilat, another new mentee for Alywn.  These characters were all extremely fun and compelling, and I loved how Ryan fit them into the story and made them shine.

As I mentioned above, I did receive a psychical copy of The Martyr a little while ago, however, I held off reading it until the audiobook version came out.  While I did regret not diving into the story as soon as I got it, I think it was more than worth it as the audiobook format of The Martyr was pretty damn exceptional.  Coming in with a run time of just under 20 hours, The Martyr has a decent length to it, although I found myself getting through it in just a week, mainly because I was just so addicted to Ryan’s outstanding story.  The audiobook format really helped with my enjoyment of this book, and I really found myself getting drawn into the elaborate narrative through the narration.  I definitely absorb more narrative detail when I listen to a book, and this was particularly noticeable with The Martyr audiobook, as I found all the cool story elements, details about the setting, intriguing characters and epic action popped more into my head through this format.  I also really need to highlight the exceptional voice work of actor Steven Brand (who I best know as the villain from The Scorpion King) who has lent his voice to the audiobook versions of all of Ryan’s works.  Brand is an extremely talented audiobook narrator who deftly captures the many characters contained with The Martyr and gives them distinctive and compelling voices that really fit the character and showcase their emotions.  I particularly liked the way in which he portrays protagonist and narrator Alwyn Scribe, and you really get a sense of the character’s emotional state, as well as the sense of weariness the chronicle format conveys through Brand’s voice.  This ended up being a pretty awesome audiobook and it was definitely my preferred way to enjoy The Martyr.  As such, this format is highly recommended, and when I get around to reading the rest of Ryan’s books, I will be grabbing their audiobook versions.

After all the gushing above, I think it is fair to say that I deeply enjoyed Anthony Ryan’s latest book.  The Martyr was an exceptional and deeply addictive read that I felt perfectly continued the amazing groundwork he established in The Pariah.  This second entry in The Covenant of Steel series was something special, and I had such an epic time seeing what unique and captivating adventures and battles the great protagonists found themselves in.  The Martyr was such an outstanding fantasy read, and I can’t wait to see how Ryan continues this awesome series in the future.  A truly incredible read!

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

Storm of Iron Cover 2

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – July 2002)

Series: Warhammer 40,000

Length: 11 hours and 3 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For this latest Throwback Thursday, I dive into some old-school Warhammer 40,000 fiction with the exceptional Storm of Iron by one of the most prolific Warhammer authors, Graham McNeill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storm of Iron Cover

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Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris

Act of Oblivion Cover

Publisher: Hutchinson Heinemann (Trade Paperback – 20 September 2022)

Series: Standalone

Length: 464 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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That master of historical fiction, Robert Harris, returns with another deeply compelling read, this time diving into one of the most fascinating manhunts in history with Act of Oblivion.

1660, England.  It is the dawn a new age in English history.  Following the death of Oliver Cromwell, the country has allowed King Charles II to come to power.  In exchange, the King has agreed to clemency for the former Parliamentarians, allowing peace to return to England for the first time in decades.  However, the King’s clemency is not absolute, and under the terms of the Act of Oblivion, all the men involved in the execution of his father, King Charles I, including the 59 men who signed his death warrant, are to be hunted down and brutally executed.

General Edward Whalley and his son-in-law, Colonel William Goffe, are two such men.  Former Parliamentarian leaders, their signatures lie prominent on the king’s death warrant.  Knowing that their deaths are close behind, Whalley and Goffe are forced to abandon their families and flee to the colonies.  Arriving in New England, Whalley and Goffe attempt to become part of the local community, but the shadow of their treason is far-reaching, and both old soldiers will have to live with the consequences of their action.

In London, Richard Nayler has been appointed as secretary of the regicide committee of the Privy Council.  Tasked with tracking down, capturing and executing all the men wanted in relation to the King’s death, Nayler attacks his task with zeal and passion, determined to bring justice to those who wronged the kingdom.  However, Nayler saves the vast amount his hatred and determination for Whalley and Goffe, two men he bears a particular grudge against.  Soon, a large bounty is placed on the two fugitive’s heads, and Nayler himself arrives in America, determined to see the men captured.  Forced to flee across the continent, Whalley and Goffe find themselves as outcasts and fugitives wherever they go.  The chase is on in the new world, and no-one is prepared for how far this mission of vengeance will go.

Robert Harris does it again, producing a brilliant and riveting historical epic that reconstructs fantastic historical events in impressive detail.  I have long been a fan of Harris’s writing, having deeply enjoyed An Officer and a Spy and V2, and his latest book, Act of Oblivion, is one his better works.  I had an outstanding time getting through this complex novel, especially as it spent substantial time diving into a unique historical occurrence I was unfamiliar with.

I had an exceptional time with Act of Oblivion, especially as Harris presents an elaborate and massive story set across multiple years.  Leaning heavily into historical sources, Harris dives deep into the flight of Goffe and Whalley and perfectly portrays their journey to America and the hardships they encountered.  This proves to be quite an intense and frustrating tale, as these two protagonists suffer a great deal through the course of the book.  Forced to abandon their families, Goffe and Whalley are initially seen as heroes by the people of Boston and Cambridge, but the two fugitives are gradually forced to flee from these towns due to the machinations of the English and their former enemies.  Forced to flee to smaller and smaller settlements, the protagonists are chucked into some uncomfortable positions in their flight, which includes years of depredation and isolation throughout the country.  The full tale of their time in America (or at least what is known), is pretty damn remarkable, and I felt that Harris did a wonderful job bringing it to life and showing what these two might of experienced and the lengths they went through to survive.  However, it does occasionally get slow in places, mainly because the historical fugitives were often unable to move for fear of being captured.

Harris covers these slower periods well by mixing in a second major storyline that runs parallel to the depictions of Whalley and Goffe.  This second storyline is primarily set in England and Europe and showcases the events occurring while the fugitives are in hiding.  Mainly shown from the perspective of the fictional character hunting them, Richard Nayler, as well as several scenes that show the fugitives’ family, this second storyline adds some real colour and danger to the events, especially as you get to witness the hunt from the other end.  The blend of fictional and historically accurate storylines works extremely well, and Harris creates a deeply fascinating and compelling overall narrative that really draws you in.  Seeing the simultaneous actions of both hunter and fugitives is a lot of fun, and I loved Nayler’s reactions to the constant escapes of Whalley and Goffe.  Harris also spends time showing the hunt for the other regicides, which Nayler embarks on with greater success.  Not only does this add in some additional fun action and historical context, but it also ups the stakes of the main storyline, as you are forced to witness the gruesome fate that awaits Whalley and Goffe if caught.  All this adds up to quite a remarkable tale, and I was deeply impressed with how exciting and captivating Harris was able to make these historical events appear.

One thing that is extremely clear about Act of Oblivion is the sheer amount of historical research that Harris put into crafting this book.  There is so much exceptional and compelling detail put into Act of Oblivion, as Harris goes out of his way to make this book as historically accurate as possible.  Naturally a substantial amount of this research goes into showing the known events of the two fugitives, as Harris meticulously recounts where they went and the various places they were forced to hide.  While the author does add in a few literary embellishments, this appears to be a very accurate and intriguing depiction of the fugitives’ flight in America, and I had such an amazing time seeing what they went through.  Harris makes sure to try and tells as much of their tale as possible, and the book goes all the way up until 1679, when the records end.  At the same time, Harris spends a large amount of time exploring the history of the rest of the world.  The novel is chock full of intriguing depictions of various key parts of British and American history at the time, which I found to be extremely fascinating, especially as you get to see how England changed after the return of the

King.  Harris also makes sure to examine how major historical events around the world might have impacted the lives of the two fugitives, and I felt that he worked all these fascinating events into the main story extremely well.  All the historical aspects of the book are showcased to the reader in a fantastic and very readable way, and even non-history fans will be able to dive into this story extremely easily.  This is mostly because the historical events themselves are pretty damn remarkable (honestly historical reality stranger than fiction in some places), but I really appreciated how well Harris was able to explore them and showcase them to the reader.

Another historical aspect of this book I deeply enjoyed was the author’s extremely detailed and moving depictions of the American countryside and its settlements in the 17th century.  Quite a lot of the book is spent out in the American wilds, as the two protagonists are constantly fleeing from their pursuers and avoiding people, and Harris makes sure to patiently and lovingly depict the various locations they find themselves in.  You really get a sense of the beauty and danger of the land during this period, and I loved seeing the various English characters react to the wide open spaces after spending time in cities like London.  Harris also takes the time to describe several of the historical settlements that the characters journeyed to and through, and you get a real sense of how built up or settled they were.  I found it fascinating to see all the descriptions about the various settlements, especially as many are quite significant cities in modern times, and it was really cool to see how they originated.  The descriptions of towns like Boston and Cambridge were pretty intriguing, especially as I didn’t realise just how built-up they were during this period (sentiments that some of the character’s shared), and I loved also seeing the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, especially as Harris also explored the events that saw it renamed as something far more iconic.  Throw in the deeply fascinating depictions of the people inhabiting these settlements, including the distinctive religious differences (so many puritans) and political sentiments.  Religion in particular becomes quite a key part of this book, and watching the various Puritan figures discuss their beliefs and their thoughts on the actions of the main characters, is particularly intriguing, as you get to see how these religious fugitives shaped early America.  Overall, this is a very impressive and clearly heavily researched look at 17th century America, which all historical fiction fans will deeply appreciate.

I also really enjoyed the central figures of Act of Oblivion and I found their storylines to be very compelling.  As I mentioned above, I really didn’t know that much about Edward Whalley and William Goffe before reading this book, but that swiftly changed.  Harris did a remarkable job showcasing the lives of these two historical figures and you really get to know everything about them.  While I am sure that Harris made a few character changes to fit the narrative, I felt that the overall presentation of them was pretty realistic.  Harris really highlights their personalities, religious convictions, and deep pride in the actions they took under Cromwell throughout the book as they spend time remembering their pasts.  All the key moments are their lives are captured in some way throughout the book, either in the plot or in their memories, and you soon see what events led them to become fugitives.  While the depictions of some their actions during the war and Cromwell’s control of England does make them a tad unsympathetic, I grew attached to them, especially as you see them suffer in isolation over a period of years.  Harris did a remarkable job showcasing how he believed these people would have felt spending years and years trapped in attics and basements, and you can just feel the mental and physical impacts it had on them.  This was frankly a brilliant portrayal, and I had an excellent time getting to know these unique historical figures.

Aside from Whalley and Goffe, the other major character I need to mention is Richard Nayler, the man charged with hunting the fugitives down.  Nayler is a purely fictional character, although Harris indicates upfront that someone likely had this job in the 17th century.  I quite enjoyed the portrayal of Nayler in this book, especially as he serves as a grim and determined counterpart to the protagonists.  A Royalist who witnessed the execution of King Charles I, Nayler goes about his duties with a resolute duty, determined to make all the regicides pay.  However, his main obsession lies with Whalley and Goffe, who holds responsible for the death of his wife and child.  Despite this tragic past, it is a times hard to feel sorry for the super serious Nayler, especially as he has little compassion for others, even the innocent.  However, he is quite a captivating figure, especially as his growing obsession with finding the fugitives becomes more and more apparent.  While his fellow returned Royalists initially share his determination, it soon becomes evident that he is true fanatic, while the others are purely in it for political reasons.  Harris really shows the downside of obsession through this character, especially as Nayler sacrifices a lot to try and find the fugitives.  I felt he had an impressive storyline throughout Act of Oblivion, and this great fictional character played off the real historical figures extremely well.

Robert Harris’ latest novel, Act of Oblivion, once again highlights the author’s outstanding skill as he recounts a particularly fascinating occurrence from history.  I loved the amazing story contained in Act of Oblivion, especially as the author did such a great job incorporating historical events into an intense and captivating plot.  Deeply intriguing and very entertaining, Act of Oblivion is a highly recommended read, and I can’t wait to see what elaborate historical tale Harris comes up with next.

Act of Oblivion Cover 2

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

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this latest Waiting on Wednesday, I dive back into the dark future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe with the awesome upcoming entry, Witchbringer by Steven B. Fischer

Warhammer 40,000 - Witchbringer Cover

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

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

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

Plot Synopsis:

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

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

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

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


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

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

Warhammer 40,000: Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley

Catachan Devil Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 29 March 2022)

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

Length: 9 hours and 14 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars - Midnight Horizon Cover

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

Series: Star Wars – The High Republic

Length: 10 hours and 5 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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