Waiting on Wednesday – 2023 Warhammer 40,000 Novels

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.  For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I return to one of my favourite franchises, the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and look at four epic upcoming tie-in novels coming out in the next few months that I am extremely eager to get my hands on.

I have been having a particularly good year for Warhammer 40,000 fiction as I dive further and further in the franchise by reading a ton of outstanding books.  There is something about this grim and entertaining franchise that deeply appeals to me, and I have had an exceptional time getting through various books from this universe that feature brilliant authors, elaborate storylines, and a fun mixture of genres and sub-genres.  2023 has been particularly Warhammer intensive for me as I spent a ton of time earlier in the year reading several great books so I could list all my absolute favourite Warhammer 40,000 novels, which turned out extremely well.  Even since then I have been diving even deeper into the franchise, with additional books from the Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett, such as Necropolis, Honour Guard and The Guns of Tanith, filling up my Throwback Thursday posts, while I only just published a review for the cool standalone novel Warboss by Mike Brooks.  However, 2023 is far from over as there are still several epic new Warhammer 40,000 novels set for release.  As such, I thought I would take this opportunity to dive into the four upcoming Warhammer 40,000 novels I am most excited for, all of which are from new-to-me authors and which sound pretty damn incredible.

The first book I want to highlight in this post is the outstanding new Warhammer Crime novel, The King of the Spoil by Jonathan D. Beer.  The Warhammer Crime sub-franchise of Warhammer 40,000 is a slick and cool series of crime fiction novels that make great use of the franchises background to create some amazing reads.  Set at various points in the vast, lawless city of Varangantua, the Warhammer Crime novels have been some of my favourite books in the franchise, especially as each novels use different crime fiction elements perfectly.  Some of the best examples of this include the crime thriller romps The Wraithbone Phoenix and Dredge Runners by Alec Worley, the noir-inspired Grim Repast by Marc Collins, the intriguing buddy cop read Flesh and Steel by Guy Hayley, and the more classic crime fiction novel Bloodlines by Chris Wraight.  All these Warhammer Crime books have beyond exceptional, and I have been very eager for a new entry, which is why I am particularly excited for The King of the Spoil.

The King of the Spoil Cover

Amazon

The King of the Spoil, which is currently set for release on 4 July 2023, is another intriguing crime fiction read, set in a whole new area of Varangantua, known as the Spoil.  This novel will see the return of Beer’s protagonist info-broker Melita Voronova, from the short story, Service, which appeared in the Sanction & Sin anthology book, as she is forced to investigate a murder in the most lawless part of the city.

Plot Synopsis:

Delve into the lawless underbelly of the vast city of Varangantua in this fantastic Warhammer Crime novel.

Within the vast sprawl of Varangantua lies the Spoil. It is a broken crossroads, forsaken by the Lex, abandoned by the city’s uncaring masters, where the only choice is a slow death in the manufactories, or a quick one on the street.

And it is in turmoil.

Andreti Sorokin, the gangster king whose vicious rule brought order to the Spoil, is dead, slain in the most brutal fashion.

Melita Voronova, skilled info-broker and reluctant agent of the imperious Valtteri cartel, is tasked with uncovering the mystery of who killed Sorokin, and preventing his fragile alliance of thugs and narco-pushers from collapsing into chaos.

As street-blades clash and gang leaders turn against one another, Melita’s instincts tell her there is a larger conspiracy at work. Someone has created this crisis not merely to disrupt the Spoil, but to overturn the foundations of Varangantua itself.

Unsurprisingly, I love the sound of The King of the Spoil, which has an epic sounding narrative to it.  Watching a complex info-broker character attempting to find out who killed a legendary gangster king should be amazing, and I have no doubt this story will be loaded with twists, betrayals and a full-on gang war.  I have had so much fun with some of the great mysteries in the other Warhammer Crime books, and this unique scenario has so much damn potential for an outstanding story.  While I haven’t read Beer’s previous short story about Melita Voronova, these novels are pretty good at reintroducing the reader to the characters, and I am sure that I will have no problem diving into this one.  Frankly, based on my previous very positive experiences with the Warhammer Crime series, as well as the awesome sounding plot above, I am very confident that The King of the Spoil is going to be one of the more entertaining novels of 2023 and I am so damn excited for it.

The next book I want to highlight is the excellent sounding read, Cypher: Lord of the Fallen by John French which is set for release on 18 July 2023.  French is a well-established Warhammer author who has written several great books in the past, and I am very interested in seeing his take on one of the most compelling characters in the extended canon, Cypher.  Cypher is a mysterious and sinister figure strongly associated with the Fallen, former members of the Dark Angels Space Marines who turned traitor and are now zealously hunted by their former brothers.  Cypher is a figure of intense anarchy whose deeds have haunted the Dark Angels for millennia as they try to hunt him down, and there is some real mystery behind his try identity and intentions.

Cypher - Lord of the Fallen Cover

Amazon

Cypher: Lord of the Fallen is a very intriguing novel that will provide readers with a personal look at this mysterious figure as he tries to make his way through the most secure location in the universe, the Imperial Palace on Holy Terra.  This is another book with an exceptional plot to it, and I have to admit that I am highly intrigued to see what French pulls off in this book.

Plot Synopsis:

Delve into a great new story featuring the enigmatic Cypher!

As the Great Rift unfolds in the night sky above Terra and daemons walk upon the birth world of mankind, the Primarch Roboute Guilliman returns, heralding a dark new age.

During the breaking storm, Cypher and his band of Fallen escape from the most secure prison in the Imperium. Now loose in the Imperial Palace, they are hunted by warriors of the Dark Angels, forces of the Adeptus Custodes and Imperial Assassins. But what are Cypher’s intentions? Can anything or anyone be trusted?

Told from Cypher’s own, unreliable point of view, this tale of truth, lies and secrets sees one of the Imperium’s most mysterious figures make war at its very heart. But what are the true motivations of the Lord of the Fallen?

This sounds like another particularly cool Warhammer 40,000 novel as it will combine a great character with a fun story in the most iconic setting in the canon.  I love the idea of Cypher causing chaos in the Imperial Palace as everyone tries to hunt him adown and kill him, and it will no doubt result in several particularly intense scenes.  I also look forward to learning more about Cypher, although it sounds like he is going to be an unreliable narrator, which isn’t too surprising when you consider the character this book is focused on.  Thanks to how great this story sounds, I also have a lot of hopes for John French’s new book, and I cannot wait to read Cypher: Lord of the Fallen.  I will probably try to read the recently released novel, The Lion: Son of the Forest by Mike Brooks before I get to Cypher: Lord of the Fallen however, as the new details around the returning Dark Angels Primarch might tie into this book as well.

Longshot Cover

Amazon

The third fantastic 2023 Warhammer 40,000 novel that I want to highlight is the compelling book Longshot by Rob Young which is part of the Astra Militarum sub-series that focuses on the soldiers of the Imperium of Man.  I have often said that some of the very best Warhammer 40,000 novels are those that focus on the normal, human soldiers who are thrust into some particularly dark and weird situations.  Some of my favourite books focused on these normal humans include the Gaunt’s Ghosts books, Steel Tread by Andy Clark, Outgunned by Denny Flowers, 13th Legion by Gav Thorpe and Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley, all of which have successfully captured these human experiences and produced some exceptional reads.  This is what I am really hoping for from Longshot, which has a deeply epic plot to it.

Plot Synopsis:

Explore the life of a Cadian Sharpshooter in this great Astra Militarum novel from Black Library!

Transplant. Cadian. Sniper. Legend.

Sergeant Darya Nevic is all of these and more… but behind the stories stands a soldier haunted by the unwelcome fame her successes have brought.

During the Cadian 217th’s assault on the manufactorum world of Attruso, Darya finds herself out of her depth in a war that is fought with words as much as with weapons. As a fearsome winter closes in and her men begin to die around her, she will be forced to confront her doubts and make an impossible choice: to become the figurehead her soldiers need, or to believe the unimaginable promises of the mysterious t’au.

With the fate of her regiment in her hands, which path will she choose?

This is another exceptional sounding Warhammer 40,000 novel that I will definitely be reading when it comes out in mid-August 2023.  I love the idea of a sniper novel, especially in the dark Warhammer 40,000 universe, which will no doubt bring out the grittiness and intensity of a sniper war.  However, it sounds like Longshot is going to dive deeply into its main character as she tries to balance being a legend and hero to her comrades, while also trying to survive the nefarious propaganda of the T’au.  I think that Young is trying to replicate a Stalingrad-esque battle, à la Enemy at the Gate in this book, with the sniper battle, propaganda, and cold, cramped city warfare.  I have a feeling that this is going to be one of the more emotionally powerful Warhammer 40,000 books of the year and it is definitely pretty high on my to-read list for the second half of 2023.

Creed-Ashes of Cadia Cover

The final upcoming Warhammer 40,000 book I want to focus on this week is the pretty significant sounding read, Creed: Ashes of Cadia by Jude Reid.  Now, anyone familiar with recent Warhammer 40,000 history will know the names Creed and Cadia, both of which have played major roles in the canon.  As such, any new book that focuses on them is going to be pretty damn important and that makes it very interesting for me.  As such, Creed: Ashes of Cadia, which is set for a later 2023 release, is going to be one of my most anticipated novels of the year.

Plot Synopsis:

What does it mean to be Cadian after the Fall?

Ursula Creed has come to terms with the loss of her home world. For decades she has built a glittering career in the furthest reaches of the Imperium, far from her legendary father’s shadow. But when unexpected orders arrive from the Avening Son himself, Roboute Guilliman, the new lord castellan realises that the past may not be ready to let her go.

Dispatched into shattered remains of Cadia in search of Ursarkar E. Creed’s final battle plans, Ursula finds the planet a hellscape full of deadly secrets. What horrors claim Cadia’s corpse as their domain? What became of those left behind? What orders did Creed leave for Cadia when all was lost? And, most troubling of all, how can she succeed where her illustrious father has already failed?

Now this is a Warhammer 40,000 book that could go some places.  Not only do we get introduced to a new interesting character, one with a connection to the legendary Ursarkar Creed, but we also get to see the destroyed planet of Cadia after the catastrophic destruction of the 13th Black Crusade.  Based on this plot scenario alone, this is probably going to be one of the most important and impressive Warhammer 40,000 novels of the year and I am pretty damn excited for that.  I cannot wait to see what lies behind on Cadia and it’s going to be one of the first major views of it we’ve seen in years.  I am also very curious to see if they’ll dive into the fate of Creed senior, and it will be interesting to see why the man’s final battle plans were so important.  Like the rest of the books, I think that Creed: Ashes of Cadia has some major potential, and this one will probably have a great blend of universe building and character development.

Based on how much I have rambled on over the last few pages, I think it is clear that I am very, very keen on all these upcoming Warhammer 40,000 novels.  All four sound extremely epic and unique in their own way and I have very little doubt that I will love every single I spend with them.  Knowing me, I will probably get these novels as audiobooks, which is my preferred format for Warhammer fiction and I cannot wait to hear how each of these different tales unfolds.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Warhammer 40,000 novels

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, participants are given a genre freebie, where they pick a genre and built a post/list around it.  While I had a few ideas for this list, I decided to put some of my recent obsessive reading to good use and take look at my absolute favourite Warhammer 40,000 tie-in novels.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Warhammer is a long-running extended universe that is based around a series of miniature table-top games.  Started by Games Workshop decades ago, Warhammer in its various forms has a large and dedicated following to it, and there are several existing or defunct games associated with the franchise, including Warhammer Fantasy, Age of Sigmar, Warhammer 30,000 – The Horus Heresy, Blood Bowl, Necromunda, and more.  The most iconic of these is probably the futuristic Warhammer 40,000 franchise which is set millennia in the future and details a grim-dark universe where multiple factions engage in massive wars and battles.  Many of the above games are set in and around the larger Warhammer 40,000 universe, and there have been various versions and editions to the rules throughout the decades.

Throughout its run, the various Warhammer games have produced a vast amount of lore to provide background information and intriguing extra details around the various armies and characters players could use.  As the years went on, this lore got more elaborate and it formed an intriguing universe around the games, which resulted in the creators creating a ton of extra content like novels, comics, animation, video games, and more.  All the Warhammer tabletop games have some form of extended lore around it, with the most impressive wrapping around the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  There is a ton of Warhammer 40,000 books and comics out there, with a massive team of great authors contributing more and more to it every year.  This franchise is only going to get bigger in the future, especially after the recent announcement that Amazon has bought the film and television rights to Warhammer 40,000.  A such, I have seen a ton of extra posts and questions online about Warhammer fiction in recent months and I thought this would be a good opportunity to publish a list about my favourite Warhammer 40,000 books to provide some ideas for new readers looking to explore this universe.

I personally have been a fan of the Warhammer franchise for years, ever since my parents got me into it as a child.  While I primarily played the now defunct Warhammer Fantasy game (Empire and Lizardmen for the win), I was always more into the background lore than the actual painting, and I had a lot of fun with that when I was younger.  I did take a bit of a break from the game and universe for a while, but in recent years I have come back to the franchise with a vengeance and started really diving into the associated books.  Be it nostalgia or an appreciation for the elaborate nature of this universe, but I have been loving all the cool books associated with the games, and I deeply appreciate the sheer range of intriguing and powerful stories that have been built around it, as well as the excellent collection of talented authors writing them.  I have also deeply enjoyed the intriguing sub-genres that have been fit into this wider universe, as, in addition to the more common military fiction, there are also clever thrillers, unique character studies, elaborate crime fiction books, and even some freaky horror reads.

While I have read several Warhammer Fantasy novels, my main fiction focus has been on the Warhammer 40,000 novels, as that is where the main bulk of the current books has been released (plus I’m not too interested in Age of Sigmar).  I have kind of gone a little overboard with Warhammer 40,000 fiction in the last year or so, and I ended up reading a huge amount of current and older books, including entries from some of the most iconic book series in Warhammer 40,000 fiction.  This has only increased in the last month or so when I first had the idea for this list, and I have read quite a few Warhammer books in the start of 2023.

As such, I had a lot of potential books to use for this list and this is where things admittedly got a little away from me as I had a hard time determining only 10 books for this list.  So, as I’m a bit of a softie and a huge Warhammer nerd, I decided to expand this out to a top 20 list instead, which gave me a lot more options to work with.  I also decided to compact several books from the same series (and written by the same author) into a single entry to increase variety, which I think worked out well.  I still had several hard decisions to make, and I ended up cutting several outstanding novels from this list.  Still, I’m pretty happy with how my Top 20 list turned out and there are so many exceptional and epic novels I would strongly recommend.  So let us find out what made the cut.

Top 20 List (no particular order):

Eisenhorn trilogy by Dan Abnett

Warhammer 40,000 - Xenos Cover

The first entry on this list is the iconic and epic Eisenhorn trilogy by legendary Warhammer author Dan Abnett.  Generally considered one of the most influential authors of Warhammer fiction, Abnett has written several key series and novels in this canon and the Eisenhorn books are some of his finest work.  Made up of Xenos, Malleus and Hereticus, this series follows the titular Inquisitor Eisenhorn who investigates several complex conspiracies while trying to keep the Imperium of Man safe.  However, along the way he starts making dark compromises and deals to fight the forces of Chaos, which slowly corrupts him.  Providing an outstanding mixture of elaborate stories, impressive characters and some epic moments, the Eisenhorn trilogy is damn near perfect and I have had a wonderful time getting through it.  Easily one of the best Warhammer series out there, the Eisenhorn novels are a must-read, and there is a reason why most fans recommend it as a brilliant starting Warhammer 40,000 fiction starting point.

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Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker

Deathwatch Shadowbreaker Cover

Next, I want to highlight the book that pretty much started my current obsession with Warhammer fiction, Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker.  An intriguing and action-packed novel that follows a small team of Deathwatch Space Marines as they infiltrate a Tau held planet and attempt to pull of an assassination.  Loaded with combat, intense personal moments, and a compelling look at both the Deathwatch and the Tau, Shadowbreaker is a great read that swiftly drew me in and had me hooked. 

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Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! by Nate Crowley

Ghazghkull Thraka - Prophet of the Waaagh! Cover

For readers looking for something a little less human-focussed, Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! is the perfect book.  A unique retelling of iconic ork character Ghazghkull Thraka’s origin story, this fantastic novel presents a powerful and instantly compelling story that shows a far deeper side to the ork boss and his followers.  Crowley expertly utilises a series of distinctive perspectives to tell a particularly striking story, and I loved the fun combination of serious elements and humorous undertones.  I had a brilliant time with this novel and it ended up being one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2022.  Highly recommended, especially on audiobook due to the amazing team of talented narrators the recruited to voice it.

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The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley

The Wraithbone Phoenix Cover

One of the things that I most love about Warhammer 40,000 fiction is the sheer range of different stories that can be featured in this universe.  Probably the best example of this is the Warhammer Crime subseries that set a series of powerful crime fiction novels in a futuristic and corrupt Warhammer 40,000 city.  The first one of these that I read was The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, which features a fast-paced, crime thriller romp as several teams of over-the-top criminals fight to recover a mysterious McGuffin, the titular Wraithbone Phoenix.  The story primarily focuses on the hilarious team of thieving ratling (a futuristic halfling/hobbit) and an enlightened Ogryn (ogre), who find themselves caught in the middle of the heist and hunted by everyone.  Fun, intense and surprisingly moving, this was an amazing book, and readers should also check out Worley’s short audiobook, Dredge Runners, which serves as an exceptional prequel.

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Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath

Assassinorum Kingmaker Cover

Another Warhammer 40,000 novel from last year that topped my best of lists was the insanely good Assassinorum: Kingmaker by talented author Robert Rath.  Following three ultra-elite assassins, Kingmaker showcases their mission to assassinate a king and bring a new era to a feudal Imperial Knight planet.  The only problem is that their target is permanently bonded to a giant mecha, and there are far darker secrets hidden on the planet than they realised.  This book was highly addictive from the very start and I cannot emphasise how impressively amazing the narrative was.  You really get attached to the major characters, and I loved all the epic mecha-on-mecha fights than ensued.  A top read from one of the franchises fastest rising stars.

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Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill

Storm of Iron Cover 2

From cool assassins to brutal sieges, my next entry is the awesome epic Storm of Iron by the legendary Graham McNeill.  Storm of Iron is a powerful and intense read that chronicles a deadly futuristic siege of a legendary citadel by the Iron Warriors Chaos Space Marines, the galaxy’s most accomplished siege experts.  What follows is a brutal and lengthy siege novel that sees both sides engage in a hellish campaign to try and survive.  Cleverly showcasing both sides and providing some great context to the antagonists, this is a particularly fun book that is easily one of the best siege novels I have ever read.

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Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty by Josh Reynolds

Kal Jerico - Sinner's Bounty Cover

While Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker was the first new Warhammer 40,000 novel I read, Sinner’s Bounty was the book that sealed my fate and ensured I would get hooked on this franchise again.  Set in the Necromunda sub-series/game, Sinner’s Bounty presents a whole new adventure from one of the franchise’s best characters, bounty hunter Kal Jerico, as he follows a notorious criminal into the darkest parts of the massive Necromunda hive city.  A massively entertaining romp that features multiple teams of bounty hunters, an army of mutants, and all manner of monsters in the dark sewers of the city, Sinner’s Bounty is so much damn fun and I loved seeing my favourite character back in action.  I hope we get more Kal Jerico books in the future, but in the meantime Sinner’s Bounty an amazing read that perfectly showcases one of the franchises best settings and protagonists.

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Gaunt’s Ghosts series – Dan Abnett

First and Only Cover

There was no way I could exclude Dan Abnett’s other iconic series, the Gaunt’s Ghosts books from this list.  Generally considered one of the key pillars of Warhammer 40,000 fiction and essential reading for all newcomers to the franchise, the Gaunt’s Ghosts books follow the Tanith First and Only, a small regiment from a destroyed planet fighting in a deadly crusade.  Containing great characters, compelling storylines, and a gritty examination of the common Imperial soldier’s life, the Gaunt’s Ghosts books are pretty damn captivating and I have had a great deal of fun with them.  So far, I have only read the first two books, First and Only and Ghostmaker, as well as the prequel novel, The Vincula Insurgency, but my major reading priority in the future is to dive even further into the series.  Despite not finishing it yet, this is still clearly one of the best Warhammer series out there and I would strongly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about this cool universe.

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The Bookkeeper’s Skull by Justin D. Hill

The Bookkeeper's Skull Cover

While quite a few Warhammer novels have a certain horror element to them, especially when dealing with daemons, mutants and monsters, there is a fantastic subseries of books that go even deeper, with the Warhammer Horror novels.  I haven’t read too many of these yet, but the first one I got into was pretty damn epic and worthy inclusion of this list, the fantastically named The Bookkeeper’s Skull by acclaimed author Justin D. Hill.  A short, but very effective novel, The Bookkeeper’s Skull follows a rookie enforcer on an agricultural world who travels to an isolated farm experiencing problems.  However, he is unprepared for the deadly murders, self-mutilating cultists, and other bizarre incidents infecting the farm.  Hill paints a pretty grim atmosphere for this brutal story and it is very easy to power through this amazing novel in one terrifying sitting.

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Steel Tread by Andy Clark

Steel Tread Cover

While most Warhammer novels tries to capture the gritty realities of war, few have succeeded as well as Andy Clark’s 2022 novel, Steel Tread.  Set within the close confines of a tank, the book sees a crew of large personalities try to survive each other amid a destructive and terrifying warzone.  A super intense and deeply personal novel, I had an exceptional time with Steel Tread and it was one of the best soldier-focused Warhammer 40,000 novels I have had the pleasure of reading.

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The Twice-Dead King books – Nate Crowley

The Twice-Dead King - Ruin Cover

The next entry is another joint entry featuring the two The Twice-Dead King novels by Nate Crowley, Ruin and Reign.  A Necron focussed series, The Twice-Dead King follows a fallen Necron prince who battles to regain his power and throne when a deadly invasion of humans threatens his realm.  Providing one of the deepest examinations of the intriguing Necron faction in all of Warhammer fiction, you really get to understand this complex race, especially when they are faced with their own terrifying internal demons.  This book powerfully showcases Crowley’s talent for diving into alien races with his writing and you come away from these books extremely moved and highly impressed with just how good Warhammer fiction can be.

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For The Emperor by Sandy Mitchell

Warhammer 40,000 - For the Emperor Cover

Easily one of the funniest Warhammer novels I have ever read was the brilliant and compelling read, For the Emperor by Sandy Mitchell.  The first book in the long-running and beloved Ciaphas Cain series, For the Emperor follows the adventures of Commissar Ciaphas Cain, one of the Imperium’s greatest heroes.  However, it is soon revealed that Cain is a manipulative coward who actively tries to avoid combat, only to end up in even worse situations.  Mitchell paints a pretty hilarious picture around this scenario, and the end result is just spectacular and side-splittingly funny.  An exceptional and fun novel that serves as a great introduction to the Ciaphas Cain novels, while also showing just how impressive and varied this franchise can be.

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Grim Repast by Marc Collins

Warhammer 40,000 - Grim Repast Cover

Another great Warhammer Crime novel I had to feature here was Grim Repast by Marc Collins.  Utilising the format of a dark, noir-inspired psychological thriller book, Grim Repast sees a damaged detective attempt to stop brutal serial killer who is stealing people’s organs in his run-down part of the city.  However, his investigations reveal some very dark secrets about the city’s ruling class which he is forced to face on his own.  A particularly intense Warhammer novel that successfully combines excellent and twisty crime fiction elements with the grim setting, Grim Repast was an excellent read that successfully stands out from the other Warhammer Crime books.

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Outgunned by Denny Flowers

Warhammer 40,000 - Outgunned Cover

In my opinion, one of the best rising authors of Warhammer fiction now must be the intriguing author Denny Flowers, whose second book, Outgunned, so deeply impressed me last year.  While Flowers’ first book, Fire Made Flesh, was a great Necromunda novel, it pales in comparison to Outgunned which had me hooked very early on.  Outgunned follows an Imperial propaganda specialist who arrives on a swampy battlefield to film inspiration footage of a legendary fighter pilot as she battles an ork invasion.  However, nothing goes to plan as the protagonist soon discovers that his preferred subject is an arrogant drunkard, the planet has a great deal of secrets and the orks are actually winning the war.  A brilliant and intense novel that not only featured a ton of great aerial combat, but which also dives into some very dark places that shows just how far humanity has fallen in the far future.  Highly recommended.

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The Infinite and The Divine by Robert Rath

The Infinite and the Divine Cover

The most recent Warhammer novel I have read was another outstanding novel from Robert Rath, The Infinite and The Divine.  Focussed on two compelling and brilliant Necron characters, The Infinite and The Divine showcases the legendary feud between them as they spend thousands of years battling over a recovered artefact and its secrets.  Devolving into quite a petty scrap at times, The Infinite and The Divine is one of the funniest and cleverest Warhammer 40,000 books out there as it makes excellent use of humour, intense lore, and some very serious moments to tell a unique and memorable tale.  I had an exceptionally fun time with The Infinite and The Divine, and it is a fantastic novel for all Warhammer fans.

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Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley

Catachan Devil Cover

Justin Woolley pulled out a great novel last year with Catachan Devil, a brutal, intense and surprisingly funny military fiction read.  The brief of the novel was to highlight the distinctive Imperial Guard regiment, the Catachan Jungle Fighters, which Woolley does extremely well, using three different characters with their own unique views on the regiment to explore their actions and techniques.  However, the genius of this book lies in its third main character, an ork who grows obsessed with tactics and the Catachan’s fighting style and start utilising it against his rivals and the Catachans themselves.  This results in some hilarious and fun moments, especially as the antagonist turns into a major fanboy of his intended victims, and the resulting story is an exceptional and amazing read.

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Flesh and Steel by Guy Hayley

Flesh and Steel Cover

The Warhammer Crime hits keep on coming with Flesh and Steel by renowned author Guy Hayley.  This compelling read acts a bit of an odd-couple, buddy cop story when two very different detectives are forced to team up to investigate a dismembered body left across a city border.  Mixing some fantastic comedy with some pretty dark and horrific elements, Flesh and Steel provided one of the best character-focused stories in the Warhammer Crime range and I was deeply impressed with how everything unfolded.  A key Warhammer Crime read and one that I have a great deal of affection for.

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Day of Ascension by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Day of Ascension Cover

A great example of the impressive talent that this franchise attracts can be seen in the 2022 novel, Day of Ascension, written by highly renowned author Adrian Tchaikovsky, making his Warhammer debut.  Day of Ascension was a short and sweet novel which sets the robotic and callus Adeptus Mechanicus against a revolution started by a dangerous Genestealer Cult.  Featuring Tchaikovsky’s flair for highlighting alien mindsets and cultures, there are some very clever divergent perspectives in this novel, and I loved diving into the distinctive minds of two very different types of human hybrids.  Successfully introducing a great talent to the franchise, Day of Ascension is a brilliant read and one that I had an epic time with.

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13th Legion by Gav Thorpe

13th Legion Cover 2

Next up we have the first Last Chancer novel, 13th Legion, that perfectly adds in some expendable space convicts to a desperate military fiction narrative.  Written by another iconic Warhammer fiction author, Gav Thorpe, 13th Legion follows the 13th Penal Legion who are forced to participate in a series of suicidal missions to gain their freedom and redemption.  Essentially The Dirty Dozen in space, 13th Legion is an exciting and entertaining novel with a very high body count, that I honestly could not put down.

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Bloodlines by Chris Wraight

Warhammer 40,000 - Bloodlines Cover

The final entry on this list is the insanely good Warhammer Crime novel, Bloodlines by Chris Wraight.  Following a cynical, veteran detective as he is dragged into a problematic missing person’s case, Bloodlines soon devolves into a hard tale of rich privilege and gangster violence as the protagonist refuses to stop investigating a crooked corporation.  Probably one of the best pure crime fiction novels in this range, I loved the clever conclusion to the narrative and Bloodlines is a really outstanding read, and one I am particularly keen for a sequel for (the protagonist has some dark secrets that need to come into the light).  Highly recommended.

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And that’s the end of my list.  As you can see, I have quite a lot to say about Warhammer 40,000 fiction, and hopefully I haven’t gone too overboard here.  All 20 of the above books/series come very highly recommended, and each of them would make an excellent addition to any budding Warhammer fans collection.  Readers unfamiliar with this franchise should really consider giving it a try, especially before it becomes very mainstream in the future, and many of the above books are particularly fine entry points into this elaborate canon.  I hope I’ve inspired at least one reader to embark on a Warhammer 40,000 adventure, and you honestly won’t be disappointed.

Warhammer 40,000: Bloodlines by Chris Wraight

Warhammer 40,000 - Bloodlines Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 8 August 2020)

Series: Warhammer Crime

Length: 8 hours and 30 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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After some of my recent awesome experiences with the Warhammer Crime series, I just had to check out the outstanding novel, Bloodlines by Chris Wraight, which has one of the best pure crime fiction stories in this entire epic franchise.

Regular readers may have noticed I have been having an absolutely amazing time getting through a ton of Warhammer 40,000 novels in recent weeks as everything about this extended franchise has been so damn fun.  One of the more intriguing sub-series of Warhammer fiction I have been tearing through has been the Warhammer Crime books which, as the name suggests, blends cool crime fiction narratives with a Warhammer 40,000 settings.  The entire series is set within the massive, corrupt city of Varangantua on the planet of Alecto, and several very talented writers have come up with some exceptional novels that perfectly showcase murder, mystery and death in the midst of this great setting.  I have so far deeply enjoyed the epic entries, Dredge Runners and The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, Grim Repast by Marc Collins, and Flesh and Steel by Guy Haley, each of which have contained different, if equally exceptional stories.  However, few have had the excellent central mystery of the very first full-length Warhammer Crime novel, Bloodlines from new-to-me author Chris Wraight, which took a veteran cop on an intensive investigation with fantastic results.

After a lifetime working for the Varangantua Enforcers, Probator Agusto Zidarov is well aware that the only certainties in the continent-spanning city are wealth, corruption and criminality.  Tired of the games played between the warring gangs, trade combines, and nobles as they battle for control of the city’s resources, Zidarov is more concerned about his own life, family and secrets.  However, when a simple missing person investigation gets unexpectantly complicated, Zidarov will find a terrible case that he can’t turn away from.

Called to the estate of wealthy business magnate Udmil Terashova, Zidarov is ordered to find her son and heir, who has gone missing.  Forced to plumb the depths of Varangantua’s underbelly, Zidarov attempts to find any trace of the boy, who has likely just disappeared taking part in the rich’s hedonistic lifestyles.  However, when an uncovered lead places him conflict with one the city’s most ruthless gangs, Zidarov soon begins to believe that there is more to this case than he initially believed.

Discovering that the gang is involved in the notorious crime of cell draining, Zidarov’s attempts to shut them down.  However, his raid ends up being a bust, and the fallout results in a dead sanctioner, a wounded probator and a full-on war between the gang and the enforcers.  Attempting to mitigate the consequences of his actions, Zidarov soon discovers that there is far more going on behind the scenes than he ever imagined as corporate interests work to influence the investigation.  To find the truth about the city’s new crime ring and the missing noble, Zidarov is forced to probe both Varangantua’s lowest gangs and wealthiest citizens.  But can Zidarov survive the encounter with his secrets and life intact?

Bloodlines is an incredible and deeply impressive Warhammer Crime novel that I had an excellent time reading, especially as Wraight perfectly blended his crime fiction story with the cool Warhammer setting.  Featuring one of the more elaborate and intriguing cases in the Warhammer Crime books I have read so far, I absolutely powered through Bloodlines and this was truly an outstanding read.

At the heart of Bloodlines lies a pretty awesome and captivating narrative building on the basic crime fiction premise of a veteran cop attempting to solve a crime no one wants investigated.  Taking its cues from classic noir entries (I was reminded a bit of Chinatown), Bloodlines follows Probator Agusto Zidarov, a family man with a cynical view of his job and his place in the city, as he gets dragged into a missing persons case.  Initially starting off a little slow, the story quickly heats up as Zidarov attempts to find the missing heir to the wealthy Terashova family, a disappearance he assumes is a simple case of young rebellion.  However, his routine investigation into the missing lad leads him to discover a cell draining operation being run by one of the major gangs, and he shifts his investigation in an attempt to shut it down.  But when his plans go wrong and his colleagues end up injured or dead, Ziadarov finds himself on everyone’s firing line.

There are some interesting jumps in the case around halfway through as the protagonist soon realises there is far more going on than he initially believed and he is forced to simultaneously investigate both the gangs and some of the wealthiest families and businesses in the city.  I loved this gradual escalation of the stakes of the crime as the book continues, as the original missing persons case is revealed to be far more complex and intriguing than initially believed when the protagonist discovers that he is being used by everyone.  At the same time, Zidarov is forced to deal with some major personal issues, as his wife begins to resent his choices, his rebellious daughter has gone missing in a city full of predators, and certain dark secrets around Zidarov threaten to come into the light.  The eventual reveal about who is responsible for the various crimes is very clever, and I liked the subtle and effective hints and clues leading up to it as the unique motivations and plots utilised intriguing aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  Wraight ends Bloodlines on a great note as Zidarov gets justice through drastic means after a very intense and powerful confrontation with one of the book’s more intriguing and complex supporting characters.  As such, you come away from Bloodlines feeling very satisfied, although you instantly want to see more of this great character, especially as the sinister connotations about Zidarov’s dark secret indicate that some tragic events are going to befall this character in the future.

The entirety of Bloodlines was laid out extremely well by Wraight, who uses a great style to tell a complex and captivating story.  Told exclusively from Zidarov’s perspective, you are given a personal and close examination of the events of the book as Zidarov slowly and methodically investigates the various crimes.  You are quickly drawn into the elaborate narrative Wraight lays out as the author does a good job of combining an excellent crime fiction storyline with intriguing character development, all set with Varangantua and the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe.  The noir inspired elements of Varangantua really stand out in this book, especially as Zidarov is forced to simultaneously investigate both the criminal cartels and some of the city’s wealthiest residents.  Bloodlines really recalls some classic noir tales, as it focuses on the experienced and dogged investigator fighting the entire system to get answers and justice, and I loved exploring even more of this enormous city and its many colourful residents.  The whole concept of cell draining, which sees thousands of people literally drained of their essence to make life-extending products, was pretty damn horrifying, and I liked how the examination of this gave Bloodline’s crimes a distinctive feel.  Wraight’s great writing style really lends itself to producing a particularly impactful and compelling crime narrative, and I loved how the entire storyline unfolded, especially with the effective twists and the well thought out foreshadowing.  I ended up coming away from this book quite enthralled and happy and I am really excited to read more books from Wraight in the future.

One of the things that I have so far found with all the Warhammer Crime entries is that readers really need very little familiarity with the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe to appreciate these great books.  Anyone interested in a compelling and intense crime fiction story set in a cool and grim futuristic city can easy dive into one of these novels, and all these books are an awesome introduction to the Warhammer fandom.  Bloodlines is no exception to this, as Wraight writes a very accessible crime fiction thriller that anyone can enjoy while simultaneously enjoying the gothic setting.  That being said, Wraight does make excellent use of several intriguing elements from the Warhammer 40,000 lore to enhance his story and there are hints and discussions about elements outside of Varangantua, such as the Imperial Guard or the wider wars of the Imperium, which fans of the franchise will deeply appreciate.  Wraight does do an amazing job of explaining these elements so that newer readers will fully appreciate them, however, established readers will always get a little bit more out of it.  For example, the full significance of Zidarov’s secret isn’t going to be too apparent to new readers, while in-the-know fans are going to get a blast out of the potential implications.  I felt that Bloodlines has a lot to offer all readers, no matter their experiences with Warhammer, and you might find yourself falling for the franchise with this first book.

Another key aspect of the Warhammer Crime series that Wraight perfectly captured in Bloodlines was the excellent utilisation of a complex and likeable central character.  Wraight’s protagonist and main point of view character, Probator Agusto Zidarov, is a deeply intriguing figure who stands out from the other protagonists in the Warhammer Crime series for being much less of a damaged outsider.  Instead, he is a veteran probator who worked his way up to his position with a very realistic view of the world around him than most other characters, and I liked his no-nonsense approach to his job and his city which has been formed from years on the job staying alive.  Despite this veteran presence and cynicism, Zidarov is still willing to do what is right, even if it endangers him, and his dogged approach to solving the case is extremely addictive, especially as Wraight puts in some deeper motivations behind them.  I really enjoyed some of the scenes where Zidarov continuously ignores his friend’s advice and keeps going forward with the case, simply explaining to them and the reader that he is unable to let it go, and he just keeps moving forward despite the inherent weariness of the character.  This determined and tired cop persona is well balanced by the family man aspect of Zidarov, which is another intriguing element that you don’t see in a lot of Warhammer fiction, as most protagonists don’t have wives or children.  Watching him attempt to balance his family responsibilities with that of his job adds some intriguing drama to the story, and I enjoyed seeing this portrait a ‘normal’ Warhammer 40,000 family.  Wraight perfectly weaves together these dual aspects of Zidarov’s personality with a certain darker, secretive thread that really shows the character in a whole new light when revealed, and which is going to have some intriguing impacts down the line.  All of this, and more, helps to make Zidarov one of the more relatable and enjoyable protagonists I have ever enjoyed in Warhammer fiction, and I really hope that Wraight produces some additional Zidarov stories soon.

Once again, I chose to listen to this cool Warhammer novel in its audiobook format, which, as always, was an excellent and deeply fun experience.  The Bloodlines audiobook did an amazing job of bringing this intense and powerful story to life in some very fun ways.  In particular, the complex central setting of Varangantua is really shown in all its corrupt glory when you hear it being described, and I loved how the fast pacing of the audiobook kept the story rolling by.  This format of Bloodlines was also greatly helped by veteran narrator Charles Armstrong, who has so far only lent his talented voice to a few Warhammer audiobooks.  Armstrong provided an excellent performance in Bloodlines, really diving into the various complex characters and helping to showcase their unique personalities and emotions.  I loved the tired and resigned voice that Armstrong came up with for the main character, which really sells the audience on Zidarov’s veteran status which is the result of an exhaustive and draining career.  Other great voices include that fun Irish accent he gifted to supporting character Brecht, which added to his entertaining nature, as well as some excellent voices the various suspects in the main case had.  All this makes the Bloodlines audiobook the very best way to enjoy this exceptional novel and with a runtime of eight and a half hours, you can power through it in no time at all.

Overall, Bloodlines was a particularly epic entry in the Warhammer Crime series, and it is one that author Chris Wraight should be extremely proud off.  Wraight did a remarkable job of blending together an intense and clever crime fiction story with the dark and grim Warhammer 40,000 setting, and the result is a brilliantly twisted case that I couldn’t turn away from.  Combined with instantly likeable character, Bloodlines proved to be extremely fun and deeply captivating, and I loved how the entire book unfolded.  As such, Bloodlines comes extremely highly recommended and you are guaranteed to love every second of it.  I look forward to seeing how Wraight continues this character in the future, and any future books featuring Zidarov are going to be something truly amazing.

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Warhammer 40,000: Flesh and Steel by Guy Haley

Flesh and Steel Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 3 October 2020)

Series: Warhammer Crime

Length: 9 hours and 23 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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I’m on a major Warhammer 40,000 review roll, so after checking out the awesome books Malleus and Hereticus by Dan Abnett, Sepulturum by Nick Kyme, For the Emperor by Sandy Mitchell and Kingsblade by Andy Clark, I’m moving on to the awesome Warhammer Crime book, Flesh and Steel by Guy Haley, which proved to be an exceptional read.

I have said this several times in the past, but one of the true strengths of Warhammer 40,000 fiction is that the franchise can cover so many different types of stories or genres and still result in some epic reads.  A particularly good example of this is the Warhammer Crime subseries that melds intriguing and classic crime fiction concepts with a grim Warhammer 40,000 setting.  I have deeply enjoyed the previous Warhammer Crime books I have read, including the twisty and fast-paced crime thrillers Dredge Runners and The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, and the noir inspired psychological thriller Grim Repast by Marc Collins.  As such, I just had to read another fantastic entry from this series with the intriguing Flesh and Steel by Guy Haley which saw a classic odd-couple police story meet a unique thriller from the Warhammer universe in glorious fashion.

The vast continent-sprawling city of Varangantua on the planet of Alecto is home to many vile and heartless crimes, most of which are ignored by the over-taxed enforcers of the Lex Alecto.  However, some murders are so spectacular that they cannot be ignored, especially when they threaten the stability of the city’s entire economy.

Probator Symeon Noctis is a man who knows all about the obscene wealth that Varangantua can produce.  A scion of one of the city’s richest houses, Noctis has fled from his cruel family and his tragic past by joining the enforcers and attempting to help the downtrodden inhabitants of the Nearsteel district.  However, even someone as jaded and cynical as Noctis is unprepared for the strangeness of his next case when a bisected corpse is discovered in a neutral zone between Nearsteel and the Adeptus Mechanicus enclave of Steelmound, the two halves of the body neatly left on either side of the border.

Forced to cooperate with the Adeptus Mechnanicus, Noctis is partnered with Procurator Rho-1 Lux of the Collegiate Extremis to investigate the crime.  But when all evidence suggests that the murder was committed by a mindless servitor, Noctis is dragged into a terrible conspiracy inside the Adeptus Mechanicus.  Faced with tech-heresy, illegal modifications to servitors and even more bodies littering the streets, Noctis and Lux need to work together to solve this insidious crime before both their organisations are dragged down.  But with more and more people gunning for them, can this unlikely duo survive to crack the case?

Now this was an awesome Warhammer Crime book.  Loaded with great, complex characters, a compelling case, and some impressive Warhammer 40,000 elements, Flesh and Steel grabs your attention from the very start and refuses to let go.  A fantastic novel that shows off just how incredible and inventive a tie-in to the Warhammer universe can be.

Flesh and Steel has a brilliant and deeply addictive narrative that I had an amazing time getting through.  Told primarily from the perspective of protagonist Probator Symeon Noctis, the plot of Flesh and Steel revolves around an intriguing murder, where two halves of the same body have been placed on either side of the border between the main city and an Adaptus Mechanicus manufacturing enclave.  With two competing jurisdictions, Noctis is forced to work with the Mechanicus investigator Rho-1 Lux, especially after the murder weapon is determined to be the victim’s servitor and additional victims are discovered.  What follows is an intriguing buddy cop romp of a unique series of murders, as certain figures throughout the city are involved in crimes involving the always terrifying mindless man/machine hybrids, servitors.  Forced to work together despite their differences, Noctis and Lux prove to be a skilled team, investigating both the Mechanicus and the businesses in the city.  At the same time, Noctis is forced to deal with other concerns, such as an impossible missing person’s case, the machinations of his wealthy family, and his own intense personal issues as he tries to reconcile his complex life and the mistakes from his past.  The result is a fantastic and moving tale that has the right blend of crime fiction, Warhammer 40,000 and character elements to it.  While the mystery surrounding the various crimes isn’t too complex, especially as the perpetrators are obvious from the outset, the resulting conspiracy, and the impacts it has on the protagonists more than makes up for it, as you are drawn into a crime story that could only occur in the Warhammer universe.  Haley ends the book on an interesting note that not only highlights the full extent of the protagonist’s personal issues but hints at future adventures and tragedies to come.

I really liked the cool setup-up surrounding this story, as well as the distinctive writing elements that Haley utilised, and I was particularly impressed with how the author was able to utilise some classic crime fiction scenarios in this unique Warhammer setting.  The concept of a bisected body left across a border forcing a joint investigation between two agencies is reminiscent of The Bridge (or The Tunnel), and I liked the intriguing spin that Haley does on this by bringing in the Adeptus Mechanicus, who most humans have a very hard time relating to.  This leads to the unique partnership between Noctis and Lux, which I felt Haley utilised to its full effect, especially as he does a remarkable job diving into each of their intriguing lives.  While I mentioned that the mystery isn’t as complex as you would hope, Haley more than makes up for it by featuring some deeply compelling character elements, as well as perfectly fitting it into the already fantastic setting of Varangantua and the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe.  I also really enjoyed the excellent way Haley told his story through the lens of Noctis’s journals.  Not only does this provide some compelling and tragic hints at what is to come but it also paints the story through Noctis’s cynical viewpoint, which I quite enjoyed, especially as his infectious humour and sarcasm helped to make this one of the more light-hearted Warhammer Crime books at times.  This distinctive and compelling read had me hooked the entire way through, and I felt that Haley came up with something extremely special for Flesh and Steel.

I was really impressed by the excellent Warhammer 40,000 elements featured, especially as some of the more distinctive elements of this universe were used to full effect to create a gripping and powerful read.  Now, as with most of the Warhammer Crime books, I felt that Flesh and Steel stood well on its own and no prior reading is needed to fully understand this book, not even the preceding short story Haley published in the No Good Men anthology.  Indeed, due to the great use of crime fiction elements, the strong focus on characters, and Haley’s attention to detail, readers unfamiliar with the franchise can easily jump into Flesh and Steel and have a good time, and it would serve as a good bridging novel for readers more familiar with crime fiction than anything else.

However, both new and established fans will deeply appreciate Haley’s compelling and all-encompassing examination of some very interesting elements of Warhammer lore that are cleverly and expertly utilised throughout the story.  I was particularly impressed with the deep dive into the Adeptus Mechanicus, the inhuman tech-worshippers of the Imperium, who play a big role in the plot.  This was honestly one of the more intriguing novels I have so far read that deals with the Adeptus Mechanicus, and I loved the author’s depictions of their elaborate and occasionally nightmarish settlement within the wider city of Varangantua.  The protagonist spends quite a bit of time diving into their society, and I loved his cynical, if accurate, descriptions of them, as well as the apparently hypocritical role they serve in the wider Imperium.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the Adeptus Mechanicus featured in Flesh and Steel involve servitors, the cyborgs who act as mindless manual labour machines throughout the Imperium.  The creation and use of servitors, who are a common, if terrifying, background feature of the universe, becomes quite a key part of the plot, as they are end up being the murder weapons.  This helps to shape Flesh and Steel into a particularly unique mystery story, one which could only occur within the Warhammer universe, and I loved the I-Robot homages (book and the movie) that resulted from them.  Haley also treats us to several scenes that depict the creation of servitors, a process which involves lobotomising condemned criminals and turning them into barely human creations.  These scenes honestly turn Flesh and Steel into one of the most horrifying Warhammer 40,000 books out there, and these gruesome inclusions work wonders to shock both the reader and the protagonist, while also deeply enhancing the complex murder case.

In addition, Haley also spends a good amount of time expanding on the already epic setting of Varangantua, which has been such an amazing background for the rest of the Warhammer Crime novels.  There are many distinctive districts and areas to the vast city of Varangantua, and this great book introduces us to even more of them with new district of Nearsteel, which borders the Adeptus Mechanicus enclave and has its own range of issues and features.  In particular, the area is slowly dying thanks to the actions of the Mechanicus, who are killing of the industries contained within, and you get to see the decay and degradation that follows.  Haley keeps up the cool background of neon signs, dark bars, and corrupt police, that are a key feature of the wider Varangantua, and I loved the impressive Blade Runner resemblances that result.  Haley further enhances the effect of these poorer districts by also visiting the high spires and estates of Varangantua uber-wealthy, as the protagonist, a former rich boy himself, makes several visits there.  The elaborate manors, parties, and hang-outs of the gilded make for a fun and compelling comparison to the slums and desolate industrial areas of the rest of the novel, and I deeply appreciated how Haley used this multifaceted city to mirror the complex main protagonist and help show that he doesn’t really fit in anywhere.  I always have a ton of fun exploring these new areas of Varangantua, and Haley really did a great job showcasing the city, and other key Warhammer 40,000 elements throughout Flesh and Steel’s narrative.  I cannot wait to see what other crazy areas that Haley explores in some of his future books and stories, and I know I am going to love it.

While the story, the writing style, the dark setting and the cool Warhammer elements all made this book really stand out, I personally felt that the main strength of Flesh and Steel was the exceptional central characters, Probator Symeon Noctis and tech-priest Rho-1 Lux.  Haley did a remarkable job with both these complex and damaged characters and both of them carry the main story extremely well.  The combination of dramatic and tragic character arcs, combined with a fun overarching theme of them both being outsiders, is an essential part of the book’s narrative and you grow deeply connected to both the characters, and the book, as a result.

Most of the focus is on Noctis, who serves as the primary narrator, due to his personal journal (which is also an extended note to his lost daughter), being read out.  Noctis is a very fun and cocky character, who seems to treat many of the events that he encounters in an inconsequential way.  However, this is a major façade, as deep down Noctis is probably one of the most damaged and guilt-ridden characters you are likely to see in Warhammer fiction.  A member of one of the richest families on the planet, Noctis was already pretty messed up before he became a cop, due to the terrible family dynamics and his controlling father.  Further traumatic events, which are explored later in the novel, nearly break him, and he decides to escape some of his father’s control by joining the enforcers to help others.  However, his family influence and wealth still follow him and he is considered an outsider by most of his colleagues.  Despite this, Noctis doggedly continues and proves to be a very competent and capable investigator, even if he breaks all the rules and pisses off his boss to do so.  His eye for the inequity of the city and the wealthy gives the story a bit of a preachy anti-capitalist vibe, but I felt that this fit his character arc perfectly, especially as he knows better than most just how badly the lower classes are being exploited.  I also quite enjoyed how, despite Noctis’s dislike for his family’s intense wealth and intense hatred for all the nobility, he still uses their money to buy nice things for himself, including a fancy car and secure apartment.  This apparent inconsistency between what he preaches and what he does, is addressed several times by both the protagonist and other characters, and his eventual and simple explanation of, “I never said I was perfect,” is a recurring theme of this character’s existence.  Watching this conflicted and troubled figure attempt to reconcile his past and guilt with the current investigation and the people he meets is a powerful part of Flesh and Steel’s appeal, and the story would not be as strong without it.

The other major character is Procurator Rho-1 Lux, an Adeptus Mechanicus Tech Priest who acts as a detective and law enforcement officer who investigates crimes committed by or against the Mechanicus.  Lux is a great character for a number of reasons, especially as the whole idea of a Adeptus Mechanicus cop is a pretty damn cool one.  Initially shown to be an unflappable and rigid figure, you soon find a deeper layer underneath her augmentation as she proves to be just as emotionally unsure and determined for justice as Noctis.  A member of an obscure order, Lux is a rare individual who converted to the machine cult rather than being born into it.  This also makes her a bit of an outsider as she is not fully accepted by the Adeptus Mechanicus and is no longer fully human.  This forces her to accept one of the few jobs that none of the other tech priests want, and it is interesting to see her views on humanity, the Mechanicus, and the law, which surprisingly often mirror Noctis’ cynical thoughts.  Lux served as an interesting bridge between the human characters and the mysterious cyborgs of the Mechanicus, and it is fascinating to see how she changes her persona depending on who she talks to.  Haley does a wonderful job of portraying Lux’s dual persona throughout the course of Flesh and Steel, and he even shows a couple of chapters from her perspective as extracts from her data core.  These chapters have a more sterile and mechanical feel, and you see her data-laden observations in these compelling scenes.  Probably the best part of her character arc though revolves around her interactions with Noctis, as the two form a very unusual team.  Lux serves as straight person for much of Noctis’s antics, especially when it comes to their interactions with other Mechanicus figures, and usually tries to maintain her mechanical indifference.  However, the two soon form an intriguing relationship, which forces Lux to examine some of her long-hidden emotions.  I felt that the two played off each-other perfectly throughout the course of the book, and the joint explorations of their various pains and dark histories makes for quite a gripping read.  I look forward to seeing more from this distinctive and surprisingly fun duo in the future, even if Noctic’s journals hint at more tragedies to come.

As is my usual practice with Warhammer 40,000 novels, I checked out Flesh and Steel on audiobook, which proved to be an epic and deeply enjoyable experience.  Coming in at just under nine and a half hours, Flesh and Steel was a very easy audiobook to get lost in, and I felt that this amazing format really worked to enhance the exceptional story.  The journal format of Haley’s storytelling, as well as the occasional jumps to other perspectives, is expertly portrayed on audiobook and I loved how some of the darker or grander elements of the book, especially the horrors surrounding the Adeptus Mechanicus workshops, became even more distinctive or sinister when listened to.  It helps that the primary narration of Flesh and Steel was done by impressive voice actor, James Macnaughton, who really throws himself into the production.  Each of his key characters are expertly showcased through his voice work and you really get a sense of their inner selves through his performance, whether it’s Noctis’s cockiness, disdain or self-loathing, or the strangeness of Lux, Macnaughton manages to encapsulate it all with his acting and this combines extremely well with Haley’s strong character-focused writing.  A secondary voice is also utilised for the several chapters written from Lux’s perspective, and I liked how this different voice really helped to differentiate that the events were being shown from Lux’s internal processors.  This performance, combined with the usual enticement of the audiobook format, ensures that this is the best way to enjoy Flesh and Steel, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to try this epic book out.

Overall, Flesh and Steel is a pretty remarkable novel from Guy Haley that has ensured my continued addiction to all things Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Crime.  Featuring a complex and powerful story that simultaneously explores a compelling mystery and some brilliant characters, it is very easy to get hooked on Flesh and Steel and I had a wonderful time powering through it.  I cannot rave about this book enough and I am really hoping that Haley produces a sequel to Flesh and Steel very soon.

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Warhammer 40,000: Grim Repast by Marc Collins

Warhammer 40,000 - Grim Repast Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 25 September 2021)

Series: Warhammer Crime

Length: 9 hours and 52 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

“This city eats men….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Warhammer 40,000: The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley

The Wraithbone Phoenix Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 30 August 2022)

Series: Warhammer Crime

Length: 11 hours and 6 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dredge Runners

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 8 August 2020)

Series: Warhammer Crime

Length: 1 hour and 1 minute

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

A Warhammer Crime Audio Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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