Review: ‘Eye of Medusa’ by David Guymer

—- An overview, in brief —-

I loved the actual science and efforts at serious sci-fi-ing of 40k. In depiction of characters and factions, Guymer works in some brilliant examinations of psychology of people, of astute insights on the human condition. It’s terribly compelling speculative fiction, through and through.

—- Anyway, on with the show —-

Some weeks ago, I picked up the first of the in-flight Iron Hands trilogy: “Eye of Medusa” by David Guymer. This is coming off the back of a year’s worth of Space Marine and Inquisitorial stories (which is also still underway), amongst some other fiction too. By the cover, I wasn’t entirely enthused (mainly as the art style’s not to my tastes, but you know what they say). Similarly, I had reservations about reading an entire novel on the Iron Hands and Adeptus Mechanicus. To put it mildly: they’re ostensibly quite boring, or at least at the inhuman ends of the continuum. Both factions being machine-obsessed, war-obsessed perfectionists whose central tenet might be summed up as “things that are human and humane are weak, the machine is strong”.

So, to my joy: I was wholly wrong in my misgivings. (And wholly correct in my disposal towards David Guymer as an author – I’d recently read his “Thorgrim“, which is a tremendous novel, albeit one of many tremendous Warhammer Fantasy novels.) In any event, I was very pleased with this turn of events.

In short: it was hugely creative, deeply psychological, and forged an excellent ‘hard SF’ edge to the mad baroque fantasy that 40k ought to be. Not by distracting asides into the nitty-gritty of real science, nor by invoking mindless streams of technobabble – rather, by seeding and decorating the world with what to me felt the right ideas and right observations, to make the setting not only be vile, but alive and vivid. Being fairly interested in both science and sci-fi, it’s pleasing to read a book that’s fairly relentless in its dedication to seeing the genre being done well.

As an aside: you may hear the phrase bolter porn bandied about; I prefer to chalk it up to the same bad name that’s given for a lot of women-targeted fiction: dick lit. Suitably disparaging. The idea being fairly simple: lasers and guns and bombs and explosions, not a huge degree of exploration of the human condition. Much of the Black Library fare is all-too-often written off by the online commentariat (even by myself, at times!) for being too heavy handed on focussing on action and not sufficiently deft at tickling my taste buds for character journeys, depictions, and plot. I digress.

In that regard: this is most assuredly not bolter porn, nor dick lit. Indeed, it has music! And kissing! And romance! Not integral to the plot in a overwhelming way, but neither were they casually disregarded or overlooked as irrelevant to the topics at hand.

Indeed, the psychology of this novel is in principle very simple. Ostensibly at the foremost of the story, you have the ambitions of a man proceeding with his job in the face of competent but questionable senior management, and difficult, but not entirely unhelpful co-workers. A companion plot is the ambitions of a woman proceeding in her job, in the face of competent but questionable senior management, and difficult, but not entirely unhelpful co-workers.

In essence, it’s fairly relatable. So to speak…

Within the lore of the setting, these two are further distinguished: one is a transhuman “Space Marine” – a genetically and technologically enhanced supersoldier, interfacing with his new duties. The other is a transhuman “tech priest” – a religiously and technologically enhanced supercleric, interfacing with her new duties. Should they be depicted on screen, I could envision they’d be easily interpreted as ‘inhuman monsters’ by audiences, is perhaps no insignificant detail. (And that exploration of humanity is never lost throughout, for my tastes at least.)

As you can see: there’s no shortage of dovetailing or rooms for literary comparison. My take, here and above, is deliberately trivialising: instead of being a “mere two-hander” depicting two similar-but-not-identical-strands, Guymer manages to weave these (and additional oddities, both in the lore, in the background, and in the narrative structure itself) to play with some incredible concepts and tell an absolutely staggering tail that sits in equal parts ‘slice of life’, ‘action scene’, and ‘psychological conspiracy thriller’.

It’s tense, mind-boggling, huge in scale and scope, yet also deeply personal and utterly compelling. It covers bias, it deals with the propagation of ideas (both figuratively, and also in terms of literal memes – “We should consider a purge of his meme-core.”), it looks at the causes, expressions, and impacts of anger, of abuse, of discipline.

It’s not mild in its take, yet it also manages to be exceedingly mature in its depiction – neither trivialising nor glorifying.

On a point of personal taste: I found it to be dense in detail. Not casually so – breathing life into strange decisions, making curious aspects of the IP’s setting dance with life in a way that previously seemed awkward and offputtingly peculiar. (Google the ‘Clan Raukaan’ supplement to see some brains dribble from the minds of some of the internet’s… finest?)

Indeed, there’s some brave (and in my esteem: very well-executed) structural choices in the prose. Flash-backs that aren’t explicitly explained, changes of opinion that aren’t adumbrated. These choices are ones I can imagine many writers struggling with (and, alas, editors! [Let alone readers…]). Yet, the limited use of them, the tact with which they’re applied leads them to be very effective. They illustrate the points they’re intended to, without being so intrusive or obscure that casual readers will be left outraged at the author’s time-wasting.

These elements of discontinuity, disjointedness, in retrospect are a large deal of my fascination with the book – it is not merely telling a story, but it is telling a convoluted story in a suitably uncomplicated way, something that should be lauded. (Such is the temptation to go the other direction: to overcomplicate relatively simple stories). This non-linearity (in a mathematical sense, in addition to the literary), isn’t such a curious choice, given the plot, but it is a brave and laudable one: the capacity to get it wrong, or execute it less than elegantly presumably haunts many authors.

(Perhaps the outrage or irritation at a perceived lack of elegance only really manifests in the minds of harsh and self-appointed critics who’ve been banging the same drum for many decades; a cohort that I certainly wouldn’t ever fall into! In any case, I’d encourage authors to disregard it, in the main…)

I mentioned the Clan Raukaan fiasco. That can be summarised as follows: some games developers wrote some new fiction to accompany a game supplement, one that introduced a huge new element to the lore, but that also diametrically opposed much of what had been written before. This inconsistence was vexing, for many. (I’d attest to it myself; it seemed needless contrarianism.) It introduced a whole new dimension of religiosity seemingly borrowed from elsewhere in the stories.

In context of this novel, if you set yourself the challenge of reconciling these two inconsistent accounts, I would attest that you couldn’t do this simply by telling a simple story in the conventional sense. Your usual bells and whistles not only wouldn’t be good here, but it’d end up propagating the inconsistency and perhaps even exacerbating the problem. (See also: Protocols For Sleeping Canines, Pedestrian Impacts Against Vespidae Nests etc.)

In the novel that Guymer’s actually written, in the moderate concepts and modest use of some structural conceits, he’s managed something astonishing. In parallel to the philosophies described within his novel, that are central to the variety of conflicts throughout, he’s literally lived and worked an aspect of his own story: a story that might as well be about breaking and fixing things that angry idiots on the internet are furious about.

In telling that story, I’d contend he’s managed to fix a thing and leave it far stronger and more detailed than it was before.

Hell, he’s told a hell of a story in amongst doing that. I loved it.

It’s one of the most intensely bleak and horrifyingly brutal books BL has published, yet it steered well clear of being stomach churning in its graphic imagery. With institutionalised abuse as one of the main concepts dealt with in the story, alongside genocide on a terrifying scale, and bizarre technocratic dogmatists front and centre… it’s easy to see where an author might go wrong. Intellectually, so many of the things herein are deeply repugnant, and yet Guymer gives categorically no warmth to the idea of rehabilitating or emulating the ideas in any way. What he does manage is something absolutely compelling: a hellish nightmare that nevertheless tells a deeply compelling story, being intellectually revolting without actually turning the stomach of the reader.

It’s not an easy book to sing the praises of, but it absolutely deserves praise!

First and Only – a classic, or better best forgotten? Ath reviews

Over at the Bolthole, we like to remember the good things. The Gaunts’ Ghosts series, written by the superb Dan Abnett, has been going since 1999(!). Over the coming months we will be taking a fresh look at the series, reviewing the novels and seeing how they fit into Warhammer 40k as we know it now.

Kicking us off is a review of the series opener, but is First and Only a classic novel, or merely the start of something greater? Athelassan has put together this excellent review for you. If you are interested in forming your own opinion, the novel is soon available in print through the Black Library as part of the “Founding” omnibus, incorporating the first three novels in the series.


Without further ado, I will hand over to Ath…

First and Only
By Dan Abnett, 1999

It is always hard to review a book like First and Only. This was, after all, the book that started it all: the first 40K novel published by Black Library, and the opening instalment in its longest-running and probably most successful series. Such a book is unavoidably compared to its successors and is difficult to appreciate without the shadow of that context.

The story, for those unaware, follows a regiment in the Imperial Guard, the eponymous Tanith First (and Only), so called because after its first founding the planet was destroyed by a Chaos fleet, leaving only one battalion surviving of the three initially raised. They’re fighting on the front lines of the Sabbath Crusade when they encounter a mysterious message encoded with unheard-of levels of security. This draws them into a situation with potential ramifications stretching far beyond the Crusade itself – and all the while they are struggling with a deadly rivalry with another regiment.

Their commander is Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt and this is probably the novel in the series with most focus on him personally, giving us flashbacks to his childhood and training, and with incidents from his past coming back to affect the main plot. There is perhaps an air of the trite about this, the level of coincidence piling up as the story goes on, but never quite crosses the line into the absurd or the preposterous.

In contrast to Gaunt, most of the Tanith characters are fairly lightly sketched. Those who will become the core cast of the series are present and visible but at this point in the story they are hard to distinguish from the rest. The number of names thrown at the reader is large, and with a limited space to develop so many characters, the Tanith inevitably form more of a background to the plot than a fundamental part of it.

That is not to say that the characters feel like they are making up the numbers, but there is little scope to develop them beyond broad strokes. Some, like Rawne, are intriguing; others feel archetypal, like Corbec, the bluff colonel, Bragg, the amiable but slightly slow big fellow, or Larkin, the quirky sniper, who seem to have drifted in from central casting. Those au fait with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series will spot some familiar faces, even if the names are changed.

In some ways, this makes this novel atypical of the Ghosts series, where normally Gaunt is more distant, and the main Tanith characters are the focus, with much more attention paid to their abilities and personalities. (It has always stood slightly apart from its successors even in appearance, the spine of First and Only‘s first edition having a red background while the next four novels had the same style but a green background). It is probably for this sense of not being a typical Ghosts novel as much as anything that the novel is controversial among fans of the series, with some considering it barely worth the read.

I would disagree with them. Something which I think this novel achieves better than any of its successors is to portray the faceless nature of war in the 41st millennium and the expendability of its human personnel. As the first novel, where the main characters of the series have yet to become apparent, there is a strong sense, rare in Black Library fiction and the Ghosts series in particular, that anyone can die, with characters being introduced on one page and immediately being killed without fanfare. The third Ghost to be named is (implicitly) executed by firing squad within the page. Some of the characters who receive most attention are revealed as decoy secondary protagonists who die before the book is out. That the characters are for the most part unremarkable without special abilities gives them an individual vulnerability and powerlessness entirely appropriate to the setting.

This is just as well, because much of the rest of it is rather at odds with the setting itself. Dan Abnett famously had an incomplete grasp of the intricacies of the 40K universe when this novel was written and as such a number of the details fall foul of a number of howlers which are sure to bother the more uptight afficionados among its readership. The MacGuffin in the plot, once revealed, seems almost impossibly significant while at the same time being strangely personal – and this is something which perhaps damages the rest of the series. Having saved the universe in their first book, how can anything the Ghosts face from now on measure up?

The prose is also a little hesitant and clunky in places, Mr Abnett perhaps still finding his feet with the format in his first full-length novel. It is by no means badly written but it is certainly less elegant and polished than his work would later become, and this may also account for the structure of the novel which borders on the cliché even if it never quite falls foul of it.

So the book has its flaws, but I would suggest these flaws are no more significant than those in the now-classic Inquisition WarSpace Marine or Genevieve. The book has enough about it that the fact its depth of imagination occasionally strays outside that which is strictly speaking sanctioned by the rulebooks feels like a positive feature as much as anything: it’s adding the sort of depth to the setting which I think the novels are ultimately supposed to be doing.

Similarly, I think that its differences from the rest of the Ghosts series are more of an asset than a liability. More than almost any of its successors this feels like an Imperial Guard novel, rather than a Tanith novel. Inasmuch as it is derivative, this is inarguable – albeit a criticism that remains valid for many other Ghosts books – but that derivation was at the core of what 40K used to be. In a universe with such little truly original context, an engaging story told well is about as much as we can ask for, and First and Only absolutely delivers on that.

Thanks Ath.

Talking of the classic Warhammer 40k novel, Space Marine, keep an eye out for a future review of the book, accompanied by a short interview with the author himself, Ian Watson!

See you in the Bolthole!


The Imperium of Man just got Darker!

Dark Imperium is both the name of the new Warhammer 40,000 boxed set available from Games Workshop and the name of the accompanying novel from Black Library written by Guy Haley, by all accounts a prolific and entertaining wordsmith. He kindly agreed to do a short interview with us which follows below.

Dark Imperium

But onto the book!

Dark Imperium catches us up with the recent events in the Warhammer 40000 universe as Games Workshop move the story on, and push the fragile Imperium of Man that bit closer to the abyss. Whether or not you approve of the changes, Guy Haley certainly brings the entertainment. It is a good and rapid read. Starting with the climatic fight between Gulliman and Fulgrim after the Horus Heresy has ended (you know, the one that put Gulliman in stasis for, oh about 10000 years!) we then skip forward to the here and now, and Gulliman’s efforts to stabilise the situation and restore the Imperium. In using Gulliman’s viewpoint, we get to see a fresh take on the Imperium, and how far it has fallen from the high ideals of the great crusade. The loss of knowledge, the increase in superstition, and some home-truths about how the Emperor may have manipulated the primarchs and indeed humanity by not necessarily furnishing them with the whole truth. I found this fascinating, and having not read many Black Library books recently, a really good way of getting back into the universe and looking at it through new eyes. Unsurprisingly, both the new Primaris Marines and the Death Guard from the new box set feature quite heavily, and things are nicely set up for an encounter between Gulliman and Mortarion as the trilogy progresses.

Overall then, Dark Imperium is a good novel, a fresh take on Warhammer 40000 and an entertaining read that I would recommend.

As I mentioned above, Guy kindly agreed to do a short interview for us…

Hi Guy, thanks for agreeing to do this short interview. How are you today?

No problem. I am surprisingly relaxed after a frantic couple of months. The deadline fear will return soon enough, but for now I’m spending a few days catching up on my BL reading before my next project. It’s nice to have time to read!

Dark Imperium is your latest novel for the Black Library. How did it feel to be responsible for helping move the background forward in line with the latest edition of the Warhammer 40k tabletop rules?

Well, I was really, really pleased they chose me. That they’d ask me to write such an important book sort of indicated to me how much BL value my work, so that did a lot to dispel my usual authorly insecurities. I mean, I’m surrounded by stellar authors like Graham McNeill, Aaron Dembski-Bowden and Dan Abnett to name but three of my very talented colleagues. To be given a book of this magnitude of importance suggests that maybe I might be good as them one day.

Did you feel under any particular pressure when writing the book?

Absolutely. This is the single most important event in 40k since the Horus Heresy! The background is all new, some of it was still being defined as I began writing, I had to fill in a lot of gaps to flesh out the game world into a novel. Now, we do that anyway, but in this case I was tinkering with the very engines of the universe, rather than, say, coming up with cult practises for a minor chapter. To make sure I got it write I had a lot of back and forth with the Games Workshop Studio, which was great, because it is really, really important to me that what is in the game books is in the novels, and what is in the novels is in the game books. There was a collaborative feel to the process that has only grown since I finished writing it. Unusually for me, the scope and scale of the story changed while I was writing, necessitating the addition of some fairly major chunks. I usually write what I write then get the thumbs up. This time we agreed I needed to put more action into my second draft. So it was a challenging book to write, but worth it.

And of course, this kind of book attracts far more attention than some of the things I write. Pretty much everyone who has ever played 40k is going to be interested in knowing what happens in the novel, even if they don’t read it. That brings a whole new level of scrutiny. That makes me sweat a bit.

The story opens with the climactic encounter between Gulliman and Fulgrim – was it hard to write that part – so long a part of 40k lore – and them move forwards 10000 years to the “present” 40k story and pick up with Gulliman suddenly in a different era and yet still continuing the same war?

Not really. The battle at Thessala is such an iconic moment in the lore that I was dead set on writing it. In a sense, I kind of shoe horned it in, I suppose, because I wanted to write it. My excuse is that I wanted this book to link all eras of 40k together – the Heresy, the pre-Noctis Aeterna and the new now, with little hints to 40k’s deep time histories. That it is the same war is kind of the point. The Imperium thought it won the Horus Heresy, when in many, many ways it did not. The effect of that realisation on Guilliman is a major theme to the story, and I’ll be continuing that in books two and three. Did I mention it’s a trilogy? It’s a trilogy.

I know you are a gamer – have you picked up a copy of the new boxed set yet? The Death Guard models are disgustingly beautiful!

Of course! I have the boxed set and the new indexes. I played my first game last week. Good fun, though my Orks died in droves, then I lost.

I actually have a Death Guard army too. You can read about how I’m going about updating it on the Warhammer Community Website in a month or so. I love the new Primaris Marines too, I’m dithering over whether I should paint them as Novamarines or Blood Angels. Before that though, I’m working on a promethium refinery built from the new Sector Mechanicus kits. That’ll be up in a couple of weeks. Actually, I need to get on with it, so I’m cutting this answer short.

You also have released a number of books outside of the Games Workshop universes, particularly your Dreaming Cities series. How do you find the process of creating a novel differs when writing within or without such predefined constraints?

One of the reasons I can write so many books a year (last year, I worked out I wrote 650,000 words of fiction, give or take) is that I vary what I write, and how I write it. In my “own” fiction, I can make up whatever I want, and sometimes that is liberating and useful. On the other hand, writing in a shared universe with lots of restrictions makes you more creative. Sometimes that means it is easier, sometimes harder. For me, the important thing is to make sure I do a variety of projects.

A  number of the Bolthole membership harbour dreams to make it as authors. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given that has helped you become a successful author?


There is no one piece of advice, I’m afraid. I always wanted to be a novelist, but I was a journalist for twelve years before I got a publishing contract. I interviewed lots of publishers, authors and agents in that time, and grilled them for tips. They all said different things. Being a journalist helped me the most. It trained me to write, and produce material of a reasonable standard to tight deadlines. However, I have also met a lot of would-be authors who aren’t and won’t be journalists. These are my top tips for you: Seek out advice from people who are involved in the industry. Don’t pester. If they help you, be nice. Do not be offended if what they say is negative (it will be to begin with), or let it go to your head if it is positive (which, once you get past a certain point, it will be). Join a writing group – I found that really useful, as there was feedback and an incentive to produce material. But above all, write. Nobody ever became a writer by not writing.

Finally, I recently became a father and I know you have a son. How do you find time to write?!

A lot of people ask me this, but in actual fact it’s no mystery: writing is my job. I work for about six hours a day usually, sometimes in the evening but mostly during working hours. My boy is nearly nine, he’s been at school for years, and is at an after school club three afternoons a week. I got my first two publishing contracts just as the last magazine I was on, Death Ray, went bust. My wife went back to work full time, I stayed at home. Even then I was working. It’s a job. We all manage to find time to earn our crust. It is significantly harder though when it is a hobby or an ambition. I remember that. You have to carve out time then, and that can be tricky.

Thanks Guy!

You can catch up on Guy’s Ork army and his terrain project over on the Warhammer Community website.

Next week we will have a review of the iconic Warhammer 40000 novel Space Marine by Ian Watson which is 24 years young but still entertaining!

Expect more reviews in the following weeks. We are also putting together a project reviewing the many Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, and I intend to update this blog with my attempts to put together a Space Marine army based around the new Primaris Marines. See the forum and the twitter feed for more, and expect some updates when I’ve got them!

If you are interested in contributing to this blog please contact Squiggle over at the Bolthole forum or on twitter.

Interview with William King

Today we interview one of the Black Library fandom’s favourite authors, the legendary William King. He’s responsible for creating the iconic Gotrek, Felix and Thanquol characters in Warhammer Fantasy, and for writing the Ragnar series in Warhammer 40,000 and more recently the Tyrion and Teclis and Macharius series. He’s also written a number of stories in his own settings. William King

Your latest novel Bane of Malekith, the third in the Tyrion and Teclis trilogy, is out now. What was the writing process for the book? Can you describe how you go about working on a novel?

The second question is tricky to answer since the process varies from book to book. The Tyrion and Teclis trilogy was probably a unique case among all the books I have written. They were done one after the other in the space of about nine months and then revised in about another 5 months.

The trilogy was in many ways the easiest thing to write I have ever attempted. I set myself the goal of writing a minimum of 1000 words EVERY day come rain or shine and I pretty much stuck with that until the books were done. I even spent an hour writing in a Costa coffee house in Qatar in the middle of the night to keep up my unbroken run.

I spent many years brooding on the story which probably helped make things flow. I wrote the original outline for it way back in the early 90s in the first High Elf army book so I was pretty clear what I wanted to write. The characters themselves have been pretty strongly defined and mostly I just wanted to show how they became who they are today. I wanted them to be believable as heroes and still sympathetic.

Bane of MalekithAs for my usual writing process, it’s pretty simple. I almost always work from an outline – which is handy since Black Library requires me to send them one before they will issue a contract. This outline provides a guide for the actual writing. I don’t try to stick to it religiously. Some things that look great in the outline don’t actually work when you come to write them and conversely there are always things that take on a life of their own as they escape from your brain onto the page.

As I go through the first draft, I tend to stop and go back occasionally and rewrite things the light of what has happened since I wrote them. I put in foreshadowing, bits of stuff that I now know will be important to let the reader know about and so on.

Once I have written the first draft, I go over the book a number of times, trying to make sure everything is consistent. Sometimes there are large changes needed at this stage as flaws become evident. Eventually the thing is done, sent to the editors. More changes are often required at this stage. There is a backwards and forwards process until the book is done.

Are there any parts of the book that were a particular struggle to write, and any you are now especially pleased with?

As I said above this trilogy was probably the easiest thing I have ever written, with the possible exception of Daemonslayer, which was written after a similarly long gestation period. It was an enormously pleasurable experience. There are lots of things in the books I like – in particular the depictions of Aenarion, Caledor, Malekith and Morathi. In Bane of Malekith I like the way Malekith comes across. I also like the final set of duels between Tyrion and Urian and Malekith and Teclis. I am pleased with the opening chess game between Caledor and Death as well, which is, as I am sure many people will have spotted, a reference to Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.Gotrek and Felix

Do you have any particular literary influences or sources you draw inspiration from in your writing?

Robert E Howard, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock and Tolkien all spring to mind. Less obviously Lawrence Block, George Orwell and, this is going to sound bizarre, Charles Dickens. He had a brilliant way with creating memorable characters.

Readers sometimes comment that you have a great ability to portray details of character or setting with just a few well-chosen words. Is this an element of your writing that you’ve consciously developed, or has it always come naturally?

See my comment about Dickens above. He has a knack for giving characters memorable mannerisms (Orwell comments on this in his essay on Dickens). It’s one of the things I try to do—like Gotrek running his thumb along the blade of his axe as he ponders violence. When creating a character I try and come up with three really memorable things—a look, a mannerism, an attitude and I build on it.

With settings, it’s the same. I try and find small details that will be convincing to the reader. I look for the sort of things that make me nod and think, yes, that’s how it would be.

How do you approach character development? Do you prefer to see how the characters evolve as the story progresses, or do you tend to plan out character arcs before starting to write?

I tend just to let the characters run from where they start. My basic philosophy of character creation is find characters you like and understand and then torture them. By this I mean cause them difficulties, take away their stuff, pick on their loved ones etc.

Again though, when I pause to think about things, I would need to add that this varies from book to book. Sometimes I have a definite aim in mind. With Tyrion and Teclis I wanted to show how they got to be heroes. With Gotrek and Felix and Grey Seer Thanquol, I just ran with what was happening in the stories and left the characters to their own devices. You can see what happened.

Writers seem to have different patterns when they’re involved in their writing. Is the writing process for you a lonely one or do you become more social?

I’ve never been the world’s most sociable man. I enjoy being on my own. I think it helps. On the other hand, it’s easy for me to say since I have a very supportive family.

You’ve been writing now for over twenty years. How have you found that the world of publishing has changed in that time?

It’s a different world now, completely and utterly. The single biggest change has come in the past five years with the rise of indie publishing and Amazon’s Kindle store. I have sold something like 40000 indie books in the past couple of years. The royalty rate on those books is something like 10 times as much as those on a conventionally published book so that’s a significant shift.

I think the whole industry is in turmoil. We’ve seen giant bookstore chains close shop and more and more people shift to e-readers. The process has only just started. That said, I do think Black Library is incredibly well-placed to weather the changes. It has its own loyal audience and control of at least part of its distribution chain

Fist of DemetriusCan you remember when you started writing, and do you have any advice for aspiring writers now?

I can remember it like it was yesterday but the world has changed so much that nothing I learned in terms of the business side of things would be useful today. On the other hand, some advice never goes out of fashion. Write what you love. Write the best stories you can. Read a lot. Write a lot. Don’t expect to be an overnight success. Learn to manage money. I know those all sound like clichés, but there’s a reason for that. They are all true and will most likely remain so for as long as people write books in the hope of selling them.

You did a lot of work on developing the Warhammer setting as a designer. Do you find that has made it easier or harder to write fiction set in the world, and has that changed over time?

It was easier when I started but it has gotten harder as the Warhammer world had been changed and expanded and so many more books have been written.

You’ve written in a variety of settings. Do you prefer working in an original setting of your own or with somebody else’s IP?

It depends! (You’ll notice a trend in my answers here as once again I sit on the fence.) In some ways writing in somebody else’s IP is easier because the world has already been created and you have very clear guidelines as to what is expected.

In some ways, writing your own stuff is easier because you don’t need to worry about what other writers may be doing. When I am writing my Kormak sword and sorcery novels or my Terrarch gunpowder fantasies, I am free to do pretty much as I please, up to and including blowing up the world if I want. I am pretty certain I could not get away with doing that (in Warhammer fantasy at least, in 40K there are a lot of worlds).

In Warhammer as more books are written by more writers, the number of things you can write about tends to narrow because somebody else may be doing something you would like to do.

Also, if I may introduce a note of crass commercialism into matters, if you are working in somebody else’s IP there is usually some certainty that there is a market for it and that you will be paid. If you are working on your own stuff, unless you are already a well-established writer, that is not a given.City of Strife

Who would you say is your favourite character among those you’ve written?

It’s really hard to make that choice, I like them all.  Gotrek and Felix come first but as a team!  If I absolutely had to pick just the one character, probably Grey Seer Thanquol. He was pure fun to write.

In your heart of hearts, do you prefer Dwarfs, or Elves?

Elves. Most of the time. Although I would probably rather go out drinking with dwarves.

After the conclusion of the Macharius trilogy, do you have plans for any more novels we should look out for?

There are some things being discussed but I am not allowed to talk about them at the present moment. Sorry about that!

Profound thanks to Mr King for taking the time to answer our questions! For more of his thoughts, see his blog at

Malodrax by Ben Counter – advance review

Today’s review is by Liliedhe and it’s book number fourteen in the Space Marine Battle series. The review isn’t for the faint of heart. Enjoy!

Not all the stories told in a Codex are necessarily true. Some are propaganda. Some are distorted. Some are just half the picture. Once one starts to compare a Codex story to the novelisation of it, differences are bound to crop up. I guess that is what makes writing novels out of three paragraphs from a Codex interesting. Because, where is the fun in telling what everybody already knows?

I guess that is the only thing I can think of that might be mustered in the defence of Malodrax. The Codex story of the First Captain of the Imperial Fist is a fantastic tale, of time travel, of impossible strength of character and body, of vengeance and retribution, endurance and of a capacity for forgiveness that might simply be superhuman. It is the story of the one awesome character the Imperial Fists have. The one claim to glory for that much maligned Chapter whose only purpose all too often seems to be playing redshirt to the heroics of others.

I guess that was why it could not be allowed to stand. Warhammer 40k is after all a setting without heroes, without good guys, without happy ends. A story like Lysander’s, a story of greatness in the face of adversity and horror thus could not be expected to stand. What other challenge was there for an author who was tasked to write about something so epically impossible?

And so it is revealed it as a lie. What happens in Malodrax not even bears a remote resemblance to the story told in the Codex. Its main character has no resemblance to the miniature on the tabletop. It is propaganda. It is a lie.

Malodrax thoroughly takes its premise and rips it to shreds. Basically, the only thing that remains from the Codex’s narrative is the time-travel. Yes, Lysander is from a thousand years in the past. Yes, he was on a place called Malodrax. And there it ends.

I did think the story of Malodrax was impossible to tell in a novel. At least, in a novel not on par with American Psycho where its graphical gruesomeness is concerned. Now, there are certainly gruesome scenes enough. Chaos isnt pretty, after all. That it does utterly lack the expected terrible torture scenes has to do with the fact that, as pointed out above, pretty much nothing of what you would expect to happen actually does.

Ok, that is unfair. It happens. Just not on screen. Or to the character you would expect it to happen to. And the true victim does not carry his fate with as much grace as Codex Lysander does. So I guess deconstruction was the intention all along. Nor has anybody as much patience with him as they do with the famous first Captain. I guess the universe is unfair and Space Marine brotherhood is just a lie among all the others.

I will not recount the plot. I don’t need to. You all know it. No, not from the Codex, from the Hammer of Daemons by Ben Counter.

Yes, this is a lazy book. The author falls back to what he does best and likely likes best, crazy descriptions of chaotic societies we have seen before. There are only so many ways to describe “impossibly beautiful yet disturbing” or “bloated, mutated, diseased” things before they become repetitive.

Like Alaric the Grey Knight, Lysander runs around making bargains with one freak show after the next, when he is not musing what an Imperial Fist does. I guess that is meant to show that the thought processes of a Space Marine are truncated and banal. Just like the thought processes of the occasional chaos thing. Hm, so maybe it was not deliberate?

I have always maintained that Ben Counter is an uneven writer, brilliant in flashes, uninspired and phoning it in when a scene was not to his liking. His phone bill on Malodrax must have been impressive. But then, since he was just copying himself…

Space Marine Battles has always been an uneven series, in turns awesome and flat. This is a new one, because it is infuriating. The quality middling, but unoriginal, the plot one a fan can but cry “ruined forever”. I do not know why Counter chose to not only invalidate the Codex, but also his own extensive flashbacks to this event in the novella Endeavour of Will, which bear no resemblance to this book.

Probably, because Imperial Fists are not allowed to have nice things. Not even a Chapter hero who isn’t a lying, pathetic fraud.

Thanks to Liliedhe, regular Read in a Rush contributor and part of the moderator team at the Bolthole forum.
Malodrax is out on December 14th.

Interview with CL Werner

Veteran writer CL Werner takes a few minutes out of his insanely busy schedule today to talk to us about how he approaches the challenges of being a writer.

CL Werner, the Lord of the Night.

CL Werner, the Lord of the Night.

He2etic: What is the writing process like for you? If you were to describe the process in what word, what would it be?

Clint: Each book is a little different, so the writing process really varies. Chaotic, I suppose would be the best word. Sometimes the narrative flows very easily, at other times you fight it every step of the way.

There are times when it is easier to write in the dead of night and at other times it is easier to get work done during the day. A lot of that tends to depend on the material too.

Since I usually write about dark deeds and monstrous creatures, I guess night helps set the proper mental state.

He2etic: What kind of music do you listen to while you write?

Clint: I listen to a lot of instrumental stuff when I write. Soundtracks, so-called ‘trailer music’, orchestral scores, even ambient sounds like rainfall or howling wolves will sometimes turn the trick. It’s usually good not to have vocals though as these can distract and end up breaking my concentration. They’re great for getting into the mood, but very bad during the actual writing.

“Capture small objectives, enjoy those accomplishments. Don’t let them become empty victories because you can’t stop thinking about the campaign ahead.”


He2etic: Who are your favourite characters amongst both those you’ve written, and by other authors?

Clint: I’ve kind of kidnapped him from William King, but I’d have to say Grey Seer Thanquol. He’s just such an insane/brilliant jumble of megalomania and paranoid delusions that no matter what he’s doing you can’t help but root for him. He’s one of two characters I’ve written who has actually hijacked the narrative and started changing the direction of the story as I’m writing it.

Brunner the Bounty Hunter, by CL Werner

Brunner the Bounty Hunter, by CL Werner

The other character who did that is my other favourite: Brunner. Anytime I strayed into making him a softie it was like a cold voice at my shoulder telling me the bounty killer wouldn’t do that and then suggesting something entirely different and invariably far crueller and more calculating. He has a definite code of honour, but as Brunner would be the first to say, not everybody is worthy of his restraint.

Some of the characters from other authors I like range from Walter B. Gibson’s The Shadow to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger. Tolkien’s Gandalf certainly gets mention and so would Sax Rohmer’s Dr Fu-Manchu.

Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Solomon Kane. Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula is an eternal fixture with me. C. L. Moore’s Jirel of Jory, Manly Wade Wellman’s John the Balladeer, Hodgson’s Carnaki.

I think the big problem is that a lot of the folks I read didn’t really do a lot of recurring characters. Lovecraft, Whitehead and Clark Ashton Smith, for instance, or Arthur Machen and M. R. James.

He2etic: What are your strongest influences when it comes to character creation?

Clint: I think the strongest influences rise from what I read and what I watch. I might find a peculiar character in a movie or book and start wondering what would happen if they were put into an entirely different situation.

Or I might take aspects of an actor’s portrayal and use that as a starting point to develop a character’s personality. Boris Goldgather in the Black Plague books started out as a condemnation of manipulative politicians but he wasn’t more than a caricature until I started envisioning Charles Laughton wearing the Imperial robes. Then everything fell into place.

“There will always be room to improve, but if you keep trying to make it perfect then nobody will ever have the chance to read it. Know when to let go.”


He2etic: Are there any dream characters or settings you want to write about? Not just those in the Warhammer universes, but in other franchises or even of your own make?

Clint: I suppose the big one would be to do something in an official capacity with Godzilla. I’m such a big fan of kaiju-eiga that a project involving him would be absolutely fantastic.

The Small Ones, by CL Werner

The Small Ones, by CL Werner

Another arena I’d love to play with would be Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age. That setting still conjures a magic and mystery for me that no others can. Doing something with The Shadow would be epic, but I’m not sure I have the proper skills to do Gibson’s creation the justice he deserves.

I’ve always thought it would be nice to do a Dungeons and Dragons novel as a thank you to the game for getting me through some really black times.

In the Warhammer universes, there’s lots I’d love to explore. Excusing for a moment doing more Thanquol, Brunner or Thulmann, my big dream projects would be a series of orc (or ork) novels, a Time of Legends cycle exploring the Doom of Kazavar and the creation of the insidious skaven, and a book delving into the lizardmen would be a challenge I think I could make really work.

In 40k, I’d really like to do some more with the Emperor’s Warbringers – especially if I can get Andy Smilie on board for a collaboration I suggested.

There’s so many things I’d like to do as far as original material goes I don’t know if I could even concoct a short list. I know I’d like to write a classic dragon novel, especially since I have a very clever and very plausible way of taking care of the wyrm in the denouement.

The Siege of Castellax, by CL Werner

The Siege of Castellax, by CL Werner

I’d also like to do more with Shintaro Oba and my Japanese-style sword-and-sorcery stories (and if I can steal the time, maybe we’ll see such a thing yet – Rogue Blades’ Enterprises has shown some interest in a collection).

I also have a crackpot idea for a fantasy novel set in Arizona circa 800 AD with Romans fighting proto-Aztecs and based on some incongruous archaeological finds.

The big one for me though would be a whole series of fantasy books delving into the character of Vlad III, taking him from mortal voivode to undead vampire.

See, I told you Dracula never leaves me alone.

I’ve also thought about doing stories about a witch hunter in Colonial America, circa the evocative year of 1666. I’ve also got notes for a few WWII weird novels, one of which will be seeing publication in truncated form as ‘The Lost Blitzkrieg’ in the Bolthole’s next fiction anthology.

I’ve been lucky recently to be invited to do stories in two really fantastic settings. The Iron Kingdoms of Privateer Press probably need no introduction. The other setting is the sci-fi world of Wild West Exodus, and I encourage everybody to check out what they’re developing because there’s a really neat style and storyline being created. On the same subject, if Black Ball Games ever wants to do AE-WWII fiction, I’d jump at the chance to contribute.

Mathias Thulmann Witch Hunter, by CL Werner

Mathias Thulmann Witch Hunter, by CL Werner

Probably my most eccentric idea is to do a retelling of the Gospel as a sword-and-sorcery novel. I think worries about blasphemy will keep it from happening. Still, the story of Jesus has all the ingredients: demons (Legion, who could ask for a more sinister name), a decadent and oppressive empire, an evil sorcerer (Simon Magus, who will always look like Jack Palance to me), miracles, the undead (okay, so Lazarus was the only mortal who came back from the dead that didn’t cause anybody to grab a stake and a hammer) – it’s all there. The big issue for me would be taking such a peculiar concept and maintaining the proper respectful tone.

He2etic: What are your favourite drinks, both alcoholic and not? Do you occasionally partake while writing?

Clint: I get very depressed when I drink alcohol, so I very rarely imbibe. I usually saturate myself with tea or Coca-Cola (yum, tasty carcinogens) and while I’m writing there are always some of those nasty energy shot things sitting at my elbow (and don’t believe any of this stuff about ‘no crash’ – they lie).

He2etic: If you could cast anyone to play the roles of main characters in your work, who would you pick?

Clint: Most of the people I’d pick are sadly no longer with us. Mathias Thulmann, for instance, was patterned after the mannerisms and stylings of Vincent Price while Streng is Oliver Reed.

“I find it best not to make any long term plans. What we want, what we get and what we need are things we have no control over.”


The black magister Rudol is one of several characters I’ve done with Bela Lugosi in mind, the various members of the Klausner family were all Boris Karloff. Shintaro Oba is Toshiro Mifune while I always imagine the spirit of Takashi Shimura motivating the benign mummy Kambei-kai.

I do think Vinnie Jones would make a fearsome Brunner though and the necromancer Carandini has always been Brad Douriff in my mind (more for his role as the psychotic computer genius Dante in a low-budget flick called ‘Death Machine’ than for anything else).

Temple of the Serpent, by CL Werner

Temple of the Serpent, by CL Werner

When I write female characters they will often end up acquiring the image of a Hammer studios ‘scream queen’, usually Caroline Monro or Veronica Carlson.

He2etic: Do you have any long term projects for writing? For example, do you intend to someday spin your own franchise or complete a long novel series?

Clint: I find it best not to make any long term plans. What we want, what we get and what we need are things we have no control over.

When you outlive enough dreams, you find it best to think small. Capture small objectives, enjoy those accomplishments. Don’t let them become empty victories because you can’t stop thinking about the campaign ahead.

He2etic: Are there any novels you would consider required reading?

Clint: I have very eccentric and probably archaic tastes, so I’m not entirely sure my advice will be as helpful as what somebody more versed in contemporary works would give. Obviously The Lord of the Rings is essential to anybody writing fantasy because it has shaped so much of what people think of when they hear the very word.

I find Frankenstein and 1984 both vital for their moral teachings. To see how to set mood and build suspense, I’d say The Hound of the Baskervilles.

For anybody doing Warhammer I always point them to Kim Newman’s Drachenfels, even if the lore is out of date, it remains the very best fantasy story produced for the setting.

Blood for the Blood God, by CL Werner

Blood for the Blood God, by CL Werner

He2etic: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Clint: Just one word: read. Read as much as you can, read it with an analytical eye. Take the narrative apart the way a mechanic takes apart an engine. See what makes the story work or what doesn’t.

See how another author successfully portrays an emotion or an action, discover the tricks other writers have used and start building your own bag of tricks to use in your own stories.

Above all, keep writing, even if only for yourself. The caveat to that is to know when it is time to leave a story alone.

I think it was Hitchcock who said that a great film is never finished, it is simply abandoned. The same holds true for books. There will always be room to improve, but if you keep trying to make it perfect then nobody will ever have the chance to read it. Know when to let go.

Thanks again to CL Werner for the amazing interview!

Follow the @BLBolthole on Twitter for updates, articles and more. This blog’s art was crafted by Manuel Mesones, and you can check out his portfolio. The author can be followed @He2etic, or on his blog.

Marching Time

A few months ago, the Bolthole announced its upcoming second anthology, Marching Time. Now that we’re getting stories in, we’re releasing the cover art (thanks to Forjador for his hard work on this).

The cover to Marching Time

We hope you agree it looks great, and we hope to have the finished anthology out in the next few months.

The Bolthole’s first anthology, The Black Winds Whispers, is available from Amazon here ( and here (.com).