The Founding Fields and the Independent Book Blogger Awards

Hey guys, Shadowhawk here once again to do some plugging for the book review site that I contribute to, along with Lord of the Night and Bane of Kings.

Run by my friend Commissar Ploss, The Founding Fields is up for the Independent Book Blogger Awards, an awards system that is being hosted via Goodreads. We are entering in the “Adult Fiction” category. If people could take a little time and go vote for us, that’d be great! All you need is a Goodreads account (you can also sign in via Facebook or Twitter).

The link to our entry is:

http://www.goodreads.com/book_blogger_award/entry/64

We’ve had a lot of support from people here over the months and years the site has been live and we are asking for a bit more :-)

Thanks in advance to everybody who votes!

PS: You get 4 votes, 4 for each category that is up for grabs.

Warrior Priest by Darius Hinks (A Review)

 Another review for you all today as Vivia talks about Darius Hinks’s Empire Army novel, Warrior Priest. Just as with our last, this review is an interesting one too and we hope you like this one as well. Enjoy!

My first book by Darius Hinks was Sigvald, a wonderfully mad, dark fantasy novel about a Slaaneshi champion and his adventures in the Chaos Wastes. It was with excitement and great expectations I went on to read his first novel, Warrior Priest.

We are introduced to the main characters as they save a woman from being burned at the stake for witchcraft. She is saved by them, but not in the way we expect. The saviours and heroes of Warhammer are dark and brutal and in Warrior Priest we get a fine example of that sort of hero in the Sigmarite priest Jakob Wolff.

Almost from the start there is tension between Anna, the Shallya priestess, and the warrior priest. Their ideologies are opposites; one is a healer and the other a warrior, and gives an interesting view into the different religions of the Warhammer world that is rarely seen. Not as much as I would have liked to see but glimpses from time to time. They dislike each other and it doesn’t change much as the story goes on.

The atmosphere in the first half of the book is reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic world. War has left Ostland in ruins and people cling to faith in desperation and it’s hard not to feel they’re in a hopeless situation. Hinks conveys this feeling of despair with grey, rainy days, filth, mud and desolation. It’s a very dark world depicted in Warrior Priest and that’s exactly as it should be. The degree of violence is high and horrible in its brutality; I like it as this gives more depth to the battle scenes. There is one very atmospheric fight with man against beast, which gave me the chills.

About two thirds into the story, it changes pace and the reader is forced into the point of view of another character that is suddenly introduced. Important for the story as he is, his inclusion feels disjointed from the rest of the story and comes out of nowhere.  I can’t help think these chapters could have been improved by extensive editing and it makes the story lack structure. It’s puzzling why we get such an in-depth view into this character and yet Jacob, the star of the story, is left mostly undeveloped. The story doesn’t really recover from it and the ending is by the rulebook, a mocking villain with dastardly plans of Evil, though the villain’s master was exciting but it’s nothing remarkable. It was hard to keep on reading until the end as I thought the main plot was turning weaker and weaker.

The last chapters display Hinks’s penchant for gore and revolting details including bodily fluids and entrails all over the place. There is a particularly disgusting and graphic scene that almost made me wretch, concerning corpses and the semi-dead, quite realistic considering the circumstances. This is what the author excels at and what I love to read. His descriptions are very vivid and intense. Be aware of this and also don’t eat while reading. I totally lost my appetite several times throughout the story.

The last fight between good and evil was unconvincing, it was over rather quickly and left me wondering if this was the author’s manner of saying that evil can be small and petty. The problem is that I didn’t think it was handled very well; the plot just fell apart, no matter the efforts of giving us a background story in earlier chapters. The actual ending feels more of an afterthought from the writer and was fascinating but rather unnecessary to the main story. The story and characters deserved a better closure.

The characters aren’t always consistent either: Ratboy, Jacob’s acolyte, has an inexplicable attraction towards Anna, the priestess. Perhaps this is Hinks’s way of pointing out that everyone in this mad world is corrupted and weak, but it isn’t really dwelled upon, interesting as it would have been. Another minor character is left completely out of a big portion of the story despite having a good start in the beginning.

Which leads me to my other complaint: the main female character in the story Anna is used as the ‘romantic’ interest of a few of the male characters throughout the book. I could argue this works with the story and the setting but is leaves me disappointed once again with the female characters (nothing new when I read a Black Library novel). In his defence Hinks writes the women better than most but Sigvald is a better example of this and he isn’t afraid of showing their more disturbing sides.

It doesn’t stop me from sighing every time this happens with the poor underused women characters. It’s also how they’re described; the men tend to be put in better light than the women, in unbridled male-worship. You can’t escape the fact that the Black Library stories favour the men, and considering that the writers are mostly men it puts an interesting angle into this. Think what you want but hey, it’s there. Take a look from all sides.

Despite the books many flaws I’m quite pleased to say that Hinks avoid many of the usual, and annoying, Black Library clichés. His characters are flawed, they come across as real people and we understand them. They suffer, they get hurt and their faith is strong. His dialogue is realistic and he doesn’t fall in to the trap of stilted speech to convey a sense of archaism or an epic feel – something most Black Library stories are guilty of and not in a good way. When this happens, it throws me right out of the story and makes my teeth hurt.

At times it feels as if the world of Warhammer and its many horrors is the main focus of the story, not the characters. I’m not complaining, it’s a place that has a wonderful dark atmosphere, sometimes bordering on horror, with many layers of secrets and that is what we want to read about. It’s as much part of the stories as the characters.

Read and enjoy it but don’t expect the same thrill and brilliance of Sigvald, Hinks second novel.  Most importantly keep reading Darius Hinks because he is an interesting author and I expect many dark and violent tales from him in the future.

Many thanks to my betas, Merci and Liliedhe. Their help was much appreciated.

Horus Heresy: Horus Rising by Dan Abnett (A Review)

Today, we bring to you another book review, this one by a reader who was completely new to the Warhammer 40,000 setting and whose first point of introduction to the setting was the first novel of the Horus Heresy series. It is quite an interesting review and I hope you all enjoy it.

Warning: Here be spoilers.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get in medias res. No, we need another disclaimer. I am not a 40K expert. More than once while reading this book, I was rushing off to ask one of my more knowledgeable friends “But what does X mean?” “What is a Y?” and “Can Space Marines have sex?” Ah, scratch that last one, the answer is obvious in the book (and for, the record, it’s ‘No.’). But, still, even I know how this will end. Horus falls to Chaos, so do half his brothers, there’s a huge war, lots of characters you like die, and in the end the Emperor Shoots the Dog – Horus – and becomes a human vegetable. It’s kind of like watching the Star Wars prequels. We all know Anakin becomes Darth Vader. The point is how it happens.

Well, very differently. Horus is not Anakin. Chaos is not Palpatine (it’s a lot more gross ^^). The book takes a very interesting approach to the basic plot of tragedy. For it to be a tragedy you need to be invested in the main character – but knowing what the reader knows, she’ll be reluctant to do so. Generally speaking, emotional investment in the characters and the story is difficult. The Imperium of Man is so far from our world, from our way of thinking that you struggle to sympathize. It doesn’t help that the beginning opens with a) a huge deception and b) a very distanced and ‘epic’ tolkienesque approach to story telling. “I was there the day Horus killed the Emperor.” “Wtf?”

Eventually, it’s cleared up that this was a different Emperor and you find out that the book is told in two distinct voices, one that is History speaking through the work of documentarist Mersadie Oliton, and one that is History happening, through the limited 3rd person POV of Garviel Loken, a legion Captain of the Luna Wolves, and rememberancers Oliton, Karkasy and Keeler. To be honest, the history book sequences aren’t that good. Abnett strives for a tone similar to the Silmarillion but it simply doesn’t work that well. But the other sequences are far better. The use of the rememberancers as storytellers is inspired: their job is to be there and witness, to show the people of Terra what is happening in the Great Crusade, and probably where their tax money is going to. Since they are all artists, not reporters, their approach to their job is very different since it is quite whimsical, eclectic and – in case of Karkasy – sarcastic. Like the reader, they are professional witnesses, but they do not just observe, they comment, they judge, they interpret. And, like the reader, they are not socialised in the militaristic culture of the Astartes, seeing it all with detachment and maybe even disdain.

Karkasy walking through the demolished capital of 63-19 is one of the more memorable sequences. A major problem of science fiction told at this scale is how to make foreign cultures memorable. How to present them as something relatable but at the same time fundamentally different from the standard, and to do so in a couple of pages or minutes of screen time. Here it works impressively. The same is done again with the Interex, which is more exotic and therefore more superficial, but still interesting.

For a story told about a character’s fall to darkness, the author made an interesting decision on how to go about it. The newly-established Imperium of Man is a very alien environment for the 21st century reader. It is violently imperialistic, autocratic, fundamentalist. Its soldiers are not human, but something different, of enormous size, physically enhanced, biologically different, and mentally conditioned.

As I understand it, a baseline human boy is taken, implanted with enhanced organs and cybernetics, conditioned, hypnotized, maybe brainwashed. This sounds revolting and abhorrent for us and in the beginning; we get exactly what we expect. A world is brutally conquered, and when Loken shows… humanity or maybe just compassion, his Warmaster pops in and executes the enemy leader with ruthless aplomb and a sarcastic quip. When the rememberancer meets Loken, her first impression of him is his inhumanity, his mixture of beauty and grotesque exaggeration of human traits. We learn that he cannot feel fear, and when he puts her down for saying something that – we must assume – went against his conditioning, the word she thinks is that he is brutal. Only then, when the reader is reminded of all his preconceived notions, do we look beneath the surface. Loken is inducted into the Warmaster’s inner circle, and we are introduced to the iterators: the propaganda and reeducation ‘teachers’ who bring conquered worlds in line. And we see them debate, discuss, doubt. We see the questions asked that we have been asking from the start and they are answered. It isn’t that all of the answers are what we agree to. But we see the questions exist. We learn the Emperor has been giving up power on account of a civilian administration and catching flak for it. On Terra herself.

This isn’t yet the Imperium of 40K. And Horus has not yet become the setting’s fusion of Lucifer and Kain. In fact, after his rather unflattering introduction, we learn a lot more about him. And about Loken. We see Horus comfort a distraught soldier, we see him be kind, gentle. We see him politically savvy, and later as a son who was loved by his father and dearly loves him (and misses him) in return. In these moments, it is irrelevant he is three meters tall and that his father is an immortal with godlike powers. Suddenly, there is the humanity, both in him and in Loken that we have been missing – and taught not to expect. And the knowledge of the fall rears its head and we ask how this can happen, when we understand it is not a foregone conclusion.

Horus certainly has flaws. He has quite an ego for one. He struggles with his role, with the enormous responsibility, with the weight of his choices. In the end, he argues against slavish adherence to dogma and for a more responsible approach. And, when in the last chapter, he fights what seems to be a last stand against overwhelming odds – the author echoes our feelings, by stepping back and saying how much History has become skewed and distorted by the knowledge of what happens next. How the horrible end makes everyone forget the noble beginning, thus echoing the reader’s own preconceptions from the start. In the end, you are sorry. Sorry for this brilliant, complex individual who will be remembered only as a monster. I did not read the other books yet, and so far, I feel that Horus is the setting’s Old Yeller. The brave, courageous creature that through no fault of his own becomes infected with a terrible ‘disease’ and has to be put down by the one who loved him most. And this sadness colors my perception of the book more than anything else.

Catechism of Hate by Gav Thorpe (A Review)

As most of you know, Black Library’s latest Limited Edition novella, Catechism of Hate, was released less than a week ago and sold out in the first few minutes. To celebrate the launch of the novella and also the milestone for Gav Thorpe, for whom this is his second such novella, the Bloghole brings to you a review of Catechism of Hate, thanks to one of our members, MalkyDel.

Without further ado, here is the review. We hope you enjoy!

“What is it to be a Space Marine?”

This is the first line of the Catechism of Hate, not the novella but the battle-prayer written by its protagonist, Brother-Chaplain Cassius, after the First Tyrannic War. It is that conflict which looms over the entirety of Catechism of Hate as a story and it is also a pertinent question to put to its protagonists.

Catechism of Hate is the latest limited edition novella that I’ve had the luck to acquire and the first one I’ve decided to review. As ever the presentation is stunning; Jon Sullivan’s cover art conveys the relentless savage nature of war against the tyranids and brims with the fiery wrath which Cassius brings down upon them. It’s beautifully crafted (as all the other Space Marine Battle series art has been) and the included poster shows it off in even more detail. Unlike other limited edition novellas and unlike the other SMB novels, the tactical maps are located on the inside cover of the book, this at first threw me, but it became oddly appealing as I read on and it almost seemed as though the narrative itself were emerging from amidst the battle-plan.

The actual hardback is white and blue, not as iconic as the salamander hide of Promethean Sun or the heretical scrawlings of Aurelian but effective in its own simple way. Had it been blue and gold however I feel as though I’d have been put in mind of the Codex Astartes itself which would have been great.

The novella itself is told in flashback, with Cassius using it to galvanise his warriors in another campaign against the Tyranids. This conceit put me in mind of Dilios telling the story of Thermopylae to the Spartans at Platea, in Frank Miller’s 300. It is a very effective narrative tool and we get to feel, and understand the reasons for, Cassius’s hate. As the Ultramarines ready for war against the orks assaulting Vortengard, a distress signal is received from Styxia, an agri-world threatened by the relentless encroachment of Tyranid splinter fleets post-Ichar IV. While Marneus Calgar and the other Ultramarines wish to forge on, it is Cassius who makes the argument for intervention – introducing us to a stalwart and resilient character who could easily be accused of arrogance. Despite his assurances that he will not sell Ultramar lives in vain, his decisions inspire doubt amongst his fellow Astartes.

This forms much of the heart of the novella; what does it mean to be a Space Marine? Is it enough to simply smite the enemy because they are hated? The Ultramarines bear much antipathy for the Tyranid menace and this is effectively summarised by Cassius when he rages that the aliens humbled them, the greatest of the Space Marine chapters, and almost destroyed them. Cassius tempers his hate with an appreciation of his circumstances and the loyalty of his men; when the time comes to strike and the strategy for victory becomes clear, each becomes fanatical in their loyalty.

The pace of the novella is easy and fluid, with interesting support characters  in the form of a Cadian Commander, two Titan Princeps and the other members of Cassius’ command, all aided by Gav’s able command of the setting. The tyranids are well-described; sinuous alien horrors brought to life and given a relentless character of their own. It’s always hard to judge tyranids, since they have no real potential for “Enemy POV” scenarios, but the horrific biology of these aliens is well-represented here, with the interactions between different tyranid genus-types shown to its fully intermeshed glory. Battle scenes flow well, especially when the Space Marines are properly unleashed. Reading the climax, where the Catechism of Hate is finally enunciated, filled me with an almost martial pride, an unstoppable yearning to read more, to roar alongside them.

Through no fault of the authors, my only real disappointment is that the novella doesn’t really add to the canon, outside of a clearer view of the battle of Styxia. This is the purpose of the SMB series, of course, to bring clarity to famous battles in the history of 40k, and this it does admirably. It should not suffer simply because, unlike the previous novellas, it does not tie in to another series (Iron Warrior for Ultramarines, Daenyathos for the Soul Drinkers, The Bloody-Handed for The Sundering, Promethean Sun & Aurelian for the Horus Heresy), and instead only represents a single battle. The novella still stands as an exemplary piece of writing on Gav’s part. It reminds me why, no matter the chapter, Gav Thorpe remains one of my favourite authors at the helm of Space Marines.

******

As a sort of bonus, there might be some other reviews in the pipeline for the future so make sure to keep checking back here!