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 Steve Parker

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We interview Steve Parker about his latest novel Deathwatch. This is our longest interview so far, a fascinating, in-depth view into the writing process. Take notes, aspiring writers!

Can you tell us about your novel Deathwatch? The story and characters specifically. Is it action-oriented or slow-paced?

Deathwatch is the first Talon Squad novel and follows the origins, formation and first deployment of a Space Marine anti-xenos kill-team under the auspices of an Inquisition ‘handler’ known only as Sigma.
I guess the best way to describe it, or at least to describe what I was shooting for, is special-forces action in the 41st millennium – a kind of Tom Clancy or Duncan Falconer in space, if you will, but very solidly grounded in the 40k milieu.
The story is told via multiple viewpoints, but is mostly centred on Lyandro Karras, First Codicier of the Death Spectres Space Marine Chapter, who is sequestered to the Deathwatch alongside Siefer Zeed of the Raven Guard, Maximmion Voss of the Imperial Fists, Ignacio Solarion of the Ultramarines and Darrion Rauth of the Exorcists, all of whom eventually deploy with the dreadnought Chyron Amadeus Chyropheles of the Lamenters. Unfortunately, they don’t all get on very well.
I think it’s fair to say the book is definitely action-oriented, but action is nothing without slower-paced suspenseful elements that set it up. Hopefully I struck a good balance between action and suspense.

What was the writing process for the book? Can you describe how you go about working on a novel?

Deathwatch was announced rather a long time before it was completed, but that was nothing to do with any issues in the actual writing process. Truth be told, my life circumstances got shaken up a fair bit between signing the contract with Black Library and actually handing in the completed manuscript. I was never in any doubt about finishing the book, though. It was something I really wanted to write from the first moment my editor ran the notion up the flagpole.
Given the existence of the two short stories before the novel, I already had my characters, but I found myself facing a slight problem in that I didn’t want the novel (nor any future Deathwatch novels) to be bound by what transpired in those shorts. I mean, no one on the kill-team is immortal. If they make a big enough mistake, someone is going to pay the ultimate price. If one assumes the shorts take place quite a while after the origins story, it would seem that Talon Squad is going to be pretty safe for a long time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t go thinking that because the kill-team is at full complement in the shorts that anyone is bullet-proof. They are most definitely not. Not all these guys are going to make it through. That’s just a reality of the Deathwatch.
So, to that end, I decided to treat the novel as a reboot. The short stories are what they are – brief, explosive action adventures based around a single mission and meant to be read in a single sitting – but I’d like readers to think of them somewhat in the same way as a Marvel Alterniverse story. If you’re not familiar with those, it’s where an established character like Spidey, for example, has adventures that don’t really fall within the accepted main story arc. They’re fun, but they don’t reflect actual canon, more just a chance to play with ideas. For me, the Talon Squad shorts were as much about prototyping my kill-team and working out the dynamics of the group as anything else.
In terms of the process I use for any novel these days, I work almost exclusively in Scrivener, which I know some other Black Library authors – William King to name one – also espouse. Scrivener is heavily geared towards authors and makes Microsoft Word all but obsolete due to features like the excellent corkboard. I find it a genuine joy to work with, though I’m still learning its ins-and-outs to a degree.
I spend a lot of time in the planning phase of a book and make copious amounts of notes. I’m not a ‘pantser’ who just jumps into the writing and sees where it takes him. I tried that. The results were a bit messy and tended to call for pretty massive rewrites along the way. That’s not for me. I’m firmly in the ‘outliner’ camp now.
I tend to write three drafts. The first is scrappy and as fast as I can make it, just getting it down without too much thought to the language and focusing on discovering story problems I hadn’t anticipated in the planning phase. The second draft is about fixing all those problems and fine-tuning the pace and the story beats, the interactions, how the action plays out, stuff like that.
The third draft is the spit-and-polish phase where I focus on turn-of-phrase and other ‘cosmetic’ issues. After that, my editor gets it, reads it, makes comments of his own, gathers feedback from proofreaders, and then it comes back to me for a final tweak before it goes off for publication.
Writing a novel is extremely labour-intensive and long, and yet an author is always hoping that the book will be a smooth read that fans will get swept up in, devouring in just a day or two.

Was there any outside inspiration for the book, such as films, books, music?

I’m sure I was subconsciously inspired by a great many things. It all counts. Conscious inspiration, though, was mostly drawn from my own reading and a couple of video games I’m fond of.
In terms of books, I’d have to list Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy as one influence, but also the works of Frank Herbert, whose Dune books were the reason I ever wanted to write in the first place.
Games that influenced me included the Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six series, but also a broad list of other modern military ‘shooters’. The risk there is in telling yourself, ‘I’ll just play the game for a little research,’ but actually, you end up getting into the challenge of it and don’t stop where you should. Gaming is probably my greatest weakness.
Music? I listened to the Predator 2 and Alien 3 soundtracks over and over again while drafting. I also like the Space Marine and Gears of War soundtracks. The Alien 3 soundtrack in particular was a good fit for writing the novel, I think.

Can you mention your favourite parts and least favourite of the book? What was a struggle and what just kept pouring into the pages?

I have a lot of favourite parts, to be honest, because I initially planned the book to satisfy what I personally wanted from a Deathwatch novel (hoping along the way that readers would enjoy all the same things). To that end, I included lots of things that appeal to me directly, from the extreme and unusual training at Watch Fortress Damaroth to the shadowy activities of Inquisitors and agents who operate on a need-to-know basis. The chapters featuring the Puppeteer were a particular joy to write, but so were the scenes in which I had an opportunity to bring the Death Spectres Space Marine Chapter to the fore. I also reveled in writing the interactions between the kill-team members. Those are some pretty messed up team dynamics.
What was a struggle? I’m not sure there was a particular struggle that stands out. Writing isn’t ever truly easy, at least for me, but the Deathwatch novel was a fairly even experience as these things go. That might be because of the work I had already done on character establishment in the short stories. I’m hoping it’s indicative of future novel-writing experiences.

Writers 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’m not a very social being, even at the best of times. It’s my habit, and something of a preference, to lock myself away and live like a recluse whether I’m writing or not. I’m probably even more reclusive when I have a novel to write. Is that good or bad? They say no man is an island, but I dispute that. I’m North Sentinel Island, 400 miles southeast of Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, and the tribe that inhabits me kills intruders on sight.

You’re a fan favourite despite not having an extensive Black Library bibliography. Does that influence your writing in any way or does the story always come first, the readers second?

Which fan said that? Was it my mum?
I don’t think serving the story and serving the readers can be separated all that much. There’s a certain level of mutual dependence there. A writer is an entertainer. Readers know what they like, and a writer working in an established universe needs to take that into account. I like to think that the readers and I want the same things from a Warhammer 40,000 piece. I’m a reader, too – in fact, I’m the first reader – so if I manage to satisfy myself (which can be pretty difficult), we’re probably all good.
I hesitate to say there’s any direct or specific influence from fan input, because that’s not really how I work, but a while back, I did ask readers to suggest kill-team compositions on my blog, mostly just for fun, but also because nobody knows Warhammer 40,000 like the fans. They’re so invested in the milieu. No matter how much reading I do, I doubt I’ll ever match the breadth and depth of knowledge some of them display. So, it’s nice to throw something out there sometimes and see what kind of replies you get. The kill-team discussion brought to my attention a number of Chapters I knew little about or had never even heard of before, so it was definitely interesting.

What made you write for Warhammer 40k? Was it by chance or was it intended all along? If so, are you a big 40k fan?

I am a big WH40k fan, but I don’t come at it from the table-top, where my only real experience is Space Hulk. I was always attracted to the artwork, the models and the richly detailed background, but all my recreational gaming in my teens tended to be done on computer or console. So I largely lost touch with WH40k for some years. It never occurred to me that there might be opportunities to write stories in this particular milieu. As an author, I started out writing original fantasy and dark SF stories set in Japan. It was only after my first two story sales to US magazines that I discovered Black Library and the Inferno magazine. I think I had been prompted to check for Warhammer 40,000 fiction after finishing the awesome Dawn of War computer game. Sadly, Inferno had ceased publication by then. I was kicking myself for not discovering it sooner until I came across the call for submission to the Tales from the Dark Millennium anthology.
Six days of frantic catching up later, I had a story proposal featuring the Dark Angels and the Ordo Malleus. Happily, I got the go-ahead to write the story, and The Falls of Marakross was my first outing in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Can you remember what it was like when you started writing, and do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Hmm. Well, something I read recently really struck me, because I tend to be very hard on myself at the beginning of a book, and I typically trip myself up by incessantly editing as I write. Don’t do this. I think I do it because my expectations for the first draft are foolishly set way higher than they ought to be, which ends up causing me a great deal of self doubt and worry. This is something for aspiring writers to watch out for – don’t listen to the inner critic on the first pass. Just keep rolling.
The quote in question went something like this:
“Remember, everything great started out shit.”
Think about that. Think about your favourite book. Do you have any idea what it looked like after only one draft? You probably don’t, but chances are you wouldn’t have paid good money for it at that stage. You may not have liked it at all.
A first draft should, by its nature, be pretty scrappy, even deliberately so. Working from your plot outline (while still remaining open to anything new that suddenly occurs), try to write fast and free (and I’m painfully aware as I type this that I really need to follow my own advice). The faster you get the story down, the sooner you can start making it great, but that first draft has nothing whatsoever to do with quality. It’s all about getting the ideas on the page and discovering new ones along the way. The best ideas often come to you when you’re right in the middle of the work itself. From there, at the end of the first draft, you can really go to work on it and incorporate all the revelations you made while writing.
A lot of writers spend hours trying to make a perfect opening to a book right at the beginning of a project. I should know, since I was one. But you’ll do yourself a far bigger favour by just getting down a quick first chapter and jumping straight into the rest of the story feet first. You can refine that first chapter as much as you like when the time is right, but that time is not at the beginning of the first draft.
Once you have a completed first draft, print it out or copy it over to your e-reader (I prefer the latter myself), and read it start-to-finish, taking all the notes you’ll need to make it better in the second draft (I use a voice recorder for this). Again, don’t worry about literary cosmetics here, just focus on making it the best story it can be in terms of plot, scenes, characters, all the fundamentals. What would make each chapter or scene cooler and more exciting? What can you throw in to shake things up for the reader? Work up your second draft with all the changes you’ve decided to make, then sit down with that and, finally, start to think about the prose itself. Polish it up. Add your own narrative voice or style. Make it shine. Then finally submit it.
Other than that, be sure to study the craft of writing. The Writer’s Digest ‘Elements of Fiction’ series is great overall and does an excellent job of introducing all the aspects of story on which good fiction depends. There are some fantastic recent e-books on the craft of writing, too, which even experienced writers may get a lot out of. Amazon has literally oodles of them. Check the reviews before you buy, though.

Can you tell us about your interests besides writing?

A lot of the usual stuff like reading, movies, games, etc. No surprises there. I’ve no doubt that most of my favourites are also on the lists of the people reading this.
Since I was about sixteen years old, I’ve had a deep interest in martial arts and physical training. It hasn’t dissipated with time. I’d normally list body-building as one of my foremost interests, but I’m too far from my 2010 peak right now to say that and not feel a bit self-conscious, so I’ll just say weight-training instead and promise to do better next year.
Animal rights and wildlife conservation are really important to me, too, so I do what I can in the time I have available, whether that means signing petitions, copy-editing content for event organisers, designing posters or joining demos.
That’s about it, really. I like travel well enough, too, but I don’t get to do enough of it. I’d love to visit the Middle East sometime, or the ruins of the Aztec and Maya cultures. I’m also toying with the idea of becoming a slightly sympathetic super-villain and trying to obliterate (or at the very least sterilise) mankind. I think I’ve got the chops for it, but I lack the resources.

What are your biggest influences?


Literary influences? Definitely Frank Herbert, Clive Barker, JRR Tolkien and David Gemmell, all of whom still make me want to write despite the appalling money on offer to professional authors these days. Also, I don’t think there’s a 40k writer alive who hasn’t been influence at least a little by the great Dan Abnett. Aaron’s work, too, is so good that it’s surely having an influence on people in the same way now. I just read The First Heretic and enjoyed it immensely. I can imagine just how much insanely hard work went into it to make it read so well.
That said, no matter the influence, each writer needs to have his own voice. Influences ought to inspire, to bring ideas and techniques to your attention, but your voice has to be your own.

It seems that many fans of Black Library started reading fantasy as young children. Can you name your favourite books from your childhood?

I was really into the Fighting Fantasy and Sorcery! series in my primary school days. I still have the complete Sorcery! collection, including the spell book, and I love to look at all that awesome, quirky John Blanche art.
Then there was The Hobbit when I was about ten years old, though I didn’t tackle The Lord of the Rings until I was in my mid-teens. When I did, it completely blew me away.
After that, I started reading science fiction a little more than fantasy – Herbert, Gibson, Card, Bear, Clarke, etc.
Other than that, throughout my childhood, I was into just about anything featuring ghosts, monsters, aliens, demons, spaceships… I was a very easy sell to anything with a good cover painting back then.

Favourite music?

I mostly listen to two types of music depending on my mood or needs. First, when I’m training or out walking around town growling at worthless humans, anything that makes me snort and twitch like a bull rhinoceros in mating season will do, so Sabaton, Powerwolf, Battle Beast, stuff like that. Music that gets my blood up and makes me want to charge through a brick wall or flip over a car Hulk-style, meaning metal for the most part.
When I’m feeling a bit more low-key and, perhaps, quietly brooding over how to destroy the abhorrent human race, certain movie and game soundtracks hit the spot. My recent go-to soundtrack is from the movie Zero Dark Thirty. I could listen to that all day, every day. I’m not sure why, but it just suits me.
I also use something called Skyrim Atmospheres to help me get to sleep sometimes, since I have some sleeping issues.


Bestest food?

I’m firmly into the whole ‘plant-strong’ thing, so anything vegan that complements my training goals and is ethically sound is best. Daily staples for me include beans, nuts, wholewheat/wholegrain breads, brown rice, tofu, fresh fruits and veg. All very basic (I can’t cook worth a damn, after all). The recent hit movie ‘Forks Over Knives’ was a pretty big influence on me, but I’ve been fairly regimented in my eating since my mid-teens when I started physical training. If you love stories about Space Marines or Catachans or any type of fictional character who is pumped up and combat capable – Wolverine, Hulk, Batman, whatever – why would you not go to the gym and try to emulate that? You’d be surprised at what you can achieve and the positive changes it will make to your life in the long-term.

Chaos or the Emperor? Describe why.

There was a time when I would have immediately replied Ave Imperator to that and made an Aquila over my chest, but I’ve recently decided both sides can literally go to hell. They stink of corruption and self-interest. So I’m signing on with the Tau and dedicating myself to the Greater Good… until they do something I don’t like, at which point I’ll go rogue and start assassinating corrupt Ethereals.
My name is Steve Parker and I am a flight risk. Good night.

We like to give Steve Parker a big thanks for taking the time to reply to our fan questions.

Coming this Thursday is the review of Malodrax by Ben Counter.

January Artwork Roundup

January was another great month for Black Library’s Art department. Given that it was also the first month of the year, that can only be a good thing right? I certainly think so. As I have mentioned previously, Black Library hires some excellent freelancers and the covers that these artists turn out are almost always of the highest quality. This is especially, especially true for February, but that roundup is still a couple weeks away at the least.

Let’s see what we got from the silver towers in Nottingham for January.

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Author Interview – Chris Wraight

Monday, monday, monday. Another monday, another interview. Today it is Chris Wraight, long-time freelance writer for Black Library, who takes a stroll through these parts and talks about how he got started and his works: past, present and future.

As most of you know, and for those who don’t, Chris wrote the phenomenal Battle of The Fang novel for the Space Marine Battles series, and has also had great success in Warhammer Fantasy with his Warhammer Heroes novels and his Empire Army novels. Chris has also taken tentative steps into the Horus Heresy series with his short story Rebirth, featuring the Thousand Sons and by all accounts, 2012 looks like it is going to be a great year for him.

So here’s Chris himself!

Shadowhawk: How did you get started with writing for Black Library and what attracted you to the two Warhammer settings?

Chris: A long time ago, almost out of the blue, I submitted a short story for an open competition BL was running. I was invited to work it up for publication, with the result that it appeared in the Invasion! anthology. A couple of novels followed, about which it’s probably kindest to say that they, er, showed some potential. Thankfully the editors at Black Library persevered, and since Iron Company I’ve begun to feel quite a bit more at home in the Old World.

Shadowhawk: You are a veteran for Warhammer Fantasy with quite a few novels and short stories under your belt. Which format do you prefer over the other?

Chris: Novels are what it’s all about, really. Shorter fiction is less stressful to write and offers opportunities to do cool things, but in terms of author satisfaction there’s nothing quite like looking at the spine of a finished book sitting on your bookshelf. They’re tough to plot out and infuriatingly hard to finish, but absolutely worth it in the end.

Shadowhawk: Battle of the Fang, your Space Marine Battles novel featuring the Space Wolves and Thousand Sons is lauded as one of the best in the series. How did you approach the material and what inspired you to take on this particular event?

Chris: I was asked by Nick Kyme to draw up a proposal for Battle of the Fang. I believe the story was slated to be part of the Space Marine Battles series right from the start, but scheduling issues meant that it went without an author for quite a while. Since starting out with Black Library I’d always been keen to try writing 40K, and I’d previously been given a try-out with the short story Runes in one of the Space Marine anthologies, so when the chance came to work on the project I leapt at it.

In some ways, doing a Space Marine Battles book was an ideal first outing for a novel-length project, as the basic plot for it already existed. In most other respects, though, it was a hard story to write. The Space Wolves are about as popular a faction as any, and at the time of writing the book they hadn’t had a novel featuring them for a while. I knew that Prospero Burns would be out beforehand, which was bound to be a massive event. There were also elements of the story – such as the starting premise and Magnus turning up – that were very difficult to know how to handle. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to draw everything together (which made the book quite late), so it’s nice that many readers seem to have enjoyed the end result. You’re never going to satisfy everyone about every aspect of your take on something, particularly when some fans have a very clear idea about how certain events should pan out before even picking up the book, but the majority of the feedback has been encouraging.

Shadowhawk: How much inspiration did you draw from Dan’s Prospero Burns and Bill’s Ragnar novels? Did you communicate with either of them for this project?

Chris: I spoke to Dan a number of times while writing, and he was enormously helpful. Prospero Burns was finished off while I was about halfway through Battle of the Fang, and I made quite a few changes to the drafts to try to reflect his (incredible) reimagining of the Wolves. I also read, and re-read, the first four Space Wolf books, which were similarly useful in getting a feel for the Chapter. I’d like to think that while my Space Wolves incorporate concepts from both Bill’s and Dan’s treatment of them, they have a few features of their own too. One of the nice things about working in a shared universe, after all, is the chance you get to leave some ideas of your own out there.

Shadowhawk: Your next novel for Warhammer 40,000 is another Space Marine Battles novel, this time featuring the Iron Hands. You have previously written a short story for them in Hammer & Bolter. Why the Iron Hands?

Chris: No one else was doing them. J

Shadowhawk: Both the Iron Hands and the Space Wolves are non-traditional chapters who diverge quite a bit from the Codex Astartes and have some very strong ideologies of their own carried over from the days of the Great Crusade and the Horus Heresy. What has it been like to delve into their unique culture and their psyche?

Chris: The Space Wolves are a very popular and a very likeable Chapter: they’re dynamic, individual, and occupy a unique space in the 40K mythos. The Iron Hands are the opposite: they’re grim, agonised and gloomy. That makes the Wolves far easier to write about, since you have some of the material for creating characters to identify with. The Iron Hands are more difficult. In some ways, that’s a more satisfying challenge – making the unlikeable interesting. In Wrath of Iron, the Iron Hands don’t pull any punches – they’re not nice, they’re not nuanced and they’re not misunderstood. Just as some Traitor Legions embody a lot of admirable features, some Loyalists really are pretty screwed up, and the Iron Hands are about as badly damaged as they come. There are, however, stories to be told about how and why they came to be the way they are, and how they relate to the rest of the Imperium.

Shadowhawk: Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Kurt Helborg are getting their second outing in the upcoming novel Swords of the Emperor. These two are also among the first heroes of the Old World to be featured in the Warhammer Heroes novels. How did you get started with both of them?

Chris: Writing for Schwarzhelm and Helborg was great, as neither character had a huge amount of worked-out background already in print. I took the text in the Empire Army Book as the starting point, together with the fantastic artwork, and tried to give each of them proper personalities. They’re very different men: Schwarzhelm’s dour, reserved and only really good at a certain kind of fighting, whereas Helborg’s accomplished, brash and a more natural leader of men. Of all the projects I’ve written for Black Library, I probably enjoyed the two Swords books the most, mostly due to the freedom I felt I had with the story and characters.

Shadowhawk: What can you tell us about Swords of the Emperor itself?

Chris: Swords of the Emperor is an anthology containing the novels Sword of Justice and Sword of Vengeance. It will also contain the short stories ‘Feast of Horrors’ (featuring Schwarzhelm) and ‘Duty and Honour’ (starring Helborg). The second of those is new for the anthology, and sees Kurt in action in Bretonnia.

Shadowhawk: You have written extensively for the Empire before so how was the experience writing for the High Elves in your novella Dragonmage? Will there be any possible sequels to the story contained therein?

Chris: Writing Dragonmage was actually quite hard, as it turned out, and the novella ended up going through a couple of drafts. Nick Kyme, my editor for that one, had a lot of input into the finished result and improved it hugely. I guess the issue was largely down to switching between the Empire, which is a low fantasy setting, and the world of the High Elves, which is a bit more epic and mythical. It’s been good to read the feedback to the final product, though, which squeezed quite a lot of story into a relatively short package and seems to have gone down well. I don’t expect we’ll see a sequel, although I’ll be writing High Elves again as part of the War of Vengeance series. The first book in that sequence will be Nick’s The Great Betrayal. My follow-up has the provisional title Master of Dragons, and, as you’d expect, has a whole lot of fire-breathing, stuntie-crushing action planned for it.

Shadowhawk: Any plans to tackle the Horus Heresy? And what faction, event, character would you like to explore next?

Chris: Nothing that’s ready to talk about, I’m afraid. In terms of future projects in general, I’ve got High Elves, Space Wolves and White Scars all on the horizon.

Shadowhawk: With the Games Day 2011 Anthology, we got the first peak into Luthor Huss in your short story The March of Doom. The novel itself is coming out next month. Warrior Priests are not like the other soldiers of the Empire, so what was it like to get into the psyche of one?

Chris: I took the view that if Fantasy had Space Marines in it, then Huss would be one. Warrior Priests share the same asceticism, devotion and martial prowess – they even look a bit the same. Huss isn’t quite your average Warrior Priest, though; he’s a bit more extreme than most, and more interesting too. The tone set in The March of Doom is very much the same as that in Luthor Huss, so anyone who enjoyed the anthology story will hopefully like the novel too. Huss is a bit like Schwarzhelm, but with an added dose of religious fervour. He’s another one of those uncompromising, brutal characters that Warhammer seems to generate. As ever, the interest in such a character come from why someone would end up like that, and there’s a good deal too on the nature and limitations of faith.

Shadowhawk: Who and/or what has been the biggest influence on your writing?

Chris: Some of the influences you end up with aren’t that helpful. I think I’ve inherited a strong dose of Tolkienese from being obsessed with The Lord of the Rings as a child. I love Tolkien, but I don’t really want to write like him. I still do from time to time, unfortunately, but it’s something I’m working on. Otherwise, I admire a lot of different writers, most of whom have little in common with one another. Right now I’m reading a very good book by Margaret Atwood on science fiction, which is already giving me ideas.

Shadowhawk: Have any of your characters ever challenged you straight up or otherwise while writing them?

Chris: Lots do. I found writing Space Wolves very hard. Space Marines in general are hard. Elves are quite hard, too. Actually it’s all quite difficult, now I come to think about it.

Shadowhawk: What helps you get into the writing mindset?

Chris: Ah, that depends. Some days it all seems to work well, and I get up from the desk having typed several thousand words of stuff I’m quite pleased with; others, it’s a challenge getting anything on the page. I listen to a lot of film scores when I’m writing, partly to try to get into the right frame of mind. A good Black Library book should be a bit filmic, I think. For Wrath of Iron, that ended up being the OST from Christopher Nolan’s two Batman films. Suitably dour.

Shadowhawk: What are you looking forward to the most in terms of your own work for 2012?

Chris: Getting back to writing about dragons, and writing an encounter between two gentlemen, one of whom may or may not be Horus, the other of whom may or may not be the Khan.

Shadowhawk: Anything else happening this year you are absolutely stoked for?

Chris: Um. The Olympics?

Shadowhawk: If all your leading characters got into a cross-universe deathmatch, who would you root for and why?

Chris: A secondary character called Pieter Verstohlen, who first popped up in Sword of Justice. He wouldn’t last five minutes of course, but I’d hope he’d find a way to hang in there a bit longer than anyone expected. One day, if the stars align, he’ll get another novel. In fact, I’d love him to have a whole series (though don’t hold your breath for that).

*********

I hope you all enjoyed that interview folks. Coming later this week is the January (Black Library) Artwork Round-up and a blogpost on ePublishing, so stay tuned through the week!

Author Interview – Andy Hoare

Its a Monday today and that means that we have a brand-new interview for your reading pleasure. This week it is Andy Hoare taking a stroll through these parts and talking about his old and new work alike.

Andy has worked on several codexes and armybooks for the Games Workshop Design Studio, particularly Witchhunters, Tau, Imperial Guard, Dark Angels, Orcs and Goblins, Lustria, Lizardmen and also the latest main rulebook editions of both Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 as well. Andy’s credit also includes work on several expansion liness with Apocalypse, Storm of Chaos, Eye of Terror and the Thirteenth Black Crusade among others.

With Black Library, his credits include the three Rogue Trader novels and The Hunt for Voldorius as well as a few short stories. He has also worked extensively with Fantasy Flight Games, working for their various role-playing game franchises licensed through Games Workshop, Rogue Trader, Dark Heresy, Deathwatch and more. One of his latest books is Deathwatch: First Founding which details the direct successors of the loyalist legions at the end of the Horus Heresy.

So let’s see what revelations Andy has for us about his career.

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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!

Author Interview – Clint Lee Werner

Apologies for the late posting but things have been quite hectic in Shadowhawk-land. Suffice to say that I redeem myself by bringing a long-time fan-favourite author to the blog. If you all thought that all the previous interviews have been amazing then you are about to get a one-up on them. C L Werner, or rather Carandini as he is known on the Bolthole, has provided some rather meaty answers and his enthusiasm definitely shows through.

His name is synonymous with that of Grey Seer Thanquol, one of the most treacherous and fun-to-read skaven character ever, as well as his early Chaos Wastes novels which helped to define this realm in even more detail than before. Other may remember the Brunner and the Matthias Thulmann novels as well. He is also a regular in the Warhammer Heroes brand for Warhammer Fantasy and has also appeared a few times in the monthly Black Library e-zine, Hammer & Bolter.

With several short stories and novels under his belt, many of them part of series and trilogies, we are going to see just what makes him tick and where he gets his inspiration from.

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