Eye of Terror by Barrington J.Bailey (A Review)

Forum regular and moderator Vivia does a review of an old and classic 40k novel by Barrington J. Bailey.

Eye-Of-TerrorA decade ago , Eye of Terror was my first Warhammer 40k novel after reading Into the Maelstrom and I didn’t know anything at all about the 40k universe. It left a great impression on me and I knew then that I had read something significantly different in sci-fi. I was left in shock after the ending, thinking that stories like this could exist.

The first story is about a rogue trader named Rugolo, who encounters a psyker whom he believes to be a navigator. The not full-trained navigator, Calliden, is deadly scared of the Warp after suffering a strange and traumatic experience which has made him into an outcast. Soon they travel together to the outskirts of the Eye of Terror where they meet many strange people and aliens, among them a man who carries strange goods and his mysterious sister. They claim to have travelled into the Eye of Terror and returned, albeit changed.  Rugolo and Calliden are uncertain of how, but they fear that something is wrong with the strange duo.

The second story takes place within the Eye of Terror and we follow the travels of a lone Space Marine. A lone Space Marine is an indication that something isn’t right. His story is incredible and very much a mystery, even to him. He is one the most memorable characters I’ve ever read in a BL story. This story is a window into the psychology and behaviour of a post-human super-soldier and the story lets us decide whether it is all for good or evil..

The Space Marine in question meets a lone battle-brother of his own chapter and he senses that there is something not quite right about him. As a character the protagonist seems hopelessly naive, and when I read the story I came to understand that a Space Marine was someone special, but it wasn’t clear to me as to how, as I hadn’t read any background at that point. There is another reason for this and it took me around 9 years to get it. It could be a total surprise or incredible obvious to the reader.  It was secondary because in the Eye of Terror nothing is what it should be and nothing happens without a purpose. His comrade, the mysterious Captain Abaddas does one of the most calculating cruel deceptions that could ever be done to an Astartes. If the death of a primarch is horrible then this possibility is enough to make them crumble from within, something the captain is well aware of. For some reason, the Captain isn’t particularly concerned with how he is able to meet one of his old battle brothers; he accepts it without any evidence or effort, such is the Eye of Terror.

The third story is one of the rarest; we get a POV of a Chaos Daemon and not any daemon but a very special one, which made me all happy inside. From within the warp the daemon is trying to force itself into our reality to manipulate it for a greater purpose, a scheme within a scheme. It contains one of the coolest fights between Chaos daemons, and it was so awesome I read it several times. As an experience, it has forever coloured my view of how Chaos should be written.

All of these characters get woven into one epic story that has one of the cruellest and heart-wrenching fates in BL history. I reread it again recently after all these years, and it still brought tears to my eyes, written in the beautiful prose of Bailey.  It’s a very bleak story and with an ending where there are no winners or losers, no good and evil, no heroes or enemies. Some of it is too incredible, but that’s why the setting of the Eye works so well. We are thrown into a world where normal rules don’t apply. Anything is possible. Planets shaped as flowers exist, beauty hides horrible creatures, all mixed into a nightmare world, very Alice in Wonderland in nature, but exceedingly darker, much darker. The inhabitants are literally puppets of the dark gods. Mortals are disposable creatures and there is plenty more where they came from, that’s the main philosophy.

To live in the future of 40k is to be among billions, and nowhere else is this more evident than in the Eye. There is a feeling of hopelessness throughout the novel that tickled my fancy for dark fantasy. Don’t expect anything good things happening to the characters.

In the early 2000s, Barrington J. Bailey was a very interesting BL writer. He wrote a 40k novel that manages to capture the essence of an alien and faraway future, and allows his voice to shine through. He doesn’t overload his story with too much information and background, he only tells a fascinating evil fairy tale.

I would say it’s a beginner’s book in the same way as the Space Wolf series by William King is. Since it takes place outside the Imperium it has more time to explore other sides of 40k. I wonder how I would have thought about 40k if I had read another book first. The Gaunt’s Ghost books left me disappointed because I knew too little to really appreciate them, Pawns of Chaos was difficult to get into and so on.

Read and enjoy!

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.