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 williamking.me

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.

Interview with Josh Reynolds

Our final interview of the month is with an author who hold one of the longest bibliographies you will ever see. With 13 novels, over a hundred short stories and even some non-fiction under his belt, not many can claim to have accomplished what Josh Reynolds has done. And that list is only going to get longer. But first, he has a few words for us.

Josh Reynolds. It's still possible to read everything he's written in this life time. But you better get started...

Josh Reynolds. It’s still possible to read everything he’s written in this life time. But you better get started…

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

Josh: I treat it like a job. I set a word count goal for a particular project, I reach it, I move on to something different. Sometimes that’s research, sometimes it’s working on another project, sometimes its promotional stuff.

If I were to describe it in one word, it’d be ‘mechanical’. I get up, I write, I have some coffee, I write some more, I have some coffee, etcetera ad nauseum. It’s all very boring, unless you’re me, and then it’s awesome.

He2etic: How do you approach character development? Do you prefer to see how the character evolves as you go, or do you put more planning into it beforehand?

Josh: It depends on the character, and the type of story it is. Some characters have evolved, some I’ve had to plan. I generally err on the side of having a basic personality-type in mind, and then letting the character work out his or her own voice as the plot unspools. It’s easier than it sounds.

“When in doubt, have a man with a gun come through the door. If that doesn’t work, try a monkey with a switchblade.”

 

He2etic: You’ve written work primarily set in the Warhammer fantasy universe. In ideas as to what you’d do in the Warhammer 40,000 setting?

The Whitechapel Demon, by Josh Reynolds! Coming soon.

The Whitechapel Demon, by Josh Reynolds. Coming soon from Emby Press.

Josh: Lots. Mostly involving big dudes in power armour hitting each other or other, smaller dudes. At the moment, I’d really love to write a Space Marine Battles book, just for the experience.

Or something with a Necron as a protagonist, because why the heck not, right? I bet I could get a series out of Trazyn the Infinite just wandering around the galaxy, stealing stuff and leaving sarcastic notes. Eight, nine books easy.

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

Josh: Honestly? I’d pick the person(s) who could guarantee the biggest ratings/box office draw. I want that sh*t to do well opening weekend, you know?

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?

Josh: Oh several. I always have a number of long term projects on the go. Franchise-wise, I’ve already got the makings of a good one in the Royal Occultist series, I think.

“Don’t argue with the editor, unless you know you’re right, and not even then, unless you absolutely have to.”

 

The Royal Occultist is the man or woman who stands between the United Kingdom and dangers of an occult, otherworldly, infernal or divine nature. Whether it’s werewolves in Wolverhampton or satyrs in Somerset, the Royal Occultist will be there to confront, cajole or conquer the menace in question.

There have been many Royal Occultists, and there will be many more, thanks to the strong British sense of tradition, bloody-minded necessity and the ridiculously short life expectancy for those who assume the post.

Knight of the Blazing Sun, by Josh Reynolds.

Knight of the Blazing Sun, by Josh Reynolds.

The current Royal Occultist, Charles St. Cyprian, is basically Bertie Wooster by way of Rudolph Valentino. His assistant, Ebe Gallowglass, is Louise Brooks by way of Emma Peel. He’s the brains, she’s the brawn. He likes to talk things out, preferably over something alcoholic, and she likes to shoot things until they die.

I suppose the stories could be called ‘urban fantasy’, or even ‘historical fantasy’, what with them taking place in the London of PG Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh. That’d be the 1920s to you or me. The ‘Inter-War Period’ as historians call it. If that sounds interesting, you can find out more.

The first novel-length Royal Occultist adventure, The Whitechapel Demon, will be released sometime in the next two months by Emby Press and I’ve sold close to thirty short stories about St. Cyprian and Gallowglass since I wrote their first adventure, Krampusnacht, in December of 2010.

Several of these stories are available for free at the website above. There are also several audio versions of some of the stories available, which can be found here with more to come in the near future, and there’ll be graphic (i.e. comic) versions of one or two of the short stories coming some time in 2014.

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

Josh: Okay, lessee…

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport, Caitlin Kiernan’s Dancy Flammarion, Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone, Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, Derrick Ferguson’s Dillon, Chester Himes’ Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, Richard Stark’s Parker, more, lots.

I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you enjoy it, own up to it, unless it could get you arrested, in which case we shouldn’t be talking about it.”

 

I really dig series characters, so I’ve got a lot of favorites. More than I could comfortably list here.

As to those I’ve written? I think my top three are Mr. Brass, the American Automaton, John Bass, the Ghost-Breaker and St. Cyprian and Gallowglass, from the Royal Occultist stories. Mr. Brass is, in essence, ‘steampunk Robocop’ set in a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen world. That’s the high concept pitch.

John Bass is a darker character—a crotchety old farmer who fights ghosts and evil spirits in the Depression-Era southern United States. And Charles St. Cyprian and Ebe Gallowglass, as I mentioned above, are occult adventurers who fight monsters, magicians and madness-inducing entities in Jazz-Age England.

Neferata, by Josh Reynolds. Coming soon from the Black Library.

Neferata, by Josh Reynolds. Coming soon from the Black Library.

He2etic: Are there any books, movies, television series or even games that you think are mandatory viewing for struggling writers?

Josh: All of them? If you’re writing in a particular genre, it behooves you to read widely in said genre—old stuff, new stuff, indy stuff, popular stuff. Read all of it.

Television is good for helping you with dialogue and condensed plotting, especially sitcoms or family dramas—they’re not to everybody’s taste, but think about how little time the average sitcom has to tell a story, and how they go about doing it. That’s a lesson worth learning.

Movies are good for helping you understand how to plot longer form stories (or how NOT to, depending) and how to set mood and scene, if you’re attentive.

Basically, if you think you can learn from it, go with it.

He2etic: Is there anything you consider to be a guilty pleasure? Something that is trash, but you love reading it anyway?

Josh: I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you enjoy it, own up to it, unless it could get you arrested, in which case we shouldn’t be talking about it.

Also, don’t try and rationalize the problematic aspects of said pleasure in order to make yourself feel less guilty about enjoying it. That never works out. But to answer the question, I love me some sitcoms. I will devour whole DVD box sets of everything from Leave it to Beaver to Amen, the latter starring the irrepressible Sherman Hemsley and lasting five glorious seasons.

He2etic: Any advice for new authors?

Dracula Lives! by Josh Reynolds.

Dracula Lives! by Joshua Reynolds.

Josh: Write everything. Try your hand at every genre, especially ones you don’t like. Don’t argue with the editor, unless you know you’re right, and not even then, unless you absolutely have to.

Embrace formula, cliché and stock characters. They’ll make your job easier, when you start out. When in doubt, have a man with a gun come through the door. If that doesn’t work, try a monkey with a switchblade. Everybody writes something a bit crap on occasion. It happens. Move on, do better next time. Last but not least, always get paid.

A giant thanks to Mr. Reynolds for his time! Follow the Bolthole at @BLBolthole. And follow Josh Reynolds @JMReynolds.

Interview with James Swallow

He’s written for Warhammer 40,000, Stargate, Star Trek and Doctor Who. He’s worked on Deus Ex: Human Revolution. A BAFTA nominee and a New York Times best selling author. Today, James Swallow has a few minutes to tell us about some of the work he’s done and his thoughts on writing.

James Swallow. Because the world is his (to create).

James Swallow. Because the world is his (to create).

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

James: That’s a difficult question to answer. You know, I can’t describe it in just one word. There are so many aspects to the job of being a writer, it’s not just the act of putting a pen to paper.

There’s also the research, the “brain time” required to let your story percolate, the whole act of losing yourself to the narrative involved.

He2etic: How do you approach character development? Do you prefer to see how the character evolves as you go, or do you put more planning into it beforehand?

James: A bit of both, really. You have to have an idea as to who a character was before you let them step onto the scene. But, at the same time you can’t put everything in there straight away because they have nowhere to go.

“The problem of being a writer is that there is not a shortage of awesome ideas to write about.”

 

You can have a character begin in one place, but you also have to give a character a direction toward an endpoint. It is a really bit of both. They have to evolve and fill their role naturally, but sometimes you realize you have to make the character move in the right direction for the needs of the story.

Red Fury, by James Swallow.

Red Fury, by James Swallow.

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

James: I originally modelled Rafen after Daniel Craig, but now, I’d probably choose the late Andy Whitfield from the TV show Spartacus: Blood and Sand. For his brother Arkio, a younger Rutger Hauer from the movie Flesh & Blood.

He2etic: Sometime back, a question was posted your way about what kind of Imperial Guard regiment you’d like to write about and your answer was ‘The
Framlingham Rifles.’ Is that still true? How would you envision them?

James: I picked them because there was no background about them!

I like the name because it has a kind of Old English feel to it. If I could, I would use something that has not been done before. I’d try to do something new, a new theme. It would probably be very British, like something from the era of the Raj.

“I can’t pick [my favorite] from my own characters. It’s like picking out your favorite child.”

 

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?

Peacemaker, by James Swallow.

Peacemaker, by James Swallow.

James: Yes! Many projects. Lots of different things. I’ve been working on a thriller novel, a contemporary action adventure story for a while. And have been doing some work on a science fiction project too. The problem of being a writer is that there is not a shortage of awesome ideas to write about!

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

James: I can’t pick from my own characters. It’s like picking out your favourite child. But from the rest of the Warhammer universe?

Horus Lupercal is a great character, and so is Erebus. We have so many good books, and so many great writers. I always want to see where the other guys want to go with their stories – Dan Abnett with Ibram Gaunt, Honsou in Graham McNeill’s novels, Sandy Mitchell with Ciaphas Cain, Sarah Cawkwell’s Silver Skulls…

Beyond that, I enjoy William Gibson’s characters from Neuromancer, the work of John Brunner, Harry Harrison… If a character is compellingly written, if he speaks to me as a reader, that’s a good piece of work. I’m always going to try and do the same thing, make a connection to my reader and engage them.

Flight of the Eisenstein, by James Swallow.

Flight of the Eisenstein, by James Swallow.

He2etic: Are there any books, movies, television series or even games that you think are mandatory viewing for struggling writers?

James: In terms of good writing on television, I’d mention about The Sopranos. Hill Street Blues, Firefly. The Twilight Zone is a great example of really short compact stories with great characters.

I’d recommend a book about how to write rather than fiction. J.Michael Straczynski’s The Complete Book of Scriptwriting and Ben Bova’s work on writing science fiction.

He2etic: You had an opportunity to work on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, designing the story for the game. What can you tell us about that and some of the themes that went into it?

James: I worked on that project an external writer, developing the characters, the core narrative and the game world along with a team of other writers. I also worked on the mobile phone game Deus Ex: The Fall and the DLC pack The Missing Link. I also wrote a novel, called Deus Ex: Icarus Effect, that spun out of that.

The themes of Deus Ex are all about human augmentation, about allowing people to become more than they are. We talk about cybernetics, neural implants – how do those things change the way people see you? We touch on a kind of “cybernetic racism”… It’s all about how society is changed by technology.

He2etic: Do you consider Deus Ex: Human Revolution to be post modern?

Deus Ex: Icarus Effect, by James Swallow.

Deus Ex: Icarus Effect, by James Swallow.

James: It’s not post modern, it’s modern! We thought it was sci-fi when we started writing the storyline, but over the four years during the game’s development, a lot of the things we wrote about began to come true.

The prosthetic technology that has become so common, the limb replacements for veterans of the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan and so on… It all reflected back on real issues of the time.

He2etic: When it comes to reading, do you have any guilty pleasures? Stuff you know is trash but read anyway?

James: I’m guilty about nothing! I like chunky thriller novels from the 70s and 80s, the Tom Clancy-style techno thriller about jet pilots, guys in submarines or tank crews – all that military hardware pornography! That and classic pulp sci-fi would be the closest!

I don’t like it when people say something is a “guilty pleasure”. If you like to read something, you should just embrace it, don’t worry about what others might think of it! At the end of the day, if you enjoy reading a book, that’s the most important thing.

A huge thanks to James Swallow for his time today! You can follow him @JMSwallow. Want more news and updates? Follow the Bolthole @BLBolthole.

RiaR Ordeal: “The Acolyte” by Corrigan Phoenix

Every month, the Bolthole’s “Read in a Rush” competition serves up flash fan fiction. 1,000 word tales usually set in either of the Warhammer universes, but sometimes in original settings. The winners will be posted on the blog.

The Acolyte
By Corrigan Phoenix

Beads of sweat covered his naked body in a glistening coat, giving the hardened musculature there a carved, statuesque look that would have been pleasing in different circumstances. The crude iron bands and toughened leather cuffs held even his gene-enhanced body in place on the slab, holding him at bay for his tormentors. Blisters erupted across his calves, thighs and back as heat surged up through the stone. Pain swiftly followed, quickly gaining strength and building to gather in his brain. The temperature continued to soar, oxygen deprivation constricting-

his lungs as he ran along the alley. The brooding towers of the hive loomed above him, crowding into every angle, ever-present, as if watching his progress through its roots. Mist clung to the streets, stifling and sentient, like it wanted to misdirect him and entrap him within its damp coils. Against his thigh the holstered laspistol slapped repeatedly, heavy and annoyingly innocuous; a constant reminder that it was empty. A twinge somewhere in his chest made him glance down a side-street as he flashed by it, catching a glimpse of scaffolding off to his right. With a barely-audible growl of exertion, he changed course, footsteps echoing-

off the chamber walls as some piece of machinery started up. Vivid blue light flickered somewhere behind him, illuminating the grubby tiles for an instant before the electricity reached his shackles. Painful spasms shot throughout his body as every muscle contracted simultaneously, current-induced rigor sealing his mouth shut and cutting off his agonising roar. Something cracked-

as he pulled himself higher; a wooden strut snapping under his grip. A moment’s weightlessness caught him before he reacted, a hand shooting out to grab a metal beam above his head. He dangled there for a few seconds before collecting his strength and continuing the climb. The alley he had emerged from was already just a thin line by now, a crack amongst thousands in a spider’s web that made up the lower depths of the hive roots. His greatcoat billowed behind him in the wind, flapping incessantly like the wings of a giant bat, though he didn’t mind. It was a constant reminder of the strength of the gusting force, and the ease at which he could be plucked from the face of the hive. Fatigue built in his limbs as he climbed; the leaden feeling slowly-

creeping into his arms, legs and finally chest. The acolyte could clearly see the servitor’s pale, bland features as it smoothly slid each blade into his flesh. Emotionless and methodical, the many spidery limbs of the lobotomised servant crossed and danced about each other with mechanical choreography, ensuring no area of his body was free from the reach of the cold steel. Long cuts, deep borings, savage gouges and stuttering grazes were all delivered with the same identical motion. Each administration was perfect, attuned to the shape and layout of his inner workings to flay but not sever his nerves in order to deliver the maximum pain without diminishing feeling. Once again his threshold was approached, reached, and swiftly bypassed, and darkness enfolded-

his body as he slipped from the ventilation duct. The winding tubes of metal had been horribly claustrophobic, and seemingly unending. Luckily the slight mutation of his genes that granted him a few rudimentary psychic powers gave him a preternatural sense of direction and the varying ability to blend into the shadows. It was this potential that he utilised now, walking in the spaces between light as he delved deeper into the network of halls, tunnels and rooms within the hive. His agonising climb had brought him to the hive tower proper now, and the silence in absence of the howling wind was deafening.

The acolyte passed across junctions and circled around heavily guarded doors, following the directional twinges that his unconsciousness provided. Armed men crossed his path occasionally, yet he waited. He would know when the time came for violence. Time ceased to have meaning as he negotiated the pathways, countless men entering and leaving his awareness until a single moment that he had been awaiting. Something surged within his mind, like-

a brand searing into his brain, raw and hot with its power. The energy writhed inside his head, so incandescent that he could see the green flickering of it behind his eyes. A bass voice intoned within his mind, the words so potent and laden with power that the meaning escaped him. He felt its intellect wrap about his mind, tendrils of intent squirming for purchase in his psychic defences. The acolyte fortified himself, conjuring up images of steel vaults and locked doors in an attempt to keep his captor from his mind. Almost as an afterthought, he flicked a tendril of ethereal energy out in retaliation, hoping it would distract his opponent long enough for him to gather-

himself before flying out of the shadows at his target. His quarterstaff was already out of its holster and in his hand before he registered it, the butt descending in a blur towards the man’s head. Sparks flew as the metal casing on the end was met by the edge of a wickedly curved sword. Their arms blurred as they twisted and danced about one another, each searching for an opening in the other’s stance as strike after strike was met by equal force from the other. After a particularly complex flourish from his opponent, the acolyte thrust forward with the length of his weapon, catching his target full in the stomach and breaking the skin. The man went down hard onto the metal-plated floor, gasping for breath and a sharp pain blossomed in the back of the acolyte’s head.

Darkness lifted slowly, and he sat up. It took a few minutes of staring at his own body before he realised his skin was entirely unblemished, and a while longer for him to notice the lack of restraints. The acolyte stood gingerly, unsure of his own body.

“Be you pure of spirit and heart?” He flinched at the volume of the voice, though stood his ground.

“I am.” His own voice was quiet, and raspy from his ordeal.

“Be you loyal to Him, the highest above us all?”

“I am the God-Emperor’s own – as I have always been.” There was a pause before the reply came.

“And what of your traitorous words earlier?”

“There were none – for I would never break His holy trust.”

A golden hammer slammed head-down onto the stone floor before him, a giant of a man stepping before him, resplendent in royal blue robes and black power armour.

“Then grasp His divine hammer, say the oath before us, and be reborn anew as his vessel”

He knelt, and as he spoke the oath a weight seemed to settle upon him – the weight of his divine duty and the future of mankind.

An acolyte knelt; an Inquisitor rose.

Book Review: “Lords of Mars” by Graham McNeill

Lords of Mars, by Graham McNeill.

Lords of Mars, by Graham McNeill.

Forum moderator LordLucan brings us a review of Lords of Mars, by Graham McNeill.

Graham McNeil’s Lords of Mars, much like the preceding Priests of Mars, is a relatively slow book. Now, I know as an opening remark ‘slow’ doesn’t tend to bode well for the book about to be reviewed, but in this case I consider this far from a negative trait of this novel series. Too often, I think there is an unspoken compulsion with novels set in Warhammer 40,000 to keep up the pace as much as possible, like a breakneck roller coaster or a great big blockbuster action thriller.

“McNeill makes many wonderful asides throughout the novel; passing references to the deeper lore of the setting. These references are generally not related to the main plot, but show a deep love for the setting and a willingness to play around with knowing readers.”

 

Lords of Mars takes a much more leisurely approach to the overarching plot it is relating to the reader. Think of it more like an indulgent journey through the rich universe established by Games Workshop; a chance to take time to really see the Mechanicus in action at every level of its operation; from the lowly bondsmen to the ArchMagos, to whatever we’d class Telok and Galatea as. It is somewhat sedate, but when the scenery is so pleasant, the characters so rich, who wants to go too fast? If one wants to go on a sightseeing tour, you don’t take the bullet train.

Now, that is not to say the novel lacks for action. Indeed, there are several major battles that keep this novel firmly in the military science fiction genre. The action scenes are built up well, as the novel takes its time to set the scenes and ramp up the tension, before the sudden, frantic bursts of action erupt. There is no continuous rise towards a climax or crescendo, but more like multiple peaks of action occurring between the main focus of the series; the characters, and the lavishly detailed setting.

Tech Priests, from the art contained with Inquis Exterminatus.

Tech Priests, from the art contained with Inquis Exterminatus.

It is clear that McNeill delights in describing the outlandish and sublimely gargantuan alien vistas and structures the exploratory team encounters. McNeill effectively communicates the wonder and awe of the characters by invoking it in the reader. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than with the Speranza itself, the Ark of the Mechanicus and a true leviathan of a vessel.

Too often, science fiction writers are very blasé about the vast scales of their ships; bandying around terms like ‘multi-kilometre’ and ‘miles-long’ as if these terms are to be taken for granted.

But here, Speranza is a tremendous presence, a true floating industrial city, with vast regions where characters can simply vanish, where titan’s can be billeted like infantry, where worlds can be built within worlds, and where its gravity influences other vessels. Unfortunately, there isn’t as much detail on Speranza’s cognition this novel, but I fully expect the third book to remedy that.

“It is interesting that McNeill delves into the minds of these figures, and while superficially their thought processes seem inhuman, their underlying emotions remain very much in evidence, despite their efforts to quash emotion.”

 

McNeill makes many wonderful asides throughout the novel; passing references to the deeper lore of the setting. These references are generally not related to the main plot, but show a deep love for the setting and a willingness to play around with knowing readers. For instance, there is a sly reference to the ‘face of Mars’ which I won’t spoil, along with a great flashback to a period of Warhammer 40,000’s history we seldom get to see. As I said in the beginning, it is scenery and tangents, but they are pleasant and in no way detract from the overall effectiveness of the work.

The tech priests of the novel are delightfully strange and outlandish; most of them are ungainly chimeras of technology and biological matter, sculpted and fashioned into truly bizarre forms. It is interesting that McNeill delves into the minds of these figures, and while superficially their thought processes seem inhuman, their underlying emotions remain very much in evidence, despite their efforts to quash emotion. Kotov is an idealist and excitable, Braylock is ambitious, the two bridge tech priests (with two of the most fantastically unpronounceable names I’ve encountered for a while) act like bickering old men. But it is the Tychon family which provides the emotional heart of the Mechanicus characters, and their precise relationship is nicely developed through this novel.

A standard Enginseer, available at Games Workshop.

A standard Enginseer, available at Games Workshop.

Surcouf and the crew of the Renard prove to be an excellent foil for the bizarre and oft times deranged, Mechanicus characters. They are arguably the most grounded and ‘modern’ of the protagonist factions.

For outsiders to Warhammer 40000, they are the perfect reader identification characters, and I can see why McNeill uses them in the opening chapter first. They are funny and ready with quips and in-jokes at any opportunity; reminiscent of Firefly in many ways.

That said, I also enjoyed the bondsmen storyline and its mounting importance. It is not very often you get to see the mundane, unremarkable characters in 40K rise up from anonymity. Abrehem Locke and the gang are not the outlandish, larger than life heroes flooding the tabletop game setting of 40K; they are fallible and, individually, weak.

Their fortunes change during the novel however, as Locke challenges the infamously ‘grimdark’ status quo of this setting. It is good to see the perspective of the lowest rung of 40K society. However, I feel Locke’s everyman stance is marred by his implants and the ‘chosen by destiny’ plot line McNeill seems to be setting him up for. Julius Hawke, in my opinion, is a far better candidate for the everyman of 40K. He’s not particularly heroic, except when forced into it, he has a dark sense of gallows humour. He is selfish, but is no villain, and even his most heroic acts will never, ever be acknowledged by the powers that be. Julius Hawke is essentially the perfect representation of the majority of the lowly humans of 40K.

“My main gripe is one of structure rather than content. Lords of Mars feels like a middle segment of a continuum, rather than distinct fully formed novel in its own right.”

 

I often feel the Cadians are underused in these novels, but what little we see of them is always entertaining; their casual professionalism and easy humour makes them very endearing.

The Black Templars, on the other hand, I feel aren’t really necessary. They are often used by McNeill to initiate and drive the actions scenes, but otherwise, I don’t find them particularly compelling as characters. We have seen this all before in countless Black Library novels; the intensely honourable warrior monks, constantly introspective and ruminating upon courage and brotherhood.

From the cover of Priests of Mars, the first installment.

From the cover of Priests of Mars, the first installment.

Space marines always seem to draw attention to them, and I feel this is wrong here, as this is the Mechanicus’ time to shine. McNeill tries to spice up their storyline with more prophecy and future visions, but it is a wasted effort to me. I would have ditched the Space Marines in favour of more scenes with the Cadians. The novel does not need space marines present.

As for the antagonists, they are quite underwhelming and underused. The main antagonists have little explanation, and little to no character. The secondary antagonists get virtually nothing to do in this novel until the very end, other than menacing throwaway tertiary characters. Both these issues may be remedied in the next novel, but frankly after three hundred and fourteen pages, I don’t think it was expecting too much for McNeill to do something in this novel. In fact, this criticism ties into my only real, major issue with the book.

My main gripe is one of structure rather than content. Lords of Mars feels like a middle segment of a continuum, rather than distinct fully formed novel in its own right. It is obvious that this Adeptus Mechanicus series was conceived as a trilogy from the beginning. This is three volumes within a singular, huge novel, and I don’t appreciate it being divided over three releases.

The endings of each novel don’t seem like conclusions or climaxes in themselves, but as yawning cliffs, where the novels abruptly stop. It makes me want to read on of course, but in the most infuriating fashion. Though on reflection, this criticism is not quite the stinging barb I suggested it is; ‘This McNeill is so terrible; he makes me really want to read the next book… the monster!’

So overall, this is a slow, indulgent novel, which examines events, locations and characters with pleasing and exacting detail. Much like the Mechanicus Explorers themselves…

Follow the Bolthole at @BLBolthole. Graham McNeill can be followed @GrahamMcNeill.