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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Book Review (In Brief): Ravenor

Hey there Chaos fans! I'm back with a brief book review. I finished the Omnibus Ravenor by Dan Abnett a while back, but I never got around to posting my thoughts about it. So, away we go...

Let me start off by saying that I enjoyed the trails and tribulations of Inquisitor Ravenor. The stories were fun, mostly fast paced, and enjoyable. It takes a lot of guts on the part of Abnett to make the main character a crippled, physically broken man in an "action-packed 40K Universe". Indeed, I love the character of Ravenor almost as much as Eisenhorn. Almost. And I think that's they key problem- we never focus too long on Ravenor. It's telling that Eisenhorn is totally told totally from his point of view. We get to know Eisenhorn- his thoughts, his fears, his slow and seemingly irresistible slide toward "radicalism". In Ravenor, on the other hand, only parts of the story are from Ravenor's point of view. Abnett frequently pulls away from him. Of course, writing all first person can be problematic, for sure. However, the character of Ravenor is so interesting, that focusing on the other characters is just not as rewarding.

Perhaps this was my own problem. I read the two trilogies back to back. Comparisons were simply bound to happen. I think the Eisenhorn trilogy is much more rewarding and better told than the Ravenor trilogy in just about every way. Again, that's not to say I didn't like Ravenor, I just felt that Eisenhorn just blew me away, and Ravenor didn't. Let's take the first books, for example. The first Eisenhor story had everything- cultists, intrigue, a forbidden tome, aliens, battles large and small, Inquisitorial rivalries, etc. Ravenor's first book, by contrast, has them chasing down "drugs", infiltrating a "carnival" of sorts, then going to a Mos Eisley type place which is not nearly as exciting as it sounds. The first book is OK, just blah. The next two books are better, but still not up to the high standards of Eisenhorn.Indeed, the next two stories in Ravenor have great ideas, like the computers that literally bore workers to death, the Fratery cult of "foreseers" is well conceived, and then there's the "door" in the last book that transcends time and space in a way that is fresh for 40K. Unfortunately, Abnett's story is so overstuffed that we don't explore those for very long, and the ultimate conclusion is both climactic and anti-climactic all at the same time.

The story arc of Ravenor centers around Ravenor chasing down a superbly trained Chaos cultist named Molotch, who has fast reflexes, and a faster brain. Molotch is meant to be an opposite of Ravenor, and he's fairly effective, though he is out-shined by a more interesting "cultist for hire", Culzean Orfeo, who is an expert at "setting things up" for other cultists. This character has a wit and style that sets him apart from most villains in 40K stories. However, there's also the "foretelling" of a daemon called "Slyte", who, if he gets into our material universe, will wreak havoc. Then there's criminals smuggling drugs, and then there's a cult trying to "birth" Slyte, and then there's another cult trying to gain the powers of "Enunciation" but they don't want Slyte to appear, and then... well, I think you get the point. The story is very, very convoluted. Whereas Eisenhorn was a fairly straightforward story with twists and turns, Ravenor's storyline is a bit all over the place.

And then there's our heroes. Gideon Ravenor himself is a genius and a "humane" Inquisitor. I found that combination to be very refreshing for 40K. Whenever the story focuses on him, the story comes alive. His "thoughts" are soaring, considering how broken he is physically. As a character, he's a wonderful creation- strong but vulnerable at the same time. However, the supporting characters are not all as interesting or well drawn. I didn't like Kara Swole in Eisenhorn, but she was a bit player there. Here, she's more center stage- and I still don't like her. She doesn't fit into the proceedings, and I find it hard to believe she's an Inquisitorial agent, as she's too "goody goody", not traits I'd consider worthy of being an Inquisitorial field agent. A better character is Patience, who starts of vague but becomes a mainstay as the book goes on- her tragic past haunts her, but her skills and coldness make her a great agent for Ravenor. Then there's Harlon Nayl, former bounty hunter that now works for the Inquisition- he's a tough guy but he also cares about his teammates- a great character if slightly 2 dimensional. There are some secondary characters like Frauka and Unwerth who are both funny but also memorable characters.

My main issue here however is Carl Thonius, who is Ravenor's apprentice (an Interrogator). He's an annoying character who whines constantly and is more worried about how he's dressed than anything else. My issue here is that I can't buy that he is "Inquisitor" material. I see nothing about him that says he'd make a great Inquisitor. He's good with computers and he "knows" a lot of random facts- but shouldn't that be more in keeping with a Tech Adept? I also couldn't see Ravenor putting up with Carl's antics and weaknesses, which puts the team at risk more than once. I simply don't/can't believe that this man is an Inquisitor, as he doesn't act like one at all. This is all compounded by the fact that Carl is central to so much of the plot- and he's unlikable. If he is supposed to be comic relief (and I don't think he's funny), how can he be what he becomes at the end? If he' supposed to be sympathetic, Abnett didn't make him likable. If you're supposed to hate him, then there's no investment in his final fate. Carl is a huge contradiction as a character, but not in a good, enigmatic way.

So, don't get me wrong, Ravenor is a worthwhile read for any 40K fan. It has some great ideas, and a few great characters. The action is always fast paced and occasionally brilliant (again- that "door" bit in the third book is amazing- I can't divulge it but its a blast). However, it is not Abnett's best work, not even close. Eisenhorn set the gold standard here, and it doesn't match up. Nor is it as good as say Horus Rising or Legion. So, I'd have to give it overall 2 1/2 marks of Chaos out of 4, though there are bits that are better than that. 

Well, that's all for now. Until next time...

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