Hey there everyone. It continues to be busy times for us 40K fans. The Dark Eldar are imminent, and I am both hopeful and nervous. I want the strengths of the 2010 book to continue, but all these rumors seem to scream "NERF"... we shall see. At any rate, I'm back with a pair of book reviews. Now, I haven't done this in a while, so I may be rusty at my book reporting skills. Beware of minor SPOILERS, please. So, away we go...
Vengeful Spirit by Graham McNeil
I have mixed feelings on this book. I am glad to see Horus back and center stage- it is his Heresy, after all. McNeil makes Horus as charismatic and strong as he should be- the reason so many would follow him. His "charm" has been missing from most of his appearances lately, so it's nice to see that aspect of this character return. I also continue to get a hoot out of Abaddon (such a curmudgeon) and "Little Horus". At any rate, Horus is looking to "walk the path" that the Emperor walked in the early days- a path that could take Horus to godhood. Horus just has to lay waste to a planet or two to get there. His Daddy issues come to the fore here as well, in interesting ways. My only complaint is that just as Horus is about to take his first steps into the Warp... the book pulls away from it. The coolest part is thus consigned to our imaginations, for good or ill.
The other parts of the book is where I have real issues with the author. The rest of the elements never seem to come together. There's yet another perpetual (I guess the immortal Emperor has the time to be this prolific, huh?), but she is not as interesting as the ones that have come before (Grammaticus and Oll Persson come to mind). There's some Imperial Knight house intrigue- I'll admit, it did a great twist turn I didn't expect, but- it felt shoehorned in there- cobbled in just because GW has this hot new model. The Ultramarine and Blood Angel contingents are forgettable and their impact is negligible. Finally, there's Malcador's "proto-Grey Knights". Now, I like the idea of this strike team, but I wish that Loken had not been brought back. I loved Loken, but I think he should have stayed dead. Their mission is interesting, but they get into trouble--- and get out of it fairly easily. I wonder if Horus is a warmaster or a ringmaster, barely controlling his 3-ring circus, as the Knights Errant slip through his fingers very quickly.
The battles really shine- the planet of Molech becomes a charnel house once the Sons of Horus arrives, and McNeil does well with the action scenes. Its just that the elements never quite gel (unlike say Betrayer or Unremembered Empire, which took tons of dangling plot strings and tied them together so well). I liked the book, but I didn't love it, as I was hoping.
Stormcaller by Chris Wright
I reviewed his first book in what appears to be a trilogy, Blood of Asaheim HERE. I thoroughly enjoyed that book, and this one is just as good, if not better.
The story begins shortly after the first one ends. The rout of Jarnhamar is moping up operations on the shrine world Ras Shakkeh when two arrivals herald even bigger challenges- a vicious Cardinal and, of course, Njal Stormcaller, Rune Priest of the Space Wolves. All parties want to take the fight to the Death Guard- who have their own space hulk spreading contagion throughout the sector. Naturally, the cardinal has a rather extreme view of how to deal with the hulk (destroy the populated planets in its wake- not too extreme), while Njal wants to board the hulk and take it out from within. What ensues is a crackerjack action story, complete with a ticking time bomb, betrayals, and naturally tensions between the Wolves and the Ecclasiarchy. Whereas the last book felt like a siege from Lord of the Rings, this book is like Empire Strikes Back: the band of heroes is split up, dark truths are learned, and it ends on an ambiguous cliffhanger. I mean that as a compliment; the book is a fun ride.
The action, though pulse pounding, takes a back seat to the characters. I love the chemistry between Gunnlaugur and Ingvar. Ingvar in particular is intriguing, the former Deathwatch veteran still trying to find his place in his pack. While tensions between the two have improved, it threatens to bubble to the surface at the worst moments. Olegir is given a fascinating, almost "political" mission which sees the big guy NOT fight. Jorundur is his usual grumpy self (and the least developed of the characters). Hafloi is still hot-headed but he is learning that blood lust is not enough and the Grey Hunters have their merits as "cooler" warriors. Then there's Baldr. Poor Baldr. I can reveal nothing more here, but oh boy... It is interesting to note that they briefly remember the slain Valtyr, which I think is appropriate. The Wolves aren't sentimental. Death is part of the work and life of a Space Marine. They acknowledge it and move on. It's that simple.
Njal is a big presence, though he is not drawn nearly as well as our friends in Jarnhamar. However, Njal makes some decisions (and mistakes) that may have huge repercussions on both Jarnhamar and the galaxy at large. But he does tie into the larger themes of "knowing your place" in the scheme of things- he is the ultimate authority, he knows the rules, but even he is unsure. Its great stuff.
Also taking that theme is, once again, the Death Guard. The leader of the space hulk Festerax, the Death Guard sorcerer known as The Mycelite is a great character- he's quite melancholy, resigned to the fact that everything rots. The sooner we all acknowledge this and hasten the process of entropy, the better for the galaxy. That sums up the Death Guard (and Nurgle's) position pretty well. Again, it sets a great contrast for the Wolves- they truly are running ragged by the constant war, surely they feel the touch of decay? Wright continues to have fun comparing the two. Though most would say that the Thousand Sons are the "natural enemies" of the Wolves, I think the Death Guard make much better foils for them, at least in Wright's hands.
I truly enjoyed the book- once I got started I couldn't put it down. If you liked the first one this is a great addition to the saga. I can't wait till the next one (Typhus? The Inquisition? Eye of Terror?).
Well, that's all for now. Until next time... stay thirsty my friends.