1. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    Black Library Discussion

    Discussion in 'Discussion of Published Works' started by Bone2pick, May 27, 2021.

    It's high time this forum had a dedicated thread where fans of Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40k (&30k), as well as other Games Workshop properties can discuss our appreciation of Black Library fiction. Might you have a favorite Black Library book or author? Then be sure to tell us what or who they are. If you've read a Black Library book recently and have a hankering to leave a review, please do so here. And if you have a question or two for any of our forum's Black Library readers, don't hesitate to ask.
     
  2. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    A book review to get things rolling. :read2: :agreed:

    After straying from Black Library for a few years to read other things, I recently returned with Flesh and Steel by Guy Haley. What initially attracted me to this story was that it was from BL's Warhammer Crime imprint, which I hadn't read before. From what I can surmise, Warhammer Crime is a line of books for featuring the rampant crime and corruption within the 40k setting. So think noir cyberpunk detective/police stories, as opposed to 40k standard fare—grimdark military shoot'em ups.

    Besides never having read a Warhammer Crime story, I'd also never read anything from Guy Haley (though I'd heard good things). And I was pleased to discover his prose, at least for briskly-paced genre reading, was up to snuff. For the record, that is a benchmark I'm perfectly happy with. Haley's prose consistently painted immersive scenes, occasionally made me smile because of its voice and vivid description, and never got hung up with exposition or anything similar. That's more or less what I mean when I describe prose as "up to snuff".

    The book has two main characters: a male Imperial probator (detective) named Noctis, who is rather archetypical (disaffected booze-guzzling sleuth), though a good enough version of one. And a female tech-priest (cyborg) named Lux, who is an investigator for the Adeptus Mechanicus. I found Lux to be the slightly more compelling of the two.

    As far as what I most enjoyed from the book, number one would be the gingerly handled romantic tension between the main characters. I feared Haley would rush the two together, but to my pleasant surprise he did not. Noctis and Lux's chemistry and relationship arc are the brightest parts of the story in my opinion. And the second part that I most enjoyed was the book's thorough depiction of the strange and delicate partnership between the Mechanicus and the rest of the Imperium.

    As to what I thought the weakest part of the story was, that would be the actual crime itself. The driving force of the story. It was perfectly plausible and well-thought out, but it lacked emotional stakes. And by that I mean so long as the main characters survived working the case, it wouldn't much matter if it was solved or not. Neither character would have been haunted if they failed to bring the principal criminals to "justice". And I felt that was a big misstep.

    Rating: 3.5 stars. Nearly all the individual parts of the story were "good enough" but none of them were special. And unfortunately those parts didn't come together to create a book greater than the sum of its parts. I'm happy I read it, but I'm hoping for more out of the next Warhammer Crime I read.

    Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55509453-flesh-and-steel?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=9LwOc5MSsL&rank=1
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2021
  3. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    I recently finished The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett. For those who might not know, Dan is one of the most, if not the most, prolific Black Library authors. The man can seemingly produce a genre novel as fast as Bob Ross could paint a landscape. More importantly, the publisher's readership by and large love him.

    With that in mind, I was excited to ease back into the Horus Heresy series with something from him. As I mentioned in my review of Flesh and Steel, I hadn't read anything from Black Library in years. Betrayer was the last HH story I read, which was the 24th book (including a few anthologies) in the series. The Unremembered Empire is the 27th installment. I opted to skip the ones in between, as I have done in the past with anthologies and certain authors I don't enjoy. *cough* Nick Kyme *cough* That did end up being somewhat of an error in judgement though, because while reading TUE I got the impression I would have benefited from reading Mark of Calth first. It wasn't a big deal, but I figured I should mention it.

    I'm pleased to say this book exceeded my expectations. Dan's characterization of Roboute Guilliman was brilliant. The Ultramarines Primarch was farsighted. He was tormented. He was heroic. He was vulnerable. He was magnificent. With Guilliman Dan took an exceptionally powerful, traditionally "good" hero and made him as compelling as any morally grey character in a similar genre. That feat alone requires talent.

    Outside of Guilliman there were lots of other terrific character showings and arcs. I'm not including names to avoid spoilers. But I want to note that Dan spread the awesomeness around, even to many of the book's lesser/supporting, non-POV characters.

    The pacing is perfect. No exaggeration. The plot is high-stakes yet personal, and full of surprises. Speaking of plot, Dan is a master at knowing precisely what "cards" to reveal to his readers, which ones to keep secret, and which ones to hint he might play. That skill (intuition?) helps him craft a totally captivating, page-turning reading experience whenever he fires on all cylinders—which he did in this book.

    The second half of The Unremembered Empire transitions from a science-fantasy thriller into an action horror. Things get scary. Things get bloody. And at the end of it all, the principal characters, those who managed to survive at least, are significantly changed. And in terms of the bigger picture of the Heresy this book is must read.

    Rating: 5 stars. This was nearly all that I could hope for out of this franchise. I can't think of any story out of Black Library that I've enjoyed more. I've always been a fan, but after reading The Unremembered Empire I now hold Dan Abnett in even higher esteem.

    I do have one caveat though: if you haven't read anything from the Horus Heresy series TUE shouldn't be your entry point. It's built off of too much that's come before it.

    Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18143885-the-unremembered-empire?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=7VNsshFpLi&rank=1
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2021
  4. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    Back with another review. I actually have several Black Library books in my reading pipeline, so you can expect more reviews after this one. That said, today's post will cover Fabius Bile: Primogenitor by Joshua Reynolds. Primogenitor—if I'm not mistaken—is the first installment of a trilogy featuring the 3rd Legion's infamous Chief Apothecary. And I'm pleased to report it's chock-full of Chaos Space Marine awesomeness.

    The book has two main characters, one of which is Bile (obviously), and the other is Oleander Koh, who also happens to be an Emperor's Children apothecary. In fact, Oleander served as one of Bile's "students" prior to the events of the story. One of the cool features of both main characters essentially being military medics/field surgeons is that Reynolds has them perceive problems—be they tactical, social, or anything else—similar to how a physician would perceive a wound or illness. This helps give the story a fresh style when compared against other 40k books.

    "We are all damned, but do not think that makes us equal. I saw Chemos at the height of its glory, and was with the Phoenician at the moment of his apotheosis. I walked through the fires of Isstvan and made a coat from the skins of my brothers. I am father to a new age of gods and monsters." ~ Chief Apothecary Fabius Bile

    Primogenitor shines in several respects, but Reynold's dialogue is its brightest spot in my opinion. Every conversation left me with the impression that it had been finely tuned. And every exchange, no matter how brief, always offered something interesting. Even the barbs and threats, as copious as they are, help define the volatile and long-spanning relationships within the story.

    The deeper into the book you read the deeper the conversations get. That's when the heart and soul of the story finally reveals itself — through debate/argument over the historical successes and failures of the traitor legions (specifically the Emperor's Children) and whether or not they are presently on the "right" path or not. And if not, will they ever be? Could they ever be? As wicked as the protagonists undeniably are, Reynolds shows us that their tortured souls still long, and in some cases hope, for a more noble existence.

    Beyond dialogue, Primogenitor has top-notch, immersive description. A worthy plot. Mysterious and very capable antagonists. And above average quality action scenes. Even better than the actual combat, is the unrelenting threat of combat. Because the protagonists are Chaos Space Marines, and because Reynolds is a talented author, he makes you feel like violence could erupt at nearly any moment in the story.

    Rating: 4.5 stars. Compared against the outstanding 5 star book I reviewed before this, Primogenitor was an ever so slight drop-off in quality. It didn't have quite the level of surprise, emotional exploration, and character arc resolution. But it's still a fantastic Warhammer story; I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I would strongly recommend it to any 40k reader.

    Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29430435-fabius-bile
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2021
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  5. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    Another post, another review. This one is a slight departure from my previous reviews, as it pulls from the Warhammer Fantasy universe. I have to admit that, before reading this book — which is actually a three novel omnibus — I hadn't read so much as a single WF story. I've always found 40k to be the more compelling of the two settings, and I can't imagine that will ever change. That said, I recently felt an urge to start shuffling some Warhammer Fantasy books into my to-read list, and what more conventional way to kick things off than with the first Gotrek & Felix Omnibus.

    Goodreads link: Gotrek & Felix

    For those who might not know, Gotrek & Felix are a (somewhat) comedic Sword & Sorcery duo within the Warhammer Fantasy setting. Full disclosure: comedy heavy action-adventure stories generally aren't my cup of tea — I prefer more dramatic/serious tones and stakes. But Gotrek & Felix are such popular characters from Warhammer Fantasy — they're practically synonymous with it — and I wanted to give them (and author William King) a chance to win me over.

    I'll start with saying: I like the two main characters. They wouldn't make my short list of my favorite Sword & Sorcery protagonists, but they're compelling enough to hold my interest and cheer for. One could argue that Felix is the only "legitimate" main character, and that Gotrek is merely a supporting character, as the former receives the lion's share of character development, and we're never offered Gotrek's POV. I think I remember reading more than one Goodreads reviewer complain about that. I wouldn't complain about it, though, because the way that I see it: the disparity in character development is by design and facilitates their stories.

    To expand on that, Gotrek's role (oddly enough) reminded me of Santa Clause in the 1994 remake of Miracle On 34th Street. In that movie Santa was a main character in the sense that (1) he was aligned with the other protagonists, and (2) the story wouldn't work if you removed him. He was inarguably essential. Yet Saint Nick's character arc was flat; he didn't undergo significant change. The actual character development in the film happened with the other main characters. Santa, as the living, breathing spirit of Christmas, was functionally the engine for the film's plot, as opposed to the one who most benefits from overcoming the central conflict. And the same is true for Gotrek. The slayer is the embodiment of combat, courage, and adventure, and serves as the engine for the duo's plots.

    An overall problem I had with the stories relates to King's prose — it was pedestrian at times. And that's not a criticism I often level, as I have a higher tolerance for plainish writing than your typical literature enthusiast. To be more clear, his writing was clean enough, but it never sparkled. It didn't pack much punch. And as a result it didn't paint vivid, striking imagery. So that was disappointing.

    Because the omnibus features three novels, I've divided my ratings accordingly.

    Trollslayer Rating: 4 stars. My favorite book of the omnibus. An introduction of the characters via dark fantasy adventures, all of which had a pleasing blend of comedy, action, and horror. Trollslayer's fast pace, plentiful thrills, and satisfying endings made up for the vanilla writing.

    Skavenslayer Rating: 3.5 stars. The second book smartly fleshed out Felix's backstory, but it offered only one enemy for our duo. Another knock was the skaven being more cartoonish than the monsters in Trollslayer. As a consequence, the stakes didn't feel as high.

    Demonslayer Rating: 2.5 stars. Poorly paced with too much travel time, and two uneventful/unmemorable voyage layovers. There's also a skaven (yes, them again) subplot that feels uninspired and unnecessary.

    Ultimately I'm happy to have read Gotrek & Felix's first omnibus, but I'm also happy to put them behind me and keep rolling through my to-read list. Do I intend to pick up their second omnibus in the future? Maybe. But likely not for a while.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2021
  6. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    What a great thread!

    I'm a big fan of Gotrek and Felix. I've read all of them. Well, there's a couple new ones I need to get to still. All of the old omnibus ones is what I mean. The concept is so fun.

    And I agree with you on Dan Abnett. He's unusually good. He can build up characters SO fast. It's very strange, and really, worth studying. He can drop in a new character and detail them in such a way that you really care about them quickly. He gets that done in less than page. It's remarkable. (And then he kills the character and you feel awful, haha.) He knows how to write action too. There's an aspect to his writing that is very cinematic, for lack of a better word. AND he's got that statured British voice. Just the way he phrases his sentences really works.

    My favorite work by him is Eisenhorn. I guess that's pretty much a gold standard if you're a W40k fan, so I can't pretend it's a surprising choice. If you haven't read it though (dear reader) and really like action sci-fi, it is very highly recommended from me.

    This (below) is the book that got me into Warhammer 40k. It has a really good selection of short stories and really shows the hopelessness of what humanity's facing. When you really think about how they're facing defeat on every front, it makes sense that humans would become so ruthless. If we can't have it, then no one can.

    For me, the title sold it. (titles do matter)

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2021
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  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    You might skip the remaining King books and go straight to Nathan Long. His Blackheart books are fun too, though the series ended prematurely.
     
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  8. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    I'm currently reading Aaron Dembski-Bowden's The Talon of Horus, and after it the first Eisenhorn book is next on my list. :read2:
     
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  9. Night Herald

    Night Herald Malfunctioning clockwork person Supporter Contributor

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    "Dracula" by Bram Stoker
    Gosh, I haven't read any 40k books in such a long time (and never read any Warhammer Fantasy, even though I am a fan of that setting also). The only authors I remember by name are Dan Abnett and Graham McNeil. I enjoyed the latter's Ultramarines stories very much, as I recall (Nightbringer, Warriors of Ultramar, and especially Dead Sky Black Sun). I also fondly remember some of the Horus Heresy novel, namely the first three which deal with the fall of the Warmaster himself, the Thousand Sons ones, and Mechanicus, plus certain others I'm surely forgetting. I own maybe twenty of those books, but I haven't read them all. I really should fish them out of that cardboard box and try to find some extra shelf space. I fell out of the 40k thing for a number of years, but I've been getting back in there.

    I'd love to read some Imperial Guard stuff, preferably something in a Military Fiction vein (I know, how are you ever gonna find that in the 41st millennium?). I did read one Ciaphas Cain novel, and that's not quite what I have in mind. Big battles, campaigning, ensemble cast, camaraderie, footslogging, that sort of stuff. I'm guessing Gaunt's Ghosts is good for that type of thing?
     
  10. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    I've only read a handful of 40k stories not centered around space marines, and of those I don't remember any having a military campaign focus. So unfortunately I can't offer a recommendation.
     
  11. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    Checked another book off my Black Library to-read list. I'm now keeping a separate list just for their stuff. While I'm always happy to dig into a highly rated BL story, I was especially pumped to read and review this next novel for two big reasons: (1) it's by an author who has written some of my favorite 40k fiction, and (2) it features Chaos Space Marines/Legionaires, the faction I've always found to be the most compelling. I'm referring to the first installment of the Black Legion Series, The Talon of Horus, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, aka ADB.

    Goodreads Link: The Talon of Horus (Black Legion #1)

    I'm disappointed to report the book elicited mixed feelings from me. Much more so than any of my previous reviews. A truly bittersweet read. On the bright side, its positives range from really good to outstanding. The best being Abaddon's characterization/evolution. ADB's portrayal of him was so smart and so adroitly executed that I believe its impact will benefit the 40k line going forward, if it hasn't already. For what it's worth, I don't consider myself generous with that level of praise.

    Outside of Abaddon's portrayal, ADB's setup and given motivations for the creation of the Black Legion were also great. And that was critical, as those are the crux of both the story's heart and plot. Everything about the founding of Abaddon's Legion makes sense, and just as importantly, it casts the Warmaster's lot in a more dignified light.

    In terms of prose, I've always considered Aaron's to be a cut above the average BL author. He has a distinct voice. Very masculine phrasing, if that means anything to you. He seemingly can't help but inject a roguish charm and rock 'n' roll edge into his writing. His authorial voice does have a gentler side, though. And while it's rarely elegant, it's sincere, passionate, and offers a rewarding perspective.

    The pacing of the book was a minor issue for me. It's first person POV, and the story frequently breaks for lengthy-ish introspection from the main character. Admittedly, I enjoyed much of it. But there were times when the introspection came at the expense of narrative tension. And upon reflection, I wish some of those pages were used for additional plot or character moments.

    A bigger issue for me was that outside of Abaddon — who isn't introduced until nearly two thirds into the story — I wasn't enamored with any of the characters. The main/POV character, a Thousand Sons sorcerer named Khayon, has some qualities that appealed to me, but also aspects that rubbed me the wrong way. Power level being one of the latter. His bonded companions (a daemon wolf and female dark eldar [think succubus]) being another. As to the rest of cast, a handful of Chaos Space Marines were moderately intriguing, but none of them were given an especially memorable moment. I was particularly disappointed that Khayon's longtime companion and former mentor, a brother Thousand Sons sorcerer, never had a defining scene. That still strikes me as an egregious wasted opportunity.

    Khayon's starship hosts a unique machine spirit that I also have mixed feelings towards. I'll leave it at that, because explaining it would require a spoiler-filled paragraph or two, and I'd rather just elaborate on my power level gripe and wrap up this review.

    I understand that Chaos sorcery is an awesomely potent force. I honestly do. And I acknowledge the 40k setting is populated with all sorts of demigod tier beings. That's partly why I love it so much. But when I read stories from this genre I need the protagonist(s), no matter how powerful they are, to be pushed to their limits. And I by and large feel Khayon wasn't. His sorcery is ridiculously versatile, accessible, and provided an all-too-convenient solution to many of the problems he faced. For those who might want specifics I'm including brief examples/spoilers. To be clear, it's not any single feat of sorcery that was the problem (well, maybe...) it's that they're all in his magical toolbox, and it's wide open as to what else is in the box.

    He can read minds. He can easily disintegrate an Astartes — a Legion champion for that matter — despite suffering from a heavily bleeding gut wound. He can pull a mortal back from the brink of death (female dark elder) and provide them with sorcery-powered life indefinitely. He can rewire a rival Legionaries' brain and make them completely under his control. He can instantly summon a greater daemon capable of tearing apart twenty battle ready Chaos Space Marines. He can telekinetically haul a massive starship across space and then hurl it at a planet. Keep in mind these are all in-book feats.

    Rating: 3.5 stars. On one hand I view The Talon of Horus as significantly better than the overwhelming majority of 3.5 star books, but on the other hand the parts that disappointed or bothered me left quite an impression.
     
  12. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    Finished the 28th installment of the Horus Heresy series, Scars by Chris Wraight. I hadn't read Chris before, but the Black Library readership generally speaks well of his work, so I was happy to give him a shot. And as a bonus, this book brought me back to my favorite era/corner of the 40k universe — the Horus Heresy. I can't remember if I've already revealed that, for me, the HH is the juiciest part of the setting. The filet mignon, if you will. The crème de la crème. But in case I haven't, I feel it's worth mentioning.

    Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18143803-scars

    Compared against the other Legions, I've long felt the White Scars were one of the least interesting. They were definitely in my bottom tier, along with the Imperial Fists and World Eaters. So I'm grateful that Wraight's Scars made enough of a positive impression to bump them out of my Heresy cellar.

    In my opinion, the greatest "big picture" achievements of the novel are (1) it serves as a proper introduction of the Legion's Primarch, Jaghatai Khan, and (2) it provides a logical and satisfying reason as to why the fifth Legion has largely been removed from the early events of the Heresy. The series' readership needed both of those things from this book, and Wraight delivered. So Kudos to him for that.

    He also delivered a worthwhile plot, with sufficient tension and the right amount of action beats. And he explored many of the distinctive aspects of the White Scars, such as their Mongolian-inspired culture, their Librarians' (Stormseers) unique perspective of the Warp, as well as their relationships with some of the other Legions. Scars had several gripping scenes, but the brightest spot — the most "Heresy epic" moment — was Jaghatai Khan's encounter with Magnus the Red, Primarch of the Thousand Sons. Their dialogue was so significant and emotionally charged, that I would argue it was actually the book's climax, rather than the demigod duel that soon followed it.

    In terms of criticisms, I felt that outside of Jaghatai, the personalities and voices of the White Scars Legionaries were too similar. Almost monolithic. And while the plot, action, and character arcs were all good, none of them were top of the class Black Library quality.

    Rating: 4 stars. A worthy and important installment to the Horus Heresy series, but only offers one truly special scene.
     

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