Saturday, 28 February 2015

All the Millennium’s a Stage: Codex Harlequin Review

I haven’t purchased a Codex in a while but I bought this. GW’s release schedule for sixth/seventh edition has been insane, it feels like a new release every month. Having worked through most of the major Codexes GW is running out of armies from its regular stable to get onto the market. Because of this it has gotten too expensive to own every Codex but as an avid Eldar collector I had to have this book. More than any edition seventh embraces its legacy and all the seemingly forgotten corners of the Warhammer 40,000 universe seem to be erupting into the mainstream.
When Games Workshop let the Codex supplements peter out our dreams of books for Genestealer Cults, Madmobz, Legion armies or even Harlequins were done with. Thankfully that has not happened. However, Codex Eldar Harlequins is not a supplement it is a full blown Codex that contains a self-contained army that requires no units from other Codexes in order to function but which, thanks to the ally matrix, is able to join up with either Eldar or Dark Eldar armies.

Harlequins pre-date Craftworld Eldar as we know them, being the next type of Eldar created after the original Eldar Corsairs. Codex Apocrypha in White Dwarf #57 reprints the epic introductory tale of a Harlequin’s troupe’s performance of the fall that was originally printed upon their release. I highly recommend you check it out if it is something you have not read before. Also, you can find out more about Harlequins in part 2 of my history of the Eldar Line at Beasts of War

The book itself is beautiful. It is full of art, new full colour art. I do not remember a Codex that has had so much effort put into filling the pages with original artwork. One reason for this is that there is not much new art to fill a Harlequin book with, the majority of Harlequin art is black and white hailing from Rogue Trader days. Despite this the glut of pictures in the book really do a good job of showing off the fast and dynamic action of a Harlequin force at war.

To go with this new art is an expansion on the lore of the Harlequins. Again, this is necessary as to provide Harlequins with a purpose in the current era they need to be more than wandering travellers of the Webway. Cegorach the laughing god is most definitely not the Deceiver, he is a true living god with followers who enact his will and he has plans. Within the Black Library a crystal tome said to hold the writings of Cegorach has opened and the prophesies on its pages begin to come to pass. The Harlequins erupt from the Webway all across the galaxy to enact Cegorach’s plan, a plan to destroy Slaanesh and restore the Eldar and their Pantheon to their place in the galaxy.

This thread was first explored in Codex Iyanden and is followed here. The Craftworld Eldar may manipulate the various races of the Galaxy for their own benefit but they have nothing on the Harlequins who are now bigger players on the galactic stage than previously alluded to. As an Eldar player this is a good thing as there is hope of a future beyond a slow decline.

The format of the book is the same as was seen in Codex Necrons, lots of the line art figures that are used to show off uniform colour schemes, each with a blurb explaining the troupe it belongs to and their history which does a good job of differentiating the styles of these groups within the whole. There is a lot of fluff on show which helps fill the spaces where the bestiary section would go. With only seven units in the book there is room for this but it does shine a light on how thin on the ground these sections are in books that have to provide rules for a normal amount of units.

To fill out these areas you are presented with an abundance of formations which give you a ready-made force to include in your Eldar or Dark Eldar army. However on its own the Harlequin force is fast, elusive and hard hitting. There are no high strength low AP weapons you can rely on to win the game for you, instead there are a lot of exploding six effects that will cause a lot of damage to whatever they are aimed at.

This is a good book, as a creative effort and as a new army to add an extra dimension to the Eldar line. Unfortunately I cannot offer kudos to anyone in particular as the book’s writing and art is attributed to no one. I realise that they are trying to protect their staff from Matt Ward levels of trolling but it is a shame that those responsible for the work cannot be given their proper dues.


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Horus Heresy Novella Review: Death and Defiance.

Another Heresy Novella review for you here from the Conclave of Har. This time it is Death and Defiance, a collection of the E-books that The Black Library have become so enamoured with lately. So while this is not necessarily new material if you are an avid reader of these bite size stories ill not have read them before, and whilst I would obviously much prefer to see them in a normal anthology format if memory serves this was originally an event exclusive so i'm pleased to finally get my hands on it.

Black Library sure do love their E-books/shorts, and why not? Infinitely cheaper to produce and distribute, selling them at a couple of quid a pop to content starved Heresy fans is probably a pretty good way to fill the coffers. Its not like they take ages for the authors to produce either. Plus they have the advantage of being able to request them adhoc, theming content and releasing appropriate stories alongside model releases having them serve as a literary advert (a problem I perceived with Vengeful Spirit).

Of course this can make it very hard for the average reader to stay on top of the Heresy, missing tidbits that can be referred to in later novels. Seriously, if you have a look at the Black Library website it’s a mess, they even have a reading order list of the heresy with novellas and audio books there to try to make sense of it all. And the E-books aren't even featured there! Look at any given title and you’ll often see a multitude of ways to purchase it, Hardback, paperback, premium paperback MP3, E-book and so on. It’s madness (Madness? THIS IS THE HERESY!)

Anyway I digress, lets look at the stories within Death and Defiance. 

Imperfect by Nick Kyme:

Nice little story here, subtle with a few clues thrown in as to its true nature. We get a nice bit of development between Ferrus Mannus and Fulgrim as they play games both tactical, psychological, metaphorical and literal. Not a great deal happens in all honesty but it is an intriguing tale nonetheless. Its difficult to say much more without spoilers but more dedicated readers might spot the twist before casual ones. The story covers past, present and throws a few tantalizing glimpses into the future. I will say that this one short story is also the most I have ever cared about the Iron Hands Primarch, Kyme managing to somehow render him less unlikable than previous iterations. That in itself is impressive if not somewhat ironic (read the story and you’ll find out why). Apart from the game of Regicide between the two Primarchs there is also a little bit of Fabius Bile thrown in and its nice to see Kyme's talents put to something other than Salamanders. A strong start to the collection with some good work on characterization on the two lead players.

Howl of the Hearthworld By Aaron Dembski-Bowden:

Possibly one of the shortest entries in the book, none the less sweet for it. This story has ADB tackle the Space Wolves which if memory serves he hasn't done in the Heresy so far, multi talented bloke that he is. Carrying on with Dan Abnett's take upon the Legion, again very little happens in this extremely short story. Heavy on character and dialogue it tells of a unit of the Fenris Vylkra being tasked to spy on Rogal Dorn back on Terra, Malcador has decreed that the Primarchs are watched following the Emperors edict at the Council of Nikea and has chosen Russes legion to do it. (it's not mentioned who will be watching the Watchers) Obviously the Wolf Pack this duty falls to are none too happy about doing so and at the start of the story are actually preparing to be killed by Russ for their disobedience. Stubborn is always a trait you could ascribe to the Wolves and here that is bought to the fore. The fact that the rest of the legion are off to Prospero in order to chastise Magnus doesn't really help matters. It’s a great character piece and so much is done for the wolves within the half dozen or so pages. Insights into their nature and hierarchy rituals and customs, total fluff stuff. Self contained and short but very sweet. Not much else to say, should Dan be unable to continue the story of the VI legion for any reason they would be safe in ADBs hands.

A Safe and Shadowed Place By Guy Haley:

What is this? Share your Legions day or something? Guy picks up Aaron’s beloved Nightlords (though he is smart enough to stay away from Sevatar) in a tale set parallel to events in Unremembered Empire. A trio of Night Lord vessels skulk high above Sotha licking their wounds after their ill fated battle and subsequent flight from the Lion and his Dark Angels detailed in Shadows of Treachery. Problem is in the meantime a few of the Traitor Marines on board have gone stir crazy. With emphasis on the crazy. Bat Sht crazy if you will! Anyway, a great deal of the narrative is given over to just how nasty this bunch of traitors is but sadly it does nothing except make them seem a little bit cartoony. Evil and sadistic they might be but I can come across a little tongue in cheek such is the lack of finesse used in their portrayal. Still there is a little good characterization, shallow as it might be, here and there and the concept is quite interesting if half finished. There is some half decent combat too as one particularly insane Astartes has to be subdued by one of his Brothers. Overall not bad but not a patch on the previous work done with this legion. This said the end of the short makes one believe that Guy has more plans in his head and this is but a prequel. Though as I have said previously I cannot see anyone but ADB doing the first Night Lord heresy novel. Competently written but just a bit lacking in areas, something seems a bit off about it.

Virtues of the Sons by Andy Smille:

This is a Blood Angel tale so who do you think wrote it? Well its not the person who did the Blood Angels Horus Heresy novel! (though his is the last entry in Death and Defiance) Instead the sons of Sanguinius are handed over to Andy Simile, another author who’s work I am not overly familiar with but that I believe I have enjoyed what little I have sampled. Certainly Virtue of the Sons is a well crafted piece, dealing with the dual (and indeed duel) nature of the Blood Angels. As Sanguinius anguishes over the flaws that are becoming apparent in his sons we are treated to a couple of Duels. Basically Sanguinius decides that outside influence is required and thus favoured sons Zakaellon and Amit are sent to other chapters where they engage in duels with their respective champions (sometimes I don’t think the Legiones Astartes have any other way to integrate). Zakaellon, the Sangiunary guard, draws Lucius of the Emperors Children who is as arrogant and loathsome as you may expect. Meanwhile Amit, The Flesh Tearer is pitted against Kharn of the World Eaters, each a perfect foil for the others savagery. Its another great story and Andy really gets to grips with all the characters, delightfully bringing certain facets to the fore and fleshing out the characters nicely. A pretty good story with some visceral action and combat, this was a fun read and I look forward to more from Andy soon.

Gunsight By James Swallow:

Hang on, there must be some mistake! An author tackling the same subject and characters as before? Not borrowing someone else’s Legion? Surely not? (though there is no Legion in this story)

But no that is the case as we get what is essentially either a sequel to Swallow’s previous book Nemesis or at least a bridge to something new. I rather enjoyed Nemesis for what it was, although it was almost certainly filler and little else, the idea of a group of Assassins trying to murder Horus was pulled off pretty well and it is definitely one of James Swallows better books. (I cared not for his Blood Angel 40k stuff and Fear to Tread was just silly) It picks up the Story of Kell the Vindicare assassin that tried to kill Horus. He has managed to make it onto the Vengeful Spirit and is basically lining up for another crack at the Warmaster. Unfortunately he’s been bitten by some fairly nasty critters, and the venom is coursing through his system making him a bit incoherent and disorientated. Part of the narrative is told through fevered dreams and it can be difficult for the reader to actually establish what is real and what is a product of the demented fantasies he is engaging in. Some pretty good characterization ensures and we really get into the depths of Kell's mind as we see the extent that the failure to complete his mission drives him. He is weakened and operating at far from his best but he is a Vindicare Assassin and he will keep going till the job is done.

The story only features one other character and that is a cowardly Loyalist left on the Vengeful Spirit, skulking in the shadows. We get a fascinating insight from this character of just how the great ship has been perverted since the fall of Horus, although admittedly he does seem somewhat well versed in the activities of the Warmaster for a lowly sub deck hand. His place in the story is to provide exposition and a focal point for Kell's journey. As to whether or not he even exists, that is something that is left up to the reader. Is he real or just a product of Kell's deranged and drugged psyche? It’s never clarified one hundred percent and in all honesty you have to wonder how much of it is real in general, especially given the ending, which I wont spoil here. The narrative also makes reference to several other books and seems to be taking place at the same point as the Novel Vengeful Spirit.

I really enjoyed this story, Kell’s plight is well conveyed and you are placed within his head quite adeptly. You get a good idea of what is going on from the perspective of the normal man, with no marines to skew or distort the narrative. Overall Swallow has done a great job here, descriptive, insightful and well crafted. It is also grounded (for the most part) and thankfully this has stopped his writing getting a bit silly and bombastic in the past. With the promise that this particular arc may not be over quite yet, I look forward to seeing where this might go. This is also the only entry in Death and Defiance that feels like a suitable length, more than a bitesize sample. A strong end to the book. 

So that’s Death and Defiance; on the whole a rather strong slice of what is going on in the Heresy, nicely balanced and varied with a reasonable consistency of quality if not length. You do feel it is over a little quickly, it by no means sates the appetite, but you will enjoy it while it lasts even if you wish there were a little more of it. If nothing else it shows the versatility of the Authors as they work with legions that are not their usual poison and often bring a fresh perspective to matters. Recommended but bear in mind this is an expensive way of obtaining these Horusey snippets compared to the next proper Horus Heresy Anthology book Legacies of Betrayal which I should be reviewing in a month or two. Next up though i continue with Gav Thorpes Legacy of Caliban series with Master Of Sanctity.



Thursday, 12 February 2015

Horus Heresy Novella Review: Tallarn: Executioner By John French

After the nonsense of reprinted anthology novellas as premium books we finally get to another proper slice of the Horus Heresy. Previously an Event Exclusive book released a few years back it is finally time for the common man to get his mitts on a copy of Tallarn: Executioner. I’ve been looking forward to this one, Tallarn is a fairly large event in the Heresy as the once verdant world is outright murdered by traitor forces, necessitating the transformation of the populous into hardened desert fighters. Obviously I’m not expecting a great deal of that to be covered in a book that spans barely 100 pages but it should serve as a tantalizing hors d'oeuvres for the main course to follow. It’s another book by John French and I have rather enjoyed his work thus far. He has a habit of peppering his tales with suckerpunches and writes a pretty bleak story so I am expecting a respectable body count and a few shocks by then end. It should be interesting to see what he does with this brand new Theatre of War…

Considering the scope of exactly what is going on in the narrative it is perhaps surprising then that John decides to write a small contained piece. There are no grand sweeping battles and the like here and this is about as far from Bolter Porn as you can get (actually i'm not sure a bolter is ever fired). Also considering it is the Iron Warriors laying siege to (actually just outright killing) Tallarn they are barely mentioned. All the elements of the book that deal with the invasion and the decimation of the planet are doled out in detached impersonal mini chapters of a couple of pages each, interspersed throughout the main narrative like an observers footnotes . Indeed the Iron Warriors arrival and subsequent assault is all dealt with in under two dozen pages, not even a quarter of the total page length. Now this is perfectly adequate, you will be fully aware of what is going on but it is a departure from the norm nonetheless. In lieu of the larger narrative the Author decides to focus on a subplot revolving around a battered tank squadron that forms part of the resistance for the survivors (all underground – the surface of Tallarn is rendered completely uninhabitable by virus bombs) as they venture back up to the surface in the only way they can, in large airtight vehicles and wearing radiation suits. Thus the Tanks of Tallarn: Executioner become more than just weapons, they are their occupants only hope for survival, the only way they can conduct themselves when they are not huddled underground. Not even knowing who has attacked them, the action in the book is told in a series of gripping tank battles fought in the fog (or at least dust) of war on the devastated surface. Against overwhelming odds the Tallarn strike back against the Iron Warriors fighting a guerrilla war
where they can in the name of vengeance.

Being a john French book its not all action and there is some strong characterization here as well although in all honesty the character templates have been seen before many a time and we aren't really getting anything new. There are a few nice touches though and although the dialogue can sometimes be a little stilted the actions and experiences of the people in the story hold our attention. You do genuinely feel for them even if some are not all that they seem as John seems to takes great delight in revealing later. (nothing like finding out you’ve been rooting for the wrong guy all along!) Astartes? Forget it, the Dramatis Personae includes NO Space Marines. Not one, nada. No named marine characters and I’m not even sure that one speaks in the book… There is a half glimpsed description of one and a brief scene where a squad of Iron Warrior terminators engages a tank after their Land Raider is immobilized but all elements including the Astartes are told from the perspective of mortal humans. This lends a grounding to proceedings that pulls in the reader, placing them more squarely in the action. Humans are much easier to characterize than marines and therefore there is a sense of gravitas when the character list starts to be cut down even if they are not doing anything particularly heroic. The book is stark and unflinching in its horrors with the virus bombing and subsequent calamity particularly graphic.

Overall Tallarn: Executioner is a story about survival and determination and redemption and also… well I cant really reveal that in a spoiler free review! Nothing presented is particularly original and there is barely anything tying this into the heresy apart from the setting. That said what is here is very well written and the introspective nature of the narrative and focus upon a small group of characters pays dividends with this size of book. It doesn't feel stretched or light. However, the author does throw one hell of a curveball towards the end, setting up the very bleak ending although that is something I expect from John French by now. In fact the ‘twist’ as it were does feel a little forced and doesn't sit easily with the rest of the story. It doesn't derail what has gone before, just overshadows it and it feels a bit superfluous. Certainly I felt enough good work had been done by that stage that I would have been just as happy if the twist had not been present. But I think Mr French has done a good job here, His refusal to allow the Astartes centre stage is to be commended and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the book and ploughed through it pretty quickly. Of course this is but a taste of the Battle of Tallarn and the next installment has just been announced in Tallarn: Ironclad as John French returns...

In the first Ltd Edition Full Length Horus Heresy Novel....



score: 4 Vanquisher Tanks out of 5

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Horus Heresy Novella double Review: The Crimson Fist and Prince Of Crows

I wondered for a long time what the straw that broke the camel’s back would be regarding the Horus Heresy and Black Library. In this age of exclusive short stories, Event exclusive books, Ltd edition Novellas, countless audio stories and a noticeably reduced volume of actual novel releases that actually deal with the main thrust of the story, I have been patient, I have been quiet. I have continued as a loyal reader since the days of Horus Rising, I have even adopted the large format paperbacks with a sigh of resignation as I gave up waiting 6 months to get my latest fix. But this? No, just no. This is not on, and I am about to tell you why.

As time has gone on, one of the main points of contention has been somewhat negated. The Ltd Edition Novellas have, after an age, been rereleased in a still premium but more accessible format. I have reviewed a fair few of these now and for the most part they have been pretty good, offering an insight into a few of the background machinations of the Heresy and its Characters that cannot always be gleaned elsewhere. So when I saw that Crimson Fist was to be released I was a bit taken aback. I was sure I had already read that story somewhere before. A quick perusal of the Shadows of Treachery revealed I had, it had just been reprinted as a standalone premium novella and released. not cool BL. Not. Cool. So, this was one Horus Heresy Novella I would not be picking up. Good excuse to reread the story in Shadows of Treachery again for the review though!

The Crimson Fist is actually the first story in Shadows of Treachery, it’s a pretty fine story too. Rogal Dorn has sent a rather large chunk of his Legion to go give Horus a smack for daring to turn against the Emperor, not knowing the full extent of the Heresy. Unfortunately the Fleet lead by Captain Pollux has been somewhat waylaid by a warp storm and is cut off and stranded. Awaiting an attack that they know must be coming we get good insight into the Fists discipline and martial attitude as they do what they do best, prepare for war. Back on Terra, Dorn finds out the reason his chosen son Sigismund elected to return to Terra with him rather than commanding the fleet as he was instructed. The action, when it arrives is punchy with some of the Horusey’s most memorable void battles and the reader is invested in the fate of the beleaguered Imperial Fists as they battle to overcome their attackers. The Crimson Fist is a story about battling against impossible odds, about duty and honour and fealty and perceived betrayal.

 Though it will never be regarded in the same circles as the classics it is a strong straightforward punchy story written by John French full of grit, blood and shattered ceramite. Not at one point does the prose descend into wanton Bolter Porn, the focus kept firmly upon the fight against the odds that Dorn’s legion find themselves embroiled in a battle against. French is also not afraid to leave a REALLY bitter taste in the mouth of the reader as Duty and Honour war with each other with crushing and injust consequences. The only weak part of the story is that which is away from the action, that which deals with Dorn and Sigismund on Terra. The nature of Sigismunds secret feels somewhat underwhelming and a bit rote, though I can certainly understand what John is trying to convey. It feels overwrought and a bit bombastic for what it is, taking the focus away from what is really going on, though it certainly serves a purpose and there are some insights into the mind of the Imperial Fists Primarch which we haven’t really got elsewhere. Rogal Dorn does some across as a bit unlikeable but I suppose a Demigod of War is not going to be the most gregarious of individuals after all.

So overall a decent story. Worth reading. And if not for the fact it was released ages ago in a normal priced normal sized novel probably worth the buy. Right, what’s next? ‘Prince of Crows’ hang on………….


Prince of Crows is the final story in Shadows of Treachery. I’m not even kidding, that is a full half of a book that has been released separately in a premium format afterwards. I mean come ON. I have no problems with these books making it to anthology format later. I even had no problem with Heresy content featuring in generic compliations like Hammer and Bolter (as short and sweet as that was) I DO have a problem with books that have previously been released in a cheap and convenient format THEN being released as a premium novella. People may not be aware of this option, especially if they dip in and out of the Horusey and only pick up the major books. I can handle books like The Imperial Truth being Event only in the knowledge that EVENTUALLY they will be rereleased to us normal folk who don’t wish to pay obscene amounts on Ebay. But this? This just seems cynical and greedy. Sigh, lets take a look at Prince of Crows.

I’m not sure if half the reason this was released was the Author you know, Aaron Dembski Bowden is a very bankable name for the Black Library. The First Edition of Talon of Horus sold like hotcakes and he is more proficient than Dan Abnett these days with Dan lured to Hollywood (and why not) pushing The Warmaster back again and again and again. Now we need to get one thing straight. Aaron IS the Lord of the Night Lords. His 40k Trilogy (featuring many of the same characters) is very highly regarded and when we do eventually get a full Night Lords Horusey novel (im sure its coming) it will be Mr Dembski Bowden who writes it.

So it should come as no surprise that Prince of Crows is also rather good. Set after the Night Lords are attacked and forced into retreat by the Dark Angels, Konrad Curze lies in a critical state after having the snot beaten out of him by Lion el Johnson. Sevatar, firm fan favourite, takes it upon himself to lead the Night Lords in his absence, something that doesn’t go down so well with others. As Sevetar wrestles with his detractors we get a fascinating insight into the early years or Curze as he develops on Nostromo. This is something we haven’t really seen elsewhere and whilst other Authors seem content to have Curze be something of a boogeyman in the Heresy, Aaron at least lends him some gravitas and substance with some poigniant writing that will allow you to empathise with the Night Lords primarch even if you still detest him. Other than Curze though the real star of this story is Sevatar. The pages positively sizzle with his presence and he is at once witty cruel and devious. As a character he has got a bit of a divided reception amongst readers but there is no denying that this is actually his story and HE is the Prince of Crows (wait till you find out why) As Sevetar and his Kyroptera (yes ADB Knows the scientific term for bats! ) struggle to retain control of a legion threatening to tear itself apart whilst still strike back at the Dark Angels the machinations within this Traitor Legion are laid bare. The book also ends promising that full length night lords novel (come on ADB we know it’s coming!)

Thus Prince of Crows is also a very good read. I therefore find myself in something of a quandary. The quality of what is on offer here is very good, Prince of Crows probably just about comes out on top as the characterization is so very strong, but they are both fine reads. Were these novellas the only way you can obtain the stories within then I would likely have little issue in recommending them even at the premium price point. Unfortunately you can pick up Shadows of Treachery which also includes a handful of printed audio stories which tie into the theme of the book for a quarter of the price of these two so just buy that instead. Hopefully this will be the end of this kind of release and I am greatly looking forward to the next few novellas (both previous event only exclusives) time will tell. 

Do yourself a favour and buy this instead....
In short don’t buy these two novellas and justify this bizarre strategy from Black Library. DO pick up Shadows of Treachery and enjoy two finely written stories that way instead, anything else would be Heresy.