Sunday, 26 April 2015

Horus Heresy Book Review: Legacies of Betrayal

Man, Black Library love Audio books, and they love Limited Edition Novellas, and they REALLY love E-books. Therefore it stands to reason that they are head over heels with Legacies of Betrayal as it features all three. Yes that’s right, welcome to another Horus Heresy Anthology.

It seems that is all I have read recently. I can barely remember the excellence of Betrayer and Angel Exterminatus so long has it been since i had a PROPER slice of the Heresy to enjoy. Sadly this drought doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon with no sign of the release date of the next full length novel to be seen. Therefore this is the best we can expect for now. The really sad thing about Legacies of Betrayal is how much of a betrayal it actually is to the most devoted Horus Heresy readers (which I do not count myself one of I must say - I had become jaded by the slew of E-books and Audio Dramas.) You see Legacies of Betrayal contains NO new material. Every single thing between its covers has already been released in one format or another. Therefore it is proportionally more worthwhile the less you have already read. Essentially it is a few E-books, a few Audio books (including one of short stories) and a novella.

And that novella is Brotherhood of the Storm, great. That’s the first 125 pages written off. Still, I don’t begrudge Black Library for doing this, we all knew the Novellas would make it to paperbased format eventually. It just means I wont have to review Chris Wraight's tale of divergent White Scars clans as it has already been done HERE

Even after Brotherhood of the Storm we still have 315 pages of material, so although nearly a third of the book is lost there is plenty to review. The remaining pages are split into 17 other stories of wildly different lengths, the shorts are sometimes barely half a dozen pages in length whilst the full length Audiobooks are a good 20-30 pages. Everything else is a bit of a mix. So there is bite size morsels and also more substantial fare on offer here. But how good is it all?

Well it varies, some entries are really rather short you see, like opener The Serpent By John French. Barely covering 4 pages it is very short indeed. There are a few of these in Legacies of Betrayal, some are delightful little snippets of exposition, others are pretty much pointless. Sadly this is the latter. It’s not that it is badly written, it is just little of real consequence happens. A Davinite ritual, is interrupted by something (Maybe Samus, it’s not really explained) and the reader gains little overall. On the other hand Heart of the Conqueror is another short story but none the poorer for it. The Conqueror, flagship of Angron, has undergone significant and horrific changes since the World Eaters betrayal. This very short tale shows what happens to one of those still loyal to the Emperor left onboard. It’s a great piece from ADB who delivers much within a very limited word count.

Loosely grouped together, there are three character studies that are also frustratingly short dealing with Lucius the Eternal, Kharn the Betrayer and Cypher. None of them really offer a great deal. The Kharn one is probably the best among them for the glimpse into the changing nature of the World Eaters. They make for an interesting but not essential reads, except the Cypher one from Gav Thorpe which just left me perplexed.

Chris Wraight works in a couple of Bjorn stories: Wolfs Claw tells how he gets his infamous lightning claw, it’s a nice piece non combat orientated but giving a nice bit of character insight, Lone Wolf on the other hand (excuse the pun) is the complete opposite as Bjorn takes on a Khorne Bloodthirster in a throwaway combat piece.

The Divine Word is A nice short story from Gav Thorpe and his best work in this anthology. Refereshingly Astartes free, it tells of a planetary Governor plagued by visions, but are they a blessing or a curse? This was a nice piece about the Emperors divinity and a rewarding easy read from Gav, a highlight of the book although once again it is very short.

Hunters Moon, a Guy Haley Spacewolf story acts as a sort of follow on to Howl of the Hearthworld by ADB from Death and Defiance (review here). In this a group of natives come across a downed Alpha legion vessel, crashed after the Space Wolves that were sent by Russ to watch over the individual legions are betrayed. There is some good writing here, with the gulf between human and Astartes portrayed very well. Told from the mortals perspective it is a nice story though you feel it is probably only the precursor to something bigger.

Strike and Fade deals with Istvaan survivors, this time the Salamanders as they ambush a night lords patrol. Aside from the irritating use of bikes (not Jetbikes) this is an enjoyable enough action packed installment from Guy Haley, short but sweet.

Warmaster is a very nice short story, featuring a rare appearance from Horus in his own heresy! The Warmasters perspective is rarely gleaned these days so it is refreshing to get this insight, there isn’t much of it but in the few pages we are afforded we learn of the Primarchs chagrin that he has only managed to have the misfit primarchs join his cause and bemoaning the fact that he doesn’t have Sanguinius and Gulliman on his side. We see a very human side to the Primarch here that is not often displayed and it is really well written enabling us to see his motivations. Very much recommended although it is once again rather short.

David Annandale, grants us a prequel to his novel Damnation of Pythos, A lot of the short stories we are getting at the moment are set after the Dropsite Massacre, it seems to be either that or Calth. This is another good story, well paced and written without any of the unorthodoxies that proliferated The Damnation of Pythos. It follows Captain Atticus as he attempts to conduct a guerrilla void war on the traitors. It also tells of how the supporting cast from The Damnation of Pythos came to be with the Iron hands. I don’t think it will change people’s perceptions of that book but it is nice to get a little back story as Damnation of Pythos starts fairly abruptly.

Riven by John French is a much longer entry (though is still just an ebook) and perhaps suffers for it. It starts off superbly as an Iron Hand based upon Terra is committed to a new mission By Rogal Dorn. To seek out and recover as many survivors of the IStvaan Dropsite Massacre and get them back to Terra in preparation for Horuses inevitable assault. John really gets under the skin of the Iron Hand Cirrus as he attempts to deal with the revelation of his Primarchs murder. We gain a fascinating insight into what drives them in their quest for purification and purging of the flesh. Ciurus is accompanied on his quest by an Iron Fist captain and before long they come across an Iron Hands ship, but all is not as it seems. The plot twist is perhaps a little far fetched and I imagine without a writer as skilled as French behind it could easily have seemed silly. AS it is it works ok and although it doesn’t match the early promise of the story overall Riven is a good entry in this anthoglogy

Graham Mcneil gives us Kryptos, featuring one of the coolest Astartes of all time Narryn Shorrowkin, ninja assassin kickass Raven Guard supermarine, from anyone else this would come off as OTT fan fic but McNeil has the class to just make it awesome. Very action heavy it will never sit alongside Graham's greatest work but is a lot of fun nonetheless.

The rest of Legacies of Betrayal is made of audio dramas in print. There are Four in total:

Honour to the Dead

Gav Thorpe gives us Honour to the Dead. I was actually rather disappointed by this story, the tense and perspective is inconsistent, there are too many facets to it (although I can appreciate he is trying to add more dimension to the story) and he manages to make Titan combat quite boring with cartoonish protagonists (some of the dialogue is ‘Fear to Tread' bad). Presented both from the titan crews perspective and the perspective of hapless bystanders diminishes the impact of both. Prehaps it worked better as an audio book but in print it is certainly lacking. Its no Titanicus that’s for sure…

Butchers nails

I have already listened to this audio drama but enjoyed it a lot more in print, mainly due to the absence of the comical portrayal of Angron. Story wise it is very solid, working well as a precursor to Betrayer, ADBs last full HH novel and easily one of the best. There is some fantastic interplay between Lorgar and Angron and the full nature of the World Eaters is laid bare. Tasked by Horus to support the assault on the 500 worlds of the UIltramarines they find their approaches to war wildly at odds as the World Eaters insist on slaughtering and destroying every planet they come across. Slowing the Word Bearers assault. When they are attacked by a Dark Eldar fleet they get a chance to join forces and find common ground, with Lorgar learning something about Angron that changes his perspective entirely. The story itself is well presented and everything feels within Character, it does sometimes feel that it functions as a prequel to events in Betrayer but I really have no issue with this and the foreshadowing doesn’t ruin either entry.

Thief of Revelations

Time for the Thousand Sons here, Ahriman is working on a cure for the myriad mutations that are affecting the legion. As he attempts to combat the flesh change machinations occur in the background that threaten to undermine his efforts. In the end he approaches his gene father Magnus the Red only to be stunned by what his primarch reveals when he presents his plans. It’s well written but a little short and feels more like an epilogue to Prospero Burns than anything else. Or maybe a Prologue to The Crimson King, Graham’s next HH book. Due out, eventually.


A much longer entry and another Audiobook conversion. Censure is bought to us by Nick Kyme and is on the whole, excellent. I have actually half heard it whilst dozing on a trip to GW HQ in Lenton and remember liking what I heard (certainly better than the other in car entertainment of Mortarians Heart) But appreciated it in print a lot more. Dealing with a disgraced Ultramarine hunting Word Bearers on the deadly surface of Calth accompanied by a surviving PDF trooper. Full of action and some surprisingly powerful character building and development it is highly recommended. Im not usually a massive fan of Nick Kymes work but this was outstanding.

Phew! That’s a lot of stories, some are worth your time, others, not so much. Of particular note are the Audio conversions which read very well, well except perhaps Honour to the Dead which I suspect may have worked better heard. The shorts vary in quality, some being great little bite sized snippets others being forgettable. Many of the stories link to another work elsewhere, those who have read these will nod appreciatively others may be missing out. Certainly I felt I gained a fair bit from this book. It was worth reading. Some gaps were filled and character facets not really explored previously were brought to the fore. Of course it is all going to depend on how much you have read previously. One thing I will say is that if you have not indulged in the myriad of side stories that already proliferate the Horusey range then there is certainly worth to be had here. However if you are one of the more ardent readers then Caveat Emptor would seem to apply.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Warhammer Book review: End Times I The Return of Nagash by Josh Reynolds

There is little question that the End times is the biggest thing ever to happen to the Warhammer world. An event of cataclysmic proportions sundering the entire realm and one which the after effects will echo for eons. Released as a series of campaign books the first installment was Nagash. Nagash had been absent for some time from the Warhammer game (though an excellent trilogy of novels by Mike Lee had been released in recent years). His return was a big thing but even back then we had no idea exactly what the End Times would entail. Accompanied by a frankly ridiculously oversized model The End Times gave people a reason to play again and the Limtited Edition books sold out quickly. The books came in a hardback slip case one book revolving around the story and the other covering rules. Even the story part of the book was interspersed with frequent battles however (it is a campaign book after all) which went some way to fracturing the overall narrative. The writing was also frequently not the best. Therefore when I saw that there was an accompanying series of black library novels I hoped that they would shed further light onto the story. Suffice to say with The Return of Nagash at least I was very disappointed.

Penned by Josh Reynolds (who’s Neferata I found particularly hard reading due to a meandering plot and complete indifference to events within) The Return of Nagash is a book that thoroughly forgets what it is actually about In the same way as Prospero Burns. Like the Thousand Sons home planet, Nagash actually only makes an appearance in the last dozen pages of the book. The rest of the novel is largely Vampires bickering and you wondering what else is going on in the wider world as this earth shattering event commences.

The main protagonist in the book is Mannfred Von Carstein, in itself that is not a major issue as he is a main character in the campaign book too but here we are also treated to several other vampires of varying importance, those of his get and other bit part players. We do get a general overview of what is going on in Sylvania and the plan to resurrect Nagash though the parties involved are dedicated to this cause for their own ends. Arkhan, Kemmler and Krell all feature to add a little variety but far too much of the book revolves around the vampires and their machinations and games. It’s just BORING. This is meant to be the End Times, it should have been easy to inject a sense of disaster and peril into the book worthy of the magnitude of events but he fails to do this. There is the odd chapter here and there that deigns to feature different characters and races but the way that the various plot threads are interwoven is very clumsy. The book is frankly a chore to read at times. Although the writing itself is not of particularly poor quality, the storytelling certainly is and the book doesn’t flow at all.

It must be said the last few chapters of the book really pick up and deliver but by then it is far too little too late, The final climatic battle is exciting but a lot of charity is required by the reader to get there. A little less focus on the vampires and more attention paid to what else is going on in the Warhammer world would have paid dividends, the book doesn’t feel overly long either, it’s not like more effort couldn’t have been made to include the missing narrative. It just seems that Reynolds has got carried away with the vampire arc to the detriment of all else. The fact that the titular character is included only at the very end of the book itself doesn’t help. Quite the misjudgment in my opinion especially as I feel his indominatable presence would have improved the book considerably. As an aside I felt a distinct melancholy when Nagash spoke as his dialogue is rendered in bold capitals much like Sir Terry Pratchett’s Death. (RIP)

It wouldn’t be so bad if this were not the ONLY book that is being published to cover the NAGASH campaign book. Reynolds has sold himself short here, by getting tunnel vision and delivering a book that feels like it will continue in the next in the series (it doesn’t) instead of this being all you get. Imagine if the First stage of the Horus Heresy was told ONLY by horus rising with a chapter each from False Gods, Galaxy in flames and Flight of the Eisenstein included and you will more or less get an idea of what The Return of Nagash is like. It is false advertisement and although not the worst thing I have read it reeks of missed opportunity.

So it’s a bit of a shame all round and certainly a disappointment given what could have been achieved. Perhaps if this had been treated differently it could have been of more worth. However, as it is I would find this book difficult to recommend. If you were enthralled (sic) by Neferata or Vampires in general then Return of Nagash may well prove to be worth your time, as it was I was bitterly disappointed by this book apart from the last fifty pages or so and can only hope the follow up, Fall of Altdorf by Chris Wraight is of more worth.


Warhammer 40,000 Conquest Card Game Review

Full disclosure, I don’t do card games. My personal opinion is they are a waste of money. All that cash on blind packed cards to find something of use and where the person with the deepest pockets will have the hardest deck. Money, not skill, is the deciding factor in victory. Apart from a brief dalliance with the Pokemon Trading Card Game in my teens I’ve steered well clear.

I understand that the games are popular and even fun but I am very much oriented towards things and would much prefer to spend my funds on plastic, particularly when I know exactly what my money is buying. Warhammer 40,000 Conquest is however a card game and I have bought it.

Firstly, I have not changed my opinion of card games such as Magic the Gathering. Secondly, it was something as simple as slapping 40K on the box that interested me enough to buy it though that was not the only reason. Fantasy Flight Games have a proven track record of producing quality games, even if they cannot get their distribution sorted out.

Being a living card game means that all the cards that you will need to play the game are included. No buying endless blind packs to find the best cards, you already have them. Because of this the game is tightly balanced as each deck is more or less pre-built so everyone has a chance regardless of the race they end up selecting. Also expansion packs that are released, there are already several out for Conquest, are complete and ready to use as well as being balanced to use against the existing decks. It is a finite game that can be as big or small as you want.

The game is set in the Traxis sector somewhere in the galactic east (it needs to be to include the Ultramarines and Tau) where seven forces are arrayed against one another for dominance. You select a deck and battle your opponent for control of seven planets, the first player to capture three planets with a similar resource which is split into three categories; materiel, strongpoint and tech.

Each force is led by a warlord who is one of the most powerful cards, able to deal out the pain and take a lot of damage in return. Each warlord also has a special ability to aid their side’s battles for control of the individual planets.

To play each player must create a hand which will contain cards which fall into the following categories:

* Unit cards represent squads, vehicles and unique characters or assets that will be your armies. They are used to conquer planets and will be the cards that will battle with your opponent.

* Attachment cards are either wargear or allies that improve the performance of your units.

* Support cards are generally locations that you can play during turns to influence the outcomes or help your units.

* Event cards are played to affect your or your enemies units and can range from healing your side, damaging the enemy or returning discarded cards to your deck amongst others.

* Token cards are not part of a player’s hand but are required when triggered by other cards. They represent additional forces or effects.