Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Conclave of Har Horus Heresy Novel Review: The Master of Mankind. By Aaron Dembski - Bowden

I’ll keep this review brief as The Master of Mankind generated a LOT of buzz when it came out and most people are very much aware of what the book is about and what it has to offer. While ADB novels are rightly treated as highlights each and every time we are treated to one, this was an exception, with TMOM being lauded as a masterpiece by many and Aaron’s portrayal of the Emperor in particular attracting a lot of attention.

Of course I had to patiently await the book coming out in paperback, and largely I have to say it was indeed worth the wait. However, whether or not the book was overhyped and built up by the furore on social media or perhaps my own expectations were raised too high, I failed to attain the nirvana like state of being that other readers have reported. So let’s get stuck into the The Master of Mankind.

One of the  first things to say is that in some ways this is one of the LEAST Heresy-like books you will read, at least in comparison to what has come before. Space Marines and Primarchs very much take a back seat as ADB  sets his sights squarely upon Terra and even at that a very specific area, the gate to the Webway and the Webway itself. In this respect it is very contained and focussed in its intent. The protagonists of the story are the Custodes and Sisters of Silence and given that they have not really been featured all that much in previous books APART from Aaron’s previous novels he is free to build upon his earlier work without obstruction and flesh them out to some degree.

I say to some degree as these mighty warriors are sadly devoid of any real character at all. Part of this is due to necessity. The Sisters of Silence are mutes and therefore by their very nature difficult to bring any depth to, the Custodes on the other hand are just wholly unlikeable and none of them are really given any space to endear themselves to us or anything in the way of development. Compared to the infinitely more numerous Astartes they come off as soulless automatons.

The biggest controversy over characterisation however is the Emperor himself, who given that he is the title of the book is also given curiously little page time. I imagine that the Emperor is a monstrously difficult character to write. Embellish Him too much and you risk destroying any mystery around the pivotal figure in Warhammer 40,000. Avoid Him too much and you are back to the perspective of the masses and there is little point in bothering at all. I must say in this respect ADB has done admirably as by the end of the book you have a lot more INFORMATION about the Emperor without feeling like you know him as a character, a difficult tightrope to walk. However, one thing that cannot be argued is that the Emperor will certainly not be viewed in the same way after reading this book. With regards to the Astartes and Primarchs, He is callous and unfeeling, even going as far as to refer to the Primarchs by number rather than by name. It is clear that He considers them little more than weapons or tools and indeed he remarks that He merely ALLOWS them to think of Him as their father and considers it a flaw built into their creation. It’s such a paradigm shift that one almost finds themselves rooting for Horus.

What the big E DOES care about is Humanity, as a whole, he is looking at the BIG picture and his Primarchs and Space Marines are merely something he uses as a means to an end. One could say however that the whole Great Crusade seems rather at odds with his grand plan for Mankind and kind of pointless but then, he is meant to be enigmatic. In addition the only warriors he does seem to show any paternity to are the Custodes, his ‘Ten Thousand’. Even going so far as to include one favoured warrior ‘Ra’ in psychic visions. This depiction of the Emperor is a bold move by ADB and though at times it does backfire he is to be applauded for taking on the character at all.

A large part of the narrative (and all of the action) is taken up by the conflict in the webway. Magnus’ folly has ruined the Emperor’s master plan for Humanity and ripped the webway asunder allowing the tides of Chaos Daemons and the Warp into what had previously been a safe haven. Indeed this book does illustrate adeptly the reason behind the Emperor’s fury and the true Magnitude of the damage wrought by Magnus’ ill-conceived attempt to warn his Sire. Still one cannot help but feel yet again, that the Master of Mankind could have handled things a little better with ‘Number Fifteen’ and perhaps had he done so could have saved himself a lot of bother.

I’ve failed quite miserably at keeping this brief haven’t I? Almost as badly as the Emperor failed at being a father. I shall attempt to be more succinct with the remainder of the review.

Suffice to say that while the battle rages on in the Webway between the invading Daemon horde and the Custodes (with one daemon, created from the first murder- a fascinating concept that is never really given its full due - in particular rampaging through all resistance and the opposing forces – even Titans) The Emperor is doing vital work himself comabting the forces of chaos in a titanic Psychic battle. Sadly it’s all a bit muddled and even though at the end of the book much is clarified and central parts of the lore are established and embellished upon, its all too frustrating in its shortcomings. The Engine battles are a definite highlight though.  

It should have been a longer book, or maybe two. It certainly feels like a book that ADB had trouble writing (though I don’t know for sure) and the flow and construction of the book along with the strange characterisation are the main flaws that I identified.

That said, the writing itself, the prose and flow of the words is flawless and mellifluous and as always his work is a treat to read. This was not a book I struggled with at all and certainly not a book I could forget in a hurry. It is truly unique and though I had my problems with it I have to confess it was a brave and refreshing break from the norm that grounds and sets up a lot of the lore that we are already familiar with, almost acting as a prequel to many of the universe tenets that we accept as part of the background. I’m glad it exists and applaud ADB for writing it, I just wish perhaps that A: It had actually been written AFTER the Heresy concluded (as every other book in the series that I read is doomed to be compared to it ) and B: had actually been treated as Imperium Secundus, an arc of its own, rather than the one off that it so obviously is.

I shall summarise by saying this, The Master of Mankind is like a gourmet platter of unfamiliar and exotic food where some of it is sumptuous and mouth-watering and other elements are disappointing in comparison, at the end you are left wondering whether it really worked as a dish and yet are rather left wishing the time had been taken to make sure that there was more of it. At the same time I am forced to consider that maybe I have just been spoiled by conventional fare and maybe my palette is just not refined enough to appreciate it.

Utterly essential yet far from perfect. 

Conclave of Har Horus Heresy Novella Review: Sons of the Forge by Nick Kyme

I often wonder what the Salamanders would have been like had Nick Kyme not been their custodian in printed format. I must hasten to add, it is not only Mr Kyme’s work I think this about. What would a different authors take on Corax be like? How would Fulgrim have been portrayed by someone other than Graham McNeil? And so on. Nonetheless there is no denying that the 18th Legion are claimed by Nick, along with their 40k counterparts, and he has now produced a series of books for both. Sons of the Forge, for better or worse now attempts to bring the two series together.

The first thing that you will notice is that Sons of the Forge is pretty big, twice the length of some of its predecessor novellas. Now this caused me some consternation as I have personally found that this particular author's quality of work diminishes the more pages he writes, with short stories and novellas (and his SUPERB Blood Bowl comic) being generally very good and his full length novels not so much. It’s not that his writing changes so much that his attention seems to wander and the plots and characters become rather fantastical and silly (and yes I say that even despite the giant alien monsters, walking fungi with guns and green skin, Egyptian Space Robots and other such craziness that permeates the 30k/40k universe) to the detraction of the overall narrative. Particularly with his Tome of Fire series which this book effectively serves as a prequel to. Hopefully this will be different and more like the scintillating Scorched Earth than the dolorous Deathfire.

The story begins with Vulkan commanding his Forgefather T’Kell to destroy all the artefacts he has created for fear that they could be captured and used to serve the enemy. Vulkan is accompanying the vast bulk of his legion to Isstvan V and with no small amount of premonition It would seem, senses that should he fail to return that his creations could be seized and subverted to Horus’s cause. Following T’Kells protestations he concedes to spare just seven. But that these are to be guarded at all costs. Thus ends the prologue which is basically a repeat of the short story ‘Artefacts’.

Fast Forward and it is after Isstvan and indeed after the events of Deathfire, Vulkan is dead, his body brought back to Prometheus and T’Kell knows that the remaining seven relics must be removed lest they be attacked and taken. To this end he takes the ‘Chalice of Fire’ (which along with its mounted defence laser ‘Eye of Vulkan’ is another relic itself) and goes off to hide the relics away, unwilling to destroy the last of his father’s work. He doesn’t go alone, instead taking a force of Salamanders that did not travel to Isstvan, ‘The Unscarred’.

Now, anyone who has read any of the other Salamander heresy novels will know that the they are an emotional bunch. Somewhere along the line I think the only way that Nick decided that he could portray they compassionate nature of the XVIII was to make them full of all the emotional frailty of humans. And so it follows that these particular Salamanders are WRACKED with guilt that they did not travel to Isstvan and fight and die with their brothers and father. It makes them feel like failures and lesser Salamanders for it. Add to this some frankly horrifying individual personality flaws and you have your usual Nick Kyme Salamanders. A band of damaged and defective misfits.

Let me get something straight, I certainly don’t want to sit reading a bunch of mindless Bolter Porn about soulless automatons (kind of ironic given what happens later) but the Salamanders are just TOO much. I had a conversation a LONG time ago with Dan Abnett regarding Space Marine characterisation as I was writing some fanfic at the time and was struggling to individualise the marine characters. Dan said that it characterisation is driven by actions, that it is what a character DOES that sets them apart from each other and other chapters (This was a long time before the Heresy started!)

Batman said this too, ‘It is not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me’ and I’m sorry but if Dan ‘the man’ Abnett and Batman say it then it then that’s good enough for me. 

That said, the characters are a bit of a step up from pervious works. Well, most of the Salamanders are, the Sons of Horus are the worst type of ‘Diabolically Evil’ Two dimensional villain I have read since ‘Fear to Tread’ and the urge to shout ‘He’s behind you!’ when they appear is overwhelming such is the OTT nature of their antics. There is no depth or overriding motivation to their actions, it is simply nasty for nasty’s sake. As I have said the loyalists fare a little better,  Captain Obek of the Salamanders is a highlight as are a few of the others (Xen with his twin blades is memorable) but overall these Marines are far too psychologically damaged to be of much note. At least none of them are crying this time.

So anyway, the Sons of Horus are already at the vault where T’Kell intends to hide the artefacts and the vast majority of the book deals with them fighting in a progression of dull conflicts as the traitors try to gain access to the armoury in the vault. There are a few good scenes here and there but overall the interaction between the two fizzles rather than sizzles and the book starts to drag. It’s at this stage that a familiar and foreboding feeling starts to kick in, halfway through the book and there is noticeable lack of flow and focus. Certainly the narrative and construction could do with some tightening.

Things do pick up at the back of the book as the Shattered Legions make an appearance and Nick gets to write about the Iron hands for a bit. I actually think that he writes these a bit better than the Salamanders (probably due to the lack of emotions) as it happens. Included in this lot is a Raven Guard who is such an unstoppable ninja you do rather wonder how he hasn’t won the war all by himself.  This latter stage of the book is really rather compelling as the disparate ideologies of the Iron Hands and Salamanders are bought to the fore. I try to keep these reviews spoiler free but let’s just say the Iron Hands are hiding something. 

Of course this all comes to a head as all three factions and super black ninja clash. There are some excellent action scenes here  and it all gets pretty messy but at the end when the dust has settled you do rather get the feeling that nothing has really been achieved and no progress has been made to the overall goal. It’s a problem I had with Deathfire, lots of meandering and not a lot of result. An overall lack of focus.

And that sadly is a symptom of the books increased page length resulting in increased disparate threads and a tangible lack of focus, though as I have said, it is better than Deathfire. You just feel that he would be better handling just one or two of these plot points rather than being too clever and trying to tie everything together in a neat bow. I won’t even comment on the Aliens-esque epilogue.

Overall how do I feel about Sons of the Forge? Well, I don’t feel like it is a book that needs to exist and although it tries to tie into the overall narrative of the Horus Heresy it is the very definition of filler, serving as a link between sets of Salamander books and nothing more. Despite the good work that is done with the Iron Hands (an enduring story arc that commenced some time ago is resolved in emphatic fashion) little is done to advance the march to Terra at all, this is a side story in its purest fashion. In fact I wish more had been done with the Iron Hands as I found them to be a much better foil for the Salamanders than the Sons of Horus. To be honest the Iron Hand’s mission is actually more compelling than the Salamanders Quest which seems to go absolutely nowhere. At least not in this book, does that threaten  more of these stories, set mid timeline? Well, time will tell I guess.

At the end of the day it is typical Nick Kyme fare for the page length. If you really enjoy his novels then by all means pick this up and chances are you will enjoy it. If like me, you read his work with a sense of frustration as the highlights (which are in no short supply in Sons of the Forge) are overshadowed by the shonky characters and plot then I would advise more caution. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Imperial Assault: Heart of the Empire Expansion Video Review.

Trying something a little different here. Much as I like producing content I just don't get time to do so and I have an HD camcorder sitting collecting dust so here is a video review of the latest Imperial Assault Expansion, Heart of the Empire. If we get good feedback I'll do more and we'll get Lee on board and hopefully get lots more done that way. The plan was to upload it to Youtube and link it from there but can I remember the e-mail I used for the Conclave of Har Youtube channel??

Bollocks can I... So I had to make a new Channel.

Anyway. Here it is. Enjoy....

And May the Force be With You, Always.

Friday, 22 September 2017

First Strike Review (and a look at the Primaris release)

First Strike is a new starter set available for Warhammer 40,000 eighth edition. It is something of a first as there has never been such a small or cheap starter set available for 40k before. Usually you get the option of the main box set containing two good size forces and all the accouterments you need to play as well as a rule book or just the rulebook on its own. With the release of eighth we have been spoilt with four choices.

First is Dark Imperium the main two player starter set which contains the new Primaris Marines and the Death Guard, the second time that the starter has contained two power armoured forces, the first being the previous edition's (sixth and seventh) Dark Vengeance. To accompany that you have a hard back rule book. Released alongside First Strike is Know No Fear, a paired down version of Dark Imperium that contains a soft backed rule book containing the main and advanced rules of the game and most but not all of the miniatures included in Dark Imperium. First Strike is the final option for getting started.

First Strike comes packed in a rather neat little box. It is about the same size as a standard infantry box but twice as deep. This is very compact for a starter set and has been designed this way to fit into the FSDUs that are being rolled out to independent retailers to go in bricks and mortar stores. Each unit is able to comfortably hold the full range of eighth edition starter products.

Games Workshop has been getting fancy with their boxes of late. If you have purchased one of the Triumvirate boxes you will have seen how fancy they are with artwork printed all over the inner tray. Here this takes on a practical purpose as the tray for First Strike's box has been printed to look like Imperial Containers, making the tray a ready made piece of terrain. This method has been repeated with Know No Fear as well as the Age of Sigmar mini starter set.

I was impressed with how neatly everything fit in the box. There is a lot in there too. Four sprues of miniatures, bases, a measuring stick, dice, books, unit cards and a game mat.

Once its all out you can really see how impressive this set is. As a product it is a complete starter, providing a gaming area and terrain to play on as well as the miniatures. All of which (bar the minis once you've painted them) can go straight back in the box for storage which you will want to do to keep the mat and scenery nice.

As a veteran gamer you might not get much use out of First Strike as it was intended. Indeed, I bought the box mainly for the miniatures which individually would have cost £40.00 whereas this box costs £25.00! I get that its only a saving relative to the prices GW has set themselves but when you take in everything here, It's still a good deal.

Do you remember what it was like being a noob? There was nothing like this. If you wanted to get into the game it was expensive, as it still is, but when we were younger cash was even harder to come by that it is now, even with bills and such. £25.00 is a really good price to introduce new players to the game. 

That is actually all it is, an introduction. The rules in this box are only the core rules, with the more advanced rules that do appear being specific to the models and missions in the box. If you want the full rules you will need to pick one of the other three options that accompany this kit.

But that's not a bad thing. If you tried it and didn't like it, then you haven't sunk £95.00 into a large box of miniatures you are never going to use again. If you do want to go further then either Dark Imperium or Know No Fear is a great upgrade as the units in the box, especially the Death Guard units can integrate into the forces present in the larger box. In fact the Death Guard Plague Marines in First Strike will upgrade the Death Guard in the larger boxes to a full ten man squad with most of its options, only really missing an icon. That's why this is probably going to be the top seller out of the four beginner products.

A word on the Death Guard (Allen will review the Primaris). Even though they are push fit models, they are the best GW has ever done. Usually you can tell straight away that a model is push fit as it has an awkward pose and appears to be less detailed than the true plastic versions of the same troops. These are indistinguishable in quality from the miniatures in Dark Imperium. A real step forward in GW's production quality.

Another thing to note is that they are all slotta models! I've not seen new slotta models since the Assault on Black Reach starter set for fifth edition.


Yep slotta bases! man that takes me back... very cool and essential to the no-glue Easy build concept being presented here!

Like Lee says, First Strike serves as a brilliant intro to 40K. Compact, yet still containing everything you need to dip your toes in to the game. Lee has adroitly covered most of the box so I’ll talk about the rest.

The Primaris marines come on blue plastic sprues, I presume that they are of the same quality as the normal grey plastic but they are a bit shinier so it is hard to see if the sharpness of the detail is the same. I couldn’t discern any major differences. You can easily cut off the ‘easybuild’ pegs to get more variety out of the poses but in all honesty it ends up looking a bit awkward. They have been designed a certain way, messing with that with the parts you have doesn’t go as well as you would think it would. Certainly if you were to use other parts, say from the multipart plastic kits that are coming out I think you would garner better results. I’ll be filling in those leg greaves with Greenstuff though, the below picture has ensured that.....

The Reivers are actually the poorer models in the set in my opinion, the Primaris Intercessors come off quite a bit better, this is probably largely due to the fact that they are markedly different to those that have come in the Dark Imperium box set, well two are at least. One is holding an Auspex which is pretty cool and the sergeant is also a nice dynamically posed figure. I swapped out my Nurgle with a pal for more Primaris and will likely convert the second sergeant into a lieutenant as I hate having identical figures and it would be a little hard to convert up. With an irremovable helmet clipped to his belt you can’t even do an easy head swap. Oh well i’m sure the MPPK will come with a multitude of parts for conversions. (edit - it does! 24 heads in fact!)

In addition to the models you get two snazzy books, I’ll get to those in just a sec but you do also get a couple of other bits not mentioned yet, one is a range ruler, a cut down version of the ruler you get in Dark Imperium and rendering the measuring tool made available for purchase utterly redundant (honestly who makes a measuring tool out of bendy soft rubber ?) There are of course dice, kind of necessary for playing the game, sadly these are not the really nice ones from Dark Imperium and are instead bog standard game dice. You also get cards with the contained models rules but these are MASSIVELY stripped down and in the scheme of things of no use outside the First Strike scenarios. 

Speaking of which,

First Strike comes with two books, one is basically the core rules so no need to explore that here. It is JUST the core rules though, no army building rules advanced rules or deployment maps/missions. Great for carrying round to games though.

the other book, titled 'read this first' really does serve as an intro the the world of Warhammer 40,000
with 9 pages of fluff. a half dozen pages of hobby material, including a painting guide so basic i'm not sure it deserves the name and then the 4 scenarios that make up the game, each one introducing more rules and models till you use the lot in the final battle. It's a really great way to get someone to learn the game, it's hard to imagine being a TOTAL novice but it seems really accessible. There are also more than a few adverts for other GW products. Strangely enough!

So that is First Strike, a pretty decent and affordable starter, scaling up you get Know no Fear which is a stripped down version of Dark Imperium at 50 notes.  This new idea of multiple entry point starters is a really good one from GW. Top marks there. First Strike really feels like a starter taste though and you are not getting the full experience by any means. 

Time to look at the other Primaris releases (this has delayed the article a few times, sorry about that)

So along side all this we got a couple of clampack characters, coming in at almost the cost of a full squad  (at present) they are certainly quite expensive and in my opinion the Captain is rendered redundant by the far superior ‘birthday’ limited edition available from GW stores on their anniversary. Still, the Librarian looked really nice so I grabbed that.

And you know what? It is a phenomenally well designed and engineered model. GW really are absolutely at the top of the pile here and it was a dream to assemble, of course the trade off is convertibility and I would say that you would find it very difficult to make a second model look distinct. then again at the the price GW are asking for these who could AFFORD more than one?!

Reivers, £35 quid for 10 might seem like a lot but if you are paying £10 for three Easy-build versions then the price doesn't seem that bad! Add in the discount for a third party retailer such as Wayland Games and it will drop below 30 quid and start to look a bit more reasonable. There are also a BUCKET load of parts to this kit and in the end despite being a price you would balk at for a squad it actually works out better value than the 'value' sets people are raving about. Odd how that works eh?

Aggressors: Now these at £30 for three models I am having a LOT more trouble justifying. A tenner a model, minimal options and spare parts, and just not that great looking in the first place, (imo) they are a hard sell. Given the option i'd pay the extra fiver and go for the ten Reivers every time. The Aggressors seem to have been priced purely to be cheaper than the reviled Centurions which they are clearly meant to replace. 

On top of that we also have the Redemptor Dreadnought, at £40 it seems much better priced to me. Now I have seen better pictures I feel that I understand the model much better and to be honest... I'm really digging it. I think the price is good (Twice the size of a normal dread and only 25% more) and I'll definitely be picking one up. Huge and stompy, I want to compare one to an Imperial Knight!

this keeps getting delayed as more stuff is reviewed. this is the last of it thankfully!

Ok so the last couple of Primaris releases.

Apothecary, quite nice, not sure he should be standing on his brothers corpse but the little details are really nice. The flasks round his neck containing the progenoid glands, the lenses in front of his face, it’s a nice job, lots of character. I’ll probably grab one of these.

The chaplain is also quite nice, a lot more dynamic if perhaps a little too interrogator like for me, his Crozius has also been downgraded to a mere stick, not so keen on that. Looks a bit like a baton. He’s half the sprues of the apothecary for the same price too, not cool.

And lets not forget that the four released characters are collectively  practically the same price as the ENTIRE of the Dark Imperium box. Insanity.

Something else that is insanity?  £30 quid for 3 Inceptors. Utter madness, they aren’t nice models in the first place  (IMO) and they don’t even come with that many parts. Those new flying bases are rubbish too. Might just be worth mixing with a cheap squad from DI to get the most out of it and end up with two squads for about £40.00. 

Better is 35 for 10 Intercessors, (the hell blasters are the same price), Ok it’s a lot of money for a ten man squad but the models are undeniably bigger and better and you get 3 variants of weapon which can be used throughout the entire squad and 24 heads! 12 bare and 12 helmeted, and who doesn’t like more head?(snigger). I think the concerning thing is that I just said £35.00, a 40% (ish) markup is perfectly justified. I feel dirty now.

50 quid for your Repulsor grav tank. Doesn’t seem too bad, there is quite a lot to it. Lots of guns certainly. Given that the LR is roughly the same price and similarly sized models from AOS cost a LOT more I don’t think it’s too bad.

And that’s the Primaris release. (at least the first wave) Total cost to get one of each box? A Staggering  £345. I mean that really is a LOT of money for 42 infantry models a tank and a dreadnought. This is the price of the new Scale. Some armies are about to get HORRIFICALLY expensive.

In general I think the Aggressors, Inceptors and Characters are probably the raw deals here. The Dread and 10 man squads seem OK for the amount of bits you get, the Tank is so, so.  I’m not surprised by any of the prices overall, they are much in line with AOS.  

Next up, (presumably) will  be the Deathguard. I’d expect a similar release there, we already know a tank is coming, Typhus, a terminator box, a Plague Marine box, I imagine a multipart pox walker kit, and a clam pack for each of the existing characters in Dark Imperium too (Sorcerer, Noxious Blightbringer and Lord of Contagion) Oh and a great big flying bloke called Mortarion.

Of course, we’ll review those when they arrive....

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Conclave of Har Horus Heresy Book Review: Praetorian of Dorn by John French

It seems to have been an age but finally the action in the Horus Heresy has reached Sol. Nearly 50 books in and we are finally approaching  the end phase, the pieces are moving into position and some minor retcons aside we are ready for the final battle. But while we have been treated to tales aplenty featuring the Shattered Legions and the other legions slowly making their way to Terra to defend the Emperor (though Guilliman looks a bit suspect at the moment – surely he could have made it back too?, After all Sangunius has to depart so why does the Avenging Son not go with him?) we still have not seen much of what is happening back on Holy Terra itself.

To be fair this is probably because most of it has been destroying and rebuilding the Homeworld in preparation for Horus’s final assault and some shorts aside that would not make for particularly exciting reading. Nonetheless Dorn and his Legion are a big part of the closing stages of the Horus Heresy and it seems only right that we check in on them....

Just as they are attacked from within by a small force of Alpha Legion operatives.

Yep, those sneaky sons of Alpharius strike at Holy Terra itself. That said, it’s less of an actual attack and more of a ‘look what we could do if we wanted to’ designed to distract Dorn. And it works, although Dorn himself doesn’t get too involved in the hunt for the Alpha Legion and instead assigns Archamus his chief Huscarl ‘the Praetorian of Dorn’ to take whatever resources he needs and hunt down the traitor elements wherever in the solar system they may be.  Of course this is the Alpha Legion that we are talking about and they never make things that simple.

The narrative switches repeatedly between the hunters and the hunted, showing the hunters attempts to track down their quarry even as we see the traitors going about their objectives.  Archamus puts together his team to carry out his Primarchs orders and capture the elusive Alpha Legion operatives and this is where the majority of the book focuses although there are a few flashbacks for the Archamus and the lead Alpha Legionnaire Silonius that add a little exposition and character development suggesting, as always for the Alpha Legion that all is not as it seems.

In fact intrigue and mystery, as you might expect, is a large part of the book with the side effect that the reader can feel a little out of the loop as leaps in reasoning and logic are made that we just cannot quite rationalise. It can make the book a little hard to follow as events occur seemingly with little rhyme or reason. This can be a little jarring and does unfortunately detract from the reading experience, though you are never left completely lost sometimes things can be just a little too vague.

That said, I really do enjoy John French’s writing, he has a way with words that I imagine a sculptor has with clay and at times his writing borders on the romantic such is the elegance that he uses in his prose. In many ways it almost has a classical element to it, avoiding the ponderous overly descriptive format that many authors can fall into the trap of using whilst simultaneously not making the text so basic that it becomes mindless bolter porn.

The book also does a decent job on highlighting two legions which have had scant attention paid to them over the course of the Heresy, whilst by no means as neglected as some, it’s nice to see the fists and Alpha Legion get some time in the spotlight and some good work is done on them here.

However, even though there are some excellent highlights and very important events at the back end of the book (these are spoiler free reviews so I won’t say what, even though most people probably know) It’s hard to say that Praetorian of Dorn is an essential read. Certainly it feels like the narrative could have done with a little more tightening and refining as the path the story takes is at times bumpy and uneven. It’s a shame because if as much skill had been applied to construction of the tale itself as to the craft of the text and writing we could have been looking at a classic.

In the end though, despite some decent characterisation and great action this is just another filler book, and whilst it will certainly fit in the upper half of the series in terms of quality it does come across as little more than another diversion, another obstacle placed between us and the main event. Horus’s long awaited assault on Terra and confrontation with the Emperor.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Conclave of Har Book Review: The Primarchs - Perturabo: The Hammer of Olympia by Guy Haley

Remember that wealth of emergent talent I talked about in my Magnus review? Well Guy Haley is one of the names I was thinking of. Though it could be said that he has written enough now to be considered much more than new blood.

Personally though, I had never read one of his books till Pharos. Actually scratch that, the Skaven End Times one was his and now the Blur quote for the Ogres (who’s that Gutlord marching?) makes all sorts of sense. Still, it was Pharos that I remember most. It’s one from before my own personal ‘Age of Darkness’ I experienced a while back so it didn’t get reviewed but basically, it’s unremittingly brutal, kills off characters left and right, and acts as a worthy instalment in the ‘Imperium Secundus’ arc. Seriously the Night Lords are BEYOND deranged and vicious.

It’s also a book that pretty much won me over with a couple of specific lines. There is a scene where the Ultramarine scouts (soon to die horribly) turn up and Guy describes them. He takes the time to comment on their ungainly oversized faces and explains that it is part of the initiation process, a brief hormone imbalance. In one fell swoop he makes reference to the terrible heads on the GW Scout kits and explains it away, a brilliant fourth wall breaking moment that endeared the book and the author to me right there.

He does something similar in Perturabo and I’ll get to that in a second but it’s quite far in the book and there is a fair bit to talk about first. 

Perturabo: Hammer of Olympia is the first Primarch book to do what I have expected of this series, and tell the story of the Primarch’s childhood (if you can call it that) and formative years. Gulliman chose to focus on the Ultramarines changing nature and the hard choices that the Avenging Son would have to make. Leman Russ focussed on the infamous falling out and subsequent duel with the Lion and Magnus focussed again on one particular battle where, paired up with Perturabo some great character work and foreshadowing is done. Perturabo kind of does both, giving us both the boy that was and the Demigod that is.

It starts with Perturabo first presenting himself to his adoptive father, the Tyrant Dammenekos, showing his abilities and talents as he is taken in. These sections of the book are interspersed with segments cut from the Great Crusade where the Legion are fighting the Hrud, more on that in a moment. The book flits about between the two eras, giving you a sense of the Primarch's (accelerated) development from boy to adolescent to man. We get a good sense of his character here and as in Magnus it is a stark contrast to the way we find him in the heresy. The book revisits him as he ages and gets closer and closer to his dream of unifying Olympia in a way his adoptive father could never comprehend.

This retrospective part of the book does a really good job of setting up Perturabo's motivations and relationships with the other characters both his adoptive father and also his step siblings. Perturabo’s frustration and brilliance and arrogance are highlighted superbly and the way that Guy uses the concept of Iron in a variety of different ways whilst not particularly novel is inventively done. Perturabo becomes a much talked about myth and although the concept of a ‘chosen one’ is well overused in today’s fiction it is interesting to see him best Olympia's greatest champions in challenges both mental and physical. It’s a great look at the development of a Primarch and as I have said, not really something we have had before.

Aside from this the narrative finds us at a time that seems to be late in the great crusade. Perturabo, (though he honestly doesn’t feature too much in this section) is a changed character. Embittered by the relentless and bloody tasks set for him by his father. The seeds of dissent are seemingly sown here and you can see the resentment that he feels at having his sons so needlessly thrown into the grinder though he is compelled to obey the Emperor’s seemingly vainglorious commands.

The foe that the Iron Warriors are fighting here is the Hrud. What follows is one of the most detailed depictions of any of the Xenos races that have been fought in the Great Crusade to date. Those hoping for Space Skaven may be disappointed as talk is made of long sinuous, pale and flexible limbs and nearly entirely un rat like faces. That said, they do create warrens and live underground, so some argument could be made in this favour, and like the Skaven they are far from primitive though a certain animalistic instinct is alluded to.

But the Hrud’s main weapon is time, both cloaked from sight, (incredibly hard to target they appear as little more than an inky distortion), and heralded by a perceptible chronometric anomaly. Even worse, at close quarters they exude an entropic effect so strong anything that gets too close to them ages and decays at an incredibly accelerated rate. Touching them corrodes armour and crumbles flesh and even being near them results in rapid aging, iron turning brittle within and without. Thus are the Iron Warriors being slowly destroyed, their admittedly extended mortality being laid bare as their years are literally leeched away by the combat. Those not destroyed outright becoming weak and twisted by extreme old age.

Fully a third of the legion strength is lost this way as the Iron warriors look to eradicate the Hrud from a system claimed by the Emperor. The action is well written and you really do get a feeling of the Iron Warriors being totally up against it in a way that hasn’t really been portrayed before. They simply are not designed for this kind of conflict. Even the survivors from this engagement will be of little use in future battles. You get the impression this is a grievous loss for the Legion and Perturabo’s frustration is palpable and taken out on his son’s unremittingly for their failures in the campaign. This is where he sets his sons to devising a strategy to defeat the Hrud getting them to run simulations, some of which they do with hololiths and some of which they do by moving wooden blocks and rolling ten sided dice (must be playing second edition) Yep. Space Marines playing 40k, (more or less) it doesn’t get much more self referential than that!

It must be noted that there is a marked difference in this portrayal of Perturabo to that in the previous book, Magnus The Red by Graham McNeill. Perhaps there was some collaboration as a few characters do cross over, but this Perturabo is much changed from the relatively benevolent figure that was so omnipresent in Grahams story. Guy’s Perturabo is a much colder and quicker to anger example of the Iron Warriors Primarch, and presumably older, further on in the crusade in a time where the zeal of ambition has been replaced with a grinding inevitability of death.

Of course much of this could be attributed to his current situation, his sons being ground down in this endless entropic stalemate as neither side can claim decisive victory, the IV Legion slaughtering Hrud but taking heavy losses themselves. The Iron Warriors ARE losing but very slowly. I guess you could look at it as a Heresy era Vietnam, sent where they don’t want to be, fighting a war against a shadowy foe they cannot defeat and compelled through duty to stay and fight. A war of attrition that they are destined to lose. Growing increasingly bitter at an Emperor that commands from afar. It is no wonder then that when news reaches them of Olympia’s secession from the Imperium that Perturabo immediately heads for his home planet in order to ‘clean house’. This is literally in the last couple of chapters in the book and let’s just say he isn’t gentle. I won’t say anymore about the climax here, my reviews are mostly spoiler free where possible. It’s reasonably predictable in any event.

This really is a great book, well written and once again sets a new bar for the series, one that I feel may be hard to match. Guy does a great job in fleshing out Perturabo and the reader gains a perception of both the man that he was and COULD have been, and the man that we end up with, bitter and ground down by relentless fighting. The Hrud are also superbly realised and are more alien than anything that has come before, being far from another xenos race to be wiped out. Should they ever become a fully fledged race and ranged in 40k they would be refreshingly different and unlike anything we have at the moment. It’s really quite well done and crafted and although the contrast in this Perturabo to the much more likeable version in the previous Primarch book is jarring it is understandable and relatable and just as Magnus’s book represented a tipping point you feel this one does for Perturabo as the concepts of fairness and mercy are lost leaving hard unrelenting heavy Iron, within and Without. Pick this one up, it really is a great read, Gav Thorpe’s Lorgar is up against it.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Conclave of Har Product Review: Puppet Wars Resin Magnetized Wound Counters

So with the advent of Eighth Edition one thing has become an absolute necessity, no I don’t mean the Indexes (which are rapidly being FAQed out of relevance, nor do I mean specialised movement gadgets or objectives. (Both of which I’ll review in another Article) I mean WOUND COUNTERS!

Yep, that’s right, in 8th EVERYTHING has wounds, and most of it has more wounds. Characters wounds went up and now Vehicles have wounds. With Superheavies packing well over twenty wounds and a Stompa having FORTY!

So how do you track these wounds? Well GW would have you use their special D10s. In all honesty I found these the very worst option. They get knocked over far too easily to another value and you have to remember what they initially said, which lets be honest, is kind of what you are trying NOT to have to do in the first place.

Another option! Write them all down on paper or on your roster. Yes you could do but this book keeping is kind of what we are trying to get away from and some things can recover wounds (regeneration, Techpriests, Living Metal) so it could be a lot of crossing out and easy to make a mistake as you look at the scribbled mess you have made.

Ok, so it’s back to physical representation then. Tokens? Well, they are ok for small amount of wounds I guess but will soon get unwieldy when you are trying to track the damage on a 28 wound Wraithknight. Erm, how about REALLY SMALL dice, those aren’t knocked over quite so easily. This is true but they are light and can easily fall off a tank or base and unless you want lots of dice on there it’s hard to track high numbers. They are also fiddly to place if you have sausage fingers.

Normal sized D6s then? Ok, easier to place, take up more space though and you still need 9 to track a Stompa's wounds, but normal dice have one MASSIVE drawback, especially if you play against me. I’ll pick them up and roll them. EVERY. DAMN. TIME. They just aren’t practical.

So it was up to someone else to come up with a solution. Thankfully it didn’t take long and Puppet Wars swiftly produced a series of resin trackers that were magnetized so they could spin and track wounds.  Wonderful! They made one for single digit tracking and one for up to 99 wounds (nothing has more than that just yet)

I ordered one set of each immediately. And waited.

And waited and waited... Man  Puppet Wars are NOT fast, it took them over two weeks to pick up and ship my order. These things must be popular. It must be said that once they WERE sent they arrived pretty quickly but be prepared to wait if you do order some. Still I got them at last and checked them out, after all they had to be reviewed.

And it must be said they are pretty nifty. Well designed and good looking. I would have to challenge the quality of the resin used, there were more than a few bubbles and in a couple of cases this caused a very minor amount of damage. As these are just for tracking wound’s I’m not so bothered but if it had actually been a model I think I would have been more annoyed. Had enough of bubbles with finecast.

Still, other than that they were fine. A fair bit of cleaning up to do but no deal breaker, they also come with all the magnets you need for assembly (which may explain the relatively high cost) and are straightforward to assemble, although there are a couple of places you could slip up so lets cover those now real quick.

The dials numbered 1-10 are for the SINGLE counters the ones 0-9 are for the doubles. Yeah i know it’s common sense but I just put all the bits in a pile and put them together from there, not the best option, don’t do that!

Secondly, polarity. The magnets that Puppet Wars provide are STRONG. Really good quality neodymium magnets, so strong that even after assembly you can pick up one wound tracker with another. You won’t actually even need to use them all, but we’ll get to that in a sec. If you try to match up the polarity before your superglue has fully dried then you WILL just rip the magnet straight out again. I actually found the best way to do the single ones was to glue the magnet into the housing and then you can actually check the polarity from the other side through the resin to ensure your dial has the magnet facing the right way.

With the double number ones you really just need to make sure that the numbers line up correctly so you don’t have one upside down. I forgot but somehow by sheer luck and perhaps the Emperor’s  guidance they all lined up anyway.  When it comes to the magnets you would normally use four, one for each dial and then one for each side of the housing. I actually found that the magnets are so strong that you only need a magnet in one side of the housing (which gives you less chance to screw up the polarity!) and the Dials will grip just fine. For the record I did try using NO magnets in the housing and while the magnets in the dials ARE strong enough to hold the dials together through the resin they were a little looser that I would have liked and i decided against it. Still, free magnets! My Knight weapons thank you Puppet Wars.

Once cleaned the resin takes paint just fine and then it is up to you what you want to do with them. I’ve opted for something a bit different and used Black light paint! Works pretty well too, (see pic)

So overall impressions:

They are a great product, they do their job superbly, are well designed and really look the part. On the down side the quality is slightly subpar and they are by far the most expensive option (about 30 Euros for 5 single and 5 double markers.) However they are so superior to all the other options that we explored above that I do actually think that they are worth it, the 20 magnets that are supplied alone would cost a fair bit. In addition PW have now produced a variety of designs so you have even more choice.

Check them out here:

Friday, 28 July 2017

Conclave of Har Book Review: Magnus the Red - Master of Prospero by Graham McNeill

Although there is a wealth of emerging new talent in the Black Library there is something very reassuring in reading a book by one of the ‘classic’ authors. In this case one of the Horus Heresy Alumni, here managing to continue to write for the Black Library despite working elsewhere. Within reading the first few pages of Magnus the Red it feels like slipping into a comfortable pair of shoes as the flow of the prose and class of the writing assert themselves and by the end of the first chapter I knew I was in for a treat. However, the book still proved capable of a surprise or two. I have to say, I did wonder if Graham felt the same sense of familiarity in writing the book as I did reading it, as he eases back into references to Corvidae and Pavoni in no time, effortlessly picking up the terminology he established in A Thousand Sons all that time ago. (Seven years now!)

Set in the early days of the Crusade, the narrative sees Magnus and Perturabo tasked with the evacuation of a compliant planet  named Morningstar which is quite literally falling apart. Although saving everyone is impossible, they are resolute in their intention to save as many of the populace as possible. 

It is quite jarring to see these two Primarchs portrayed displaying so much compassion and in such a heroic light.  Of course Magnus’s prime motivation is actually the knowledge that will be lost with Morningstar’s destruction and the people are a secondary consideration, though he does ensure his sons play their part in the evacuation efforts.  Ergo it is actually PERTURABO who comes off as the more humane here, though he is of course calculating and arrogant in his execution. Graham adds a up to now unseen facet to the Iron Warriors Primarch and he really shines, threatening to steal the limelight from Magnus in his own book, which seems a little unfair given the next scheduled title IS Perturabo.

Of course the evacuation doesn’t go smoothly or this would be a pretty boring (though at the same time unique! ) Heresy Tale. It transpires that there is a rogue faction on Morningstar. A cult, called the Sons of Shaitan.

Graham, really? Morningstar? Shaitan/Satan? Bit close to the mark there and I felt it came across as a bit lazy, though to be honest Mr McNeill has probably earned a free pass at this point. I think we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Misgivings about the identity of the antagonist aside however they certainly throw an almighty spanner into the works of the evacuation effort of the two Legions.  You see the Sons of Shaitan (sigh) don’t WANT to leave the planet, they want to stay and die and ascend.  Problem is they don’t want anyone else to leave either. Cue lots and lots of sabotage and destruction  as they try to ensure as many die on Morningstar as possible.

This obviously gives the Astartes a lot more to do than evacuate a panicked populace. Plenty of action follows, though an author of Graham’s class would never fall into the trap of resorting to outright bolter porn and keeps things moving at a brisk pace . He deftly distinguishes the two legion’s approach to combat with the Thousand Sons using their powers freely (so presumably this is all before Nikea) and the Iron Warriors falling back on tactics and disciplined Bolter Fire.  Most of this centres around Arthava and Forrix as Graham once again ties into his 40k Iron Warrior novels.

These scenes of action and calamity also call the Primarchs into action with Magnus getting a standout scene in which to display his heroism. It’s really well written and I don’t wish to spoil it here, you’ll recognise it when you get to it.  He is not alone either, all the loyalist forces on the planet are sorely tested and events are fairly epic with the action proceeding at an appreciable pace. Time and time again the Astartes are challenged as the planned evacuation threatens to become a wholesale massacre.

However, this is Magnus’s book and his overwhelming desire for knowledge causes him to send a squad of his sons off to explore a location he has seen in a vision, believing the secrets of Morningstar to be buried there. Athough at the time this seems to be superfluous addition to the book, threatening to derail what has up to this point been a fairly tight narrative, I can assure you that it does in fact serve a purpose to the overreaching arc. It may not be obvious at first as it comes across as a little clumsy but it sets up several important relationships, and of course the shocking climax to the book. I’ll not say more here, these are spoiler free reviews.

So that is Magnus the Red – Master of Prospero. While a long way from Graham’s very best work it is nonetheless a wonderful treat to read his writing again. So far it ranks as the best Primarch book, being a fair bit more complex than previous efforts, setting up multiple future narratives and arcs.  There is an excellent mix of characterisation and action and some great work is done to humanise these two Primarchs, presenting a profound compassion that we have not really seen before. It’s very jarring given we know how these Primarchs end up.

And in general I think that the Traitor Primarchs will be the better books of this series as we are confronted with a stark contrast to their characters as we know them from the Heresy.  With Purturabo and Lorgar next up we should have some excellent stories ahead. For now Magnus The Red comes highly recommended and I’m greatly looking forward to The Crimson King as he returns to the Heresy Proper. I have a backlog there though so have Praetorian of Dorn and Master of Mankind to get out of the way first.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Conclave of Har Book Review: Leman Russ: The Great Wolf By Chris Wraight

It seems an age since I have written a book review but then, it has been a long time since I have been able to read a book (See my article 'Confessions of a Depressed Hobbyist for more on this). Sadly I could no longer trust myself to pen an impartial review as I was no longer enjoying reading. I first noticed it with Cybernetica, a book I shall have to now revisit. Upon finishing the novella I realised I could not tell if I had enjoyed it or not. I honestly just didn't really have any impression left on me by it. It was at this stage I stopped reviewing books.

But it was Leman Russ: The Great Wolf that stopped me READING. Already nonplussed by the Gulliman novel I had hoped that a book by one of my favourite authors might  lift me a little. Alas it was not to be. I barely made it half way through before I became unable to read more than half a page before losing focus, unable to remember the words I had just read.

And that, was the last time I read anything except White Dwarf or a comic, for a long time. In the intervening months three separate Heresy novels have been released. Thankfully this Dark Age was only temporary (if somewhat recurrent) and I now find myself able to enjoy reading books again.

It was straight back to Leman Russ that I turned, though I found that I did need to re-read the whole thing more or less as my recollection was very fuzzy. Thankfully a re-read is far from a chore as for the most part this is a VERY enjoyable effort from Mr Wraight. A little hard to track at times maybe and it casts a bit of confusion over the Lion Sword but it's a fun and compelling read.

The book features a framing device which shows a young Aspirant's trial against the Canis Helix and then jumps to him being  a full fledged Blood Claw in the Space Wolves Chapter. Yes that's right, Chapter, set after the Heresy and after the disbanding of the Legions. `Its a little hard to place the EXACT time period but one can deduce that it's not long after before the scouring as Russ features and although he is a reclusive and rarely seen figure the Primarchs are clearly still around.

So Leman of the Russ recounts a tale of the only time he was beaten other than by the Allfather (Emperor) and many will know straight away that he is referring to the infamous spat with his Brother Lion'el Jonson. The next hundred pages or so tell of the events that lead up to that falling out and duel including the main event itself.

As one would expect the book is well written, free flowing and descriptive with the two brothers being particularly well realised and a good depiction of the different way the two Legions operate and wage void war. The Dark Angels being very ordered and disciplined with boarding actions and the Wolves being wild and hunting in packs with wild abandon. This then leads to a misunderstanding between the Legions before the war is persecuted further on the ground. Both Legions are required to bring the planet to heel but the honour of the final kill is to be Russes. Of course things rarely go to plan in this universe and the two Brothers end up clashing in the infamous duel.

There is a subplot that revolves around the Canis Helix and therefore ties into the framing device from earlier, it does directly affect the main thrust of the story as it is made quite clear that these aberrations are a new development in the legion and that they do not quite know how to handle it as one Legionnaire goes feral and disappears. Thus is the changing nature of the Legion made manifest and the secrecy that they must maintain.

But it is the Primarch's that take center stage here, the relationship between the two brothers is the heart of the book and given that this is likely the only time that this infamous duel is going to appear in print. That reason alone is enough to pick up this book. Also of note is the contrast of portrayal of Leman  before, and after the Heresy. Before, during the crusade he is the Alpha Wolf, cunning, bold, vicious and vital. In the framing sections he is hoary, bitter, a grizzled old Wolf. Still dangerous and still the Alpha but changed and ground down by years and years of fighting.It's quite the change and it's the first real indication of the toll that the Heresy takes upon the Primarchs as Russ bemoans what has happened to his Wolves.

So overall, yes I ENJOYED this book a great deal. Chris does a brilliant job on it, delivering a nuanced and believable portrayal of the Primarchs that stands out as a highlight even amongst the excellent and plentiful action scenes.  More to the point I am reading again and have moved onto Magnus the Red : Master of Prospero by Graham McNeil, now that promises to be a superb book..