Thursday, 2 February 2017

Conclave of Har review: Ragnar Blackmane, By Aaron Dembski-Bowden

A happy mistake brings you this review. At the GW open day on 2nd Jan I picked up this book in error. I had MEANT to buy Leman Russ (which wasn't actually out as it happens) and grabbed this thinking it was that title. By the time I realised my error it was too late.

I wasn't that downhearted though, ADB is a safe bet these days and doesn't churn out crap books. I certainly can't remember any in any event. I'm sure I would enjoy reading his Ragnar Blackmane tale just as much as Wraight's latest effort on the Space Wolves' Primarch.

Afterall, the last time I remember reading a book based around Ragnar it was Bill King's Space Wolves series and that was very good though it might seem a little dated by today's standards. I was also a little put off by King's depiction of the character but ceded that this was in Ragnar's formative days as the books told of his transition from Fenrisian tribe member to superhuman Astartes. Apparently the series was picked up by another author after King's departure, I never read it. I'm not a fan of other authors picking up and continuing existing works and have not read the latter Gotrek and Felix books (another King opus) for this very reason. Indeed, I fervently hope that Dan Abnett returns at some point to continue his Gaunts Ghosts and Inquisitor series. I'd hate to see his vision compromised by anyone else though I grant that would be better than never having them concluded at all.

However I digress, this is but one of a series of Space Marine Legends (not to be confused with the Warhammer 40,000 Legends Partwork) each of which focuses on a different character. Available so far are Shrike, Azrael, Cassius and this book, Ragnar Blackmane. Assuming that they intend to continue, there is a lot of scope for future books. This new series seems to be in the preferred Black Library format which is to say a small hardback, a little longer than the Novellas but shorter than a full length novel at 200 pages. It's much the same as the Beast Arises series which recently concluded. It's an expensive format but it looks like we are stuck with it for now.

Anyway, lets get to the meat of the book itself. The story is split across different periods of Ragnar's life as a marine. It starts in current times, indeed as he is on Cadia fighting against Abbadon's latest Black Crusade it can be said that this is the most up to date of Black Library books, certainly the fight is not going well and Ragnar is forced to admit that he may well not survive and this may be the end of his saga, in which case he is determined to make it an ending worthy of song. This is a seasoned and wiser Ragnar, one that has been Jarl for some time, a less brash and impetuous warrior, worthy of the title 'legend'. It is prehaps surprising then that the vast majority of the book takes place in the past, showcasing a much more immature Ragnar. The sections on Cadia are little more than bookends to the story. With a tale from Ragnar's past sandwiched in between and broken into two parts.

I'll not say a great deal  more for risk of spoiler but two other legions are involved one of which is the Dark Angels (of course) and Ragnar's actions then directly influence events in the future. The narrative is tight, and the writing is up to ADBs usual standards even if the actual story and exploits of Blackmane fall some way short of 'legendary'.

And that perhaps is the only real criticism I can level at this book, its all a bit standard, Nothing of import really happens and you get the feeling that there were many more sagas of Ragnar that would have been better suited to a title like this. This feels like the kind of book that ADB could write in his sleep and you get the feeling he is on autopilot pretty much all the way through, this is effortless for him. Even the template used for the Space Wolves is that laid down by Dan Abnett in Burning of Prospero, though ADB does add a few embellishments like the supporting main character who is a Bard and Ragnar's antagonist in the story.

So overall its a solid effort. ADB is a safe bet as I said and this is an enjoyable if not particularly memorable book that oozes an effortless class and elan. The characterization is good and it seems that ADB could turn his hand to pretty much any Space Marine chapter without breaking a sweat. Should Dan be unable to continue his series ADB would probably be my choice to pick it all up and he shows what he can do here without even really trying. It's just a shame that it's not a little bit more epic and special.

Incidentally I do now have Leman Russ and will be reviewing that soon.


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