Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Brotherhood of the Yellow King. Chapter One:


Screams echoed from the dank dirty walls of the asylum, a reverberation of woe and despair that permeated the very air and lent an unsettling ambiance to the atmosphere. Prefect Alistae Carn tried not to shudder as he followed the shuffling doctor, who's name he had quite forgotten, through the seemingly labyrinthine dark corridors, trying not to look too closely into the shadows cast by the wan lumin-globes that sporadically dotted the recesses of the foreboding passage.

Emperor damn Ralscon, damn him and his orders, of all the forsaken locales to be sent to. Worth was a wretched enough place as it was, a dungball of a world ignored by practically everybody, including those unfortunate enough to live on it  In fact Carn was pretty sure Worth was ironically named being a particularly small planet, more of a planetoid really. It's real designation was a very boring series of numbers and letters that no one wanted to remember almost like it wasn't worth remembering, hence being relabeled by the first settlers. Worth was devoid of oceans and was primarily comprised of a dense violet grey ash over an unremarkable rock crust dotted with mostly now dormant volcanoes. However, beneath the crust was a wealth of minerals and ores and numerous mining facilities were set up to make use of the only resource that Worth could offer. Other than mining outposts there were small towns and provinces here and there as the inhabitants tried to eke out whatever meagre lives they could. There was only one city and that was Narthley. Here all administration was carried out for the entire planet. Contact with the wider Imperium was minimal, they supplied a tithe of minerals and ores and therefore were left alone blissfully unaware of the majority of the perils that beset the galaxy.

Carn was here to investigate the disappearance (and subsequent reappearance) of one adept Larkarsky. The adept had been inspecting a mining operation in far off Endomaw on the other side of the planet. A fairly routine survey, the output from the mine had wavered somewhat in recent months and Larkarsky's assignment was to see if there were any untoward reason for the aberration. Everything had been fine for the first couple of weeks with regular updates in Larkasky's usual terse, abrupt fashion (he tended to make his reports curt whilst laboriously preparing detailed written treatises on anything and everything which he would then present upon his return - almost as if to spite his superiors and make them spend excess time reading his texts for the full wealth of detail). The brief reports suggested that little was awry, although a subtle undercurrent of tension and uncertainty was present. This in itself was not unusual though, Larkarsky was from a brave or adventurous man and easily perturbed. Were it not for his analytical skills, Carn mused, Larkarsky likely would not have been sent at all. Certainly, he would not have been Carn's first choice.

It seemed that Carn's judgement was sound as well, for Larkarsky's updates turned increasingly erratic, and furtive. Almost as if he were afraid of saying more in his communiques. Then, without warning, they ceased. Requests for re-established contact were met with silence. The entire of Endomaw went dark and no response was forthcoming for six full solar cycles. Given that Worth had a significantly slower rotation than most planets this was equivalent to just under three Terran weeks. Just as Carn's superiors were about to authorise a rapid strike team to be sent to investigate, Larkarsky reappeared.

He did not however, announce his presence as per standard procedures. Rather he was apprehended for disturbing the peace in a province not far from Endomaw, babbling incoherently and raving about a dark terror, an unfathomable mystery threat that threatened to engulf the entire planet. When he foolishly tried to resist arrest the local constabulary took him down, hard. Larkarsky was dragged, broken and bleeding, into custody where he was found to be utterly without reason, ranting about coming apocalyptic horrors and beings tentacled and omnipotent from beyond the stars,  that would consume all in their path. Chances are that he would have been executed at that point without hesitation for witchery as it was a particularly backward and superstitious settlement which he had chosen to appear in, but thankfully one of the more astute denizens of the town recognised Larkarksy's administrative trappings and sent a message to Carn's office. Once it was established that the Adept had indeed reappeared the strike team was stood down and Carn was given the thankless task of journeying to this backwater hole to find out just what had happened in Endomaw. Carn damned Ralscon again, mentally subjecting him to various tortures and agonies in return, he smiled at the thought a bit in the gloom before he realised the doctor had stopped ahead of him.

Shaken from his reverie he glanced at the door that the hunched doctor gestured towards with gnarled bony fingers..

'He's in here, but I warn you, his mind is cracked, you'll not get anything of any worth from him.' The doctors rheumy eyes, dead of emotion, echoed her expressionless lined face. Hers was a visage and frame that had been worn down over years of dealing with the irredeemably insane. No rejuvenat treatments or augmetics here, in this town. On a more prominent world she could have still been beautiful, vital. But here, here she was a prisoner of her advancing years almost as much as her charges were prisoners of their fractured psyches.

'I've seen it before, oh too many times for me to count, Emperor save me,' she continued. 'His mind has gone has that one, whatever he has seen or imagined, it was too much. He'll never recover, never.' Her mouth suddenly set in a sad smile, she stepped back into the shadows allowing Carn access to the viewing slot in the door.

Carn nodded his thanks at the shrouded form of the Doctor and approached the door, unbolting the small hatch and sliding it down to peer into the gloomy room within. A faint feotid stench assaulted his nostrils. He tried to breathe though his mouth instead but the air tasted just as foul. He fought the impulse to gag.

'Larkarsky, Adept Larkarsky' he rasped. Only silence greeted him from within, though the space outside the room still echoed with the screams and rantings of myriad maniacal inmates. No, not silence, there was something. He strained to filter out the unwanted sounds, Larkarsky was muttering something. Carn couldn't make it out though, much as he tried. He stepped back from the viewing hatch.

'Open it', he brusquely instructed, glancing at the doctor, not unkindly but with a commanding gaze nonetheless. The Doctor looked up and shook her head slowly.

'I wouldn't recommend tha....'

'Is he dangerous?' Carn interrupted, 'any threat at all?'

'no', she countered. 'But he is utterly broken, there is no point in interrogating him'.

'I'll be the judge of that. Open. The. Door.'

She shrugged and fumbled with a large cluster of metal keys. Carn winced, physical keys? what primitive hell was this? She must have noticed his expression in the gloom for she shot him a dirty look as she located the correct key amongst the bundle and used it to unlock the door. She swung it open and stepped back from the gloomy entrance.

suppressing a brief uncharacteristic sense of trepidation, Carn stepped inside, trying to ignore the suddenly more prominent odour. Larkarksy was huddled in a far corner, unmoving. Unkempt and filthy, his head was bowed and he was muttering something over and over...Carn stepped closer.

'Yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow... '

Over and over and over, that one word. His tone was haunted and despairing, his gaze fixed firmly on the floor. He made no reaction to Carn's approach, even as the Prefect knelt down beside him.

'Larkarsky....' he wracked his memory to recall the Adept's first name. 'Pallas' he tried, Pallas Larkarsky!' With the last he reached out and grabbed the man's shoulder.

Larkarsky stopped repeating and slowly raised his head.  Carn's mouth dropped agape, horror etched on his face as Larkarsky suddenly launched himself at the kneeling prefect, bowling him over. They both crashed to the filthy floor as Larkarsky's brief silence ended, the maddened Adept atop of Carn.

'They're coming!' he screamed. 'Oh God Emperor they are coming, we are all going to die, do you understand? We are all going to die. Nothing will survive, nothing will live. Nothing can stop them, nothing, nothing! Yellow will be all, yellow will be all! Our flesh, our bones our blood! All devoured, all devoured, all devoured!'

Carn struggled beneath Larkarsky, though slight of frame he had a strength born of mania and desperation and pinned the Prefect down whilst screaming. With his eyes screwed firmly shut Carn found the strength to hurl that demented visage away from him and he rolled to the left, away from Larkarsky, poor insane Larkarsky. Opening his eyes he shakily stood up and exited the cell as swiftly as dignity would allow. The Adept had gone back to his huddle and once again was whispering the word 'yellow' over and over.

As Carn crossed the threshold he closed the door and breathlessly nodded at the Doctor who rushed to lock it. With the cell secured she turned back to the Prefect, who was stooped, hands on knees.

'I told you' she said gently, 'he's too far gone'.

Carn regulated his breathing and futilely tried to get Larkarsky's face out of his head. It was useless, he knew he'd be seeing that image till his dying days. Damn Ralscon. As his terror subsided the adrenaline found a new home in anger. His voice shook as he rose and stood, straight but unsteady, rounding on the doctor.

'Why... didn't you tell me he'd done that?' His indignant hoarse whisper suddenly turned into an indignant hoarse roar, 'WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME ABOUT HIS FACE?!'

'You didn't ask,' the doctor returned, though she wasn't quite smug there was nonetheless an air of insouciance about her reply which rankled at the Prefect. 'Self mutilation isn't entirely uncommon among our patients. We tried to sedate him but whatever his torment is it affects his unconsciousness  as well as his waking state. His torture is eternal, poor soul' she finished with a downcast look. 'May the Emperor deliver him from his hell.'

Carn didn't reply immediately. In his mind he could still see Larkarsky's ravaged face. The beatings from the authorities were fading to lurid yellows and greens but the gouges, they were fresh, and his eyes......

'But his eyes, why did he tear out his own eyes?' He shuddered, his breathing was becoming more regular now but his mind was still a whirl of emotions. He would never forgive Ralscon for this.

'As I said, whatever he has seen or imagined he has seen, it was too much. He did it just a couple of days after arriving, he didn't even make a noise while doing it. We didn't know until the next day. He just sat there the whole time while he gouged them out. Was he a friend?'

Carn's normal demeanour reasserted itself, 'hardly, he was barely a colleague. We have never spoken, I don't know the man and now I never will. Tell me doctor where are his effects?'

'Stored upstairs securely, nothing has been touched. Would you like me to have them brought to you?'

'Please, have them sent to my offices back in Narthley. There is nothing further for me here.' He walked back down the dark corridor, retracing his steps. Whatever had happened at Endomaw, he wasn't going to get the answer from poor Larkarsky directly. Hopefully the Adepts anally precise written reports would divulge the answers he needed. In the meantime he wanted to get out of this hellhole as quickly as possible.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Cult War: Month 1

Cult War 2018

Allen and I have agreed on a project for 2018 that will be the main focus of our hobby efforts in 2018. It isn’t going to be the only thing we do but it will have set goals that we want to achieve each month. As Allen has done most of the work he needs to do on his Necrons he is now going to be working on his packed shelf of Genestealer Cult models which has influenced my army decision which is the somewhat broad classification of Imperium.

Imperium gives me access to Inquisition, Deathwatch, Astra Militarum, Tempestus Scions, Assassins and Dark Angels, all of which are models I own but need to get painted. Once I have some Astra Militarum painted Allen can use them too as we work through narrative scenarios. Eventually Allen can even have some Tyranids if that’s the way the story goes.

To begin with we are going to play Shadow War. Allen’s choices are fairly simple, the Genestealer Cult list whereas I can choose from four lists! Inquisition, Astra Militarum, Tempestus Scions and Dark Angel Scouts.

For January I am painting my entire Inquisitorial war band. This consists on a Ordo Xeno Inquisitor, several acolytes and neophytes and a bounty hunter in case I’m allowed reinforcements. I’ve also chosen to paint one objective and one scenery piece, though in this case it is built as three separate models. If I can manage to do this every month we’ll have a substantial collection of items to be playing with.


Like  Lee says, 2018 sees me starting a new army. I wanted something completely different from the Necrons, which are sitting at a comfortable 2,000 points painted. Problem is, people hate playing them. 19 wins on the bounce now means even I am tiring of playing with them. I feel that games, especially casual games, are the formation of a pact between opponents, a commitment to mutual fun and enjoyment. Wiping players from the board and taking minimal casualties frankly has limited appeal to me.

And it is with this mindset in mind that I have chosen my new army. I had no shortage to choose from but have decided that it wouldn't be Power Armoured so that's Ultramarines, Emperors Blades (my own Homebrew chapter) and Deathwatch all discounted. I have all three Aeldari armies but those too i'm not especially keen on, and given their dominance at the recent LVO it would appear that I made the right choice. Nope, it was the Genestealer Cult that I decided on.  At this point, I probably should have had a word with myself......... 

'2018, new army! Genestealer Cult!'
'Al, that's a horde army mate, you hate painting horde armies.....' 
'I've got a great idea for background and colour scheme too'
'Al HORDE ARMY. Keep it simple....'
'I'm gonnna do them with a primary colour of Yellow!!!'
Al, nooo, Al.... SHTAP! Al......???????'

Anyway, there we are, 168 models to paint. Sigh. Complex colour scheme, double sigh. Yellow as a major colour. All the sighs. Still, i'm committed now,  (some would say I should BE committed).

So month one, saw me complete a grand total of 25 models. Anyone who knows my painting habits knows that that is a LOT for me.  I'm quite pleased with that output and if i can keep it up I could see the army completed in a little over six months. Which would suit me down to the ground.

I made up my paint recipes and wrote them down and knocked out ten Neophytes pretty quickly, making good use of washes to cut time. (I refuse to drybrush). The Acolytes were a little trickier as the percentage of Tyranid elements increases. This meant I effectively had to work out the colour scheme for Hive Fleet Terebinthinas (and if you know why they are called that you will know why they have that colour scheme). Yellows greens and purples feature.

Anyway, this, and the fact that they are just harder to paint means that only 5 Acolytes were finished. I did better with the indoctrinated Imperial Guard/PDF elements though and got a full squad of 10 finished along with freehand on the pads which a few may recognise. After all they are the Brotherhood of the Yellow King...

So, yep that's 25 models all done for January, not too bad, now to see if I can maintain it. At the very least its enough for our planned games of Shadow War. The Cult Rises.......

We'll be back next month with another update! 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Year 2017 catch up...

When it comes to the hobby quite a lot of happened in 2017 on both an industry scale and on a personal level. On one hand I have painted and gamed more than any previous year and my Abydos Necrons have actually seen 2017 undefeated with 18 consecutive wins.

And that has been my project for the main part of the year. A relatively simple scheme allowing me to have a full army painted, although by no means has every Necron model I own been completed. Nonetheless I have a fully painted army of around 2000pts now and I have been able to use it and this in itself is an improvement on previous years.

My Abydos Necrons. Formidable. 

In addition I entered Armies on Parade for the first time, just so that I had, and took a fair bit of pride in my entry but due to various reasons I'm not convinced that I would enter it again, though I do have a particularly ambitious concept in mind once again.

WIP. A lot of fun, and a lot of mess in the making of this. 

The light was effective. Though I had hoped to use UV to show off the army. 

The Finished article on display. Sadly not deemed good enough to place for any awards  

As well as my Necrons I have also been painting the contents of Imperial Assault (and many expansions) and with the new app that has been released, Legends of the Alliance I anticipate more use for these going forward. I have enjoyed painting them and it's a shame that I will not be picking up Legion as one Star Wars Infantry Miniatures game is more than enough for me.

Imperial Assault output. Who needs Legion?

A lot of fun to paint. 

Industry-wide it has been a turbulent year for hobbyists with a number of smaller studios in companies feeling the pinch and closing. Warcradle has acquired Spartan Games IPs and I look forward to seeing what they are going to do with their newly established Dystopian Universe, it will be interesting to see how they tie the disparate elements together (Wild West/Desert settings have traditionally never meshed with Naval games. And that's to say nothing of their commitment to support Firestorm Armada and Uncharted Seas. However it is worth noting that although we are in the time of more new games than ever being released mainly due to Kickstarter this is a double-edged sword and I firmly believe that Kickstarter can cause as many problems as opportunities.

Certainly it is no coincidence that both of the larger casualties this year, Hawk and Spartan Games have both recently run Kickstarter campaigns that may have been a stretch too far, (just as I predicted last year) I feel Kickstarter bubble may have burst and I have only backed one in the last year, partly due to financial constraints and partly due to mixed experiences in the past.

Cant wait for these to turn up. June Hopefully. 

Really looking forward to playing Deep Madness

Of course we cannot discuss 2017 without talking about Games Workshop who released an 8th edition of Warhammer 40,000 this year. A much streamlined game, I have played more 8th edition in the six months since it was released than I played 7th in the entire of its lifespan. 7th edition had grown into a bloated mess and with a focus on formations and needing multiple books to play the game had just not become any fun to play, the improvement the 8th has made over the game cannot be understated.

In addition Games Workshop is releasing a lot of models at the moment and although I might not agree with the aesthetic direction that some of these models are heading in, I think in general the quality has been quite high. Certainly Games Workshop has recovered a lot of the ground that they had lost to other companies and the new CEO seems to be doing a grand job. After all this is new Games Workshop we're talking about.

Sadly it was not all triumph and joy and we lost Alan Bligh in 2017. This appears to have had a significant impact on the Horus Heresy line and it is clear that his death was of great significance to GW in more ways than just the loss of the man himself. Hopefully his fine work will be carried on in  way that does his memory justice.  

Personally I have had a challenging year and though I wish I could say this is a rare occurrence it has impacted my hobby in various ways. Becoming single in the latter half of the year has at least allowed me more time to paint so silver linings and all that. An increase in hobby output has also seen regrettably a lessening of content for the Conclave and I hope to be able to reach a happy medium in 2018. Speaking of 2018 both me and I have his ideas and projects and hopefully some of these will come to fruition. I will be starting a new army for the new year and we will have a post talking about this soon.


You get to a certain age and time becomes something you don’t notice until you look back and notice how much of it passed. So being middle aged it can be quite a shock to find a year has passed and you’re struggling to find what you did with all that time. Hopefully and lapses can still be made up as I should have more years yet to come than I’ve already used.

So, 2017. From a hobby perspective the usual not playing or painting enough is the perennial problem though I am very pleased with what I did get done. Games wise Allen and I played some second edition, some kill team and plenty of 8th edition, which I'll come back to. Painting wise 2016’s Word Bearers momentum dried up completely and I have done pretty much nothing with them. My renegade Knight is in exactly the same position over a year later, legs base coated and not much else. What I did get done though was expand my Death Guard and Nurgle forces with the release of Death Guard in 8th edition. I stress ‘expanded’ as I had a Death Guard force before it was cool and cannot be accused of being a hobby magpie jumping on the latest craze.


But nicely painted. 

Outside of 40K I have been learning more about Age of Sigmar and my disdain for the game is slowly draining away. It isn’t Fantasy, once you understand that and treat it as its own thing it isn’t half bad and with 40K 8th taking its cues from AoS with a lot of the game improvements it is hard to stay as mad as before. I’ve even been playing (and losing) Warhammer Skirmish with my other half which as been getting me to paint fantasy, all models on  square bases still though, I would like to be able to play Fantasy and AoS with all my models.


Grave Guard

Even further out from 40K I’ve been dabbling with Wild West Exodus and revisiting the Spartan catalogue for work reasons. In fact the demise of Spartan has been only one of a number of examples of the fragile nature of the gaming industry. It is a niche industry and right now it is overburdened with choices. Those that wish to do well really need to push the quality of their product and run themselves as an efficient business if they want to still be here at the end of 2018. The main problem that the industry faces right now is Kickstarter. Whether it is everyone and his dog putting up a quality (or not) project that can tempt customers money away from more mainstream products that then hurts retailers as their potential customers go direct to source or whether it is a poorly managed Kickstarter that brings an established company to near collapse, Kickstarter is an issue the gaming industry needs to address soon.

But as ever the bulk of the year and our hobby in particular has been dominated by Games Workshop. This year seems to have been packed with more goings on than many of the previous years combined! Speculation that 40K was going to the Age of Sigmar treatment in the worst possible sense were proven unfounded as 8th edition is a superb game receiving unprecedented levels of support enabled by GW’s excellent customer service and community support teams. GW is in control of what people see but it never feels heavy handed, in fact it feels like the doors of the studio are being flung open on a regular basis to show us things before White Dwarf leaks can ruin the surprise. Long may it continue! Hand in hand with this goes the great new fat version of White Dwarf which has become a substantial read once more with stuff in there I actually want to sit down and learn rather than just flicking through in five minutes.

8th edition really has helped contribute to the feeling that we are back in the golden days of the late 90s / early 2000s. The emergence of ‘Old hammer’ concepts and designs along with the sheer wealth of products available to the new player, particularly the easy to build and multiple price point starter sets for both 40k and AoS means that it has never been easier for new players to get involved and fill GW’s coffers so they can continue to release more and more models each month.

The only fly in the ointment seems to be GW moving away from multi part plastic kits and more towards single build poses. The models that we have received because of this shift are stunning but GW is still pushing for larger and larger games and it does feel like our armies may lose some of their individuality because of it. There is also the question of scale shift. Honestly, Space Marines did need rescaling in my opinion and the Primaris are probably the best way to go about it. Regular Space Marines no longer feature in promotional photography and all are replaced with Primaris, which are gorgeous but because they are so gorgeous they make our established collections feel a bit, immature. Regardless, Allen and I have played loads of games of 8th compared to previous editions and expect to play many more in 2018.

Alongside the good news coming from the 41st millennium Age of Sigmar received the Kharadrons, steampunk sky sailor dwarves. Even the most die hard AoS critic could not fail to be won over by the awesome models even if they still don’t want to play the game. I’ve already incorporated plenty of the models into my squat collection without the need to convert anything which has the added bonus of allowing me to play AoS if I so wish.

Another success story of 2017 has been Specialist Games. After Blood Bowl’s triumphant return in 2017 it continued to prove popular and we have recently received Necromunda as well! It’s like being a teenager again but with more disposable income. What has been released already has been awesome and by this time next year the original six gangs should all be released and we’ll be speculating about Outlanders.

So that’s 2017, what am I hoping for in 2018? I want to have expanded my Covenant fleet for Dystopian Wars and have a fully painted (or three) Wild West Exodus posse. For AoS I want to get through the skirmish campaign we are playing at home with two fully painted war bands and then go onto Path to Glory to get some more fantasy painted up. 40K I would like to see some official Squats, whatever form they may take. I will continue adding painted models to my Death Guard and  be working on mine and Allen’s 2018 project that we’ll detail soon.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Conclave of Har Novel Review: The Warmaster by Dan Abnett

To say that we've been waiting for some time for The Warmaster would be an understatement. It has been delayed Time After Time and I think it's fair to say that until we finally saw the book I wasn't too sure that it would make this publication date either. Thankfully this time I was to be proved wrong.

Dan Abnetts absence from the ranks of the Black Library has been noticeable and it got to the stage where I was actually thinking who could take over the Gaunt's Ghosts series and Abnett's other lines, maybe Aaron Dembski-Bowden? Other authors have risen from the ranks while he has been gone but let's face it. In Abnett we trust, I would hate to see any other than him at the helm of the Gaunt's Ghosts or Eisenhorn books.

Thankfully it doesn't look like that is necessary and we do now finally have The Warmaster, and what book it is! I can't remember the last time that I read a book in this fashion. I quickly put to one side 'Lorgar' the latest Primarch book by Gav Thorpe (which I have now actually finished - review coming soon) and got stuck into Abnett's offering. 

I devoured Warmaster in just two sittings, The first night the first 10 chapters fell, and the second night a marathon 15 chapters were devoured to finish the book. I reckon about five hours in all to demolish this tome. I can't remember the last time a book gripped me so totally, I quite literally couldn't put it down. A page turner it is.

The Warmaster picks up right where Salvation Reach left off and I would thoroughly recommend re-reading the previous book in the Gaunt's Ghosts series as it is heavily referred to. Myself, it has been so long waiting for Warmaster that I found that I was somewhat out of touch and couldn't remember some of the things that the characters were talking about in the opening stages. Suffice to say however, by the time I was halfway through the book I was firmly back in among the family that Dan has established with the Tanith First and Only and fully immersed and invested in the characters once again. 

So here we go with a mostly spoiler free, (for there are many reveals in the novel which I don't want to give away here) review of The Warmaster.

As I've said the book picks up where Salvation's Reach left off, with the Gaunt's Ghosts returning after their successful mission through the warp. However not all is well and the ship that they are travelling on is suffering, both from its age and the recent action  it has seen. Following a bad warp translation they find themselves 10 years ahead in time due to the unpredictable nature of warp travel, and besieged by Chaos Forces. What follows is some rather splendid action scenes such as you would expect from Dan Abnett.. 

What really stands out is how he depicts the Astartes fighting methods compared to the Ghosts.  Dan has, ever since the very early Iron Snakes, (a great novel for which you can read the review HERE) days, been superb at illustrating contrast between Space Marines and humans, making Space Marines seem all that more special. One does wonder how Dan would then approach Primaris Marines given that Space Marines already seem more superhuman enough in his writing.

Eventually The Ghosts make it to Urdesh and some much needed respite. It turns out that the campaign has foundered somewhat in their absence. The last 10 years have seen Warmaster Macaroth become more withdrawn and secretive as his Lords Militant struggled to conduct the campaign for the Sabbat Worlds under his increasingly unorthodox command. This represents an interesting quandary for Gaunt as sense of duty wars with personal feelings over the crusade.

Is it at this stage that the pace slows a little and we get to spend some time with the different characters that make up the Tantith First and Only regiment. It is here then, that the familial collections are  established and it's like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes as Dan brings you back into touch with all the characters that we have known grown to know and love over the course of the series.

For over the course of the last 13 or 14 books the cast has changed quite significantly, both having been added to by the Verghastites and troops from Belladon and of course also by attrition and Dan Abnett's well publicized killing lots of characters (though not quite to George RR Martin Standards). Now the ranks of the gaunt's Ghosts include not just soldiers but many Commissars and other political officers and a retinue of hangers on and other staff. Of course not all of these are dealt with in in any detail but the main characters are all covered. I found it was at times that I was waiting for a certain character to pop up and then remember that they've been killed off a few years ago. I really must reread the Gaunt's Ghosts series at some point, it's a fine collection of books.

There are also some major changes in structure within the ranks of the Ghosts regiment and the Tanith will never be the same again after one particularly big change that I can't mention here as it would be a major spoiler. The next 100 pages of so continue with this rather slow paced introspective style and the foundations are laid for future installments with no shortage of reveals and also establishing future plot points and mysteries in particular with some of the younger of the Gaunt's Ghosts contingent. Questions of identity and lineage are raised and at times it kind of seemed like it was taking cues from the A Song of Ice and Fire series. 

As is often the case with Dan Abnett much of the action takes place towards the end in a furious finale however in a change to the usual format the climax doesn't really come and we are instead left with a number of cliffhangers as Dan opts to end the book with a number of half resolved plot threads and unanswered fates. It feels like the end of the first part of a Star Trek two parter. 

And that appears to be the major bone of contention with people with this book. After waiting so long we effectively get what some people are calling half a book, I don't quite agree with that assessment, I was quite satisfied with The Warmaster and greatly enjoyed it as evidenced by the time that it took me to devour it. However it can't be argued that the book does end on a cliffhanger and given the amount of time it's taken to publish The Warmaster I can only hope it doesn't take as long for the next installment to arrive, which Dan has already confirmed is called the Anark. Fingers crossed Dan has started it already!

Overall The Warmaster is greatly recommended, I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a book so much and devoured it so quickly. If you are a fan of the Gaunt's Ghosts series you've probably already read it, if not, it doesn't represent the best starting point but certainly it is a continuation of the high standard Dan has achieved throughout the series and is a worthy addition. It changes a lot; certainly the regiment will never be the same after the events of this book, as before among the Ghosts there are good, bad and neutral elements as Dan explores the human nature of the regiment and the ramifications of events in this book I suspect will echo for as long as the series continues as threats from within and threats from without present themselves with entirely different impacts. Pick it up as soon as you can, you won't be disappointed.

Titan Comics Games Workshop License Review: Blood Bowl, Dawn of War III and Warhammer 40,000

It’s been a while since I first took a look at the 40k title that Titan Comics launched a while ago so I thought it was worth another look. In addition they have added two extra titles which are also worthy of  a review, a Dawn of War III tie in and Blood Bowl.  I don’t think they are done there either, maybe a Necromunda comic in light of recent events?

Firstly, revisiting the ongoing series, that started with  Will of Iron, and is now just starting on its third four issue arc ‘The Fallen’. I’m sad to report that not a great deal has changed. The scale has increased somewhat, with additional factions making an appearance, (Harlequins and Necrons thus far) but it really does feel like lip service only being paid and in the case of the Necrons you get the feeling they are fairly interchangeable bad guys.  They certainly aren’t given room to 'breathe'.

Yes we get to see the female inquisitor kick some and the action is well drawn and dynamic and very easy on the eye (thought still very ‘comicky’) but it all feels very shallow and so-so. The writing itself is punchy but the plot doesn’t feel like it is going anywhere or of any import. I would much rather see the resources here put into a Heresy title. I’m not sure how long this series is planned to be but I rather hope that something happens soon because at the moment it feels like it just doesn’t matter.

Next up we have Dawn of War III.  Now the game might be pretty poorly received for the most part but I can’t comment on that as I don’t have the specs on my PC to play it. In all honesty that is starting to feel like a bullet dodged rather than an opportunity missed.

The tie in comic though, is really rather good. It features all three of the playable races from the game, Blood Ravens, Orks and Eldar but does so in a much more equal and organic fashion. Pretty simple really. Marines are at war with the Orks, as always and the Eldar are that interfering third faction. The Blood Angels are looking for their chapter master Gabriel Angelos so I presume that this tie in is serving as a prequel to the game but as  I say I have not played it so apologies for any potential spoiler there.

The artwork is REALLY nice, it’s very organic and from what I recall from the seminar I attended at Warhammer Fest the artist does actually draw everything rather than the usual digital art we get. In addition the colouring is really good and unusual with  sympathetic tones being used and lending the pictures an almost watercolour look, it’s very impressive and jumps off the page at you. I much prefer it to the other comic which seems soulless by comparison.

The story is improved too, although nowhere near as ambitious it does a good job of making you care about the characters and the usual tropes of heroic sacrifice and xenos purging feature. Impossible odds, last stands, it’s all here.

Overall, if I were to recommend either of these titles, I would without suggestion say Dawn of War which has achieved more in its four issues than the ongoing series has in eight.  I’m simply hoping that the Third Arc ‘the Fallen’ actually does something to ignite my interest. Still for the REAL deal its Blood Bowl that is the ticket.

Oh Nick Kyme, I know we have had our differences in the past. I know I malign anything you write that is longer than a novella. I know that overall I have given some pretty mixed reviews to your work, but let me just say, your work on Blood Bowl is SUBLIME. Really top notch, I’d go as far as to say perfect in feeling and setting and humour and, well just everything.

You see I have often said that the more Nick is forced to write the worse he gets, the more pages he produces the more difficult he seems to find it to keep a coherent narrative and the more he falls back on tired tropes and overused adjectives. Ergo his short stories and novellas tend to be very good.  Novels, not so much. 

But it is comic writing that I do believe could be his forte. Genuinely funny and memorable, full of in jokes and that wry Blood Bowl irreverence that we all know and love, Blood Bowl is a pleasure to read every time and I hope another season appears soon

And it’s not even as if it’s a particularly novel concept. Washed out drunkard ex player returns to the game to help a struggling team as a last ditch effort to save them from oblivion. It’s a story that has been told many times before.  But it’s the way that it is delivered, with memorable characters ( I have always felt that Nick does well with characterisation), and attention to detail and an unswerving loyalty to the subject material. Throw in some commentary from the stalwarts Jim and Bob and you have the complete package as hilarious mayhem, ensues and somewhere amongst all the carnage a game is played.

The art is also perfect, really impactful and in your face, and full of little touches that make the difference, there is a real dynamism to the work, as you would expect from a series based around an action sport. It fits the subject matter perfectly and the text and art marry to create a great comic. I can’t wait for more.

Now, it might sound like I am a little biased here, but hopefully I have done a decent job of rationalising my opinions and the included pages will help you out. However, allow me to leave you this brief summary:

If you want in your face action on a grander scale, and are not overly bothered about the plot and just want a decent representation of the game in comic format, then choose the Ongoing series,

If you want something a little more personal and grounded yet still just as exciting with a more naturalistic (relatively) look then choose the Dawn Of War book

If you want insane over the top action, memorable characters and barrels of laughs plus that distinct Blood Bowl flavour in spades then choose Blood Bowl.

I think you’ll be able to tell my favourite.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Conclave of Har Horus Heresy Novel Review: Garro by James Swallow

In my review of The Master of Mankind I compared it to a rich gourmet meal, sumptuous yet unfamiliar and challenging.

In comparison Garro is a pepperoni pizza, a great big greasy pizza that sadly is lacking banana.

Before tackling Garro though one must acknowledge exactly what it is; (apart from a Pepperoni Pizza) and that is an adapted series of audiobooks. As I own the script books for these audio dramas, released a number of years ago, I had a look to see a: how they were presented originally (I never listened to the originals) and b: appreciate the work that has gone into converting it to a cohesive written narrative. It would appear that although the story beats are present much work has gone into restructuring the perspective and I’m glad I have compared the two.

I’d be surprised if there was anybody here who didn’t know who Nathaniel Garro is but on the off chance, I’ll explain. Garro is the battle captain of the Death Guard who, upon witnessing the events of Isstvan III, where Horus attacks his own troops to purge the loyalist elements, escapes on board the Eisenstein in order to bring news of the treachery to the Emperor. All of this can be read in ‘Flight of the Eisenstein’ which is well worth checking out and due a re-read from myself (once the series is finally finished I’ll likely start it again from scratch)

This novel of collected stories picks up after he makes it back to Terra, whereupon he is appropriated by Malcador, the secretive and sinister regent of the Emperor. Garro is then sent off to recruit other members for Malcador and add them to the ranks of the ‘Knights Errant’. These early chapters are definitely the roughest, suffering from their shortness and poorly defined characters. Still, the emphasis on the edict of Nikea in these early stages is welcome. One does wonder though, how Garro manages to navigate the Ruinstorm (his first target is an Ultramarine) and why this secret isn’t shared a little more. To be fair though, I think that the Garro series has pretty much spanned the entire Heresy lifespan (thus far) and it’s probably quite hard to get it all to line up.

These early chapters really do read like stand alone stories. Kind of like episodes of a TV show, with a different adventure each time. With little space for development, the characters are largely rendered into caricatures with little subtlety although the plots of these 'shows' themselves are perfectly satisfactory. However, despite the good work that HAS been done in converting these from their audio book format their origins are very much visible. Some of the dialogue is also terrible but you can overlook the cheesiness of it. Just about.

There is no subtlety here and it must be stressed that the writing is of a pretty basic quality, a jarring experience after the class of ADB. That’s not to say it’s BADLY written, it’s just where the Gourmet Meal – Pizza comparison comes from. Sometimes you want Pizza I guess, but it’s never going to be as delicately poised as that Gourmet Meal.

Thankfully the back third of the book is much better as a cohesive narrative establishes itself and although the dialogue is still stilted the flow improves considerably. Much of this is due to the sudden emphasis on the Imperial Truth. The way that Mr Swallow handles this is probably the most in-depth we have had in quite some time and it’s great to see the focus back on this very important part of the lore. One thing I would say is that the common citizenry of the Imperium appear to be awfully aware of what exactly is going on with the Heresy so I guess that this is cannon now rather than the forced ignorance of previous iterations.

Another Stunner from Mr Roberston. Just Wow. Looking forward to Vow of Faith.. 

It’s nice to see the book encompass this level of the Imperium as well, distancing itself, at least in this final arc, from the mass space battles and Astartes focus of most Heresy tales. The focus on the more mundane and menial levels of the Imperium is most welcome and I can say without any hesitation that I enjoyed the latter section of the book a lot more than the establishing chapters. The book ends setting up the novella Garro: Vow of Faith which I haven’t read yet. However, if it continues the trend set by Garro, I imagine I shall enjoy it a great deal.

It’s a weird Pizza this book. First few slices you won’t really think that much of it but keep going and you’ll discover all sorts of additional toppings that will make you glad you carried on eating it. Make mine a Large. 

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.