Monday, 25 January 2016

Horus Heresy Novella Review: Ravenlord by Gav Thorpe

This is a novella I have been awaiting for quite some time. I have greatly enjoyed Gav’s take on Corax (he has assured me that there is more coming) although i am eagerly awaiting his work on the 1st Legion too. Corax is one of the primarchs that i feel has been given a very rounded and(ironically all things considered) grounded portrayal. Gav’s previous Corax stories have always been enjoyable reads and with the release of the new FW model (love the figure, hate the head) it has been deemed time for non limited edition buyers (though I must confess I am tempted to magpie on the Ltd ed Horus Heresy covers book - Im a sucker for Neil Roberts Art) to get their claws into Ravenlord. So does it measure up to previous standards? Less about magpies more about Ravens! Let’s have a look.

The first thing i should mention is that there appears to have been a change in the manufacture/quality of the novellas, thankfully it is an improvement. The dust jacket and pages are noticeably thicker, I thought this was a feature of the Ltd edition versions (i did pick up the special Betrayal at Calth books as my first foray into Lt editions) but it appears to be a change going forward, the spine is more squared than rounded and overall its a welcome change, making these premium priced novellas seem to be all the more worth the £15.00 you lay out for them. Purists may well complain that they look different on the shelf but in all honesty the difference is minimal.

Ravenlord finds Corax and the remnants of his legion conducting a guerrilla war against traitor forces, hitting convoys and supply lines to deny Horus’s forces the resources they need to make their assault on Terra. In addition to the Ravenguard Corax has gathered elements from the other legions (and not just the shattered ones) in order to conduct his sabotage operations. Facing no small measure of discontent from the other marine legions over his decision to remain out in deep space and not return to Terra, Corax continues to seek out isolated loyalist elements in order to bolster his forces.

One such discovered legionnaire, a Ravenguard of some renown presumed lost at Isstvan, reports of a prison planet where other survivors of Isstvan have been taken. Despite the risk of a trap Corvax decides that this is a mission that must be undertaken. Suspicison wars within him however, as he has been betrayed by one of his sons before. Can this new arrival be trusted? With shadows everywhere he looks, Corax must wrestle with his own doubts and learn who to trust.

One of this things i really like about Corax is that he is not infallible. I detested Vulkan and his perfection. An immortal with no discernible flaws, he was infuriating. Corax is much more rounded, subject to pride and arrogance, capable of making errors. It makes for a much more interesting character and makes the Ravenguard Primarch more identifiable. Unlike Corax: Soulforge however here Gav gives a little more attention to the other characters in the book, some of which work as a moral foil to the Lord of Ravens.

Gav doesn’t stint with the action either although it is later in the book. There is a rather satisfying ship engagement detailed as the Ravenguard ambush a Sons of Horus supply convoy, with the assistance of some Imperial Fists. The Ravenguard strike and then slip away, ravaging Horus’ supply lines with hit and run tactics. It’s well written and full of punch, escalating the pace of the book nicely, it is however, just an appetiser before the main course as we enter the final third of the book which is dedicated entirely to the raid on the prison planet.


Here, Gav highlights the stealth nature of the Ravenguard with a sneaky insertion mission before they launch the final assault. The action is well written as Gav works in all the different Ravenguard units, such as the Raptors, painting a vivid picture of the assault. However, it is once Corax comes to the field of battle that things really heat up. As the Primarch's fury is unleashed upon the traitors his sons discover a treacherous secret that places Corax in mortal danger. It was actually at this point the novel started as Gav teases the reader with a pseudo cliff-hanger before taking us back before the assault and commencing with the build up. Though this is a spoiler free review I have to say it was very interesting to see Corax bested and humbled, it’s not often that we see a Primarch in this position and it further adds to Gav's realistic portrayal of the Ravenlord.

Overall, Ravenlord is a good read, though by no means essential. I am much enjoying the ‘shattered legions’ arc of the Heresy as opposed to Imperium Secundus and the Perpetuals which seems to have somewhat overextended its welcome. The early stages are slow build up where Gav deftly juggles different themes and builds upon Coraxes character and indeed that of the Ravenguard. It is fascinating to see how Corax marshals the different legions and pursues his campaign against Horus of a death by a thousand cuts. There is nothing particularly outstanding or novel (if you’ll excuse the pun) about the story, for the most part it is much the same as we have seen before and are likely to read again, but it is certainly worth your time. When the pace explodes the action is also very good and visceral with some intriguing traitor weaponry being used. But it is the work done outside of the action that intrigues me. Gav has always excelled at characterisation and this is no exception and although he does dwell a little more on non Primarch figures it is all too brief and I fervently hope that he will do another full length Ravenguard novel so that he can do all these characters justice. The Ravenguard may well be bedecked in black and white but Gav presents them in fascinating myriad shades between and I look forward to reading more about the sons of the Ravenlord soon.

8 out of 10 - Recommended

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Warhammer End Times Book Review: Archaon, Lord of the End Times.

As I write this, admittedly some time after reading the book, it occurs to me that the ‘Old World’ has been gone for quite some time now. And you know what? I still miss it. I miss Lustria and the Empire, I miss dragons and steam tanks and men at arms, I miss the heady charm of the rich world GW took some thirty years creating, and about 5 months destroying. I haven’t yet delved into the background of the Age of Sigmar, but to be honest at this point I'm not sure if i'll even bother. After all, there are still plenty of old Warhammer Novels that I still have to read (or reread for that matter) Maybe one day the Age of Sigmar will rival Warhammer Fantasy for depth and breadth of narrative but for now I just don’t see it sadly.Certainly from what I have seen so far it pales to the imagination and intricacy of the Old World.

However, this IS the end. I have come to the last of the Fantasy Line of books. Barring a dramatic U Turn from GW, this is it. Finito. Game over. Thus far I have found the End Times novels to be of varying quality, hardly the send off such an important universe deserves. Oh sure some have been okay, pretty good even, but considering the scale of the event that they are supposed to tell I cant help but feeling a little disappointed.


Hopefully Archaon: Lord of the End times, will go some way toward rectifying this. I’m expecting an epic tale of good and evil, which will be talked about through the ages and marveled at by all, that is what would be needed. Problem is that it is written by Josh Reynolds, whose Nagash book (the start of the series) I really did not care for, finding it meandering and self indulgent. Still, he started this series of novels so why shouldn’t he end it? Thankfully I am pleased to report that Archaon is a much more engaging read. Perhaps recognizing that he needs to wrap things up he belts through the story at pace, keeping things nice and brisk yet not overly superficial at any stage, though the brevity of the narrative overall is as vexing as ever.

The book is split into three distinct acts. The first act is set at the final defence of Middenheim as Archaon’s hordes assault the city. Heroes fall here, there is no other way of saying it. Josh is brutal and indiscriminate in the wielding of the reaper’s scythe and by the time Archaon inevitably stands triumphant in Middenheim a great many major characters lie dead in the dirt. Archaon himself as a character makes little impact however, his motivations and character are underdeveloped and never really bought to the fore. The character of Cantor Unsworn is used in proxy, his place ever at Archaon’s side and presumably meant to create a human contrast to the Lord of the End Times. But it never really works. Part of the problem is that this is the first End Times novel that Archaon has shown up in, so little time has been spent building him up. We’ve read about atrocities in his name but he has been non involved thus far. Therefore there is not really a great sense of threat about Archaon which is a shame. I cant really say that much changes once he does deign to appear either, there is a bit of killing and a bit of brooding but its not really the Lord of the End Times that makes his mark. That said, heroes fall, characters drop like flies and the first part of the book is particularly bloodthirsty.

After the initial slaughter though it is a great deal of back and forth between Cantor and Archaon in some admittedly, rather well written interchanges. One gets the feeling that they are trying to emulate Horus with Archaon and the unsworn (he has not devoted himself to any God and this is what stands him out) is one of his sons in the heresy, albeit one unsure of his role in the greater scheme of things. It’s a shame that Archaon is not bestowed with more of an identity. It just seems he is doing it all to achieve an end. No great masterplan or agenda, he just seems tired. This would be ok if more had been made of him in previous books but it really just comes off as something the reader cant really care about. Its all a bit muddled. I know Rob Sanders has written a pair of Archaon books and I shall have to check these out sometime to see if they shed more light on the character.

The Archaon arc (sorry) continues into the second act of the book which takes place far away from Middenheim as the representatives of all the different races all decide how best to try to save the old world. A little of Josh’s penchant for elaborate politics creeps in here but mostly everyone is in character with all the races finely represented and as you would expect to find them. Of course special attention is lavished on the vampires but with the other characters to balance it out it really works here and although the action is sparse the intereaction between the characters is pretty good. Apart from the sections where we go back to Archaon still brooding and putting his endgame plan into place I much enjoyed the second act of the book, finding it the most interesting of the elements weighted into this novel. It made me think about how improved Nagash might have been if similar breadth had been displayed. Of course Nagash does show up in a ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend/for the greater good’ kind of arrangement, and eventually a decision is made to bind the winds of magic to each of the central characters in an effort to amass power sufficient to challenge Archaon. The long standing plot thread between Manfred and Vlad Von Carstein also comes to a head in a particularly satisfying manner.


The final section of the book is a desperate rush and assault on Archaon. It goes without saying that this is once again an action packed section of the book, though it is much the smallest of the three parts, as we head towards the inevitable cataclysmic climax. Though once again it might feel a touch superficial in places there is still some good character work to be found and overall there is some great stuff in here as the heroes and antiheroes attempt to stop the destruction of the Old world. With a few surprises still up his sleeve Reynolds produces a worthy if somewhat abridged account of the most important battle to ever happen in the old world. Some of the very oldest and famous characters make an appearance in the final battle and for a moment you feel that they can turn the tide. It is a truly epic struggle between good and evil and it is well written, I rather hoped it had gone on for longer.

But of course as we all know, this is the End Times. The Old World does not survive. There are no more Warhammer Fantasy books. Now is the Age of Sigmar.

So, overall, Book V was a decent read. The sections that are spent trying to make Archaon a worthy antagonist are perhaps a little flat. Archaon just really does not come across as particularly strong or powerful. It’s a shame as on the whole the characterization in this book is pretty strong. Josh has done better with the characters that he has created from scratch, and of course his beloved vampires receive special attention, but here at least he has increased his scope. There is still a startling amount of brevity to the book though with elements being skipped altogether in the rush to finish the story. Sadly this has been endemic of the entire series, all too brief and superficial in the scheme of things. The Old world deserved better. I am aware that there are a few other novels and short stories that were released alongside these books but the bulk of the story is here and it is woefully lacking. Whilst not a complete disaster by any means, it all too often falls short of the standards I would expect when it comes to relating an event of this magnitude and import. It’s a shame. With more respect and care the series could have been a worthy read and an epic saga to conclude one of the finest fantasy universes ever created. As it stands however it is more akin to a damp squib, though the series may well have moments of merit it falls somewhat short of recommended reading unless you wish to tie up the narrative arcs of the associated characters. In that respect they perform their respective roles admirably.