Monday, 5 December 2011

'Faith and Fire' - James Swallow

Faith and Fire was an obvious choice from the box of goodies Black Library sent me to review. The cover is pretty damn cool. I wouldn't mess with her. When I turned the book around things got even better. I never heard of the Sisters of Battle before, but some googling revealed they are a elite warriors consisting of only women. This was all to get around a law, which declared the church was not allowed to have 'men at arms'. Unlike the astartes the Battle Sisters are 'ordinary' women trained to the very limits of what is humanly possible. They wear adapted power armour and their piousness and belief in the emperor may even protect them against the powers of the warp. KICK ASS!

Miriya is the and her sisters are tasked with escorting a captured renegade psyker back to the planet of his birth. The order was given by a high ranking church member, so although she would rather execute the witch on the spot she has little choice but to obey. While still out in space, part of the crew frees the witch, and Miriya has to return in disgrace. The members of the crew that are part of the mutiny shows no regard for their own safety, and many walk willingly into certain death. To cause the commotion needed for distraction they jump into the part of the machinery, which crushes them into a pulp. Their blood and gristle causes a break down, granting them the time to break out the witch and make their escape.

I'm always a little worried when reading about a strong female character when written by a man. James Swallow avoids a few traps only to stumble into another pitfall. Miriya is a highly skilled soldier, both with firearms and close quarter combat. In spite of this a common thug manages to pin her down without much of a effort, and the only reason we are given is that he is a big guy. Surely a super soldier like Miriya should be able to deal with a brute without much of a problem. She is a Celestian, a veteran of many battles, not a cherry. Anyway, at least James Swallow does not waste any time describing how beautiful and sexy the Battle Sisters are.

Back to the plot. There is obviously a price to pay for failure. It always terrifies me how little regard there is for a human life in the Warhammer 40k universe. Even a highly trained soldier like a Battle Sister is not safe, and the church demands a sacrifice for their failure. Still, the renegade witch is still at large and he needs to be captured. The church's own soldier failed for many years to capture him, so the Battle Sisters are still the best women for the job. Miriya gets a chance to redeem herself. By now I pretty much expect nothing fancy from Faith and Fire. The psyker will lead the Battle Sisters on a merry cat and mouse dance . It turns out there is a lot more at stake here. Someone in a high position with a lot of money is up to no good. The question is, how high up does the corruption reach. Luckily cutting out corruption is what the Battle Sisters does best.

Once it was made clear how much more Faith and Fire has to offer plot-wise it got really exciting. The lore in Warhammer 40k is mind boggling, giving James Swallow a lot of room to awe and impress the reader. He does put some juicy tidbits on a plate before us. Faith and Fire is packed to the brim with action, both on a small and large scale. I much prefer the small woman to man, or woman to fire breathing psyker, than the more full blown battles. It's a little impersonal and it feels more like watching my bigger number reduce your smaller number into nothing. He does a much better job with smaller groups, and it gets the pulse going.

Faith and Fire is a very entertaining book and action packed book. It was refreshing to read about the Battle Sisters, which until now I never heard of. Any problems I had with Faith and Fire are easy to overlook, and it's well worth reading. It's a very intense read and whereas I never felt I connected much with the characters, I sure did connect with the story. My high goose-bumps count of three will attest to that. I will certainly read the next installment in the series, Hammer and Anvil.

Faith and Fire weighs in at 416 pages and is published by The Black Library.

Recommendation: read


  1. Cool, thanks for the review, Erik.

    I've been a little gun-shy (pun intended) when it comes to James Swallow. If you think it's worth a read, though, I'll pick it up and add it to my own Black Library shelf.

  2. I'm a little gun shy too. I may remain so. I love kick ass women, but as well as I often find women adapt to writing men, men do seem to do poorly writing women. I think it may be that in every day life women are pushed to have to see men and a man's world from their pov all the time. Men rarely are.

    I agree with you completely that small groups are better plots. However, I fall short on two accounts. You say the characters are shallow but the plot is great. I'm a character girl. For me, they are the beginning and the end. Their choices, building up, create their way and the plot. The world should revolve around the characters, not visa versa. So I'm a no go if the characters aren't strong. I just quit reading at some point.

    The other point is that I am prone to the rabble rouser. I'd root for the witch. I can't help it. The establishment annoys me.

  3. Bets and Mark - I just finished reading The Emperor's Finest which i think will be more to your liking. Will try and get a review up in the next couple of days.