Saturday, 17 December 2011

'The Gildar Rift' - Sarah Cawkwell

The Gildar Rift is a new novel in the Space Marines Battles series. This series is dedicated to retelling the most famous front-line battles of the Adeptus Astartes. I love the cover, look at that bad boy. When I grow up I wanted to be an evil chaos marine with a huge power claw. Not sure how I would write my reviews with that thing though. Anyway, The Gildar Rift seemed like the perfect way to make my trip home to Sweden pass quicker. Cannot go wrong with space marines beating the crap out of each other. Thank you Black Library for providing me with this review copy.

The Silver Skulls have taken it upon themselves to patrol the Gildar Rift to repel the ever present xeno threat. Personally, I suspect it is because a lot of promethium is produced there, and they want to make sure they have enough for their flamers. The Silver Skulls differ from the other chapters by being very superstitious. Powerful psykers, Prognosticators, are consulted before important decisions to try and divine the outcome. 

Captain Daerys Arrun is in charge of the fleet assigned to protecting the Gildar Drift, and has moved from his flagship to the Dread Argent to oversee a bold and controversial experiment. The Dread Argent might not be a flagship, but it is still a formidable engine of destruction, which is why when they receive a distress call from The Wolf of Fenris Daerys Arrun feels confident they can assist the Space Wolves. A small team is assembled to board the friendly spaceship to determine what is going on, but it's assumed the situation is hostile. Nothing can prepare them for what they find on board. 

The arch-enemy have launched an attack on the system with the Wolf of Fenris being the bait which springs the trap. The Silver Skulls find themselves in dire straits both in space and down on the planet. Every move they make has been foreseen by the insane, but brilliant traitor, Huron Blackheart. Fury grips Daerys Arrun as he watches his brothers fall to the traitorous Red Corsairs. The Silver Skulls ranks are thin enough already and they cannot afford to lose more, but more importantly they cannot let the system fall to the arch enemy. 

Before things can get better they have to become worse, is something all readers will be familiar with. Being able to spot the upcoming inevitable disaster is something of a pet peeve of mine. Sarah Cawkwell certainly delivers on disasters, but it does feel forced, accompanied by explanations of why the space marines are helpless to act. Like I said this is something I like ranting about so your mileage may wary. 
Sarah Cawkwell does a very good job in raising the stakes and building up suspense. I do share captain Daerys Arrun's pain every time one of his men die. The Gildar Rift is, from start to finish, an intense read with a lot of fighting. I quite liked the ship to ship battles as their immobility makes those battles very different from ground fighting. It pretty much boils down to how much punishment your ship can take, like Rocky Balboa! It might sound boring but it's actually pretty exciting, and you can feel the ship tremble from the impact of the enemy's missiles. Down on the planet the fighting is more brutal and personal. The Silver Skulls are facing a horde of cultists and Red Corsairs. They literally tear into the cultists with little effort; they are not much more than a nuisance, but can sometimes be a fatal distraction from the real threat. Sarah Cawkwell does a good job describing the mayhem and it feels convincing with a quick pace. 

The characters in The Gildar Rift are both good and bad. They definitely feel like proper space marines, with suitable dialog and a gruff attitude. I often find space marines to be flat and lacking in personality, and unfortunately this is also the case here. It's probably not easy making one fanatic killing machine much different from others cut from the same cloth. Sarah Cawkwell also falls into the trap of telling us how intelligent and tactically brilliant captain Daerys Arrun is, but then his actions and decisions fail to live up to his reputation. I'm always reminded of David Weber's Honour Harrington when it happens.
The Gildar Drift was a solid delivery from Sarah Cawkwell, packed full of the right ingredients, and kept me entertained during my flight. The secret experiment made things interesting and felt like a fresh idea, which might have ramifications for other books in the Warhammer 40k universe. If, like me, you expect a grim read, non stop action, and religious zealots you have found the right book. I think it's fair to say The Gildar Rift felt like it was setting the stage for a second novel. The Silver Skulls suffer from a bloodied nose, and I would like to see them take the war to the Red Corsairs, giving them the initiative and the first strike. 

If your life is given in service to the Emperor, your death shall not be in vain.

The Gildar Rift weighs in at 416 pages and is published by the Black Library.

Recommendation: read

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