Thursday, 24 May 2012

'The Hammer and the Blade' - Paul S Kemp

The Hammer and the Blade might be Paul S. Kemp's first book for Angry Robot Books, but far from his first published book. This guy has written both Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons novels, which makes me excited and I have not even looked at the blurb yet. But to go back to The Hammer and the Blade, we are talking old fashioned, gritty sword and sorcery. That's all I need to know. Thank you Angry Robot Books for providing me with a review copy of The Hammer and the Blade.

Egil and Nix are tomb robbers, although they prefer the term adeventurers, and this is exactly what they are doing when we first meet them. Nix, is the quick one, both with his wit and his blade. Egil, is big, strong and a priest of a dead god. With Nix's affinity for locks and traps and Egil's skill at cracking skulls, no tomb is safe.

Most of us, will sooner or later come to a point in life where we ask our selves what the heck we are really doing with our lives. To me, it was getting bored of coding desktop applications, to our 'heroes', it was tomb robbing which finally got to them. Me, I just changed to another field of programming, Egil and Nix decided to buy a brothel. No one was surprised when the infamous last job turned into the penultimate job. It turns out the demon they killed in their last job was a essential part of a plan of one of the mages in the city they decided to retire in. He is not happy. The mage, a very angry and desperate man, turns to both violent and arcane persuasion to coerce our heroes for one final job. This is a lot more fun than watching them mope in the brothel.

If book were food, all the ingredients in The Hammer and the Blade would be very familiar, but sword and sorcery is also one of my favourite dishes. That is, if it's done well, which this one is. It's even very good, so good it brings back fond memories of The Gray Mouser and Fafhrd by Fritz Leiber, or a more recent acquaintance, The Copper Promise by Jennifer Williams. What they all have in common is interesting and engaging characters. Paul S. Kemp drops us straight into the story, without revealing much about the characters' background. Instead, we are fed morsels from their lives throughout the book, but it's all made part of the current plot lines. It makes for a very smooth reading experience and help builds up an interest in the characters. A lot of questions are raised, some are answered in The Blade and the Hammer, but plenty remains for a sequel, which I hope there will be one of. The author also invests time in creating personal conflict for the characters, with tough decisions and moral dilemmas.

The world building takes a step back, and instead Paul S. Kemp focuses on characters and action. I don't mean the world building is bad, it's just not what stands out. At least our writer makes up his own creatures, no orcs or elves in this novel.

The Hammer and the Blade was certainly a book I'll remember for being fun and action packed. I'm a big fan of sword and sorcery, so hopefully we will see more of Egil and Nix in the future.

The Hammer and the Blade weighs in at 432 pages and is published by Angry Robot Books.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

'Void Stalker' - Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Void Stalker was the fix for my latest addiction, fiction by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. After I finished reading The Emperor's Gift I was on a real high, and I really did not want to come down again. I just legged it to the cave where I keep all my books to look for another book by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Luckily, Void Stalker found me. The book was calling out to me through the Warp, surrounded by a faint glow. Thank you Black Library for providing me with a review copy of Void Stalker.

I don't normally start reading a series with any other book than the first, but I made an exception for Void Stalker. Void Stalker concludes the Night Lords trilogy, but it turned out OK jumping in at the last book. Anyway, The Night Lords is one the nine traitor legions and was created in the first founding. While in service for the Emperor they brought order to human worlds by fear, death and suffering, which is pretty much what they do nowadays as well.

Talos, prophet of the Night Lords and leader of the first claw, is still plagued by his visions of the future and the comas induced by the visions. The book starts with one of these visions, and Talos awakening to find himself surrounded by his men and unable to recall much from his dream. On his orders they have travelled through the warp to their old world. When they find signs of life on the supposedly barren planet it's almost an insult to what happened such a long time ago, when the legions loyal to the emperor destroyed their world. Any human alive on the planet will shortly wish for a quick death.

The Night Lords are natural hunters, thriving on fear and suffering. What they are less used to is being hunted, but the tables will turn.

Honestly, I sometimes struggle when reading about chaos marines. They are often too evil, and it's hard to see a reason to much they do. Aaron Dembski-Bowden makes it a lot easier to connect with the Night Lords. They are relatively untouched by chaos, they still have some honour left, and don't even kill everything around them when feeling a bit blue. I wouldn't go so far as saying I sympathised with them, but I could at least see reason behind their actions. The Night Lords have lost their purpose, and this is how they found it again.

I don't have much to add, regarding Aaron Dembski-Bowden's writing, to what I said in my review of The Emperor's Gift except the man is bloody brilliant. He delivers so well when it comes to action, suspense and atmosphere, but also adds a lot of depth to his characters, which is not always the case with space marines. I'm off to rummage through my book piles for more of his books, and so should you dear reader.

Void Stalker weighs in at 416 pages and is published by The Black Library.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Emperor's Gift - Aaron Dembski-Bowden

The Emperor's Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden was an obvious choice. The Grey Knights are the 666th chapter of the Astartes, and they are all powerful psykers. They are the secret weapon of the Inquisition, sworn to combat the powers of Chaos, and those under its influence. Sounds pretty damn cool. Thank you Black Library for providing me with a review copy of The Emperor's Gift.

The Emperor's Gift grips you from the first chapter with a gauntleted fist. The prologue is a stark reminder of the brutal reality of those living in the 41th millennium.  A lone prisoner is held captive and sedated only to be awakened to answer the same question over and over again, 'What is your name?'.

The first chapter is also a strong opener, where we are introduced to Inquisitor Annika Jarlsdottyr of the Ordo Malleus, and her motley crew. An interesting bunch of people, but they are not who The Emperor's Gift is about. Annika Jarlsdottyr is present on Cheth to root out a Chaos infestation, one of the worst kind where the ruler has fallen under the influence of the Warp. She is not alone, five of the Grey Knights are travelling with her.

Once the threat was dealt with, Annika Jarlsdottyr asks the Grey Knights one by one to come with her for one more mission. She refuses to tell them exactly what the mission is, just that she has a feeling they will be needed. In spite of being assigned to another Inquisitor the Grey Knights accept, and the Inquisitor finally reveals what needs to be done. A Space Wolves ship was found adrift by a patrolling ship. Initial scans showed no life signs but a lot of Warp traces. It was deemed too dangerous for the patrol ship to investigate, and the responsibility was passed on to the Inquisition.

Together Annika Jarlsdottyr and the Grey Knights will discover a threat beyond anything they could have ever imagined. A threat so grave space marines will turn on each other.

Aaron Dembski-Bowden does a fantastic job with the both humans and Astartes. Hyperion, one of the Grey Knights and also our protagonist, is very close to Annika Jarlsdottyr. His constant bewilderment over human emotions and feelings is endearing, and a reminder of what a space marine sacrifices to serve mankind. There is more depth to the characters than what I normally expect from a Warhammer 40k novel. Aaron Dembski-Bowden gives Hyperion plenty of difficult choices, choices which goes against the space marine's very nature. In The Emperor's Gift there is no black or white, only different shades of hell.

In the 41st millennium the stakes are always high, but in The Emperor's Gift they are higher than normal. It truly was difficult to put the book down, every page is more intense than the previous one. The plot takes more than one expected turn making it even harder to stop reading. I can only admire the ease with which Aaron Dembski-Bowden moves the plot forward, never a cheap trick, never a feeling of a character being forced into a situation with an inevitable outcome.

I read Warhammer 40k for the fantastic lore, the grim existence of the individual, and for the butt kicking action. All these things and more are present in The Emperor's Gift. Aaron Dembski-Bowden gives of plenty of spine chilling action. Not always easy when your characters are immortal killing machines. Space Marines are close to unstoppable, but can be killed. He gets the balance between mortality and immortality spot on. When one goes down he sold himself hard, not because of a stupid mistake.
”We didn't split up. We were Grey Knights, not a pack of idiotic salvagers. Each of us had been raised and trained to act as his brother's shield, and we kept our minds faintly linked, ready to see through each other senses at a moment's notice.”
The Emperor's Gift is a master piece, which deserves to be written in High Gothic, bound in the finest leather, and engraved with precious metals. Aaron Dembski-Bowden's prose is powerful and compelling, his words bleed sparks of force. It's one of those rare books which seems to disappear while you read it, letting your imagination take charge.

The Emperor's Gift weighs in at 320 pages and is published by The Black Library. It's scheduled for release in June 2012.