Monday, January 18, 2016

Your going in - tip of the spear, edge of the knife. Ready? Let's go!

Horus Rising (The Horus Heresy, #1)Horus Rising by Dan Abnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"When xenos threaten the existence of humanity - who you gonna call?"

Mangasm in print right here!!

What a opening Horus Rising has. I recall reading it for the first time many years ago and thinking "surly the end can't be the beginning of the novel." I was so confused. How wrong I was, we're now thirty novels into the series, with no sign of it ending. It's not just that juxtapose - the beginning has impact - it's forceful. It'll grab you and take you on a ride at terminal velocity. Best grab the sick bag!

Dan Abnett introduces us to the Luna Wolves, Space Marines from the planet Cathonia. You could argue that Horus Rising becomes overawed by a type of celebrity-showcasing of a who's-who of the 30K universe. It really doesn't though. What really makes this book stand out are the foundations laid. There is great emphasis placed on a shared-brotherhood, a camaraderie we see lacking in current 40K novels (in my opinion), along the lines of honour and a resolute secularism. There's intelligent prose to be found here, it's not all about being a superhuman with unmatched strength and stamina - there's also a philosophy of being. Loken is certainly searching for this throughout.

That being said, there's bolter-porn to be found here also, from the outset in fact. Do not fear, this isn't a philosophical treatise to bore you to death. It's a novel about conquest, that being the crusade that the Emperor has tasked/burdened the Astrates and humanity with (let's be honest, it's a big world out there). What really was a joy to read was the foes arranged against the Space Marines. You'd think it would be Orks or Elder, no no. Dan Abnett comes up with some of his own races. The Megarachnid are a biological being, they breed and consume, they seem to be a earlier existence of the Tyranids. There is also the Interex, former colonists from Terra who have found themselves devoid of contact with their human brothers due to the Age of Strife (warpstorms stopping space travel).

Characters really make a novel, this being no expectation. Dan Abnett has created some of the best characters in both 30/40K to date. We're introduced to the concept of 'The Mournvial' who are akin to a advisory council to Horus. Made up of 'worthy' captains of merit, such as Abaddon, the first captain, Aximand, Loken and Torgaddon. They rather remind me of the A-Team. Abaddon as Hannibal, who comes across as a brilliant tactician, if a little hot headed. Torgaddon as the wise-cracking comedy relief, who becomes staunch friends with Garvial. Aximand is much more the level-headed member, so I guess that would make him Face. That leaves Garvial Loken, a individual who is the dissenting voice. He offers his own views, which help him to fit his role as devil's advocate within the Mournvial - he certainly isn't BA Baracus, but then I could see him saying "crazy fool" for my own amusement. He's too much of a starch arse for that.

There are some fantastic side characters of note. Eidelon, commander of The Emperor's Children, arrogant, aloof and altogether what I would call 'a tool.' Saul Tarvitz and Lucius are a wonderful foil, one being a pragmatist and shall we say grounded captain and the other hot-headed and cock-sure. They really complement each other. Although the Space Marines are the centre stage, the more human characters that populate "Horus Rising" are just as interesting. A primary iterator Sindermann and the remembrancer Euphrati Keeler are both interesting and very well written. Obviously Abnett uses them to give effective contrast to the Astrates. Did I mention First Chaplain Erebus of the Word Bearers? No, fuck him then!

It's obviously worth mentioning Horus *sarcasm*. He is charismatic, a leader. He is both humble and aloof - without appearing so. The Primarch uses such tools as the Mournvial to maintain, if you like, a neutral perspective, especially when engaging with military personnel. This is shown throughout the book and works fairly well, but at times did make me think that a leader should speak his mind at all times.

Horus Rising is one of those benchmark books, not just in Black Library's arsenal, but in the whole science fiction genre. It's Grimdark, space opera and an apologetic war mixed all into one bag.The series as a whole is getting more and more exposure, it's a New York bestseller. It's one of the best novels in the series, being the first, this is no small feat. Give it ago, even if you aren't a fan of Warhammer 40K, this series stands on its own. What do you have to lose? Do it, do it NOW.

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Mean magic with some rollicking dark[ish]/high[ish] fantasy thrown into the mix.

The Grim Company (The Grim Company, #1)The Grim Company by Luke Scull
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation."

I've used that quote many times to reinforce to students how important it is to be original when composing a essay. It's so easy to be influenced by a journal where you believe part of it answers the question to which you are posed perfectly. Perfection is a myth, something we strive to but find it frustratingly impossible to obtain - but maybe the perfection you seek should be from your own mind and thoughts, not other's. Aspire is different to inspire, don't you think? I believe this is a problem with The Grim Company - please read on.

My main problem with The Grim Company was that I had read the story before, or something very similar to it. There are too many parallels to other stories I've read by writers such as Joe Abercrombie, Glen Cook, George R R Martin and many more. Of course writers are going to be influenced by other writers, but for me this wasn't a original story. I'm going to try to explain why I think this and also my relative disappointment with the characters created by the author - this being they (to me) came across lifeless and devoid of, well, character.

Grim Company is a debut high/dark/grimdark fantasy trilogy by Luke Scrull. The Gods are dead, slain by the Magelords some five centuries ago. Humanity is on its own, but now they are ruled by those mages. There is one who can challenge the mages, Davarus Cole who has Magebane - a weapon that makes him impervious to sorcery. Cole has a destiny, to become a hero. He yearns to slay Salazar, a Magelord who rules Dormina with a tyrannical flair. To help him reach this goal, he has The Shards, who are a group of rebels - although Cole finds himself held back by their leaders lack of action, Garrett.

While this is going on, demonic forces are gathering to the north. The only thing standing between them are a loose confederacy of Highlander tribes (basically Vikings). A Shaman, who commands these forces - meanwhile he is pursuing the former Sword of the North, Bordar Kayne, who fled along with Wolf aka Jerek to the south. Their paths become entwined with members of the Shard.

In-between this we're presented with the Eremul , the Halfmage, a mage who Salazar let live on account he hides his magical abilities and turn informant. Life's a bit crap for Eremul, as he is half the man he use to be, literally speaking. His manservant Issac, helps Eremul get around (so to speak) and turns into a rather adapt aide for both his master and, well everything he turns his hand to.

There is another side story going on (four in all) which introduces the reader to Ylandris, a sorceress, who seduces the King of the North so she can realise her dream of becoming queen. What she begins to realise is that the King isn't really in command and finds herself thinking how to depose the Shaman aka Magelord of the north.

So here's my problem with the characters - Bordar Kayne personality is devoid of anything that would appeal to the reader. It's wooden, like it's been hammered out and played out by the writer many times over for perfection. The author does describe The Sword of the North as 'in his prime' many times over - but then continually reinforces to the reader how he is old and flagging, aches and pains override his ability to fight. However he seems to walk through anything thrown at him. It doesn't help as Bordar dialogue read like it was forced by the writer to give him some ounce of personality. Now his companion Jerek is likeable up to a point, but after a while his personality grated at him. It was like he was thrown in only to give it a Mark Lawerence-esque "fuck, cock and cunt" linguist lesson to the reader. I've no problem with rough language in a story. After a while, you just think that character has nothing to offer but that 'fun' trait. He is easily prone to violence, even a flipping alchemist annoys him, for no reason other than being one. Females, he doesn't like females... 'cunts' apparently. In fact the only person he 'half' likes is Kayne and even then they almost come to blows.

I want to talk about Davarus Coles, possibly the worst leading character I've ever come across in any fictional story I've read. I'm not just saying this for impact or trying to be 'edgy and cool' - he sucks! Seriously, the story goes he has a destiny; to follow in his father footsteps and become a hero. Fine, understandable in a way. He is neither the anti-hero which some of George R R Martin's and Mark Lawrence present us in their stories, but a insufferable, deluded, annoying, whining git. He rather reminds me of that person who big themselves up constantly, but when it comes to doing something, they fall way short. He has such cliché lines like; "I'm a hero, this is what I do." I get the author has written this character that way, but too much 'page time' has been given to a character who actually brings nothing to the story.

Having said that I did end up rooting for the bad guy, Salazar - wrong? Maybe, but then the heroes in the story weren't really written in a way where I'd end up rooting for them. We end up finding out why he helped kill the gods and why he is so hard on his people. It's explained in a way where you feel for the bad guy! The Magelords may have become ruthless and unforgiving in their rule, but once the explanations is there, well I felt it was justified to a point. The Halfmage was interesting in his witty retorts to those who mocked him. The story isn't helped by dialogue that (as I've mentioned) seemed to be forced out by the author - I'm trying best to explain how the majority of main characters came across to me; false and lifeless would be the best analogy I can come up with.

There are some interesting world creations though; The Augmentors, sort of a magically enhanced police force appealed. They are a extension of Salazar's power and gifted with differing abilities such as; enchanted armour, blurring speed, never tire, etc. Talking about magic, I wanted to mention that I'm not a fan of fantasy with heavy magic involvement within its pages. However Luke Scrull does make the magic subtle mostly. Mind you, on a scale that borders on genocide.

I think the real problem with The Grim Company is that there is no defined protagonist or anti-hero - there all just mixed together in the hope they carry the story. There doesn't seem to be any real antagonist either. Salazar isn't such of a bad guy, just the 'guy' who is put there to make you feel like there is some kind of evil in the world - it just didn't sit well with me - that was my conclusion towards the end. Another issue for me was the predictability of where the story was going. Something many reviewers have mentioned but glazed over. The story is very A-B, you know where Cole is heading. I've mentioned Salazar.

So the last thing I wanted to mention was how similar part of the story is to GRRM. To the north we've got demonic powers looking to come south and devour the people of Trine in The Grim Company. The people are weak, both those who are defending the north and those south - due to civil war and a populace being ruled in a iron vice. GRRM - same thing when you think about it. Though the powers north are presented as a more 'natural' evil. There is civil war in Game Of Thrones the north is weakened due to the death of Ned Stark, due to this civil war for the crown. The Grim Company a death of a important Magelord weakens the people. Game of Thrones the king is poisoned and the realm reverts to civil war. Hmm. In The Grim Company the Demons are coming and the people are near powerless to stop them - well unless Kayne goes back north and walks through them. Much like this novel.

Apologies if I sound a little cynical - I found the similarities to similar to a few other author's stories. Imitation is fine, but there is a limit surely. I did enjoy a few of the characters as mentioned, but didn't find the story original enough to warrant me liking it more. In fact it borrowed heavily from other fantasy novels, in my opinion. I'm not suggesting plagiarism as it's not. Maybe you will find it differently, in which case I hope you do as there are some ideas here that could possibly work really well.

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Heroic Flyers

The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45 by Stephen E. Ambrose
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Slow down with that zipping and zooming about, whipper-snapper! This is a far tamer tale. Like the planes Stephen E. Ambrose is describing herein, his prose plods along at a steady, satisfying pace. These are not jet fighters, these are workhorses carrying out a task.

The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45 is just as much the story of George McGovern as it is of the pilots and crews of those famous World War II bombers. McGovern is most famously known as the Democratic candidate who lost to Nixon in the 1972 election, the year the Democratic National Headquarters was raided by Republican operatives in the dead of night during a little incident you may have heard of called Watergate. Prior to that, he piloted one of these finicky, taxing aerial beasts.


Ambrose wisely uses McGovern's wartime experience as a template and as the narrative thread for his treatise on the B-24, infusing a dull, non-fiction text with a human element, a technique in vogue with popular, modern day historians. The people like a good story. McGovern's life is perfectly entertaining in this context, but Ambrose heightens his book's readability by adding in the stories of other pilots and those of McGovern's flight crew. All of which turns a book about a plane into something much more humanistic. The reader can't help but develop an attachment to these courageous men.

The Wild Blue is a solid niche book for those familiar with WWII, but who want to have a deeper understanding of this specific facet of the war.

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