BOOK REVIEW: Sisters of Battle, by James Swallow

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Publisher: Black Library

Series: Sisters of Battle (#1-2)

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 750

Publication Date: 21/09/2018

Verdict: 5/5

The Sisters of Battle are the iron fist of the Imperial church.  Pious, unrelenting and utterly dedicated to the God Emperor, they are sworn to root out the enemies of mankind wherever they may be found. . .

Sisters of Battle is without a doubt the best Warhammer omnibus I’ve read this year. Sometimes, even with the best of authors, these weighty tome can start to drag towards the end. Even the phenomenal Gaunt’s Ghosts series had its bloat. But not so here. Perhaps it’s because there are only two novels crammed into this meaty paperback, or perhaps it is Swallow’s energetic writing, but Sisters of Battle never slows down.

The first novel, Faith and Fire sees Sisters Miriya and Verity tracking down a rogue psyker, while a conspiracy unravels around them. It’s a fairly typical 40k story, all things considered. And this makes it the perfect introduction to both setting and characters. It’s got everything you’d expect of a Warhammer story: flawed heroes, insane space wizards, corrupt officials and, of course, bone-crunching violence. Victory in the forty-first millennium comes with a high price.

The second novel, Hammer and Anvil, is a different creature entirely. Miriya and Verity return, investigating an attacked outpost on the edge of the Empire. Soon enough, and this isn’t much of a spoiler, they find themselves besieged by an inhuman force. The Necrons are a faction I’ve read very little about. On the basis of Swallow’s depiction, they are one of the more interesting xenos in the Warhammer universe. Something I’ll have to seek out more of in future.

In addition to the two novels, there are a pair of short stories. Heart and Soul is a tense piece chronicling the final battle against a Chaos cult. The other is a prequel to the main body of stories. On my first reading, it seemed familiar. And then I realised: It’s the prose version of Red and Black, one of the audio dramas that kickstarted my love of the format. happily, it works just as well in text form as it does in audio. Having that background really helps with the character voices, and I highly recommend seeking out the original audio.

Generally speaking, the superhuman aspects of Warhammer have never done much for me. The vast majority of my reading is limited to the Astra Militarum/Imperial Guard. Give me ordinary soldiers over Space Marines any day. The Sisters of Battle straddle the line between these two groups. Yes, they are clad in power armour and fight against powerful foes. But they are not enhanced in any way. Aside from equipment, it’s only their zealous faith that separates them from the common man. And that’s the interesting thing about. In the grim, dark future, it’s nice to see people who genuinely belive they are working to make the Galaxy a better place. It’s not just faith that keeps the Sisters of Battle going, it’s hope.

Sisters of battle is the ultimate omnibus so far as the Adepta Sororitas are concerned. if you like Warhammer, or just want to see women with massive guns taking on the scum of the Galaxy, this is the book for you.

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