BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Rafen Omnibus, by James Swallow

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Publisher: Black Library

Series: Rafen (#1-4)

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 828

Publication Date: 2019

Verdict: 3/5

The Blood Angels are among the more famous chapters of Warhammer 40,000’s Space Marines. Maybe not quite as famous as the Ultramarines, but if you’ve ever walked past a Games Workshop there’s a good chance you’ve seen their miniatures in the window. With their bright red armour and tendency to walk around without helmets on, the certainly cut a striking figure, and so its unsurprising that they’ve amassed such a following. They have the literature to back them up too, with names like Dante and Mephiston being some of the forty-first millennium’s most famous faces, each sporting numerous books to their name. Go back further into the murky depths of Black Library though, and you’ll find another name. Rafen. That’s the man whose stories are gathered here, all from the pen of James Swallow.

Swallow is one of my favourite tie-in authors. Besides his excellent Sisters of Battle books for Warhammer, he’s also written for Star Trek and, back in the days when I was more of a fan, Doctor Who. I have to say though, Rafen is far from his best work. That might be obvious, what with the first book in this omnibus being from way back in 2004, but coming so soon after a run of far superior novels from the same hand, it was a disappointment. Every book here is perfectly fine, and I don’t regret the time spent reading any of them, but Swallow has unquestionably come far as a writer in the past seventeen years.

A lot of my issues with this omnibus are not with the actual craftsmanship, however. As we’ve seen in recent reviews, the Warhammer 40,000 setting is evolving with each new book. But this wasn’t always the case. Back in the early days of Warhammer literature, the focus was less on developing the world as it was on showcasing the world. If you’re looking for depth you won’t find it here, but if you want an introduction to one of the factions, this isn’t the worst place to start. there’s a tangible sense that this book exists to encourage people to pick up and paint. These are Space Marines, it says. These are Blood Angels. This is what Chaos is. This is the grim, dark future. Just like the original Eisenhorn, it’s entry level stuff, while I have been spoiled by a universe that has existed longer than I’ve been alive.

As for the Blood Angels themselves, they’re pretty much everything I expect from Space Marines. They’re big, stompy heroes that I wouldn’t really want to spend any time around. Not least because they have genetic flaws that promote murderous tendencies. If the Space Wolves are Space Vikings (though not my favourite ones), then the Blood Angels are Space Vampires. In this, Swallow captures the full horror of the forty-first millennium. Even the angels on the side of ‘good’ (for whatever good is) are blood-drinking monsters. Just imagine how horrifying that makes the villains. And this series has villains aplenty, from the infamous to the relatively unknown.

This isn’t a book that’s going to blow anyone’s minds, but it has its moments. The opening short story The Fury is perhaps the grimmest, most fantastic piece of fiction Black Library has put out for Warhammer 40,000, and if that whets your appetite, Swallow has laid out a full banquet for you to enjoy at your leisure.

BOOK REVIEW: Mentats of Dune, by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

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Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Series: Schools of Dune (#2)

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 445

Publication Date: 2014

Verdict: 5/5

Torn between the technological advances of Venport Holdings and the fanaticism of the Butlerian movement, the Imperium stands on the brink of civil war. In the middle of the conflict, Gilbertus Albans and his Mentat school must pick their side . . .

Right from the start of my journey with Dune, the Mentats were one of those ideas that just clicked with me. Humans taught to think like computers. Not genetically modified, not cyborgs, just ordinary humans beings who have received specialised training. In the universe of Frank Herbert’s creation, their role is to replace the actual computers banned in the wake of the Butlerian Jihad, effectively allowing the complicated sums required for an interstellar empire to function to still exist. But beyond the narrative, they play into ideas that have always fascinated me, as well as many others.  People governed by logic rather than emotion, who Barclays every encounter in the hope of an optimal outcome. In that they’re similar to to Star Trek‘s Vulcans, but the idea occurs elsewhere. Star Wars has the obvious parallel of Thrawn, and beyond the realm of science fiction we have characters like Sherlock Holmes. Mentats spring from a well that can be examined time and time again, bringing up new ideas each time.

It should come as no surprise then that Mentats of Dune is my favourite book of this reread to date. For the first time we delve into the origins of the Mentats. Not only are they taught to replace computers, but to prove that thinking machines are unnecessary. The irony is, of course, that Gilbertus Albans teaches methods derived from those machines, specifically the notorious Erasmus. It’s clear from early on that the Butlerians will kill him if they uncover this secret, but equally evident is the fact that Venport would only exploit Erasmus’ knowledge for his own gains. It’s the proverbial rock and a hard place, which goes some way to explaining the Mentats’ general neutrality in the original Dune. Yes, they will work for anyone, but they know that ultimately, they are just another resource. Better to be used than killed, but as they assert the primacy of humankind, they end up treated as less than human themselves.

Beyond the Mentats and their struggles, this book continues to develop the larger universe. There are a lot of PoVs here, but none feel underutilised, or worse, overexposed. Wisely, Herbert and Anderson fill their cast with unfamiliar names, so that when the deaths do come, they’re not just filling in the gaps in a known tale. That said, the once continuing thread from way back in The Butlerian Jihad is the ongoing tragedy of Vorian Atreides. This is a man who has outlived everyone he loves, and now wanders the Galaxy seeking purpose, providing a narrative core to a book that otherwise casts its storytelling seeds far and wide. There are elements here that will not bear fruit until much later on in the saga, while others will be wrapped up in the very next volume.

Put simply, Mentats of Dune is space opera of the finest quality. Expansive, rich in ideas, and rooted in a brilliant cast of characters.

BOOK REVIEW: Penitent, by Dan Abnett

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Publisher: Black Library

Series: Bequin (#2)

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 346

Publication Date: 04/03/2021

Verdict: 5/5

Beta Bequin continues her investigation of the ancient city Queen Mab. Torn between the warring Inquisitors Gregor Eisenhorn and Gideon Ravenor, Bequin finds herself questioning everything. But she is not the only one digging into Queen Mab’s secrets. . .

Dan Abnett’s Penitent has to be one of the most anticipated releases in Black Library’s long history. The second Bequin novel has been gestating for the best part of a decade, to the point that Abnett even went back and released another Eisenhorn novel in between volumes of the Bequin trilogy. The 2021 Black Library Celebration saw Penitent‘s release after nine long years of waiting. As a reader only just getting back into the literature of the forty-first millennium, I did not have to endure nine years of waiting. In fact, it wasn’t even nine days. But still the question remained: How would the book hold up with such a long gap between releases? Could it possibly live up to the hype generated by legions of fans?

Put simply, yes. yes it absolutely can. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have that wait, but Penitent reads as if there has been no gap between books. Those nine years are reflected in the page as a mere two months, and after a brief and well-handled recap, we are thrown straight back into the murky tangle of conspiracies that Abnett’s readers have come to know and love. The flow between the two books would be impressive on any release schedule, but to so effortlessly bridge a near-decade shows just how good Abnett is at what he does. This is a man at the peak of his craft, and Penitent is easily up there with the best of Black Library’s output.

Penitent is a book that hits the ground running and throws wonder at the reader with unceasing glee. There is so much going on here that I couldn’t begin to cover it all. Abnett mines the world of Warhammer 40,000 for all it is worth, turning up all manner of gems in the process. Though it’s evidently the product of decades of storytelling, I dare say fans of anything the grim, dark future has in store will be appeased by this blood-soaked offering. The presence of Inquisition, Traitor Space Marines, heretics and the like are expected, though not always in the form they take here, but surprises abound as it becomes clear just how high the stakes are in this book. There are revelations held within these pages that could change not just the Bequin series, but the entirety of the forty-first millennium. Secrets pour out right up until the very final line, and this is one the dedicated fan will not want to miss.

Penitent, and the Bequin trilogy, is a testament to the great storytelling that can come from the unfairly maligned realm of tie-in fiction. This isn’t just a good Warhammer 40,000 book, it’s a good book. Full stop. Hopefully the final instalment in Abnett’s magnum opus releases before another nine years elapse, because I for one cannot wait to see where this goes next.

BOOK REVIEW: The Buried Age, by Christopher L. Bennett

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Era: The Lost Era/ Pre-Next Generation

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Social SF

Pages: 433

Publication Date: 2007

Verdict: 4/5

 

Jean-Luc PicardOnce captain of the Stargazer, now taking a leave of absence from Starfleet. As the Alpha Quadrant grows ever more dangerous, all Picard wishes is to explore the history of the Galaxy. But sometimes the danger finds you . . .

Between 2005 and 2016, the Star Trek Litverse (as the novels became known) became a complicated place. Each series had continuations, as well as spin-offs and wholly new sets of characters. But it also produced a handful of books which are essentially wholly standalone. The Buried Age comes under the banner of ‘The Lost Era’ but all that denotes is the rough timeline, being between The Original Series and The Next Generation. It’s the second of this novel line I’ve read, and is far superior to the prior offering, One Constant Star. You could probably read The Buried Age without much prior knowledge of Star Trek, but a fresh memory of The Next Generation would be helpful, as though it not reliant on them, Bennett’s book is chock-full of references and allusions to that series, as well as more than a few nods to others.

There’s a certain similarity to the new Picard series as this book opens. Both begin with Picard’s failure, and his subsequent journey to rediscover himself. But while the TV series focuses on his faith in the Federation and ability to lead, The Buried Age examines the other side of Picard. Not the Captain, but the Explorer. Picard’s love of history and archaeology was a defining trait that is often forgotten among all his diplomatic achievements, so any chance to see this side of him is a treat. Covering a decade leading up to the events of ‘Encounter at Farpoint,’ here we see a younger Picard throwing himself into his passion. Bennett has a great grip on Picard’s dialogue, and it’s easy to see the influence of Patrick Stewart’s performance in the page. More than that, Bennett works in various aspects of the character that were revealed over his televised tenure, forming him from the work of several dozen writers into a man who feels almost real.

As demonstrated in his Department of Temporal Investigations duology, Bennett’s real skill is in weaving together seeming irreconcilable episodes to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The war between the federation and the Cardassians makes a brief appearance, as does the ongoing dispute with the Breen. The main focus of the novel is a masterful explanation for why there are so many ancient alien races in the Star Trek universe, as well as functioning as a character study of the famed captain of the Enterprise D. There are cameos from a host of familiar faces, as well as larger roles for some unexpected ones, but it never fees like an overdose of nostalgia. The only real knock against this book is the romance that runs through the central narrative, and even that only falls flat due to my personal distaste for romance.

This is a brilliant book for those looking for a little more Picard in their lives, and if you want something on a grander scale, it can offer that as well.

AUDIO REVIEW: Descent, by Kalah

-with my thanks to the band for sending me a review copy-

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Label: Independent

Genre: Electronica/Melodic/Metal

Tracks: 4

Runtime: 18 minutes

Release Date: 01/02/2021

Verdict: 4/5

Kalah’s debut EP is an odd beast and no mistake. Even with my eclectic music taste, I’ve never heard anything quite like it. Even though it’s less than twenty minutes long, this feels like the band have thrown absolutely everything into it. Guitars, drums, and synthesizers come together in long instrumentals, while hard-edged female vocals belt out the lyrics. There’s fun, over-the-top musicality, but also real talent. It’s all a little bit glorious really.

Opener Mantis gives the listener a taste of what to expect. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve started listening to music from singers who have anything other than English as their first language, to the point that the standardised quasi-American accent is just what I assume to be the norm. And that’s not the case here. Lead vocalist Claudia Gigante’s Italian accent shine through from the first word, manipulating words in ways I haven’t considered before. There are times when my monolingual, half-deaf self can’t make out the odd word over the thumping music, but that’s not a criticism of the band, more a tragic reflection on my own rapidly deteriorating body (not to mention state of mind). there is an absolutely hypnotic quality to the song that hooks you from the start.

Titans of Dune is not, I believe, related to Frank Herbert’s series, but it might have accidentally become the soundtrack to my reread. This is a slower, more melodic song, showing early on Kalah’s musical range. From there we go straight into another style, with the anthemic Six feet Underground. This is probably my favourite song of the lot, and it’s exactly the sort of song I can imagine being played at a Sci-Fi convention, whenever those start back up. In fact, the band as a whole feel like they’d fit nicely into that niche overlap of metalhead and SF nerd. the perfect fit for this blog, in other words.

Closing the album is Sand, the most instrument-heavy song of the group. The riffs are catchy, but I’m not much of an instrumental fan, so this one did unfortunately fall a bit flat. Nevertheless, it’s as varied as the rest of the EP, and a fitting finish to a marvellously weird release. Descent is apparently the first of three EPs to be released by the band this year, and I can’t imagine where it’s going to go next, though I am excited to find out.

All in all, Descent is an EP full of promise, and serves as a fine showcase of a new band’s skill. But what comes across even more than their talent is the enthusiasm. Though I’m much more a literary fan than a musical fan, Kalah are definitely going on my ‘ones to watch’ list, and I would once again like to thank them for getting in touch. And hey, if anyone out there has recommendations for more nerd metal, do get in touch.

BOOK REVIEW: Pariah, by Dan Abnett

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Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 306

Publication Date: 2012

Verdict: 5/5

In the ancient and sprawling city of Queen Mab, a young woman named Alizabeth Bequin is about to be drawn into a conspiracy that could reshape the Imperium itself. But how can she navigate the tangled webs when she knows so little. Could even her own identity be hidden from her  . . ?

First released in 2012 with the subheading Eisenhorn vs Ravenor, Dan Abnett’s legendary Pariah has now been re-released as the opening act of the Bequin trilogy, with the much anticipated Penitent also available and the promise of Pandemonium not too distant in the future. The Bequin trilogy forms a part of Abnett’s larger Inquisition set of novels, following on from the Eisenhorn novels and the Ravenor trilogy. If you haven’t read these prior works, then first of all you are missing out, but secondly you definitely should do the background reading before tackling Pariah.

In spite of what I have just said, for most of its pages Pariah functions as a standalone novel. The setting is a new one, and one that Abnett brings to grim life from the opening pages. Queen Mab is as mysterious to us readers as it it to those who inhabit its dark streets. between doll shops, palaces, cathedrals, and schools of secretive organisations, Queen Mab is easily one of the most vividly realised locations in Warhammer 40,000’s extensive lore. At first, the plot seems new too, a classic and gripping tale of a home destroyed and a life on the run. It’s only in the third act (the novel being divided into three ‘books’) that the tie-ins to the larger Inquisition cycle become apparent and we start to learn more about Bequin’s place in the story.

Alizabeth Bequin is a name that will be familiar to Abnett’s readers, and both is and is not the central protagonist here. Though our narrator shares the name, and indeed the face, of Eisenhorn’s trusted aide, it’s clear from the outset that this is not quite the same woman. In a way, this is an origin story for Bequin, but not the one you might be expecting, unless you’ve been paying particularly close attention. Though she is not always what she seems to be, Bequin makes for a compelling character. Abnett’s choice to return to the first person pays off in spades. The sense of voice was something I found lacking in the Ravenor trilogy, but Bequin’s narration makes up for that shortcoming and then some. This Bequin is far less worldly than Abnett’s previous protagonists, and by keeping the first person focused on her, Abnett is able to keep key information from the reader without having to resort to any trickery, while also offering a truly unique insight into the world he has wrought.

By the climax of the novel, the original subheading makes itself known, and everything is tied back into the larger narrative. The mystery of the King in Yellow is yet to be solved, but there is a sense that everything is now rushing headlong into the final fight. An impressive feat when there are still two books (at least) to go. This book really does feel like a shot in the arm from Abnett, and gives the series a kick that earlier volumes sometimes lacked, showing why Abnett is so well-regarded among his readers. Sticking through the rough patches was absolutely worth it to get this far.

Pariah is one of the strongest Black Library novels I have read, and deserves every piece of praise it is given. Penitence and Pandemonium cannot get here soon enough.

TALES FROM THE TBR TOWER: March 2021

There’s an old joke that reading books and collecting books are two very different hobbies, and like so many readers, I buy books long before I get around to reading them. I try and keep on top of things, but newer, shinier books will always come along and push others further down my priority list. As a result, I have a fairly sizeable TBR (to-be-read) stack growing on my windowsill. The oldest only date back to Christmas 2020, but there are more being added every month. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to run through what I’ve currently got on the TBR, and what you can expect to see reviewed here in the coming weeks and months.

There are thirty-eight books on the stack at present, and fully half of them are Star Trek novels. Having recently finished my read of Kirtsen Beyer’s Voyager novels, it was my original plan to head in to another long Trek series. With a little help from Twitter, I narrowed that choice down to the Vanguard series, an eight-book saga set parallel to The Original Series. In preparation I bought the whole series, but then decided to get through some of my TBR before tackling another long series.  That was in February, but at the start of March I bought more Star Trek. This time in the form of Enterprise tie-ins. I’ve already read and reviewed all the post-finale Enterprise novels, and hadn’t really intended to read those set during the series. But I also can’t resist a good bargain, and got the whole set for a steal. they’re fairly short books, even by Pocket Books standards, and I’ll probably use them as palate cleansers between larger books before going back to Vanguard. Also on the Star Trek front is Christopher L. Bennett’s The Buried Age, about Picard’s life before The Next Generation. The current plan is to read that one next.

Also taking up a lot of space is Black Library. Though in this case it’s physical size as well as number of books contributing to the tower. I had planned to spend March celebrating Warhammer (you may have seen #WarhamMarch floating around on Twitter). What I forgot when planning the celebration was just how big the books are. The Ahriman, Night Lords, Blood Angels and Dark Angels omnibuses currently weighing down my floor are all huge door-stoppers, and getting through them is taking longer than I expected. Also on the Warhammer stack is Gave Thorpe’s Armageddon Saint, the first two Black Legion books by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Steve Lyon’s Dead Men Walking and Dan Abnett’s Penitent. The latter I will almost certainly get around to this month as I am reading Pariah right now, and I hope to take down another omnibus before April rocks around.

The last third of my TBR is much more of a mixed bag. Mike Brooks’ Keiko trilogy is there, and those are the books I’ve had waiting for the longest. I read book one a few years ago, and plan to reread it before tackling books two and three in the series. Another trilogy is Keiran Shea’s Koko, which I started reviewing here, but haven’t felt a rush to get back to. I’ve also got two books there I know next to nothing about. Essa Hansen’s Nophek Gloss is the intriguingly titled first book in the Graven trilogy, a debut I picked up after seeing it mentioned a few times online. Then there’s a John Birmingham’s The Cruel Stars, which looks like just the sort of military SF I crave. I’m planning to wrap up a few series before starting anything new, but my eye is drawn to these two quite regularly.

On the non-SF front, I have three books on the TBR, all of them the first in a series. Devin Madson’s We Ride the Storm and K.S. Villoso’s Wolf of Oren-Yaro will hopefully pull me back to fantasy after a few months of not liking anything I read of the genre. There’s also R. Scott Bakker’s The Darkness That Comes Before. This is one I’m not expecting to enjoy, having heard a lot of negativity about, but I’m a curious man by nature, and that curiosity has got the better of me this time around.

On top of all that I still have the ongoing Dune reread, which is going on at a steady two books per month pace, meaning I should wrap up in time to read Lady of Caladan not too long after it comes out. Some of the longer and denser books coming up migth delay that schedule a little, but there’s plenty of flexibility and I’ll certainly finish the reread this year, and hopefully in tome for the new Dune film, assuming cinemas are open and safe by that point. Fingers crossed.

With all this on my plate I’m planning to hold off on new books for a few weeks. Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace has thrown a small spanner into those works, being one of my most anticipated releases of the year, but I’m determined not to pick up any new books until I’ve made a dent on this TBR tower that threatens to fall and crush me during the night. With any luck I’ll be either finished with or caught up on a lot of ongoing series by the end of April, and will have space for some of the books I’ve been eyeing. One of the few redeeming qualities of the global pandemic is that it’s pushed release dates back enough for me to get up to speed. A small mercy, but I’ll take it. Once I am caught up, I’m thinking it might be time to delve into some of the classics that have slipped me by until this year. David Brin, the late Ben Bova, Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds all have large back catalogues that I’m tempted by, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

 

What’s your TBR like? Be sure to leave a comment or get in touch on Twitter.

BOOK REVIEW: Sisterhood of Dune, by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

-Click here for a full index of my Dune Saga reviews-

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Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Series: Schools of Dune (#1)

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 496

Publication Date: 2012

Verdict: 5/5

 

The Imperium stands at a crossroads. Along one path lies a new age of technology and the possibility of new thinking machines. Down the other is a dark age of fanaticism and mob rule. To guide the Imperium rises a new group, the Sisterhood . . .

Sisterhood of Dune kicks of the second Dune prequel trilogy with a bang. On my first read of these books, the Schools of Dune trilogy was my favourite arc of the larger universe, and I’m happy to find that it stands the test of a second reading. As one of their more recent works, Sisterhood is a book where Herbert and Anderson’s writing comes together seamlessly, having been honed by a dozen prior novels. There are times when you forget it’s the work of a team, and it feels more like a single author, so well are their styles matched.

The story picks up nearly a century after the defeat of Omnius, but while time has moved on, humanity hasn’t. Though the Butlerian Jihad was a success, the Butlerians are still present, and are now a much more antagonistic force. Their fanatic pursuit of an end to all technology is an all-too-plausible follow-up to the Jihad itself. The leader of the Butlerians, Manford Torondo, is easily one of the best original characters from the Herbert/Anderson era of Dune. A fanatic through and through, he’s a worryingly prescient example of the dangers of populist dictators. Here is a man who has no limit to his hatred, and not much to commend him but his charisma. Even when his arguments have no value, being little more than rallying calls to the mob, it’s easy to see why he has the support he does. Torondo’s solutions are simple, and even if you disagree with him, his mob is enough to convince most to go along with him. Remind you of anyone?

On the other side of the argument is Josef Venport. Venport’s arguments are based in logic rather than passion, pointing out the many uses of technology. If forced to choose, I would definitely be on his side, but it’s to the authors’ credit that the moral debate takes place between two people who could easily be the villain of another tale, but is none the less compelling for that. Venport’s use of advanced technology is a cautionary tale of sorts, although in this volume he remains a sympathetic character. Only the works of his scientists, building new cymeks and ever-deadlier weapons, hints at the darkness that is still to come.

Tying all of this together is the origin story of the Bene Gesserit. I have to say, I’m much more a fan of this version of the Sisterhood than Frank Herbert’s original. In the original Dune Chronicles, the Sisterhood are basically a society of evil witches. Here, they are given some depth. Sisterhood of Dune does exactly what an expansion to the universe should do, which is give more information on things that were originally glossed over. I know a lot of people prefer the mystery, but I’m a man who likes answers, and Herbert & Anderson deliver. Admittedly, this is the very early days of the Sisterhood, and so there is still a lot left undiscovered. That being said, these first few steps on the road to Dune are tantalising to say the least.

Even though it falls in the middle of the series, Sisterhood of Dune is a perfect stepping-on point for anyone looking for more Dune content. It’s rich, action-packed, and quite simple a thrilling tale.

BOOK REVIEW: Sagas of the Space Wolves

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Sagas of the Space Wolves

Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 933

Publication Date: 2020

Verdict: 3/5

This omnibus contains the novels Ragnar Blackmane, Legacy of Russ, Curse of the Wulfen, The Hunt for Logan Grimnar, and multiple novellas and short stories.

Black Library’s paperback omnibuses are some of the most physically imposing books I collect. Usually clocking in around eight or nine hundred pages (and with a small font size to boot), they’re heavy in the hand and look great on the shelf. My Gaunt’s Ghosts collection is one of my favourites to look at with their matching spines, but from Ciaphas Cain to to the Sisters of Battle, they’re all satisfyingly chunky. Sagas of the Space Wolves is different from these other omnibuses in that it doesn’t gather a specific series, or even a single author. Instead, it collects together four novels about the Space Wolves, and a series of short stories featuring the same characters. The inevitable outcome of this is a book that feels both uneven and somewhat repetitive.

Aaron Dembski-Bowden opens with Ragnar Blackmane. Dembski-Bowden is one of Black Libary’s heavy hitters, but he’s one I haven’t read a full novel from before. Happily, Ragnar Blackmane is my favourite entry in this omnibus. It’s a fairly straightforward tale of honour and glory, showcasing the flawed bloodline of the Space Wolves, while not forgetting that they are the heroes of this particular narrative. It also heavily features the Dark Angels chapter of Space Marines, who are suitably mysterious and leave me excited to pick up the books centred on their activities.

Unfortunately, the next story left me cold as the Space Wolves’ Fenrisian home. David Annandale is an author I have read before, but his prose style is not to my taste. Leaving that aside, Curse of the Wulfen displays the problem with this omnibus. Even with so many authors, the storylines here are fairly similar. Not simply in narrative beats, but in tone and content too. Obviosuly, the Space Wolves have their niche in the Wahammer 40,000 canon, but here they feel hemmed in by it. There are some deeper dives into their lore, but a lot of the stories can be summed up as large battles punctuated by brooding. This is of course what draws many readers to the faction, and they certainly have livelier moments to keep the casual reader interested too, but I would have preferred a little more variety in the nature of the stories.

The percentile of this collection is The Hunt for Logan Grimnar, a mosaic novel consisting of eight chapters evenly split between four authors. In many ways, it encapsulates the omnibus as a whole, with a routine story being told by many pens. Jumping from one writing style to the next is jarring, but the story is never hard to follow. In fact, the story is one of the stand-outs, showing the Space Wolves taking on more varied foes than just Chaos. I’m not really a fan of the Eldar, but as the villains here they serve masterfully.

All in all, Sagas of the Space Wolves is a mixed bag of exciting scenes but repetitive storytelling. It’s far from a bad book, but might be served better by reading in instalments.

BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Veil, by James Swallow

click here for a full index of all my Star Trek reviews

spoilers for Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard

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Era: Pre-Picard

Publisher: Gallery

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 321

Publication Date: 02/01/2021

Verdict: 5/5

 

The Federation has fallen on hard times, and Captain William Riker of the USS Titan finds himself wondering what his place in Starfleet is. Riker and his crew soon find themselves in a deadly battle with the Romulans. But with the Tal Shiar involved, is anything ever truly what it seems to be . . ?

The first season of Star Trek: Picard had two major effects on the literary canon of the franchise. Firstly, it brought an end to nearly two decades’ of books set after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, though as the Voyager relaunch proved, all of the major arcs have been given a chance to wrap up. Secondly, it set up all manner of possibilities for new literary ventures. In the span of just a handful of episodes, Picard introduced new elements such as the Zhat Vash, the Mars Incident, the synthetics ban, and the former Borg seeking new life, as well as incorporating dozens of ideas from previous shows. Most notably, it picked up the Romulan supernova from the 2009 Star Trek film. The Dark Veil takes place a few years before that particular event, but the oncoming doom of Romulus casts a long shadow over events.

Though it bears the Picard label, The Dark Veil is very much a standalone book. Yes, it builds on the world established by the TV series, but you could easily read this without seeing the show, although it does include a few spoilers if you did choose to go down that route. As long as you are familiar with the characters, this is the sort of book any Star Trek fan could pick up and enjoy. Swallow has experience with the franchise, and deftly works Trek‘s unique blend of adventure and science.

The most obvious way The Dark Veil builds on Picard is in its handling of the Romulans. Though they’ve been around since the earliest days of the show, they’ve received relatively little in the way of development, especially when compared with their contemporaries, the Klingons. Picard did great work in this regard, with groups such as the Zhat Vash and the Qowat Milat. The former makes an appearance here, and we get a look inside the head of one of these anti-synthetic fanatics. The overwrought complexities of Romulan society are lampshaded a little, but the development we see here gives new depth to to their civilisation, even as it faces its demise.

In fact, there is a real sense of tragedy about The Dark VeilStar Trek is at its best when it is being optimistic, but here (and in Picard) we see the consequences of that optimism faltering. The Romulans face the end of their world, but they cannot move past their suspicion of other species. Starfleet and the Federation have reacted poorly, though understandably, to a terrorist attack, and the consequences threaten the future in ways no one can foresee. The Jazari, a species about whom the little given away the better, show how the combination of extreme paranoia and collective apathy can easily lead to depression. In spite of this, however, The Dark Veil is not a depressing book. Far from it. Even in the darkest corners Trek has explored, this book shows the value of fighting against the darkness. Optimism isn’t just an aspiration, it’s a tool for forging a better future. Riker and the Titan are beset by unimaginable difficulty, but they stay the course and stand by the ideals of Starfleet. Even among the Romulans, there are those who not only want a better future, but are willing to break with tradition to make that future happen.

The Picard novel line may be in its infancy, but based on the strength of this entry it’s looking to be every bit as good as the older tie-ins. The reinvigoration of the franchise yet again proves why Star Trek is so enduring.