BOOK REVIEW: Avenging Son, by Guy Haley

Click here for all of my Warhammer 40,000 content

  • Book One of the Dawn of Fire series
  • Published by Black Library in 2020
  • A Grimdark Space Opera
  • 512 pages, plus a glossary
  • ⭐⭐⭐

The return of Roboute Guilliman brings the light of hope to a beleaguered Imperium. Now the returned Primarch reveals his vision of the future: a grand crusade to reclaim all that humanity has lost in his absence . . .

If there’s one part of the Warhammer 40,000 continuity that will forever be a mystery to me, it’s the Horus Heresy. It’s a series likely to top out at around seventy books, with a timeline that hops around, and dozens of storylines woven through all those many books. When I got into Warhammer, I decided early on that I was never going to tackle it. Too big, too sprawling, and too Space Marine heavy. But the Horus Heresy wraps up soon, and it’s clear Black Library are looking for something to replicate that staggering success story. They experimented with another epic multi-author series with The Beast Arises, and having taken lessons from that, now arrive with the future of Warhammer 40,000. Dawn of Fire is the big shiny new thing, as evidenced by quotes on the back cover from Black Library alumni including Dan Abnett himself. The marketing is clear. This is going to be something truly epic.

This is a big book by Black Library standards, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Avenging Son has a lot of work to do. There are more threads going on in these five hundred pages than I could keep track of. The Primarch’s return to Terra (and indeed his return to life) is covered elsewhere, and I still don’t fully understand a lot of it. In particular this book builds off Haley’s prior novel Belisarius Cawl: The Great Work, featuring the new Primaris Space Marines. I feel like this is a book that rewards a deeper understanding, of and a deeper investment in, the wider lore of Warhammer 40,000. If you’ve committed to learning everything you can about the hobby, you’ll get more out of this than I did.

Like a lot of first books, Avenging Son largely concerns itself with setting the seen. This is the opening salvo in the Era Indomitus storyline, and in that regard it does a good job. To the accompaniment of bolter fire, the rules of this new age are set out with gusto. These are the new Space Marines. This is the state of the galaxy. These are the major players. This is the way forwards. Personally, I’m more interested in the grim, dark future as a setting than as a story. This series will shake up the status quo, that’s for sure. But if like me you like the status quo, you might walk away less than satisfied.

Amid all the usual Warhammer action, gore, and grit, Avenging Son does bring something new to the table. That sense of change I mentioned above is driven by something that’s vanishingly rare in the grim darkness of the far future. Yes, there is still war. Yes, heroes are going to die like the rest of us. But now there is a glimmer of hope. It’s not the bright flame some would have you believe, and there is still plenty of misery to go around, but Guilliman’s return has changed things. Whether these hopes will be fulfilled or undercut by tragedy remains to be seen. This being Warhammer, I’m hoping for the latter. But this is a new age, and there are sure to be surprises.

I don’t think I’m going to continue with the Dawn of Fire series. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s not what I come to Warhammer for. But if you want Space Marine action and big, sweeping storylines, this is definitely the place to be.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you may also like:
Horus Rising, by Dan Abnett
The Serpent & The Saint, by Matthew Farrer
Forges of Mars, by Graham McNeill

BOOK REVIEW: The Shattered Skies, by John Birmingham

Hold up, this is a Sequel! You can find my review of the previous book by clicking this link.

the shattered skies.jpg

  • Book Two in The Cruel Stars Trilogy
  • Published in the UK by Head of Zeus
  • On sale from January 11th 2022
  • 504 pages
  • Space Opera
  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Sturm have returned to Volume space, bringing their mission of conquest and genetic purity to the human race. All that stands in their way is a loose coalition of former enemies, and one very angry Scotsman . . .

If The Cruel Stars was all build-up, then The Shattered Skies is the payoff. And it’s payoff delivered in style. This is action-packed space opera at its most breathless. An explosion every other page, and a flurry of new developments to reckon with. Like all good middle-of-trilogy books, John Birmingham’s latest puts its protagonists through the wringer emotionally as well as physically, and builds on existing conflicts while also throwing some fresh spanners into the works.

The Sturm (or the Human Republic) are a great villain. On the one hand, they are the evil warmongers we see an awful lot of in science fiction. In fact, the word Nazis is thrown around liberally. But there is a depth to them that hints at something more. You see, their central belief is that humans shouldn’t go tinkering with our own genome. And that’s a very valid concern. Personally, I think we have to be very careful when it comes to this sort of thing. In a world that has edited human genetics already, the temptation is there. Can we change what a human is? Yes. Yes, we can. But should we? Maybe not. And in Birmingham’s world, where you can upload your mind to a killer robot, or grow a rhinoceros horn on your head for largely aesthetic purposes, the question must be asked even louder. At what point is a person no longer truly human? But while the underlying concerns are valid, there can be no denying that the Sturm take their response too far. After all, an army demanding genetic purity of its subjects and brutally killing those who fail the test is hardly likely to be the heroes.

The heroes are, as you’d expect, more diverse, ranging from a young princess to a centuries-old general. And Birmingham gets the most out of his characters. Frazer McLennan is the most memorable of these creations, though not always for good reason. The Scottish general is at his best when making tactical choices, or in his few quiet moments. But when he speaks, a solid fifty percent of his dialogue is profanity.  For me, Birmingham pushes this tic too far, landing McLennan in the realm of absurdity. The odd expletive-laden exchange with artificial intelligence Hero is funny, but it’s a shtick that grows tired fairly quickly. On the more innocent end of the spectrum, Princess Alessia manages to join the hallowed ranks of non-annoying preteen protagonists. Her wide-eyed naivety is a perfect lens through which to show the world. And what a world it is.

Birmingham is clearly a fan of science fiction. There are a handful of references to Star Trek and Star Wars, acknowledged as classical tales. And while the overall setting doesn’t push the boat out too far in terms of originality, it mixes familiar elements and innovations just the right amount. This isn’t the sort of book you’d go to in search of profound musings on the nature of existence, but it is deeper than it first appears. And even though we’re taken through at breakneck speed, it’s a very fun journey. There are a lot of elements that are worthy of further exploration, but in pure entertainment value, The Shattered Skies does exactly what it needs to do.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you may also like:

Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey

Assassin’s Orbit, by John Appel

Velocity Weapon, by Megan E. O’Keefe

 

 

 

 

2022 At Boundary’s Edge

As a wise man once said: “New year, new man, all I’ve got to do is stick to the plan.” And even if that wise man was part of a Saturday Night Live sketch, I do think it’s important to make plans. But this is a science fiction blog, so you won’t find resolutions like ‘eat more vegetables,’ or ‘lose weight.’ If anything, this blog needs to gain some wait. I don’t thin you can ever have too much good content, and in 2022 I want to up my game. 2021 was a great year, and I don’t see why 2022 can’t be even better. I have  couple of plans, some concrete, some more aspirational, that I think will help this blog grow and hopefully get more science fiction to more people. Here they are:

 

Review every science fiction book I read

This is a continuation of what I did last year. Every SF book, no matter what I think about it, will get a review. As always, I’m going to stay on the positive side – because who needs more misery? – but I’m going to find something to say about everything I read. Book reviews are the bread and butter of At Boundary’s Edge, and I don’t think that will ever change.

Read more original fiction

What do I mean by this? Well, a third of my reading last year was Star Trek tie-ins, and another sixth was Warhammer 40,000. I really enjoy both universes and will be reading and reviewing more of both. But I also want to get back to non-IP science fiction. I don’t have a big reread series like I have the past two years, so I’m hoping there’s enough space in my schedule.

Read more debuts

I don’t think I read a single 2021 debut last year. Debuts are hard to keep track of, as they tend to only gain traction right before their release, but I’m hopefully going to be a bit more aware of them this year, and will aim to stay on top of current releases rather than getting stuck in the classics.

Review more films and TV

Fairly self-explanatory, this goal. I watch a lot of science fiction on the screen, but I don’t often review it. I don’t feel like I have enough to say about each episode as it releases, and by the time it’s all done, it does feel like the moment has passed. Speaking of moments passed, I often come late to shows by several months. But I’m not going to let that stop me any more, and all the SF I watch in 2022 will get a review. So say we all!

SPSFC

Last year I started judging for the Self Published Science Fiction Competition, and that role will continue into this year. As well as the reviews themselves, I’ll be posting general thoughts on the competition, and the first of those will come very soon.

Write more articles

I’ve always intended for this blog to have in-depth articles about science fiction (and related subjects), but these plans tend to fall apart due to time constraints. Last year I managed to complete a series on the best Star Trek crews, and that’s given me the push I needed to go a bit further. This year I’m definitely going to do a few more Ethics of Trek articles. But I also have non-Trek plans, including potential articles about Dune and Foundation, and deeper delves into some of my favourite universes. My more concrete plan is a series of beginner recommendations for various subgenres.

Author interviews

This is the biggest goal for 2022, and subsequently the one that’s least likely to happen. Reading interviews is (in the absence of conventions) one of my favourite things, and I’d like to hold a few of my own. Of course, this does mean overcoming my borderline pathological dislike of bothering other people, so don’t expect too much on this front.

 

How much of this plan I actually stick to, only time will tell. But I have a good feeling about 2022, and I’m looking forward to sharing with you all the science fiction it brings my way.

TBR & BEYOND: January 2022

Hello and welcome to the first TBR & BEYOND of a new year. I’ve changed the format up a bit for 2022, so be sure to let me know what you think. Hopefully it will be a little easier to read and keep track of. Let’s get right to it.

TBR

20211230_180801

That’s a lot of books right there, but most of them are refreshingly recent additions to my TBR. Still a few lingering around from last September, but nothing older than that. Now, I do have a few priority reads, so let’s start with those.

  • The Shattered Skies is a review copy from Head of Zeus, with a general publication date of the 11th. I need to get my review up before that date, so I’ll be starting the year of with this. I’ve only just started to receive review copies, so I want to be prompt with the reviews themselves.
  • My much-delayed pre-order of David Mack’s Oblivion’s Gate is currently scheduled for the 20th. As soon as I get confirmation that it’s been shipped, I’ll be diving into Moments Asunder and The Ashes of Tomorrow so that I can read the whole Coda trilogy back-to-back. This is the final volume of the Litverse, so I want to wrap it up before going back to earlier instalments.
  • Guy Haley’s Avenging Son kicks off a big, multi-author Warhammer 40,000 series. I’ve tended to stay away from this sort of thing until now, but figured it was worth the gamble. That said, the fourth book releases later this year, and I want to get an early start to see if I’ll be following the series.

The big ‘if’ in all of that is the question mark hanging over Oblivion’s Gate. If that doesn’t arrive, I still want make headway with Star Trek books. I don’t want to jump into earlier post-Nemesis books or the Discovery novels just yet, so instead I’ll swap out Coda with a different set of three Original Series Trek books.

  • The Shocks of Adversity, by William Leisner
  • The Folded World, by Jeff Marriote
  • No Time Like the Past, by Greg Cox (This one is actually a crossover with Voyager)

Either way, that should account for around half of this month’s reading. Last year my reading was incredibly scattershot, so in 2022 I want to try reading series back to back rather than breaking them up with other reads. I’ve got a few series in the TBR, including:

  • The Farian War, by K.B. Wagers. I read The Indranan War a while back, and this sequel trilogy looks to be in a similar vein. It’s complete, which is tempting, but I think I’ll hold this one back for a bit.
  • J.S. Dewes is a 2021 debut I heard a lot about last year, and pretty much all of it was positive. While I’ve been burned by over-hyped books before, this series does look very much like my sort of thing, and there’s likely another book coming out later this year. I want to be ready for that, so this is almost guaranteed for January.
  • I’ve been meaning to read Phil Kelly’s Farsight books for a while, but I’ve decided to put them on hold for a bit.
  • Though they’re not a direct series, I do have three of Ben Bova’s Grand Tour novels in my TBR tower. He was one of my big surprises last year, and I really want to get into his work a bit more to see if I enjoy it all equally. I’m provisionally planning to read Mars and Return to Mars this month.

Between these books, I’ll be filling in the gaps with some standalones, be they Warhammer books like Volpone Glory and Steel Tread, or true standalones like The Last Astronaut and The Stolen Earth.

I do have a handful of non-SF books on my shelf. The Veiled Throne is one I plan to read in January, but will push back if I find more enticing SF, while Robert Jordan’s Warrior of the Altaii is a shorter read I’ll slot in between bigger books. My long term plan is to use Simon Scarrow’s Eagles of the Empire series to break up my science fiction reading, but I’m still waiting for a delivery of missing books so that I can read that epic series in order.

I’ve also got three books left of my SPSFC allocation, and the reviews will all be done by the January deadline.

AND BEYOND

Now that I’ve finished The Wheel of Time and Discovery, there’s room for more TV in my life. The problem is, there’s too much to keep track of, but here are some programmes I hope to start in the near future.

  • On Netflix, there is the WitcherTitans (one of few superhero shows I watch). On a more strict SF basis, there is single season of Cowboy Bebop and the completed three seasons of Lost in Space.
  • On Disney+, we have The Book of Boba Fett, which looks both spectacular and rather fan-servicey.
  • On Amazon, there’s The Expanse, which airs its final two episodes this month. I’m keen to see how it all wraps up, and what they’ll cover of the last three books.
  • I still haven’t committed to AppleTV, but between Foundation, For All Mankind, and See, it’s only a matter of time.

JANUARY RELEASES

1st: Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks – As the Whittaker/Chibnall era draws to a close with one-off specials, I’m enjoying about 50% of the show. Hopefully this is one of the good ones.

3rd: Manticore Ascendant #4: A Call to Insurrection, by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Thomas Pope. I really need to pick up the other Manticore books, but I think I might wait for the mass market release of Weber’s books

4th: Star Wars: The High Republic #3: The Fallen Star, by Claudia Gray. I haver no idea if or when I’ll get into the High Republic, but there’s definitely a lot of material out there now.

20th: The Bookkeeper’s Skull, by Justin D Hill. I’m hoping this one can break my streak of not enjoying the Horror range. Hill is a great author, so the odds are good.

TBA: The Twice Dead King #2: Reign, by Nate Crowley. The sequel to Ruin, and hopefully a conclusion of the story.

TBA: Krieg, by Steve Lyons. This one looks very promising. I’m happy to see Astra Militarum books getting pride of place, and Lyons has good pedigree when it comes to Krieg

TBA: The Triumph of Saint Katherine, by Danie Ware. This is a limited edition release, so it’s doubtful I’ll get a copy. But Ware is one of the strong new voices at Black Library, so it’s sure to be a good book.

MONTHLY WRAP-UP: December 2021

December has been a busy month, both in life and on the blog. The usual festivities and end of year celebrations are ongoing, but I’m taking the time out to wrap up the month that’s almost over. Let’s get to it.

Book Haul

December was always going to be the month of the big book haul. My birthday is this month, then there’s Christmas. It’s the perfect opportunity to drown in books without the pesky inconvenience of having to go out and buy them. But I did have to go out and buy gifts for the family. naturally, while I was about town for the first time in far too long, I popped into the local Warhammer store, and ended up with a truly massive haul. And boy, do I mean massive, picking up all of the following this month alone:

  • Ephrael Stern: The Heretic Saint, by David Annandale
  • Inferno! Presents: The Inquisition
  • Nexus + Other Stories
  • Blackstone Fortress: Ascension, by Darius Hinks
  • Brutal Kunnin, by Mike Brooks
  • Volpone Glory, by Nick Kyme
  • Steel Tread, by Andy Clarke
  • Avenging Son, by Guy Haley

Some of these I’ve already read, but you can expect a lot more in the months to come. Black Library are absolutely killing it right now, and I am fully converted. But it wasn’t just Warhammer I bought, oh no. Left alone in Waterstones, I did a fair bit of damage to my wallet, with all of these books getting added to my TBR:

  • Leviathan Falls, by James S. A. Corey
  • We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • I Am Stone, by R. Murray Gilchrist
  • Randalls Round, by Eleanor Scott
  • The Last Astronaut, by David Wellington
  • Force and Motion, by Jeffrey Lang
  • Wonderlands, by Una McCormack
  • Dead Endless, by David Galanter
  • Warrior of the Altaii, by Robert Jordan

After that round of impulse buys, I set to work reading as many as I could, but between Christmas and birthday gifts, I was soon snowed under with books. It’s going to take me quite a while to get out from under this pile. A pile that includes:

  • The Time Ships, by Stephen Baxter (a sequel to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine)
  • Stolen Earth, by J.T. Nicholas
  • There Before the Chaos, Down Among the Dead, and Out Past the Stars, all by K.B. Wagers
  • Mars, Return to Mars, and Venus, all by Ben Bova
  • The Last Watch and The Exiled Fleet, both by J.S. Dewes
  • Scornful Stars, by Richard Baker
  • The Shocks of Adversity, by William Leisner
  • The Folded World, by Jeff Marriott
  • No Time Like the Past, by Greg Cox
  • Resistance, by J.M. Dillard

On top of all that, I also received some book mail from Head of Zeus. Both of which I’m very grateful for.

  • Absynthe, by Brendan P. Bellecourt
  • The Shattered Skies, by John Birmingham (Head of Zeus also kindly included a hardback of The Cruel Stars, which I reviewed earlier this year.)

After all that, I’m sworn off book buying for all of January. But you and I both know that won’t last.

Reading Progress

As well as getting lots of books, I also read a lot of books A lot of my reading has been the newer additions to my TBR, in a desperate, losing battle to keep that tower from toppling. But I also got through some books that have been on my TBR for far too long. You can find my thoughts by clicking on the links below:

I also read but did not review a handful of fantasy and horror books. Randalls RoundI Am Stone, and S., the latter of which is hands-down the most inventive and complicated book I have ever held in my hands.

Audio Frequencies

It took a lot of hours, but I marathoned Lore, which has affected my sleep for multiple reasons. Clearing up that nearly 200 episode backlog has freed up my listening to time to continue with Ronin, which I might just finish before the end of the year.

On Screen

I finished my rewatch of Defiance, which ended pretty much as it started, with an obvious budget, great characters, and a handful of cheese. Star Trek: Discovery is ongoing with its strongest season yet, and the latest episode ‘Stormy Weather’ is one of my favourite episodes of the past few years of Trek. Other than that, the big talking point was Wheel of Time, which I have loved every minute of, and can’t wait for the next season. I’ll be jumping into The WitcherTitans, and The Expanse in the very near future.

Articles

I didn’t get around to my second Ethics of Trek as I’d planned, but I did finish off my crew builder series with Operations/Communications, Science Officers, First Officers, and of course Captains. They may have received a muted response, but I’m proud of them, and they’ve given me a few ideas for future articles.

December also brought the two big posts of my annual schedule. First came the third anniversary of this blog, which I celebrate by handing out the Boundy Awards. This is one of the more fun posts to write and I look forward to it each year. Finally there’s the master list of next year’s releases, which I’ve posted a little bit earlier than previous years, and has gained a fair bit of traction. As always, I’ve come up with a little name for this post, which this year is called Incoming Fire.

SPSFC

I’ve read the majority of the team’s allocation, and they’ve been a very mixed bag. I’m hoping to get full thoughts (from my perspective) up once I’ve read the last three, and hopefully the first reviews will be up sooner rather than later.

Writing

I’ve spent a lot of time sketching out plots, scenes, and outlines, and will be beginning in earnest in the new year. I think I’ve got something good here, but only time will tell if I’m right about that.

Wrap-Up

Another brilliant months takes this year’s total views to sixteen and a half thousand, which is just mind-blowing for me. Exponential growth was always the dream, but this has exceeded my expectations by quite a margin. I mean, it’s five times last year’s total. I’m hopeful that At Boundary’s Edge can continue to grow, and I am grateful to every single person who’s taken the time to read one of my posts.

BOOK REVIEW: Brutal Kunnin, by Mike Brooks

Click here for all of my Warhammer 40000 reviews

brutal.jpg

Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 325

Publication Date: 2020

Verdict: 4/5

 

Ere we go ladz! Da orks is coming to Hephaestos, and no humies, no matter how shiny and tek-priesty they may be can stop dem! Except dere’s a whole lot of titans down on Hephaestos, and ain’t nobody going down wivout a fight . . !

What I like about Warhammer 40,000 is the overwhelming tragedy of it all. It doesn’t matter how much light you try and bring, one day everything will fall into darkness. You might win a battle or two, but you’re going to lose the war. The T’au enslave countless species under the illusion of the Greater Good. The Imperium stagnates and grinds both enemies and its own citizens too pulp under the tank tracks of wear. The Chaos Gods devour reality itself and laugh from afar. And then you’ve got the orks. Racing brightly coloured vehicles, giggling in their mockney accents, and generally having a good time as the world explodes around (and occasionally within) them. Contrasted against the looming tragedy of humanity’s decline, the orks have always struck me as a bit… silly.

Don’t get me wrong. Silliness has a place. I’m a big fan of shows like Killjoys and Vagrant Queen, and they’re as silly as you get. But it’s never been what I want from Warhammer. The orks just felt out of place. Two recent books started to change my opinion on that. Oddly enough, both were primarily about necrons. The Infinite and the Divine and Ruin both put the orks in direct contrast to the necorns, and that made me think. Maybe that silliness is a good thing. The grim, dark future is a horrible place, and when you’re confronted by endless horror, you have three options. You can try and fight it, as the (with arguable success) the Imperium does. You can give up and wallow in misery with necrons. Or you can cut loose and revel in the madness. After all, if you’re going to die in pain, why not make that short life as enjoyable as you can? And that’s where the orks come in.

Mike Brooks is a very good writer. Most of his work that I’ve read has been fairly serious, but Brutal Kunnin shows what he can do with a bit of humour. And it turns out that what he can do with a bit of humour is write the funniest Warhammer book ever. \this book is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, and that is such a are thing I can’t remember when I last found one. The comedy works not only because the orks are inherently ridiculous, but because the orks are having as much fun as the reader. They have short, violent lives, after all. Who can begrudge them a bit of entertainment? Not me. While all comedy writing is hard, I have to give Brooks special praise for writing orkish dialogue in a way that is readable. A lot of the time, accents are difficult to parse, but the orks’s lingo is as straightforward as everything else about them. I wouldn’t want this in every book, or even every Warhammer 40,000 book. But it absolutely works, and the world is a better place for having this book in it.

Way back in the early days, Warhammer was much more openly comedic. I mean, one of the most famous orks of all time was named after Margaret Thatcher, and if that’s not satire, i don’t now what is. Over time, the storyetlling has started to take itself a bit more seriously, and I think that is a very good thing. It’s certainly resulted in more stories that I enjoy reading. But sometimes it’s good to revisit the past. And for all it’s inventiveness and originality, Brutal Kunnin might just be, in a very circular way, the most traditional Warhammer 40,000 book in a long, long while.

 

Read this book, and you’ll come away with a grin on your face. And if that’s not true, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe you is just a borin’ humie.

BOOK REVIEW: Scornful Stars, by Richard Baker

Hold up, this is a sequel! You can find my review of the previous book by clicking this link.

scornful.jpg

Series: Breaker of Empires (#3)

Publisher: Tor

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 459

Publication Date: 2019

Verdict: 3/5

 

Sikander Singh North’s naval career is on the rise, and now he has a ship of his own to command. But even that may not be enough to face a system crawling with pirates, or the enemies as yet hidden from him . . .

Military SF often feels like a very American genre. The pro-military angle much of the genre takes makes perfect sense when you look at the number of authors based in the United States. Whether it’s tooted in reality or just the result of constant media exposure, the good old US of A and gung-ho military adventures go hand-in-hand. They have done for a long time, and I suspect they will for a long while yet. But while military SF may have a reputation of being the genre for white, conservative readers, there’s more to it than critics give it credit for. And the Breaker of Empires trilogy is one of the more diverse series out there. Now, it’s worth pointing out that Richard Baker is a white author, but that doesn’t mean his characters are. If anything, it’s good to see authors writing about characters of different ethnicity to their own. Yes, we definitely should have more diverse authors, but we shouldn’t expect people to only write about people who happen to look like the author.

Being rather firmly Welsh, I can’t speak to how accurate Baker’s non-Eurocentric worldbuilding is. What I can say is that it’s among the more original futures out there. The major power is the Terran Caliphate, while Sikhism and Quebec also play important roles in the series. This is military SF with a heavy dash of Great Game space opera about it. The major players all have subsidiary nations in their clutches, and the desire for independence is a theme running through Scornful Stars from start to finish. Space is full of navies, pirates, and privateers, and there’s always a political consideration between every decision. The emphasis is on action, but the background of culture clash and the wax and wane of empires is just as fascinating. In fact, I spent a lot of the book wishing we could see more of that aspect. Good as the action is, I was hoping for something a bit bigger in this final book of the trilogy.

As I’ve said before, the best military SF is written by those with military experience. Jack Campbell and Michael Mammay are two great examples of turning personal experience into compelling narratives. Military service adds a level of realism that I don’t think a  civilian could ever match with second-hand research alone. Baker has a military background, but his work hearkens back to an older age of military action. Like the two great Davids of military SF (David Drake and David Weber), the Golden Age of Sail is a clear influence. This is the Great Game I mentioned above, but it goes deeper than just the worldbuilding. As ships flit from world to world, it doesn’t feel like an act of technology. Oh, we’ve hot warp drives, and they’re actually very well explained. But every journey feels like a voyage. Things take time, and there’s a formality and routine to shipboard life that’s almost quaint. This isn’t the cutting edge of military advancement. It’s tried and trusted technology being thrown together by master tacticians. These ships feel old. they feel lived-in. And that is what truly separates Breaker of Empires from the more clinical, squeaky-clean military SF that I generally read.

Though it doesn’t feel like the end of a story so much as another instalment of one, Scornful Stars is an enjoyable and at times oddly peaceful adventure from an underappreciated writer of military SF.

INCOMING FIRE: Upcoming SF in 2022

Congratulations! You’ve survived another year. And for that you deserve a reward. Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ll already have a stack of books to read after the festive season. But what TBR is complete without *one more book*? Certainly not mine. And it looks like 2022 will have enough books on the way to satisfy any reader. And when you’re not reading, I’m sure there’ll be some television to watch too. And if you don’t know what’s coming your way, here’s a handy primer.

JANUARY

Throughout January, The Expanse will continue to air its final season.

1st: Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks. The somewhat obligatory Dalek New Year’s Special follows on from Flux with the promise of a time loop. Hopefully more self-contained than the previous series, and I’m looking forward to it.

3rd: Manticore Ascendant #4: A Call to Insurrection, by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Thomas Pope. The latest Honorverse novel, and a return to the early days of Manticore’s expansion into space.

4th: Star Wars: The High Republic #3: The Fallen Star, by Claudia Gray. I haven’t been keeping up with the High Republic story arc, but with three novels now out, it’s probably time to remedy that situation.

11th: The Cruel Stars #2: The Shattered Skies, by John Birmingham. Sequel to The Cruel Stars. I’ve got a review copy of this one, so be on the lookout for a full review very soon.

20th: The Bookkeeper’s Skull, by Justin D Hill. Warhammer Horror has been more miss than hit for me so far, but Hill’s phenomenal Traitor Rock makes this a definite purchase.

TBA: The Twice Dead King #2: Reign, by Nate Crowley. The sequel to Ruin is guaranteed to bring more tragicomedy to the world of the necrons, and promises an engagement with Imperial forces.

TBA: Krieg, by Steve Lyons. Returning to the regiment that found fame in Dead Men Walking, Lyons brings a new story from the bleakest world in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

TBA: The Triumph of Saint Katherine, by Danie Ware. The first full novel from the modern mistress of the Sisters of Battle, this will see a limited edition release, and hopefully a regular hardback later in the year.

FEBRUARY

3rd: Day of Ascension, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky’s Warhammer 40,000 debut, this tale of genestealers could will be the tyranid PoV novel I thought we’d never get.

15th: Stars and Bones #1: Stars and Bones, by Gareth L. Powell. The start of a new space opera series from the author of Embers of War.

22nd: 31st: The Misift Soldier, by Michael Mammay. A new, standalone piece of military SF from the man who wrote the Planetside trilogy. This one looks a little lighter in tone, and is sure to be a lot of fun.

TBA: Star Trek: Picard: Season 2. The return of Q and a trip back in time promises a very different outing for Patrick Stewart.

TBA: Cadian Blood, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. The reissue of this fan favourite is sure to please readers looking for their next slice of grimdark military SF

MARCH

15th: The Expanse: Memory’s Legion, by James S.A. Corey. A collection of all the short fiction written for the series over the years, along with a final novella to wrap up the epic that concluded in 2021.

17th: Gazhghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh!, by Nate Crowley. A Warhammer 40,000 Ork novel, previously released as a limited edition, and now available as a regular hardback.

APRIL

14th: Sun Eater #4: Kingdoms of Death, by Christopher Ruocchio. Perhaps my most anticipated release of the year, in which the tragedy of Hadrian Marlowe continues. The fifth book and a second short story collection are both provisionally set for release later this year.

28th: The Final Architecture #2: The Eyes of the Void, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The sequel to Shards of Earth, this one promises more unique alien weirdness and solid space opera action.

MAY

10th: Star Wars: Brotherhood, by Mike Chen. A novel following Anakin and Obi-Wan? Yes please. I don’t know all that much about this one, but I do know I’m looking forward to it. Yet another reason I need to get back into Star Wars.

17th: Star Trek: Picard: Second Self, by Una McCormack. McCormack’s second Picard novel is the first set after the events of the first season. this one follows breakout character Raffi Musiker.

26th: Ghost Dossier #1: The Vincula Insurgency, by Dan Abnett. A return to the early days of Gaunt’s Ghosts. previously published as a limited edition, and now available as a regular hardback

JUNE

28th: Dune: Sands of Dune, by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson. The second collection of short fiction and novellas from the duo’s sprawling expansion of Frank Herbert’s classic series.

28th: Star Wars: Shadow of the Sith, by Adam Christopher. Promising to fill in gaps between episodes 6 and 7, this one features Luke and Lando, which is a combination we really haven’t seen enough of.

JULY

26th: Newbury & Hobbes #6: The Albion Initiative, by George Mann. The much-delayed conclusion to the best of British Steampunk,  this one has been on my wishlist for a long time.

AUGUST

30th: Frontlines #8: Centres of Gravity, by Marko Kloos. Picking up where Orders of Battle left off, the second phase of Kloos’ saga is set to deliver more action and military SF goodness.

 

ALSO THIS YEAR

Cagey as ever, Black Library have teased a number of releases for 2022 without confirming any dates. Robert Rath’s Assassinorum: Kingmaker is at the top of that list, closely followed by Mike Brooks’ Huron Blackheart: Master of the Maelstrom and Justin Woolley’s Catachan Devil, and there’s always a small chance that Dan Abnett’s eagerly anticipated sequels Interceptor City and Pandaemonium will see the light of day. I’m also confident that Black Library will have a few surprise releases this year as they do every year.

In television news, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is all-but confirmed for this year, alongside another series of Lower Decks. Not to be outdone, there’s a possible triple threat from Star Wars in the form of a third season of The Mandalorian, as well as debuts for Kenobi and Andor. None of that is confirmed, of course, but I’d be surprised if we didn’t get some news on them this year. Later in the year, we’re also set to see Jodie Whittaker’s departure from the lead role in Doctor Who, and perhaps the announcement of her successor.

This year should see the release of the final book in both the Dune: Caladan and Skyward series, though neither has a set date yet. I’ve also got my fingers crossed for more Jack Campbell, the fourth in Marko Kloos’ other series. And that’s not even getting into the authors currently between series that I hope to see more of.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Ascension, by Darius Hinks

Click here for all of my Warhammer 40000 reviews

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Publisher: Black Library

Series: Blackstone Fortress (#2)

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 445

Publication Date: 2020

Verdict: 3/5

 

Rogue trader Janus Draik has a problem. Cut off from support, he’s stuck in Precipice without friends or funds. Worse still, there’s a cult that sees him as their saviour, and forces beyond imagining bent on his elimination . . .

One of my earliest exposures to the weirdness of Warhammer 40,000 came in the form of the Rogue Trader RPG. Now, it’s not a great game. Between beggars capable of standing toe-to-toe with Space Marines and a ruleset that allows you to play a tyranid then immediately compels you to attack the nearest living creature, it has a lot of problems that even the best DMs are likely to struggle with. What it does do, however, is shine a light on the stranger parts of the grim, dark future. In a galaxy wracked by war, massive conflict, and the destruction of worlds, Rogue Trader embodies the smaller-scale affairs quite well. Yes, humans are still xenophobic, and xenos are filthy, untrustworthy monsters, but in the world of Rogue Trader, greater political concerns are set aside and unlikely allies work together on scrappy little ships. Beyond Andy Hoare’s trilogy of the same name and a single audio drama from James Swallow, not much has been done with Rogue Traders of late. But in Janus Draik, we see how they fit in with this new age of Warhammer 40,000.

The Blackstone Fortress is an odd little corner of the forty-first millennium. It’s got all the inter-species relations I’d expect from a Rogue Trader Game, but with the tighter plotting that a ragtag group of player characters would never stick with for more than two sessions. Ascension is the second novel set there, following on from Blackstone Fortress itself, the novella Isha‘s Lament, the audio drama The Beast Inside and an anthology entitled Vaults of Obsidian.  Janus Draik and his cohorts have been the common thread through these offerings, presenting a scruffier and less militaristic view of the grim, dark future.

The story itself is fairly straightforward. Something bad is happening on the Blackstone Fortress, and Draik’s efforts to investigate lead to disaster and violence. There’s nothing groundbreaking going on here. Yet, isolated as it is from the larger concerns of the galaxy, there’s a lot more forward momentum than you might expect from a Warhammer book. We all know that a book that changes the setting is a rare thing, and this book is not that, but it does carry weight. The fate of the galaxy is never in question, but the fate of Precipice and the Blackstone Fortress? That is very much up in the air.

Where Ascension truly thrives is in the weirdness. Freed from the xenophobic shackles of the larger Imperium, we get to see all manner of xenos living and working side by side. Not always happily, but the streets are not awash with xenos blood just because people look different. The blood comes later, as the inevitable violence comes to this corner of the Warhammer universe. But before that we get humans (of course), a kroot, ratlings (Rein and Raus are perhaps the best characters in the whole book), and a zoat. The zoat in particular reminds me how tied to the Blackstone Fortress game these books are. I can’t help but wonder to what extent the narratives are tied together, and knowing that this story is likely constrained by the need to promote a game can be distracting at times. But that’s a distraction any reader of tie-in fiction faces on a daily basis.

 

It’s not the strongest Warhammer book out there, but Blackstone Fortress: Ascension is a lot of fun, with blood, guts, and the occasional bit of heroism thrown in for good measure.

BOOK REVIEW: The Praxis, by Walter Jon Williams

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Series: Dread Empire’s Fall (#1)

Publisher: Earthlight

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 417

Publication Date: 2002

Verdict: 3/5

 

The last of the Shaa is dying, leaving an ancient empire without a leader. Amid the uncertainty, the species and factions brought together under the Shaa’s tyrannical reign look to their own devices, and draw their plans to establish a new order . . .

The last of my charity shop purchases from back in September, The Praxis is yet another book I went into essentially blind. Only later on did I realise that this is an author I’ve heard of before. Wlater Jon Williams has also written for Star Wars, contributing to the epic New Jedi Order series that came out around the same time as this original novel. New Jedi Order all blurs together in my memory at this point, so going into this book I still had no real idea of Williams’ style. What caught my attention immediately is the concept for The Praxis. An ancient empire crumbling? Well that’s one of my favourite tropes right there. The fact that humans were neither the most important members nor the enemies of this empire was a nice twist on the usual state of affairs. I find it hard to resist a space opera at the best of times, and when it comes to second-hand books, I’m rather weak-willed.

Unfortunately, The Praxis is less than I hoped it would be. The central premise is executed quite well, and the manner in which the Shaa have remained in power is a brilliant idea. The Praxis of the book’s title is essentially a philosophy enforced on the inhabitants of the Shaa’s empire, even the Shaa themselves. It creates absolute loyalty, and absolute peace. Moral implications aside, it creates a perfect society. I also like the way the Shaa pick and choose the best elements of each culture they absorb into their empire. From Earth, for example, the keep porcelain, because it doesn’t exist elsewhere. It’s a perfect example of conqueror and conquered people influencing one another, because colonisation is never a one-way affair. Culture always finds a way to bleed through.

It’s the writing itself that brought the book down for me. More specifically, it was the pacing. Despite telling of a time of chaos and rebellion, this book plods along at a glacial pace. The moments of action shine through and are incredibly engaging, but you have to sift through a lot of meetings to get to them. And that’s not the worst of it. Now this next complaint might be familiar of you’ve been following At Boundary’s Edge for a while. The Praxis is a prime example of why flashbacks don’t work for me. There are so many of them here, and they don’t add much to the book besides page count. They all centre on the same character, filling in her background and leading to a revelation that’s blindingly obvious. These flashbacks also occur all over the place, cutting through chapters like a knife, leaving the main story of The Praxis in tatters.

For all that it feels like a bundle of squandered opportunities, The Praxis does end with the promise of a strong series ahead. And it’s a series that Williams has continued to build over the past two decades. The universe is an interesting one, and if I saw another Williams book at a low price, I’d probably pick it up. But I’m in no rush to do so. I don’t regret the time I spent in the Dread Empire, but neither am I keen to go back for a second visit. And when a book can be summed up with a disinterested shrug, that says more than any full-length review could ever do.