Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: Path of the Archon

And now we have the third part in Andy Chamber's Dark Eldar Trilogy: Path of the Archon. And what a brilliant conclusion that it was! A very satisfying finale! And all-in-all, a very satisfying trilogy. Especially after reading this after I completed the reading of Ravenwing, This was superior writing, superior pacing, and just, well, superior.

+++Possible SPOILERS ahead, so beware!+++

This books begins pretty much were the previous book, Path of the Incubus, left off. Path of the incubus dealt with our assortment of protagonists (or is every character an antagonist? -it's really very debatable!) venturing on separate journeys through the war-torn Eternal City of Commorragh in the aftermath of the reality disturbing event called the Dysjunction. In Path of the Archon, we're picking up right where we left off as the tyrannical leader of the Dark Eldar, Asdrubael Vect, is tying up loose ends and killing those that defy him. Especially those who caused the Dysjunction in the first place. One suspect in particular is the Archon of the White Flames, Yllithian, who is returning to his fortress having just completed the mission he was sent to perform for Asdrubael Vext, and having failed to have been killed by his would-be assassins, is preparing to openly defy Vect, thus setting the stage for the rest of the book.

Unlike the other two books, this book never leaves Commorragh, and we focus on what will become a civil war between the forces aligned to Vect and those who have thrown their lot in with the upstart Archon of the White Flames Yllithian. I really liked how Andy described and brought to life this merciless and cruel ancient city. More importantly, how he described the machinations and schemes that Vect uses to hold onto his power and the ruthless methods in which we see him employ them. Vect is illustrated quite well in this book and we actually get closer to him than we have in this series so far. Indeed, he's virtually unattainable in the first book, only making a public appearance via hologram. In the 2nd book we see him when selected Archons are requested to meet with him in his palace in Corespur, way up in the dangerous reaches of High Commorrah. 

But in this book, we see lots of Vect, and get a sense of why Commorragh needs him. Much like in modern times where we see dictatorships ruling in opulence over a beaten down nation only to see said dictatorship end and the now divided nation falls back into age old feuds and rivalries. It's pretty clear by the end of the book, Vect is that allegorical dictator. Vect keeps the "peace" by sheer fear and presence alone. Without him, the Dark Eldar would gleefully slaughter themselves. Not that Vect truly cares about Commorragh as much as he does his own power, again, like that modern dictator. We are shown also the amazing lengths and the level of power-plays that Vect will resort to in order to hold on to his rule. Death-toll be damned. 

One such weapon, that I am eager to spoil -but won't- is so awesome, and so obvious, that I will be shocked if these don't become a unit type in the next version of the Dark Eldar codex. If it did, it would be an instant "must-take" unit!

Also there is a lot about the mysterious Mandrakes and the Shadowrealm of Aelindrach where they dwell. Indeed, the Mandrakes are having a civil war of their own which climaxes when we have a cameo from a character from the game, the Decapitator, who has a jolly good time doing what he does best!

  • Did I like it? I loved it! And the whole trilogy as a whole was quite good, even though the 2nd book had some sluggish moments getting at the characters from their points 'A' to their points 'B', it was satisfying as well, and allows this installment to move very quickly.
  • Was it hard to put down? It was! And I started it during a tough time and it was a well needed escape. 
  • Could I care about the characters? To a degree, yes. But understand, Motley the Harlequin is the only character resembling a "good guy" in these books, so by default I found myself rooting for his survival. 
  • Did the writer truly grasp how the 'world' of the 41st millennium works in the sense that it doesn't betray or retcon previously established (as I know it) lore?  Same answer as last time. I will say that with most of this lore released to the buying public after Andy left, it is amazing just how firm his grasp is on conveying how the Dark Eldar function as a society. 
  • Was I being talked down too? No. The tone in these books, as well as the pacing, are just right. 
  • How predictable is this story? To a degree, you got to sort of foresee the outcome here, just for the sake of status quo, however Andy throws enough twists and turns to keep you second-guessing the outcome. 
  • Do I recommend this book? Absolutely! 

    Sunday, July 13, 2014

    Bloodbrute part 2

    Welcome back.  Since last time I have completed the Hellbrute model that I have dubbed "The Bloodbrute". 

    The finished Bloodbrute in natural light.
    In the first part I show how I started the model and here I will talk about the final stages.

    After finishing painting the Brute's head and completing the "gums" that surround it, I glued it into position and then glued the front onto the model. I used rubberbands to secure the bond.

    Not so unbound...

     After some additional touch-ups it was time to finish the whites on the horns and teeth that heavily adorn this thing.

    After I mounted the front piece I finished the fleshy bits and the weird warpy gut bits. I used an assortment of colors to achieve this look, which I am ultimately satisfied with.

    The belly of the beast.
     Having painted it in parts I had some strange spots where the colors didn't match, so I had to blend all these together.

    The pink gut bits were mostly done using (Khorne forgive me) Pink Horror, which is one of the current line of Citadel paints. I used some Aileene's paint (Dusty Rose) for the high lights.

     I then added another solid coat of Ruby Red to the red areas on the model, matching it up with the other World Eater models.

    I next finished off the metal on the exhaust and the barrel of the Multi Melta.

    The back of the Brute

    The tentacles that a bursting from it's side were a bit of challenge, but after a few purple ink washes I got a look that I liked.
    Done except for the flocking.

    The finished model: flocked before sealing it.
    And the finished model can be seen in the first picture in this post. I am thinking that I might want to add gloss varnish to the fleshy bits, but I hesitate to do that as I have seen how gloss can attract fuzz and dust in the long run, so I am not sure if I want to do that yet.

    Next up, more World Eaters!


    Sunday, July 6, 2014

    Waaarghgasm in Johnson City

    Last night I have the opportunity to head over to Hobbytown in Johnson City, and although I didn't have time to play I did get to see some old friends and meet a few new ones. I got there after the usual pre-game discussions, and when I arrived most of the tables were already full and gaming was well underway.

    The Pleasurebrute lives!
    There were two Ork armies being played in separate games, as Rob and Da Masta Cheef were each coming to terms with the new codex. This was my first opportunity to even hold the book in my hand, in addition to seeing the 7th edition in action, so I was fascinated to hear their feedback. One of our players, Scott, gave me his feedback: after his first game with the new codex he sold off his Ork Army! Well, I will leave it to the Cheef to tell his tale, and how he dealt with the "Pleasurebrute" above, so wander over to his blog to see that discussion.

    Da Long Wayz Desert Group vs. Skylar's Chaos force
     Necron Bob stopped by to see the action and give some gifts to Da Cheef (hint: his marines are going to be happy for the reinforcements!). We watched this game mostly and talked about maybe hooking up for a a game of WHFB. Which would be a cool a refreshing change of pace, especially since I spent a lot of time last year painting and building up my Orc army for it. We'll have to see. We also talked about why a guy called Necron Bob doesn't play 40K anymore.

    Line up and WAAARGH!
     Rob and Amy were duking it out in an Ork vs. Tau battle. Personally I think this is a very challenging match-up for the Orks (as Eldar would be as well) due to those armies superior firepower, and in the case of the Eldar superior Movement options. I think when it comes to figuring out this new edition and codex, I would like to face Space Marines, as to me they are better gauge to determining the strengths and weaknesses of a given army. But, around here it is rare that someone shows up on game night with an "average" marine army anymore. Indeed, 7th edition's "take anything" mantra, I think we'll see less and less of "average". I haven't decided if this is a bad thing or not. Anyway, it was a charge into "no man's land" as reenacted by Orks and Tau, and blood would flow.
    Although I didn't stick around long enough to see the outcome, Rob was looking fairly vexed when I last saw him. Probably the same look I typically have when I fight the Fem Fa'Tau regardless of the army I use.

    I was trying to convince Amy to blog about this battle as I don't think she's ever written a post before about a game, but she has written introductions (preambles?) before. If she does, I will link back to here. 
    The final showdown!
    Screech was in town for the weekend back from his training in the military on a weekend pass. And he was putting together his first 7th edition Tyranid army list against a formidable looking Eldar army. It appeared to me that Screech was about to have an uphill battle! I enjoyed watching this match up as it allowed me to witness the new psychic phase for the first time. I think I like it!

     On another table I witnessed a Space Wolf Wolflord get gunned down in an overwatch charge by a Tau army. It was an example in Strength in numbers, especially against that situation.

    There were at least 3 other games taking place this night that I neglected to snap any pics of, but I am happy to say that the Saturday night gaming event at Hobbytown is alive and well! Hopefully I will be back at it again soon, and next time as a player!

    Wednesday, July 2, 2014

    Bloodbrute part 1

    Hello again. Well since I last presented the progress on my Khorne Berserkers unit, "feeling khorney", I have since built them a sweet ride (Land Raider) and pretty much finished painting that squad. However I have misplaced their decals, and so although I am eager to present them here, I want to show them completed vs. almost done. But the work of a budding overfiend is never finished, so I have begun work on a Chaos Dreadnought, I mean Hellbrute, which I have re-christened (Khornated?) the Bloodbrute!*..

    Assembly stage.
    It's a great model, and although this isn't one where I can easily magnetize weapon options, I think I like the weapons as they are. After dealing with what little flash/mould-lines there were, I began figuring out how it all goes together. I decided in order to paint the thing's head (seems like a pretty stupid weakness to me, even though it looks kinda cool) I will paint it as I assembled it like I do with a lot of my models.

    I wasn't keen on having the Bloodbrute standing on just the one rock that it comes modeled with, and took the time to add some more. Again, using the method that I discussed here, I base my models before I prime them.
    I also thought the thing would look cooler if I took advantage of the hollowed barrels of the Multi-Melta and drilled out the holes along the sides of it.

    Drilled out Multi-Melta
    Next I took advantage of the wargear options in the Codex, and added a Heavy Flamer under the Power Fist. I agonized quite a bit over this, going through all my bits to try to fit every variation of Heavy Flamer I could before settling on using two basic Flamers from the Cadian Imperial Guard kit. I think this looks pretty sweet so far. Some of the other options, although they might look good, didn't make sense as far as how the Power Fist would work.

    Flame on!
    Using the same color palette as I used on the Bezerkers and Land Raider, I launched right into applying the Scab Red base coat.

    Scabby stage.
    And now I am well into the base coat stage. I hope to get more accomplished on this thing soon, and the progress I did make on this was over a fairly short amount of time. Looking at this photo, I am almost tempted to leave the head out and just have a nasty looking maw for it's head! ...it's tempting.

    Base coated
    *I have two of these models, the other one I will probably make for Nurgle and call it the Pusbrute. or make it for the Emperor's Children/Slaanesh and call it the Pleasurebrute or just Big Brute. It'll be awhile until I get to it so I have time to think about it.

    Also, in addition to this Hellbrute, I have started on the second unit of Berzerkers. This is from the 3rd edition era "Dance, Dance, Dance" boxed set.

    Assembling the reinforcements.
    Until next time!

    Tuesday, June 24, 2014

    The sad sad state of battle reports

    Battle Reports have been a feature in White Dwarf for decades now, and with the devolved state of the feature, I lament the aspects that made them popular in the first place. The earliest Battle Reports had very little in the way of photos and mostly consisted of drawings depicting the action along with maps and diagrams. They were well laid out and served to educate the reader in the many ways that the game being presented is played. Typically, they started off with one or two writers, who were usually also the players in the game being presented, selecting their army lists and telling us why they chose what they chose for their army. These players used to be members of the GW's Game Design Team, or writers of White Dwarf, each going after the other's guy's blood in 28mm heroic scale. 

    The terrain-heavy '90s...
    In the beginning their photography was limited somewhat, so you got true photos of the game in action, with dice, pencils, lists, templates, etc., present,  as well as the nicer 'staged' photos presenting the best in 'eavy Metal studio miniatures, along with the scenery pieces and a painted backdrop. I guess the old studio space was limited in how they could stage the entire board in a way where they could show turn-by-turn action, so they resorted to using diagrams with a unique key to indicate specific units. All of this worked to tell the story of the game. 

    Vehicle rules so awesome that model's weren't required! 

    I recall the battle reports in the latter days of Warhammer 40,000's 1st edition (by this point 'Rogue Trader' had quietly been dropped), as they sort of play-tested out for us the rules that would appear in the Vehicle Manual and Battle Manual which would further evolve into Warhammer 40,000 2nd Edition. By that point, the Battle Report had become a key feature of White Dwarf, not just for filler, but as the photos became more prevalent, they became an alternate model showcase as well as helping players understand the rules. These early reports were fun and exciting to read, even if they probably played the game 2-3 times until they got the game they wanted to actually write about. It didn't matter: the guys who wrote the rules and background were showing us how they played this game! I remember we would sometimes settle rule disputes (albeit minor ones) by referring to some of these battle reports. As far back as 2nd edition, battle reports were used to show us how the new releases of that month worked in the game. Even back then players were suspicious that the new Codex/Army Book tended to win that month's game... 

    A tactical review? Does the current WD team grasp this idea?

    As time went on, and the games evolved, obviously they needed to show us something in White Dwarf other than Night Fight again, so they started to present unique scenarios and themes for their battle reports which led to such iconic presentations as "Last Stand at Glazer's Creek", "Massacre at Big Toof River", "Massacre at Sanctuary 101" and others. They would continue to do this after 40k's 3rd edition, but they started to loosen up a bit on the diagrams with the map keys but instead began to show us the full table (or bits of it) in a turn-by-turn manner. This was definitely a bit more exciting from a visual standpoint, but the battle reports started to lose their strategic value. 

    White Dwarf 226. 
    There are noted exceptions, particularly WD 226, the first 40k 3rd edition issue which stands out to me because it was very specific in teaching 40K players how the new edition worked and what made it different from the previous edition. This was so well done that it could have been packaged with that edition's starter set as a 'how to play a game' guide. I would say that what was done there should still be replicated every few months (December issue?) to help introduce new players to the game and hobby.

    As time went on, the Battle Reports sort of became a bit more 'ho-hum' but still made for decent reading. Indeed, sometimes the battle report felt forced, as if the guys doing them were painfully slogging through the writing of them. Corners were obviously being cut, and written content was being reduced in favor of more pictures!

    "You, intern! Want to prove your worth? You get to write this month's Battle Report!" -Random WD Editor

    By this point, the battle report had evolved into platform to sell the latest product more so than showing us readers how the game should be properly played. 

    Then came the new White Dwarf team and their funky yellow-orange logo, and we started to get Battle Reports that focused less on strategy, or even the rules of the game, and more on pushing the new product harder than it has ever been pushed before. But then, it seems in this dawning era of Unbound army selection, the whole game is now this 'BUY IT NOW' pseudo-ad campaign. *sigh* -Honestly, this whole topic has been pounded to death on other blogs and forums, and I'm loathe to bring that discussion here, but one can't discuss the current condition of the Battle Report concept without honestly pointing out what it has blatantly turned into. 

    In 2014 the battle report is more pictures. Granted they're nice, high quality, over-scaled, super-staged, and presented at a size made more to fill page space than any other reason I can invent. With the tastiest reading usually reduced to a stupidly small font in a box or a sidebar. Regardless, you might get a write-up by a player telling us why they selected a given unit or model for their army ("..because it's new!"), a few game high-lights, and, that's it. Nothing to be excited about. No unique background or character, only the vaguest of themes. These games rarely stick to such concepts as a Force Organization Chart or "points" and they tended to have wonky objectives, goals or conditions that you just won't see your fellow gamers agreeing to in local pickup games. Now, in hindsight, and dare I say in their defense, I think this is because they were already play-testing the 7th edition and were attempting to warm the WD reader base to the concept (albeit loosely). Which from what I saw in various places around the 'net at the time it had the reverse effect ("The White Dwarf writers can't even be bothered to play a proper game!"). What did it for me was Warhammer Visions #1. This presented the worst idea for a "battle report" that I have yet to see, and it convinced me to never pick up another issue of that pointless publication (a rant for another time?).

    My point to this whole post?  I miss the old Battle Reports. The style, the presentation, the care and the fun: all elements that made the battle report an essential read every month. And I see no reason why we can't have them back and still include the current amount of pics that show off all of the new models if that's what is required by the share holders or whatever, but damn it, I want to read a report, not scraps of one hidden in the captions and sidebars of the current pic-fest.  

    My painting of a Squat...um, short viking guy with gun... 
    Look, I understand how time-consuming these things can be to create. Before this blog, ok waaaay before this blog, back in the '90s a friend and I were working to put together our own 40K Fanzine and were going to feature battle reports. Looking back on it, we were fairly low tech to say the least, but what we did was design a grid, and we would draw out the map each round in an effort to mimic the diagrams that White Dwarf used at the time. We really wanted to push the games more complicated rules, wargear combos, etc, as well as show off other elements that were our own creations that we would present in the articles (Death Worlds as armies, Rattling PDFs, Squats, Pygmy Blood Bowl Teams, Etc.). So, I would take my notes and drawings, and write up a battle report, as well as a fictional story to go along with it, and since I didn't have a camera, I would draw the action in spot illustrations and paintings. These are far more involved than anything I have done for this blog and they took hours to complete. We never published a single issue of the fanzine, but I at least got to respect what it takes to write up one of these battle reports. 

    It's sad when the battle reports I do for this blog (and they're really more like highlights commenting on what I recall vs. reading from detailed notes or making a comment on a pic I snapped, than my idea of true BR but still...) are more content-filled and readable than the stuff in the current GW periodicals. Sad indeed. 

    All images taken from the web by people who stole the images from White Dwarf which is owned by Games Workshop. I do not challenge their ownership of these images, and use them here for review purposes only.

    The painting of the Viking Guy with a Gun is mine however. 

    Monday, June 16, 2014

    Working with Mediums

    Enjoying beach life. The timeshare version of it.
    Since the last post, I took a small vacation to Florida, where I got to spend lots of time on the beach making sandcastles for Kidzilla to stomp on, as well as add some red hues to my pasty hide. This was the first time I have been to the ocean since the summer of '92, on the shore of East Anglia in the UK. Unless the Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore counts, then Games Day '99. But those waters were kind of gray and merciless compared to what you see above!

    It wasn't all good weather though, and rains allowed us to go and explore the city where we found a kick-ass museum.
    "Hey there!"
     But choppy Florida waters are actually fun for some people:
    NOT me!
     And hey, everyone has their hobbys, right?

    Well, on one of our rainy-day jaunts around the city we stopped at the legendary Pearl Paints. Pearl Paints is an awesome store, and if you are an artist or hobbyist in anyway, I would encourage you to check them out while they are still open, as sadly, word on the street is that they will be closing their doors soon. Which is very sad to me, as I have a great memory from my 2nd year at the Joe Kubert School of all my roommates cramming ourselves into a car and making a trip across northern New Jersey to go visit a Pearl store in order to load up on art supplies for a painting class. I have never seen an art store this well stocked or this diverse with product an it has remained the benchmark that I hold all other art stores up against ever since.

    This store in Fort Lauderdale is no exception either, and I was quite pleased to visit it and get some cool art supplies. Over in the clearance section, I was able to find some items that I wish to present to my usual readers as this stuff might be of interest to the model painter.

    One of the paints I found was a Delta Ceramcoat Gleams acrylic paint called Metallic Red Copper which turned out to be an exact match for the result I get when I use red ink glaze on top of gold that mentioned on here before (Skippy the Bloodthirster's armor). I was quite pleased with that find and I have been using in on my Khorne Berserkers since I got back.

    But the real find on this trip to Pearl Paints, and what will become the meat of this post, are the Acrylic Paint Mediums that I found buried in their clearance section.
    For those of you unfamiliar with Acrylic Mediums, basically they are solutions that you mix into acrylic paint to achieve any number of specific effects that you can't normally do with just the paint. They are mostly used with 2-D art applications in mind, for example Glazing Medium, however the various companies out there foresaw that the users of their craft paint might be able to take advantage of these products as well. And, unless you're a Citadel Paint purist, you are probably aware that acrylic paint is acrylic paint. Sure, the brands are all different and one may function better than another in application or dry times, or you might prefer one for taste reasons (they have droppers, the wells are bigger, they fit in your hobby box better, etc.) but at the end of the day, they are all fairly the same. Something the reps from each company will all try to deny of course. 

    Extender, Control, and Thickener Mediums.
    When I saw the three Mediums above, and for incredibly low prices at that, I just had to get them. These will work with all acrylic paints, although I imagine some formulas might not work as well as others. The big experiment will be when I attempt to use this stuff with the current line of citadel paints, which are very funky acrylics indeed.   

    The first one in the pic, if you read left to right, is the Extender Medium. This stuff is straight-forward in intent and application: You mix it into the paint you're using to literally extend the drying time to the paint you're using. I would only use this if painting something large and or if I have made a unique color that I don't want to have dry up on me before I've finished using it. 

    A lot of my paint schemes involve the thinning of the paint with water to create a faux-glaze effect that helps convey a transition between two colors to give the viewer the illusion of fading. There are examples of this in my Space Wolf Gallery (on the tab-bar above). Control Medium will allow me to do something similar without losing pigment on the top color, but still providing transparency to the color beneath it. It's really great if you intend to do a lot of color blending. I plan on doing a lot of experimenting with this one, especially when I start working on my Slanneshi and Tzeentchian forces. Also, if you are working with an acrylic paint that wants to be difficult (clumping) this stuff should help eliminate that. 

    Thickener Medium is like Viagra for paint. -Nah, not really! It's a lot like Control Medium actually, but it doesn't thin the paint quite as much but keeps it 'thick' while creating a transparency effect.

    At some point, I will do a bit of experimenting with this stuff and post the results here. These experiments will be in both 2-D painting and of course my mini/model painting. In particular I want to see how this stuff will work with the current Citadel line (I have no doubt it will work well on their older '90's line) and on metallics.

    And since I've shamelessly plugged Pearl Paints on this post today, why not check them out online and see if you can find something cool. Who knows, you just might! www.pearlpaint.com

    Friday, May 23, 2014

    Book Review: Ravenwing (& Angels of Darkness)


    I will try not to ruin any surprises with this review dissection, but there will be some things I will just be forced to talk about.
    I dislike this image... 
     This review is about Gav Thorpe's Ravenwing (Book One of the Legacy of Caliban) by Black Library. It is a sequel (sorta) to his first foray into the intrigue and zeal of the Dark Angels, Angels-of-Darkness. However reading that book isn't necessarily required reading if you want to pick up Ravenwing, but it is highly encouraged. At the time of this posting Ravenwing is still readily available, whereas Angels of Darkness is a lot tougher to find. (Unless you like ebooks).

    It's probably not likely that if you're reading this post that you don't know who the Dark Angels are, but just in case you don't, go over to warhammer40k.wikia.com/wiki/Dark_Angels to learn more about them. In fact, before you touch any Warhammer 40,000 novels I would recommend at least a broad skim through a wiki like that or the current core rulebook for the game. But for those of us who have been keeping up with the evolving Dark Angel lore since the late '80s, sometimes these books can get a bit annoying. Especially when a writer feels that his 'artistic license' gives them free-reign to change what has been firmly established in the Warhammer40K lore for decades.

    I don't feel that Gav Thorpe is one of those writers. Gav started out as a Game Designer for the GW Design Studio and wrote a lot of the source material for the game of which BL's novels expand on or plays with. I'm not going to list his greatest hits or his greatest misses, but if you roll your eyes at the eldar term for mocking humans, "monkeigh", well that's a Gav contribution. After Gav left GW to become a writer I was a bit reluctant to pick up his works, until I stumbled upon Grudgebearer a few years back. The 1st chapter of which read like one of the more dismissive Inferno! short stories, but after that the book became more and more awesome. I think quite honestly that it has been my favorite BL novel to date, and that says a lot considering how much I enjoy the Eisenhorn and Cain novels! So, with that standard of enjoyment set high, I followed it up with Angel's of Darkness.


    Reprint cover.

    Angels of Darkness, I feel, has to be talked about a little bit before one talks about Ravenwing, as it does set the stage for what becomes the goals for the protagonists in it. Angels of Darkness was the story about Interrogator Chaplain Boreas. Gav wrote this book so that the chapter's alternated between a flashback of Boreas' first time having to draw a confession from a Fallen Dark Angel, Astelan, and to his current situation on Piscina IV. A chance encounter leads Boreas and his team away from their base of operations into a distraction set by the Fallen, all the while the confessions of Astelan continue to haunt and torment him, until ultimately once the Fallen's final trap is revealed, Boreas and his team are tricked into making the ultimate sacrifice for the people of Piscinia IV. -That was a very brief summary, and I hope that I did not do this brilliant and highly recommended novel an injustice with it.

    Ravenwing on the other hand, I felt did a major injustice to the sacrifice of Boreas. Knowing that this was a sequel to Angels of Darkness, I felt, as I started reading this book, a great sense of "get on with it already" as I read through the first 60+ pages of what was basically War Porn. The type of stuff that makes reading Space Marine anthologies so challenging for me. Don't get me wrong, I like action, but if I'm going to have a writer choose a specific character to follow around a battlefield in a 3rd person narrative, please establish why I should give a shit about him first. As it was, and the way this book was promoted, I assumed this book was about the Ravenwing's Grandmaster, Sammael, and Corvus, his awesome jetbike, a character from the miniature game who we as readers and players might sort of know, and to some extent we do. But I wanted to follow him more, get into more of his history and background, but we just don't. I was hoping to learn more about the Ravenwing's past use of Jetbikes but no.  Instead we're following Annael, a fairly newly inducted member of the Ravenwing. And then we have Telemenus, whom we follow as well, who is not even in the Ravenwing but is in the 5th company. It felt like stalling to me as I just wanted to get on with finding out about Boreas. In retrospect, I might have really enjoyed this book if I had read Angels of Darkness after Ravenwing.

    I felt the first 50-60 pages of this book could have been told in far less pages if paced better and I felt the introduction of these other two character's could have been handled better. But there is a method to what Gav was doing here: the three points of view that we follow represent the circles of secrecy that is the Dark Angel hierarchy.

     The 5th Company, your basic Dark Angel Space Marine, knows next to nothing about their chapter's past or the events that tore their legion apart in the waning days of the Horus Heresy. Yet they are called upon to follow the 2nd and 1st companies (Ravenwing and Deathwing respectively) who do know about this dark part, and support them in a battlefield role that often makes no sense to them. For example objectives are given to them that the Ravenwing doesn't seem to give a care about, and to them, the Ravenwing appear as glory-hounding frat boys with big cool toys who show up for the easy win once the 5th company has accomplished the grueling grunt work. By the end of the novel, I found the 5th company to actually be more interesting than the Ravenwing characters that this books is named after, and Telemenus (I keep wanting to call him Telemundo LOL) stands out to me as very interesting and sort of bad-ass character but not in a fan-boy over-the-top kind of way.

    Then we have Annael, the new guy to the Ravenwing. Honestly I just didn't care about him much, or the Ravenwing, who, like I said, are perceived as glory-hogs and for the most part kind of come off this way accept to Annael, who just seems way too naïve even to be doing what he's doing. By the end of the book, he does get to finally shine a little but I won't spoil how. But basically, I felt that we could've ultimately dropped him from the book and focused on Telemenus's and Sammael's perspectives instead.

    Sammael, the Ravenwing Grandmaster, is the 3rd major point of view that we follow, and it's his that is the most important. Along with the company psyker and Malcifer the Interrogator Chaplain, we see how Sammael's command decisions are made and determined. It is in the chapters pertaining to Sammael that this story actually moves. Seriously, I'm tempted to do an experiment by re-reading only the Sammael chapters just to see if the story reads better or not. I'm damned sure the pacing would improve! More importantly, we see what some the Ravenwing don't fully comprehend, and what no one in the 5th company comprehends, in regards to the decisions that Sammael must make in his quest to track down The Fallen.

    Original cover
    After the 60+ pages of war porn, the guy they capture and torture gives them a clue that takes them on to a new course to good old Piscina IV. It's here that  the 5th company are lead to believe that they are there to stop a siege on Kadillus (the big capital city on Piscina IV) when really the Ravenwing are there to figure out why a distress signal is coming from their base of operations there and figure out what became of the Dark Angels that were stationed in it. After some time, they work their way in and essentially spoil the ending to Angels of Darkness in the same way that Alien3 ruined Aliens. I won't say how, as ultimately this spoiling does motivate the rest of the book as the Ravenwing take the clues gathered by Boreas' journal entries to try to chase down the Fallen that took down Boreas and his fellow Dark Angels. 

    Suddenly, things get interesting, and we're led to a planet with a space station that is held by renegades of some sort, who attempt to escape. We have a chapter or two of some rather tasty space battles in a Battlefleet Gothic vein that I was quite excited to read, but it was not only too simplistic in the telling, but over far too quickly. Before we know it they're launching teams of marines into a space station full of under powered  goons who have no hope of stopping the Dark Angels. Although better written than the 1st chunk of the book, it was still slowly pace war porn that seemed to take too long to get to the goal of moving the story forward, however it was a bit more engaging, if not teasing, with it's subtle revelations. Finally we get to where the 5th company, who have their target in sight, are told by the Ravenwing to hold their position while they basicly "handle it from here" which builds quickly into a very tense scene where it looks like they are about to completely turn on each other. This scene was a big reset button on the book I thought, and really upped the tensions that Gav was slowly (and I feel maybe too subtly) building up. 

    The character building I wish I had at the beginning of the book finally happens in the last 1/3 of the book, as we see the Dark Angels continue their hunt for the Fallen. I shall not spoil what happens next, only to say that they encounter the Death Guard, and the encounter is the best written fight sequence in the book, and yet, it's far too short, in particular the final battle. 

    The book has a satisfying ending, leading and setting up the next book in this series, Master of Sanctity which as of the time of this writing hasn't been released yet. I'm hoping that we see some of the descendants from Ezekial's people from the Deathwing short story by William King and Bryan Ansell. -Just because. ;)

    • Did I like it? It wasn't the worst BL book (*cough -Runefang- Cough*) or story I ever read initially, but this book did eventually win me over, but it took awhile to get there.
    • Was it hard to put down? Not really. After the revelations on Piscina IV, I was so bummed by this chapter that I set the book down for awhile to read a few Ian Flemming James Bond novels, and it's saying something when I would rather read Bond's golfing shenanigans against Auric Goldfinger than pick this book back up, but eventually I did.
    • Could I care about the characters? At first no. But I started to really be impressed with Telemenus. I kind of didn't care if Annael lived or died, and Sammael almost came off as a generic Space Marine leader with a cool ride. His inner circle were a bit more interesting I thought. A lot of the secondary characters in this book were interesting however a lot of them had far too similar names (i.e. beginning with an 's' and ending with '-iel') which makes me want to write to Gav's blog with a link to the Dictionary of Angels that I bought 20 years ago as reference (for the Vampire: The Masquerade game oddly enough) to show him that there are a lot more angel name variations than just the dozen he's aware of. It was confusing sometimes, and a list of characters (Dramatis Personae) like they have for the Horus Heresy novels would have been very helpful here. Telemenus stood out, not only because he was cool, but because his name was unique and not easy to confuse with another character. Which is strange that a very unique typo occurs toward the end of the book where Telemenus is suddenly with the Ravenwing (what? huh?) and then a page and a half later at the start of the next chapter he's readying for drop pod deployment with the rest of his 5th company unit. I'm gonna blame the editors and proof readers for that one though! 
    • Did the writer truly grasp how the 'world' of the 41st millennium works in the sense that it doesn't betray or retcon previously established (as I know it) lore? Or is this the work of a hack chasing a paycheck vs. establishing his mark on the ever-expanding 40k universe? Gosh. Eek. OK, to be fair, by now Gav Thorpe is definitely, without question, an authority on both Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 lore. But this book is not his best work. it's primarily due to the stretched pacing of the chapter upon chapter of war porn, when, although action is nice to read in an action book, the plot could have used more focus as could the character development. I get the sense that if he had more time, he really could have shaped this up a bit firmer. This was released around the time of the 6th edition Dark Angels Codex and I suspect the deadline was pushed hard on him, but this is only speculation on my part...
    • Was I being talked down too? No. This was thankfully avoided, as it probably would have remained an unfinished read for me if that tone was present...
    • How predictable is this story? Ravenwing was fairly predictable. The few curve balls that we were thrown were still soft balls. I was pleasantly surprised by the space battle and the fight in the space station started off interestingly enough. It doesn't have the whammy-effect that Angels of Darkness had but the ending and last few chapters were arguably the best in the book and now I am looking forward to the next part. I just hope that the objections I had with this one aren't magnified in it's sequel. 
    • Do I recommend this book? If you like Dark Angels, yes. If you like Space Marine war porn and reading about marines tearing orcs, renegades and insurgents apart with their bolters, than you'll like this book. If you want to learn very specific things about the Ravenwing, oddly, there isn't much revealed here (other than maybe that they like to name their bikes?) If you read and loved Angels of Darkness, I urge you to tread with caution as there is a 50/50 chance you won't like how Boreas' legacy is handled. As for me, I am going to stick with this series, and I will probably read Purging of Kallidus as well. 
    For more of my reviews, go here.