Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review: Farseer

Farseer by William King.  Despite my efforts to write these reviews without spoilers, naturally some are bound to occur even when describing characters, so, be warned, SPOILERS AHEAD! While recently reorganizing my paperback book shelf, I stumbled upon this book that I truthfully do not recall buying. Being self-contained, and by Bill King, I decided it looked like an interesting diversion while waiting for Pariah to be released and taking a break from reading the original Ian Fleming 007 novels.

Part of the attraction toward this book was that it was by William King, whose work on the Space Wolf novels, and Gotrek & Felix novels, as well as some very important and long lasting Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 background elements were undeniably crucial evolutionary steps in both world's post-'80s development. They still are! So a short self-contained novel by him seemed like a perfect morsel to munch on over these past autumn nights, right?

The story starts off in a very... how should I say it? "D&D module-esque" way. For those of you that have never played a classic D&D module, they tend to start off with all the characters gathering in a bar or tavern, somehow coming together awkwardly before being led by the nose on an adventure which usually climaxes at a specific destination point (castle, tower, dungeon, etc, usually this place is in a forbidden locale or is specifically forbidden) while typically being lured there by the promise of riches. We've seen this in movies and TV as well:  a half-drunk anti-hero is discovered, usually having fallen from a previous grace and fortune and now is wallowing in drunken obscurity to be plucked up by someone who desperately needs this anti-hero to "get over it" and be a real hero! Shit, I may have just gave away the 1st half of this book...

...because Janus Darke is that drunken anti-hero wallowing in drunken failure. A pathetic man who was once a powerful Rogue Trader, Janus is now an in-debt drunk wasting what little fortune he can find on bad gambling choices. The "someone" are the pair of Eldar characters you see flanking him on the cover: Auric, a Farseer and Athenys a..., well, I'm not sure, but she proves to be quite a bad-ass! I assume she might be an Autarch or some-such warrior who is no longer adhering to her warrior path. Never-the-less, I found her to be the most interesting if not the most under-developed character in this tale. So they find Janus Darke, and ask him to take them to the "forbidden destination", the planet of Belial IV, in the Eye of Terror. This plot structure is quickly established, and as a reader I thought the journey would be the bulk of the adventure as the characters navigate their way around the Eye of Terror etc.

Nope! Instead we have to deal with the fact that these eldar have chosen Janus Darke, and King is not going to let Janus off of his failure perch that quickly. Janus has to somehow retrieve his ship, survive his girlfriend Justina's attentions (hehe), and survive the gangsters who want him to pay off his gambling debts. All of this turns into some interesting hive world adventures, although I felt while reading this King could have developed the hive world on Medusa better, as it felt more like the descriptions you'd read of a fantasy port city than of an over-populated hive world. Regadless, all of this makes for a fun read, as you learn that Janus Darke is being hunted down by a Daemon Prince of Slaanesh, Shaha Gaathon, who wants to possess Janus.

Although this all made for fun reading, my favorite elements of the books had to do with Simon Belisarius, Janus' partner and Navigator. I enjoyed reading how the Navigator house he belongs to has a centuries-old outstanding debt with Craftworld Ulthwe which the eldar have come to collect from him. I was also thrilled to read Kind's description of the journey through the warp and what it was like to make such a journey into the Eye of Terror. Players of the Rogue Trader RPG should read this passage alone as required reading before sitting down to play.

Another fascinating detail here was the history of Belial IV itself. King describes this shattered eldar crone-world through the eyes of Janus whose visions reveal to him (and us) the corruption, fall and destruction of the eldar race and this world and the birth of Slaanesh.  This is fascinating reading, and even if you find the rest of this book difficult to grind through, these parts are well worth it.

And without revealing too much more or touching on how this all ends, I have to mention Zarghan. Zarghan is a fallen Space Marine from the Emperor's Children Legion. The funny thing is that he's bored with constant orgies and other such silliness that his minions are involved with, but is totally getting his rocks off on wanton slaughter and inflicting pain in combat while blaring loud music into his ears. (..'Noise Marines: Live at the Palace of Pleasure'?)  He actually wonders if he would make a better khornate follower at some point, which makes for a far more interesting character than if he was a more stereo-typical Chaos Marine.

Despite how predictable I thought the book was starting out, I didn't foresee the outcome, but when some of the reveals occurred I found myself physically face-palming... ("Auric...rhymes with it..."). However, over-all, this was a good book. Again, the most rewarding elements were the details on Belial IV, the history of the Eldar Fall and the birth of Slaanesh, and the final chapters of the book which are pretty much a dramaticly written massive blood-orgy of combat.

Did I like it? I did. But things really started to get interesting as the book was winding down. Clearly, and this isn't evident or obvious until the last few pages, but King was setting this up for a sequel, which never happened and I wonder if it ever will...
  • Was it hard to put down?, not really. I kept at it, but I didn't thrist for it like I did the last batch of BL books I had read.
  • Could I care about the characters? Janus, not so much. I felt that he was being protrayed to us as a bit of a dumb-ass jock-like character. In fact, looking back on it, I just don't see how this guy was ever a Rogue Trader in the 1st place! I just don't see how he got a crew to follow him, unlike Belisarius. Also, I am undecided on just how to pronounce his name: Is it JANus? Perhaps with a Nordic twist: YANus? Or something weird like JAWnus? I just read it as JANus and moved on. I was more concerned about the eldar characters, but more so because I wanted to learn more about Athenys. Auric was what he was: a Professor X in an eldar outfit.
  • 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? Yeah, he's Bill King! However, this story did come off in places as a bit hacked. However, the story kept moving and even though it could've used more descriptive elements on Medusa, at least it didn't get bogged down in over-developed minutiae either.
  • Was I being talked down to? I didn't think so, but when the story focused on Janus, I couldn't help but want something horrible to happen to this guy. He reminded me of Jimmy Bond from the old Lone Gunmen TV show...
  • How predictable is this story? It starts off very predictable, until you realize that that you've ploughed halfway through the book and we haven't left Medusa yet! The most unpredictable parts weren't in the ending or climatic battle, but in which subplots were left unresolved. The ultimate fate of Justina remains unresolved, and well, clearly a sequel would be appreciated at some point.

  • Unused pic I drew for some 40K fanzines back in the '90s.



    Da Masta Cheef said...

    Hmmm...I dunno. I'm not a fan of William King's 40k novels after reading how the SAME small squad of Space Wolves saved Yet ANOTHER planet series.

    neverness said...

    Hey, my same squad of Space Wolves have been kicking your armies around for years now...oh, wait they die a lot...nevermind, I see your point...:(

    Da Masta Cheef said...

    Which is why I said I didn't like the series!!!


    neverness said... know you probably described ALL the Space Marine series' that are out there, and lets face it, there is NO way the IG could ever sustain a series if their table-top performance is any accurate measure...