Saturday, March 17, 2012

A book review: Atlas Infernal

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I've spent the last 2 months working virtually non-stop, with only a brief window in February to do a bit of painting. However I do find time while traveling and before bed to immerse myself into the world of 40K fiction.

This is the 1st book that inspired me to write a review.

I haven't come up with any sort of 'scale' that reviewers and blogs like to use, and I honestly think such things are always a bit misleading, I mean, it's not like people who write Amazon reviews are professional copy editors with stacks of degrees in literature to back up their opinions or anything and I certainly am not either! Rather I will just tell you what I think based upon a few broad guidelines:
  • Did I like it?
  • Was it hard to put down?
  •  Could I care about the characters?
  • 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?
  • Was I being talked down too?
  • How predictable is this story?

I'm sure I could come up with more, but you get the idea.

My 1st review is on the book I just read over the course the past 17 days and finished on a plane about 2 hours ago. It's called Atlas Infernal by Rob Sanders, published by Black Library,  and it's set in the 41st Millennium of the GW's 40K universe during the time of Abbadon's Black Crusade.

1st off, I need to establish that for the past 2 years all I have been reading in the way of fiction is the Black Library's Inquisition line of 40K books. For the most part, I consider a lot the Space Marine stories to pretty much being 'war-porn' with somewhat simple plots, usually with a twist where the protagonist dies -cause that what makes this stuff "grim-dark"! Oooow! But when I started GMing Dark Heresy for my gaming group, I found that I needed some deeper inspiration. The Eisenhorn, Ravenor, and Cain omnibuses were all great and enjoyable reads and definitely fit the criteria I listed above and the needs for inspiration for Dark Hersey. Upon completing Defender of the Imperium, I began looking for something else...and what do you know, this new book leaped out at me!

This is a story featuring the character of Inquisitor Bronislaw Czevak, a name that's been around for 20 years at least as a quotable expert on either Chaos of Eldar lore being as he is the only known human visitor to the Black Library, usually seen in small quotes found in Warhammer 40,000 rulebooks. But this is his first featured novel. This is a tough novel to really delve into as it's easy to throw out spoilers on a book with this many twists.

It starts off with an aged, I mean venerable, Grand Inquisitor Czevak engaged in a heated debate with other Inquisitors including the Monodominant (basically ultra-fanatical zealot Inquisitors) Inquisitor Malchankov who is immediately established as an adversary that Czevak is going to have to watch his ass for.

"I claim your blood, Czevak. Do you hear? I'm coming for you High Inquisitor..." -Malchankov

And indeed he does, with machinations that essentially push Czevak into the hands of the Eldar when he disrupts Czevak's expedition into a crashed Eldar craffworld that has him abducted by Harlequins and taken away to the Eldar Webway. As the story unfolds many year's later Czevak's assistant, Raimus Klute is now an Inquisitor in his own right, who has devoted his entire career searching for Czevak, So much so that he has turned to some extreme radicalism in this pursuit. He succeeds in finding Czevak who is now rejuvenated and very eccentric, and insanely knowledgeable having been imprisoned for years in the Black Library of Chaos by the Eldar. Now he's on the run, and he has in his possession the Atlas Infernal, a very powerful book that sort of maps the web-way.

 Comparing these two Inquisitors, Czevak and Klute, to the role playing game or the other Inquisitor books, one can not help but take a keen interest in their retinues. We have Torres the Rogue Trader, who probably spends much of her time regretting being involved with these people as her ship gets busted up the further you delve into this book; a renegade tech-marine who has a few awesome scenes, particularly against some Grey Knights and a Khorne Berserker; Epiphani the witch, whose skills are used in lieu of the navigator who has gone mad and spends his days in a gibbet cage; and Father, the servo skull familiar of Epiphani who is in fact actually her father. Strangely enough, he was probably my favorite secondary character just for the weirdness of it all. Joaqhuine the Idolatress, an immortal Living Saint seems to exist in this book as Sander's twisted need to endlessly torture someone to the point that one might think he came up with these ideas while binging on Highlander movies.

I already told you about Malchankov, but he's a lightweight compared to the real villains of this book: Ahriman and his Thousand Sons Space Marines. Seriously, Rob did a great job making me think that Czevak was totally screwed and NOT getting out of this book alive. I was truly fearfully of Ahriman whom I think is more powerful here than his table-top stats would suggest, at least in the current incarnation. The Eldar, or rather the Harlequins that hound Czevak throughout this novel, I thought were handled very well. I'm always fearful that writers will fail to keep them 'alien' enough and force human qualities to them that are familiar as opposed to strange. In this I felt that Sanders did a good job and didn't lower them to our level.

In his efforts to out-smart his many enemies, and to also evade them, Rob Sanders pretty much takes Czevak on a tour of the Eye of Terror, to the strange systems of cold stars (hehe), to worlds abandoned by the Imperium and left to decay, to fantastical spacial environs that boggle the mind, yet still revealing the real struggle of the abandoned or lost occupants of the Eye, living out their days as misguided servants of the Emperor or damned to face the predations of Chaos. If left me wanting to send my Dark Hersey player characters there to chart the varying degrees of madness they could cope with.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and it left me with a sense of 'no one is safe-no, really' that Black Library wants their books to have but rarely pulls off without it feeling 'gimicky'.

  • Did I like it? Yes!

  • Was it hard to put down? Not always, but when it hits it's strides, which this story does a few times, this books has some serious hooks! There is a chapter where the whole team ends up in what I can best sum up as the 'Inquisition's basement' that was absolutely riveting! I was definitely working on a lean mix the following morning from having a tough time putting this book down with that chapter.

  • Could I care about the characters? Actually, yes. This book really left me wanting a resolution to a particular prisoner of Ahriman's fate (not going to spoil this at all).

  • Did the writer truly grasp how the 'world' of the 41st millennium works in the sense that it doesn't betray or ret-con 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, Sanders did a pretty good job here. I didn't get the feeling like I often do from some of the Space Marine short stories in the various anthologies that he was just reading the product info page off the the Games Workshop website, no, Rob did his homework!

  • Was I being talked down too? Nope. I had no problem staying engaged.

  • How predictable is this story? Not very! Most of the Inquisitor novels are very much like this. I really think these are the best of the 40k novels so far, granted I haven't read a lot the Space Marine ones

  • I think, if sales support it, this could easily spin off into a reoccurring series. There is enough plot threads and a few hooks dangling to easily launch a second book. I know I would buy it!



    Da Masta Cheef said...


    I thought it was pretty good as well. There were a few 'huh?' moments, but overall not bad.

    Actually I thought the eccentricities of Epiphany like randomly showing up in rain gear w/o mentioning why, or trying to look stylish while physically blind, (not to mention the fact that her name is something of a pun) made her my favorite character.

    The basement fire fight & cultists' attempted boarding action were hands down the best parts I think, though the frozen star was interesting as well.

    I know Screech wasn't too fond of the lack of sub-chapter breaks, meaning once you started to read a chapter, you had to read all of it.

    neverness said...

    I noticed that about the sub-chapter breaks, but then again, with exception to the relic-horde-basement-scene, most of the chapters were of a pretty good decent length. And THAT scene was hands down the best chapter in the book, and there was NO way I could put it down!

    The scene at the hive of cannibals was fascinating in it's zombie-esque vibe. Also funny that these hardened Chaos Imperial Guardsmen where just as 'get us the F out here!" as they were.