so, despite my issues deciding what I want to read I’m still hitting the short stories regulary
The first in a related trilogy published in The Carnac Campaign, this story focuses on Illic Nightspear and his eldar exiles attempting to ambush an awakening necron force. Unfortunately it goes wrong and becomes a race back to their webway portal before the Necron Deathmarks kill them all. This story was basically pants. There was no real insight into a major character of the Eldar, no real background or insight into the history of the exiles, Rangers or characters and no actual story. Illic lines up a kill shot, necrons disappear, necrons ambush the ambushers. Beyond that point it became an exercise in introducing an Eldar before having him killed by necrons, there wasn’t even any detail to that. I’m hoping it was acting as a prologue to a meatier story in the other two short stories but I’m not holding my breath.
Sky Hunter by Graeme Lyon. 40k
Well that’s the way to drag me right back into interested. Set fairly soon after Nightspear this story focuses on the pilots of Eldar- the Crimson hunters and the pilots of the hemlock wraith fighters which apparently the Eldar consider to be anything from heretical an abomination, but that have a use against such foes as the Necrons. The story jumps quickly from character to character opening up so many distraught personalities before a segment in which a spiritseer jumps (mentally) from mind to mind of various warriors on the battlefield of Carnac witnessing death and destruction through the eyes and bodies of basically every kind of Eldar warriors in the armies Codex army book. Far better than Nightspear with a large set up for the final story of the noon. However I’m leaving that one for the moment to catch up on a different book.
The Sound that Wakes You by Ben Chessell. Fantasy
A small forgotten village on the outskirts of Bretonnia is ruled by a tyrannical former knight and his henchmen. Everyone accepts this as the norm except the troublesome son of a blacksmith, he gets a bit overexcited and attempts to start a rebellion by burning a rose bush and his father is killed before he realises acceptance isn’t the same as patience. It was ok, no real surprises and the ending was too obvious, but it was an ok little tale of Bretonnia. It feels a bit weird reading these now that The End Times are coming and the relevance will be gone, it’ll be interesting to see where the background is taken.
Spirit War by Rob Sanders. 40k
After reading the previous two stories in the Carnac Campaign book I’d had a poor experience and a better one so was interested to see where a longer ‘short story’ would go. This one sets an army of Wraithguard, Wraithblades and Wraithlords against a Necron invasion force. The ‘dead’ warriors are sent to hold back the Necrons until Eldar civilians can retreat from the world via a Webway portal. This story could have been an interesting conflict between two unliving forces, but instead just seemed to be a blur of action without giving enough detail to actually explain what was happening. When the story reached a ‘last stand’ of the Wraiths I really lost interest.
A geneticist in prison for breaking too many ethical boundaries is freed and whisked off to an obscure tropical island by a rich sponsor who wants him to complete his research, but his motives aren’t purely financial. This was a four page short story (so genuinely a short story) and initially felt a little too much like a standard accusation levelled at big pharmaceutical companies funding research outside of the law, but the twist midway through suggested some additional potential consequences of genetic manipulation. The twist made it very enjoyable.
When you’re trusted with showing a potential donator a good time and he’s assassinated what do you do? Strap him to you and fight through a city of other assassins of course. This one was stupid, but a really fun read- as well as revisiting Dubnitz of Mananns blades.
The Mouth of Chaos by Chris Dows. 40k
An Elysian Imperial Guard force drop into a fortified volcano to take out a rebel force. The idea was very James Bondesque, and it worked well initially as the high speed drop allowed for a fast pace, however the lack of breaks in the text meant it felt too much. Perhaps if I’d read it through in one sitting I’d have enjoyed the non stop pace, but as its a human force I don’t want superhuman stamina. There was a nice Imperial Guard moment at the end as the debriefing leads into the briefing for the next war zone as the survivors are directed into another battle.
The Butchers Beast by Jordan Ellinger. Fantasy
A unit of Imperial Greatswords hold the line against the forces of chaos, post battle a chaos monstrosity rampages through their camp, bringing the attentions of a vindictive Witch Hunter. The story felt too much as though it had been taken from 40k, with the witch hunters replacing the inquisition.
So, in between the various series I’m reading I picked Straken by toby frost up with some birthday money whilst at Cribbs Causeway (not a birthday trip believe me).
The catachans are an interesting imperial guard force, manned entirely from their jungle death world and working far outside the standard template of an imperial guard army, yet stunningly effective at what they do. Straken himself is the pinnacle of this, the best of the best.
In the book Strakens force the catachan 2nd is pulled from a victorious battleground and thrown straight into another, tasked with infiltrating an ork infested underground city and open the gates for the main imperial guard force. Typically it all goes wrong and when the gates are opened the armoured force rolls in manned by orks not guardsmen, leaving Straken and his men alone against a planet full of orks.
The stories well written, and Tony Frost has an interesting style of shifting perspectives from individuals within the same area without breaking up the flow, which is something I try (unsuccessfully) to do in my writing.
Cameo appearances from fan favourites Sly Marbo and Snikrot also provide enjoyable moments, as well as preventing the story being about just another ork warlord.
My only issue with the book is that it’s another (yet another) criticism of Commissars. Yes they are arseholes – for the most part- but every book involving imperial guard at the moment seems to be heavy on the anti commissariat agenda. I’d wonder if perhaps a commissar codex or similar might be in the works in the future.
So, book three of Graham McNeill’s Mechanicum series Gods of Mars. A year ago I finished the second book. To summarise, book one saw a group of outcasts on a mechanical miracle ship heading to the edge of the Galaxy, book two saw them leave the Galaxy and seek the ships creator.
At the end of book two they found the creator and he was somehow still alive.
Book three begins at the end of book two with the story moving forward as Telok takes the mechanicum and friends deep into the planet and reveals he’s insane.
What follows is a lot of battles within electricity, ice monsters, a running imperial guard war, loads of tanks, space marines, eldar and more ice monsters smashing each other to bits.
The book was enjoyable, as has been the series on the whole. It’s been interesting to read about the mechanicum as a progressive force, not just as an overseer of technological decline.
It was also nice that Graham McNeill added in previous characters of his or made reference to events that tied his stories within the universe together. The only issue I had was in the forced alliance between eldar and black Templars, whilst I felt the tension and clear antipathy for each other, the black Templars were probably a poor choice, given their hatred for psykers and aliens, not to mention psyker aliens, but it evolved well and grudging respect was well placed amongst lingering mistrust and hatred.
My first ‘famous person’ tweet came from Graham McNeill himself as he confirmed (ahead of my reading this book) that an idea had spawned during his writing for potentially more of the story. Clearly this would be some way out but I’d definitely pick up future elements of this series- even if I can’t see exactly where he’d go with it,