Book Review – The Horus Heresy Series book 1 – Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

This was something of a venture for me – I’ve tried reading some of the Black Library material in the past without a barometer, and found them pretty shallow. This was the exception that opened my eyes to the 40K universe proper.

It is by no means a fantastic text, but I was overwhelmed by the deft approach that author Dan Abnett adopts to populate a seemingly lifeless universe with characters that draw you in, and genuinely engender feelings towards. The concept of this first book in the Horus Heresy series is purely an introduction to future tragedy, and to that end, makes all the right moves in allowing you to sympathise with the main characters and their followers. I’ve always looked on the soldiery of 40K to be automatons and clones – but Abnett invests a great deal of time in showing you the human qualities of these supermen. They are indoctrinated servants, but also make choices within their roles that affect the world around them, just as regular individuals would.
There is an obvious care and devotion to the source material at work here, as Abnett captures the sterility and service-oriented atmosphere of Warhammer future with aplomb. The aesthetic attention to detail is clear throughout the novel; and there is a clear theme of service and duty that resonates at every caste level in the text. Abnett isn’t one to bury the lea, even within a chapter, as he allows his characters to mature and develop at their own pace – it often makes the reader…this reader wonder how to feel about certain characters very early on – but that is how such judgement and affiliation works in real life too.
At the very core, Horus Rising succeeds as a story about soldiers in space. It isn’t without flaws – such as the dense terminologies that reference a prior knowledge with Warhammer 40K that would have helped me immensely, but as to that – hey didn’t stop me enjoying the text either. I could have done without the excessively (and repetitively frequent) adulation prefacing the arrival of the Primarchs in their every scene, but this was really my only substantial demerit towards the book. What it did do successfully was encourage me to read the next in the series. I recommend this to any fan of the hobby game without reservation – and to those willing to give it a chance, you might find there is a depth here worth your time.

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Aaaaaannn we’re back!

Hi again all!  Have been out of commission for the last while owing to recent nuptuals, but am stirring to get back in the saddle with some new developments in a week or so!  Have not played a lot of games this past fortnight  – and even painting has taken an understandable back seat.  What I have been doing is getting a feel for second WHFB army after many many discussions with  two friends who heve been trouncing me with my Orcs and Gobbos lately!  The truth is that I have a love for the fluff-who doesn’t? – and I like the fluff of the Bretonnians and Wood Elves best of all; but was warned against them as viable armies in 8th edition.  I like underdogs too, so I splurged on a Bret battalion in Dublin and was gifted a half-painted wood elf collection from one of the lads – so am in process of stripping down the few he had actually painted.  I haven’t anything substantialwith either army, but am looking forward to the challenge of learning the new groups!  You may think I’m foolish, but I like the idea of not rolling for animosity to do simple movements and actions – and maybe not painting greenskins for a little bit!  Orcs and Goblins will still be my main force for some time, but the Brets are getting the R&R development for the next bit!  As for the wood elves-they’re the dark horse army for me, as I never really intended to field them as they are.  They seem ridiculously outclassed in so many ways that I can only see one or two builds that could work – kind of the same as the Brets, but even more so – I’m only considering them lately because I never play against them and wondered why.  I’ve enjoyed matches against almost every other army but them and so I figured it’d be interesting to put together a low-point force to see what they could do.  I expect that the Brets are good at one style and one style only, but I can always balance that with the dynamic nature of the Orcs and Goblins when in the mood for something less constricted.  These are all my fine thoughts in theory!

As for Malifaux – am on the way to getting some Arcanists completed, and loving the models save for one small gripe – their assembly is atrocious!  Any piece that needs attaching to the main body has very little recess with which to join snugly.  I’ve had a really difficult time with the Ramos bx set – his wacky spider machines are a real pain to stick together and then to the base.  A friend has suggested pinning them-but I’m afraid I am a novice to this fine art and don’t know enough to risk ruining them!

 

So that’s all I got for this last couple of weeks, but more on the way – I promise!  Am trying to get a game in tonight, but if I do it will be chance at this stage- want to try out the pair of Manglers I got going on to see what damage they might do!  Take it easy all and be back soon.

Book Review – World War Z – Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this book! It is definitely a niche interest, but planted in the mainstream by a successful zombie-afficionado who knows how to grab commercial appeal.
The novel is a documentary style collection of incident reports from the great Zombie apocolypse. When the zombies begin to take over the world, world agencies act to curb, prevent and destroy the menace using both kind and questionable means.
What I genuinely enjoyed despite myself, was the collection of reports accumulated by the narrator as an excuse to act out the “what if?” scenarios we have all talked about over beer. What would you do in the event of a zombie plague? Would you do like documented report F did, or would you be quarantined like documented survivor 118 was – or maybe you’d capitalise on the woe like such and such a person did? This is the premise for Brook’s text. He gives you multiple accounts from varied sources on government actions and public reactions. He lets the fictional survivors tell their story, the one you thought would save your life should the unthinkable happen – and then he lets the reader have the gory details of failure time and time again.
As a schlock novel, it works really well, and is a fast read. I got through this one mighty fast, and that is a good thing as it really did drag me in despite myself! I like the clean, impressionable style of the narrator, a hint of innocence lost as the accounts begin to build up. The persona of each survivor are vivid enough that you buy into their experiences easily, and what they leave unsaid is as loud as their words. Brooks certainly knows how to handle suspense in this format, but waits until just the right time before teeing up the more emotional and terrifying histories recorded with varying degrees of passion, loss and numbed anger.
After getting through the text, a friend gave me the audiotext version of the book. I’m not a huge fan of such audiobooks on the whole, but the production values and actors hired for each persona and character was through the roof! I would easily reccomend this for people who enjoy the audio version of books, but I would caution that the delivery is less thrilling than the direct read itself. World War Z works well on both mediums, but there is a sense of something lost in the recorded delivery compared to the eerie feeling you get scanning through the transcripts of the novel directly.
I think that this is one definitely worthy of a brief read if you have just a casual interest in the world of zombie hordes and post-apocolyptic turmoil, but if you have more than a passing interest, you’d be hard put to find anyone with a better knowledge of the source material, or the ability to tell a ripping good yarn.

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Gaming news…nothing this week!  Due to other commitments, this and next week are not going to be gaming weeks – and maybe that is a good thing, as I have just received my first ever Forge World purchase in the post!  My lovely Fimir are going to need some TLC in the coming week or two to get ready for the table – and they are really gorgeous models!  I only hope my paint job will do them justice!  I usually go from GW blueprints or follow the fluff to get a predictable colour scheme, so these completely new and unspecific models force me to figure out what to do myself.  To boot, I’ve received my long awaited Mangler Squigs.  I played with a loan of a unit a few weeks back and was rightly impressed with their potential.  True, they’ll get shot down before they get too far, but that at least takes pressure off of my movment 4 troops – and – in the event that they make it to the enemy…I love the squigs, so help me they are so unpredictable, the really make the game interesting!  Speaking of which, today’s Forgeworld newsletter has just alerted me to the preorder of this little beaut – http://www.forgeworld.co.uk/New_Stuff/COLOSSAL_SQUIG.html – the Colossal Squig from the Monstrous Arcanum.  I’m looking forward to some day fielding this fellow for a giggle, but for now, I’ve plenty to be busy with and not a lot of funds left to worry about spending more!  Take it easy all, and talk soon!

shane

Book Review – A Storm of Swords by G.R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! ok – so finished the two parts to a Storm of Swords this past week, after an extended hiatus getting through some Warhammer rulebooks to speed learn that game. I had read the two previous books in the series right before this one, and no matter how riveting a text is, when you need a break, you need a break! I had stopped about halfway through the novel and let it lie fallow for about a month before picking it up again and loving it to the last page.
A Storm of Swords picks up where a Clash of Kings concluded, and despite the apparent Lannister triumphs, they are the family that are falling apart most. The North has crumbled, and Robb must choose between duty and heart in more ways than one. If there is one thing that ties this particular text together – it isn’t storming blades, but wedding bells. (Was that a spoiler?…Yes, but I’ll be good from now on!:)

As a stand-alone, Martin does his best to involve little introductions to the characters, but in fairness, he has created an entire universe of characters that at this stage is bursting at the seams. With a Clash of Kings, you could get by with little prior knowledge, but with Storm, you need some basis for the many ancillary characters that populate the text.
There was definitely more resolution in this novel. The characters are still pushed and pulled like game pieces across Westeros, and at this stage, it is slightly vexing that they don’t go where they really want, or meet who they intend as much as you’d like! It seems to be Martin’s premise to keep your attention through repetitious disappointment and dousing your hopes for the weakest characters…but what is really annoying is that is works. You are upset by the text at times, but not at the text. It remains well-written, full of verbose description and utterly enthralling. Martin knows his readers; and as such, his characters don’t change cheaply to prey on their emotions-it is always the circumstances that shift to hurt their ambitions. The fact that we care about his creations is testimony to his ability to spin a very good yarn – and this one is evolving nicely.

I would not be so crass as to list pros and cons to this great text, but if I were pushed into mentioning minor concerns it’d be how far Martin wants to extend his tale. Many people would slate me for suggesting he curtail the text – more is better crews et al, but I think a complete story is far more rewarding to a reader’s time, and much more reflective of an author’s skill. I find that sometimes the books are like a soap opera that twists for the sake of it…but fifty pages later I realise that Martin had that plan all along, and it only swings into view much later. I guess the length of the text, and the time it takes to tell the tale can wear a little after about four thousand pages or so! My only other beef (no pun intended) – is the descriptions of food Martin employs! If you haven’t noticed it by now, you’ll never miss it ever again – he extends the text by about two paragraphs a chapter with what his characters are sitting down to! These sections are expertly prepared, but few characters eat the same breakfast twice, no matter where in Westeros they live!
But if I am quick to spot these minor grievances, let me spill a little about the commendable aspects too. The story itself is amazing. The plot unfolds slowly, but deliberately. You care about the characters and follow them from chapter to chapter – creating new favourites as you go. I never thought that by the end of the text, I’d feel any different for Jaime Lannister – but Martin gives us a perspective that allows a fresh evaluation without changing the character at the core. The dialogue is tight, and more than anything – the sign of a great book – I was up until the wee hours more than once, promising myself that I’d stop reading after the next chapter. Martin knows how to present cliff-hanger after cliff-hanger!
I would thoroughly recommend this book to a prescribed fan, but for newcomers, I would caution jumping in here. At the very least watch the TV series to catch up (baring in mind they diverge slightly in the telling) – but also not to deny a new reader the enjoyment of the first two texts regardless. They are necessary reading at this point, but they are definitely a labour of love to plough through. I am interested to see the direction that Martin takes the next text – A Fest for Crows, as he has teed up a potential game-changer in the epilogue. I’m not sure how I feel about the last scene, so I will reserve judgement until I get started on Feast. Other than that – a fine novel and a great addition to the saga.

If any of you have read the works of G.R.R. Martin, I’d love to know what you think of them – this book or the great HBO series! Comments are more than welcome below!
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Book Review: Crazy Horse and Custer by Stephen E. Ambrose

Crazy Horse and CusterCrazy Horse and Custer by Stephen E. Ambrose
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this is a typical Stephen Ambrose text, in that it is easy to read, if a little verbose at times.

I thoroughly enjoy Ambrose’s work, and this one was much better than Band of Brothers, although there are a number of points where narrative stretches information that may not be entirely factual. The tone of the text never wavers, and it does have that “one-more-page” quality to it that makes it quite an achievement for a historical text.

What I find particularly praiseworthy is Ambrose’s penchant for elaborating to just about the point/depth of disinterest, but pulling the reader back in immediately with an anecdote or side-story that reminds us that this is not simply another history retold, but a masterful storyteller doing the telling. This is an easy one to reccomend, but I do suggest that a prior interest in the subject matter is preferable if not essential to fully embrace this piece of American history.

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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonderful text – simply incredible depictions of beauty and raw truth poured from an honest and very capable heart.
The Kite Runner to me, is a text about redemption in the truest sense – the unflinching realism of the Middle East with the personal interest of a family/friendship divided by more than just cicumstance, and the efforts to rebuid from the ashes of a past never forgotten. The landscapes Hosseini paints are vivid in their stark, bare pride. The colours, the excitement and emotions always bubbling from below – and the courage to release what is clearly close to heart.
All of us have made mistakes in our lives, and can relate if not in kind, but in nature at least to the plight of the protagonist – at once selfish and afraid, but through the nurture of a moral father, of a tight community, he gains the tools necessary to reopen his past and rectify the sins of the past. This rediscovery is at the heart of the novel, and I truly felt that it could not have been represented better. The beautiful flow of language that surrounds the budding author forms before us against the halting dialogue that he hides himself and the past behind so painfully. Never has so sensitive an issue been dealt with so evenly, honestly and so tenderly as to make you feel grateful for the opportunity to have shared Hosseini’s experience.

Shane

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Book Review: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

A Clash Of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)A Clash Of Kings by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gripping read – normally I’m into a few texts at a time – as an avid and voracious reader I like to keep my interests mixed, but this one absolutely consumed me! As a sequel, there is far more “action” taking place, and it is possibly one of the novel’s noticable improvements, but G.R.R. Martin in Game of Thrones often neglected the battles or attacks in order to give news of the result as a far more shocking realisation than the reader journeying through the fights with the protagonist of the chapter. This happens less often in A Clash of Kings and is the better for it, as the pattern itself becomes less predicable after a fashion.

What I love about Martin’s enduring style is that you quite often root for someone new in each chapter, even if at the outset you are not too pushed about leaving the previous cliff-hanger to find out more about Sansa or Catelyn – who really come into their own as riveting characters in this text as central to the evolving plot. If you take them out of the mix, most of the novel loses all context, so Martin was wise to show their own wavering strengths as central in the sequel. I even found myself cheering on Theon and Tyrion, despite Greyjoy and Joffrey being easily despised by their actions. It takes real skill as an author to keep the reader pledged to opposing characters beset by ever-diminishing odds and fortune; but Martin has it in spades.

The text is long, and sometimes feels like it, but you’re frequently grabbed by a section – usually towards the end of a chapter, that makes you read that much further, and then when a new character opens the next one that you want to follow some more; you forget it is almost 3am and you just know that the snooze button will get some exercise in the morning!
I can easily reccomend this as a text for any fan of the previous book or the TV series, and while I’d love to spoil the latter half of the text with some preview, it’d be a diservice for anyone who takes the time to read this epic novel. I look forward to starting the sequel fairly soon, but to be honest, I already feel like a break is in order to knock out something a little different before re-entering the time-consuming world of Westeros!

Well worth the read – and riveting to the finish. 4/5

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