Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wulfen

Wulfen by Chris Wraight. A Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolves Short Story. Originally published by The Black Library, March 2013, for Digital Monday. Approx. 23 pages.

HachiSnax Note: This August has not allowed for a good amount of reading time. Here's one more short story review to close out this last summer month, as I finish wrestling with Poppet. Happy September, everyone! Cheers, Hach.

In the few years that he has been writing for The Black Library, Chris Wraight has been churning out some consistently well-received work. Working comfortably within both the Warhammer Fantasy and 40K worlds, he solidified his star status with the acclaimed "Battle of the Fang". Fans all over loved his take on those classic lupine giants, the Space Wolves. Personally, I had not read the old Space Wolf omnibuses to familiarize myself with the 'old take' on them, so I was a tad hesitant to read the 'new take'. Luckily, there was a Digital Monday offering featuring the Sons of Russ, so what better way to get to know Wraight?

Wulfen tells us the tale of a Guardsman recounting the horrific events of an assault on a Chaos planet to an Inquisitor of the Ordo Malleus. This account climaxes with the arrival of those mythical super-warriors, the Space Marines. Wait, hold the phone. This story structure sounds vaguely familiar...... Well, if something works, run with it. 

Wulfen is narrated via the first-person POV of Inquisitor Alisa Damietta. Damietta is a strong, likable protagonist (it shows that the Black Library is pushing for more strong female characters). She shows a genuine interest in the tales from the wrecked souls that were involved in the assault upon Voidsoul. This prompts her to continue her discussions with Morbach, the broken Cadian sergeant, who is, quite literally, carrying a clue to what transpired there inside of him. These continued discussions are in direct violation of the instructions of her superior, Inquisitor Lord Torquemada Coteaz (I love cool names, and that's a winner). He is a domineering, unwavering pillar, who sees in these pitiful survivors little possibility of new discovery. And, as is usually the case, pride comes before the fall. Usually it is the Inquisition that cleans up those who have seen what should not be seen; however, there are others that dutifully clean their yards as well.

As for Wraight's style, it is as good as advertised. He creates a character strong enough to carry the story, but also able to feel insignificant in the company of the Astartes. He masterfully weaves tension and horror into his prose; his depiction of of the Cadian troops landing on Voidsoul and attempting to rally to a standard is like Normandy Beach as written by H.P. Lovecraft. His description of the Chaos creatures known as the 'Neverborn' and the havoc they unleash is downright terrifying.  Most importantly, he paints the Astartes as seen by mortals; this seems to work best in the recent short stories that I've read. For those woebegotten Guardsmen planetside on Voidsoul, the arrival of the Astartes is no less than having gods walk among them, for even the tough Damietta, their appearance is purely intimidating, and for the proud Coteaz, well, he learns that there are some forces that can make even a Lord Inquisitor feel insignificant.

There are no real flaws to pinpoint in Wulfen. Some readers, hoping to get more Space Wolves out of a "Space Wolves Short Story" might feel a little let down. The Sons of Russ only stride through two or three pages of the text. They make it count though. There is also the issue of the mysterious talon that Damietta discovers. Does it tie in to another Space Wolves tale? Or is it some form of tracking beacon? That is the one aspect left unresolved. Maybe its secrets are resolved in "Blood of Asaheim", which also shares the same cover as Wulfen. If anyone cares to enlighten me on the nature of the talon, please drop it in the comments. Otherwise, all in all a solid little piece.

Here's what it is:
An atmospheric little story that shows how nothing gets between the Wolves and their prey. Great treatment of all parties involved; Astartes, Inquisition, Imperial Guard, and even Chaos.


Final Score:

88/100


Cover Score:
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the cover for Blood of Asaheim:


Very nice, no? Now, as they are wont to do, the folks at Black Library cropped it a bit for the cover for the short. I believe they should have cropped it so that the focus was on the head area, featuring the bolter and the hilt of the sword. As you can see from up top, they decided to just use the midsection, so it appears that the Astartes on the cover is peeking down into the frame. I honestly don't know how to score a good cover jacked up by a bad crop job....

Cover Final Score:

70/100

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Memory Of Flesh

The Memory of Flesh by Matthew Farrer. An Iron Hands short story, originally published in the  Black Library Games Day 2012 Anthology. Now available for direct download from The Black Library. Approx. 20 pages.

When The Memory of Flesh made the jump from Anthology exclusive to general release, like fellow Iron Hands short "The Blessing of Iron", I was quite pleased. As with Blessing, this story focuses on that dour Astartes Chapter, and is also written by an author that I have heard good things about, but not gotten around to reading yet (Matthew Farrer, of the Shira Calpurnia series). So, how did a different take on the Iron Hands work out? Actually, pretty well. And, it also turns out that this is the second part of a two story tandem featuring Sergeant Dolmech. While not a direct duology, with a continuous story arc, it helps immensely (but is not a pre-requisite) to read Blessing of Iron before Memory of Flesh.

On the scorching landscapes of Regnan Drey, the Iron Hands do battle against a vile xenos known as the breg-shei. One can assume that the breg-shei are a unit of the tyranids, however, I have never heard of them, and cannot discover much via web search. It is mentioned that this skirmish is a carryover from one that started upon a hulk ship, and they are insectoid in every description. They skitter around like millipedes, are fairly tough to kill, and have a vicious lash with terrible, disruptive powers. Especially terrible for the Iron Hands.

I have read in other reviews of his work the Farrer relies more on description than structure. I agree 100%. There is little evident narrative here; instead, there is a sequence of action scenes. What Farrer does is calibrate his prose to focus on the movements and workings of the mechanical elements of the Iron Hands and there tools. By zooming in on all the whirring and buzzing bits, we can fully appreciate the palpable threat of error and malfunction. And it is this same threat that the lash of the breg-shei unleashes. By disrupting what remains of Dolmech's organic parts, his entirety as a seamless fighting system becomes compromised. This is a sensation that stokes an uncontrollable fury. But what will happen is the same lash should strike a servitor; one piloting a Rhino transport vehicle, one who, in another life, went by the name of Benificiari Armicus?

Here's a hint: if you've ever watched Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, where the remains of the original Godzilla were used to form the skeletal structure of Kiryu, then you know where this is going.

Even though Farrer's style greatly differs from the one Reynolds utilized in Blessing of Iron, they both have two core similarities: one, they are both written quite well. Two, in the end, they both focus on the dynamic that is the relationship/bond between Dolmech and Armicus. While Farrer's tale makes for a climactic fistfight, Reynolds' piece edges out for being the better overall story. Still a thrilling conclusion.

Here's what it is:
A colorful climax to the Iron Hands/Dolmech duology. A somber reminder that just because all the data is erased from a hard drive doesn't necessarily mean that it is all 'gone'.


Final Score:

81/100


Cover Score:

Same as The Blessing of Iron, only with a reddish hue. Holy palette swaps, Batman!

Cover Final Score:

32/100

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Witness

Witness by Joe Parrino. A Warhammer 40,000 Grey Knights short story. Originally published by The Black Library in May 2013, for Digital Monday. Approx. 36 pages.

The Grey Knights. Imposing knights of the Inquisition. Cloaked in shadows, clad in silver. Each carries a piece of the God-Emperor, and each helps to purge the filthy taint of daemons and Chaos. However, their mysterious nature is not sheer happenstance. There are measures that must be taken so that the extent of Warp-taint is not broadly advertised. And few that see these vengeful knights in action can attest to their majesty.

Joe Parrino's Witness is the tale of these formidable giants in action, and tells of how they helped to cleanse the Chaos-wracked world of Margentum. The narrative follows the questioning of one Captain Danel Prestoff of the Brindleweld Ninth (Imperial Guard) by Burkhart, an Interrogator of the Ordo Malleus. Prestoff had been part of the original force sent to purge the taint from Margentum, had watched as the extent of the evil manifested itself, and was present for the arrival of the Grey Knights. Therefore, it is through Prestoff's eyes that the events which transpired are recollected. 

Relative neophyte Parrino (who only has a few published titles under his belt so far) makes the right decision in making Prestoff the focal point. He is, in fact, our titular 'witness'. Through his eyes we can appreciate the intimidating, yet majestic presence of the Grey Knights, and feel the palpable confusion at the chaotic events unfolding. Some readers, I am sure, would have preferred a tale told from the POV of the Grey Knights themselves, but for the tone of this story, it is better to see than to know.

With a fairly basic premise (the Ninth arrives on the planet, advances, gets turned back as Chaos ripens, and then the Knights show up), it comes down to the author to craft prose that works. And this is where Parrino excels. His descriptions of Chaos transformations lean more towards Lovecraftian discomfort and unease than shock and gore. He truly conveys the effect of these horrors upon the Brindleweld Ninth, a fledgling unit so ill-equipped to process and handle it. Parrino gleefully spins colorful, descriptive words into a delicious cotton candy of Chaos. The end result is a work that combines poetic rhythm with the pulpy, indulgent satisfaction of a fine campfire tale.

Most importantly, Parrino "gets" Grey Knights. He gets the mystique, the code of honor, the stern dispensing of justice, and the extent the Inquisition must go to in protecting the 'best interests' of the Imperium. His Brindleweld unit is well fleshed-out, a detachment of questionable mettle that is more decoration that ability. However, Prestoff remains sympathetic, and even brave, in his own particular idiom, throughout.

Thrilling stuff. And well worth the price ($2.99 for 36 pages).

Here's what it is:
Witness is a hard, grimdark tale of hellish nightmares and hellish cures. Excellent treatment of a revered Chapter. A thirty page tale that packs a major punch.


Final Score:

91/100


Cover Score:

Pretty nice cover here. We have a Grey Knight stomping through a tunnel, sword crackling and psycannon blazing. Nice attention paid to the ornamentation on the armor. Blue tone matches well with the silver armor, and provides a stark contrast to the bloody reds used as a motif for the Chaos hordes in the story.

Cover Final Score:

83/100

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Eagle In The Snow


Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem. Originally published 1970 (UK). This edition published by Rugged Land. Approx. 371 pages plus glossaries.

Historical fiction. A very slippery slope to master. The sheer amount of research required to recreate a lost world from a past time. The presence of mind to pen characters that fall in step with the mindset of their era, yet remain identifiable and sympathetic to today's readers. There is the obligation to remain dutiful to historical accuracy, but not to the point of being dry and indigestible, but also being careful to not sway towards parody or fantasy. If the correct balance is struck, an author finds themselves in truly esteemed company; Cornwell, Pressfield, Renault, O'Brian. And then, somewhere even high above those great authors, sits Wallace Breem. I say with full confidence that Eagle in the Snow, one of only three fiction novels penned by cavalry officer turned librarian Wallace Breem is the single greatest work of historical fiction that I have ever read. It introduces us to one of the most stalwart characters in literary history, and, for the 370 page duration of the the novel, recreates the Rome that was, allowing us to immerse ourselves entirely and watch an Empire die.

Fictional protagonist Paulinus Gaius Maximus truly epitomizes the military legacy of Rome; dedicated, strong, wily, cunning, and most of all, disciplined. He possesses a deep-rooted patriotic love for Rome, the "city he has never seen" (of Roman lineage, he was raised in Gaul and spends a good chunk of his adulthood in Britain), and seeks to continue his life according to the values of the great Roman Empire. But Maximus is living in a Roman Empire in the midst of a decline; not only are their borders constantly being harried from those trying to get in and get at their riches, but they are coming apart from within due to continuous instances of people claiming themselves Emperor. Around 400 A.D., when Eagle begins, there are multiple claimants to the purple cloak, and the Emperor in Rome, Honorius, is a man more interested in raising chickens than restoring Rome's halcyon glory. There is another reason that Maximus is the odd-man in his Rome; unlike most of his peers, who are quickly embracing Christianity (to a certain extent being a Christian is now required for advancement), he is a pagan, holding devoutly to his Mithraic beliefs.

However, any issue of Maximus' religious leanings quickly become moot when his aptitude is needed to stave off a great threat to the Empire. After helping to repel a brutal combined assault from Picts, Scots, Irish tribes, and Saxons from his fortress on Hadrian's Wall, Maximus is approached by none other than Rome's greatest general, Stilicho. Stilicho needs Maximus to repel an even larger invasion force than the one turned back in Brittania; a force of all the Germanic tribes, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Maximus is tasked with holding the Rhenus (Rhine) from this massive force with an army of....one legion (about 6,000 men).

This section, with Mainz as the focal point.

Implausible, but not necessarily impossible, given Maximus' skill set. He is prepared to train his newly formed legion in the 'old way'. He has an excellent cavalry under a distinguished Master of Horse, his longtime friend Quintus. He has a pool to draw auxiliaries from, and the right men to train them. He has the mental acumen to contend with local magistrates and nobles in affairs of revenue and supplies. And, most importantly, he has the treacherous Rhenus herself to keep the assembled barbarians at bay. In fact, the only way a full head-on attack would be feasible is if a brutal winter came and froze the river itself. A winter like that hasn't occurred for almost forty years......

There is no need to sugar-coat anything, or worry about spoilers. This novel draws from historical events, and in a two week period beginning on the last day of 406 A.D., those assembled Germanic armies crossed the frozen Rhine, overcame the meager defenses, and went on to sack Gaul. So how did Breem make a novel about a foregone conclusion so interesting, and so darn good?

I'm guessing an extensive amount of research. Long-time librarian Breem gives us believable depictions from all corners of the fading Roman Empire, with rich glossaries providing names for many of the cities, along with their contemporary names. Details are meticulously followed regarding supply and trade routes, tax obligations, dialogue, etc. And one other way that Eagle surpasses? It is one of the better works done entirely as a first-person POV.

Great amounts of detail are also given to the Germanic tribes. This is not just a mass of shouting barbarians in furs and loincloths; Breem has detailed the traits and politics of the Alemanni, Alans, Burgundians, Franks, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Marcomanni, and Vandals. These groups have never-ending allegiance shifts, in-fighting, etc. and Maximus puts his cunning to work in securing allies and instigating bad blood. Those are just some of the weapons in his arsenal, and he needs all that he can get.

Even with a good deal of text dedicated to tactics and geography, Eagle succeeds as a human story as well. Maximus holds deep affections for those he loves; for his dead wife Aelia, a Christian woman whom he held so dearly even though their marriage bore no children and was always fractured at its' very core. He also holds a near-brotherly bond with Quintus. And then there is his cousin Julian, a hard man who has led a hard life and is consumed now by hatred. Whenever he pops his head in, trouble follows. And any time he and Maximus have a conversation, it is a heartbreaking affair of things gone, and happiness lost.

Now, even though I find Eagle to be a masterful work, and I firmly believe that the prose holds up today, I can understand some aspects the might not resonate with today's readers. Some might not find Maximus all too sympathetic, he is of a money family (he accentuates his modesty by stating that he has never indulged in an excess of servants, capping out at two), and he employs brutal tactics at times. He can be cold and lean towards harshness. Also, those of the Che t-shirt set might be more sympathetic to the barbarians at the gate; poor hungry folk that just want their 'fair share' of Rome's riches and luxuries. These people should learn from Rome's suffering; angry, armed barbarians clamoring at your borders and demanding entry rarely have your country's best interests at heart.

Also, I can foresee some finding the battle scenes somewhat boring, or lacking in flair. This is a book about tactics; about fortifications, supply lines, feints, artillery, and strategic maneuvers. More focus is given to stating how much an action cost the enemy than is given to decorating the pages with viscera. If you prefer more of the full-contact, slaughter ballet of "Gladiator" or "300", then Eagle might be a little dry for your tastes. Nothing wrong with that. Those are great movies. This is a great book.

One final side note before we close up. This is in regards to the U.S. versus the U.K. editions of this book. The edition read, the U.S. Rugged Land one, has quite a few typos in it; words and names misspelled, and some dropped punctuation marks. I don't know if this is apparent in the U.K. one. Now for the biggest crime of all: the Rugged Land edition completely omits a Latin dedication (maybe an inscription or epigraph) that originally appeared between the epilogue and the glossaries. A little web search helped me acquire the missing text, but unfortunately my Latin isn't up to snuff regarding a translation. If anyone can decipher it, please do so in the comments. Here it is:

DIS MANIBUS
P GAIO MAXIMO FILIO CLAUDII ARELATIS
PRAEFECTUS I COH TUNG LEG XX VAL VIC
DUX MOGUNTIACENSIS COMES GALLIARUM
ANN LVII CCCCX ET Q VERONIO PRAEFECTUS
ALAE PETRIAE PRAEFECTUS II COH ASTUR
MAGISTER EQUITUM GERMANIAE SUPER ANN
LVI CECIDIT BELLO RHENO CCCCVII
SATURNINUS AMICUS FECIT

So just remember, get the U.K. edition if you can. It's the one featuring the legionary from William Bell Scott's iconic painting:

Pictured: Not at all how I imagine Maximus to look.

Here's what it is:
A bittersweet trip to ancient Rome in its' death throes. A gripping, inspiring, yet emotionally devastating character study that makes you truly appreciate what was lost, when it is lost. One of those works that has you routing for victory, believing that victory is still possible, up until that final moment when Death appears. A harsh reminder that no nation, and certainly no empire, can last when either the individual or the collective seek to attain dominance. A true masterwork that any historical fiction fan should feel obligated to track down and read.


Final Score:

99/100


Cover Score:

This cover isn't too shabby. It leaves just enough to the imagination, and, in my opinion, edges out the current U.K. cover. It actually reminds me a bit of the cover for Paul Kearney's great military fantasy piece 'Corvus', which is also an excellent read (if you want well-rendered, brutal fighting scenes, grab it!), which might be because they used almost the exact blue tone.

 
That pic of the Eagle cover is actually pretty light. Trust me, they are pretty much the same hue.

Cover Final Score:

74/100

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Blessing Of Iron

The Blessing of Iron by Anthony Reynolds. An Iron Hands short story, originally published in the  Black Library Games Day 2012 Anthology. Now available for direct download from The Black Library. Approx. 22 pages.

The Blessing of Iron is another one of those shorts that has been winking at me from the back burner for a while. Word of mouth had been kind to it when it was still a Games Day exclusive, and now the Digital Mondays program brought it to the masses. Also, it gave the perfect chance to get a taste of Anthony Reynold's work (he of the Word Bearers series and WH Fantasy Bretonnia knight fame). Not only that, I am very interested to see how authors handle the Iron Hands, a chapter further removed from humanity than most, Astartes that revere the Omnissiah as well as the Emperor, Space Marines that disdain the weak and eschew the fragility of the flesh. It just so happens the Reynolds has crafted a wonderfully grimdark scenario which wonderfully demonstrates these iron giants in motion, even though the narrative is little more than a collection of plot devices used to further sequences of action and thus simulate a background. 

The penitentiary/manufacturing planet of Penatora IV is being torn asunder. Somehow the prisoners have been freed from their cages in the bowels of the earth, and they are exacting the kind of violent revenge that only those capable of such depravity can muster and comprehend. A small group of Iron Hands is working in conjunction with skitarii special forces and local defense to quell the uprising. Brother Dolmech has been tasked with recovering the Beneficiari of Manufacturing Cog 349, Armicus. Armicus is a man of near-mechanical efficiency himself; his Cog makes bionic eyes. One of his eyes whirrs in Dolmech's head. But unfortunately for Armicus, he also possesses something. Something terrible. He possesses the knowledge of who set the prisoners loose.

Reynolds' prose is spot-on, necessarily economical, and yet also poetic without overindulgence. This is a clever tool that helps him to inject emotion into a tale of war machines devoid of such burdensome hindrances. A perfect example is this line:

"He is always in motion as he drives them back; a furious god among men, unstoppable and terrible in his potency."

Reynolds focuses on descriptive passages that convey the "living machine" aspect of the Iron Hands, the mechanical fluidity with which Dolmech moves, how he is one with his augmetics, his armor, and his weaponry. The flesh is given the rough disregard that the Iron Hands normally temper towards it; as Dolmech decimates the rampaging prisoners, they are reduced to steaming, bloody chunks and gobbets. It is so gloriously brutal and gory, but it is rightfully so: always know, "The flesh is weak".

Aside from the stellar treatment given to the Iron Hands, Reynolds also squeezes in some members of another Chapter for a critical cameo. He scripts them with a proper air of mystery, and it lends to a scene full of palpable tension.

Dolmech and Armicus make for a good pair, and that is integral to the success of the storytelling. The Iron Hands are so dour that a human perspective is necessary to keep the audience invested. Fans of the Hands stand to feel slighted, though, is the story teeters too far towards the supporting cast. Reynolds walks this tightrope with proficiency. Dolmech and Armicus forge a relationship, with Armicus' being of fearful awe, and Dolmech's forged of a burgeoning respect for the bravery of the fleshling.

Where Blessing falls short is in the fact that there are still some open-ended questions at the end. It is never clarified as to why Armicus holds any significance for the Iron Hands, or why Dolmech was sent to save him. We are also not given any inkling as to what the mysterious "Fallen Asset" is. It may tie into something that those more versed in WH40K lore are savvy about (if so, please put it in the comments section). Otherwise, it remains a MacGuffin. It might as well be the suitcase from Ronin. I'll be happy to find out what more there is to it.

In conclusion, The Blessing of Iron is an excellent slice of life (slice of war?) tale in which the study overshadows the story, making it all the stronger. It is a harsh story with an ending that hits with the impact of an Astartes punch. Unlike many recent shorts, Blessing will still be engrossing after repeat readings. Do yourself a favor, get it, read it, and then go back and re-read the first paragraph.

Here's what it is:
An enigmatic Chapter gets proper treatment in a quick tale of how the Iron Hands can seriously kick ass. A stern parable that the beneficence of a 'blessing' is subject to the belief of the bearer. However, some points might leave you scratching your head.


Final Score:

86/100


Cover Score:
Sometimes simple works. The cover is a stark, iron grey, with a portion of the Iron Hands Chapter symbol to the right. The arrangement has a Game of Thrones house logo feel to it. It's an admirable attempt to turn lemons into lemonade. Points are taken off, however, for the outer glow around the title lettering. Totally unnecessary; somewhat headache inducing.

Cover Final Score:

32/100

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tomb Of The Golden Idol: Part One

Tomb of the Golden Idol: Part One. A Warhammer Fantasy short story by Andy Hoare. Originally published August 2013 by The Black Library for Digital Monday. Approx. 26 pages.

Andy Hoare has been stomping around the worlds of Games Workshop for over a decade, but I have not yet any of his works. He has done extensive work on various codices, and has put out a slew of novels, including some focusing on the White Scars Space Marines chapter. The White Scars featured in his last novel, the poorly-received Space Marines Battles entry "The Hunt for Voldorious". Honestly, I've heard some pretty harsh critique of his work, but then again, the Black Library usually doesn't keep horrid writers around for long. So, when I saw that Hoare had penned a short story for the enjoyable Digital Monday segment, I thought this was the perfect time to sample his work and decide for myself. Also, this is a Warhammer Fantasy title, so all the better. However, there is a catch. Notice how that title says "Part One"? Yeah, me too. Basically, if this short blows, I'm out $3 for half a story. And, even if it is enjoyable, I have to pony up at least $3 for a Part Two. Is any author really worth $6 for 52 pages of text sent via a data transfer? Let's find out....

First, a little primer here. Tomb is set in the Warhammer campaign land of Lustria, which is a harsh jungle climate. This story coincides with the heavily-promoted release of new Lizardman army units on the Games Workshop tabletop gaming side. These new figs look pretty spiffy, and I like the Aztec-inspired styling on the weapons, armor, etc.

The story of Tomb follows the young dwarf engineer Khargrim Khargrimsson as he leads a party of adventurers through the legendary Tomb of Destiny (in Lustria), on a mission to bring foreign riches back to the homeland. Khargrim is something of a renaissance mind in Dwarfdom; he has grand ideas for steam powered technology, and dreams of massive ocean-crossing vessels. These notions put him at odds with the dwarf Engineer's Guild, and so he sets off on his own. The riches of Lustria will prove that he could not only traverse the Great Ocean, but also obtain the financing to pursue his own tinkering experiments.

Unfortunately, all that background information is only quickly referenced in brief descriptive paragraphs. What Tomb ultimately is is a written account of a tabletop action sequence. In a nutshell, Khargrim and company are in the corridors of the tomb; they walk, they avoid traps, they bicker, they avoid more traps, the dwarf shaman has to use some magic to justify his inclusion, there is an obligatory action piece (non-spoiler alert: it involves Lizardmen), the titular Golden Idol is reached, something supernatural happens, and the stage is set for Part Two: The Action-Packed Egress. That's literally it.

And it's a shame too, since it appears that Andy Hoare is a fairly colorful, descriptive author that has set out to deliver a fun read. The characters, a diverse cast of dwarves, Norsca hirelings (including a mob of thralls serving as 'redshirts'), and other adventurers, are enjoyable, and likable. There is a female Graeling archer that emerges as the most distinct party member. Hoare follows the dwarf template to a T, with their gruff grumblings and harrumphs, balanced against their fierce fighting skills (Khargrim himself gets to showcase some sweet Thor-inspired hammer moves). But for all the descriptions that Hoare puts into temple scene-building, we have little idea how the cast might look. The archer has white hair, the shaman is wild-eyed, Khargrim is a young dwarf, and there is a dwarf Slayer who is, at least in Part One, effectively useless (that might be a joke on Hoare's part though). So I guess since he's a Slayer we can assume he looks like Gotrek?

Truth be told, there is precious little room here for details. I don't know what planning was involved in making Tomb, but I firmly believe that there is enough story here for at least a 100+ page novella, if not a full-length novel. It would have been great to see Khargrim first at home, butting heads with the dwarf 'old-guard' about creative direction, and then seeing his trans-oceanic voyage. This way, we could really care about Khargrim, and not only get two or three paragraphs of back story against twenty pages of him yelling at wayward thralls. Most importantly, we could've seen the culture shock of this group encountering the harsh jungle clime of Lustria, the campaign world the story is set in. For a Lustria tale, all we see are dusty corridors. In short, we could've had a story to immerse ourselves in, rather than a rote sequence of events. Since we have no idea what Andy Hoare set out to write, all we can do is grade what we have.

And one final quibble, yet again, we find the dreaded typo. Only one that I caught. 'Back' instead of 'black'. Come on, Black Library, it's only twenty-something pages, read it before you charge for it.

Here's what it is: 
A well-written, but completely standard procedural with a cliffhanger ending that doesn't scream for a return for the conclusion. Nice little references to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and the Warhammer 40K universe as well.


Final Score:

65/100


Cover Score:
This cover kind of ticks me off. I actually like the Aztec-motif mural design. But for some reason, the clarity is dulled (or just the original coloring was way too light), and there is a think title bar across the middle. Not just the title, but a full bar. It reminds me of when you go on eBay, and they show an item all blurry with a square in the middle stating "mouse over for larger view". Except here, you can't mouse for a better view.
Here's an idea for the Black Library; if you are going to charge so much for an ebook, why not include a high-resolution, text-free version of the cover art? Seriously?

Cover Final Score:

63/100