Difficult To Put Down

Review time! I've been meaning to get around to this one. The ever insightful Graeme Flory at Graeme's Fantasy Book Review had some nice things to say about my novel Legion of the Damned. Graeme doesn't pull his punches and he throws in a few issues with his compliments - which I don't mind from reviewers that clearly think about their responses and give fully rounded appraisals. Check out Graeme's other reviews at Graeme's Fantasy Book Review.

"The ‘Space Marine Battle’ series has been a bit hit and miss as far as I’m concerned. Hang on, a ‘bit hit and miss’? More like ‘more than a bit hit and miss’ actually as the quality see saws wildly between superb and, erm… its polar opposite…

I keep going back though, as much for those hidden gems waiting to be found as for a morbid sense of curiosity that wonders which direction the series will swing in next.
Add Rob Sanders to the mix and my curiosity was piqued yet further. I’ve read two of Sanders’ books so far and I’m still sat firmly on the fence about his work. It’s not that Sanders can’t write, he’s very good but prone to sometimes forgetting the story and going overboard on the background. You can’t ‘not read him’ though as you are potentially missing out on some great stuff if you ignore his books.

Which side of the fence did ‘Legion of the Damned’ fall on then? Lets just say that I’m looking forward to reading Sanders’ novella in the forthcoming ‘Primarchs’ collection.

Heralded by a blood red comet, the Cholercaust has come to the cemetery world of Certus Minor… An unstoppable horde of cultists, daemonkin and World Eaters Traitor Marines seeking to burn a path to ancient Terra itself. Only one company of loyalist Excoriators Space Marines stand in their path, not nearly enough to halt such a tide of blood. Or is it?

Inquistorial forces arrive on Certus Minor to find one Excoriator left alive amidst a veritable sea of traitorous corpses. Just what happened on Certus Minor to have victory spring from inevitable and crushing defeat? Sometimes, only sometimes, prayers are answered in the strangest of ways…

Like I said, I’ve had trouble with Sanders’ books in the past and this time was no different in that respect. This time though, Sanders rose above those issues to deliver a novel that proved to be only a hairs breadth away from being a compelling read. I could put it down; to do other stuff, but doing that was very difficult. I’ll have more along these lines please!

The issue I’ve always had with the ‘Space Marine Battles’ book is that a lot of them take the easy way out and just make the battle the focal point of the entire plot. In fact there isn’t a plot, just one big battle where the outcome is predetermined because of who is involved. The good guys either win or make it so that the Traitors cannot win themselves. It kind of takes the fun out of the read for me…

Thank goodness for Rob Sanders then who turns the whole thing upside down and presents us with a question out of that seemingly foregone conclusion of a victory. Yes, there was a victory but how could there have been? What the hell really happened? It's a great hook to snare the reader on, I was certainly interested to read more and find out what happened.

This was where the journey started to get a little choppy though. Sanders likes to delve into the murky background of Warhammer 40k and give his readers a full on encompassing view of these times of war. The only problem is that the story gets shoved to one side and you’re left with a whole load of detail. That’s what happens here with the ‘Feast of Blades’, a great piece of action but one that becomes mired in the politics of the competing Chapters a little too much to hold up properly for the length of time that it takes to recount. There were some awesome bone crushing moments of raw combat but I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted to hurry along and get to the main event.

It was a good job then that the main event ended up proving to be more than worth the wait.

Sanders clearly knows that a battle isn’t just about weapons being fired, it’s also very much about the people forced to pull the trigger in the heat of the moment. What are they feeling? Do they even want to be there?
These questions are answered in the contrast between Marines bred for war and un-enhanced humans forced to defend their homes and livelihoods. There’s a full range of emotions and motivations on display here and Sanders balances these nicely with the constant bark of bolter fire to give us an in-depth look at the conflict.

What’s interesting though is that this contrast is very much evident in the lead character of Zachariah Kersh himself. Kersh is a Marine who glories in warfare but would much rather be doing it elsewhere. Duty has called him and his men to Certus Minor though and Kersh will see that duty fulfilled despite the grumbling from within his company. Kersh questions himself (and his very sanity) at every turn and this keeps his character fresh, there are lots of questions to be answered in the heat of battle.

This battle is depicted very clearly without becoming too ‘technical’ and like a White Dwarf battle report. You know just what’s at stake from the sheer energy and focus that people put into just staying alive. What you do know though is the outcome and Sanders faces a tough task springing something that we already know onto us. He does it but it’s a very close thing, the answers are with us the whole time but you won’t see them until everything fits together and the picture is complete. Yet another plot device that holds the attention superbly.

‘Legion of the Damned’ suffers from a choppy start but recovers to become something really close to a stand out moment in the ‘Space Marine Battles’ series so far. I’ll happily keep reading these books if I can have more moments like these.

Eight and a Half out of Ten"


colleague :) said...

Skim reading this review (while paying close attention to some bits of it) i can't help but think this reviewer feels a need to find fault but struggles to. It's a little contradictory. He dislikes the fact that many writers will make the war the central plot of the book, more or less focusing on the war for the entirety, then moans that when you move away from that and throw in some politics or faction background, thats no good and he wants to be back into the war stuff again... Confused?


I see where you're coming from. I try to be fair with reviews and reviewers. Lots of people like my work but you can't please all of the people all of the time. That said, I have had reviews where reviewers will say that I write really well and the characters/story was very good, but because they would have chosen to handle something a different way, their estimation of me has to suffer. I much prefer reviews that qualify their judgements, are fair and recognise that the reviewer's opinion is one among many. The reviewer's opinion is of interest - but it is not necessarily representative.

Blitzspear said...

I follow that blog and have done for a while, he's read a lot of BL books and i usually agree with his reviews up to a point but it's more useful to bring new books and writers to my attention. I'll be getting your SM battles book and Sarah Caukwells(sp) also soon as the to read pile diminishes enough based on his reviews. I got Redemption Corps based on Graeme's review cuz some ellements he didn't like appealed to me. Excellent read btw.

Graeme Flory said...

Thanks for the link Rob! :o)

The issue I have with the Space Marines Battles books, in general, is that a battle doesn't often make for a great plot. It can't really; there's a battle, one side wins and the other side loses. Here, the Space Marines will always win because they're Space Marines.

I've got no problem with a move away from that, into politics or whatever, but (for me) it's got to be about and advance the plot. I wasn't so sure that the Feast of Blades did that but (having read the prologue) I knew that the 'main event' would. And it did :o) I loved what was done with the citizens of Certus Minor and it was also cool to see where Zachariah Kersh ended up ultimately. Hope that clears things up a little bit? ;o)

Rob - When's the next book?


Hi Graeme! Cheers for throwing in. I see what you mean about the Battles element. Guess it's just an extra challenge for the series writers : )

In respect to the reviewing thing, I suppose I was really referencing the kinds of Amazon reviews (for example) that Black Library writers routinely get. Stuff like 'That's not the way I would have handled it - One star' or 'I much prefer the way [insert Dan Abnett, Aaron Dembski-Bowden or another BL writer's name here] did this - One star'. That's not reviewing. That's closer to trolling. To be fair, I'm going to advocate the opposite also. I'd say that reviewers shouldn't give authors five star reviews simply because they like them personally (they should be their friend - not their reviewer) or because any book about a particular faction or piece of background would automatically generate a five star review regardless of the genius or shortcomings of the book. Reviewing is a serious matter. It can advance or damage the fortunes of an author, series, publisher and genre. That is why I've always said on here that I really appreciate the time that people like your good self put into reviews. Like other great sites I've highlighted here, Graeme's Fantasy Book Review always presents substantial, thoughtful reviews with a range of insights and a comments section for people to agree/disagree. This is great because real reviewers understand that they are writers too and get judged by their readership on their ability to carry out their important role.

No problem about the link, Graeme. : ) I've had you down on my list of worthy places of note on the internet ('The Scene') for a long time. In respect to the next book - shhhhhh. Top secret. As is the next and the next, come to think about it. Exciting times. ; )

Hope you are well.