Atlas Infernal

Books about Inquisitors are a different kind of beast. They are less about fighting and the clearly black and white themes we often see, and are more about the muddling grey, and adventures and discovery. Audiences don’t see many books about Inquisitors, the majority of them coming from Dan Abnett‘s Ravenor and Eisenhorn trilogies. The rest of the time the Inquisition makes appearances on the side lines of other stories, adding to the intrigue while never really becoming the star of the show.

"Now that there's one damn fine coat you're wearing..." -Marv

"Now that there's one damn fine coat you're wearing..." -Marv

For that reason, part of me worried if the book cover summary of Atlas Infernal by Rob Sanders gave away a little too much information about the plot. But personally? I suffer from the exact same problem when I describe my stories to other people. How much should I give away? I feel like I cheated a potential reader if I give away plot twists just to get them to read it in the first place. On the other hand, explaining very little of the story risks people putting it down without reading it at all.

When I first picked up the book, I was tired and hungry while waiting for the bus to take me home. Try as I might, I got a few pages and put it down.

I tried again after some rest and food, and this time found the book incredibly difficult to set down. It kept chugging along at a fine pace, mixing rest and illumination with the action and discovery. I found myself snappy when I had to set the book aside.

I have to take a moment to laugh at two descriptions in the book that I found hilarious. About 99% of the writing was good, but that 1% was memorably bad. The first was “chunky bolter.” My peanut butter is chunky, my bolter is bulky. The second is when Rubric Marines are described as being “death defying silent.” That was a horrible description. The words may sound pretty but sometimes, they just don’t make sense. But I guess 60% of the time they work every time.

The tale was addictive and imaginative, and in some ways the characters were and weren’t as well. Bronislaw Czevak, the main character, was an amusingly intelligent and eccentric man. But it wasn’t until I glanced briefly at other reviews that someone made a connection in similarity between Czevak and the famous Doctor Who. You see, I have rarely ever watched the good doctor although I have friends in both the United Stated and Britain who do, but from what little I’ve seen I have to reluctantly agree with the commentator who said as much.

The other characters were much the same way. They were unique and likeable, but there were aspects of them that felt like templates built off of someone else. James Hoare over at SciFiNow mentioned that the characters felt like they had come from the codex descriptions published by Games Workshop. While I don’t like to draw from another reviewer’s words on the matter, the fact is that Hoare’s words proved nigh impossible to remove from my mind once he made the connection. Still, I found myself liking Father the servo skull and Saul Torqhuil, the Relictors Tech-Marine and the rest of the cast, despite any building blocks that Sanders may have relied upon.

As the book came towards it conclusion, I found myself looking back on old sections again and again, trying to draw some connections that I may have missed. I surmised I knew what happened. But I felt like between Czevak’s induction into the Black Library and his reappearance among the Imperium, I missed something. Because the story is told out of order, there is some mental chronological restructuring that any reader has to partake.

In conclusion, despite the weaknesses in the book, I find myself hungering for a sequel. Not a trilogy, mind you. It’s very possible that if another book is written, Sanders could overcome the weaknesses in his characters and that side splitting 1% of bad descriptions. But if the second book is worse than the first, I probably won’t bother with a third.

Imperial Guard Omnibus: Volume 1

Expect to see the Catachan Jungle Fighters in top form in this one.

Expect to see the Catachan Jungle Fighters in top form in this one.

Okay, so here’s a tough question. How do you fairly review three different books by three different authors in the same collection? I guess we’ll find out in today’s review of the Imperial Guard Omnibus: Volume 1.

Contained within are the novels Fifteen Hours by Mitchel Scanlon, Death World written by Steve Lyon, and Rebel Winter authored by Steve Parker. At the time I read it, it was my first introduction to all three authors so I had no expectations. You may also notice that I now link the authors to their bios on the Black Library’s site if you want to take a look at the lives of these upstanding gentlemen.

My reason for picking up the omnibus is a little more complex than I first let on. My dad, who had passed away more than a year ago at the time, had served in Vietnam as an MP Captain. So I took to learning about the struggle on foreign soil to understand a bit more about what he went through. I also turned to fictional stuff about jungles or Vietnam as well.

I started watching the Rambo series, and reading the amazing Punisher Max comic series (which will get a blog post later as it is an amazing graphic novel series). What I learned inspired me enough to effect my fictional writing, hence my interest in Catachan. I picked up the omnibus just for Death World. I just got more with it.

I’m going to start with a quick summary of each of the three books.

The first book of the trio was Fifteen Hours. The book covers the tithing of a seemingly calm world, scuttling a fresh faced kid (the main character) into the Imperial Guard. A clerical error within the Administratum sends his unit to world different from the one he was intended. Upon arriving, the recruit’s entire squad is lost and he is snowballed into a completely different regiment to survive the Ork onslaught. The namesake of the book comes from a statistic; new recruits who survive for greater than fifteen hours show a better chance of survival long term.

The second book was Death World, and the real reason I picked up the omnibus. A short story takes place before the book begins about protagonist Lorenzo’s trial to join the Catachan Devils. In the book, Lorenzo is shipped to a battlefront which Imperial command believes is a ‘death world.’ The jungle planet is overrun with Orks, and Lorenzo’s squad is sent on a special assignment alongside an obnoxious Commissar. Meanwhile, supporting the squad from a distance is the elusive and unbelievably lethal Sly Marbo (an anagram for Rambo).

And the winner is...

And the winner is...

The final book, Rebel Winter, was an unexpected but delightful surprise. A rebellion against the Imperium on a cold planet. In response, the Imperium does what it does best and sends an army of Vostroyans to deal with the uprising. But like the other two novels, Orks pop up. The book focuses primarily on a commander who was born in the lower classes, but against the odds is promoted to an officer despite such positions usually being reserved for nobility. Even from a distance, Parker develops Vostroya with the back stories of his characters.

To my surprise, the three books were actually in the order of how I preferred them, although part of me had to detract a point because all three novels involved fighting the Orks. Greenskins get monotonous after a while. Scanlon’s characters are catchy, especially the three stooges trio that the main character gets set up with. But the setting and story over all just don’t impress me. Lyons was more enjoyable, the explorer’s story meshing well with the combat and plot. I love the way Lyon wrote Marbo, less as a character and more as an elemental force.

But Steve Parker crafted the best tale of the three. No, I’m not saying that just to avoid getting beaten up. Parker’s characters were memorable because of their back stories, which not only crafted their personality but managed to effectively explain the traditions and world of Vostroya. His plot sufficiently mixed things up with a combination of rebel forces, Orks, a few internal political enemies and even the Inquisition. The book was satisfying and hinted of a sequel I wouldn’t be against.

Ultimately, two out of three good books makes a worthy buy. I got my finger’s crossed that Rebel Winter gets a sequel.