Awesome book cover.

Awesome book cover for an equally awesome story.

Let us start with a touch of honesty. I am bitterly jealous of Aaron Dembski-Bowden.

I confess that the only of his previous works I had read was The First Heretic. And though a fine read, I found a point or two to which I raised question. But after reading this piece, I am reminded of why I wish to be more than an aspiring writer. As I finished the last page, I knew that my novel submission (which involved Helsreach) to the Black Library in July had tanked. I wish I had read this book first before writing the submission.

As if that wasn’t enough, I read the ‘About the Author’ section and learned that the proper way to spell fiancée in the feminine form involves an extra -e at the end. This is significant because in the Xaphan story I sent in yesterday, I used the wrong form. It was like being kicked when you were down, learning that not only is your past writing not good enough, what you just submitted also has mistakes.

Helsreach is the tale of the defence of Hive Helsreach during the Third War for Armageddon. Grimaldus, recently appointed Reclusiarch of the Black Templars, is left to defend Helsreach while High-Marshal Helbrecht takes to the battle in space. Grimaldus has resigned himself to die defending the Hive. And given the size of the Ork invasion, every page seems increasingly likely to confirm this grim prophecy.

Despite my envy for Dembski-Bowden, the fact is that this tale is flawless. I was hesitant to read Helsreach because my last experience with a Space Marines Battle Novel was long and unending. But this one was difficult to put down. From the aspects of the siege, to the character interactions. From the action to the themes of hopelessness and duty.

And best of all was that Dembski-Bowden took a gamble and told portions of the story not only from Reclusiarch Grimaldus’ perspective but also from inside his head. This is rare. Many a would be author have tried and failed to get inside a Space Marine’s mind. What are their thoughts? How are they different from humans?

Helsreach is a cleanly written and well told tale, but at the same time has these lasting, haunting elements within the story that make it hard to put down. Hard to ignore. They are not unlike The Last Chancers or The Founding, the two books I return to read again and again. To say I would do the same with Helsreach would not be a genuine claim until it happens. But something about this story will remain with me, bugging me. Telling me that there is something more here and that I should reread it.

Time will tell.

Gaunt’s Ghosts: The Founding

I think it's... dashing.

I think it's... dashing.

So let’s say you’re new. You want something that is considered a classic, a must read. Something that despite being years old, you can always find fans who are excited to talk about it. And just for kicks, let’s say you don’t have too much money to spend.

Well, for the latter problem I would advise you to check out the omnibuses. Usually these crunch three books down into a single, massive book and then add a short story or two for a price range of about $15. That’s pretty solid value. If you’re willing to get it used, you can even get it for less.

As for the former issue, I’d advise you to read almost any of Dan Abnett’s older stuff. But in particular, to read The Founding.

True to its name, The Founding is about the creation of the first and only Tanith Ghost regiments. The series spans more than a dozen novels with no signs of stopping anytime soon. It would be a little difficult to jump into the series mid way because many stories relate back to one another sooner or later as well as a very large cast of characters to meet.

Let’s talk about the setting for a moment. The story takes place in the midst of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade in the Segmentum Pacificus, located ‘south’ of Terra. For an idea of where that is, check out this 40k star map and look below Terra. To bring you up to speed, Chaos has taken a vested interest in the region, which has resulted in a very, very long and ongoing war. Being an extremely large chunk of the Imperium at stake, a lot of the war is fought man to man. You won’t see too many Space Marines of either variety, because even the application of the Astartes, though welcomed, would not immediately turn the tide of war. Instead, most of the war is a meat grinder for the Imperial Guard and the Lost and Damned Legions.

The backdrop and heart of the Crusade was Warmaster Slaydo, a powerful but somewhat enigmatic figure who died just before the book series began. Not long before his death on Balhaut, Slaydo had called together forty eight officers to take a Blood Oath. One of the officers was a young Commissar by the name of Ibram Gaunt, who is sent to the forest planet Tanith to collect a tithe of three regiments for the war effort. An unfortunate oversight by the Imperial Naval defenses however permitted a Chaos fleet to attack and destroy Tanith. Commissar Gaunt takes the reins as a Colonel and evacuates the planet’s Guard regiments. The survivors are consolidated into a single regiment, known as the Tanith First and Only. Top sniper Hlaine Larkin is credited with the Tanith regiment’s nick name, “Gaunt’s Ghosts.”

It's rare that the third is the best of a trilogy these days.

It's rare that the third is the best of a trilogy these days.

First and Only, the first book of the trilogy, discusses the regiments founding while also explaining some of Commissar Gaunt’s family baggage. The second book, Ghostmaker, is completely different. Instead of the usual story telling method, Ghostmaker is an anthology of short stories about important individuals within the Ghosts. These stories eventually tie together into the final arching plot. This is actually my least favorite of the Gaunt’s Ghost series, but it’s still decent.

But Necropolis, the third book, is my favorite. In my opinion, it is the best of the Gaunt’s Ghost series in general and one of my top stories not only among what the Black Library publishes, but also among all the books I own.

Necropolis takes place in a hive city under siege by one of its neighbors. At first, the nobility believe the war to be another trade war with their neighbor Ferrozoica Hive city, things turn sinister when the hand of Chaos is clearly at work. Reinforcements and aide are summoned from the Imperium, resulting in the Tanith regiments appearing alongside several allied units.

The rest of the story weaves back and forth from the individual struggles of squads and their characters to the behind the scenes politicking and the fight to keep morale up against the sheer hopelessness of the situation. There are times when the story reads like a very dramatically told historical piece, mentioning the sacrifices made for victory. As you read, your mind just cannot help but to play dramatic music.

So if you’re fresh to the world of Warhammer or an old hand looking for a classic to reread, turn to the The Founding.