Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Cardinal’s Blades – Pierre Pevel

I was unsure what to make of this book when I picked it up, but I thought I’d give it a go. My first impressions were that it was a very odd writing style, and oddly informative for a work of fiction.

The Cardinal's Blades

Part of the first came from the fact that Pierre Pevel is a French author, and it had been translated into English. A lot of the rest came from the second point.

It’s set in 17th century Paris for the most part, with some forays outside the city. The setting is fantastical, with magic and an ancient race of dragons who have taken human form – as well as their draconic footsoldiers.

The Cardinal’s Blades are a elite and secret group of Cardinal Richelieu’s guard, long since disbanded. A threat to France has arisen, and they are reformed to meet it. It’s a story of intrigue, magic and swashbuckling cavaliers. It takes the spirit of The Three Musketeers and with it’s own twists makes a story laced with humour, courage, swordfighting, politicking and brash adventure.

There are several familiar figures throughout the book as well. Not just Cardinal Richelieu, but the Comte de Rochefort, Athos, Porthos and D’Artagnan (as I recall) all feature in the book.

As I mentioned above, it’s oddly informative as well. As the book enters each new area, Pevel launches into a description not just of the area, but it’s history and other quirks. I learnt more about 17th century France from reading this book than from any other source. He doesn’t skimp on descriptions of the foul muck that covers the streets, the stench of the city, and all the other unpleasantness of the times. It adds to the characterisation, and the book is better for it.

All in all, it was an intriguing book, and while not my normal style, I enjoyed it. If you’re interested in a combination of The Three Musketeers and dragons, then I’d recommend giving The Cardinal’s Blades a shot.

Salvation’s Reach (Gaunt’s Ghosts) – Dan Abnett

I like the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. They’re gritty, hard, and while the Tanith often survive against impossible odds and show improbable skill for mere Guardsmen, they do hurt and they do die. The characters seem real to you and you get to know them.

Gaunt, in particular, has his flaws, but he’s a good man and a good commander who doesn’t often get the reward you think he should.

With that said, I didn’t like Salvation’s Reach as much as I did the others. Maybe it’s because I read the others in their omnibuses and now I’m reading them separately, but the story didn’t seem to end well. It just kind of stopped where I expected there to be more.

Admittedly, they had achieved their mission objectives and that part of the story was done, but it didn’t feel like it was a good ending there.

Right up until it stopped, I was enjoying the book. The Ghosts off on a secret mission with the aid of Space Marines is quite a cool story in itself. Throw in the sub-plots about (spoiler: Gaunt’s son) and Meryn’s underhand schemes and you’ve got a solid story. It was one of the books where they go in hard and not everyone survives. The Tanith are thinning down, and there weren’t that many to start with.

I liked the book, I liked Gaunt’s dalliance and his obliviousness to the feelings of others. I liked the ridiculousness of a marching band joining the elite commando regiment. I even liked the double-headed cyber-eagle.

I just didn’t like the ending.

Ciaphas Cain: Hero/Defender of the Imperium – Sandy Mitchell

I considered doing these as separate posts, but considering that I read them more or less one after the other, I didn’t see the point. (Delay only due to shipping times)

So there are two books here: Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium and Ciaphas Cain: Defender of the Imperium. As you may have guessed, they’re about Ciaphas Cain. The books are actually both omnibuses, collecting six novels and five short stories between them.

Ciaphas Cain is a Commissar of the Imperium. He is respected by the soldiers he serves with, honoured by Generals, a friend of the Warmaster, an ally of the Inquisition, and generally has a fairly decent life. Well, apart from the fact that everyone’s shooting at him. The thing is, is that Ciaphas is a bit of a coward. Every time a fight’s about to break out, he finds an excuse to go somewhere else. He’s spent his entire life trying not to get killed (a tricky job for a Commissar). Because of this, he’s ended up liked by the soldiers he looks after (because if they like you, they’re less likely to shoot you by “accident” during combat) and has found a large number of enemy holdouts, secret rituals and nests by looking in the place he thought they wouldn’t be (because if they weren’t there, he wouldn’t get shot at).

Lauded a hero because of his string of wins due to luck and accident, he ends up trapped in the role, finding that he has to maintain the façade of being a hero in order to not suffer that friendly fire incident later on. On the bright side, this means that he regularly dines with the finest officers in the Guard, and can usually get away with some plush assignments. On the other hand, when you’re an experienced hero, they keep wanting to send you into danger as well…

The books represent Ciaphas’ memoirs, which have been put into some sort of order by Inquisitor Amberley Vail. They tend to ramble, and be rather self-centred, but that adds to the charm. The books are a reminder that even in the grim future of the 41st millennium, there can still be humour. Cain is a likeable character, and it’s easy to emphasise with him and some of his ordeals. The excerpts added to his memoirs to flesh out parts that he’s missed (like the entire rest of the war) add a side note to that as well. Vail’s commentary is also a feature I liked, especially her fervent hatred of ex-soldiers making memoirs by battering the language into submission until it says roughly what they want it to (Cain not being among these).

If you like Warhammer 40,000 and you don’t mind a bit of humour in your grim future, then I’d recommend these to you. If you’ve not tried reading 40k novels before, I’d say they wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

ETA: So, I might have left out why I liked the books. They’re funny, Amberley’s snide comments are often hilarious, and they’re a reminder that not everything is about war, and not everyone in the 40k universe is a professional soldier (even when they are a professional soldier). The books could have been written in a third-person point of view as would be normal, but that wouldn’t be as entertaining. This isn’t Cain’s biography, this his his collected memoirs – the truth behind the hero where he tells you all of his flaws and how his greatest victories have often been achieved out of a desire to save his own skin.

He raises an army to free a planet in order to provide more meatshields to hide behind. He finds the safehouses of cultists by going to the least likely target so he’s less likely to get shot at. He stumbles upon a genestealer infestation by going to check a soldier’s story about being at a brothel. It’s his failings that make the stories enjoyable, and it’s his frank retellings (including his opinions of other officers) that make it worth reading.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

This was an interesting one. I’ve been playing Echo Bazaar for a long while now, and I’m always interested to know what Failbetter’s next project is. Last year, they released The Night Circus as a promotional game for the book of the same name. The game is filled with snippets from the book, and it wasn’t long before I fell in love with the magical world of Les Cirque Des Reves and the wonders of the circus.

When the book itself came out, I had to buy a copy. I didn’t get it immediately due to budget constraints, but when I did, I didn’t regret it. The book itself is gorgeous, emphasising the black and white themes of the story itself with crisp white pages edged in black, and a splash of red on the cover and the ribbon bookmark.

But enough about how I fell in love with the outside of the book.

The Night Circus tells an enchanting tale of a mysterious circus. It shows up unannounced, moving between towns without rhyme, reason or apparent schedule. Everything within the circus is black and white except for the patrons and the performers themselves. The circus is full of wonder, each tent revealing a new delight; impossible dreams made into reality.

Of course, it’s not just about the circus. A pair of long-lived rivals (one hesitates to call them magicians) have made another wager. Their new apprentices, trained in each other’s art and set against each other in a unique setting – The Night Circus. Created solely as a venue for the contest, the circus brings the two apprentices together as they begin to court each other by making new wonders in the circus for the other to admire. Rather than working against each other, they begin to work together and eventually manage to find a way to escape their fated end and secure the continuance of the circus once their contest is done.

I loved the story from the moment I started playing the game, and could barely put down the book once I had it. It was one of the most curious experiences I’ve ever had while reading: I simultaneously couldn’t wait to get to the next bit and find out what happened, but also couldn’t bear to miss something by reading too quickly.

In conclusion, I highly recommend the book, and I challenge you not to fall in love with it.