Thursday, December 31, 2009

Warpsword by Dan Abnett & Mike Lee

I am a huge fan of Warhammer 40,000 fiction.  I think it is brilliantly done, combining a deep philosophical/religious undertone with fast-paced action, a moody, gothic environment, and great storytelling.  As I have gradually shifted to adding a little more fantasy to my reading plate lately, I had been meaning to get into some of the fantasy side of Black Library's buffet, with Warhammer.  Particularly after reading Andy Remic's Kell's Legend, which is cut from a similar mold, I thought that the time was right.  And then it just never happened.  I have no idea why, but my tastes diverged from that region a bit.  Yet, when I picked up the December releases from Black Library, the time finally was right.  The Chronicles of Malus Darkblade: Volume Two, the second omnibus of the novels following the saga of the titular character, Malus Darkblade, seemed like a good place to start.

The Chronicles of Malus Darkblade: Volume One (which contains the novels The Daemon's Curse, Bloodstorm, and Reaper of Souls, as well as the short story "The Blood Price") set the stage, introducing Malus Darkblade, a dark elf who becomes possessed by the demon Tz'arkan, and must search out the five artifacts that were used to bound the demon in place.  If h fails, Tz'arkan will hold his soul for eternity.  While these stories look like a lot of fun, and I want to pick up a copy of the omnibus one day, they aren't necessary to enjoy The Chronicles of Malus Darkblade: Volume Two.

The Chronicles of Malus Darkblade: Volume Two begins with the novel Warpsword.  Having recovered three of the five artifacts, Darkblade sets out for Har Ganeth, home city o the god Khaine.  Here is the resting place of the Warpsword of Khaine, the fourth item needed.  However, Darkblade's half-brother, Urial, wants to lay claim to the sword himself, and he is in far better position to do so.  What begins as a quest of espionage becomes outright was as Darkblade's plans go awry, the artifact may be more (or less) that it appears, and old enemies return.

If Warpsword is any indication of what Warhammer has to offer, then I can't wait to dive into more.  The novel was fast-paced, extremely full of action, and a clever plot that even managed to pull off some dry humor.  The character Malus Darkblade is very well thought out.  He has far more dark in him than good, but he still manages to be a character you cheer for.  His story was full of plot twists, and you could almost feel his exhaustion as he waded through fight after fight and injury after injury.  Abnett & Lee make a solid team, mixing the moody atmosphere with an exciting tale.  The story occasionally felt like it lagged a bit, but that was a rare occurrence indeed, and was made up for every time with an over-the-top action epic the following chapter.

The chracters are great, the setting is excellent for the story, and the plot was wonderful.  The most fun I have had reading a fantasy novel in some time.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Basic RolePlaying Quick-Start Edition

After reading the reviews section of the latest issue of Black Gate on role playing games, I was left a bit flummoxed. On the one hand, role playing games have such a stigma attached to them, that even accepting-of-all-fiction me was a little wary, but on the other hand, it sounded like it could be fun. So, pushing aside any embarrassment, I went to Chaosium’s website, and printed out their free download of Basic RolePlaying Quick-Start Edition, a PDF copy of their $11 booklet. I had only small gaps of time to read, so the 50 page rulebook made good reading that I could set down and pick back up again.

The idea behind the Basic RolePlaying (here on out called BRP) system is that, using an easy to learn game mechanics system, you can play any type of game you like. The included short adventures gave a breath of this, with games taking place in the stereotypical fantasy settings, but also in post-apocalyptic environments, 1600s France, World War II, even a bank heist. The rules system (based almost entirely on percentages) was a very easy to learn system, requiring almost no memorization or searching for rules. I played a couple of test games with my girlfriend, and found the free adventures a little quick and a touch to simple, although I would imagine that is partly because they were free. The scenarios you pay for were exponentially longer than these 1-2 page things. However, despite their shortcomings, even they were fun to play around with a bit.

I think that, to get the full effect of BRP, I will need to pick up some other adventures from their website, and possibly a copy of the complete core rulebook, Basic RolePlaying. However, with limited funds, and the great expense of the core rulebook, it may be a little while before that happens. Until then, we will see what adventures may come my way, but I will make sure to keep an open mind towards role playing, and to look for BRP games. They were very easy to pick up for this brand-new beginner, and had enough to them to make me come back for more.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

“Thunder from Fenris” by Nick Kyme

After far too long away, I was able to grab some copies of new Warhammer 40,000 fiction, and I had to throw all sense of what I was reading next out the window in my excitement to finally return. I decided to dive into all four December releases from Black Library (Two 40k, two Warhammer), and began with the new audio Warhammer 40,000 story, “Thunder from Fenris,” penned by Nick Kyme. Kyme is currently receiving quite a lot of acclaim for his novel Salamander, the first in the Tome of Fire trilogy. I had read a couple pieces by him (see Assault of Black Reach: The Novel and “Fires of War,” the prequel to the Tome of fire trilogy), and I thought both were good but not great. I haven’t read any of the Space Wolf books (all of which are now conveniently packaged in two omnibuses, The Space Wolf Omnibus and Space Wolf: The Second Omnibus), but this looked like a neat product to dive into.

On the planet Skorbad, Chaos had taken a very strong hold, but the work of the Cadian Imperial Guard and the arrival of the Space Wolves had pushed most of it back. There are only lingering pockets of Chaos infestation left, when the worst happens: one of the Space Wolves goes feral, under the curse of the wolfen, and changes into a beast that has killed one of his own. The Space Wolves must track down their stricken brother, while facing a legion of Chaos-infused zombies.

The story was fast-paced, and the narrator did a brilliant job with voices, with interesting background sound effects taken from the Warhammer 40,000 computer game, Dawn of War. The characters were a little too much the same, so that if they didn’t get different voices by the narrator they would be easy to confuse, and the story had moments that let my thoughts stray while I was listening to it. The action was well-written, and it was performed quite well.

“Thunder from Fenris” left me with much the same feeling as Assault on Black Reach: The Novel and “Fires of War” did. Every piece by Kyme that I have read (or listened to) left me feeling that he has a lot of potential and just isn’t quite reaching it. Maybe he did it with Salamander, which I haven’t read. I will continue to read his work, although it won’t rush to the top of the pile, until he hits consistently what he does in parts now. When Kyme is hot, he is with the best Black Library has, and if he kept that up throughout the whole story, I could easily see him becoming one of the most popular authors they have.

Keep an eye out for “Thunder from Fenris” for an hour’s entertainment. It may not be a staple of your audiobook library, but it will still be a pleasing way to pass the time.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Black Library Previews Catalogue September-December 2009

Many of you know, I am a fan of the Black Library, especially Warhammer 40,000, and I have been eyeing Warhammer for a while now. I recently snagged a copy of The Black Library Previews Catalogue September-December 2009 (a little on the late end of that, I know, but there was a mix up in a system and my name got skipped on a reviewer list, not that I’m complaining, just explaining) and thought, for those of you that don’t pop over there often, I’d give a bit of a run down. Also, because of technical difficulties, I don’t have copies of September’s, October’s, or November’s books, so this will give you a look at what is out there, as well as what to look for from the December releases that I just picked up today. The catalogue contains short preview excerpts from the upcoming books, and was a wonderful way to while away an hour.

September 2009

Empire by Graham McNeill (Book Two of the Legend of Sigmar trilogy) [Time of Legends]

Salamander by Nick Kyme (Book One of the Tome of Fire Trilogy) [Warhammer 40,000]

Space Hulk: The Novel by Gav Thorpe [Warhammer 40,000]


Cadian Blood by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Imperial Guard novel) [Warhammer 40,000]

Shamanslayer by Nathan Long (Book Eleven of the Gotrek & Felix series) [Warhammer]

Space Wolf: The Second Omnibus by William King & Lee Lightner [Warhammer 40,000]


Innocence Proves Nothing by Sandy Mitchell (Book Two of the Dark Heresy series) [Warhammer 40,000]

Blood Pact by Dan Abnett (Book 12 of the Gaunt’s Ghosts series) [Warhammer 40,000]

Iron Company by Chris Wraight (Book 2 of the Empire Army series) [Warhammer]

Liber Chaotica [Warhammer]


Forged by Chaos by C. L. Werner (Book Three of the Age of Reckoning series) [Warhammer Online]

The Chronicles of Malus Darkblade: Volume Two by Dan Abnett & Mike Lee [Warhammer]

Titanicus by Dan Abnett [Warhammer 40,000]

“Thunder from Fenris” by Nick Kyme (Space Wolves audio short story) [Warhammer 40,000]

Friday, December 25, 2009

“The Jekyll Island Horror” by Allen M. Steele & The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks (Part 1)

This may seem like an eclectic topic today, and it admittedly is, but it worked quite well for me. There are two short pieces for us to look at.

“The Jekyll Island Horror” by Allen M. Steele

I am a huge fan of horror fiction, pulp era fiction as well as pulp era pastiche, and Allen M. Steele, so when I got my copy of the January 2010 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction in the mail, I moved that story to the top of my reading list. While “The Jekyll Island Horror” wasn’t as good as Steele’s Coyote Trilogy, it was still a fun read.

Prefaced by a short introduction that plays the trope of “This tale is true, as handed down to me by [story-teller/witness],” seen in numbers of books including the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs and many other pulp practitioners. We then move into the manuscript that Steele was “given,” which is a tale of a valet to a rich man in the 1930s, who happens to be present to an incident on Jekyll Island that proved to him that aliens have visited Earth.

Written in pulp style, Steele captures that mood quite well. The lead up to the horror of the title is a little long-winded, but the denouement was a lot of fun. Keep an eye out for this novelette.

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks (Part 1)

The Zombie Survival Guide is a faux-how-to book on surviving zombie apocalypse. As it isn’t a narrative, it is a book that is easy to pick up and put down, and seemed like the perfect thing to dive into when I am in between novels and figuring out what to read next. So, prepare yourselves for the first serial review here at Luke Reviews!

The first section of Max Brooks book, titled “The Undead: Myths and Realities,” covers a lot of ground, working a background primer, under the pretense that you have to know what you are fighting to survive it. The book was quite scientific, surprisingly, yet it still managed to play a number of tongue-in-cheek jokes to the genre, which is easy to do with its vast history. I read the first half of the section, and had a lot of fun hitting all of the characteristics and rationale behind the zombie phenomenon.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Black Gate—Spring 2009 (Issue 13)

Moving back to the realm of short stories after far too long an absence, I snagged the latest issue of Black Gate off of my shelves to finally sit down and read it. What with all of the bouncing around lately, and Black Gate's over-sized format, it would have been difficult to pop in and out on the bus, so I was very happy to finally settle down with it for a bit. After a wonderful editorial on the origins of SF Site (a website you must check out), and a letters column (that is sadly missing in most fiction magazines today), the stories begin.

“The Beautiful Corridor” by Jonathan L. Howard: A short piece on a woman who is working her way into the center of a temple full of traps to find a holy figure, Howard does an excellent job of keeping the story light-hearted, and the pace swift. This is a very fun story, and an excellent introduction to my reading of Black Gate.

“The Good Sheriff” by David Wesley Hill: Hill presents a “weird western,” with a cowboy from Texas trying to find his way home from a land of demons and monsters. A very well-told tale that takes a very odd idea and plays with it rationally. Well worth the read.

“The Face in the Sea” by John C. Hocking: This wonderful story tells of Viking-like people returning from a raid on their enemy’s stronghold to recover their princess, and one shaman’s all-out assault to stop them. A very well told story, reminiscent of Robert E. Howard. I’ll be looking for more by Hocking.

“Behind the Magic of Recluse” by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: An interesting article about the scientific underpinnings of the magic system Modesitt uses in his Recluse series. It seems like it would have been more informative to a reader familiar to his series, it was still a very neat look at an alternative to the generic magic systems.

“Naktong Flow” by Myke Cole: An interesting story with more of an Eastern cultural flavor, Cole tells us of a country making a last ditch effort to rid themselves of an evil. It felt like it was less about adventure and action and more about setting and mood, and it fit in just the right spot in this issue.

“The Murder at Doty Station” by Matthew Bey: A light tale that was okay, but not great. Its brevity helped it, but I felt it was a bit forgettable.

“The Evil Eater” by Peadar Ó Guilín: A wonderful story that mixed in just the right amount of horror. Another new author to check out more of. This story of a restaurant of more than good food is a great read.

“Bones in the Desert, Stones in the Sea” by Amy Tibbetts: A sad, poignant, and well-written story that made the cultural in the story seem perfectly incorporated, playing a large part without feeling forced. Tibbetts presents us with a tale of a brother’s love for his sister, and how far he will go to protect what is hers after her death.

“Spider Friend” by L. Blunt Jackson: A brilliant fable-like tale, with an ending that I didn’t see coming, but that didn’t interrupt the wonderful style that Jackson worked throughout. One of the best “modern fables” I have read.

“The Naturalist, Part III: St. George and the Antriders” by Mark Sumner: I haven’t read this one yet, but it looks brilliant. I got to it, but I wanted to save it for another time, as it is a bit longer, and wasn’t quite what I appeared to be in the mood for. However, I promise to return to it, and will give you all of the details.

There were a few other stories in here that I felt rather apathetic towards, in part as they weren’t quite up my alley, and in part because of an overly busy schedule. This issue also contained a number of comic strips, and two brilliant review sections, one on gaming and the other on fiction. I have never seen a magazine have such a detailed, extensive reviews section that covered so many books. It was a wonderful surprise to find them in here. I’m not into roleplaying, so the one section wasn’t much in my interest area, yet I still found some neat reading in it, and glad that I skimmed it on a whim. The fiction reviews section was lovely, and covered far more than the large press magazines do. A wonderful assortment of books were discussed. One day I may attempt to see if I can’t sneak my way into there somehow.

All in all, Black Gate kept my attention far better than any other fiction magazine has. As opposed to copies of Asimov’s, where I find some things I like, and others that just don’t appeal to me, Black Gate contained not a single story that I detested, and only a couple I was ambivalent to. Almost all of the stories I found immediately wonderful, engaging, and very easy to lose oneself in. The quality was beyond impressive, and the extras (reviews sectionS) were brilliant. Anyone who is a fan of adventure or fantasy should immediately check out Black Gate (and their website allows you to buy a single issue “preview copy”). For the cover charge, it contains a LOT of content (224 pages, full magazine size, not digest), good stories, interesting essays, wonderful departments, even an illustration for each story, which is a feature sadly missing in most other magazines. Grab issue 13 while you can, and keep your eyes peeled for the next issue!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Post-Hiatus Rating System

Now that Luke Reviews is preparing to return, it seemed like the perfect time to introduce the new rating system. The books reviewed before this mark will retain their number, but the new system will be a bit stricter. I wanted to announce the change, so the new books didn’t seem to pale in comparison to the previous ones. Here is a breakdown of what the numbers (out of ten) roughly mean:

10: One of the best books of the year. A must read. Worth reading again.

9: An excellent book. One that I would pick up again, but is missing that “x-factor” to make it a full 10.

8: A lot of fun to read, and recommended.

7: A good book.

6: Above average, but not by much.

5: An average book.

4: Below average, but not by much.

3: A sub-par book. Deeply disappointing.

2: Got halfway but couldn’t finish.

1: Couldn’t get halfway.

I hope that this will give a little more explanation behind the numbers, and will stop the strings of 8/10 that seemed to continue to crop up. This will give a more honest, more complete spread than before.

Welcome to the return of Luke Reviews!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hiatus Until 12/23/09

Finals are here. With the pressures of studying for final exams and writing final papers, Luke just can’t keep up with Luke Reviews. He tried, but there is no time at the moment. So, until 12/23/09, no reviews will be appearing on the site. Please, please, please, take some time to enjoy the ‘Archive’ section, as there are a number of neat things in there, and feel free to shoot me an email [lukehf(AT)] with comments, questions, and ideas for when Luke Reviews returns. Thanks for your continued support, and look forward to the return, because there are some neat things on the horizon!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Being All Over the Place

I am sure that many of you have noticed that the “Currently Reading” image has changed a lot recently, and that there has been a dearth of reviews lately. So, a quick explanation while I hurry and catch up on reading. Finals week has reared its ugly head, as have a couple of bus trips, and it made reading hard. Lots of breaks made getting into books near impossible, when any other time I would have devoured them. So, to make up for this, here are some very brief thoughts on the books that I started:

Grey Knights by Ben Counter: A story following a group of space marines given the mission to stop all influences of the daemonic in the universe, this novel starts off with a huge action scene before moving into a tale of intrigue about a heretic member of the Inquisition. The pacing was spot on, the action was credible, and it stood up to my only other trip into Counter’s fiction, Galaxy in Flames, from the Horus Heresy series. From what I read, this is a solid book, and one that Luke Reviews promises to return to.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: Collins is enjoying a very minor resurgence in the recognition of his work, including a new Broadway musical based on his thriller/mystery The Woman in White. I had always wanted to check out one of his novels, and I finally got the chance. Collins’ use of language is a wonderful example of all that can be done with the English language, yet it doesn’t distract from the shocking mystery set out at the very beginning, of a woman in white who escapes from an insane asylum. This one will draw you in very quickly, as it did to this reviewer. It might require a bit more patience than today’s thriller, but it rewarded me for it.

A Thousand Words for Stranger by Julie E. Czerneda: A few years ago I read Survival, the first book in Czerneda’s Species Imperative trilogy, and I loved it. It was a wonderful novel. Yet, for whatever reason, it was years before I finally picked up another of her novels. A Thousand Words for Stranger is Czerneda’s first published novel, as well as the first book in her Trade Pact series. This science fiction novel combines mystery, intrigue, and action to make it a very exciting tale. While it contained a few flaws that were shaken when I read the other novel by a more practiced Czerneda, it still contained the raw story-telling power that I look for in every book I read.

All of these books will get another look here at Luke Reviews, under the conditions they deserve. For now, I’ve moved on to short stories, which will help my short time periods for reading during the stresses of the end of a semester. The magazine Black Gate has been receiving a considerable amount of attention and good reviews, so I’m going to be giving its latest issue a read. I have very high hopes.

Thanks again for the patience. Luke Reviews will reward you for sticking with it!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Interview with Dan Abnett

As many of you know, Dan Abnett (author of a huge number of things, to include Horus Rising, Ravenor, Annihilation: Nova, and Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero, all featured here at Luke Reviews) is quite highly regarded here at Luke Reviews (Ravenor didn’t get a great review, but hey, no one’s perfect all of the time!). I recently got the chance to sit down and ask Dan a few questions. Enjoy!

Dan, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for Luke Reviews!

My pleasure, Luke.

Right off the bat, I just wanted to mention that you must be amazingly busy right now. War of Kings just wrapped up, with Realm of Kings on the way, along with both Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy, all from Marvel Comics (I only just read Annihilation, so far behind on the times). You are in the midst of Insurrection with 2000 AD (and that is getting rave reviews left and right) and The Authority for Wildstorm. Blood Pact didn't hit the stands too long ago, Prospero Burns is in the chute, and I just picked up a brand new paperback copy of Titanicus today, all from Black Library, and your first creator-owned novel, Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero has just hit the stands in the UK. How do you manage all of these different stories and universes, and for that matter, how do you churn out so many high quality stories so quickly? This seems like an almost overwhelming amount of fiction for one man to be putting out in such a small span of time.

Well, to be fair some of it was produced a way in advance. Some of these projects are going to press faster than others, so it just appears as if I’ve been ridiculously productive. Having said that, I am ridiculously productive. I find I work better and harder if I’m under the gun a little. A little pressure helps, so I do more work, then more…

You frequently work with collaborators (especially Andy Lanning). Do you find that easier/harder than working solo? More rewarding?

It’s just different. I’m a writer, and for most of the time I write on my own. But that can get very soul-destroying. A lot of writers (and comic book artists and so on) can get a little stir-crazy if they only have their writing space around them 24-7. Twenty years ago, Andy and I discovered we could have a laugh and be productive working together, and we’ve done it ever since on a regular basis to give ourselves a welcome break once a week or so from the solo freelancing life. It’s as rewarding. It’s differently rewarding.

Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects? I know there are a couple more books signed for Angry Robot Books, and I am sure there is plenty more with Marvel, 2000 AD, and Black Library. Any hints, or are you sworn to secrecy?

Some of this stuff is still to be announced, but Andy and I have got a big cosmic project at Marvel - Realm of Kings - which is gearing into something bigger for 2010. I’m about to start work on my second book for Angry Robot, and I have more lined up for Black Library, and it’s just been announced that I’ve written the screenplay for the upcoming Warhammer 40K movie, Ultramarines.

Who (or what) inspires your work most, either in the field of writing or outside of it? Do you have a favorite author? Anyone we should look out for while we wait for the next Dan Abnett book to come out?

Actually day to day inspiration can be found everywhere for me: books, TV, newspapers, conversations. I absorb stuff for later use (I never go anywhere without my notebook). As far as favourite authors go - my all time faves are Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, John Buchan, HP Lovecraft, Jack Vance, Alan Garner... actually, the list is vast. My favourite contemporary author is probably Kelly Link. I adore her work.

You work in both prose and graphic formats. What are the advantages to each of them? Do you find it hard to shift between the two, or does one fuel the other?

It’s nice to alternate, to keep things fresh. You can get tired if you do one thing for too long. Prose is great, because what you write goes (pretty much) directly to the reader. Comics are wonderful, because you get to engage with an artist and develop stories in ways that you couldn’t have done alone.

Thanks again, Dan. Any final words?

Thanks for letting me blah on.

Note: Luke Reviews is happy to let Dan blah on whenever he likes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

FREE FICTION: Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett, Day Five

Luke Reviews concludes its preview of Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett, and out from Angry Robot Books. Helpful Links: Reviews of other Dan Abnett works here at Luke Reviews, Angry Robot Books, Parts One, Two, Three, and Four of Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero.


A Fourth Chapter

“Oh bollocks,” said Triumff, and resumed his thrashing attempt at escape. Water churned from his milling limbs. The swordsman ploughed after him.

Almost at once, Triumff realised things weren’t getting any better. A second line of bubbles was arcing around in front to cut off his flight. A moment later, another submarine assassin rose from the depths.

“Give gim gis gay! Gile gop gis gloogy ged goff!” the second attacker instructed his partner.

“Garden?” asked the first.

Triumff stopped and looked back.

“He said…” he began, but then he paused. “Why the bastard am I bothering to explain it to you?”

He set off again, breasting the flood, churning up sheets of spray, breaking off perpendicular to the pincer manoeuvre of the snorkel-blowing killers.

Five yards from the pool-side, he pursed his lips and whistled the first two bars of the song about the Guinea Coast.

Something flat, hard and fundamentally aerodynamic choppered out of the colonnade shadows like a startled grouse. It struck the second assassin square in the visor with a painful, metallic clang. The assassin crashed backwards into the water as if he’d ridden a steeplechaser full-pelt into an overhanging branch.

The flat, hard, aerodynamic thing whirled around, back the way it had come, still making the sound of someone thrumming their lips with their finger whilst they exhaled hard. It landed neatly in Uptil’s outstretched hand. It was Uptil’s “come-back”, a traditional hunting weapon of the Beach folk. It was essentially a flat stick with an elbow, but in the hands of a trained caster it could not only do serious hurt, but also reload itself into its owner’s hand for another go.

Triumff reached the edge of the pool, grabbed his towel and shook the Couteau Suisse out of its folds. He pressed the trigger and got to the rapier by way of only a pencil sharpener and an egg spoon. He flourished the long blade twice to enjoy the bee-buzz it made as it cut the air, and then raised the hilt to eye-level in a salute.

“Vivat Regina,” he hissed, and threw himself at the remaining assassin.

The assassin had never, in all his long days as a paid cut-throat and hit-man, been attacked by a naked man with a rapier before. Come to that, he had never been asked to take on a contract wearing swimming trunks and part of a brass band on his head. The hooded man who’d hired him and his mate in a Cheapside tavern had paid well, in advance, and so he hadn’t really questioned the details at the time.

Now his mate was floating face-down in the municipal baths with blood clouding the water around his crumpled visor-work after a collision with what appeared to be a flying shelf bracket, and he had his hands full with what was known in the trade as a “contrary client”.

There was only one thing he could do, and thankfully (for his sake) it was something he was very, very good at.

He would have to fight him and kill him.

The rapiers flashed against each other in a series of blinding strokes, the cutlery percussion of the blows ringing around the gloomy hall. Almost from the first riposte, Triumff knew he was up against a professional swordsman. He just hoped that the odd venue (four feet of warm water) would be on his side.

It was an ungainly fight. Their upper bodies flew and twisted above the waterline, their hips and legs paddled like spoons in syrup to keep up. It was remarkably easy to outrun your lower body, and therefore fall over, and therefore die. Triumff did his very best not to do any of those three things.

It might be noted at this point that when either sober or desperate, Sir Rupert Triumff was a considerable swordsman in his own right. Currently, he was both. It was even money, whichever way you looked at it.

Uptil looked on, aghast, from the vantage of the bath-side. He yelled encouragement, advice, and a few of the ruder words in his considerable vocabulary, unable to do anything else of use, since the fighters were too close for him to risk another cast of his come-back.

Something caught Uptil’s eye. Something was moving in the shadows further down the colonnade. Fearing a third assassin, he tore himself away from the blistering duel and moved in to investigate. He raised his come-back, catching a glimpse of a robed figure scurrying away towards the bath-house exit, too far away to get a clean cast. Uptil ran after it.

Uptil didn’t like leaving Rupert at such a crucial juncture, but something forced him to give chase, something like a lingering impression that the robed figure had possessed the head of a cat.

Uptil didn’t know much about cats, since they didn’t have them in Beach. He was pretty sure, though, that cats weren’t generally six feet high, and wearing a silk doublet and a cape.

There was no sign of a robed figure in the entrance hall, feline or otherwise. The front doors were bolted shut, and the three bath attendants were bound, gagged and unconscious on the floor of the ticket office. Uptil checked along both sides of the hall, his come-back poised for launch. There was no sign of an intruder.

Someone started hammering at the bolted doors. Uptil walked forward, and drew back the bolts. As the doors swung open, he nearly exclaimed loudly. At the last moment he remembered the Ploy, and settled for a hasty yelp of inarticulate fear.

In the pool, Triumff parried low against the assassin’s backhand, and then struck in, slicing the end off his assailant’s snorkel. The man made a noise like an un-bled radiator, and rained several more blows at Triumff, who backed and parried again deftly.

“You in the water! Stop fighting! At once!”

The words rang out in booming echoes across the Bath House. Out of the corner of his otherwise intently occupied eye, Triumff saw Lord Gull, standing at the head of a detachment of the City Militia at the pool edge. The soldiers were all big, armoured dreadnoughts from a SHAT unit (Special Halberds And Tactics), one of the Militia’s Anti-Affray Departments. Gull looked more furious than usual. If they wanted the fight stopped, Triumff knew that they would be able to do it with just two or three strokes of a skilled pike-arm.

“You want me to stop the fight?” bellowed Triumff, side-slicing with his darting sword, “You want me to stop it? No sooner said…”

He punched up, driving his basket-guard into the assassin’s visored face, and then raked downwards, the length of the man’s torso, with a slick blow that was almost surgical. The assassin collapsed messily into the water, which changed colour rapidly.

“…than done,” Triumff finished, slooshing away from his dead foe, waist-deep in the water. “That’ll teach him to call me a gastard. Afternoon, Callum. How’s the ear?”

A long row of pike-heads pointed down off the pool-side at him, each one ready to thrust. Gull stepped forward between the hafts, and glanced disdainfully down at the carnage in the water. Triumff, smiling up at his captors, could see Uptil, crouching nervously at the back of the colonnade under the watchful eye of a SHAT team member.

“I’m not going to allow our personal differences to get in the way, Triumff, you piece of worthless offal,” said Gull. “As Captain of the Guard, I’ve a job to do, and that involves arresting you for Causing An Affray In A Public Place and Participating In A Breach Of The Peace. Not to mention what looks like a double charge of manslaughter.”

“They were knifemen. Look at them. Paid to do me in. You know that damn well, Gull.”

“Perhaps,” said Gull, with what was almost a smile. “We’ll ascertain that after the Coroner’s been in and Forensic Physic have poked about. Until then, Rupert Triumff, you’re coming with me to The Yard for questioning. You men, haul him out.”

Huge, mailed hands reached down. With a resigned curse, Triumff allowed himself to leave the water.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

FREE FICTION: Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett, Day Four

Luke Reviews continues its preview of Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett, and out from Angry Robot Books. Helpful Links: Reviews of other Dan Abnett works here at Luke Reviews, Angry Robot Books, Parts One, Two, and Three of Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero.


The Third Chapter

which doth contain a most engaging

discourse upon modern issues

of discovery, and also

a visit to the bath-house

Almost every day, a ship of the Royal Unified Navy leaves one of Britain’s harbours bearing Letters of Passage that grant it the majestic right to discover, explore and, frankly, pillage less fortunate or well-known parts of the globe. On that St Dunstan’s Day alone, Sir Walter de File sailed out of Portsmouth on the Peacespite to see if there was anything of merit between Florida and Argentina, Lord Archimboldo cast off from Southampton aboard the Golden Shot in search of the South Indies, and Thomas Pickering, mariner, sailed his cog the Batty Crease into Toamasina and discovered Madagascar* (and stayed there, which is why Madagascar didn’t appear on charts until 2046. But that really is another story). Letters of Passage, granted by the Queen, were potent tools that gave the seafarer virtual copyright over anything he discovered in the name of the Unity. They were sweeping powers, but necessary. Without such an incentive, it was doubtful anyone would voluntarily spend two or three years in a badly caulked, leaking, unhygienic, overgrown barrel, adrift on the stormiest oceans of the world, braving corsairs, sea-serpents, kraken, bull whales, foreign powers, Scurvy, Rickets, Dutch Wart, hostile native peoples, famine, thirst, drowning, marooning, becalming, casting-away, mutinying, keelhauling, slipping off a topgallant in icy conditions and braining yourself on the taffrail, acting as a human lightning conductor whilst on watch in the crow’s-nest during a freak electrical storm, choking on a ship’s biscuit, scalding to death in the ship’s kettle, being operated on by the surgeon’s mate after grog-rations, smoking in the Orlop next to the Powder Room, going back to check on a lit 32-pounder, happening to mention out loud that you fancied some albatross soup, or, of course, falling off the edge of the world**.

Voyages of Discovery were a dirty, dangerous and complicated business and no mistake***.

The procedures surrounding a victorious return however, were simple. The explorer, bearing his Letters of Passage, was given a respectable length of time to rest, recuperate and get his land-legs back, before he was required to present a report of his discoveries to the Queen. The explorer would be celebrated, paid a considerable sum known as “a Regarde” to acknowledge his achievement, and would probably have the discovered place officially named after him. In return, he would formally hand the Letters of Passage over to the Queen, and, in so doing, bequeath the territory to the Unity.

Only then could further expeditions be arranged. This second wave of voyages would hurtle off along the trail blazed by the original explorer, and, using his notes, maps and gathered intelligence, thoroughly plunder, despoil and exploit the new-found corner of the world. It was the way things were done.

However, until the explorer had made his report and handed back the all-important Letters of Passage, none of that could take place. There was huge money in new discoveries, not to mention honour, prestige, fame, governships and nubile local women, and the Unity’s huge Exploitation Industry therefore waited with eager anticipation for the green light on a new Continent, as did the Church, which was hungrier for fresh sources of Cantriptic power than they cared to admit.

All of this explained the mounting frustration felt at Court over Rupert Triumff. He’d been away. He’d come back, flushed with success, explaining that he had discovered new lands in the Southern Oceans. He’d brought with him many astonishing finds and trinkets, including four hundred and six new species of plant, a lot of non-placental fauna, and a noble, dark-skinned autochthon as an ambassador of the Meridional Climes. Then, months had passed, months in which he showed no signs of making his report, months in which the Letters of Passage idled in his desk under lock and key, long, slow months, which the Unity’s reavers, exploiters and churchmen suffered with increasing impatience, hives, palpitations and stress-induced migraines.

No one had ever taken so long to deliver his report, not even Captain Jacob Tavistock, of the Blue Beagle, who came back from discovering Bermuda with amnesia, and had to have his memory gently nursed back by a team of specially trained Spanish inquisitors.

No one knew what to do about it. There just wasn’t provision in the statutes to deal with a holder of valuable Letters of Passage who was backward in coming forward. They were usually all so anxious to get their hands on their Regarde, buy a big place in Oxenfordshire, and marry a girl who was either a minor Royal or blonde or, best of all, both.

When a full six months had elapsed with no sign of Triumff, the Privy Council began to look into the matter, scouring the many volumes of regulations for a loophole. They consulted the Navy, the Church and the various lords that might know. Solutions there were none. The ball, it appeared, was firmly in Triumff’s court. It was up to him to take the initiative, and up to the rest of the government and other interested parties to lump it.

However, the interlude was now long enough for even a busy Queen to start noticing it, and that, as the Privy Council soon found out, was the one thing they hadn’t thought of. The simple way to get around the legal thicket protecting Triumff was to erase the laws, and the one person who could do that was the Queen.

The only thing that ever weighed heavily on Her Majesty was about half-a-ton of lace, silk, gauze, kapok, sequins and pearls. Nothing else troubled her or slowed her down much, particularly not minor foibles like statutes or civil laws. It was the matter of a moment, and the work of a scratching quill, to ascribe new Letters of Passage to another explorer and expunge the life, property, rights and memory of Rupert Triumff from the land.

Triumff might have been the only person who had actually been expecting as much for a while. He knew it was just a matter of time. He’d stalled for as long as he could, hoping the Court would swallow his ploy, but now he needed something else, some more active course to follow. He needed a new ploy.

That was exactly what he’d been afraid of, because, unfortunately, if there was one thing he really didn’t shine at, it was ploys.

Considerations of the possible size, shape, colour and cost of a potential new ploy, as well as how he might recognise it, filled Triumff’s mind as he paid a shilling to the doorman and entered the warm, damp embrace of the Dolphin Bath House at twenty past four. There was the best part of another hour before they shut for the night, and late-afternoon bathers, seeking a restorative for agued limbs made rheumy by a week of heavy rain, jostled about the place. Their pallid, portly shapes could be glimpsed in the steamy atmosphere, lurking under the green-shadowed colonnades, slapping across the tiled walks, or sliding walrus-like into the pools.

The warm, wet air smelled of soaked stonework, body odour, antiseptic and wrinkled skin.

A meaty attendant with arms like hams and a tight blue bathing cap came over and handed Triumff a clean towel.

“Changing over there,” he said, pointing to the doorways in the shadows of the western colonnade, marked variously “Miladies” and “Migents”, as well as three marked “Sauna”, “Jacuzzi & Cold Plunge” and “’Assail”. The attendant turned his moon-face back to Triumff. “No carousing, no splashing, no bombing and no pissing in ye pool. We close at six.”

“Thank you so much, I know the rules,” Triumff said, glaring. The attendant shook his rubber-capped head at Triumff and wandered away. The cap was so tight, he looked like a bald man with a frost-bitten scalp.

The Migents changing area was vacant, except for hooks full of unlaced doublets, capes, canions and wrinkled hose. Triumff stripped off swiftly, and then, with his towel knotted around his waist, crossed to the frosted window in the west wall. It was high up. He had to climb up on a bench to reach it, and in doing so knocked somebody’s slashed applique pansid slops and heavily bombasted codpiece into the puddles on the floor.

Steam had swelled the window’s frame into wedged plumpness, but three smart blows with the ball of his hand finally knocked it out. Cold, evening air rushed in and stung his flushed face.

“Uptil!” he hissed into the dark of the alley beyond. “Uptil!”

“Give us a hand up, mate,” muttered Uptil from outside. Triumff obliged by heaving the large man up and in through the window. It wasn’t easy, and it took a good few moments. Triumff prickled with agitation as he strained to counterbalance Uptil’s weight, expecting an interruption at any second.

Finally, he was in. Uptil was shrouded in a hooded serge cloak. He produced Triumff’s scabbarded rapier from beneath its folds, asking, “Want this?”

“Right, where am I going to conceal that?”

Uptil winked, and said, “Exactly. That’s why I fished this out of the garbage.”

He held out the Couteau Suisse.

“Okay, that’s actually quite a good idea,” Triumff admitted. “Now, stay out of sight, keep your eyes peeled, and if you hear me whistle, move like the clappers.”

Uptil nodded.

“And,” he added, “if anyone does see you, remember the Ploy.”

Uptil nodded again.

“The Ploy. Right,” he said, making his “lamps on, nobody home” face.

Triumff wandered out into the Bath Hall. No one seemed to spare him a second glance. Already, many of the bathers, sensing the approaching end of the day, were climbing from the pools and heading for the shower stalls. Triumff dropped his towel, wrapped the Couteau Suisse in it, and left it on the edge of the pool. Then he waded down the steps into the warm waters of the main bath. There was a stone seat against the side, beneath the water level, which one could sit on to bask in the relaxing heat. Triumff sat, wiped his face with a palm-scoop of water, and leant back, surveying the place with apparent disinterest.

Minutes passed. Triumff’s hawkish vigil relaxed somewhat as the gently lapping, tepid environment lulled and soothed away his aches and cares. He breathed deeply and shook his head, fighting away the drowsy weight that seemed to have suffused his brain.

When he next opened his eyes, he was alone.

Triumff stiffened with a start. The steady drip of water resounded from somewhere, but nothing else: no voices, no sign of life. He wondered how long he had been asleep. Surely the attendants would have woken him if it had passed closing time? That implied that it was still before six o’clock. Yet where were the attendants?

Triumff tried to whistle, but his lips refused. He was up to his chest in many thousands of gallons of water, and his mouth was dry.

Then he saw the line of bubbles. They were crossing the centre of the pool and heading his way. He caught his breath.

Plip plip plip plip plip, they went.

They were ten yards away, coming straight for him. The steps out of the pool were ten yards to his right. He fancied the idea of clambering out of the pool where he was, using the seat as a leg up, but his limbs felt dull and heavy, and didn’t seem strong enough to support him.

Plip plip plip plip plip, came the line of bubbles.

He became aware of how fast he was breathing.

“This is silly,” he whispered out loud. “I can’t just sit here, waiting to be harried by a line of bubbles.”

Five yards away from him, with a last, ominous plip, the bubbles vanished.

Triumff opened his mouth and then closed it again. He considered submerging to take a look-see. By the time he had decided not to, it was academic anyway.

The swordsman exploded out of the water in front of him like a breaching whale. He was heavily muscled, and dressed in a greased breastplate and leather shorts. His face was hidden by a fierce, full-visored helmet that had been reworked to incorporate a trombone-pipe snorkel and leaded glass eye-holes. A rapier glinted in his hand, and the space between Triumff’s naked body and the razor edge of the sword was diminishing alarmingly.

“Gniumpff!” raspberried the assassin tinnily through his snorkel, “Gie! Gie, goo girty gastard!”

Triumff threw his body to the left, thrashing against the slowness of the water. The stinging blade described a glittering arc, and rebounded loudly off the lip of the pool, against which Triumff had just been leaning.

“Gile get goo!” gurgled the assassin, turning after Triumff.

“Pardon?” yelped Triumff, heading out into mid-pool in a mix of headlong flight and doggy paddle.

“Gile get goo, goo girty gastard! Gore gonna gie gorrigly!”

The assassin’s snorkel tube sucked and farted out the words. Water jetted out of the top of the air-pipe.

“What?” asked Triumff desperately.

The assassin ground to a halt some yards from the fleeing Triumff and waved his arms in frustration.

“Gook! Gook!” he snorted. “Gie…” he tapped himself on the breastplate.

Triumff looked uncertain. “You?”

The assassin nodded eagerly. “Gess! Gie gam gonna gurder…” he pointed to his rapier and then to Triumff “…goo.”


“Gess!” bubbled the assassin, clapping his hands. “Gorrigly,” he added.

* And stayed there too, which is why Madagascar didn’t appear on charts until 2046. But that really is another story.

** No one still believed that the Earth was flat, but there were still many adherents to the notion that it might be unfinished in remoter areas (presumably areas where the hills and valleys still had some scaffolding up, the rivers had yet to be plumbed-in, and cherubic workmen lounged about smoking rollies out of sight of the Foreman). There were also quite a few reluctant ex-flat-Earthers around, who couldn’t quite go the whole hog and conceive of an Earth that was spherical, and therefore favoured the recherché “conical” theory.

*** Lord Marmaduke Latimer, Privy Seal to Elizabeth XVIII, was famous for drawing up his “Compendium Of The Relative Dangerf Of Sum Profeffionef”. “Nautical Exploration” came third, between “Being An Heretic” and “Being Out Of Favoure”, and “Generale Seafaring” came seventh over all, behind “Fightinge In An Foreigne War On The Lofing Side” and “Contractinge Ye Buboef”. Top of the list, of course, was “Being An Potentate Of The Southern Americaf”.