Thursday, 11 October 2012

‘Dark Vengeance’ – C. Z. Dunn (Black Library)

Anyone following me on Twitter yesterday (what do you mean, you don’t follow me?) would have seen me itching for a book full of big swords and a dragon or two. I was at the Job Centre and it didn’t go that well (although it does serve me right for waiting in completely the wrong room)…
I couldn’t find anything that I was happy to dip into, for an afternoon, until I realised that I just needed to do a little bit of fine tuning :o) Keep the swords but add Space Marines toting big ol’ guns and blowing chunks out of each other… That’s what I was after, something light but incredibly violent.

That’s not to say that all Black Library books are like that. If you read the blog you’ll already know that I think BL books are, on the whole, very well written with an unfair ‘tie-in fiction’ stigma attached. ‘Dark Vengeance’ does fall foul of that stigma though, being written to tie in (see what I did there) with the release of Games Workshop’s ‘Dark Vengeance’ game. It’s also a hardback book that’s only a hundred and twenty pages long and costs £12. It’s a fun read, great way to wind down after the morning I had, but I’m not sure it was that much fun (especially when the ‘Storm of Magic’ novellas were being sold at a third the price, in paperback). Enough of me moaning about money though, here’s the blurb…

The Dark Angels are among the foremost Space Marines, the First Legion of old. Devastated millennia ago by a dreadful schism, the Dark Angels are constantly on the hunt for the mysterious Fallen, former brothers who have turned from the light of the immortal God-Emperor and embraced the dread powers of Chaos.

Newly ordained Company Master Balthasar of the Dark Angels leads his forces to the world of Bane's Landing, the resting place of the ancient and powerful Hellfire Stone, in pursuit of the Chaos Space Marines of the Crimson Slaughter. Kranon the Relentless, the evil lord of the Crimson Slaughter, seeks to use the stone to summon forth his daemonic masters and usher in an age of darkness. As the Dark Angels race to stop him, the scene is set for a mighty conflict between the loyal Balthasar and the traitor Kranon.

A book that is only a hundred and twenty pages long isn’t really going to be about the plot and perhaps it’s unfair to expect that (I wouldn’t have minded a little bit more though). What we have here is a book that sets its stall out early, with a very simple premise and what the stakes are, and then leaves the characters to throw awesome amounts of firepower at each other. If you’re basing a book solely on what can happen in a tabletop war game then you’re not going to get a lot else. It is certainly entertaining though with lots of pyrotechnics and action lighting up proceedings. Dunn can certainly write a combat scene with the best of them and you can almost feel the punches that these superhuman warriors through at each other.

Having said that, Dunn does make the time to (briefly) introduce us to the main players and let us know what they are all about. There are some interesting hints that I wouldn’t mind seeing expanded upon in future novels (like what can drive a Chapter of Loyalist Marines to turn traitor, evil trickery is the answer…) but time constraints mean that these hints remain just that.

Again though, the blurb talks about ‘discovering the characters behind the models’ and ‘the story behind the scenarios’. Maybe Black Library are just being very honest about what this book is but the rest of their books don’t normally feel this detached from the setting. I know you shouldn’t place too much store in a blurb but, this time round, the blurb kind of killed it for me. If I’m reading about something based on a game, I don’t want to be reminded all the time that it’s a game (and structurally, ‘Dark Vengeance’ very reminds us where it came from). I want to get into the story and I couldn’t quite do that here despite how entertaining Dunn makes it.

‘Dark Vengeance’ is a tough one to call then; thoroughly entertaining but perhaps a little too honest for its own good. I like that in a book though, at least you know what you are getting here.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

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