The Gildar Rift

I'm sorry, but Huron Blackheart is just too damn ugly to make fun of.

I'm sorry, but Huron Blackheart is just too damn ugly to tease.

Author’s Edit-Note: Yesterday, I heard out some statements and thoughts on the review. As I considered it, I started to mentally compare this review to others I have written. I didn’t feel what I wrote was particularly fair, so I’ve submitted here an edited version.

Opinions can be swayed or changed, and not always for ill. If opinions and feelings didn’t change, then your first love would be your only love, people would be content with the same meal everyday and Kim Kardashian might still be married… for better or worse.

And opinions can be wrong, especially when founded on false facts or the impact  of a few bad apples in the barrel. And that doesn’t really do a book and its author justice. If anyone thinks this makes my opinion too biased, then so be it. It’s not the end of my world.

So here is the updated version. Edits are mentioned before hand, while the rest is left as the original.

I feel the need to give something of a disclaimer before I post this review.

You see, I pal around with the author, one Sarah Cawkwell, on the Shoutbox. That being said, I cannot claim that this review isn’t without additional bias (as I already am a Warhammer 40k fan). I admit that I found both strengths and weaknesses in the story, which I will list with both deserving praise and constructive criticism respectively.

I leave it to the reader to decide if my word is trustworthy given the facts I have presented. But I feel that The Gildar Rift is a solid, interesting read.

From the get go, there’s a lot that separates this book from other Space Marine Battle novels. For starters, I enjoy the fact that the enemy is Chaos instead of Space Orkz. I grew somewhat tired of the constant Orkz’R’Us that some other SMBs offered (Helsreach and Rynn’s World). It’s refreshing when the enemy is after your soul more so than your body.

When the threat of corruption is as equal as the threat of destruction, one must keep one’s eyes both on the enemy and on one’s allies.

I feel it best to discuss Cawkwell’s strengths. Her writing of space-naval battles is impressive. Very impressive. I’ve read some of the works of Michael Stackpole and veteran Black Library authors, and her talent for writing naval warfare is exceptional even in comparison. Her writing of ground battles is also solid but not quite the same caliber as in space.

Plot wise, The Gildar Rift offers far more than most Space Marine battle books, with a mix of interesting villains that contrast themselves against the long term plans of the Silver Skulls. The Skulls were hard at work on a new technical project designed to mesh man and machine. You may wonder how this is different than other Mechanicus products, but trust me when I say that it is different. That it is unlike anything we’ve seen in the grim future as of yet. It is enough to keep one curious and keeps the book from being branded as “bolter porn.”

One thing of interest was the traditions of the Silver Skulls. Firm believers in the will of the Emperor, they relied on Chaplain-Librarians to divine the future and accept or deny battle plans accordingly. While interesting in theory, I feel for the impatience of the main character, Daerys Arrun. To wait for the aye or nay of a tarot reading would drive me absolutely bonkers.

But the Silver Skulls “read the signs” approach truly fits Sarah Cawkwell’s combative writing style. You can tell from the first battle that she is a writer who fight-writes with her head first by discussing strategy and tactics. She lays out what has to be done and how it will be done, and takes the time to think it out before putting her thoughts and words into action.

Edits: Originally, I had stamped Cawkwell’s dialogue as somewhat weak at points. As I reevaluated the book, I narrowed my grievances down to only a few parts. The dialogue throughout the book was fine to good. My original post seemed to suggest that there was more wrong with Cawkwell’s work than there was, which was my fault.

So I have removed the section explaining body language and non-verbal communication. It can be reincarnated later in a more fitting post, and not insinuating more weakness in Cawkwell’s work than is actually there.

My grievances are reduced to a few scenes or statements which bugged me. At the start of chapter four (page 77), Arrun feels it necessary to apologize to Prognosticator Brand. Now in its defense, situations where a Space Marine feels it necessary to apologize to another are as rare as thumbs on a dog. But it’s painfully awkward to watch Arrun try to console his guilty conscience. Could I have written this part better myself? Very unlikely. But it begs the question of what is the proper way a warrior should seek forgiveness from another, which is something I’ll be thinking about.

On page 141, Huron Blackheart goes into some monologue of everything he intends to do with Arrun. The whole rambling set of threats could have used a touch of reason, even if it was irrationality. Was it Blackheart’s insanity? Was it psychological warfare? Was it madness or was there a method to it? Or both? The monologue raises an interesting question as to how much the author should explain. Would it have been better to clarify the purpose of Blackheart’s ranting or leave it to the reader to figure out?

Finally on page 320, the taciturn Daviks felt it necessary to give a very long winded explanation of the kinks in his strategy. Getting detailed would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that Arrun was in the middle of a battle. Arrun shot this down, but wondered why it didn’t dawn on Daviks that it wasn’t the time.

But these weaknesses are miniscule compared to the whole. The Gildar Rift is a strong read, difficult to put down as the old question, “What happens next?!” kept me glued. I’ll be looking forward to Cawkwell’s next novel.

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