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The Paul Kearney Thread: Monarchies of God,Sea Beggars,The Macht etc.

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27 minutes ago, SeanF said:

I'll have to start reading Paul Kearney.  Which books would you recommend to start with?

Wolf in the Attic is a stand-alone, and not overly long, so I would recommend that on the basis that it gives a nice flavour of the author without much time invested. Also I really like the book but that’s not why I would recommend starting there (much to my Shame I haven’t read anything else by him yet)

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11 minutes ago, HelenaExMachina said:

Wolf in the Attic is a stand-alone, and not overly long, so I would recommend that on the basis that it gives a nice flavour of the author without much time invested. Also I really like the book but that’s not why I would recommend starting there (much to my Shame I haven’t read anything else by him yet)

Thanks.

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Wolf in the Attic is somewhat atypical Kearney. The only other book he's written in that kind of modern-fable vein is A Different Kingdom. Both are outstanding, though.

The Monarchies of God is his ASoIaF-style epic fantasy, although 1) written first, 2) completed 16 years ago and 3) much shorter. It also has guns and werewolves, but if dark epic fantasy is your thing, that's the series to go for.

The Macht Trilogy is his most David Gemmell/Steven Pressfield-esque historical fantasy. It's basically what would have happened if the Ten Thousand had been near-contemporaries of Alexander the Great.

Sea-Beggars is an Abercrombie-esque (but again, earlier) story of morally ambiguous protagonists getting up to crazy shit, this time at sea.

The Way to Babylon and Riding the Unicorn are solid epic fantasy stand-alone novels but seen from the outside (i.e. someone from our world arrives in the epic fantasy one and gets involved in stuff, in two completely different ways).

His WH40K novels are very solid pulp action books.

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On 06/04/2018 at 7:32 PM, Werthead said:

Wolf in the Attic is somewhat atypical Kearney. The only other book he's written in that kind of modern-fable vein is A Different Kingdom. Both are outstanding, though.

The Monarchies of God is his ASoIaF-style epic fantasy, although 1) written first, 2) completed 16 years ago and 3) much shorter. It also has guns and werewolves, but if dark epic fantasy is your thing, that's the series to go for.

The Macht Trilogy is his most David Gemmell/Steven Pressfield-esque historical fantasy. It's basically what would have happened if the Ten Thousand had been near-contemporaries of Alexander the Great.

Sea-Beggars is an Abercrombie-esque (but again, earlier) story of morally ambiguous protagonists getting up to crazy shit, this time at sea.

The Way to Babylon and Riding the Unicorn are solid epic fantasy stand-alone novels but seen from the outside (i.e. someone from our world arrives in the epic fantasy one and gets involved in stuff, in two completely different ways).

His WH40K novels are very solid pulp action books.

Thanks.  I've started reading The Ten Thousand, and greatly enjoying it.

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16 hours ago, Werthead said:

The sequel to The Wolf in the Attic is now called The Burning Horse and will be available in autumn 2019.

I've finished The Macht Trilogy.  Many thanks for the recommendation

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The guy is prolific even if he hasnt hit mainstream success yet. Although it sounds like the attic has done well

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Unfortunately there was a bit of a mix-up of The Windscale Incident. Paul agreed to write a series of novellas for an upcoming video game and they publicised it as a novel. They're straightening that out. The game seems to have been delayed as well, so the timescale for anything appearing related to that project is currently up in the air.

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Calgar's Siege by Paul Kearney

Marneus Augustus Calgar is the Chapter Master of the Ultramarines, one of the most respected, feared and legendary warriors in the Imperium of Man. Fifty years after the defeat of Hive Fleet Behemoth, the domain of Ultramar is still beset by enemies but is held secure by the Imperium's forces, secure enough for Calgar to embark on a goodwill tour of the remote, outlying colony of Zalidar. But Calgar's arrival coincides with that of a full-scale ork invasion force. Calgar's transport is shot down and he and a bare handful of Space Marines have to make a hazardous journey to where the capital, Zalathras, withstands siege.

Paul Kearney is one of the single finest writers working in the SFF field today, adept at telling modern fables with a light touch (such as A Different Kingdom and The Wolf in the Attic) and epic stories of war and redemption (such as The Macht Trilogy and The Monarchies of God). Alas, he is also one of the perennially underread, despite the near-blanket critical acclaim that has accompanied his career to date.

Calgar's Siege is Kearney's second Warhammer 40,000 novel, although the first published. The first, Umbra Sumus, was put on hold due to a copyright dispute between Games Workshop and Sherrilyn Kenyon over the use of the name "Dark Hunters" for a Space Marine Chapter and still hasn't appeared.

Calgar's Siege, fortunately, has made to print and has been worth the wait (also, no foreknowledge of the WH40K setting is required). The marriage of Kearney's formidable skills at storytelling, characterisation and battle scenes (Kearney is, hands down, modern SFF's best writer at combat scenes) with the over-the-top, technicolour, occasionally crazed Warhammer 40,000 setting is one made in heaven. Kearney brings the setting to vivid life as we follow the defence of the hive city of Zalathras against an onslaught of orks.

The action switches between several groups of characters, including the beleaguered planetary administrator struggling to stay on top of the conflict from his tower to the rogue trader Morcault and his crew on the starship Mayfly, who first get wind of the impending invasion and then fly air support and transport during the siege. But the focus is firmly on Marneus Calgar, one of the most legendary characters in the modern 40K canon, as he leads a small number of Space Marines into battle. One of the fun things about the book is seeing Calgar, who can usually summon armies in the hundreds of thousands and vast space armadas in the blink of an eye, deal with just being a common grunt on the ground during a particularly gruelling war in jungle terrain.

Kearney is at home here, mixing up battle scenes with quieter character moments and orchestrating the entire battle with a fine conductor's hand. He is able to craft distinct characters from each Space Marine and many of the ordinary humans defending the planet and give each one a reasonable arc.

There are some minor issues. Kearney's skills at characterisation tend towards moral ambiguity and doubt: heroes who are often heroes because of their flaws and how they overcome them. There isn't much moral ambiguity in Space Marines, who are righteous, determined and genetically engineered towards supreme confidence, although Kearney does nevertheless succeed in making them distinct characters. The ordinary human characters are more conflicted and more interesting as a result. This is more a feature (or bug) of the setting than Kearney's writing and he manages to overcome it well.

More traditional a problem for Kearney, a writer who has never outstayed his welcome, is that the story sometimes feels a bit too streamlined, and more scenes of how the conflict is affecting ordinary citizens may have been welcome to establish the background setting more firmly.

Ultimately, Calgar's Siege (****) is Paul Kearney doing what he does best, crafting intricate stories of compelling characters surviving in the midst of war, chaos and adversity. It's not his best book, nor the best WH40K novel, but it is a strong SFF war novel. It is the first in a trilogy, followed by Calgar's Fury (2017) and the forthcoming Calgar's Reckoning.

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It sucks that Kearney is being hurt by it but I admit a bit of glee in seeing GW on the other end of a silly copyright battle.

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Calgar's Fury by Paul Kearney

A massive space hulk, an accumulation of thousands of vessels long lost to the warp, has emerged in the Realm of Ultramar, close to the agricultural world of Iax. The Ultramarines land on the hulk in force, planning a thorough reconnaissance before destroying it. They find signs of the taint of heresy, but also incredibly technological resources which could reinforce their battle against the enemies of mankind. Reluctantly, Chapter Master Marneus Calgar allies with both the Inquisition and the Adeptus Mechanicus to explore the hulk and seize its secrets in the name of the Emperor.

Calgar's Fury is the second book in a trilogy which explores the history and backstory of Marneus Calgar, Chapter Master of the Ultramarines and one of the most famous warriors in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. The first book, Calgar's Siege, depicted how Calgar stood fast against the orks at the gates of Zalathras in a massive siege involving tens of thousands of troops.

The scale of Calgar's Fury is smaller, with a hundred or so Space Marines and allies dropped onto the space hulk Fury to delve into its secrets. This makes for an immediately much more claustrophobic and tense story. Exploring a space hulk has been a cornerstone of the Warhammer 40K setting ever since the release of the Space Hulk board game in 1989, followed by the Space Crusade game of a year later. Drawing influences from the likes of Aliens and Starship Troopers, the trope pits well-trained and well-armoured troops against overwhelming odds in tight corridors on an ancient spacecraft that could collapse at any time.

Kearney enjoys himself to the full here, painting the various characters in great depth and taking advantage of the competing interests (the Ultramarines, Inquisitions and Adeptus Mechanicus each have their own agenda) to create drama among the human characters. There's also a refreshing approach to the cliches of 40K here. Most space hulk stories pit humans against genestealers (an offshoot of the tyranids) or Chaos, but Calgar's Fury blurs the lines between the factions and makes for a more morally murky and uncertain story, an area where he thrives.

There is indeed a lot of action and fighting in the book, but it takes a surprising amount of time to arrive. The opening section of the book is a masterclass in slowly building, mounting dread as the Imperial characters investigate the mystery of the hulk and only gradually become aware of what it is they are dealing with. There are also several splendid plot twists and reversals that keep the reader guessing at what is going to happen next. The pacing is excellent, with Kearney letting the story last as long as it needs to and then clearing out without much fuss.

Calgar's Fury (****½) is a spendidly superior slice of science fantasy, tense and atmospheric building anticipation where the action, when it arrives, does not disappoint.

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