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Lord of the Night reviews the smashing debut novel of Black Library’s newest author-(ess) Sarah Cawkwell, aka Pyroriffic of the Bolthole, The Gildar Rift, the seventh novel of the Space Marines Battles series.
“A stunning first-novel debut for the Black Library’s latest author Sarah Cawkwell, she has more than earned a place in the Book of Honour.”~The Founding Fields
Before this I had never really read the works of Sarah Cawkwell, from when she was just a fan writing fiction on the Bolthole like so many, or since she became a full-fledged writer and started living the dream, the only story of hers I had ever read was Primary Instinct. But it was impressive and got me looking forward to The Gildar Rift, of course having Huron Blackheart on the cover helped that along quite nicely.
The Silver Skulls are a unique Chapter on the edge of Imperial space, guided into the future by their Prognosticators who interpret the Emperor’s divine will and lead their battle-brothers towards their destinies. But not all believe in their visions, and especially not those who bristle at being ordered and directed by psykers. The divisions that face the Chapter will test them like never before, and as Huron Blackheart and the Red Corsairs bring war to the Gildar System, the Silver Skulls must trust in their psychic brothers to lead them to victory, and to protect the secret hiding at the heart of the Dread Argent.
Sarah has created quite the cast of characters for this novel. Leading the story we have Captain Daerys Arrun, Master of the Fleet and arguably the protagonist of the story. His hot-headed nature often brings him into conflict with the wise Prognosticator Brand, and his story is one that shows why rage must always be tempered with reason, and that there is a difference between a warrior’s instincts and recklessness.
And on the Red Corsairs side we have Huron Blackheart, the Tyrant of Badab and Lord of the Maelstrom. Blackheart is an interesting character that has been featured in other stories, but we get the biggest viewing of him here. Blackheart is a twisted character whose unpredictability and devious cunning make him an opponent to be remembered. Sarah has really shown the Tyrant’s cruelty mixed with genius as Blackheart rampages his way across the Gildar Rift, reminding us why he is so much cooler than Abaddon.
Other characters include the half-insane Corpsemaster Garreon, whom I was delighted to see again having really liked this character in ADB’s Blood Reaver; Apothecary Ryarus of the Silver Skulls whose story has yet to end; Techmarine Correlan, an insubordinate yet reliable warrior (who reminded me of Damon Baird from Gears of War and I actually picture them similarly); and Sergeant Porteus whose future I eagerly await seeing.
On a personal note I enjoyed the scenes with Corpsemaster Garreon the most of all. He is a very powerful character who tended to dominate the scenes he was featured in, with his clinical madness and oddly understandable motives. I also enjoyed that he was not the typical fawning servant and actually challenged Blackheart on several occasions, it may have earned him a back-handed punch but I doubt Huron would ever actually kill him for saying what needs to be said.
The action in the novel is written quite well, though nothing really jumped out as extraordinary. A scene with Space Marine bikers battling was very cool to picture, and the space battles were a cut above most, but the ground battles felt normal. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, or that they are not enjoyable. Rather they do not stand out from the other examples of Space Marines clashing with cultists and Traitor Space Marines. However the sheer power of Huron Blackheart is a very nice gem in the book, the Tyrant hacking through the Silver Skulls with what appears to be little effort is a joy to read.
The pacing of the novel is well developed. From start to finish the reader gets a sense of the atmosphere of the Chapter and its battle, how fiercely stubborn they are to protect what they have; the machinations of Blackheart and his renegades cutting through the narrative to show their genius and the follies of the Imperium; and the speed of the story that proceeds nicely, keeping the reader interested but also making sure they do not become trapped in the story and unable to proceed.
The ending is quite a good one that puts me in the court of those wanting a sequel. Many stories end here and some begin, some have yet to end and there are three characters in particular whom I very much want to see more of. The Silver Skulls are like many chapters, their future is unsure to them, even with the talents of the Prognosticators, but they have hope and only time will tell whether or not they will prevail, or whether Huron Blackheart’s mad designs will destroy them.
I give The Gildar Rift a score of 8.1, a good score for an author’s first novel and I do hope we will see more of Sarah in the future, how could we not though?
Should you buy this book? Well if you’re a bolthole member you’ll have to or Sarah might kill you for using the board she made without buying her books, it wouldn’t surprise me if in the terms and conditions of the Bolthole there is a clause that says “You must swear to buy all the novels of Sarah Cawkwell, or you’ll be fed to the Maelstrom.” But in seriousness I would recommend Yes. This is a good solid novel that while not outstanding is definitely worth the read and you will enjoy, particularly if you’re a fan of Huron Blackheart who utterly destroys Abaddon with his awesomeness.
That’s it for this review. I just want to add a personal note to the author; it was a delight to read this novel and I look forward to reading your next work Sarah, I’m sure Valkia the Bloody will be great. Congratulations on your first full novel and if I have only one request to ask you it’s this. Bring back Garreon the Corpsemaster, he’s freaking brilliant! Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!