Atlas Infernal by Rob Sanders – Review [EJ Davies]

Atlas-Infernal[2]

Rob Sanders introduces a new character to the more contemporary Black Library releases – Bronislaw Czevak – and tackles a fairly weighty topic – the thievery of the fated Atlas Infernal, a map of the Eldar webway from the Black Library of Chaos. EJ Davies casts his eye over the tome. Rob Sanders book, not THE Atlas Infernal.

“From a slow start to a scintillating, original and captivating read.” ~ The Founding Fields.

From the Black Library:

“Inquisitor Bronislaw Czevak is a hunted man. Escaping from the Black Library of the eldar, Czevak steals the Atlas Infernal – a living map of the Webway. With this fabled artefact and his supreme intellect, Czevak foils the predations of the Harlequins sent to apprehend him and thwarts his enemies within the Inquisition who want to kill him. Czevak’s deadliest foe, however, is Ahriman – arch-sorcerer of the Thousand Sons. He desires the knowledge within the Black Library, knowledge that can exalt him to godhood, and is willing to destroy the inquisitor to obtain it. A desperate chase that will bend the fabric of reality ensues, where Czevak’s only hope of survival is to outwit the chosen of Tzeentch, Lord of Chaos and Architect of Fate. Failure is unconscionable, the very cost to the Imperium unimaginable.”

Rob Sanders has had a rise akin to the meteoric within the Black Library. Although having published in Inferno! magazine, he first came to my attention with short story The Long Games at Carcharias (available as part of the Victories of the Space Marines anthology), then punched me in the face with the wonderfully refreshing The Iron Within (available in the Age of Darkness anthology.) Redemption Corps I remember being published prior to my first Black Library Live! visit in 2010, though I haven’t yet got to reading it, but my highly favourable reviews for The Serpent Beneath (in The Primarchs) and Legion of the Damned make it a certainty. Moreover, having gone from writing Guard, to Inquisition, to Space Marines, to pre-heresy in just a few short novels is worthy of note – hence my use of the ‘meteoric’ moniker.

The story is, as you would expect from the author of Alpha Legion, complex and filled with more twists than a bowl of spaghetti. Czevak, an ancient Inquisitor, in the midst of a conclave where he antagonises practically every other Ordos is turned on by a Deathwatch squad seeking to prevent him from learning the secrets necessary to transfer the God-Emperor’s essence into another vessel. During the attack Harlequins intervene and pull Czevak into the webway, and imprison him in the Black Library. Years later his former acolyte, Klute – now an inquisitor himself – has been hunting his former mentor across the Eye of Terror, accompanied by his retinue: a drug addicted warp seer, Epiphani; a bound daemon, Hessian; a Relictors Techmarine, Torqhuil – themselves famous for using daemon-technology against the daemons; and the indentured rogue trader Captain, Torres. They discover and secure an Eldar warp gate through which emerges, you guess it, Bronislaw Czevak brandishing the famous Atlas Infernal.

The book itself is not set up as a stereotypical book. Each chapter is another ‘scene’ in an overarching ‘act’ and at the opening of each is the word Enter, followed by a cast of characters. In this respect there are similarities with plays, or epic poems, but what I think Rob has tried to do is to tie this feature in to the Harlequins lore, the fact that as servants of the Laughing God they – through the medium of performance – recount tales of the past, present, and events yet to come. Between each act is a flashback to Czevak’s past which further develop the story as a whole, and our understanding of Czevak, and the unfolding story. Also, as you read the book, although the acts are chronological, some of the flashbacks feel less so – as if we are travelling through warpspace and experiencing time as we would there – in pockets of random happenstances.

Rob’s technique and style is clearly evident. Dialogue is not high on the priority list, but when it does appear it is colourful, playful, and complimentary to its characters. Particularly Czevak has a delightfully honest and open manner, often disarmingly so; and often displays humour you wouldn’t think credible coming from an Ordo Xenos High Inquisitor – but it works. There is a long (and I mean long) prologue that seeks to set the piece, and it’s only really in the context of its structure does that work. If this were a traditional novel, for example, I’m not sure a lengthy prologue would be welcomed.

The characters are delightful. The doped up warp seer is a treat, as much as a clothes horse as anything else, and for the fact she has a floating cyber-skull for a familiar (it’s that of her father, which is called Father) which reminds me of Janeane Garofalo’s Baby Bowler in Mystery Men. Hessian, the daemonhost, spends much of his time asleep, or as a bipedal torch, which tickled me no end. Klute, resolute and sturdy, though operating far outside the realms of his remit and, much like Torqhuil, makes him a target of less than tolerant beings throughout the Imperium.

The whole book is framed against that of constant peril, and relentless confrontation – right from the off. The Inquisition, the Eldar, the attentions of the Thousand Sons; and the distrust and animosity within the group. It’s a part Indiana Jones style adventure, mixed with a film noir murder mystery, with some monster movie tropes thrown in and it makes for a thoroughly entertaining read, which I’ve really enjoyed, albeit with a single reservation – that of it being a little tough to get in to. Rob is a very descriptive author with colours, smells, weather, personality, history, charm, charmlessness, and scale in every location and every encounter; and sometimes that can get a little wordy. That said, I’d rather have too much, than too little.

Some things of note, then: First, there is a scene in a bazaar where Czevak and his crew go to find an acquaintance and track down some necessary materials: brilliantly written to the point you feel you’re in Marrakech. Second, in another chapter they go to a planet in search of a coin – the whole culture of the gypsies – wonderful idea, and nicely executed. Thirdly, the interstitial scenes are brutally visceral and it’s a real talent to use these to further colour characters already in play. Finally, the final confrontation is one that I didn’t see coming; and the layers of complexity to enable us to get to this stage really pay off.

Atlas Infernal is an excellent read, with some great features. I’m very glad I got around to this, and it’s sheer entertainment value is worth the price of purchase. Atlas Infernal is available as an eBook download from Black Library, or in print from retailers.

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EJ Davies

EJ Davies: reader, reviewer, writer; and an avid lover of Black LIbrary products since the release of the seminal Horus Rising. EJ is currently working through the massive back catalogue of Black Library titles, and plugging away at his own fiction-based efforts in the vain hope of cracking his way into the author pool.

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