Previously I have read the not yet completed Horus Heresy series, as well as Dan Abnett's Ravenor Omnibus and the Eisenhorn Omnibus. I also began reading an older 40k novel, the name of which I can't even remember, which was horrendously bad and inspired nothing but despondent laughter, after which I decided to stick with more recent contributions to the literary 40k universe. After having read a few other books by James Swallow (those wihtin the Horus Heresy series) I eagerly started to read Faith & Fire, in which my beloved Sisters of Battle hold the center stage.
Unfortunately, after finishing reading it, I must say that I am disappointed. My main critique is simple; I was never swept away by the story, and not for a second did I feel the characters come alive! To my surprise, Swallow never managed to step out of the 40k game, and I kept getting the feeling he wasn't actually describing characters in a story, but elaborate miniatures in a fake battle scenario.
At their head was a tall rail of a man, draped in fine silks and priestly regalia. Red and white purity seals hung off him like the medals of a soldier, and the rage on his face matched the crimson of his robes. In one hand he clasped a heavy tome bound in rosaries, in the other there was the clattering blade of a gunmetal chainsword, the adamantine teeth spinning and ready.
(Faith & Fire page 45)
Now what is this? A righteous preacher charging across the battlefield, ready to strike down the unbeliever? No, this is how high priest LaHayn is first presented, as he storms into a chapel for a heated discussion with the Sororitas. Why on earth the high priest would run around carrying and a spinning chainsword while not on the battle field is above my comprehension. And the large tome he is carrying in his other hand? Oh, that has no purpose other than looking cool I guess, since it is not used for anything or ever mentioned again. Similarly, though not as bad, is the description of Canoness Galatea as she goes to battle, constantly showing off a large book with one hand in order to inspire her sisters. Very practical. Yeah. Right.
Another irritating thing is Swallow's tendency to play 'lets try not name as many SoB terms as possible'... No, casually namedropping every possible SoB troop type, vehicle and title does NOT automatically make a believable SoB story, it just makes the author seem slightly desperate. The same applies to the oh so discreet mentioning of certain objects, like the Cloak of St Aspira. Remember Chekov's gun? If you've placed a gun on stage at some point it will have to be fired! The entire discussion about the Cloak on page 186 was just tiring and almost amateurish, I'm sad to say.
Should I even mention the slight tendency to sexualise the SoB simply because they are women? "Women like these" apparently do not inspire fear, respect and awe amongst the imperial citizens, but rather "thoughts that ran the spectrum from lustful fantasy to violent distrust". Some even consider them "as much concubines" as soldiers, able to "bring pleasure and damnation to the unwary in equal measure". Shortly thereafter the Sisters Hospitallers are presented, and the idea presented to the reader is not one of piety and healing, but rather something connected to the stereotype naughty-nurse imagery as the nearby man "amused himself thinking of how he might like them to comfort him in bed one night". Now even though Swallow doesn't actually let the sisters themselves speak of such tings, the fact that he feels compelled to revel in sexual imagery is irritating to say the least.
Before I end this all too long and depressing review, let me assure you that there also are other problems which are common not only in bad 40k literature, but in bad literature in general. The characters are incredibly flat and show no personal development whatsoever. They speak in artificial and overly embellished lines and embrace the classical mistakes such as "oh, lets make the villain explain all the details of his plan to his prisoners" and unnatural one-liners meant to make the main character sound like a truly hard-boiled heroine.
I could say so much more about this novel, so many quotes that should really be adressed. But, I am running late and have to go and therefore you won't have to endure any more of this depressing rambling. If you have read Faith & Fire and have a different opinion I'd be happy to read any comments! And of course if you agree with me, I'd be very glad to read that as well!