Thursday, 19 May 2022

Take it on Faith - The Warhammer Works of Josh Reynolds


"Yea O Son of the West, ye shall have thy will and shall write for Black Library, and ye shall be prolific indeed, ye shall be the destroyer of one world and the cornerstone of the new.

Rare shall thy skillset be, a truly capacious knowledge for Lore combined with a neat eye for the way belief systems interact with character and an unusually detailed yet lively synthesis of the working structure of an extensive paracosm.

Yet thy works shall be cursed all of thy days O Reynolds!

For the editors shall love thee not!

And thy sales will be mid at best!

And more! For it shall be that for at least one book in every three ye shall seek to begin a series, a steady earner alike unto Gaunts Ghosts or Caphias Cain - yet cucked shall thee be every damn time and not one series will thou have for more than a book or two! (until cometh the Final Days).

And the fates shall hide thy ongoing plot strands in the short fictions and random bits and pieces of the Black Library, a maze of threads lost on books and fragments many of which never even get a softback release! 

Where are the readers of thy PDF's O Reynolds? Who is He who shall untangle the web of which bits of early AoS Lore were written by thee?

And worst of all, for of every book ye write - yea all, unto the last, shall be an investigation of the nature of faith and identity in a cosmos in which the gods are both real and flawed!!!"


Welcome to the Warhammer World of Josh Reynolds, often cheesy, somewhat inconsistent and something of a Trope Enjoyer, but who nevertheless has (had) one of the strongest and most particular personal and philosophical paradigms of any Black Library writer, which only glisten more fiercely through the gloaming of his works as more is read.

Reynolds has written a LOT of stuff for Black Library and a LOT of it is  out of print, was never in a lot of print to begin with or is strung out in random short stories and audio dramas, this is by no means a complete picture, and many of the following I read long ago and have forgotten a lot of salient details.

We shall go in *rough* publication order, with some diversions and arrangements based on theme and content, (though really there are only ever a handful of themes.


2012 Knight of the Blazing Sun

I think this is Reynolds first book for BL, back when the Old World still Existed and its remarkable in how it exemplifies a LOT of Reynolds traits, even from the start. Faith, identity, the meaning of choice or free will when expressed in and through the schemes and counters of capricious gods, and being cucked out of a series every damn time.

The Knights of the Blazing Sun, a sort of Reasonable Templars group who worship Myrmidia, an own-brand Athena, which makes them unusual in the grimdark grimdank grim germanic northern world of the Warhammer Old World where people worship things like bears, hammers and ice. They are into reading and learning! Progress! THINK Boy THINK! Thinking good. 

But they are still a cult and while they are into reason that is because they are into a Goddess who is into Reason, which sets up some interesting conflicts.

Our hero is Hector Goetz, an up and coming Knight who everyone agrees is pretty great as he consistently wins fights and beats up Orcs .

Hector does indeed win fights, and he feels pretty weird about that. He is a replacement knight, his brother was meant to enter the order but fucked off somewhere, so Hector had his life path disturbed and was dumped into Knighthood by surprise. He wanted to build bridges not fight people. He doesn't really 'feel' like a knight and, though he appreciates the relative reasonableness of the cult of Myrmidia, is fully aware that he doesn’t really deeply believe in his Goddess.

Plus he has caught Warpdreams from a nightmarish encounter with a hideous chaos thing on his first mission. He won but chaos being chaos, it stuck to him and has given him magical PTSD. Plus on his latest glorious venture, slaying an Orc warlord, he got pincushioned by goblin arrows with mushroom poison tips, which has meant he has spent the last several weeks screaming, hallucinating, freaking the fuck out and being held down, which has given him even more PTSD.

To everyone else, he is Hector Goetz, the guy who became a knight real fast, then killed that fucked up chaos thing on his first trip out, then took on that Orc Warlord and killed it in a duel, probably saving the battle right there. Very knightly guy, very reasonable guy, honestly 10 out of 10 Knight of the Blazing Sun.

To *himself* he is just.. really fucked up. Psychologically wrecked from the chaos dreams and DMT arrow bad trip, not sure why he is here, never wanted to be a Knight, is just doing this out of obligation, is really going through the motions with the whole Myrmidia thing and is somewhat lost but can't tell anyone this because he is Hector Goetz, the fucking badass.

Good news Hector, we have a strange mission that killed the last guy we sent on it. He got killed, probably assassinated, in Marienburg. We don't know by who or why, situation is pretty vague really, as are your orders. A bunch of our Knights are meant to be guarding this island between Marianburg and the Chaos bit to the north. They haven't written back for three years. Off you go! Don't die.

Spoilers; this island is the solidified emissions(?) of a primal Tzeentchien demon, one so annoying Tzeetch himself hurled her down into the world ages ago for pissing him off. She is sleeping beneath the 'island'. Its population are her creatures. The Knights of the Blazing Sun sent there have, without realising, fallen to Chaos. Being presented with a 'real' bird themed Prophetess with real powers, they have been persuaded she is Myrmidia and have been slowly converted to a version of that cult which is more Fascist Italy than chill knowledge goddess.

So a guy with no faith in the goddess, who is having a slow mental breakdown, is going to investigate a bunch of guys with LOTS of faith in the goddess, but its the wrong one.

But don't worry! Hector will have assistance on his mission from a powerful magic-user; a chaos-enjoying Norsican Shaman who, while he _recognises_ his Chaos Gods, doesn't really _like_ them, and is pissed off with this particular demon because of her evil deeds.

The Norsicans thinks their own attitude to chaos is completely reasonable, in that they sometimes worship and always acknowledge the chaos gods, which still being aware they are insane capricious crackhead maniacs who they don't actually like that much. This demon wrecked their shit so they strengthened the wards keeping it down and mean to keep it that way.

The side trying to keep the chaos demon imprisoned are Norsican occasional chaos-enjoyers while those trying to release it are very loyal servants of Myrmidia. Except for Hector, who doesn't really believe in Myrmidia much, but may be getting messages from the real actual goddess.

The stage is set for a bunch of very strange encounters between people of varying levels of faith, belief, need and delusion, in which those on the same side (Chaos, Myrmidia) are not actually on the same side but have to act like they are while also questioning if they should be.


TRANSHUMANISM - bits and pieces as various individuals are mutated and altered, the chaos poison Hector absorbed is messing him up but also bringing him closer to the divine?

CROSSING DOORS - Loads. Ah while you were being a Knight / my tribe was worshipping chaos / I was being a different kind of knight / I was nearly a knight like you but became a priest / I *wanted* to be a Knight like you but they *made* me become a priest etc etc.

SEARCH FOR MEANING - a fair amount, especially from Hector.

THE GODS ARE REAL BUT THEY ARE DICKS - Very much so. Real-Myrmidia may not be that bad.

NO MY FRIEND, *YOU* WERE MY TRUE PREY - Perfect example. The demon only allows Goetz so close because she wants him to kill her old less sexy champion and become the new sexy champion.

ACCIDENTALY COOL AS SHIT CHARACTER -  Kislev guy who was a Knight of Ulric but fucked off from that, became a Knight of the Blazing Sun, gets sucked into inadvertent Chaos Worship but redeems himself at the las minute purely through being a fucking moustache chad. 

Also a Norsican pirate chief who is clearly meant to be a bad guy but Reynolds likes him so much he nearly becomes a de-facto protagonist.

Also a hot barbarian girl.

FAITH!! - All over the place.

GETTING CUCKED - Hector does not get to bang his hot barbarian GF And for the perfect emblematic Reynolds ending, the final scene has Goetz finally being put in tune with 'real' Myrmidia! Will this be the start of the adventures of Hector Goetz, conflicted Knight of the Blazing Sun?

No obviously not. 

Get ready for the death of the old world you nerds. We need it done fast and on a budget!

No-one else would handle this for the money and schedule offered but our boy Reynolds leapt in in a book that isn't that great but that has a lot of *things* - The Return of Nagash.


It does start the beginning of a wonderful three-way romance between Nagash, Josh Reynolds and Mannfred Von Carnstein, a relationship that will cross multiple realities over four very-consequential years.


2014 The Return of Nagash

Begins the doom of the Old World!

2015 Lord of the End Times

Finishes the doom of the old world! (I have not read this one)

In the old Warhammer world things are starting to look a bit Apocalyptic and in Sylvania, Mannfred Von Carnstein has a plan to ressurect the ultimate bone boy; Nagash. This involves sacrificing a bunch of characters with old models in the range, Volkmar the Gim, Morgiana le Fay etc etc. (This series as a whole is basically; "YOUR model is going in the bin!... and YOUR model is going in the bin!.. and YOUR...")

An alliance of Elves, Dwarves, Men and, obliquely, Chaos, totally fail to come together to stop this from happening and Nagash does indeed come back to make the Apocalypse that little bit worse for everyone.

If there is a main character to this its really Mannfred von Carnstein and his brilliant, ambitious, relentless, craven, backstabbing, occasionally charming, cunning, kinda sweaty lying ass. 

And Arhkhan, Nagashs' calm mini-me. Arkhan, reasonable but tired and apocalyptic, is aware that chaos is rising and genuinely thinks the only way to stop it is for Nagash to rule everything and create his eternal empire of death - that way = no chaos

Thing about Mannfred and Arkahn, They are both actually ancient pseudo-Egyptians with a weird interlocking backstory. They both know that in some way they are part of Nagash and that their wills are not their own. They nevertheless have very different perspectives on that.

Mannfred, always, is like a half-trained dog on the leash. Would quite like to rule the world, but also actually wants the world to keep exiting as something like itself. Has no interest in an eternal empire of Nagash where everything is dead. And in the end betrays literally everyone and everything


TRANSHUMANISM - maybe a bit with Nagash's alchemical sacrifice rebirth.

CROSSING DOORS - not that much

SEARCH FOR MEANING - well its the Apocalypse


NO MY FRIEND, *YOU* WERE MY TRUE PREY - Don't think this one comes up.

WHAT IS FREE WILL ANYWAYS? - Mannfred; "I will be free! I WILL!" Arkhan; "I don't care. Please fill in this form."

ACCIDENTALY COOL AS SHIT CHARACTER -  Surprisingly competent Empire general. Depressed french vampire guy.

FAITH!! - A bit. Its Sigmar vs Nagash vs Chaos!

GETTING CUCKED - Mannfred, brutally as, after giving his all and being instrumental in getting Nagash that spicy new model in plastic, he is immediately demoted to shit-all and the job of being a sexy vampire badass mortarch given to the recently resurrected Vlad Von Carnstein

So ends the Old World..


And enter the Hallowed Knights!

Oh Lord the Hallowed Knights. the explicitly-religious stormcast (though in AoS where gods are verifiably real everyone is de-facto religious), Those who died heroically praising or calling on Sigmar to their las breath and were snatched up and remade into super-badasses to fight chaos and whatever else. And of course, to have complex conversations about the nature of faith, identity and fate.


2015 to 2016 'The Hunt for Nagash'  

(Hallowed Knights, Bullhearts Strand)

Made up of 'The Prisoner of the Black Sun', '2015 Sands of Blood', '2015 The Lords of Helstone', and 'Bridge of Seven Sorrows'. 

Sigmar is taking back the Mortal Realms from chaos and he wants make a phonecall to Nagash. If they can find a way to work together, Chaos is surely boned. Unfortunately their last remembered actions were texing each other to fuck off and deleting/blocking the caller ID. Sigmar is a moody barbarian dudebro who likes people being alive. Nagash is a resentment fuelled nerd who literally wants to make everything dead. Beyond both hating chaos their goals really do not align much.

Stil, Sigmar sends a group of Hallowed Knights, the Bullhearts, to wander about in Shyish, the realm of death, trying to get Nagash's number. 

Stormcast, being shock troop heavy infantry are not exactly subtle so just literally wander around asking "Have you seen the Nine Gates of Stygix?" until they happen to run into a vampire tied to a giant orrery;

Mannfred is back! Will things go horribly wrong for the Bullhearts? Yes.


TRANSHUMANISM - lots about the weirdness of Stormcast and their lost memories.

CROSSING DOORS - Mannfred and Tarsem, boss of the Bullhearts, were friends in a previous life, which Mannfred remembers but Tarsem does not. They have lots of discussion about what it means to be who and what they are. 

SEARCH FOR MEANING - Mannfred is trapped in his cycle of ambition and endless betrayals. Tarsem pretty much knows he is going to be betrayed but is ok with it if it get him closer to Nagash. His second, Ramus, is not ok with this at ALL.

THE GODS ARE REAL BUT THEY ARE DICKS - Nagash is a dick and tbh, Sigmar either chose the wrong tool for this job or knew Tarsem would encounter Mannfred ahead of time.

NO MY FRIEND, *YOU* WERE MY TRUE PREY - not sure. Nagash des finally take the phone call but nabs Tarsems soul to take it apart.

WHAT IS FREE WILL ANYWAYS? - Get ready for a very common Reynolds take as two beings made by separate gods to serve their will discuss how much free will they actually have and what it might mean to sacrifice yourself to the god that made you.


FAITH!! - Its the Hallowed Knights so yes.

GETTING CUCKED - Mannfred immediately caves to Nagash and saves his own skin (as always) leading to his BFF Tarsem being utterly utterly screwed. 

In publishing terms these stories are split up as audio-dramas and I think are never collected in text form.

2017 Plague Garden

(Hallowed Knights, Gardus Strand)

This brings in a different strand of the Hallowed Knights - one centred around Gardus Steel-Soul, basically superman/jesus/apollo/vishnu, a former doctor who fought plague, literally at the end when he started caving in chaos skulls to protect his patients - now reborn as a Stormcast even more pure than Heisenbergs meth.

No sooner has Gardus joined his bros in the fight to retake Ghyran than a dang old warp gate to Nurgles Realm opens up under the Hallowed Knights and their main guy is sucked into Nurgles realm. It is time for a last-ditch rescue effort as they pursue his captured and corroding soul through sweaty nerd hell. Yes its another soul hunt with a god at the end.


TRANSHUMANISM - Gardus literally turning into light, looks cool as shit to _everyone else_, but for Gardus turning into fucking divine lightbulb is not that great actually. Gardus is aware he is being hollowed out be divine power, dying really, except worse as his soul itself is burning, but even aware of this, he doesn't like it, but is willing to go along with it as its a weapon to defy chaos, which is something every version of Gardus would probably agree with.

CROSSING DOORS - Togus the Vile/Tornus the Redeemed. Torgus the Vile, a Knight of the Order of the Fly, who serve the god of Decay, beaten by the Stormcast, purged of his Nurgleness and re-made, turned from a servant of Chaos into a Servant of Sigmar. Now he fights to reclaim the lands he once conquered as a knight of nurgle, against his former bros in the order of the fly, and quietly freaks out the rest of the Hallowed Knights (except Gardus) who don't really know how to take him.

Probably the most interesting character in the book as he *remembers* having an entirely different morality, worldview and quite different personality, and he knows that he has essentially been 're-mixed' byt the Storm god. So, which part is which, and what, where and how much does or can he exercise meaningful choice?

Meanwhile the Hallowed Kngihts themselves have captured one of Nurgles Knights and under the influence of their scorching and caustic starlight, his personality starts to .. shift, not totally, but the more Knightly aspects seem to be amplified with the Nurgly elements growing quieter. But the Hallowed Knights themselves are getting quite tarnished, grimy and moody as they go deeper into Nurgles realm...

SEARCH FOR MEANING - Not a problem for Gardus.. or is it...

THE GODS ARE REAL BUT THEY ARE DICKS - Even the super-faithful super-powered Hallowed Knights are slowly cut down and start to decay and fall apart in the Garden of Nurgle. Nurgle, old and slow minded, knows they are here, but really wants to nibble those souls
and is pretty sure they will be mush by the time they get to him.

Sigmar it seems thinks differently, but the only thing that will get his agents deep into the Garden of Nurgle is Sigmars willingness to tickle Nurgles appetite by treating the souls of his own avatars as attritional fuel.

So as Gardus goes after his friend, he is aware that while for him it’s a chase to rescue but in the game of the gods it’s a ruthless bet between them; will my toy soldiers hold out before you can dissolve them? And he goes along with this, in the same way a doomed solider goes along with a likely suicidal but hopefully necessary mission, because he believes it’s for the greater good.

NO MY FRIEND, *YOU* WERE MY TRUE PREY - can't remember



FAITH!! - Its the Hallowed Knights

GETTING CUCKED - Nugle, in this case, who brings the Hallowed Knights deep into his garden, presumably thinking "ha ha ha, you will never get them out now Sigmar", only for sigmar to suicide bomb Nurgle by blowing up the Souls of his own dudes leaving an I'm-back-and-this-time-its-serious lightning scar on Nurgles shit. Was it worth it?

2017 Nagash: The Undying King

A throwback to the Age of Chaos, in the Age of Sigmar.

Its the past! (relatively) Nagash has had the living shit beaten out of him by Archaon (again) and has even more dementia than usual - meanwhile the forces of Chaos are slowly taking over Shyish - and getting closer to one of the doors to his safe room (the same one the Bullhearts are trying to get the number for in 'The Hunt for Nagash'.

The mortal Shyishians fight back with the help of Arkhan and Neferata but can't win unless they release a bunch of Undead guys who were cursed for trying to stand against Nagash.

Of course, this would all be to try to *protect* Nagash, so surely he will be reasonable, right?


TRANSHUMANISM - A pretty trippy an interesting look inside the awareness of a God. Nagash is sort of omnescient in Shyish, but his attention, and sanity is not infinite and he sort of knows the future but also doesn't?

SEARCH FOR MEANING - Main hero girl is "All we wanted to do was worship Nagash and not be eaten by chaos and now we are FUCKED."

THE GODS ARE REAL BUT THEY ARE DICKS - Nagash in probably the most emblematic, dick move ever.


WHAT IS FREE WILL ANYWAYS? - Arkhan, typically chill, genuinely believes he is a pure and selfless servent of Nagash, while carefully and subtly manipulating him through his dementia and Archaon PTSD. Neferata, who is consistently scheming against Nagash, ends up serving his ends (Mannfred must have been busy for this role).

What does it even mean for Nagash to be manipulated or betrayed by *expressions of his own self*? He made these guys from his own parts...

ACCIDENTALY COOL AS SHIT CHARACTER - Chivalric and completely headfucked Ghoul King who thinks the main mortal character is his dead sister.

FAITH!! - The mortal characters are all essentially part of the Nagash-cult.

GETTING CUCKED - Nurgle again as Arkhan gets Nagash on his SSRI's just before the decay lads breach the safe room.

2018 Black Pyramid 

We are back with the Hallowed Knights and it’s time to bring together the Gardus Steel-Soul strand and the Bullhearts-fucking-hate-Mannfred strand with the phonecall to Nagash elements.

Its some time around the start of the Soul Wars I think and the forces of Sigmar are going for one of the few Realmgates that connects Shyish directly to Azyr. This lies at the centre of the ruined Shyishian city of Carrow, its pretty heavily fortified from the Azyr end - as Shyish is currently full of chaos and, were this not the case, its full of boney boys who are also a massive threat.

Carrow is currently infested with Beastmen and watched over by a Slaaneshi Chaos Lord to make sure Sigmar doesn't do exactly what he is just about to do - send in a light force the long way round, sieze the gate for long enough to open it from both ends, then start jamming through forces directly from Azyr to take and hold the ruined city before the Chaos forces can react.

Luckily for the mortals this is a *Slaaneshi* Lord watching the place, and being a massive hentai addicted narcissistic crackhead, is not exactly maintaining the tightest disciple (though he does have an absolute shitload of men and some wonderful leopard skin tents to take drugs and eat slaves in).

Nagash is currently under siege in Nagasshizar, fighting chaos and implementing his Black Pyramid scheme, so hopefully he won't intervene much either.

Unfortunately, being Shyish, the cities catacombs are utterly jam packed full with mummies and stuff and, this being Shyish, they are not that hard to wake up.

Enter Mannfred, who after hanging around the Slaaneshi compound in disguise for a while, (Mannfred gives himself the pseudoname 'Vlad', and doesn't remember why), decides he is going to raise the dead, ruin everyones day and show up with an army for Nagash, - and who utterly fucks this up, getting captured by the Stormcast, which includes.. the Bullhearts - exactly the people he betrayed back in the previous series, and who are dead set to have a fucking mental.


TRANSHUMANISM - Ghost-eater the memory-eating beastman, plus a LOT of mutated chaos guys plus more of Stormcast being weird and musing on their natures.

Ghosteaters 'main voice' is that of a Huan scholar who , having completed his bucket list, met his death at Ghosteaters hands quite calmly and who since then has been pretty chill about life as part of this gestalt consiousness, and who is also calmy interested in helping Ghosteater towards his aims of a better world for beastmen (under Ghosteaters rule). Its' a ... weird student/guru relationship. Who is actually setting the strategy here? Ghosteaters slowly changing personality seems to be a synthesis of both individuals...

CROSSING DOORS - Ramus grabs Mannfred against orders and makes for Naggashizar to get his friends soul back. Mannfred feels bad about his friends soul, though no-one will ever believe that of him, and actually genuinely wants to help (though he is also being forced to). Ramus is so fatigued and pissed off with Sigmar that he and Mannfred sort of become temporary frenimies.

SEARCH FOR MEANING - Gardus is stable on the outside but is starting to get quietyly worried about all of this. The main Slaanesh guy claims he turned to Slaanesh to get back the soul of his dead love he is obsessed with (more 'Crossing Doors' as he also wants a soul from Nagash), in fact we find out at the end that he killed her on their wedding night.

THE GODS ARE REAL BUT THEY ARE DICKS -   Nagash turns up at the end, on a bridge (again), to be a mssive dick (again). yes he predicted the whole thing and will now gloat. Sigmar is looking creepy in inferance (again).

Did Sigmar *know this stuff was going to happen* and remain silent specifically to place moody stormcast guy in this position and have him go off on a wild deniable mission?

NO MY FRIEND, *YOU* WERE MY TRUE PREY -  Gardus thinks he is trying to stop moody guy from trying to invade the realm of Nagash and expanding their war, in fact Nagash has already predicted all of this and has a little gift waiting for him.

WHAT IS FREE WILL ANYWAYS? - One of the Stormcast describes the Chaos forces as being like souls trapped in glue or amber, never being able to change but always repeating the same actions and failures again and again, but isn't that a little like you guys also?

ACCIDENTALY COOL AS SHIT CHARACTER -  A majur sub-plot about 'Ghosteater' the Albino beastman born with the ability to absorb the ghost/consiousness of whoever he *eats*. Ghosteater has a hive of different voices within him that he can use to gain knowledge and advice. He arguably doesn’t do anything totally relevant to the plot except hang around being cool and essentially just leaving the book in the last act, hopefully on his way to a series of his own or at least a Codex entry (fat chance).

FAITH!! - "Only the faithful!"

GETTING CUCKED - Moody stormcast guy is very deeply pissed about Sigmar not answering his prayers when all he wants to do is rescue the soul of his lost friend. Hm being placed in direct contact with Gardus, who, in his own book, was given the explicit mission of "go rescue this guys soul" and a shitload of angel power to accomplish it, and who actually *did* accomplish it, only makes him more and more bitter about it. 

(Of course, that was getting back a soul *from Chaos* with whom they are always at war, while this would be going up against Nagash, with whom (at this time) they have an uneasy detente, plus Gardus is well aware that the Plague Garden mission, while heroic, was also a ruthless bit of brinksmanship brought about through attritional tactics. He is not exactly thrilled about it himself.)

The good guys get their friend back, horribly mutilated, and the Hallowed Knights get some kind of ending, but really they deserved at least a third book.

The Mannfred saga is at brought to an end at least.

2018 Soul Wars

The last Nagash/Stormcast book.

Time to chill with a different group of Stormcast, this time the Anvils of the Heldenhammer - in this case our bois are not extra super-faithful but actually pretty dead.

Anvils are made up of Heroic souls who had died long before Sigmar called them, many just chilling in tombs being ghosts or whatever, AND from Souls drawn from Mallus yes its the metal core of the old world, now a weird as fuck centrepeice to Sigmars celestial city, a giant metal ghost-haunted super-moon. Its weird that you kept that Sigmar.

But here are deniably-related souls which may or may not be those of heroes from the old world, here is possibly-Balthasar Gelt, and possibly Felix-Jager and probably a few others I missed. (LORE DEEP CUT should be another Reynoldsism but I could never catch even half of them.) Todays job - protect this city from ghoooooosts

Nagash has FINALLY gotten his giant black pyramid and unleased his sexy new model collection on Shyish - as one of the few Sigmarite cities the Anvils have to protect Glymmsforge from ghosts (and also, as it’s a Shyishain city, from the piles and piles of mummified dudes and bones underneath it).

Meanwhile the Black Pyramid thing activating has sent shockwaves through the realms and severely fucked the reforging of one particular Stormcast, soul now = missing.


TRANSHUMANISM - Transforming a soul into a spooky ghost champion means memory alteration, emotional manipulation, shifts in perspective, and *some* degree of choice. Being ethereal feels weird.

CROSSING DOORS - A classic Reynolds soul-swap. Sigmar has been nicking the souls of the not-even recently dead to make his soldiers and now, with a Stormcast reforging going horribly horribly wrong the soul of one of the Stormcast has been re-acquired by Nagash who, at Arkhans mild prompting, has decided to remake it into one of his spooky ghost boys.  This is someone who became a stormcast fighting ghosts, then dies from ghosts again and is now a Knight of Shrouds. His memory may have been altered but nothing new was added. His resentment against Sigmar for the endless fucking reforgings etc is very real, and now he has a ghost sword and ghost horse and this whole ghost thing is starting to feel very reasonable...

SEARCH FOR MEANING - Balthan Arum (probably Balthasar Gelt) is slowly melting down as his super-cleverness can't solve the Reforging problem.

THE GODS ARE REAL BUT THEY ARE DICKS - Sigmar and Nagash are both basically fighting over souls like they are fuel. Both have individually broken the wheel of Dharma, Nagash by warping Shyish and aiming for the everything-finally-dies-option, Sigmar by stealing souls, reincarnating them as warriors and burning them to nothing through endless fighting and then Nagash *again* by copying Sigmars methods in his soul-engineering regarding the remaking of people into Nighthaunt.

NO MY FRIEND, *YOU* WERE MY TRUE PREY - Did Sigmar plan the whole thing and possibly allow one of his guys to be taken and re-made knowing that he would be sent to destroy Glrymmsforge and would therefore come into contact with people he knew and be deflected?

WHAT IS FREE WILL ANYWAYS? - Both Sigmar and Nagash actually genuinely believe in the fundamental centrality of their moral paradigm, (unless you can call Nagash an 'honest cynic') , so when they grab souls and 'improve' them neither would really see it as manipulation, just correction to a more-true state.

ACCIDENTALY COOL AS SHIT CHARACTER - Random mercenary leader set to guard a doomed outpost. Another Reynoldsian purely mercenary, but brave, cunning and somewhat-honourable moustachioed guy who leads a group of Cossack style gangsters who die barely fighting ghosts and steal the scene.

FAITH!! - Not that much, at least compared to the Hallowed Knights.

GETTING CUCKED - Nagash somewhat. Stop your schemes boy.

2019 Dark Harvest

Swamp noir! The darkest of greens. Nihilist criminal ex-priest badass discovers that someone out in the sticks of Ghyran knows his true identity and goes to assassinate them

This pulls him into a weird and creepy swamp conspiracy; Sigmarite border swamp town being relaimed by decay, civilisation being consumed by a particularly aggressive form of nature, swamps are full of swamp dryads, monsters and ghosts, weird little imbred town where everything has gone strange. Creepy doings yet it’s not chaos this time.


TRANSHUMANISM - Not that much.

CROSSING DOORS - Main enemy guy thinks he is the hunt-god worshipping master of hunts and tries to hunt the protagonist, but the protagonist is really the hunter?

SEARCH FOR MEANING - The hard as nails amoral protagonist is hard as nails because he used to be a Sigmariate Priest - lost his faith when elements of the church started having a mental and sacrificing people to Sigmar. Our hero was one of the few to directly fight back and this lead to him into direct confrontation with his own church.

Stormcast may or may not have been involved in this but they definitely covered it up afterwards - after extensive interrogation our hero was either fired or left - now an utter ruthless nihilist enforcer working for crime gangs.

THE GODS ARE REAL BUT THEY ARE DICKS - Whats going on in Ghyran? Elements in the local society have come under the influence of a half-sleeping god - Kurnos, god of the Hunt, who was sent to sleep by Arielle a long time ago and who is largely pissed about it. How does one worship and awaken a god of the hunt? By hunting people alive of course
also sacrificing them. 

Did Sigmar plan the whole thing and create the perfect 'black operative' by arranging/allowing for Main Guy to lose his faith but not totally? A God creating a seeming self-betrayer is something we saw Nagash do with Mannfred..

NO MY FRIEND, *YOU* WERE MY TRUE PREY - In a throwback to Knight of the Blazing Sun, Main Guy thinks he is penetrating a conspiracy around a dark god while that god is in fact working to bring him closer and intends to replace their current slightly-crap avatar/prophet with this new and improved version.

WHAT IS FREE WILL ANYWAYS? - less than usual but it’s still a tacit theme.

ACCIDENTALY COOL AS SHIT CHARACTER - All of the main cool people are meant to be cool.

FAITH!! – It’s all about faith and its lack.

GETTING CUCKED - Kurnos this time. Also no 'main guy dark hero' saga for you Josh.


2018 Lukas the Trickster

 (Warhammer 40,000)

A based Drukhari wants to raid Fenris for slaves as it will be amusing. Present on Fenris is the most aggravating Space Wolf ever.


TRANSHUMANISM - Lukas is a for-real actual-barbarian, he (allegedly) hacked his own Transhumanist surgeries so he could keep his gonads and sex drive.

b - A main theme. Both  Lukas and his archfoe-for-this-book are both considered cultural throwbacks in their relative cultures. Lukas is a 'true' barbarian, rather than the Space Wolves 'we do what the Emperor says' barbarians; regularly makes fun expeditions outside the fang to hang out, has a weird place where he goes and chills, has (inferred I think) fathered quite a lot of children out there in Fenris, occasionally puts on his armour and goes for a fun dive in the world sea to hang out with Krakens. Regards the transformation of the Space Wolves as a kind of cultural trick, barbarians persuaded they are heroes..

Archon Siliscus is considered by ther Drukhari a throwback to the 'Old' Aeldari, too independent and spirited to reliably bend the knee to Vect, half tricked/half persuaded to take to the void and go reaving.

SEARCH FOR MEANING - Lukas and Siliscus in particular are outsiders trying to make something of their alienation from their own cultures.

FAITH!! - A bit of the Fenrisian way of life.

GETTING CUCKED - Siliscus actually cuts Lukas' heart out and still manages to sort-of lose. Plus no series, no sequel.

2019 Apocalypse

(Space Marine Conquests #5)

Peak, peak, PEAK Reynolds, at least as far as his tropes go.

The very-religious Word Bearers assault a system in force, this particular system being ruled by the Ecclesiarchy. The word bearers are after an ancient religious secret held by this ancient religion. The world is defended by a group of not very religious marines from the Scars, Raven Guard and Fists

The religious secret it itself a Word Bearer - during the Heresy one stayed secretly loyal and in fact, a pre-emptive and unrepentant worshipper of the Emperor hidden by the then-nascent Ecclesiarchy, he has been chilling down in a cell writing scripture and yes it seems a big chunk of the scripture of the Ecclesiarchy has been influenced by this hidden member of the traitor legions.

The Ecclesiarchy don't want even the potential knowledge of this secret to get out as there is no way the normies could handle it; to the extent of just not telling the loyal astarties what the fuck is going on.

the Word Bearers want to go in there and get the guy, but not all of them know about him or exactly what they are looking for, and several word bearers, and perhaps the chaos gods, seem pretty ambivalent about getting him back. If this anchorite does end up chilling with the Word Bearers, and remains loyal, and just sits there telling stories about the Heresy, what are the chances that, given this deep view of their own history some of the word bearers might start having revelations about how worshipping the emperor was the right thing to do all along? It seems that a few of them are already pretty potentially sceptical of the Lorgar path.

Just as the loyal astartes face deception from their own side, the traitors also have complex webs of manipulation and dual loyalties, and being Word Bearers, they think, and write, and talk about faith ALL the time


TRANSHUMANISM - standard space marine stuff

CROSSING DOORS - - Religious Word Bearers trying to abduct/rescue a differently-religious Word Bearer..

A good scene at the end when a local ex-noble 'Pirate King' who has, without realising, long since started his own fall to chaos, runs into a cult-wrangler ex-imperial guardsman during the planetary invasion who gives him the downlow on their place in the great cycle of destruction.

SEARCH FOR MEANING - The main religious guy guarding the Anchorite really doesn't want to lie to the space marines but also knows he can't let the secret out.

THE GODS ARE REAL BUT THEY ARE DICKS - True of both Chaos and E-Money.

FAITH!! - literally every single conversation and conflict between every single Word Bearer, guys who just cannot even decide what to ahve for dinner without justifying the theology of it.

And again with the Anchorite - a literal OG Emperor Worshiper with more in common with Sigismund than Guilliman.

Honestly just the whole thing.

GETTING CUCKED - Ultimately the guy just goes back in his cell with dire warnings that now "The secret is out" and this could mean major ructions for the Ecclesiarchy. Maybe a schism! (No-one in 40k Lore ever mentions this again).


2016 Fabius Bile: Primogenitor (Fabius Bile #1)
2017 Fabius Bile: Clonelord (Fabius Bile #2)
2020 Fabius Bile: Manflayer (Fabius Bile #3)

Its time for Chief Apothecary of the Emperors Children, Lieutenant Commander Fabius Bile. We pick up his story some time after Ahriman has killed his lets-clone-the-primarchs project. Bile is hanging out on a demon world with a little self-made university/symposium of Chaos Apothecaries which is exactly as charming as it sounds. 

Fabius has calmed down since the Heresy and now regards his previous actions as a case of splicing-under-the-influence-of-dark-gods. He is now firmly against the gods, and in fact they are not gods at all but just big warp storms thanks very much, and like George Lucas is now "focusing on projects at home", specifically an attempt to uplift the entirety of Humanity into something less crap.

But strands ovv faaate are going to pull Fabius back into the game and bring him into contact with a bunch of wild and wacky characters. On being confronted with a perfect clone of Fulgrim can Fab finally overcome his crippling Primarch addiction and can he do his galaxy-scale eugenics thing while being chased by pretty much everyone and being dicked around by fucking space clowns?


TRANSHUMANISM -  Bile graduates during the series from a head/brain transplanting mad scientist to a soul-swapping mind-virus to a near deity-level gestalt intellect psychic cancer 

Bile is dying, appropriately enough from a genetic blight the even he can't cure, though he can hold it off. His method of survival is, first grinding up and snorting his fellow astartes (before Chaos even becomes a major player on the scene), then he starts growing new fresh bodies and implanting his brain in them (i think), then he finally works out Aeldari tech and, with stolen wraithbone, creates a 'The Presitge' device that lets him transfer his consciousness to a new body at the moment of death (this is also the point at which it is possible that there are multiple parralel Biles running around).

His final trick is to seal himself in a semi-stasis wraithbone coffin at the centre of a nightmare psychic palace while his semi-sleeping mind acts as the centre for a whole hive of bile-clones with Wraithbne implants to go roving around the galaxy doing fucked up stuff for the Chaos Gods.

Not only that but Biles plan for humanity is itself transhumanist. He means to create the 'New Men' a bunch of Neitschien super-beings who can easily beat up all the aliens and won't fall prey to dark gods as they are not a bunch of neurotic nerds. All of his efforts are bent to this goal, of saving humanity by transforming it.

CROSSING DOORS - Being a chaos dude but also an atheist, Bile nees a demon-wrangler, which he gets by grabbing a word-bearer demonologist and implanting bombs in his head, keeping the guy as a captive and having him summon demons as-required

This being a Reynolds book, Fabius becomes frenimies with the guy and hangs out with him periodically throughout the series where they shout at each other about the nature of faith and belief - Bile is obsessed with regarding the Chaos Gods as just big warp storms with time travel quasi-omnipotence and the ability to fundamentally alter reality and affect the soul after death - but they're not even sentient, just big animals, while his co-worker obviously has a different opinion

SEARCH FOR MEANING - Bile overcomes his Fulgrim addiction only to end up boned in the end.

THE GODS ARE REAL BUT THEY ARE DICKS - No says Bile, they are NOT real! (they are)

NO MY FRIEND, *YOU* WERE MY TRUE PREY - It was you Fabius! It was all to get you!

WHAT IS FREE WILL ANYWAYS? - Was Fabius always just falling to Chaos but slowly? Yes.

ACCIDENTALY COOL AS SHIT CHARACTER - Many. The weird noise marine guy. Fabius' treasonous World-Eater Beserker apothecary friend, his Death Guard plague expert buddy, his kinda demon engine spiderlegged tech-priest sort of GF.

FAITH!! - really the main arc of the Bile series is that of a self-declared atheist who loathes the creatures some call gods spiralling lower and lower, fighting and falling inexorably into the hands of just such gods until at the end he sacrifices himself, offering himself body and soul to the chaos gods for a chance of preserving his creations. And who ends up becomeing something like a demigod himself.

GETTING CUCKED - REYNOLDS MANAGES TO FINISH A SERIES!! Finally!! Holy fuck BL finally let him finish something. Incredible.

Bile himself is semi-cucked as, while his position as a kind of living galactic cancer makes in insanely powerful, it only comes at the cost of his personal moral defeat - the original "fuck the gods, yes I mean you four" guy, finally has to bend the knee.

2018 Fulgrim: The Palatine Phoenix 

(The Horus Heresy: Primarchs #6)

Fulgrim has arrived in the Great Crusade and is going to prove to everyone that he is not just a cute femboy but a competent femboy. He will conquer this world of Byzas with TEN GUYS, yes you heard me right Leman you fucking barbarian.


It’s a very Reynolds book but there are relatively few of his classic tropes.

TRANSHUMANISM; we get into some funky stuff about the wild near non-physics based things Primarchs can pull off. 

CROSSING DOORS; the Emperors Children, perfectionists obsessed with duelling, encounter a sub-culture of Byzas which is also obsessed with duelling and with the paradoxes of the quest for self-improvement. A meaningful philosophy that probably would have been useful to them if they hadn't annihilated it. 

SEARCH FOR MEANING; Fulgrim is self-conscious over the size of his Legion and his relative inexperience and is about to make a lot of subtle mistakes which lock him a little deeper inside to-be-dangerous personality patterns, while he technically wins a big victory.

GETTING CUCKED - Not at all. Fulgrm wins and they actually let Reynolds write a Heresy book, its not the main line, and some of the writers who did get to write for the main line are almost laughably bad, but still.


The weight of moral pressure leads the mortal heart to extremity.

This exemplified by the 40k universe, in which once must absolutely make a moral choice between chaos dudes and big eagle guy, and whichever you chose you will be eating a big bowl of moral hazard from that day forth, and dealing with many tragic consequences therefore while denying that they were actually tragic at all

as it is in 40k, so it is with 40k writers, whos dominant voices largely separate into the Lunar (Dembsi-Bowden, Wraight), and the Solar (Abnett).

Probably Reyolds most interesting trait is in his ability to find ways for the human heart to make *some* meaningful decisions *some* of the time, without spiralling into either chauvinistic madness of narcissistic despair, even under the weight, and wrapped in the strands, of duelling gods.

Time and time and time again, mortal hearts, minds, bodies and souls are altered, 'improved', instrumentalised by greater powers, manipulated, memories and morality shifted, characters are guided by supernatural or hyperpower agencies, or left in the abyss of silence from powers they thought would guide them. They consistently run into agents of the enemy who are a lot like them and get to discuss their differing perspectives, they encounter members of their own side who's moral universe and paradigm are quite different, despite wearing the same uniform and serving the same powers. They are placed in overlapping and opposing "strands ov faaaaaate" and left to see what will happen. They are used as fuel or as necessary sacrifices and the really unusual thing is that many of the main characters are aware of this an are largely ok with the deal.

And they talk and talk and talk, talk to their allies about their morality and world view, to their enemies about the differences between them, to their gods and bosses about why they are doing what they do, and try to explain the same things to those they in turn order into impossible positions. As above, so below.

Mannfred Von Carnstein reminds me a lot of a scumbag version of Job, from the eponymous Book of Job.

You probably have a vague awareness of the content of the Book of Job. God and the devil have a bet over the reason people are good and love god, God destroys Jobs life and takes away everything valuable about it, Job appeals to god, who puts him on a Zoom call and essentially declares I AM THE CREATOR OF ALL THAT YOU ARE AND THAT'S IT BUDDY, WHAT IS GOOD OR BAD IS DOWN TO ME.

In the Book of Job there is something (to me) quite honourable in Jobs subsequent wheedling and lawyering. Like any believer in an Abrahamic faith, he is trapped between the rock of Gods actions and creation being absolute, and from Jobs perspective, being pretty fucked.

Job can't say "God you are wrong", but neither does he entirely give up and say "God, you are right". Instead, he .. wheedles, whines, lawyers. 


"No no no, never would do that My Lord, thy law is all. 
However... let me just say this..."

I found myself on Jobs side more than not and pretty sympathetic to him. Like anyone confronted with absolute power and the fundamental cruelty of reality, he can't exactly argue back, but he doesn't quite give in either. He just sort of sticks around, hanging from his philosophical fingertips, refusing to go away or shut up.

In the face of an equal opponent, wheedling is pathetic, but in the face insurmountable undeniable power, its almost courage. Of course the truly brave would defy such power, and then be annihilated. We, all of us are descended from conquerors, but also from wheedling little shits who found a way to survive, both literally and morally in an unfair world.

Mannfred is a lot like Job, actually he's a lot worse, but in his continual, craven and pathetic scheming to either impress or fuck over Nagash, there is something almost like the shadow of courage. 

Reynolds main quality is in finding places for humanity to persist in this mess. Like Job and like Mannfred, they can't argue with divine or overwhelming power, and can't do much about the circumstances they are trapped in. They can't exactly go up to their respective gods and powers and say "Here is a list of how you have fucked me over".

Yet they do persist. Some hurl themselves totally into defiant opposition and some are consumed by denying chauvinistic madness or fanaticism, but usually not the protagonists and not in Josh Reynolds books. Instead they wheedle, or at least try to justify themselves before thee. They remain human and sustain humanity in others.


  1. Well, I'm sold on Knight of the Blazing Sun. Maybe I've read this post [] once too often, but the potential of Reason and Progress strikes me as at least a trace, tacit element for Warhammer Fantasy.

    It occurs to me that AoS-Sigmar is basically Thor pretending to be Ra.

    Dark Harvest was pretty good, but I would like a sequel actually set among the Sigmarites.

    Was not expecting Job to show up at the end of this.

    Lunar 40k Writers: ADB, Chris Wraight
    Solar 40k Writers: Dan Abnett
    Mercurial 40k Writers: Gav Thorpe?
    Venereal 40k Writers: Sandy Mitchell
    Martial 40k Writers: Steve Parker, Matthew Farrer?
    Jovial 40k Writers: Bill King?
    Saturnine 40k Writers: Peter Fehervari

    1. Thanks Solomon.

      Aren't they all Martial? I don't know how you would break that down with Warhammer writers/

    2. Martial here as the Medieval Infortuna Minor: a bracing contest, rather than a crushing horror. Given that war goes across a great many 40k novels, some other aspect or sensibility is needed to categorise one as Martial.

      I'll admit that the scheme doesn't stand up very well, but it's sort of fun.

  2. Patrick, I adore these deep dives you do into Black Library books. Where else is someone going to break these things down with such insight?

    I was in bed last night and thought I'd quickly check ol' False Machine before going to sleep. When I saw that you'd written several thousand words on fuggin JOSH REYNOLDS whose books I find barely readable, well, I groaned aloud with pleasure. Please do more of these!

    1. Thanks Rob. I may get sucked back in at some point..

  3. Yeah, what Rob said. Your weirdness/obsession with regard to 40K fiction is a degree of magnitude more bizarre than my own freakish investigations into the meaning found in things that (probably) don't need the attention. But it's great and it's wild and it saves me from actually bothering to read any of these books.

    I really, really, REALLY wish Josh Reynolds would provide you with feedback...see how close to the mark your insights really are, or perhaps just admit that he doesn't know his own trends and such. Maybe the guy was a one-time seminarian who was kicked out over an obsession with Heavy Metal magazine that he just couldn't shake? Something.

    1. He is American I think so maybe he grew up with it.


  4. In the Book of Job there is something (to me) quite honourable in Jobs subsequent wheedling and lawyering. Like any believer in an Abrahamic faith, he is trapped between the rock of Gods actions and creation being absolute, and from Jobs perspective, being pretty fucked.

    Job can't say "God you are wrong", but neither does he entirely give up and say "God, you are right". Instead, he .. wheedles, whines, lawyers.


    "No no no, never would do that My Lord, thy law is all.
    However... let me just say this..."

    Iyov is one of my favourite parts of the Tanakh, also pretty much for this reason. A lot of Jewish religious writing kind of has this vibe--the pinnacle probably being the Oven of Akhnai.