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Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Flesh and Iron

I know it's been awhile since I've updated anything on the blog.  Alas, it would appear that the HOLIDAYS and the circus that surrounds them have begun to get the best of me and my nerd-posting has suffered.  Although I may have not been updating the blog, I've still been keeping busy!  In honor of receipt of a big ol' Imperial Guard shipment from Games Workshop (which I will detail in the next day or two) I decided to get into the flavor of the army with one of GW's newer additions to the Black Library, "Flesh and Iron" by new kid on the block, Henry Zou.

I went into this book not expecting much more than the standard issue mud n' guts content that seems to be linked at the hip with the Imperial Guard these days.  In truth, that's kind of what I was looking for but I found myself being pleasantly surprised when it was all said and done.

In his second novel, Zou takes us to the jungle world of Solo-Baston where we find ourselves dropped into the midst of a local rebellion against the forces of mankind's mighty Imperium.  From there, the bulk of the plot follows the 88th Riverine, a Catachan-esque unit of amphibious assault troops and their mission to silence a shopping mall sized cannon that's dug into side of a mountain.  Previously held by the Imperium and seized by the rebels, the size of the cannon (several American football fields long) prevents the Imperial Guard from mounting any sizable frontal attack to take back control of the large island where it's located and thus, the Riverine are called upon sneak inland and do the dirty work. Carnage ensues.

The first thing that struck me was how realistic parts of this book seemed compared to others I've read that are along the same lines.  After I finished reading it, I wasn't surprised at all to find out that Zou actually served time in the military.  Anybody can write combat scenes, but where Zou's experience shines is the moments in between the fights.  The way the soldiers interact with each other, their emotions and mental state before and after combat and even how they clean their weapons are all little strokes that on their own don't amount to much, but taken together they really add another dimension to the novel.

One of the best ways I can describe "Flesh and Iron" is the Vietnam war with lasguns.  Monsoons, oppressive  heat and humidity, ambushes from a foe that blends right in to the indigenous population and the constant threats of the jungle all take their toll on the men of the 88th and by the end of the novel, it shows.  This all builds up to a pretty massive twist that even I didn't see coming, but makes it well-worth reading until the very end.

Overall, I really liked this book and flew through it in a couple of weeks' worth of lunch breaks.  Zou impressed me enough with this effort that I'm going to grab a copy of his first work, "Emperor's Mercy" as soon as I get the chance.  If you want a break from the usual "big battle" style of Imperial Guard writing, or even if you're a first-timer just breaking into the game, I highly recommend this book as a good one-off read in between the massive trilogies we're all so fond of.

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