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The Gildar Rift

Sarah Cawkwell’s debut novel, The Gildar Rift has been eagerly anticipated by fans of the Warhammer 40,0001 books, as the author’s previous short stories (which can be found regularly in the e-zine Hammer and Bolter ) have been very well received. Cawkwell’s style combines the over-the-top elements of the popular sci-fi setting with character driven plot and a keen eye on this heavily baroque world. This is the sort of thing that fans of Black Library2 books like a lot; the 40K fandom likes it’s big, power armoured super-humans to be actual people you care about, rather than just blobs of male-power fantasy.

So it comes as no surprise that, The Gildar Rift is pretty damned good. It’s another one of those Space Marine Battles3 stories, this time focusing on a conflict near the titular Gildar Rift, an unstable region of space prone to raids by Demon-worshipping space pirates known as The Red Corsairs. Defending this region of space are the Silver Skulls who are religious and steadfast space-knights, who rely on superstition for guidance. (Yes, that’s right. Demonic pirates in power armour in space. Wielding chain-saw swords. Fighting knights in shining power armour. In space. Who also wield chain-saw swords. This is why people love this setting so much).

Gildar Rift features Huron Blackheart, who is one of the more interesting villiains of the setting

The action splits three ways; we get starship battles, gritty land war and internal conflict from both factions. The starship battles are glorious, I do enjoy reading about big things going boom and Cawkwell4 mixes the vastness of space with the sort of edge-of-your-seat action usually reserved for the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean. The ground war element is very dynamic; plots and counter plans on both sides mean that the action is constantly rolling, and each leads to a dramatic conflict, rather than simply one long drawn-out fight. This gives us time to care about the heroes, adding weight to the narrative.

Running through these scenes of war are two subplots that give us stronger insight into both sides. The bad-guys get a tale of treachery and deceit, punctuated by evil cackles and barking-mad monologuing. Meanwhile, the heroes get a rather touching tale of hi-tech heresy and the search for one’s place in the universe.

The book is also filled with some lovely touches to the setting. From a subtle shout-outs to fans to pointed observations on the domestic side of the world, this book is a stunning debut, and also a good entry point for those looking to get into Black Library books.


1: Yes, it’s another review featuring 40K. You may have gathered by now, what with the retro-sci-fi game I’m creating, the Doctor Who love and the reviews of 40K books that I love British Sci-Fi.
2: The Black Library is the name of the book publishing arm of Games Workshop. Over the years, it’s nurtured a goodly amount of British genre writing talent, and has helped spawn a number of other British genre publishers. Or to put it another way, well done Black Library, keep up the good work.
3: I reviewed Nick Kyme’s Fall of Damnos a while ago.
4: I’m only aware of a handful of women who’ve written for the Black Library, and by utter coincidence, I’ve met two of them (Sarah Cawkwell and Debbie Gallagher) at LARP events. Both women tried to kill me, but that’s fair enough, people are always trying to kill me at LARP events. It’s a talent of mine.

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  1. November 29, 2011 at 4:34 am

    nice review mate. 🙂 Glad to see more people picking up the torch and reviewing Sarah’s novel. it’s a damn goodun for sure. keep up the good work!

    CP

  2. November 29, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for reviewing the book. Stuff like this helps new authors get noticed, and Sarah seems to be an author worth noticing.

  3. November 29, 2011 at 10:25 am

    on reading the tital at first i thought it said ‘Gift Radar’

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