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Ravenor
Dan Abnett
Black Library, 318 pages

Ravenor
Dan Abnett
Dan Abnett lives and works in Maidstone, Kent. After graduating from Oxford, he worked for a while as an editor of comics and children's books before turning to writing full time. In the dozen or so years since then, he has written for such a diverse range of characters -- including Scooby Doo, Thunderbirds, Conan the Barbarian, the X-Men, Johnny Bravo, Batman, Rupert the Bear, Dr Who, Mr Men, The Terminator and Postman Pat -- that he is now clinically bewildered. He created the popular series Sinister Dexter, which he continues to write, along with other strips, for 2000 AD, and has recently helped rejuvenate the Legion of Superheroes for DC Comics.

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SF Site Review: Riders of the Dead

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A review by Nathan Brazil

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'The jets died away to nothing. Like a squid's beak, the nose hatch articulated open. An object rather than a figure emerged, gliding down the ramp on silent anti-grav suspensors.

"By the Throne." Kys said. "When was the last time he came in person?"'

Ravenor is the start of a new sequence which continues the lives of some characters from Dan Abnett's previous novels. While it may be helpful to read the earlier works, at no point did I feel at a disadvantage for being a newcomer. Who was who and how things worked were made clear. The main story concerns Gideon Ravenor, Inquisitor, Ordo Xenos Helican, and his team, as they seek the origins of a new drug called flects. An ingenious invention, with a suitably fascinating origin, flects come in the form of glass shards which have a psycho-narcotic effect on users. Due to an earlier incident, Inquisitor Ravenor is seriously crippled in body, and exists within a special chair-like environment which put me in mind of a minimalist Vorlon encounter suit. Ravenor's mind is free to roam, guiding his team of special operatives, and occasionally wearing them, like suits of flesh. The team consists of hard men and women, plus those who primary attributes are not physical. All have evocative, craftily concocted names which show off the author's mastery of how words sound, as well as what they mean. The leading tough guy, Harlon Nayl, suggests hard as nails, and Wystan Frauka, whose sole task as a 'blunter' is to limit the abilities of psykers in his vicinity, sounds like someone who loafs around all day, chain-smoking.
'For a brief moment Zael saw the guy, spinning on the spot, on one foot, his body bent over. His other leg was cocked out at right angles. The heavy boot snapped a hammer's jaw as it rotated. Broken teeth ejected from the hammer's mouth.'
The book reads like a work twice its size. Mainly because the author takes the business of world creation seriously, and handles the task with consummate professionalism. Weaving the small, every day details of life with the broader range of information, produces worlds that always feel alien and faraway. Yet, at the same time, the characters would fit in a few hundred years into a Bladerunner future.

Unlike most comic book writers who try their hand at novels, Abnett excels at characterisation as well as fast paced action. Ravenor's team come across as realistic individuals, complete with their own lives, strengths and weaknesses. The fact that they're not as invincible as they first seem adds to the suspense, and overall credibility. In particular, with regard to Carl Thonius, a specialist technician attached to Ravenor. Thonius works the cogitator, and knows full well that he's no heroic super-soldier.

'In the bridge doorway, Zael looked up at Harlon Nayl.

"Why's it called Lucky Space?" He asked.

Nayl grinned a not-at-all-reassuring grin. "Because, once you're out in it, you're lucky if you last five minutes."

The one failing in Ravenor is the comparatively minor league nature of the villainous characters. The plot they hatch is clever and intriguing, but only the rogue psyker, Kinsky, comes across as being both evil and deadly. However, as this is undoubtedly the beginning of a series of adventures, I have every confidence that a master villain will emerge in due course. What's presented in this first outing is a highly cinematic read, in which Abnett delivers a convincing, intricately constructed future, filled with interesting characters, and the promise of much more to come.

Copyright © 2004 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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