In Retro-Review: Warhammer 40,000: Atlas Infernal

Outstanding characters battling lackluster villains make this a disappointment.

Warhammer 40,000: Atlas Infernal by Rob Sanders 

Published by Black Library on 2011. Paperback of 409 pages at $8.99.

The cover: Turning momentarily to see what’s behind him, Inquisitor Czevak Stef Kopinski has his left hand holding something to brace himself as a Harlequin blade emerges from the right sleeve of his Eldar jacket. Behind him is a harsh looking industrial setting, with pillars wrapped in coiled cables and simmering orange magma. The corners of the image are torn, tattered, and aged as if it is atop an ancient tome. This is an exciting cover that shows the lead and cements his look for the reader. This cover was created by Stef Kopinski. Overall grade: A- 

The premise: From the back cover, “Inquisitor Bronislaw Czevak is a hunted man. Escaping from the Black Library of the eldar, Czevak steals the Atlas Infernal — a living map of the Webway. With this fabled artefact and his supreme intellect, Czevak foils the predations of the Harlequins sent to apprehend him and thwarts his enemies within the Inquisition who want to kill him. Czevak’s deadliest foe, however, is Ahriman — arch-sorcerer of the Thousand Sons. He desires the knowledge within the Black Library, knowledge that can exalt him to godhood, and is willing to destroy the inquisitor to obtain it. A desperate chase ensues that will bend the fabric of reality, where Czevak’s only hope of survival is to outwit the chosen of Tzeentch, Lord of Chaos and Architect of Fate. Failure is unconscionable, the very cost to the Imperium unimaginable.” I’ve been reading Warhammer 40K books for over a decade and haven’t read one in a while, so after reading the back of this I was interested in the plot to give it a shot. Though I’m tired of reading about Chaos characters as villains, it seems every book I pick up features them, I’m hoping the inclusion of the Eldar will mix it up enough for me. Overall grade: B+

The characters: Inquisitor Bronislaw Czevak is an interesting lead. He’ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants, but he doesn’t tell anyone what he wants, or wanted, until after the fact. Others will be sacrificed to meet his ends. This doesn’t make him an ignoble character, for his acts are for the greater good of the Empire and the Emperor, though his acts do make him a heretic, subject to inquisition and death if he’s caught. He believes that alien technology could be used to help mankind, chief among them the Atlas Infernal he’s stolen from the infamous Eldar Black Library. The reader will be constantly trying to learn what his goal is in every situation and if he was right in this choices. Always loyal to Czevak is Inquisitor Raimus Klute, who studied under him before becoming an inquisitor on his own after his master’s unexpected absence. Klute is the voice of the reader, questioning Czevak at every turn and being very much a rank and file member of the Empire. His choices are what one would expect of a character walking the straight and narrow path to salvation, though he will bend or break the rules if his former master commands it. Klute was a highly enjoyable character.  Ahriman is the chief villain who doesn’t appear until the last third of the book. He’s a Chaos wizard that Czevak is pursuing, though the reader doesn’t know why until late in the novel. Eldar Harlequins are a constant threat since they’re after Czevak to recover their stolen book. They are graceful fighters whose every movement is a violent ballet, mesmerizing their victims with their moves and skill in death. They make, sadly, only one appearance. I admit to wanting to see the book focus more on them than Chaos characters. Tzeentch is the ultimate big bad, and I do mean big. His return to flesh would wipe out millions in the wilds of space and Czevak doesn’t want this happen. There are also armies and foes of all kinds that hinder the Inquisitors and their allies, but they are all but stepping stones to the conflicts with Ahriman and Tzeentch. Overall grade: B+

The settings: Several planets set in Chaos space, aka the Eye of Terror, provide the threatening settings. The characters and the reader knows that there will trouble on the ground from any kind of armies or Unholy horrors and pirates or Chaos soldiers in space. The ships that the protagonists use are not the massive vehicles I’ve read in other W40K books and that was a nice turn: their ships are smaller, not as powerful, and do not run as smoothly. The planets encountered are worlds that have been colonized and have, naturally, come under the taint of dark forces. The settings were fine, but atypical for this franchise. Overall grade: B

The action: This is the reason to buy any books published by Black Library — action. All of the previous novels I’ve read follow the exploits of armies battling one another, with the focus on an individual or small group. This novel follows Czevak doing mission upon mission, whose threats increase, leading to the encounter with Tzeentch. There’s an early encounter against borders who reminded me of Reavers from Serenity, which was fun, and a scene with a queen who’s gotten large on ill gotten gains and her angry subjects, which is also neat. The climatic battles didn’t do much for me; read one Chaos confrontation, read them all. I enjoyed the action while reading the book, but once each episode ended I was left wanting. Overall grade: C 

The conclusion: Underwhelming is the perfect descriptor. The reader learns too late what Czevak is trying to do, the big bad’s lieutenant appears too late, and Tzeentch was essentially pointless. I was let down. Overall grade: D

The final line: Outstanding characters battling lackluster villains make this a disappointment. I truly fell in love with the heroes who have fantastic backstories and had me constantly wondering whose side they were on. A Warhammer 40K novel is only as good as the villains, and these baddies were generic. Not having the two big antagonists appear until the last third hurt the book. I would welcome another adventure of Czevak and Klute in a heartbeat, but I would hope their opponents are better. Overall grade: C+

To see the cover visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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