Warriors of Ultramar is the second installment in the Ultramarines series from Graham McNeill, following on from the events of Nightbringer a year previous. The Fourth Company, under the command of Captain Uriel Ventris, is tasked with defending the world of Tarsis Ultra from the threat of the tyranids, who have been felt in the area through the Shadow in the Warp. They join forces with one of their successor chapters, the Mortifactors, who present a wholly different way of behaving to the Ultramarines.
This book is really good, though I have to say that one or two points do make it suffer somewhat. Perhaps most obviously, the Ultramarines are up against the tyranids, almost exclusively presented as unknowably alien in behaviour, and so we only really get one side of the story. The tyranid imperative to consume all biomass of each and every world they come across is well-known in Warhammer 40k lore, and McNeill does a good enough job of giving us certain insights into the race, through the introduction of Inquisitor Kryptmann and, later on, the lictor, but ultimately we have a very one-sided story. This may not bother you, and certainly going into it knowing they were facing the tyranids, I was prepared for it, but it can still feel a little flat overall.
Secondly, there were a lot of sequences early on showing the people preparing to withstand the forces of the Great Devourer, which felt almost like some kind of stock footage. We see people barricade their homes, train to be better soldiers, etc etc, and it all feels a bit tired, somewhat.
This isn’t really a third point, as it’s very much down to personal preference here, but there’s also a sub-plot featuring a street gang that I felt was almost wholly irrelevant. Of course, it allowed insight into how the fight was affecting the little people, but the characters weren’t particularly interesting, and overall I felt that the scenes could have been excised pretty easily with no loss to the overall shape. But that’s just me, of course!
The story is actually really good, though, with so many moments that made me want to cheer and that had me in paroxysms of delight. Graham McNeill certainly has a cinematic writing style, and there were a whole bucket-load of set-piece action sequences that felt really visceral, not least among them the final mission into the heart of the hive ship. That was quite disgusting, but really quite exciting all the same! Of course, to some extent it served to almost humanize the tyranids, as we see their hive ships are basically living ships, but ships nonetheless, with holds and corridors and the like. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was perhaps a little too familiar to fit with the unknowably alien of the rest of the race.
Overall, however, a solid adventure story and a definitely enjoyable read.
Also included in here is the short story Leviathan, which shows our intrepid Fourth Company dealing with a space hulk that had been taken over by Orks. However, a more fearsome menace lurks in the shadows as, no sooner have the Orks been met in battle and defeated, than the Ultramarines are overtaken by a brood of genestealers! The story is a lot of fun, and I found it interesting to read about the Orks, even if only a little, as they’re a race I’ve not encountered a lot of in my 40k reading thus far. The story leads directly into Warriors of Ultramar as the astropaths report they can feel the Shadow in the Warp.
Definitely worth the read!