Book Three of the Beast Arises series has been out for a while now, though I’ve only just started to read the series – you can check out my thoughts on the previous novels here and here. Written by Gav Thorpe, I was hoping that the book would somehow vindicate the series for me, after the extremely disappointing second installment, and I have to say, I think it has!
I’d like to say “we pick off where the second book left off”, but that second book was such a weird muddle that I’m not entirely sure where the story ended there. As we’ve seen previously, the Orks have made a significant push into Imperium territory, and a number of systems are now beset by the greenskin menace and their “battle moon” space stations. During the course of this novel, we see the Imperium strike a decisive victory at Port Sanctus, along with the continuing machinations of the High Lords of Terra, focusing on Inquisitor Wienand and the head of the assassins, Drakan Vangorich, whose grim visage adorns the cover. Furthermore, we continue the story of Captain Koorland, apparently the last Imperial Fist, as he invokes the failsafe from Rogal Dorn and invokes something called “the last wall”, calling back together the various Chapters that once made up the Imperial Fists Legion.
I have to say, I really liked this book a lot. For starters, it compares really well with its predecessor for me, in that I felt like I knew what I was reading about – the language is quite straightforward, which is what I expect from Warhammer now, and also the action was quite well-described and, basically, interesting. There is also a good amount of intrigue and politics, which I always enjoy in these stories!
Taking the points in turn, I thought it was really interesting to see the Imperial Fists essentially re-join as a Legion – or, at least, see the Black Templars, Fists Exemplar, Excoriators, Crimson Fists and I think a couple of other successor chapters join together. It’s exactly something that I can imagine Rogal Dorn putting into place – following a huge falling-out with Guilliman, then suddenly capitulating and implementing the Codex Astartes following the Heresy, you just knew he would have done something like this! It doesn’t really feel like it has been explored enough yet, of course, but I suppose there’s plenty of chance for that!
The whole business with the Imperial Navy at Port Sanctus takes up a good deal of the novel, and involves the politicking of the High Lords, notably Vangorich manoeuvering High Lord Admiral Lansung into leaving Terra in the hope that his absence will halt any reconciliation of the Navy and Army into one fighting force – a force that worries anybody in the post-Heresy world. Again, this angle is only slightly touched on, with the main thrust being the action at Port Sanctus itself. I actually found this quite interesting, however, as we get a few decent Navy types who proved to be interesting to read.
I really liked the subterfuge with the Inquisition and the Assassinorum here. It felt a little silly in the last book, but here it went back to something approaching sensible politics once again. My only real gripe about all of this, however, is that we haven’t quite gone as deep as I would like. The Imperium doesn’t really feel very different to the period of the Heresy or the 41st millennium – I suppose I’m comparing this to my other beloved franchise, Star Wars, and how authors often take pains to emphasize the time-differences between the various eras of SW publishing. We had some glimmers of a really interesting new world in I Am Slaughter, but nothing more has been made of it yet. Hopefully some of the later books will come to address this, however!
While The Emperor Expects is a good book, and has served to really put me back on track with the series, I do have a bit of an issue with it, which holds about as true for Predator, Prey, also. Basically, we don’t know why the Orks are invading Imperium territory all of a sudden. There’s a bit of a mystery built up in the third book especially – all these Orks, suddenly all tech-savvy rather than not having a clue and all the rest of it – but we get no point of view from the Orks, and it’s becoming a bit tedious for me. There seems to be no motivation – I know the greenskins love a fight, but this isn’t really good enough to sustain a twelve-book series. I hope we begin to get somewhere soon, but I don’t get that feeling somehow. For me, this could be forgivable if we got to learn a little more of the history of the era, but it’s all getting a little flat, in my opinion. Maybe if GW had kept this storyline until the Heresy had actually finished, they’d be discussing more stuff and it could become a fully-fledged, well fleshed-out part of the landscape. As it stands, we’re getting novels that are a little over 200pp that are painting in broad strokes a series of vignettes of varying degrees of interest.
The only bright spot to all of this is, at least there are only twelve novels…