The third volume in the Ultramarines series by Graham McNeill, this one forms a direct sequel to both the previous installment, Warriors of Ultramar, as well as McNeill’s earlier novel, Storm of Iron.
While Uriel Ventris may have played a successful part in repelling the tyranids on the world of Tarsis Ultra, his unorthodox methods were not approved of by the larger Ultramarines Chapter, and so he and his sergeant Pasanius are exiled from the Chapter on a Blood Oath to destroy some daemonic engines that Chief Librarian Tigurius has seen in a vision. All of this is dealt with by the short story Consequences that precedes the main story proper, anyway.
Dead Sky, Black Sun sees Ventris and Pasanius on their way to discover just what this vision could have meant, when their ship is attacked in the Warp by the Omphalos Daemonium, a daemon engine we saw briefly in The Enemy of My Enemy, the short story I’d read following Storm of Iron. The daemon takes the Ultramarines to Medrengard, the homeworld of the Iron Warriors deep within the Eye of Terror, and tells them that the daemon engines they seek are to be found within the stronghold of Khalan-Ghol, but its purpose is hardly altruistic, as it tasks Ventris with retrieving the Heart of Blood from within the fortress – “you will know it when you see it”.
While Ventris of course has no intention of keeping a bargain with the daemon, he nevertheless uses all opportunities presented to him to help fulfill his Blood Oath. And so he and Pasanius begin their journey. Along the way, they meet up with Ardaric Vaanes and his Renegades, and attempt to infiltrate the fortress only to be caught by its lord, none other than the half-breed Honsou!
The Space Marines are given over to the Savage Morticians deep within the bowels of Honsou’s fortress, creatures I’d have expected to be more at home in Commorragh than here, but whatever. Ventris himself, for defying Honsou, is stitched inside the Daemonculaba, a horrific Warp-spawned engine/womb hybrid where the Iron Warriors seek to make more of their kind. Somehow, Ventris manages to escape his grisly fate, and along with significantly less renegades, escapes the Savage Morticians only to find themselves in the land of the Unfleshed – the failures of the Daemonculaba process. These horrific brutes at first fight the Space Marines, though their leader smells the Daemonculaba on Ventris and takes them in as kindred. Eurgh.
Together with the Unfleshed, the Marines storm the citadel once more, and all hell breaks loose when they release the daemon bound to its centre, the Heart of Blood. At this point, the Omphalos Daemonium shows up and there ensues a titanic battle between the two, with the Heart of Blood victorious. However, the Omphalos Daemonium’s daemonic engine is left behind, and Ventris, Pasanius and the remaining Unfleshed use it to flee from Khalan-Ghol. Honsou, barely surviving the attack on his fortress, teams up with Vaanes and a grisly by-product of Ventris’ time within the Daemonculaba – what appears to be a Chaos clone of the Ultramarine…
This is one hell of a grisly book!
I know it’s set within the Eye of Terror, so anything goes, but still! There is a lot of swimming through blood and body parts, and various mutant hybrids, and it’s all just really quite grim!
Maybe because of that, I found myself enduring this one rather than enjoying it, as I did with the previous two. I suppose the pared-down nature of the story, with just the two Marines rather than the whole company, didn’t really help there, though. I enjoyed the earlier Ultramarines novels because they showed how the Space Marines fit into the Imperium, and whatnot. There was a really quite nice sense of world-building in that regard there. Here, however, the story felt a little more small-scale, and while I suppose it offers a fascinating look into the worlds of Chaos and what the Iron Warriors get up to on their home turf, I just wasn’t feeling as into it as I had previously.
The way that the novel brings together the Iron Warriors and Ultramarines novel-universes, though, was really very good, and I’m glad I took the time to read Storm of Iron before getting back into this series.
Having briefly looked over the remaining three novels in this series, I find myself a bit dismayed to discover that the next two seem to be dealing with Ventris’ attempts to rejoin the Chapter, as I’d hoped for more general Ultramarines action. It’s not to say Ventris isn’t an interesting character, or that his arc is not worth reading – I think I just prefer to see Space Marines fighting on the larger scale.
But I guess we’ll just have to see!