This book is pretty damn good, I have to say. It took me quite some time to get through because it is really quite dense, in terms of the action and whatnot. It’s basically a war novel through the lens of 40k, moreso than any other book that I’ve read recently. I love ADB, don’t get me wrong, but there was just something about this one that made it sometimes a bit tough to read through.
We’re basically in the Third War for Armageddon, Black Templars vs Orks. The strategy employed by the Imperium is to try to annihilate the Ork fleet to prevent planetfall as much as possible, but the Ork fleet is just so unspeakably huge that this quickly proves impossible, and the Imperial fleet retreats, allowing for massive xenos landings. So it becomes a land battle, which becomes a siege as the Imperial defenders attempt to hold Helsreach Hive against the invasion, but the Orks have such overwhelming numbers in comparison to the Steel Legion and just 100 Black Templars. Of course, those Templars are led by Chaplain Grimaldus, who is an absolute beast himself.
Grimaldus is one of the small handful of point of view characters, but he is singled out by having his narrative told in first-person. It’s a very interesting shift whenever it happens, and does feel like he is the central character of the story. Being the chaplain of the Black Templars, he does give a very rousing speech calling all the elements of the Guard to battle shortly before the first wave of Orks attack the hive walls. Spoiler alert: he’s also the only Templar left by the end of the book, and is presented with the relics of the first founders of Helsreach for his valour in defending the hive – which is why his model comes with those three servitors lugging around stuff like the huge column and the tattered standard, etc.
We also have Andrej, a stormtrooper in the Steel Legion who provides something akin to comic relief in the book – as the novel wore on, the parts featuring him became some of those that I looked forward to the most. As the situation goes from worse to terrible, Andrej finds himself leading a group of civilian dockworkers armed by the Guard to defend against the Orks. Andrej becomes a very interesting point from which to tell the story moving towards the final stand at the Temple of the Emperor Ascendant, and forms a nice counterpoint to the serious business of the war waged by the Templars. Here is a guy who has no further orders, and the vox is down, so is doing his best to link up with any remaining members of the Guard, while leading this band of civilians.
Ordinarily, I’m not a big fan of the Mechanicus storylines in these sorts of books. We usually see Titan Legions going to war and it really doesn’t interest me for the most part, but I did find myself interested in seeing these parts of the story unfold, I think in part because we get to read about life (to some extent!) in the cathedral on top of the Emperor-class titan, which is something new for me. We also see the rediscovery of the Ordinatus Armageddon – I’ve not actually read a book involving Ordinati before (at least, that I remember), so that was nice as well. Basically massive guns with some form of transport attached, the Ordinatus Armageddon is described as a nova cannon (the stuff voidships use to destroy each other) strapped to something akin to two landraiders. It’s the type of bonkers, over-the-top stuff that we have come to expect from 40k, of course.
We only ever see the Imperial side of things, and the Orks are reduced to just so much cannon fodder each time they appear, although their numbers never seem to dissipate. The war was led by Ghazghkull Thraka, and looms large in the 40k lore as the largest Ork Waaagh! ever assembled. The Imperials are led by Commissar Yarrick, although he barely appears at the start! I suppose this is very much a Grimaldus novel, though, and even when he’s not on the page, his presence looms large thanks to the other characters all having been linked by contact with him. Somehow, not knowing anything from the other side of the war does help to create a tension, as we can’t really anticipate what’s going to happen next. We don’t really know where they’re going to strike, etc – although it soon becomes apparent that any offensive where the Orks are involved, it’s all going to turn to hell soon enough!
The ending was a little disappointing, in that it’s basically a case of the seasons changing, and Armageddon itself fighting back. The world turns to an ash storm, and everyone has to break off and go to ground. A bit disappointing, but given how far the war had gone, I suppose the only way Grimaldus could survive to have a miniature of him in the game was for some kind of stalemate or extraction. Ah well!
The Third War for Armageddon is the stuff of 40k legend, of course, being part of a worldwide campaign back in third edition. Black Templars vs Orks was the stuff of the starter set, which was infamous for having the nicer-style deffkoptas that have only recently been redesigned. The Templars had a huge focus back then as well, and of course they too have recently been reimagined for 9th edition, while still remaining somewhat faithful to the older style artwork.
I did enjoy the book, although it was hard-going at times. If you’re a Black Templars fan, it’s pretty much required reading, and given the new Black Templar models being released right now, I think it’s probably moving further up many peoples’ reading lists!!