The Damnation of Pythos

Hey everybody,
Today I’m continuing to catch up with the books that I’ve been wading through of late, and will be taking a look at The Damnation of Pythos, the 30th book in the Horus Heresy series! 30 books in already – man, it doesn’t seem at all like these things are dragging on…

Be warned – here be spoilers!

The book features what I think is our first showcase of the Iron Hands Legion since the series began – for sure, they’ve been in it since the start, but never as the stars of the show. The sons of Ferrus Manus were one of those Legions that were utterly decimated at Isstvan V, along with the Salamanders and the Raven Guard, and the survivors here are ragged group of all three. Led by Captain Atticus of the 111th Clan Company, the group is drawn to the death world of Pythos in the Pandorax system. There, their astropath Rhydia Erephren discovers a block of psychically-attuned black rock referred to as “the anomaly”, and cannot explain its presence. The space marines are set upon by the weirdly carnivorous beasts of the world, and begin to make a formal settlement on the world while they properly regroup.

After a battle with the Emperor’s Children, where the Iron Hands are able to extract some measure of retribution against the III Legion for their primarch’s murder of Ferrus, the Iron Hands return to Pythos to wait out a Warp storm, during which they are greeted by thousands upon thousands of junker-style ships that appear to be coming to Pythos to settle. The world continues to extract a toll on the civilians, who seem weirdly unfazed by the attacks by the massive native saurians. Meanwhile, the Legion serfs on the planet are being afflicted by nocturnal terrors, with many killing themselves in the grip of madness.

While the colonists are building their settlement, a fissure opens in the ground, revealing a submerged structure that the Iron Hands explore, only to discover it full of carnivorous maggots the size of a man. Things come to a head when Captain Atticus orders a lance hit directly on the ruins site from his flagship Veritas Ferrum, only for it to somehow be deflected back at the ship, destroying the Legionaries’ only way off-planet.

The colonists are soon revealed to be expatriates from Davin, and working to bring about the presence of the daemon Madail into realspace. The daemon’s presence then allows for a cavalcade of lesser daemons to pour forth from the Warp gates within the ruined structures under the surface, and Erephren is barely able to send a warning to Terra before the Iron Hands are completely overcome.

In the epilogue, the message is received by the astropaths of Terra, but the clerks there are unbelieving of such “mythology” and consign it to the piles of thousands of other unread messages.

It took me a long while to get into this book. Whether that was because of real life intruding on things, or something else, who knows. I did find David Annandale’s style a little too off-putting though, as well – the way that a short burst of action would be accompanied by, sometimes, a page and a half of introspection and tangents. But after I was about halfway through, I think I managed to get into it and stuff.

There is a very real sense of dread that is slowly unravelled as the book moves on, as well. After the initial furore of the native fauna of Pythos is seen, we get several nights of utter dread when something is clearly not right – it’s a wonderful way of building up the atmosphere, especially as these moments are seen through the eyes of the Legion serfs, the general humans who help the Legion. While the world also has an effect on the space marines, being transhuman they are somewhat able to shrug it off – especially when we’re talking about Iron Hands, whose motto is “the flesh is weak” and seek to replace their body parts with cybernetica.

I don’t think I’ve felt the need to put a spoiler warning on a Horus Heresy novel for quite some time, as the books all feel fairly dull as regards massive surprises go. However, the revelation that the colonists come from Davin was quite staggering, especially because of the simplicity with which it was announced. It’s a shock to us, the reader, because we know what happens in False Gods, but it’s almost irrelevant to the Iron Hands serf who learns it with us. I really liked that call-back, and I’m intrigued by the idea that we might not be done with the planet of Horus’ downfall yet.

As I alluded to earlier, though, the narrative of the Horus Heresy does seem to be getting really diluted at this point. I really enjoyed Vengeful Spirit, because it was a bit like a return to the principal narrative that had been left off sometime around book 5, but once again here we’re having a story that, while fairly decent in the end, didn’t honestly feel like a Horus Heresy novel for the most part. The little skirmish with the Emperor’s Children was the closest we got, and that only took up about 50 pages.

It’s a really intriguing book though, and I really liked the way that the tension is built up throughout, with the focus on the dread of what is out there. I don’t think I’ve read about many death worlds in 40k before now, so it was also pretty good to see just how bad some of these things can be! The finale was a bit ridiculous and over-the-top, to the point where I did struggle to picture what was going on for the most part, but this isn’t Shakespeare, I guess, so we’re just along for the ride!

Catching Up with The Beast!

Hey everybody!
It’s been a busy few days as I’ve been getting back into the swing of things post-Christmas, but something I’ve been doing to stave off those January blues is pressing on with The Beast Arises. I’ve just read books eight and nine in fairly quick succession, so thought I’d do a combined review of the two here today!

The Beast Arises

The Beast Must Die is quite the war story. We follow the collected space marines of the Last Wall, along with some Ultramarines, Dark Angels, Space Wolves and Blood Angels as they head off to Ullanor with Vulkan, intent on stopping the great Waaagh! by taking out The Beast himself. The Black Templars lead the assault, with the increasingly arrogant High Marshal Bohemond coming to blows with Koorland once again. However, there is an awesome little scene where Vulkan truly puts him in his place, I did enjoy that!

The story is interesting as it seems to give us some very interesting and important clues that I feel we’ve missed up to this point. We follow Beast Krule as he infiltrates the city of Gorkogrod, looking to assassinate The Beast, though his plan goes awry as he sees just how well-protected the warchief is. However, we see that the Orks are almost on a religious crusade against the Imperium, and it seems that their psykers are an incredibly potent threat to the marines, as they manage to kill the Ultramarines chief librarian early on, and wage some pretty horrific casualties across the rest of the book. The novel ends with something like a ritual combat between Vulkan and a massive Ork in highly ornamented battle armour, though it’s never truly made clear if this is indeed The Beast himself.

Oh yes, and we get some truly insane Mechanicus hijinks courtesy of Magos Dominus Zhokuv, who manages to create an ordinatus engine using a starship blaster cannon!

Overall, this was one of the high points of the series for me, and has shown a lot of what I think we should have had earlier on in the series, in order to increase the tension and whatnot. I find it a bit disappointing that we have to wait for book eight before we get anything like the other side of the war, and it has been something that, up to now, has been really boring to me. I mean, we don’t know why the Orks are invading, why their technology is so good considering we keep getting told they’re a stupid race, etc etc. It’s good to get the other side to give the story depth, and that’s finally happening here.

Watchers in Death is the book that I’d been waiting for. I didn’t actually start buying these novels until book five was released, and even then it was very haphazard. This, the ninth book of the series, really convinced me that I should read it, however, as we get the foundation story of the Deathwatch here, which of course is super important for the 40k universe as well! It was no coincidence that this novel came out shortly after Death Masque brought the Deathwatch miniatures to the game!

I thought this book was very similar to The Hunt for Vulkan, which is coincidentally by the same author. After a discussion with Vangorich, Koorland posits the idea of a select kill-team of space marines drawn from across the various chapters to go in on surgical strikes against the Orks, after the debacle on Ullanor has shown that all-out assault won’t work. The High Lords are initially reluctant, thinking that Koorland is out to attempt a coup (without realising that the Imperial Fist could kill them all quite easily by himself). However, the kill team idea is eventually approved when more Orks emerge from the battlemoon that is still in orbit above Terra.

Drawing from the chapters who fought on Ullanor, two kill teams infiltrate the moon, and attempt to use the teleporting technology to move it out of the Sol System. The Mechanicus haven’t managed to perfect the blend of xenos and Imperial technology, however, and the massive stresses induced by the teleporter destroy the moon in orbit. Despite the fact that massive chunks of debris obliterate huge swathes of Terra, there is general rejoicing, and the kill-teams are then deployed on another mission: find the Sisters of Silence.

Yes, that’s right, the Sisters of Silence have apparently survived the Horus Heresy, and Chapter Master Thane leads a kill team with Inquisitors Wienand and Veritus on the hunt! My initial thoughts to this were, “aren’t they based on the Moon?” However, this isn’t mentioned at all, but instead we get a bit of a jaunt around the galaxy as the marines investigate some old ruins that were once a fortress of the Silent Sisterhood, whose domed ceiling happens to have a star-map that shows the location of the next fortress, and so forth. Seemed a bit daft, but there we are.

Turns out they aren’t the only ones after the Silent Sisters, as the Orks, recognising the threat that an army of psychic blanks could pose to their Weirdboyz, are also on the same hunt. Just when I didn’t think the story could get more contrived… I mean, sure, it’s science fiction and all, but why did the Orks wait until the exact same moment the marines go looking for the Sisters? Or do the Orks somehow have the power to predict what the Imperium is up to, and therefore can counter it before it happens? A lot of this series has felt a little too convenient, but this just felt a little too silly.

At any rate – spoiler alert – they find them, and a battle between the marines and the Orks ensues as Wienand bargains with the remaining Sisters of the order. She manages to persuade them that the Imperium is in fact worth fighting for, and the book ends with the Sisters renewing their vows to the Emperor.

All in all, it was an interesting read, though there were some annoying coincidences and such along the way. I was surprised to see the Sisters of Silence actually return, though I suppose it is a long way before we get to 40k, so I’m intrigued to see where this storyline goes. I know we’re still only in the second-founding years but, aside from the handful of Imperial Fists successor chapters, it seems the only other Space Marine chapters in the galaxy are first-founding ones. True, Novamarines have been mentioned once, I think, but we still have Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves and Ultramarines making up the cast. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was exciting when we first got to see something other than Imperial Fists and their successors, but there are literally hundreds of chapters from the second founding alone, surely we could get some variety?! Bah!

I know I’ve been critical of this book already, but I think it’s also worth pointing out that it felt a little rushed, particularly at the end. However, that does feel quite symptomatic of the series in general, really. These books are quite short – Watchers in Death is the second to come in at under 200pp – but there tends to have been a focus more on the battle scenes of the story in the latest few novels, and less on the intrigue and stuff. We get very little of the High Lords any more – and what we do get is really quite simplistic rather than anything else. I’m also feeling a bit annoyed that the Iron Warriors storyline seems to be dying a death. I think there was one chapter given over to it in Watchers in Death, as First Captain Zerberyn of the Fists Exemplar continues to fight alongside Kalkator and the Iron Warriors, disobeying a command from Thane to return to Terra. After the focus given to it in Echoes of the Long War, it seems that the story might be fizzling out – I hope we do get some pay-off before book twelve!

Anyway, this blog has been meandering for far too long now. I think, if you’ve read up to book seven of this series, you’re pretty much committed now, and will be reading to the end no matter how many reviews of the novels you read! I wasn’t entirely overwhelmed by either of these, unfortunately, though there were some really interesting ideas presented in them, which has made me excited and intrigued to see just where this story is going. I’m three-quarters of the way through it now, so I’m going to continue to power through and hopefully get to the end before January is out!

The Hunt for Vulkan

Beast Arises Hunt for Vulkan

So I recently finished The Hunt for Vulkan, the seventh novel in The Beast Arises series, and also one of the shortest entries in that series so far. The book forms something of a turning point in the war between the Imperium and the Orks, as Chapter Master Koorland literally leads a hunt for the primarch Vulkan to aid in the fight.

Vulkan is the primarch of the Salamanders space marine legion, and in case you weren’t aware, he is a “perpetual”, which is the Warhammer version of saying “immortal”. He might seem to die many times, but he will always, always survive anything that he goes through – such as, famously, his torture at the hands of his brother primarch, Konrad Curze. So it’s no real surprise that he’s still kicking around a thousand years after the Horus Heresy and the age of the primarchs.

Inquisitor Veritus brings the news of Vulkan’s survival to Koorland, telling him he is on the planet of Caldera. Koorland also manages to reach something of a detente with the Mechanicum after the Fists Exemplar lead an incursion to Mars in order to recover Magos Urqidex who, at the end of the last book, had been trying to get the message that the Orks were based on Ullanor out to Terra. Now armed with this information, Koorland calls together yet more Space Marine chapters – the Ultramarines, the Dark Angels, the Blood Angels and the Space Wolves – to assist in a final push against the greenskins while he leads his Last Wall to Caldera to find Vulkan.

In orbit above the planet is a partially-constructed Ork battlemoon, and we get to see how they create these things, by using gravity-whips to pull chunks of the planet into orbit, where somehow they are grafted into the moon. Weird. During all the fighting on the planet, Koorland is almost convinced that they won’t in fact find him, but after some fairly brutal combat, the space marines do indeed discover Vulkan leading the resistance, almost single-handedly staving off the Orks. There’s a wonderful little scene where Koorland is totally awe-struck at the sight of the legendary primarch, and reflects that this must be how ordinary humans see the space marines. Having been reading a lot of the Horus Heresy novels this year, I suppose I’d grown accustomed to the idea of primarchs, so it was cool to see that they are actually super-human folks!

Vulkan agrees to lead the fight against Ullanor, once the Orks have been repelled from Caldera, so an offensive is launched on the installation where the Orks are sending chunks of the planet into space. After successfully destroying the Orks and leaving enough of the technology for the Mechanicum to study, Vulkan returns to Terra where he takes control of the war, leaving the High Lords in awe of his presence.

While it was a little slow at times, and the battles were pretty tough to get through, I did actually like this book. It’s been a bit of a gripe of mine for a while now that we don’t know enough about what the Orks are doing to really make them interesting, as they’re very much left as a threat that needs to be stopped. There has been some attempt to provide a mystery around why they’re doing what they’re doing, as well as just how are they so damn coordinated and effective all of a sudden, but that mystery has been stretched so thin, it’s beyond the breaking point for me now. The fact that we seem to be about to learn more stuff, as we’re poised on the attack on Ullanor, bodes well for me in this respect, so I’m hopeful we’ll begin to see some resolution soon.

In this book, we also get to see some of the mad scientist Orks, which does help to make the story a little more interesting, as well. We keep getting told throughout the series that the Orks have developed or whatever, and they’re apparently some kind of technical geniuses now. However, it is somewhat comforting to know that there are still eccentric Meks about who are more discovering these things by chance than anything else…

I’m not particularly a Salamanders fan, but I thought the inclusion of a primarch to lead the crusade against the Orks was a pretty great idea, and it’s treated with the appropriate reverence that you’d expect from this kind of thing. I was also really interested to finally see more Chapters than just Imperial Fists and their successors. Not being a huge fan of the chaps in yellow, I was excited to see the inclusion of the other guys, even if they are all first-founding chapters, and even if they do include the Space Wolves…

We also get a tiny bit of the Iron Warriors storyline that was the main focus of the previous book, as Zerberyn and Kalkator have a moment of reflection above the dying world of Prax. I thought that storyline was super interesting in the last few books, as we see the Fists Exemplar and the Iron Warriors working together to overcome the Ork menace, and the shifting perceptions of the Iron Warriors as traitors and heretics. There is still some of that in this very short scene here, but the fact that it was relegated to such a short moment had me concerned that there won’t be much more of a pay-off for this. Hopefully I’m wrong on that, though!

The Beast Arises has surprised me for being a story that is basically one continuous narrative, but written by different authors. I was expecting something more along the lines of the Horus Heresy, or some of the Star Wars multi-book series, where individual authors concentrate on their pet units and tell fragments of the story – so, for instance, if we had a book by Gav Thorpe, we’d know it would feature Dark Angels, and so on. It’s been a bit strange that we’ve had just one narrative, albeit a sprawling one, and while having a tight focus has been good on the one hand, it’s becoming a little tedious after seven books, so I’m happy to see some different stuff thrown into the mix now that we have four very different Chapters thrown into the mix.

Speaking of sprawling narratives, this blog is becoming something of the same now, so I think I’ll wrap it up for now! I’m currently planning to have a bit more Star Wars on the reading list for the festive season, so might not be back with the Beast for a while. But I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes!

The Last Wall

The twelfth and final book in The Beast Arises series is available on Saturday, but I’m only now a third of the way through, having this morning finished reading the fourth in the series, The Last Wall!

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Like previous installments, this book picks up directly after the last one, with the Ork battle moon in orbit over Terra. Initially in panic, the High Lords of Terra unite behind the plan put forth by Juskina Tull, speaker for the Chartist Captains, to basically throw as many bodies at the Orks as possible. The Proletarian Crusade is born, and amid a smattering of Astra Militarum platoons, millions of civilians enlist to go up against the greenskins. Meanwhile, the Inquisition intrigue continues, as Wienand reaches the polar fortress of her order and, despite Veritus having effectively replaced her on the Council, seemingly manages to convince her colleagues that she hasn’t lost sight of the threat of Chaos, merely that the Ork threat is more immediate and must be tackled now. Some disturbing news reaches her there, however, that Ork activity around the Eye of Terror may be causing a Chaos incursion.

The Crusade doesn’t end well at all, which is somewhat to be expected, and three Ork “ambassadors” arrive at the Imperial Palace, demanding humanity’s surrender. When the High Lords refuse this, the Orks leave, condemning the population of Terra, however a massive detonation signals the arrival of yet another xenos threat: from the Eldar!

This book was actually pretty great! I enjoyed seeing the continued intrigue among the Inquisition, and while the overall politics among the High Lords still doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, it was nevertheless interesting to read and immerse myself in. Something that I particularly enjoyed was seeing actual Ork characters finally in the series – we’ve been three (and a half!) books now with the story only being told from one side, and while I don’t think we’re really any further forward in knowing why the Orks are suddenly attacking humanity on all fronts, the intrigue has been dialed up a notch in that the Ork ambassadors appear unlike any greenskin yet seen in the Imperium. Coupled with the ongoing investigations of the Mechanicum that keep getting hinted at, this is slowly proving to be an interesting aspect of the series.

I felt a bit cheated that the story didn’t involve the astartes more heavily – the book is called The Last Wall, which we know is the failsafe from Rogal Dorn to reunite the various chapters back into the Imperial Fists Legion should the need arise. Yet we only get (I think) one chapter that dealt with this! It seems like maybe a wrong choice for a novel title, though I admit that the Proletarian Crusade was referred to as a last wall also. Hm.

Speaking of astartes, there was a very interesting chapter that showed some Iron Warriors fighting against the Ork tide, and I was convinced at first that it was a typo for Iron Hands. But no! I don’t know much about the Iron Warriors, and haven’t really met them yet in my Horus Heresy readings, but I thought it was really interesting to see these apparently loyalist space marines from a Traitor Legion so long after the Horus Heresy. I wonder where their story is going…

I get the impression, from a lot of these vignettes, that the authors are trying to develop the setting for perhaps some more stories later on – whether around the same timeframe, or else in subsequent years. So we’re seeing a lot of things just for the sake of establishing that setting, rather than having any meaningful part of the actual story. I could be wrong, of course, but it’s just the sense of having things sketched in and whatnot.

Maybe the much-anticipated 8th edition Warhammer 40k will have options for historical narrative play or something? Who knows!

At any rate, I thought this was a really enjoyable book, and one that I found myself engaged with more so than some of the previous books. With the threat of the Eldar poised to further complicate the issue, I’m going to move on directly to Throneworld now, anyway, so watch out for the next book shortly!