Angel Exterminatus

It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished reading Angel Exterminatus, so I thought it about time I came here and wrote up some of my usual rambling thoughts about it!!

I feel very much like I’m in the land of filler novels at the minute, with the last full-length novel in the series I read, Fear to Tread, being the same. It seems like there is just so much to cover, having such an extensive cast already, that the stories are becoming, not necessarily the same, but alike enough that it’s growing old already. And Angel Exterminatus is only book 23 of what we now know to be a 50-book series!

This book is the first to properly feature Perturabo and the Iron Warriors, as we follow the legion during an action on the planet Hydra Cortadus (later seen in the novel Storm of Iron, of course!) The Iron Warriors are joined by the Emperor’s Children, who have all gone a bit weird since Perturabo last saw them, and Fulgrim stokes his brothers curiosity around gaining control of a fabled eldar super-weapon known as the Angel Exterminatus, from a planet deep within the galactic phenomenon known as the Eye of Terror. Perturabo is essentially duped by Fulgrim, who is attempting to rise to daemonhood through a ritual on this eldar croneworld – in order to get there, he needs Perturabo’s knowledge of labyrinths to navigate the hidden ways.

Perturabo, for his part, is well aware that he is being used, but is nevertheless curious as to what is going on, so goes along with the charade but manages to stop Fulgrim’s ascendancy at the last minute. Both parties are in turn being stalked by a ragged band of Iron Hands, who also show up on the croneworld and all hell breaks loose. A lot of the Iron Hands shenanigans did feel a little bit like they were getting in the way of the main story, partly because it felt like these sections were lifted from another book entirely, so I’m not sure they were exactly needed for this one. But I suppose it does add to the confusion at the end. Overall, though, while a lot of work has gone into the character-building for Perturabo, I think there was a lot of chaff that could have been trimmed from this one.

I’ve read of so many people claiming that this book is just so amazing, that I found myself initially let down by it. I usually enjoy Graham McNeill’s work, as well, which kinda compounded the problem. It’s not a bad book, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s just the issue of coming on the back of so much filler, because nothing really happens in this book it just also lapses into that category. We have a really intriguing character portrait of the Primarch of the IV Legion, as well as a continuation of the depravities of the III Legion, and it actually fits really well with McNeill’s earlier novel, Fulgrim. While Perturabo is definitely front and centre of the cover, the book is as much about the ongoing issues with the Emperor’s Children, and we see more of Lucius, Fabius and the Kakophoni. Julius Kaesoron also returns, which I thought was a nice touch, as it feels like he’s sometimes sidelined in favour of the other Emperor’s Children legionaries.

At this point in the story, I feel like more needs to be happening to drive the overall narrative forward, and we’re just not getting that right now. What’s going on with Horus? He hasn’t properly appeared since the opening trilogy, and the odd cameo where he just glowers and rages isn’t really cutting it for me.

I realize, however, that I’ve not been very good at keeping going with the Horus Heresy series, so I’m hoping that this year I can make some decent progress here. I’m going to aim to read up to The Damnation of Pythos, at least, and hopefully get to grips with the ongoing narrative. It’s a total of seven more novels (well, six and an anthology) so it’s not exactly impossible! From reading the backs of some of these novels, it sounds like there is a definite return to the story of the Word Bearers as architects of the Heresy, and – hopefully – we see a return to something like an ongoing storyline. Character studies are all fine and good, of course, but there is a significant part of me that is expecting more out of this series at this point!

Dead Sky, Black Sun

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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!

Iron Within!

After what feels like a very long time, today I finished reading the Iron Warriors novel, Storm of Iron, and I have to say, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would! That sentiment sounds a bit more harsh than perhaps I’d want it to be, so let me explain.

Last year, I read the first two novels in Graham McNeill’s Ultramarines series, Nightbringer and Warriors of Ultramar. I’d read somewhere that the Iron Warrior Honsou appears in the series as some kind of nemesis, and has his own novel in Storm of Iron, so picked up the Iron Warriors omnibus with the intention of getting the whole story, then discovered the Horus Heresy series and the rest of that is history. I want to get back into the series though, so after looking up a reading order, I made a start on this book.

The Iron Warriors are the fourth Space Marine Legion, who turned traitor during the Heresy and fled into the Eye of Terror once Horus had been defeated. While some of the traitor legions worship a particular Chaos god, the Iron Warriors have devoted themselves to Chaos Undivided, or the idea of Chaos itself rather than one of the four deities. The Iron Warriors are siege warfare experts, but were almost constantly overlooked in favour of their brother marines of the Imperial Fists. They fell to Chaos when their primarch, Perturabo, was seduced by Horus’ promise of greater glories than those offered by their father the Emperor.

Storm of Iron tells the story of the Iron Warriors’ siege of the citadel of Tor Christo on the planet Hydra Cordatus. Led by the sinister Warsmith, the Chaos Space Marines are intent on something within the citadel, but precisely what remains unclear for most of the novel. Leading the ground assaults are three of the Warsmith’s captains: Forrix, Kroeger and Honsou. Forrix is the hoary veteran of countless battles, while Kroeger is a berserker of Khorne and Honsou is almost universally reviled as a half-breed, his blood tainted with that of the Imperial Fists.

The novel is basically the story of this siege, with the back-and-forth of the Iron Warriors attacking the citadel, being pushed back, attacking again, being pushed back again, then making a final all-out assault. It’s not really the sort of story that I enjoy – I usually go for much more varied and, dare I say, interesting stories with a lot of plot to them, and so I was a bit dubious once I’d gotten partway into this book. However, the story is peppered with all manner of small-scale stories as we learn more of the defenders on the bastion and the Iron Warriors themselves, making the tale really very compelling!

I’d expected Honsou to be something of a self-indulgent type, because of his tainted provenance, but he’s actually an interesting chap because he just wants to get the job done. Forrix and, particularly, Kroeger, are much more irritating for being “pure” Iron Warriors. There’s an interesting side story with Kroeger that I don’t want to spoil here, but I definitely found to be intriguing, especially as it went on!

We don’t get to learn a great deal about the Warsmith, he’s mainly an overlord type of big baddie who happens to be intent on daemonhood. This desire to ascend to become a daemon prince drives the story along, as he wants to conclude the siege quickly. The most remarkable thing about this novel, for me, requires me to spoil the ending, so I apologise in advance for that: the Iron Warriors win. The novel is about them, and they’re evil, but we spend so much time with the guardsmen on the bastion that I began to think they would somehow carry the day – but no, the Iron Warriors obtain their objective, and leave the planet in smouldering ruins. I was surprised by this because it was kind of unexpected! But there you have it. It’s a story where the bad guys get what they came for, and so the Warsmith ascends to become a daemon prince, and names Honsou as his successor.

Despite the idea of a book that is a pretty grueling siege, I really enjoyed it, having had my interest in the legion piqued after having read so much about them during the Beast Arises series. I think the ending really paid off, even if it is an unorthodox evil-triumphs type of ending, and I was really impressed overall!

I also read the short story The Enemy of My Enemy, which is also included in the omnibus, and deals with some of the fall-out of the novel, as we see what happens to the guardsmen who were taken as slaves by the Iron Warriors at the end of the siege. The Iron Warriors’ homeworld in the Eye of Terror is the daemon planet of Medrengard, where the slaves toil in the daemon forges to create new weapons for the legion. Some of the slaves attempt to escape, but this goes awry and they are almost killed when some renegade Space Marines led by Ardaric Vaanes, who I believe is important to the next Ultramarines novel, Dead Sky, Black Sun, which I will likely get to sometime in the new year, now…

All in all, I really enjoyed these two stories. I find it kinda fascinating to see the weird alchemy of Chaos at work, the way the use daemons bound to machinery and stuff. Doesn’t seem to be something other traitor legions use, or at least not in the same way, anyway!

Definitely recommended!