Friday, November 07, 2014

Booknote: Battle for the Abyss

Ben Counter, Battle for the Abyss. Nottingham: Black Library, 2008. ISBN: 9781844165490.

Genre: Science Fiction
Subgenre: Space Opera, Military Science Fiction
Series: The Horus Heresy, Warhammer 40,000. Book 8.

Warning: this note does have some minimal spoilers (which probably will not bother hardcore WH 40K fans). 

After Descent of Angels, (link to my review here) the series seems to be improving. However, this volume shows it still has some ways to go after the slump in Descent of Angels. The abyss of the title refers to the Furious Abyss, a giant dreadnought starship the Word Bearers legion, in secret collaboration with the Mechanicum of Mars, have constructed and deploy in order to launch a devastating ambush attack on Macragge. Macragge is the homeworld of the Ultramarines legion, who are considered the royalty or blue bloods of the Space Marines. They are the ones who really live "by the book." Although I will say that the novels of the Ultramarines I have read have been enjoyable, but that is in part because they deal with mavericks who do look past the rulebook (link to my review of those novels here). At any rate, if fans of the Ultramarines are looking for a lot about this legion, they are not going to find it in Counter's novel.

The Word Bearers' attack is part of Horus' plan to cripple and/or eliminate any legions that remain loyal to the Emperor. By now, Horus' treachery is in the open, so he has to rush to carry out his plans. Cestus, an Ultramarine captain in an outpost with a small group of Ultramarines and some members of other legions, gets wind of the plot. He commandeers a small fleet, and with the few Space Marines at his disposal, who are members of the Space Wolves, the Thousand Sons, and the World Eaters, goes on a chase to attempt to stop the Word Bearers.

The pace of the action remains at a pretty good steady clip throughout the novel. The presence of members of different legions shows some of their contrasting philosophies and battle tactics, and I found this interesting. This is a certainly a book of the Word Bearers, so fans of that traitor legion will find plenty here. Yet at times, Zadkiel, the Astartes admiral commanding the Furious Abyss, comes across a bit like the stereotypical villain trying to carry out a plot. The man seems right out cartoonish; all he needs is a mustache to twirl in his fingers. The novel also features some moments of gallantry and bonding of warriors such as Cestus, the strict rule follower, and Brynngar, the primally aggressive Space Wolf. I also rooted for Mhotep, the member and captain from the Thousand Sons, a legion revealed to be composed of psykers. Well, if you are a fan of WH40K, you probably already knew this, but to casual readers coming to the series for the first time, this would be a revelation. At any rate, psykers, those who have various psychic and mental powers, are seen as heretics by the Imperium, even if such powers could prove helpful to the imperial cause. Mhotep is disliked by Brynngar, who sees him as a witch and heretic; Cestus, reluctantly has to ask for his help, but he still condemns him because, well, rules are rules. Mhotep, to make things interesting, is acting in a time before it is revealed his own legion takes sides with Horus. This fact is hinted at in the novel.

The novel sets up things for later works in the series such as Know No Fear: The Battle of Calth (Book 19 in the series) and other works that feature the Calth theater of the war and the enmity between the Ultramarines and the Word Bearers. It will take me a bit to get there since I am trying to read the books in order.

Overall, if asked, I'd give this 3 out of 5 stars. It's alright, but it could have been better.

No comments: