I'm part way through The Purging of Kadillus, by Gav Thorpe. I recently was pleasantly surprised by winning this as a prize from sons of thunder. As fate would have it, Gav was the "random guest" at The Overlords (dot co dot UK) podcast this week, though they didn't discuss the book. It's a good episode, check it out!
On to the book.
As said, I'm only part way through, hence the "Part 1" in the title. I had a number of impressions early on that I thought were interesting that I might forget at the end of the book, so wanted to go ahead and do an in-progress review. I guess I could have written them down somewhere and saved them until I finished the book, but what is the internet for if not for immediately vomiting forth whatever's on your mind that exact moment?
The basic story is that the Dark Angels get embroiled with Orks, on a world called Piscina IV with some of the action centering on a city conveniently enough called Kadillus. There will be some spoilers below, so turn away if you don't want them. They're pretty minor IMO, and things you'll learn early on anyways. Still:
SPOILERS BELOW! SPOILERS BELOW!
First of all, the writing is pretty good. Very proficient, and the book is an easy read. As he should be, Gav is clearly very familiar with the 40K universe, not making background mistakes other authors might. At times he even goes into some depth on a topic, which should delight those already familiar and intriguing readers new to 40K. While it's somewhat in-depth, he does it in a way that seems natural, showing rather than telling in most cases, and I think readers new to 40K would be more interested than overwhelmed. This would be a good book to use to introduce someone to the 40K universe.
We start the book seeing the Orks - who turn out to be Ghazgkull and Nazdreg! Oi! I was expecting some new Ork leaders for the book, so that part was a bit of a letdown in some respects. However, in other ways it's a good thing, as it helps flesh out parts of an existing story that we didn't know much about before. This seems to be set between Ghazzie's two assaults on Armageddon, as I think he picked up Nazdreg for the second one. It's alluded to, but so far not explicitly shown so far that the Orks are using tellyporta technology for their landings on Kadillus, as the Dark Angels go on fruitless quests to find ships and landing sites.
After the Orks, we go next to some guardsmen who spot the orks heading for Kadillus, establishing what we'll see multiple times throughout the book, changing perspectives. After these first couple of preludes the action centers more on the Dark Angels, but we get several different marine perspectives - a Chaplain, an Apothecary, and the famous scout sergeant Naaman. Belial is (at least early on) a secondary character, only referred to or spoken to over comm-link. Presumably they'll shift to his perspective later on in the book, or at least show him taking the field. Much of the action so far involves regular marines, though being a Dark Angels book the Ravenwing and Deathwing both feature as well. Belial is referred to as Master of the 3rd Company, so presumably this also takes place before his ascension to Master of the Deathwing/1st Company (if I understand my Dark Angels background correctly).
Some points I liked:
- The Orks, while certainly treated as less sophisticated than the marines, are handled with respect. They aren't a cake walk opponent in most cases and are very dangerous to the marines in close quarters and with weapons that can defeat their armor.
- It's nice seeing some old-school stuff come into play, like pulsa rokkits and stasis grenades.
- The parts with the Apothecary were very well done I thought. Not only because we rarely read things from the Apothecary perspective but it allows for showcasing a lot of what makes marines physically different from humans. Part of that show don't tell dynamic.
- The Apothecary at one point takes a shot with a plasma cannon (that scene would make for a cool diorama) while tending to the devastator who normally carries it. Showing how Apothecaries aren't just medics or even guys who just fight with their bone saw and pistol, but that they're marines first, medics second. Probably my favorite sequence in the book so far.
- Along with the Apothecary section with its showing of extra organs, gene seed and so on using scouts in the story is excellent, allowing the showing of how the marines literally grow into their role, and how scouts aren't physically full marines yet. It also shows another aspect of the marine arsenal. I hope that later in the book we see Land Raiders and jump pack troops; if so I think most of the range of marine stuff will have been featured. Again, great introduction to marines for those not familiar, and for those who are familiar, your favorite thing is bound to feature at some point.
- Some interesting bits during the interaction between scouts and Ravenwing, exploring seniority and command structures with marine forces where units are often seconded over from other companies. I don't know if this works the same in other chapters, or if it's just a Dark Angels thing.
- Another interesting bit noting that the marines' names are inherited - once they become a full marine, they take on the name of a fallen marine. It is not explicitly stated, but perhaps they take their name from the carrier of the gene-seed. Each marine has a personal "family history" of his predecessors, a bit I found interesting giving them a more personal story than just that of the chapter as a whole. Again, don't know if this is general marine practice or just Dark Angels.
- The marines deviate, but are quickly reigned in by their leaders and chaplains. This and some other bits in the book fit in well with my view of marines as more weapon than human, focused on victory more than moral concerns. All that discipline and ritual is necessary to keep them focused, to keep them in line with being the nasty unyielding bringer of doom on humanity's behalf, instead of an unchained wild nasty unyielding bringer of doom preying on humanity. See also Dembski-Bowden's Night Lords books or Zou's Blood Gorgons - the traitor marines keep on going and fighting simply because it's what they do, and all they do. Their purpose is simply to fight and win - without a strong hand on their leash keeping them focused on particular enemies, it's easy to stray. There's a bit in one of the Night Lords books where one asks another (paraphrased) "What happens when we win? Once we get to Terra, smash the Imperium and kill the Emperor, what next?" One seems confused by the question, while the other seems to realize that the only thing that will change for the Night Lords is the particulars of the targets. There's no real victory, no real end game, no peace for the marines.
I've been going through this pretty quickly when I've been too tired to do real work, so I expect I'll have a part 2 up before too long. But so far at least this is certainly a recommended read for existing 40K fans and for anyone looking for a good place to jump in.