It’s been a bit quiet in the Cantina of late for one reason and another, but I am assured that the dry spell is at an end, and to kick things off here’s my review of Mitchel Scanlon’s addition to the 41st millennium, Fifteen Hours.
First off, let’s take a look at the official blurb about the book
“Basic Training: Four Months. Planetary Transportation: Seven Weeks. Life Expectancy…Fifteen Hours. The stalwart troops of the Imperial Guard are the first line of defence against the numerous foes of the Imperium. Their heroism and courage is renowned across the galaxy and their armoured might has crushed countless rebellions and invasions. This action packed novel tells the story of a lone guardsman and his baptism of fire in a combat zone where the average expected lifespan is a mere fifteen hours. Fighting hand-to-hand against the barbarous Orks, he must draw upon all of his training if he is to live to see another dawn. The horrors of war are only too real in this harrowing tale of carnage and valour!”
In a universe full of Chaos corrupted traitors, Daemons, innumerable alien horrors, and genetically engineered supermen, the Imperial Guard are always the underdogs. Regular human beings given basic training, body armour that’s clearly from the same factory that makes it for Star Wars’ Stormtroopers, and a laser gun, and then shipped off across the galaxy to fight in their thousands. Novels focusing on the plight of the common Guardsmen are some of my favourites in the whole Black Library range – partly because it’s easier to empathise with the protagonists, because they’re not superhuman, or psychic, or using the most powerful equipment, they’re regular men and women battling through the grimdark horrors of the far future, and partly because they usually draw heavily from WW1 references – the trenches, the dugouts, the artillery support – which is something I really enjoy.
This book is short (just shy of three hundred pages) but it perfectly captures the experience of Larn, the young Guardsman as he leaves his home, rushes through basic training and faces his first disastrous deployment to a combat zone. The novel maintains a brisk pace without sacrificing key details. There’s little in the way of character development, but this isn’t a novel (or indeed, a universe) that needs it. You get to know Larn well enough that you feel his terror, his horror at the brutalities of war in a cold unfeeling galaxy. The other characters are almost stereotypes – the intelligent one, the grumpy but reliable one, the big and a bit simple one, the angry one, the heroic sergeant, the bumbling officers, and the sefl-important general – but they work, the subtle shifts in the characters enough to make them unique in their own way, but generic enough that they don’t dominate the piece, allowing our frightened “new fish” to take the spotlight as we face war in the 41st millennium through his eyes.
One of the quirks about this book that I particularly liked was the chapters that focused away from the main story, and gave a little insight into other things happening outside the narrative which nonetheless changed the course of the story. The desk clerk and his ledger, the defeated administratum clerk and his numbers, the Lord-General and his pompous blindness. They all told their own little story which tied seamlessly into the main narrative, enriching it without overcrowding it. I’d like to see if Mr. Scanlon carried this over into his other works, since this is his first full novel.
A good bit of light reading for someone who already knows the basics of the 40k universe, and a solid effort for a first novel.
Rating 4 out of 5