Ah Games Workshop, they love their Space Marines, their Adeptus Astartes! So it’s no surprise really that most of their publishing imprint’s (Black Library) books are about them, or feature them prominently. Space Marine Battles is a series of novels focussing on notable battles fought by the various chapters of Adeptus Astartes out in the grim darkness of the far future, and the heroes of those chapters. The series was launched in 2010 with the book Rynn’s World, which features the Crimson Fists defending their home world from a massive Ork Waaaagh (translation for non-40k fans: A massive crusade of Orks, with millions of the warmongering aliens rampaging across worlds).
So, as seems to be my style, let’s start with the blurb from the back of the book.
When the ork hordes of Warlord Snagrod lay waste to the planet of Badlanding and wipe out the Crimson Fists sent to stop them, Chapter Master Kantor prepare a hasty line of defence on the Fists home planet of Rynn’s World. Tragedy strikes when an errant missile destroys the Space Marine’s Chapter monastery, killing most of their warriors. With a handful of Crimson Fists left, Kantor must fight the campaign of his life, to defeat Snagrod’s orks and prevent his Chapter’s annihilation.
Now, Black Library’s books are not exactly known for their depth of character growth, introspective questions, or philosophical musings (unless it’s one of them written by Dan Abnett, in which case they’re positively full of that sort of stuff, but cunningly disguised!). What they are known for is massive battles scenes, evil villains, iron-jawed heroes, violence, explosions, and generally all the stuff you want in a book about genetically engineered supersoldiers. And this book has it in spades.
The characters are pretty much your standard fare for this sort of book; fawning nobles, strong-willed, taciturn space marines, loyal serfs and retainers, and violent, bloodthirsty alien monsters. But that’s what the story calls for. You pick up this book to see a world fought for. To see acts of courageous heroism, and acts of brutal savagery. We’re not here to read about the subtleties of courtroom intrigues or two-faced politicking. The characters – despite being almost formulaic – are solid, believable (well, believable for this setting), and consistent. They’re well written, and at no point do they stray from their core principles – something that can make or break this sort of fiction.
The story races along at a fast pace, largely thanks to the author keeping everything focussed. There are no distracting sub-plots muddying the waters of the main narrative. Everything that takes place is there to add to the main storyline, to fill out the background of this epic battle, to lend atmosphere, or to build toward the inevitable conclusion. There is nothing superfluous.
For the most parts this works well, preventing the story stagnating, but there are a few points where you have to mentally re-adjust as the narrative skips forward by months. There are also a few instances where things are glossed-over in a paragraph or two that could actually have done with being expanded upon. But it’s clear these were done for the benefit of maintaining pace; once the battle begins, it doesn’t stop.
Before picking up this book I knew about the Crimson Fists, and what happened on Rynn’s World. I knew the basics of how things went so badly for them so early on, and that added a sense of tension to the early part of the novel for me. Seeing the Marines and their mortal counterparts going about their *ahem* “normal” business with no clue as to how badly things would go for them made it almost uncomfortable to read. I had to resist making bets with myself as to which characters would live to see the final page!
One thing that did bug me, and I’m not sure if this can be blamed on the author, previous authors who created the background fluff from the Crimson Fists, or a lazy in-universe naming convention: Nearly everything includes the word “Rynn”. Rynn’s World, New Rynn City, the River Rynn, the Rynnsguard… It really, really grates after a while.
So, you want rampaging aliens? You want brave, armoured supersoldiers? You want battles, and struggles and death and sacrifice? You want a fast-paced novel to distract you for a few hours? Then this is the book for you – but probably not if you’re unfamiliar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
Rating: 4 out of 5