Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mechanicum- A review

By Graham McNeill
Book IX of the Horus Heresy.
Black Library

As the flames of treachery spread outwards through the Imperium, Horus mobilizes those forces who are loyal to him, and plots to subvert or destroy those who stand against him. A battle is being fought for the heart and soul of all the Imperial forces – the Astartes, the Imperial Army, the Titan Legions and more. In this epic story, author Graham McNeill tells the story of the civil war on Mars, and the genesis of the Dark Mechanicum.

This is Book Nine of the Black Library Horus Heresy series, the second novel of the series by Graham McNeill.

Thus far I have read the entire series. The series is overall exceptional; easily the best work but out by Black Library to date. There have been a few small “bumps” along the road. I point to Descent of Angels as the low point of the series as far as catching and holding my attention as well as staying true to the feel of the other books.

My favorites of the series so far are Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow and Legion by Dan Abnett. My reasons? The former is a standalone that neatly dove-tails in to the previous novels: the latter is a standalone that really challenged my own personal bias (I’ve always loathed the Alpha Legion).

So what about Mechanicum?

Mechanicum is another standalone novel that tells another piece of the massive story of the Horus Heresy. Honestly, I put off reading this one a bit because I’m not really interested in the Mechanicum or Titan Legions per se.

Boy was I wrong.

Mechanicum is an excellent book.

First of all, McNeill does a fine job of telling a story that sucks you in, but is somewhat ambiguous as far as where he’s going with it. The characters are all interesting and have depth far beyond that of most game fiction…and you really have no idea what those characters motivations are. You start liking the character, but also wonder which “side” they’ll be on. Ultimately in the Horus Heresy, there are only two sides to the conflict: Loyalists bound to the Emperor, and Traitors bound to Horus the Warmaster.

Having read all the previous novels, and being extremely familiar with the material presented, I know what happens to those who defy the Emperor (or the Warmaster for that matter) and get captured. Not pretty at all.

Anyhow, back to the point: you really get hooked by the characters and you fear for them because you know what is coming to a certain degree.

My personal favorites were Dalia, Rho-Mu 31 and the Knights of Taranis.

The Plot Thickens:

So as we know the Adeptus Mechanicum has been double-dealing with the Imperium, favoring Horus the Warmaster in his supply-train and functionally shorting the Loyalists. This is coming to a head in the novel: Loyalist Legions are hammering repeated requests for supplies and those still loyal to the treaty between the Mechanicum and the Imperium are noticing the divide growing. Factionalism is plaguing the Mechanicum and everyone can feel the pressure rising.

The balloon goes up. Needless to say, the expected conflict happens, and on a level you could never expect. This is the backdrop of the novel. The core of it revolves around an extremely talented copyist who is identified by one of the main movers and shakers on Mars. Without giving too much away, she is special and she delves in to a mystery that will tie in to one of the great unknowns of the Warhammer 40,000 Universe.

There ARE Astartes in the story, but they are largely a very short sideshow to what is going on. So many neat secrets I want to spoil for you…but that wouldn’t give the novel justice: it really needs to be read page by page, tasted and savored.

Graham McNeill does his usual great job in grabbing the reader early on and hanging on to you till the very end.

At 416 pages it’s typical size for the rest of the series. I read it in a couple long nights; my wife with her sleep-mask on ignoring my occasional snerks, giggles and exclamations while reading.

I think my only complaint is that it gets a little confusing as far as which (Titan) crew is which. That is a small matter though as there is thankfully a Cast of Characters at the beginning as well as a map of Mars. I personally hate flipping back and forth, but this is an epic series, so a large cast is understandable.

Considering I started out not giving a hoot about Titans or the Mechanicum, Graham McNeill again turned me around in my tracks and got my blood pumping while reading about the crews of Titans, how they work, what the Princeps feels. You can almost smell the burning promethium and lava, taste the ozone from arcing plasma coils and burning flesh. It’s that vivid! I have a far greater understanding of the role Titans and their Legions play in the grand scheme of the Warhammer 40,000 universe as well as The Mechanicum and how it is tied to The Imperium. I'm always a bit impressed when an author can take a subject that is initially less-than-appealing and turns it around in to a yarn that just won't let you go.

Overall Mechanicum is an awesome story that easily sits alongside the rest of the series as well as standing on its own as a solid good read! Graham McNeill comes through again as a top notch author and a pillar of the Black Library.


Matthew James Stanham said...

Sounds like an excellent read. I have a soft spot for the War Hammer universe, even though I long ago grew very tired of Games Workshop. I have been somewhat wary of their novel line, but your review gives me cause to give them a chance.

Jeff said...

If you'd like some recommendations on either the Fantasy side or 40k side let me know what you like/ dislike and I should be able to direct you to something up your alley.

Matthew James Stanham said...

Will do, thanks for the offer, Jeff!