By Graham McNeill
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Black Library
The noble Ultramarines epitomize the Space Marines, the genetically enhanced warriors who protect the Imperium from its foes. Newly returned from the Eye of Terror, Captain Uriel Ventris must redeem himself in the eyes of his battle–brothers, who fear he may have been tainted by Chaos. When the planet Pavonis is invaded by tau, what better opportunity could Uriel have to join his Chapter in combat and prove that his honour is beyond reproach?
Courage and Honour is the fifth book in the hugely successful Ultramarines series featuring the Courageous Captain Uriel Ventris and his Veteran Sergeant Pasanius.
This book is in many ways like coming full circle in the series. Uriel Ventris’ first mission as captain was to put down a rebellion on the Imperial world, Pavonis and this novel has the 4th company returning to the same troubled planet.
Following shortly after the events of The Killing Ground, we are shown flashback scenes of the testing of Ventris and Pasanius. Testing them both for purity: Mind and Body. After all, these two Astartes have been alone and fighting their way back from the Eye of Terror, a mission which should have most likely claimed his life (and possibly his soul).
For those not familiar, Uriel Ventris and Pasanius were found guilty of heretical deviations from the Codex Astartes, the penalty for which is death. In lieu of death they were bound by a Death Oath and exiled from the Chapter. Tasked to hunt down daemons by Marneus Calgar they embarked on a long series of adventures in the Eye of Terror, only barely surviving to tell the tale. For these stories see the Ultramarines Omnibus and The Killing Ground, same publisher, same author.
Upon arriving on Pavonis things are awkward. The remaining characters from the previous time the Ultramarines were on Pavonis are still here, albeit much older. Not everything has gone as planned. Also present are a number of new characters which are rich and colorful. Thankfully Graham McNeill has done a wonderful job of giving each of the characters some “camera time” in order to really flesh them out. When reading any book I really want to have some connection to the characters. I don’t have to necessarily relate to them, but I have to at least care a little about them otherwise they are just names on a page, which is almost pointless. McNeill is a pro when it comes to this.
In addition to being “An Ultramarines Novel” you get to see several other things which some may love, and others may hate. There are two allied forces on Pavonis as well: the Planetary Defense Forces and a Regiment of Imperial Guard. Both are led by interesting characters who contribute in very cool ways to the plot.
The antagonists to the story are The Tau Empire. The insight in to the methodology of this Xenos race is fantastic. McNeill really nailed it. On one hand he makes the “Greater Good” of the Tau seem totally preferable to the (honestly) heinously fascist Imperium of Man…Yet on the other you see an insidious side that says “Join us…OR ELSE”.
Anyone who knows anything of the Warhammer 40,000 universe knows that it is DARK. It is a GRIM future where Humanity is beset on all sides by Chaos and Xenos races out to destroy it. The Imperium of Man is also of the mindset of “KILL THEM ALL” in order to insure the manifest destiny of the supremacy of mankind. The Imperium is a horrific place, without a doubt. It’s against this oppressive backdrop that the colorful characters, great deeds of selflessness, honor and courage are illuminated.
Graham McNeill does a wonderful job of peeking under the hood of the almost “altruistically good” seeming Xenos and showing both sides of that face.
As far as the battle scenes, they were good. Some were better than others. With any war novel it can seem like battle scenes take almost too long. Ironically many of the battle scenes could have been lifted from Team-Yankee by Harold Coyle or Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy. The smell of promethium or cordite, the taste of gravel, dust and muck. The blinding flash of tank rounds impacting and the destruction of buildings and bridges easily could have been from World War 2 or Vietnam. The scenes fit the setting, and were “real enough” to have come from actual reports of battle.
The novel definitely has a message. It goes over why Uriel Ventris’ decision to deviate from the Codex Astartes was ultimately wrong. It identifies this and in the end re-hashes it repeatedly. It’s kind of like being beaned in the head with the Codex Astartes. Now I realize that this is a story coming full circle. While the Ultramarines seem hidebound and rigid in adherence to the very letter of the law/ codex this novel reinforces the WHY of it in spades. My take on it is that it’s a little overdone, but I can understand why. In some ways it seems like it illustrates throughout the novel “Adhere to the codex= Success, Deviate from the codex =Fail”.
There ARE some interesting lessons learned. Hubris is possible in anyone. We see it in the antagonists, but we can also see it in the heroes. Self-Belief is good, but at some point it can turn in to arrogance…and we get to see that in some of the characters in the novel. It’s good to see how characters you admire or kind of like, can turn on you and go down a path that you feel awkward with and see that slippery slope down in to “evil”. Again Graham McNeill tells a story that has little snippets that can easily apply today. Issues that could easily be pulled from today’s newspaper. I can’t speak for everyone but I love that. It reminds me of TV shows and Movies that have stories that are fictional, yet speak volumes about the issues of the day.
Overall it’s a good novel. I burned through it in one sitting and only had one moment where I was lost (I had apparently skipped a page). I think Ultramarines fans will get more out of this than your general reader. It’s a good war novel, but in many ways it the standard Space Marine fare; a little less memorable than Graham McNeill’s other efforts. This is hard to grade because I’ve read books by this author that literally blew me away; knocked my socks off. So judging honestly, this novel on it’s own versus other novels (and a hint of what I know the author can do) I’m grading this one 3 out of 5 Stars.