Friday, May 21, 2010

Review: The Chapter's Due by Graham McNeill


The Chapter’s Due by Graham McNeill

Black Library Publishing

320 pages


War is unending in the life of a Space Marine. After defeating tau forces, Captain Uriel Ventris of the Ultramarines has returned to the Chapter’s homeworld of Macragge, but there is little respite. The Ultramarines are thrust back into battle, and this time the enemy is the Chapter’s greatest nemesis. The traitorous Iron Warriors, led by renegade Warsmith Honsou, have gathered together a massive and brutal warband. Their target is the realm of Ultramar. Their objective is total annihilation. It is a final showdown between legendary Space Marines, and Uriel Ventris must take on the might of Honsou if he is to save his Chapter’s homeworld.


The Chapter’s Due is the culmination of several interesting plots, distinct groups of protagonists/ antagonists and a second trilogy of Ultramarines goodness. All sorts of fans will love this novel because there is something in it for everyone. Most obviously fans of the Ultramarines will get the most out of it, but so will fans of the Adeptus Mechanicus, Raven Guard, Inquisition fans and of course Iron Warriors.

Without spoiling the story for people, I’ll just let it suffice to say that the scale is epic. Honsou brings the war to Ultramar in the largest gathering of Iron Warriors, xenos mercenaries, traitors and a whole metric boat-load of daemons since the Horus Heresy.

Think of it in these terms:

The Ultramarines symbolize a sort of “by the book” style of fighting. Literally. Granted, it’s a big book that covers everything in the sphere of warfare, but still, it ultimately equals predictability. The realm of Ultramar is the…”THE” bastion of the Ultramarines. Outside of Terra itself it is the single largest fixed fortification in the universe.

Chaos Space Marines represent…Chaos. Obviously. Super-soldiers bred for furious assaults who know no fear. Angels of death regardless of which side of the traitor/ loyalist line they are on… the Iron Warriors even more so as masters of siege warfare; a completely unpredictable foe.

It’s the Irresistible force versus the Immovable object.

So now the stage is set for the plot. The Ordo Malleus arrives to deal with the warp-spawned daemonic incursion. The Raven Guard arrive as well (oh boy, they are portrayed nicely). The Adeptus Mechanicus plays a crucial part (as Honsou has Dark Mechanicus with him).

I have to admit it is nice to see the cast of characters, chock-full of big names as well as seeing the Ultramarines fighting on their back foot. Off balance and dealing with something that very seriously threatens the entire chapter.

I’ve discussed this in several reviews, and there’s no sign of stopping: I LOVE it when the characters are in real peril. I really love the author to scare me. Build up characters, make me love them…and then hurt them, scare me with the threat of their demise. Make me want those characters to survive. I thrive on the slaughter of sacred cows. I want to laugh and cry, get choked up and pissed off. I want an investment in the books I read, and I go on the assumption that everyone else does too.

Graham McNeill does a fine job of beating up many sacred cows in The Chapter’s Due.

There are many moments in the story where as a reader you never really know if this is the last ride of Uriel Ventris, Pasanius, Learchus, or Marneus Calgar or Varro Tigurius for that matter.

I have to admit that the story does start a bit slow. The first quarter of the book took me a couple days to get through (which is rare considering I can burn through 300 pages in a night). One problem with books about massive battles is that…battles all start to sound the same. Yep, slash, stab, shoot, spurt, “Courage and Honour!” splat, “Death to the False Emperor!” entrails, bolt-casings, yadda yadda yadda, yawn. McNeill does a fine job in breaking it up, and keeping the reader coming back for more. I never lost interest. Actually the story got better and better as it rolled on.

The last ¾ of the novel I absorbed last night. A nice analogy would be in The Matrix Revolutions, with the APU units fighting in The Docks against the swarms of sentinels: the first part things looked fine. Yeah, toasting lots of bad-guys, carnage, APUs kicking ass. The sentinels were simply probing, wheedling them down until the end it was simply too much.

The Ultramarines did much the same. They started off strong; they have the uber-bastion of defense in their favor. The Iron Warriors however tested, prodded and showed why they are superior in siege assaults and the futility of static defenses.

The characterization of the antagonists (and protagonists) really made the story pop. You get to sympathize with The Newborn and Vaanes and think of some Ultramarines as arrogant pricks. You can’t help but admire both sides. THAT really is what sets Graham McNeill’s writing ahead of the pack. Seriously.

Overall it’s a very good book: surpassing Courage and Honour and on par with The Killing Ground as well as a fine summary of the story arc.


Even with a hint of slowness at the start it finishes strong and left me wanting to assemble and paint more Ultramarines. Thanks Mr. McNeill!

4 out of 5 Stars.

1 comment:

Matthew James Stanham said...

Sounds like a good one. I definitely sympathise with your point about the potential repetitiveness of battle scenes; like so much, they are more powerful when used sparingly, so good to hear it has been broken up well.