Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Review: Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden


Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Black Library Publishing

414 Pages

*This is an advance copy review.


When the world of Armageddon is attacked by orks, the Black Templars Space Marine Chapter are amongst those sent to liberate it. Chaplain Grimaldus and a band of Black Templars are charged with the defence of Hive Helsreach from the xenos invaders in one of the many battlezones. But as the orks numbers grow and the Space Marines dwindle, Grimaldus faces a desperate last stand in an Imperial temple. Determined to sell their lives dearly, will the Black Templars hold on long enough to be reinforced, or will their sacrifice ultimately be in vain. Black


While I am familiar on a basic level with the Black Templars I don’t know all the details of the major characters, so walking in to this novel I’m almost a BT newbie.

In a lot of ways, Black Templars are the epitome of what many folks consider Space Marines. Borderline psychopathic, bio-engineered supermen who kill in the name of the crusade and the Emperor. Period, full stop.

Have no doubts boys and girls, these guys are bastards. The comparison scenes with the Salamanders Chapter was telling. Salamanders being one of the most humane of chapters…protecting the citizens, and the Black Templars, going off to kill stuff and why are these damn civilians in the way?!? Grimaldus is pretty much the worst/ best of these. His detachment is telling. You can see how a person has been altered in such a way that they are really no longer human anymore. Driven by hatred and zeal few of us can imagine to destroy the xenos invaders.

I do exaggerate a bit as the author is quickly becoming one of the Black Library’s best authors of characterful fiction. Like Soul Hunter before this, the characters are all very colorful coming from a variety of backgrounds. Each seems like a person dealing with a lifetime of war, indoctrination, mind-scrubbing…and war. Dembski-Bowden does a fine job of taking the reader and tossing him right in the middle of a firefight or burning vehicle. He even makes Chaplain Grimaldus interesting. Now THAT is a feat! You’d think that a character like that would be boring, two dimensional…flat. ADB pulls it off. He really knows how to make characters come alive on the written page.

The scale of the novel is enormous. You certainly have the feel of untold bajillions of orks bearing down on you, and that the odds of survival are grim at best. The protagonists struggle for every bit of ground they win (or lose). The odds are overwhelmingly against them yet they struggle on, battered and bruised, losing battle-brothers along the way. All hope seems lost, yet a spark of hope remains. Yeah, like that! Aaron Dembski-Bowden drags the reader all the way down in to the muck, mud and blood, takes away all hope, and slowly gives it back.

I enjoyed the Steel Legion parts as well as the Salamander bits. The Black Templars are a bit overwhelming for my tastes, but it’s a damn fine story. The ending left me almost a little flat. I’m not sure what happened there. Without spoiling it I have no way of explaining it short of saying it was not what I expected. That’s a good thing!


Again Aaron Dembski-Bowden has written another gritty, dirty story full of actually interesting characters. His action scenes are largely clear, the dialogue witty, the description good. I cannot say whether there are 40k canon issues as I’m not as familiar as some other reviewers. The plot was interesting and kept me going. The ending was a bit of a twist but good.

4 of 5 Stars.

1 comment:

Kodanshi said...

I think my favourite bit was when someone in the strategy room suggested retreat and, before the Commissar could execute him, Grimaldus stepped in and ‘took control’. That scene conveyed the brutality and sheer single–mindedness of the Black Templars, and Space Marines in general. Incredible.