Friday, June 17, 2011

Brothers of the Snake by Dan Abnett

Brothers of the Snake
Review by Earl Davis

Best-selling author Dan Abnett turns his hand to the mighty Space Marines in his next project following the success of Horus Rising and the Armour of Contempt. The war-torn far-future is laid bare as Brothers of the Snake follows the exploits of the Iron Snakes Space Marines as they battle against the enemies of mankind. First appearing in the pages of Inferno!, the Iron Snakes Space Marines quickly gathered a loyal following and now they make their debut in a full-blown adventure!

There are moments when the Warhammer 40k omniverse can be overwhelming. This is especially true during the novitiate. With over 20 decades of canon source material beyond the original tabletop game spread throughout novels, rpgs, and video games, the gap between initiate and Lore Master of the Imperium is dizzying. Brothers of the Snake by Dan Abbott is a shining example of material helping a lowly pilgrim along the path.

Abnett is very good at writing action. That is no secret and BotS is no exception. Readers get to experience every blast, gunshot and chainsword roar as the brothers of the Iron Snake decimate enemies of the Imperium.

The unfortunate thing about writing about Space Marines is that they tend to be one dimensional, nearly invincible figures. Successful authors, like Abnett, managed to insert small glimmers of fallibility into characters like Brother Priad while maintaining the image required by Warhammer cannon. In addition, Abnett adds layers to the Iron Snake Chapter as a whole by recalling Earth’s own legend and histories. Using classic imagery borrowed from Arthurian legend, the Roman legion, the Greek phalanx and the Spartan…well…Spartans, he is able to grant a much deeper connection to what could otherwise be a stock Space Marines novel.

In lieu of the traditional novel format, BotS is more of a collection of short stories describing separate engagements of the Iron Snakes Chapter. This offers two advantages over other Space Marines books. First, it allows the reader to gradually learn about the Iron Snakes and their place among the Reef Stars. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, the format makes it an easier read for anyone who is still taking baby steps along the guiding light of the Emperor.

The issues with this novel seem to be universal throughout Warhammer 40k fiction, and genre fiction at large. A need to placate a dedicated fan base combined with strict guidelines within the particular IP prevents authors from taking any real chances. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but BotS is not one of those. However, it speaks to Abnett’s talent and craftsmanship that he continues to produce such quality work within those tight boundaries.

It’s a damn fine read and perfect for anyone with a limited amount of reading time or anyone who is new to the Warhammer40k universe.

4 out of 5 stars

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