I can't really imagine a more exciting sounding Warhammer 40K novel, a battle during the Horus Heresy conflict that depicts the Ultramarines (my favorite Legion) against the Word Bearers - told with energy and grace by that master of battles Dan Abnett.
The Primarch of the Ultramarines - Roboute Guilliman, 13th son of the Emperor - has returned to Ultramar (five hundred worlds that make up the Utramarines home) and the planet Calth to gather almost the whole legion to launch against an Ork invasion of the Veridian system, led by the War master Horus and backed up by a large force of the 17th Legion - the Word Bearers. Without any warning these Word Bearers launch a devastating attack, scattering the fleet and slaughtering all who stand in their way, summoning a host of foul demon and the very forces of Chaos itself to aid their fight.
The loyal and brave Ultramarines are drawn into a grim and deadly struggle in which neither side can prevail.
For those who follow Warhammer 40K the Battle of Calth is seen as one of the pivotal moments in the Horus Heresy but before we get to that point it's worth considering the history of these two Space Marine chapters. Before the Heresy began, the Imperium went through the Great Crusades, bringing order to the Galaxy in the name of the Emperor. During this time the Word Bearers and it's primarch Lorgar built up a reputation for their extremist religious views, idolising the Emperor and committing violent atrocities against those who were slow to adopt their beliefs.
When the Emperor found out he ordered Guilliman and the Ultramarines to raze the whole city of Monarchia - which was known as the "perfect city" after the Word Bearers brought it into "compliance" and was seen as their proudest achievement. Lorgar and his entire Legion were then forced to kneel in the city's ashes before the Emperor and Guilliman.
It's therefore not difficult to see why the Ultramarines were chosen for this fate, Lorgar and his Legion held a grudge ever since and saw this as the perfect opportunity to extract some revenge.
I liked the authors idea to write the narrative in the present tense, it's a brave move by the author but one that works remarkably well and makes the reader to really feel a part of the battle. I am quite overwhelmed at how the author manages to keep juggling all the separate elements, people, places and events that make up this epic battle - the narrative moving from one scene to the next without disorienting the reader; it's an impressive feat and one that deserves an applause.
I loved the fact that Abnett spends time personalising each and every character - even the minor ones that die moments later which gives a much richer and more personal feel to the battle, one that the reader is emotionally attached to. Even with all these cataclysmic events going on we still get treated to some real human touches such as Ventanus' attempts to protect those around him and the bitter-sweet tale of the fallen warrior who is lucky enough to be "reborn" as a Dreadnaught only to find himself hurtling toward the planet at terminal velocity after his ship is blown to pieces.
The main protagonist is the Ultramarine progenitor Guilliman and his analytical mind, attention to detail, considered strategy and dry humour are amongst the highlights of the novel. Abnett does a brilliant job of portraying him as a "super-human" figure without it seeming over the top or condescending.
For me there could have been no other choice than Dan Abnett to write about this battle and not only does he succeed at every level, Know no Fear stands out as his finest work to date. It's like a black hole in it's relentless power to pull the reader into the story and once you start reading you just cannot stop.
It's simply impossible to imagine that the author ever doubted his ability to write about Space Marines, the narrative here simply encompasses what I imagine Space Marines to be.
Know no Fear is an astounding piece of fiction, fierce, relentless and completely unmissable.
Written on Monday 5th March 2012 by Antony.
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