Echoes of the Long War by David Guymer. Book Six in The Black Library's "The Beast Arises" series, originally published May 2016. Approx. 176 pages.
Here we are at Volume Six in The Black Library's The Beast Arises series, which marks David Guymer's first foray into the arena. Where we left off in Book 5, Throneworld, the Fists Exemplar were heading out to gather more brothers for the great push back against the orks (Koorland called on Thane to seek out the Sould Drinkers as well, which should prove interesting), and Koorland was contemplating his next moves as the true challenges of politicking really began to manifest themselves.
I didn't know exactly what to expect heading into Echoes of the Long War. As a middle of the series entry, would this project start showing its fatigue? Would the wheels just spin for 200 pages, going nowhere? Would Guymer take one or two of the established character arcs and push them forward dramatically, or inch forward all of the arcs?
Actually, none of the above. Much to its credit. Guymer has given us a book crafted for the most part around a new character of his own creating; First Captain Zerberyn of the Fists Exemplar. Now, what this means is that there is not a lot of actual progression of what we have seen so far. Does this mean that Echoes is a fumble? Absolutely not, thanks to the level of Guymer's writing. The man is a master of detailing. So, what Echoes of the Long War is, is an immersive 40K experience. Perhaps none of the entries thus far have given me such a personal, visceral feeling of involvement. Let's look at it bit by bit...
Zerberyn and his company, aboard the Dantalion, are carrying out Thane's campaign to seek out other battle-brothers to answer the call to take the battle to the orks. Without getting too spoiler-y, they run into a lot of greenskins, including the ones that the Black Templars Marshal Magneric and the Iron Warriors Warsmith Kalkator were evading at the end of Throneworld. They get caught up in some raging battles, then head off to an established Iron Warriors stronghold that is now under, um, new management. Many bruising battles ensue.
This is not to say that the other story lines are simply glossed over. We get to see some of the conniving between the High Lords, as well as uncovering some of the covert goings-on perpetrated by the Adeptus Mechanicus on Mars. We also get a few snapshots of other characters (including Galatea Haas), just to let them know that they are not forgotten.
I really like Zerberyn. Guymer has obviously put a lot of though into what the dominant character traits of an Exemplar would be, and he lets his protagonist personify them. Zerberyn has the weight of the book placed on his shoulders, and he undertakes his task well.
Warsmith Kalkator also has a prominent role this time around. I enjoyed Guymer's portrayal of him quite well. He is so ruthlessly calculated and pragmatic; which is more in line with the Exemplar manner of thinking than is comfortable for them. Their agreement to work together is based primarily upon honor; traitors or not, honor given is honor returned. This time around, the tenuous relationship is handled in a more believable fashion. There is begrudging respect given, but it is earned.
Plus, I like how Kalkator kept referring to Zerberyn as "little cousin". When enemies work together, the dagger should still be twisted a little.
In their limited amounts of page time, the other characters fare well. Koorland and Vangorich are not prime time players in this installment. Koorland is maturing well within his capacity as a Chapter Master, and is displaying the aptitude to make the necessary, difficult decisions.
Vangorich, still keeps a dry wit, but spares us the witticisms this time around. Here, he is keeping tabs on the High Lords, gathering information on what is transpiring on Mars, and extending a guiding hand in Koorland's political maneuvering.
Oppressively brutal; which, I believe, is entirely the point in this series. One thing which I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed was how Guymer gives in-depth examples of just how sophisticated these greenskins are. This isn't just "wait, are they using strategy? Orks?" as we've seen in the past volumes. Here we get a comprehensive overview of orkoid logistics and supply chain management. For someone who spent 15 years in logistics and supply chain management, this is a real plus.
This isn't the only way that Guymer excels at writing greenskins. He truly brings them to life in his writing. I had mentioned how he had accomplished a similar feat with the skaven in his Beneath the Black Thumb short story in the Age of Sigmar line. He the type of writer that really goes deeper into the makeup of the creature in question. He doesn't just limit his depiction to the key descriptors, i.e. "big, green, violent". It shows in the writing that attention was paid to what makes these creatures tick, and that yield the brutal, swaggering specimens we read about.
Tons and tons of action. And we get ship to ship combat, as well as an abundance of melee.
I don't think that Guymer's style of depicting action is for every. This is evident in some of the reviews I've seen for the book elsewhere. At certain times, the writing might seem confusing or disjointed, but this is an intentional tactic that many authors cannot master. Guymer (and I've seen this also with fellow BL author Peter Fehervari and fantasy/sci-fi grand master Glen Cook) pen fight scenes in a way that gives the reader available information in a real-time manner. That is to say, things come out of nowhere; or, you get hit by something, and don't realize what it was until a bit later, although you know for sure, you got hit.
The melee combat scenes here are amazing. This is where you see the absolute brutality and physicality of the orks in all their glory. When they show up on a ship and start tossing crew members around, it is beautiful. There is such a lovely "crunch" factor to it that I could imagine little pop-up sound effects balloons a la the classic Batman TV show. "Thwack!"
Details. Details, details, and details about details. I think this was the deal-breaking for a lot of the dissenting reviews. Guymer explains everything in complete detail. This is not something I mind, so long as it is done right. I personally feel that it adds to the story here.
For example, the book opens with descriptions of Zerberyn's ship, Dantalion. Reading it, you see the focus on the aspects of worship and veneration in the make-up of the vessel. This lets you appreciate the importance of the theocratic aspects of the Imperium. Sometimes I feel the stress is put more on the size of the battles, or accuracy in bolter types. This is a good reminder of the specific underpinnings which make WH40K so unique.
When writing about other worlds, such as Prax, the description is more localized to where the action will take place. In this instances, Guymer flexes his writing chops to create industrial landscapes twisted to the orks' needs; harsh and horrifying.
No matter the kind of setting, Guymer truly brings it to life. The sights, the smells, the palpable tang of danger. You experience them as if you are there. You see it in the background setting, and you see it in small details, such as the completely credible manner in which an ork teleportation onto a ship is described.
But what of the overall story?
Good question. This is a true action piece. I will say, though, that there are two major events that occur here (no SPOILERS today, however), upon which I am sure a lot of the events in future books will be predicated upon. And so, for doing it's job of delivering those two nuggets of information, Echoes does its duty.
The rest is a roiling slurry of bolter rounds and gobbets. I personally enjoyed it, but the online consensus is mixed.
Another winner by Victor Manuel Leza. Love the pose and the detail, but something about the helmet looks a tad, unfinished?
Cover Final Score: