Throneworld by Guy Haley. Book Five in The Black Library's "The Beast Arises" series, originally published April 2016. Approx. 177 pages.
So, here we are at Book 5 of The Beast Arises. Where we last left off, the Proletarian Crusade ended with a true "Last Wall" - moving mountains on the ork moon over Terra which closed shut on the Crusaders which had made it to the surface. Only one survivor is confirmed - Galatea Haas, the Arbiter who served as one of the story's protagonists.
Following this, the near unthinkable happened: ambassadors from the ork moon came down to demand surrender from the High Lords. Yes, orks walked through the hallowed halls of the Palace on Terra. And they made utter fools of the people in charge. As if this wasn't enough of an affront to all Imperial sensibilities, ringing alarms hailed the arrived of new guest within the Palace: the Eldar.
I had equal amounts of excitement and trepidation heading into Throneworld. I was psyched that Haley was finally getting an installment in. My worry? Eldar. Personal taste. All respect due to those who like the Eldar, but I really can't take them. So, I was a bit worried that they would be a focal part of the story; meaning that no matter how well Haley wrote the book, I still wouldn't enjoy it because, you know, Eldar.
Then again, someone recently told me that I worry too much. They are correct.
Haley's Throneworld is a pretty outstanding entry in the Beast Arises story line. I would go so far as to say that it is tops as far as pure authorial quality is concerned. Haley gives us a book that, instead of focusing primarily on one or two of the continuing arcs, while the others inch along, budgets the pages fairly among all existing storylines. He does this seamlessly within the lean page count; giving us what satisfies like a 300 page in a tome that boasts under 200.
But how was it overall? And what of the introduction of the Eldar? Synopsis and my take to follow, with some small spoilers. There will be a major spoiler section, later on, when I list the few complaints I have with this book.
So, it turns out that the Eldar involvement in Throneworld is pretty much contained to the first 20 or so pages. It turns out that the Eldar interlopers dashing through the palace are a Harlequin group, led by one Lhaerial Rey, who has been sent by Farseer Ulthran to deliver a message directly to the Emperor. And so, this merry motley group cuts a bloody swathe through the ragged remnants of the Imperial Palace's defenses.
Meanwhile, Koorland leads the assembled Last Wall on a mission to disable the ork moon lingering over Terra. On the way in, Slaughter receives some very helpful advice from Vangorich regarding the nest of vipers that masquerade as the High Lords of Terra.
Also, we get some more information regarding what is transpiring on Mars under Fabricator General Kubik's watch (Kubik being one of the only High Lords that isn't an absolute moron). Vangorich's assassin/spy cell is uncovering dark and unsettling secrets; but the closer they get to the truths, the more exposed they become. And, again, Kubik is a man-machine that plans well for these contingencies.
Finally, we get a story arc involving Dreadnought-Marshal Magneric of the Black Templars. In a bit of a rogue move, Magneric ignored the call to the Last Wall, opting instead to continue his millennium-long pursuit of Warsmith Kalkator, leader of the Iron Warrior contingent introduced in the last book. Their game of cat-and-mouse culminates on the sand-blasted world of Dzelenic IV, where they must quickly choose alliances in an urgent game of "enemy of my enemy is my....friend or enemy?".
That's the overview. Now, let's look at it element by element.
They've been announced, they're on the cover, and I've already bitched about how I don't like them. Here's the thing, though: Guy Haley is a fantastic science fiction writer; and when you want someone to make sense out of an alien race, and portray them in a legitimate manner, he's your man. A little off topic here: a while back, I read one of his Eldar shorts, Wraithflight. At the time, I didn't compose a review; for one because I didn't have the time; and also because I didn't want to be bothered to look all the names back up. But, there was such an excellent element to that short story regarding the technology of the Eldar wraith fighters. Haley deftly balanced the spirit-powered Eldar ships against the insect-like, organic hulks of the Tyranids, and finally, the primitive ships of the Guard. He really gets into the speculative logic of how each type of ship would work and perform. So much so that by the time the humans showed up, in that story, the reader saw them as the primitive brutes that the Eldar did.
Anyway, back on track. Just wanted to illustrate how well Haley can write for the xenos races. His work in Throneworld is no different. There is such a confident mastery of not only the weaponry and technology of the Eldar (I personally enjoyed the havoc caused by the death jester's shrieker cannon), but their mentality as well. He infuses the sentences that describe their fluid movements with carefully chosen descriptive terms; making the deadly dances that evidence themselves in the Harlequins' every move pop off the page.
Another thing; even though the Eldar don't physically appear in the book a great deal, Haley shows us how their efforts yield great assistance to the Imperium. There are obvious parallels to modern military actions in the "alliance" between Eldar and Man: the Eldar provide logistical support, while the Imperium puts boots on the ground.
It's so masterfully written; I just wish it could've made me a convert (for example, I was not crazy about the Tau until I read Peter Fehervari's take on them in Fire Caste). But something about the overly lofty themes of the Eldar just seems too, I don't know, forced? Tacked on? This isn't Haley's fault; it's the race as a whole. And harlequins are the worst example of it. This is all individual taste, though.
Also, a reminder; the Eldar portion of Throneworld is limited to around 20 pages. And, I can't say enough how well-written and well-paced it is as an action sequence.
The Other Players:
I really enjoyed Haley's take on the rest of the dramatis personae. He keeps Vangorich wittily pithy and utterly lethal; in the correct balance. What we read of the other High Lords focuses less on their ineptitude, and more on their blatant self-serving tendencies, which is how it should be.
Haley also writes very well for the Astartes; working within the parameters of their limited emotional palettes and evoking a legitimate portrayal of these transhuman supersoldiers. Koorland matures as his leadership role in the Last Wall continues, including is new, unfamiliar foray into the politicking aspect of leadership.
I will also list the Iron Warriors here because they aren't bad guys per se, this time around. I prefer Annandale's take on Kalkator more than the one we get here. Part of that is because he had time to establish himself as a protagonist in The Last Wall. Here, he snarls a bit; makes sure that the Iron Warriors show their skills as they dig into a fortification to fend off the greenskin hordes, and engage in some counter-philosophy to Magneric's fervor.
About the only thing that I found slightly off-putting in Throneworld was some of the dialogue. This isn't an indictment of Haley's ability to pen it, though. By this point in the series I have resigned myself to the fact that there is a certain "TV show" quality to the overall series pacing and dialogue. This is why we have overly bumbling leaders; entire societies that follow similar behavioral patterns, etc. It is also why matters of great import have to be resolved in a line or two of snappy conversation, even if that might not be the best manner in which to portray it.
So, Haley writes strong dialogue, especially for the Space Marines. He also livens up conversations with genuinely witty elements. But, there are two scenes in which the dialogue was just, simply put, bad. I'll put those later in a SPOILER area. In short, I'll just say that if I want someone to write a strong sci-fi novel for me, I'd ask Haley. If I need someone to pen dialogue for a weekly series, perhaps not.
If you want greenskins done right, you call Guy Haley. End of story. That's why he is the best choice to write the final installment of this series, as well.
In Throneworld, when the orks are involved, they are often more compelling than anyone else on the stage. Haley doesn't just keep the "intelligent ork" theme rolling, he enhances it greatly by introducing a slew of greenskin unit types; including mekboyz, kommandoes, and, best of all, a weirdboy. The scene that features this specimen is by far the very best in the book.
Action (MINOR SPOILERS):
There are some pretty ambitious battle scenes in Throneworld, and those are the ones that work, and well. I've already mentioned the opening battle featuring the harlequins, and also the epic battle with the weirdboy. There is also an all-out scene featuring a massed force of Terminators just unloading absolute hell.
Unfortunately, it is the more "typical" combat scenes which fall somewhat flat. Haley is no "pew pew pew" bolt-pornographer, and there is little engagement in those back and forth scenes.
Simply cannot review one of Guy Haley's books without mentioning how he excels at world building. Perhaps no other Black Library author is as adept at bringing imaginary worlds to life.
His realization of the Mars of the Adeptus Mechanicus is a cyberpunk wet dream.
Or, when he desribes the world of Dzelenic IV; a planet where all vitality has been erased by war:
"Craters marred the ground, distinguishable only by their infill of windblown sand. Further cliffs edged the plain, the product of millions of years of geological processes that had been halted in an instant of fire."
Of course, the most vivid descriptions are those that take place within the looming ork moon; as seen by Galatea Haas and other offworld captives of the orks' great assault.
So, those are the reasons why Throneworld is an excellent entry in the series. Now, on to the SPOILER area to voice some dissent.
First of all, the Custodes. Yes, these guys. They finally make an appearance in this book....and get cut down like wheat before the harlequins.
Then, when they finally pin down Lhaerial Rey, right in front of the Emperor's Door, no less, they pause with blades at her throat so that their leader can inform her that he is about to kill her....just in time for Vangorich to run in and save her. I'm sorry, but first of all, I'm pretty sure they could've killed her without as much loss as they took, and second, if an enemy got so close to the Emperor's door, I don't think they'd hesitate a moment to press the advantage and carve her to ribbons.
Having Vangorich come in at the second the gun was about to fire was gimmicky as hell, and the diatribe before it did not help.
Second complaint, there is the interrogation (of Rey) scene. On the observation side of the glass, we have Vangorich, Veritus, and Wienand (the latter two coming to the understanding that assassination attempts have failed and none more should be forthcoming for now). As the two Inquisitorial higher-ups spar over the xenos' fate, Vangorich literally steps in to remind them that if they think about it, even if they don't agree with each other, there is merit in each of their opinions. Seriously. This is what an assistant principal says to two teenagers butting heads, not a fanatical old man in full body power armor and a very capable woman that has been capably managing the affairs of the Inquisition on Holy Terra.
Lastly, the "parley" between Magneric and Kalkator totally fell flat to me. I get that the basis for their ability to join forces against the orks was predicated upon their prior friendship. However, this is not a case of two men fighting for the respective causes of their countries. This is a case of two superhumans whose own fundamental ideologies have diverted towards polar opposite, and have been cemented over a period of centuries. And, those that label themselves "Templars" and "Crusaders" are rarely known for their flexibility of though. Therefore, I would imagine it would take more than "Hey, look behind you. See all those orks? If we don't work together they'll get you before you get me." to sway Magneric.
But, those are just a few things that detracted from and otherwise superb read. And again, in all of those instances, the actual quality of the writing and dialogue was still above par. So take from it what you will.
Eagerly looking forward to David Guymer's Echoes of the Long War.
What can I say? Even if I don't personally like Eldar, this cover by Victor Manuel Leza is beautifully done. Take a minute or two to take in all of the intricate detail in it. It is a great piece.
Cover Final Score: