The Beast Must Die by Gav Thorpe. Book Eight in The Black Library's "The Beast Arises" series. Originally published July 2016. Approx. 163 pages.
It took me nearly half a year to finish this book, and now it has taken me almost a full month to compose the review. Roughly three drafts later, I'm going to try and condense this to a few paragraphs and let you know the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I have to admit, I am feeling some real exasperation with this series as a whole. Were it not for the fact that the books were already sitting on my shelf, paid for and waiting to be opened, I might have given up already.
So, taking that into consideration, I want to put out here a reminder of some of the issues which I already have with the series as a whole. This way, if I teeter to complaining about them, it won't seem as solely an indictment of Mr. Thorpe.
Issues plaguing the series as a whole:
Wants to convey a aura of political intrigue, and manipulation. Final result is more in tune with bumbling and incompetence. Shady or not, the High Lords still preside over the day to day operations of an Empire that spans thousands of planets. They are not, you know, stupid.
Neither are Space Marines. These are genetically enhanced super soldiers, molding in the image of the original master of said Imperium. Again, super soldiers. In normal times, each individual Chapter may be tasked with the protection of an entire sector. They are not incompetent on strategic, tactical, or logistic levels. Please do not present them as such.
Another thing I want to mention before an in-depth analysis of the book is that this book is a bit light on plot. For his second entry series, like his first, Thorpe has opted to give us a book which is one huge battle set-piece. In The Emperor Expects, it was an epic naval battle. In The Beast Must Die, it is the assault on Ullanor. I have no problem with this ambitious move, but it also bears mentioning that the ancillary story lines see no advancement via this installment.
Also, we all know that tastes vary from reader to reader. With this in mind, I try to minimize criticisms based on style. For example, I've seen many cite Thorpe's flowery descriptions as a reason for not liking his work; however, I personally believe that that is when his work is at its most engaging. With that in mind, any complaints that I lodge will be when something just doesn't make sense.
Now, on to the review:
No doubt about it, Gav Thorpe is a master architect of worlds. He has been instrumental in making the 40K universe what it is today; and that is predicated upon the sheer scope of his imagination. He brings the imaginative worlds of this shared universe to true life with his prose.
Also rendered with vivid detail are the diverse assets of all the factions in play here: the Adeptus Astartes, the Imperial Guard, the Adeptus Mechanicus, and, the chaotically jury-rigged machinery of the orks themselves.
I also give high marks (for the most part) for Thorpe's action sequences. When your choice is to make over 90% of your book one continuous action scene, the fact that you are maintaining a roughly 80% efficiency rating at it is still fairly impressive. Again, as mentioned before, it goes to my personal taste. I like when Thorpe uses vividly descriptive and comparative terms to bring his scenes to life and imbue them with a true sense of scale. I personally do not like Warhammer fiction that reads like "And then the Fist Exemplar, wearing Mark III armor, fired an incendiary round from his something-pattern bolter, hitting the 30 meter tall gargant." But, I'm sure some people do.
What doesn't work so well for the action scenes is that we don't have enough "eyes on the ground"; in my opinion, it would've worked to have a few more characters, giving us a few more viewpoints, and really invested us in what was at stake here. However, speaking of characters....
Yeah, characters and dialogue just aren't Gav's strong suit. His characters all kind of go along with the emotional current of the narrative, rather than being the forces driving it. There is nothing added to these characters in this book. (although I must say, there are epigraphs for some chapters which take snippets of Vulkan's inner monologue, and they are fantastically done)
In fact, there are some scenes which are just kind of painful. Which leads us to....
Be forewarned - there may be minor spoilers and major griping ahead.
A note before the rant begins: one thing I did not mention in the review for The Hunt For Vulkan (in order to minimize spoilers) is that Vulkan is indeed found. It is a moment of excellence for Annandale, because he truly conveys the sheer awe that even a super human like an Astartes would feel when a true living legend appears before them. It was truly an awe-inspiring moment.
Fast forward to preparations for the assault on Ullanor, and we have Koorland stomping his foot like a petulant child and shouting "I am Slaughter!" over and over at Vulkan. That was the moment that led me to put the book down for a few months.
Then, we have the issues with strategy, as I mentioned before. This massive assault force reaches Ullanor, and SPOILER!!!! the orks are utilizing pretty much the same technique that they employed to dismantle the Proletarian Crusade in seconds (just lay low for a while). And the Imperium forces fall completely for it. I am assuming the preparations and transit to Ullanor took a few months; and, in that time, the combined strategic minds of the Space Marines, Imperial Guard, and Adeptus Mechanicus could not come up with a solid attack plan as well as a half-dozen contingency plans? Really? In all honesty, it takes quite a bit to rustle my jimmies, but that left me quite rustled.
I don't want to get too caught up in the complaints. I want to reinforce that for all of its flaws, there is a lot of good in The Beast Must Die. Read it for the grand action sequences, including a rousing climactic battle.
As always, a fantastic cover. Why they chose the Adeptus Mechanicus for this installment, I have no idea. They figure in the book, they are written very well in the book, and I truly wish that they had featured more in the book.
Cover Final Score: