Sunday, 23 October 2016

Conclave of Har Book Review: Roboute Gulliman - Lord of Ultramar

Of all the Horus Heresy novels, one of the most reviled seems to be Damnation of Pythos. David Annandale's Horus Heresy debut is widely regarded to be one of the poorer books in the series and I don't think it features in too many readers top ten lists. Myself, I felt rather more charitably toward it. Though i would by no means call it a classic I felt that the author explored some fascinating elements of the Imperial Truth and some parts of the book were very good indeed. To check out that review click here.

So when i saw that he had penned the first entry in the new Primarchs series i didn't really feel strongly about it either way, I certainly wasn't dissuaded from picking up Roboute Gulliman Lord of Ultramar whilst killing a bit of time in my local Games Workshop.

The book is in the same mould as the recent Beast Arises series, a hardback reduced length novel, more than the novellas they have previously been releasing but far less than a full title. In fact at 180 pages its pretty much half length. The standard is nice though and you do feel that it is a high quality product. The spine design is excellent and paper quality is much above the recent 40k Legends series, even if the cover art seems a bit off. Still, they'll look good on the shelf.

A quick glance though the pages showed 9 chapters in total so I wasn't expecting an epic by any means, but i was looking forward to a Primarch heavy narrative that would fill in a few of the gaps presented by the Heresy, there was a lot of potential here that i was hoping would be explored.

The story deals with the eradication of an Ork infestation on a former imperial world. Thus it becomes immediately clear that this is a pre Heresy tale. Indeed it would appear that the Great Crusade is not all that old as frequent references to Gulliman's days (although sadly no more than references) of rule and triumph over depot kings in Macragge are made. However, Gulliman is already wary of lessons learned from those days, he knows that the Astartes are created for war and has already taken steps to remould his legion and eliminate the more aggressive elements from his Legion.  To preserve rather than destroy to save rather than obliterate.

To this end the 'destroyers' (featured in the Horus Heresy rulebooks but nowhere else as of yet as far as I know) have been assigned a new chapter master from outside their own ranks in order to provide a calming influence and act as a catalyst for change. Something not best received by the Destroyers.
In addition Gulliman is also preparing contingencies for 'the unthinkable' a universe in which he is not present to command his sons. The Ultramarines Primarch is portrayed as constantly calculating, constantly strategising and playing the long game. Theoretical and Practical, Theoretical and Practical, over and over. The cast of the XIII legion here is much the same as Dan Abnett's. Careful and considered. Well, except for the Destroyers.

Now from all this you might think that the first few chapters of the book are insanely boring and I must confess they are somewhat bereft of action. Instead introspection and politics are presented as the narrative sets the scene and does the bulk of the heavy lifting before things kick off. Annandale does a lot of good work embellishing the minutiae and character of the chapter and their Gene Father.

And once the Ultramarines make planetfall it is more or less action from there on out. As if to make up for the slow start, the pace rarely slows again. Gulliman gets to let loose and the battle scenes are well written even if it is little more than wading through an endless tide of Orks over and over again. The Orks lack any character at all, they are cannon fodder, nothing more.

however, things start to become overly familiar as the Ultramarines find a pyramid and venture underground to face more Orks wall to wall and then end up being trapped and needing.... well you can guess the rest.

I hate to say it but all Annadale has done here is rewritten (by and large) the Damnation of Pythos. Marines make planetfall, are attacked by overwhelming forces, which they repel. Find structure, venture underneath, lots of heroic sacrifice, more foes underground and also the answer to an enigma that has been developing over the course of the story.... its just the same set up.

It's annoying, just like Damnation of Pythos there is potential here that is absolutely choked by poor story construction and a stumbling narrative. The action is passable and I don't really object to Gulliman's portrayal or even the way the Orks are presented. Though numerous Greenskins twice the size of a Primarch seems a touch OTT.

I LIKED the way that Gulliman is trying to preserve that which he reconquers, and mould his legion into more than just a force of destruction.  He still fights supremely when called for and it is a more rounded portrayal of a Primarch than many we have had.

I LIKED some of the action and the look into the Destroyers and the way they feel about their treatment at the hands of their father as they are chastised purely for their nature and the fact that they are Terran born and hold different traditions and ideals to Gulliman's lofty empire of Ultramar.

But this is like a director making the same movie twice in a row (like many have). I'm sure there were so many better ways that the above could have been incorporated into a narrative than the very dull plot that we are presented with, had we been given something fresh and new then perhaps the reader fatigue that I experienced would not have presented itself.

I'm not saying that this is a terrible unreadable book, there are some bits that are really worthwhile. But i cannot recommend it as a whole. Its like a horribly dry cake with juicy raisins in it. Given the truncated length and the fact that this is a series about THE PRIMARCHS it is very disappointing.

Put it this way, the short excerpt of Chris Wraight's upcoming Leman Russ Primarch book displayed more craft and skill and guile than the entire of this book. I think it will be a far superior title, but in all honesty the bar that has been set here is not hard to beat.


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