Friday, April 30, 2010

Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

NOTE: Helsreach was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by the Black Library.

Aaron Dembski-Bowden has been getting some very spectacular praise lately, and quickly is becoming one of the favorite authors in Black Library’s stable. He burst on the scene with Cadian Blood, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and then started a new series of Space Marine novels. Now he has become the second author of the new line of books from Black Library, Space Marines Battles, which depict famous battles in the history of the Empire that involved Space Marines.

On the planet Armageddon, the citizens are recovering from a past ork attack on their ravaged planet, but are met with terrible news: another onslaught is on its way. They build up their defenses as best they can, and aid rushes to the planet, including the Black Templars Space Marines. The contingent on planet, lead by Grimaldus, are sent to Hive Helsreach, where the fight a seemingly never ending army of the greenskins, struggling, not to win, but simply to survive.

After my second Dembski-Bowden novel, I’m starting to wonder, can Dembski-Bowden write a bad book? Once again, he delves deep into his characters, from Grimaldus, who is mentally tormented at the loss of a father-figure, and at being sent to die in Helsreach, to the marines who rally around him, and the Imperial Guard that fight alongside them. Every character is full of depth, and very few are completely good or likable. Grimaldus is tempestuous to the extreme, with a very detached attitude at times, but at other times he reveals truly honorable characteristics. He is a fully formed character, rare in fiction. There is an occasional switch between third-person and first-person that I found odd at first, but as the book went on it made for a nice melding.

The war is sufficiently draining, as any siege warfare should be, but you never feel that all of the characters are safe. There are no fights that you know will be won without a price, and even at the end every thread of the plot may not end up happily. The full breadth of emotion is on display, played with in the brutal and violent setting to its maximum potential. For a very strong novel exploring the depth of war and the complex characters that fight it, this is an excellent place to go.


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