Thursday, May 6, 2010

Courage and Honour by Graham McNeill (paperback edition)

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

One of the first books that was reviewed here at Luke Reviews when I started out was the original hardcover edition of Graham McNeill’s fifth Ultramarines novel, Courage and Honour. It went on to be one of Luke Reviews’ Top 15 Books of 2009. With the paperback edition coming out in about a month, I thought a retrospective look might be nice. Below I have appended the original review, as well as McNeill’s comments on being a Top 15 book.


After my mixed review of the previous book in Graham McNeill's Ultramarines series, I was both hesitant and eager to see how his next journey into the saga would be. Would it be more of the action that dominated the last two-thirds of the book, or more of the slow, drawn out beginning? I am more than happy to report that it worked out wonderfully in this volume, mixing action with the plot better than The Killing Ground did.
After leaving the Eye of Terror, Uriel and Pasanius traveled to Salinas, where they fought the planets dark, twisted past. After a run-in with some higher powers in the Empire of Man, they returned, and finally headed back to the homeworld of the Ultramarines, heading for what they hoped would be a warm welcome.
That is where Courage and Honour picks up, with Uriel and Pasanius arriving home. After arriving there, the two space marines discover that they aren't as safe as they thought, with their chapter requiring them to undergo numerous tests to prove that they are without taint (even though this was also seemingly done last book as well). After these tests, Pasanius requires to do penance, and sits out the rest of the novel. Uriel leads the 4th Company back to a planet that had already conquered, in a desperate bid to protect the planet from invading Tau.
While I was disappointed about Pasanius' removal from the book, as I felt his interaction with Uriel was truly one of the best parts of the former novel, another sergeant, Learchus, does an okay job replacing him as a sidekick, flagging only in that the close history isn't there. The action in the novel never flags, and in this novel McNeill does a magnificent job of starting things off with lots of action, while using flashbacks to build the backstory, all done in clumps that are short and intriguing. The novel contains many secondary characters, including other space marines, imperial guard soldiers, as well as members of the Planetary Defence Force, that all feel very well fleshed out, that act believably, and can create emotional attachments.
I must say that, far from how I was after The Killing Ground, I absolutely cannot wait for the next Ultramarines novel. His books are getting better and better.


This was a fun book to write, as it was a chance to get back to basics with the Ultramarines. I'd taken them off to the Eye of Terror in Dead Sky, Black Sun and left them there for a while, as I went off and did other projects, but they were always itching to get back to Ultramar. I knew right away that I couldn't just have them turn up at the gates of their Chapter Monastery and say, 'Hi, we're home...' so that entailed The Killing Ground, a novel about the steps on the way home. Like DS, BS, it was a novel that took the Space Marines out of their comfort zone and had them doing very un-Space Marine-like things, so with Courage and Honour, it was time to rectify that.
I wanted this to be the book that reminds the reader why Space Marines are the premier fighting force in the galaxy. The Imperial Guard may number in the millions, but it's the Space Marines that do the really hard work, the missions that absolutely cannot be allowed to fail. This was going to be a war novel, a book that had the Space Marines doing what they did best, killing their foes with complete and utter dedication and professionalism. I wanted Courage and Honour to be a simple story, and when I say that I don't mean without complexity, I mean that is showed the Ultramarines--and Uriel--in the most classic Space Marine light possible.
These weren't Space Marines operating outside the Codex Astartes, these were warriors who fought with their Primarch's holy tome as their guide, and were winning with it at their side. Of course, I wanted elements that weren't exactly codex, which is what led to Learchus going behind enemy lines and learning what had driven Uriel to make the choices he made. It's a book with plenty of action, from all levels of the conflict, and I hope shows the brutality of warfare in the 40K universe, while also highlighting the heroism and horror that can come out of such desperate conflicts.
It's an honour to write about such an illustrious Chapter, and to have Courage and Honour chosen as one of the fifteen top books of 2009 by Luke gives me the pleasant thought that I did something right. Let's just hope that the follow up book, The Chapter's Due is similarly well received.

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