Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Mechanicum - A Horus heresy review


Spoilers abound in these posts, if you haven’t read the books and will get upset by finding out what happens just stop.

This is also not a recap, if you want a recap go to Lexicanium.

What The Black Library says about the book

As the flames of treachery spread outwards through the Imperium, Horus mobilises those forces who are loyal to him, and plots to subvert or destroy those who stand agaist him. A battle is being fought for the heart and soul of all the Imperial forces – the Astartes, the Imperial Army, the Titan Legions and more. In this epic story, author Graham McNeill tells the story of the civil war on Mars, and the genesis of the Dark Mechanicum.

What the book is really about?

First off, don’t read this book when you are tired (or if you are a bit dim)

There are no less than 5 major divergent story lines with associated characters, and keeping track of who is who, and where they are up to is one of the charms of this book. (if you have trouble with mechanicum, do not try Game of thrones)

Ok, so five major story lines, interdependent but mostly independent of each other.

Story one – The questing Knight dude

Maven is a Knight of Tarantus, a group of noble dudes who drive around big warmachines and, well, act like Knights for 14th century fables about knights.
Kaban Machine hungry!

I won’t say he’s the most complex character in the history of literature, and his story is quite a simple one. There is an explosion the blows up a nuclear reactor, during the lead up to this explosion Maven encounters a giant kill bot (that we later find is called the Kaban Machine).

Maven quickly sums up its an AI, and that is a bad thing to the mechanicum. The rest of his story involves tracking down the Kaban Machine with his best mate, disobeying orders, and blowing up the machine at the heroically appropriate time.

It’s a simple “I MUST SLAY THE BEAST” story, but that was good enough for Beowulf I guess.

Story two – Titan legion vs Titan Legion

Fanboi alert!

I really liked Adeptus Mechanicus the boardgame, so I have a soft spot for the Titan legions. (Even if Legio Metallica has now been removed from canon for legal reasons).

This was fun, stupid, but fun

This story focuses in on the aging commander of the Legio Tempestus (Storm Lord Cavalerio) and his legions conflict with Legio Mortis.

Right now I will point out one of my great bugbears with all of 40k/30k and that is names. Legio Mortis are the bad guys, WHAT A SHOCK, the death legion turn out to be a bunch of evil shits. Ok, this isn’t as bad as Fabius Bile and Abaddon (so, your name means hell….. shady dude) but its still really obvious who the bad guys are.

Anyway, two cool things to note about this story. One is the Storm lords’ transition from being just a modified human, to living in an amniotic tank all the time. It’s nice and sci-fi, and akin to the navigators of dune and other “giving yourself over” stories. I liked it, but felt they could have done a little more with it.

The other cool bit is the titan battle at the end of the story. The first Titan engagement is a let-down, but the finale is pretty awesome. The writer conveys the colossal scale of the conflict, while keeping the tension and desperation high. Very nice action scenes.

Story three – The Dork Mechanicum

Not gonna lie, this is probably the weakest story of the whole bunch. Kelbor-Hal is the fabricator General and a colossal douche. There is a whole arc about him and his cronies doing dirt deeds to win Horus’s favour and open up “SEKRETS BEST LEFT SEKRET”.

Kelbor-Hal and all his cronies are approaching caricature levels of evil. The secret tech they long for has been sealed away by the Emperor, and its pretty much “Insert daemon warp thing into tech” technology.

I get that these guys are meant to be dogmatic fundamentalists, but they really are very ham fisted about it all.

The highlight of this story is probably the catelgue of atrocities they unleash over Mars. It’s bordering on cartoonish the number of experimental new ways they develop to kill people, but it makes for an interesting read and brings home the scale of the conflict quite nicely.

Story four – The “Good Guy” Mechanicum

For a given value of “good” that is.

Even the loyalist Mechanicum are inhuman slave lords suffering from chronic cases of megalomania. Koriel Zeth, Adept of the Magma city is the protagonist here, and she’s the kind of person who will happily kill a thousand psykers in an experiment.

The highlight of this story is the “betrayal of Mars” by the Imperial Fists. The fists show up, and the loyalist Mechanicum are all “YES, WE IS SAVED” and all they do is hit the Marine armour and weapons production lines, steal everything that’s no nailed down, and then bugger off. The loyalists feel well and truly bummed after this.

Bonus points for “The large charge of the knights at Magma City” and “Zeth vs the Assassin” as those are nice epic moments in the story.

I also like that they lose, badly, and totally.

Story Five – Dalia and the Dragon

This is the main story I guess? I suppose you could consider Dalia the main protagonist of the story, even though she has little impact on the wider story. This is an ensemble book, but I do feel her arc is the one we are meant to identify with the most.

First of all, she is not from Mars, so we see the Mechanicum through her eyes. Basic features of the society are tastefully given the “basil exposition” treatment by having a niave off-world noob show up who needs to have it all explained.

It’s an old trick in sci-fi, but ti works here.

She’s also “SPECIAL” with a capital Spec!

We quickly discover that Dalia has a latent psychic ability that allows her to figure stuff out with technology extremely quickly, shes a savant, and with no real technical training she quickly solves the Mechanicum equivalent of a Gordian knot.

But, that’s only the start of her arc. After a horrific run in with a failed experiment with psykers (Thanks ZETH!) she starts to dream of a Dragon caged beneath Mars. 

The Dragon is most likely the C’tan Void Dragon, who is one of the great UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS of the 40k universe.

And the Mechanicum worship it….. crazy bastards.

After an encounter with otherworldly geometry that Lovecraft would be proud of, she settles in for a long haul as guardian of the evil dragon monster of Mars.

I guess even the Emperor cannot kill a C’tan.

All in all Dalia’s story is engaging enough, and she’s an interesting character. But nothing saves the day, and in the end she hides out for the entire rest of the war in a cave.

Why are there humans in my book about super powered Space Marines?

Oddly, in a book with next to no Space Marines there are remarkably few “humans”.

Everyone in the story is either cybernetically altered, a psyker, or a marine.    

MVP – The ensemble of techno assistants.

Dalia’s cohorts are quite a neat little bunch and I like how the writer gave them all quite different characters. Caxton is a honest young man who falls for Dalia, which makes her hermitage at the end a little more poignant. Mellicin initially comes across as a grumpy old cow, but is revealed to be a bit more than that. Severine, the draughter produces one of the really sad personal tragedy moments of the story. Zouche, the Tyrion Lannister of engineers, also has a bitter sweet story about his origin and what being a dwarf in a genetically obsessed society is like. 

Finally, Rho-Mu 31, the cyborg killing machine assigned to protect Dalia has arguably the high point of dialogue in the book when he cracks a joke. It’s wonderfully dark and out of the blue and turns, what could have been a caricature into a character.

Worst Character – The Dork Mechanicum cronies

All of them, so hammy, so moustache twirly. I really wanted a little more complexity from the villains, but then again, this is a Horus Heresy novel.

Why the Emperor is a giant douche

I still find it hard to digest how the Emperor treated Mars as such a special case when it came to religion. In most places he cast down idols and banned worship. On Mars, he fostered it.

Heck, he even imprisoned a C’tan on Mars and let worship of that damned thing continue.

Also, how busy must one be to let the armoury of your empire fall when it’s in the same system as your capital. This seems remarkably short sighted and stupid.

Moustache twirling evil-bastard award – Kelbor-Hal

Dark Mechanicum?

He finally gets his wish and he unveils the secret tech of secret, and his calls his new group the “Dark Mechanicum”.

I would have preferred if one of the opposing Mechanicum leaders coined the phrase. Kelbor-Hal should have referred to his own as the “True Mechanicum”. Dark Mechanicum is just so damn hammy.

The writing – technical review and evaluation

This is quite a good book I think, one of the better ones. Not as good as some of the Dan Abnett works, but a good solid story, pretty good characters and a story that mattered. Solid, but not special.

That said, I found it a lot better than some of the other books reviewed so far. 

This book gets a “Good to read” rating. (4/5)

Book ranking

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