Lord of the Night reviews the debut Black Library novel from Guy Haley, the Imperial Guard stand-alone novel Baneblade
"An enjoyable debut that, while having some bumps in the road, is a solid read and one that shows Guy Haley has a good future in the dark future of the 41st Millennium."
was a novel that, at first, I had no intention of buying. I'm just not a fan of the Imperial Guard, bar Ciaphas Cain
. But after the smashing read that was Fire Caste
I decided to give the Guard more of a go, and having heard some good things about Baneblade
from fellow reviewer Shadowhawk2008 I decided it was worth a try. I was actually quite pleased by the end, Baneblade
isn't the finest book i've read but it's solid with a good plot that while some flaws were very evident was enjoyable, characters those of which were actually fleshed out were interesting and engaging, and Baneblade
is one of the few real tank novels that focuses solely on the battles between armour in the 41st millennium, which was a great change of pace from troops and aircraft and spaceships killing each other as each of these types of combat is vastly different and enjoyable for different reasons. And plus the book features one of the most memorable portrayals of the Orks, specifically because the Orks in this book are unlike any that have appeared before.
A new war is beginning, a war of metal and armour in the razor-sand storms of Kalidar IV. The planet has been invaded by the brutal Orks, led by the Arch-Skarlord Gratzdakka wur Mekdakka of the Blood Axes Klan, whose ramshackle machines rule the deserts. Only the Paragonian 7th Super-Heavy Tank Company can save Kalidar and its vast deposits of the psy-metal Iorelei, and leading the way is the Baneblade Mars Triumphant
. Colaron Artem Lo Bannick is reassigned to the Baneblade he finds himself entering a new world, and thrust into the front of the conflict as the Orks unleash their secret weapon and Mars Triumphant
faces its greatest battle yet. But with resources from the war being drained away by an even greater campaign to the west and the Orks proving a cannier foe than anyone expected, can even the greatest warmachine in the Imperial Guard survive the might of the Ork Greeneye?
The story in the book is divided into two sections. Present and past. The present tells the story of Colaron Artem Lo Bannick after he joins the Guard and how he finds himself aboard the Mars Triumphant
and on the front-line of the Kalidar conflict. I enjoyed this story quite a bit as it was interesting to see the in-depth look at the Baneblade that the book gives, and how tanker companies tend to differ from regular Guard companies. Some twists later in the plot quite surprised me, and I really enjoyed the sections involving the Orks outside of combat as the portrayal of the Blood Axes was fantastic. The past section however was not as good, it was told backwards starting from right before Bannick joins the Guard and ending once it has shown exactly what caused him to sign up. The problem was the reason felt underwhelming, it could have been done in two or three flashbacks rather than stretching it out over multiple chapters. One unique feature that I enjoyed were the Interstitials, similar to the journal exerts in Ciaphas Cain
that precede many of the chapters, Baneblade
featured Interstitials prior to many of the chapters that added in little extra facts and occasionally provided a few laughs. That said the key issue with the story in my opinion was that several times something happened that felt completely pointless once it wasn't followed up on; an example would be early on in the book when something unfortunate happens to the protagonist that could have changed the entire book yet was given a quick fix two minutes later. After the fix I felt the entire thing was pointless as it changed nothing, like it was just done for a cheap chapter cliff hanger.
The characters were fairly good, though only a handful were fleshed out to any real degree. The protagonist was one of them and I liked him as a proxy for the reader, entering a world of tanks and armour and his inexperience is also ours. As a new Guardsman he is also a set of fresh eyes on the endless cycles of war in 40k and his thoughts on conflict, honour, atonement and service were actually engaging. Other interesting characters included some of the crew of the Mars Triumphant
, such as the Enginseer Brasslock who was very human for a Mechanicus character; the main gunner Radden who as a chatterbox was amusing in his few real scenes; and the Mars Triumphant's
commander Coltein who acted as a role model for Bannick and gave us a comparison of a new recruit and an aged veteran's separate opinions on the Imperial Guard. Haley's Ork characters however were the best part, both Greeneye and Gratzdakka felt distinct from all other Orks due to Greeneye's subtype and Gratzdakka's clan both making them very different kinds of Orks, and in the latter's case some would say unorky. I felt Haley really grasped the nature of Orks and though they didn't feel menacing as they did in The Siege of Castellax
or particularly funny as they have elsewhere, they felt like a strong opponent that could really challenge the Imperium and were actually similar to them in quite a few ways. However two character issues threw me a bit, the first was a character that I thought was going to play an important role in the novel disappeared after his first appearance, and again I felt it was pointless and done just for a chapter cliff-hanger. The second was that one character who died reappeared three-four pages later, only to die again two pages later, it feels like Haley lost track of his writing there and made a blunder which can happen but editing really should catch things like that; and near the end one character's survival puzzled me as it was not explained and I can't think how he could have survived where he last was, which makes me feel that Haley kept him alive just to reuse him one day which isn't a bad thing, but he should have made it clear how that character managed to survive.
The action is definitely a different breed as the Baneblade is the key focus of the book, how it works and how it fights. The detail it goes into on the titular tank is great and really gives the reader an understanding of the capabilities of the super-heavy machine, which makes it all the better when it goes up against hordes of Orks, trukks, tanks and even the dreaded Stompa walkers; which in particular were some of the best moments in the book. Haley really makes the Baneblade feel powerful in both offense and defence, but at the same time doesn't make it invincible and shows that the Baneblade has a powerful shell, but it can be cracked and even without being cracked, it can still be hurt. A few infantry firefights are in the book but really it's the big tank battles that are the focus of the action, the Baneblade goes up against most-everything that the Orks have to offer and we get plenty of kickass moments and scenes from that. The scenes were choreographed nicely and what's more they felt accurate, it felt like a real tank crew fighting and bleeding on the sands, and with even the elements being an enemy with razor-sand storms, quicksand pits, treacherous cliffs and psy-metal that drives people mad, the battles were not just the Guard fighting against the Orks but surviving against the very planet itself as it sought to kill them, which added to the imagery of each battle and made the action scenes feel tenser as even a single mistake could give the planet it's chance to end them.
The pacing of the book is a little off as the two halves of the story switch into each other well enough sometimes, but other times it felt jarring to the main story to stop there and delve into the past, which interrupted the flow of the novel which makes it feel like a slower read. The main story read nicely enough with some very impressive scenes though the secondary story felt much slower and disconnected at first, but the last few chapters of it flowed more smoothly by ending right where the last chapter left off. The narrative is good and Haley really has a good grasp of 40k, the lore and the nature of it all, but the few errors I have mentioned above were quite jarring once I started to think about them or it became apparent that nothing was going to come of them at all, which slowed the book's pacing and prevented it from reaching into the categories of great or very good. I did love his Blood Axes portrayal however because they felt distinctly unorky, their uniqueness as Orks came across nicely and I could see quite quickly how deeply their encounters with humanity had affected these Orks and how it changed their methods of making war. Haley could have gone with the simple Orky Orks but he chose a more unorthodox enemy and that definitely gives the book something unique that upgrades it from a fairly enjoyable novel to a good novel with flaws but still quite worth reading.
Now for my favourite quote, it is definitely this one even though I wish it was a bit more like what we've seen from these types of characters before,
"I tried to be nice little human. I tried."
The ending is a mixed bag for me, on the one hand I liked that the epilogue brought the book full circle which was the perfect way to really drive home the lesson that the final chapter teaches about war in 40k and the life of an Imperial Guardsman. I also liked the parallels to the Orks that the final chapter and the epilogue have, both of these two species regard war quite similarly though they'd never admit it and as the Orks believed, the humans make fearsome foes and the final chapters of this novel show why. I also liked the themes of service, futility and eternity that the ending featured, I think the final speech that one character gives is a great summary of what it is to be a Guardsman in the Imperium and why it's a hard life, but it must be done. However one part of the final chapter had a real problem, as I mentioned above a character survives without an explanation as to how he escaped a situation where he seemed certain to die, and it feels as if Haley just added that scene to show that that particular character will be back one day, and without the explanation as to how he lived it feels like a last-minute addition and doesn't really sit well with me. Had there been an explanation I wouldn't have minded, but without one the scene just doesn't work for me and I think it would have been better had Haley put that character to rest.
For a good story that while flawed is still enjoyable, very impressive action scenes that make me want to read more tank and vehicle based books, and for making me sure that Guy Haley is an author I enjoy and want to see more from I give Baneblade
a score of 7.6/10
. This is a novel that I would suggest to any fan of the Imperial Guard, those who like reading about tanks or just those who are looking for a simple and uncomplicated book to read. However if the Guard aren't a subject you enjoy or you want a book that really sticks with you and that you'll be glued to, this book isn't for you.
That's it for this review. Next will be either Skarsnik
by Guy Haley, again, or Blighted Empire
by C.L Werner. So until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!