Lord of the Night reviews the cinematically epic Titan novel Warlord: Fury of the God-Machine
by David Annandale.
ďAn epic and grim story of destruction and the grinding engines of war, Warlord is a novel that any fans of colossal machines killing each other can enjoy, especially if they enjoy a dark story to go with it.Ē Ė Lord of the Night
Warlord: Fury of the God-Machine
is a novel that I have been looking forward to ever since the epic, and dire-priced, Warlord-class Titan model was released from Forge World. Titans have always been one of the greatest and most striking parts of 40k, and itís not hard to see why. After all war-machines bigger than skyscrapers annihilating entire armies with weapons capable of tearing mountain ranges to pieces, whatís not to like about that?? Yet Titans have rarely ever gained the spotlight for themselves, apart from Dan Abnettís Titanicus
theyíve never had a starring role in a novel, rather being used as side characters and allies to the Space Marines or Imperial Guard. Warlord changed that and it was a welcome change, getting to see how the Titans wage war when they are leading the battle and not just supporting an infantry-based cast.
The Titan Legions are one of the most devastating weapons in the Imperium of Man, each Titan is an army unto itself, armed with weapons capable of destroying cities and armoured in thrice-blessed iron. Fresh from the Khanian warzone and a mauling from the bio-titans of the Hive Fleets, the Legio Palladius Mor and their allies in the Imperial Hunters Legio are dispatched to Katara where the seeds of heresy have bloomed into a full-fledged uprising. But with tensions running high between legio high-command and the spectre of fallen Titan engines looming over them, Palladius Mor and the Imperial Hunters must reconcile their differing cultures or else see Katara fall to the rampaging hordes of the Blood God.
The story in Warlord is not just a look into the deeper aspects of the Titan legions, but also an appropriately grimdark tale about warfare between mechanised gods, including what it is like for those caught in the midst of such a battle, cultures clashing with each other and the ramifications that can have, and salvation that comes in the form of destruction on an incredible scale. I felt that Annandale did a really good job of showing an important truth about the Titans, they are destroyers first, second and last, when they come to your world, be prepared to ride out the storm or perish unnoticed in its wake. Warlord is more of a battle-driven story rather than a character-driven one, which is not to say that the characters donít have their own little stories, but itís really the battle for Katara that is the point of the novel, and the point of that story is to show exactly how Titans wage war on their own without the wider allies of the Imperium, and what itís like to be caught in the middle of an engine war. I feel that Annandale succeeded in showing that itís an incredible and terrifying affair that doesnít leave any room for grey areas, and that itís very different from the Guard or Space Marines coming to save the day. Itís quite a dark story, and that feels appropriate in the context of the subject, Titans are machines and their pilots arenít much removed from that, add in the fatalistic outlook of Palladius Mor and the horrors of Chaos and this becomes a story that you just know isnít going to have a happy ending. Where the story could have been improved really would have been to include more POVs, particularly on the Chaos side, to provide a more rounded cast (which I talk about below) and so that we could understand more of the motives on the other side.
As for the characters in the story I felt that for the most part they came across as representations of their groups rather than three-dimensional people in their own right. Krezoc and Syagrius both felt like avatars for Palladius Mor and the Imperial Hunters respectively, Krezoc embodying the pessimistic and fatalistic outlook of Palladius while Syagrius embodied the strong pride and desire for glory of the Hunters. Not to say that they werenít interesting characters, but they didnít feel as though they had much personality beyond exemplifying their Legios. And apart from these two no other Titan characters really got any development beyond the minimal, we catch glimpses of other pilots in Palladius who may have a sense of humour or a less grim world-view, but Krezoc is the only one whose head we get into and she didnít really seem to have any traits that didnít fit perfectly with Palladiusí culture. Syagrius at least had his internal doubts, ruthlessly quashed, but still present that let us know that he strove to be the ideal Imperial Hunter, rather than just being that naturally, which made him a more interesting character than Krezoc to me. The Secutarii Venterras was one of my favourites, ironically while utterly lacking in any personality at all, he is a Skitarii which is fitting, though he did display some rather sophisticated thoughts down the line that was a nice reminder that while he and others like him may look like robots, as one character comments on, they arenít. One character that I really really enjoyed however was the priest Orantas, for once we had an Ecclesiarchy-aligned character who wasnít stupid, fat, cowardly, frothing-at-the-mouth fanatical or deaf to common sense, or any combination of these traits. Instead he felt like somebody who really earned his rank and has true beliefs, a man who looks for omens and signs but knows reality when he sees it, a welcome change of pace from the usual stereotype of the Imperial Church. The Chaos side was sadly underdeveloped, beyond one minor character that barely appeared and whose motivations were never explained, no other Chaos characters were used in the story, and no fallen Titan pilots which was a big disappointment to me. Sure the Chaos titans come across as more animals than machines, but it would have been really interesting to see the war from the other perspective, and to see what it would be like to pilot an abomination like a Chaos Titan. I enjoyed some of the cast, but felt that the lack of diversity and minimal development of all but the two main characters really let the novel down.
An engine war is an epic conflict and Annandale captures that really well throughout the novel, every battle scene from first to last was suitably epic in scale, with Titans its go big or donít even bother, and Annandale understands that. An important part of Titans is conveying the scale of them in battle, every step shakes the earth and every shot lights up the sky, and woe betide anything that isnít another Titan that falls under the shadow of their guns, which Annandale depicts nicely at the beginning with the Tyranids (as a side-note, this may have been the first time in a 40k novel where a Tyranid swarm was seen as an irritant and not an apocalyptic event, a nice look into a Titan pilotís mind), and later on when the Chaos forces enter the fray. The action scenes felt cinematic at times, sort of like viewing a monster movie about robots, though the focus on the lumbering and durable Warlords means that the battles donít play out quickly and even the mega-weapons of the Legios canít kill other Titans without lots of effort. The weapons of Titans from the Volcano cannon, Quake cannons, mega-bolters, plasma-destroyers and Apocalypse missile launchers all feel like real army-enders, but since their main enemy is other Titans they only get a few chances to show how devastating they can be to other enemies. Really the only complaint I have regarding the battle scenes is that none of the primary characters piloted a melee-oriented Titan, so it meant that we didnít really get to see any close range fights between the god-machines, true the Chaos Titans had a few power claws and what not, but when their opponent only has guns, it doesnít feel like a real melee battle. I would have also liked to see a bit more on the Warhounds and Reaver titans, who felt side-lined in favour of the Warlord, which I suppose the title does let on, but it would have made for a few different scenes that would have provided a nice contrast to the devastatingly-powerful but ponderous Warlords.
The Titan Legios are a group in 40k that hasnít really had a great deal of exploration in the past. Obviously given that each Legio is a unique collection, in the same idea as each Space Marine Chapter is different, you canít really use the Palladius Mor or the Imperial Hunters as a template for the Legios as a whole. But Annandale does a good job in showing both these two unique cultures and the wider shared aspects of the Titans, I particularly liked the fact that they remembered things that most in the galaxy donít anymore, which makes sense given that their machines were around in those days and the records they keep would stretch back that far. On another note as fans of Games Workshop will know the classic game Adeptus Titanicus is coming back at some point in the next year, in fact many (including me) thought the release of Warlord alongside the re-release of the graphic novel Titan meant the game would be out this month, though sadly we were wrong but after reading this book I am convinced that Annandale has seen the new version of Titanicus and used it as a model for not only the Imperial Titans but the Chaos Titans who felt more categorized than ever before, the same names and groupings were used across the whole book which I liked because prior to this fallen Titans never really had unit identities or names to differentiate them beyond actual descriptions or characters saying what they once were, they were just Chaos Titans. So if this book is a glimpse into the future, I must say I liked what I saw.
The pacing in the book feels alright after a first reading. At 253-pages of story itís a bit shorter than most of the hardbacks Black Library puts out, though in recent months these shorter releases are becoming more common (something that I have very mixed feelings on) but unlike some of these shorter novels, I felt it worked for Warlord since as a novel focused on a particular unit in a particular faction, a longer novel would have started to feel repetitive after enough battle scenes with that unit as the focus, I feel that Warlord doesnít quite reach that point but it starts to come close by the end. For once the shorter length worked and produced a novel that tells a good story in just the right amount of words, though if the characters had been more developed I would feel the opposite as more pages would have meant more time for character development, but for the limited cast the novel does have, the shorter length feels right.
My favourite quote in the novel is also the quote that is embossed on the spine of the gorgeous limited edition version that I have,
ďWe are Palladius Mor! We are the Pride of Death!Ē
The ending of the novel was well-written and felt like the sort of ending we knew weíd always get when something like Titans get involved, and I think Annandale wrapped up the tale of Palladius Mor neatly without resorting to hooks for a sequel. This is clearly a single novel and itís good to see that not everything needs to be a series. However there was one part of the ending that while not badly written, it felt a bit like it was done solely for the grimdark rather than being a natural response to events. A similar event occurred in another Black Library novel and there it felt like what we knew was going to happen as the response to such a thing in the Imperium of Man, but in Warlord that wasnít the case and it felt a touch odd that it would happen. It didnít drag down the ending, but it did raise my eyebrow a little.
On the whole I would give Warlord: Fury of the God-Machine
a score of 7.2/10
. If youíre a Titan fan this novel is definitely one you should pick up, it has brilliant battle scenes that really capture the majesty and the dread of Titan warfare and a story that explores the Titans quite nicely, but falls a bit short on characterisation with an under-developed main cast and a disappointing lack of an enemy cast of characters. I would say itís a good book with good aspects, and I did enjoy reading it from start to finish, but thereís definite room for improvement that would have made the novel a more engaging story and the characters much more interesting to read about. So in summation I give Warlord: Fury of the God-Machine a rank of Good
. Good, but not great.
Thatís it for this review, thank you very much for taking the time to read this if youíve made it this far. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!