Remember that wealth of emergent talent I talked about in my Magnus review? Well Guy Haley is one of the names I was thinking of. Though it could be said that he has written enough now to be considered much more than new blood.
Personally though, I had never read one of his books till Pharos. Actually scratch that, the Skaven End Times one was his and now the Blur quote for the Ogres (who’s that Gutlord marching?) makes all sorts of sense. Still, it was Pharos that I remember most. It’s one from before my own personal ‘Age of Darkness’ I experienced a while back so it didn’t get reviewed but basically, it’s unremittingly brutal, kills off characters left and right, and acts as a worthy instalment in the ‘Imperium Secundus’ arc. Seriously the Night Lords are BEYOND deranged and vicious.
It’s also a book that pretty much won me over with a couple of specific lines. There is a scene where the Ultramarine scouts (soon to die horribly) turn up and Guy describes them. He takes the time to comment on their ungainly oversized faces and explains that it is part of the initiation process, a brief hormone imbalance. In one fell swoop he makes reference to the terrible heads on the GW Scout kits and explains it away, a brilliant fourth wall breaking moment that endeared the book and the author to me right there.
He does something similar in Perturabo and I’ll get to that in a second but it’s quite far in the book and there is a fair bit to talk about first.
Perturabo: Hammer of Olympia is the first Primarch book to do what I have expected of this series, and tell the story of the Primarch’s childhood (if you can call it that) and formative years. Gulliman chose to focus on the Ultramarines changing nature and the hard choices that the Avenging Son would have to make. Leman Russ focussed on the infamous falling out and subsequent duel with the Lion and Magnus focussed again on one particular battle where, paired up with Perturabo some great character work and foreshadowing is done. Perturabo kind of does both, giving us both the boy that was and the Demigod that is.
It starts with Perturabo first presenting himself to his adoptive father, the Tyrant Dammenekos, showing his abilities and talents as he is taken in. These sections of the book are interspersed with segments cut from the Great Crusade where the Legion are fighting the Hrud, more on that in a moment. The book flits about between the two eras, giving you a sense of the Primarch's (accelerated) development from boy to adolescent to man. We get a good sense of his character here and as in Magnus it is a stark contrast to the way we find him in the heresy. The book revisits him as he ages and gets closer and closer to his dream of unifying Olympia in a way his adoptive father could never comprehend.
This retrospective part of the book does a really good job of setting up Perturabo's motivations and relationships with the other characters both his adoptive father and also his step siblings. Perturabo’s frustration and brilliance and arrogance are highlighted superbly and the way that Guy uses the concept of Iron in a variety of different ways whilst not particularly novel is inventively done. Perturabo becomes a much talked about myth and although the concept of a ‘chosen one’ is well overused in today’s fiction it is interesting to see him best Olympia's greatest champions in challenges both mental and physical. It’s a great look at the development of a Primarch and as I have said, not really something we have had before.
Aside from this the narrative finds us at a time that seems to be late in the great crusade. Perturabo, (though he honestly doesn’t feature too much in this section) is a changed character. Embittered by the relentless and bloody tasks set for him by his father. The seeds of dissent are seemingly sown here and you can see the resentment that he feels at having his sons so needlessly thrown into the grinder though he is compelled to obey the Emperor’s seemingly vainglorious commands.
The foe that the Iron Warriors are fighting here is the Hrud. What follows is one of the most detailed depictions of any of the Xenos races that have been fought in the Great Crusade to date. Those hoping for Space Skaven may be disappointed as talk is made of long sinuous, pale and flexible limbs and nearly entirely un rat like faces. That said, they do create warrens and live underground, so some argument could be made in this favour, and like the Skaven they are far from primitive though a certain animalistic instinct is alluded to.
But the Hrud’s main weapon is time, both cloaked from sight, (incredibly hard to target they appear as little more than an inky distortion), and heralded by a perceptible chronometric anomaly. Even worse, at close quarters they exude an entropic effect so strong anything that gets too close to them ages and decays at an incredibly accelerated rate. Touching them corrodes armour and crumbles flesh and even being near them results in rapid aging, iron turning brittle within and without. Thus are the Iron Warriors being slowly destroyed, their admittedly extended mortality being laid bare as their years are literally leeched away by the combat. Those not destroyed outright becoming weak and twisted by extreme old age.
Fully a third of the legion strength is lost this way as the Iron warriors look to eradicate the Hrud from a system claimed by the Emperor. The action is well written and you really do get a feeling of the Iron Warriors being totally up against it in a way that hasn’t really been portrayed before. They simply are not designed for this kind of conflict. Even the survivors from this engagement will be of little use in future battles. You get the impression this is a grievous loss for the Legion and Perturabo’s frustration is palpable and taken out on his son’s unremittingly for their failures in the campaign. This is where he sets his sons to devising a strategy to defeat the Hrud getting them to run simulations, some of which they do with hololiths and some of which they do by moving wooden blocks and rolling ten sided dice (must be playing second edition) Yep. Space Marines playing 40k, (more or less) it doesn’t get much more self referential than that!
It must be noted that there is a marked difference in this portrayal of Perturabo to that in the previous book, Magnus The Red by Graham McNeill. Perhaps there was some collaboration as a few characters do cross over, but this Perturabo is much changed from the relatively benevolent figure that was so omnipresent in Grahams story. Guy’s Perturabo is a much colder and quicker to anger example of the Iron Warriors Primarch, and presumably older, further on in the crusade in a time where the zeal of ambition has been replaced with a grinding inevitability of death.
Of course much of this could be attributed to his current situation, his sons being ground down in this endless entropic stalemate as neither side can claim decisive victory, the IV Legion slaughtering Hrud but taking heavy losses themselves. The Iron Warriors ARE losing but very slowly. I guess you could look at it as a Heresy era Vietnam, sent where they don’t want to be, fighting a war against a shadowy foe they cannot defeat and compelled through duty to stay and fight. A war of attrition that they are destined to lose. Growing increasingly bitter at an Emperor that commands from afar. It is no wonder then that when news reaches them of Olympia’s secession from the Imperium that Perturabo immediately heads for his home planet in order to ‘clean house’. This is literally in the last couple of chapters in the book and let’s just say he isn’t gentle. I won’t say anymore about the climax here, my reviews are mostly spoiler free where possible. It’s reasonably predictable in any event.
This really is a great book, well written and once again sets a new bar for the series, one that I feel may be hard to match. Guy does a great job in fleshing out Perturabo and the reader gains a perception of both the man that he was and COULD have been, and the man that we end up with, bitter and ground down by relentless fighting. The Hrud are also superbly realised and are more alien than anything that has come before, being far from another xenos race to be wiped out. Should they ever become a fully fledged race and ranged in 40k they would be refreshingly different and unlike anything we have at the moment. It’s really quite well done and crafted and although the contrast in this Perturabo to the much more likeable version in the previous Primarch book is jarring it is understandable and relatable and just as Magnus’s book represented a tipping point you feel this one does for Perturabo as the concepts of fairness and mercy are lost leaving hard unrelenting heavy Iron, within and Without. Pick this one up, it really is a great read, Gav Thorpe’s Lorgar is up against it.