I have always been a fan of tabletop gaming and Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 (‘40k‘ – not to be confused with Warhammer, its Fantasy-based sibling) was a firm favourite in my childhood, especially the even-smaller-scale Epic miniatures. I can remember thinking back in the ’90s that the games leant themselves to short stories / novellas, and even trying my hand at writing some – particularly based on the game Necromunda (still my favourite Games Workshop [GW] game).
For those that aren’t aware of 40k (and if you aren’t, I am surprised), the slightly absurd yet darkly enjoyable premise is that mankind has survived into a grim 41st millennium of constant, universal war; the leader of humanity’s (‘good’) Imperium, the Emperor, is possibly alive, possibly dead, following the defection to the side of Chaos (‘evil’) of his Warmaster son, Horus, and all of Horus’ legions of followers.
The predominantly SF setting has adopted many tropes and races that we know and love from Tolkien / Fantasy. There are Space Marines (humans), Orks (space orcs), Eldar (space elves), and Squats (space dwarfs), along with the Tyranids (space insects), Necrons (space robots), and Tau (a cross between space dark elves and a cultural-if-not-physical Borg from Star Trek), all of which are playable races. There are ‘psykers’ (space wizards), daemons and daemonic possession, and the ever-present danger of the Warp, from where psykers (good and evil) get their powers – and where the Chaos gods dwell.
In ‘Titandeath‘, Haley has given us a strong telling of exactly how Titans supposedly work, both in the games and in the lore; giant fighting robots inhabited by daemons or machine-gods, the Titans are hugely powerful, hugely destructive and sometimes hugely resentful of their crews, human or otherwise. The description of the bond between crew and Titan, the wrestling for dominance, and the all-too-compelling desire for power, is especially deftly handled.
Haley’s world-building (‘galaxy-building’, I suppose) is equally strong, though the background lore of the literature and the games is extremely rich and he had much source material to mine; I am old enough to remember when the Black Library, the publishing arm of GW, started back in 1997, and the lore was strong even then.
Some well-nuanced characters added to the already satisfying mix, and I was reminded of how much – and why – I enjoyed other Black Library offerings, such as Dan Abnett’s Inquisitor Eisenhorn trilogy and ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ series.
If you are looking for an introduction to the world of 40k, this is perhaps not it – there are many ideas, and a fair bit of history touched upon, that might be better for some pre-knowledge – though you could certainly do a lot worse. I would suggest either of the two mentioned in the previous paragraph as great starting points. If you are after something more Fantasy-based, I can highly recommend trying Markus Heitz’ ‘Dwarves‘ series.
Long story, short (or in 40k‘s case ‘short story, long’), it was an enjoyable read and I shall certainly be revisiting the Black Library – at least up until 38,000 years in the future.
And in case you’re interested, I always used to play as Chaos.
‘For the Blood God!’
Horus’s armada gathers, and he has defeated all enemies sent against him, even the Emperor’s own executioner. One barrier remains before he can strike for Terra and lay waste to the Emperor’s dream.
The Beta-Garmon system occupies the most direct and only viable route to the Solar System and Terra. To break it, Horus assembles a war host of incredible proportions and Titans in untold numbers. To lose here is to lose the war and Horus has no intention of turning back. But the Imperium understands the importance of Beta-Garmon too. A massive army is arrayed, comprised of near numberless Army cohorts and a mustering of Titans to challenge even the martial might of the Warmaster.
Titans fight against Titans as the God-Machines of Loyalists and Traitors alike go to war. This conflict will be like no other before it, a world-ending battle that will determine the next phase of the war.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.