A great darkness has befallen the galaxy, and the armies of Chaos are rampant. To survive, humanity must retaliate and take back what they have lost. By the will of the reborn primarch, Roboute Guilliman, is the Indomitus Crusade launched – a military undertaking that eclipses all others in known history. From the Throneworld of Terra does the Avenging Son hurl his fleets, their mission the very salvation of mankind.
As vessels in their thousands burn through the cold void, the attention of Fleetmistress VanLeskus turns to the Machorta Sound – a region under attack by a dreaded Slaughter Host of the Dark Gods. The success of the Indomitus Crusade will be determined by this conflict, and the desperate mission of Battlegroup Saint Aster, led by Space Marine Lieutenant Messinius. Even then it is but a prelude to the forthcoming bloodshed.
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A glimpse of the indomitous crusade and a nice entry into the changes wrought by the black crusades. The multille perspectives help keep the action and tensions high with a tightly driven plot
Guy Haley’s novel Avenging Son kicks off the nine-part Dawn of Fire series, which promises to explore in detail the events of the Indomitus Crusade – the driving force behind the ‘current’ Warhammer 40,000 timeline. This first instalment features the first great battle of the Era Indomitus, as Fleetmistress VanLeskus leads Fleet Tertius against the Khornate Crusade of Slaughter for control of the Machorta Sound, determined to stop the forces of Chaos from claiming territory that would allow them to threaten Terra itself. Before the returned Primarch Roboute Guilliman can dispatch VanLeskus and Fleet Tertius, however, he has to navigate his way through the byzantine politics of an Imperium still reeling from the opening of the Great Rift, a task which even a Primarch can’t manage alone. The Indomitus Crusade is a grand, epic endeavour, and there’s a lot going on within the pages of this chunky book (it’s well over 500 pages in paperback) to begin to bring it to life. Four main arcs cover an incredible variety of characters and locations, both in the Sol System and out in the Machorta Sound, from lowly scribes in the depths of Terra’s bureaucracy to Space Marines, Astra Militarum, Imperial Navy, Adeptus Mechanicus, and even the Inquisition. Guilliman himself is present, but always seen from other perspectives, largely that of Captain Messinius of the White Consuls. Thoughtful and vigilant – verging on obsessively so – Messinius provides an insightful perspective on the Primarch, his challenges and the impact he has on everyone and everything around him, while also offering an interesting link between the existing Space Marines and their newfound cousins, the Primaris Space Marines. Space Marines fans will find plenty to enjoy here, from battles against daemonic infestations to debates over the risks and rewards inherent in the Primaris project. Messinius in particular makes for a great protagonist, his posthuman strengths balanced by an unusual degree of introspection and an engaging sense of conflict between his disciplined caution and his inherent desire for violence. He gets arguably the most page time, in the process offering a fascinating exploration of the immediate aftermath of Guilliman’s return from the perspective of the Marines who came with him to Terra, but he’s balanced out by plenty of mortal viewpoints too. Naval officers, beleaguered Guardsmen and Inquisitorial agents (including an unusual but entertaining xenos presence) are all present in the sections taking place in and around the Machorta Sound, while back on Terra an expedition through the dilapidated halls of the Administratum offers a glimpse of everyday life for those towards the bottom of the pile. With so many characters and so much going on there’s clearly a lot of groundwork being laid, introducing names and concepts and setting things up for the rest of the series to come, but nothing feels superfluous and Haley injects character and interest into every scene. There really should be something for every 40k fan here – at least from an Imperial perspective: politics, intrigue, bureaucratic horror, fleet warfare, Space Marines crushing everything before them, Space Marines taking a beating…the list goes on. The action when it comes is as visceral and thrilling as you like, in particular the fleet battles, and while it’s not as pacy or as action-packed as some 40k novels, the balance between exhilarating combat and slower, more insightful moments feels just right. Quiet scenes between Messinius and Guilliman or various members of the Imperial Navy have as much impact as explosive boarding actions, while the loosely linked but contrasting experiences of scribe Nawra and adept Fabian perfectly illustrate the maddening scale and futility of Imperial bureaucracy. It’s testament to Haley’s talents that this feels like both a powerful, dramatic tale in its own right and an exciting start to a much grander story yet to be unveiled. If the first great engagement of Fleet Tertius doesn’t quite feel like a truly gargantuan conflict (and this is really nit-picking), the naval battle over the Machorta Sound is nevertheless portrayed brilliantly, and the wealth of rich 40k lore to absorb is worth the asking price alone. Comparisons to the Horus Heresy are inevitable for a series like this, and Haley drops in a few deliberate references to good effect, but this is clearly its own endeavour with a unique identity that’s already visible. It draws on Chris Wraight’s Terra-set series, Haley’s own (excellent and, arguably, definitive) Guilliman and Cawl stories and the wider events of the ‘new’ 40k narrative, but creates something unique in the process. As the start of a series intended to portray an endeavour comparable to the Great Crusade (not to mention connect all sorts of existing 40k arcs and themes), this was always going to be a tough sell…but Haley has nailed it. A book like this will never be able to satisfy absolutely everyone, but this genuinely feels like the right way to begin the Dawn of Fire series. It’s very much an Imperium novel, with not even a single non-Imperial POV character, but these characters are well-chosen and the decision to focus solely on the Imperial point of view proves to be an effective one. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the series progresses and whether that changes at all, but on the basis of this novel – and Haley’s well-documented involvement in the series as a whole – it seems like there’s a lot to look forward to.