Having just finished (New York Times bestselling author) Graham McNiell's latest Black Library offering Priests of Mars, I felt I should offer up my thoughts on the book.
It tells the tale of a nominally Adeptus Mechanicus expedition into uncharted space to find a long lost explorator fleet. I say nominally because not only is there the AdMech, but a Rogue Trader, some Imperial Guard, Space Marines (Black Templars) and some freshly pressed ships crew getting their slice of the pie.
So a rather motley crew.
Our main characters are the aforementioned Rogue Trader, who far from being a dashing rogue presents a more thoughtful, if rebellious at times, take on that archetype. His motivations are not entirely clear and may even put him at odds with his shipmates
He has a card playing, womanising, smart ass Han Solo-esque sidekick of course
They are bringing along a talented stelar cartographer whose work is vital to the missions success
Butt heads with serious company types
Meet a variety of crazy characters
And they all have the best summer ever
This is 40k after all (and the Eldar get a look in too).
Without getting into too much of the plot, this is the sort of book I hope to see more of from the Black Library. It is a book about the characters, rather than a book about things happening to characters. They drive almost the entire plot, from the inception of the expedition to the petty (and not so petty) power plays that form the bulk of the interaction.
My beef with some BL novels has been that they've shoehorned in combat almost as if they feel it's expected to have some explosions as, hey, it's 40k right? A Thousand Sons had that weird bit with the Psychneuein and Cain often will ahve random mooks to fight, but Priest of Mars has a few pages of fisticuffs in a duel, and a bit of combat towards the end, but the novel wouldn't be drastically thinner without it.
I like that the BL is progressing beyond the need to have combat be all we see in the 40k universe, as there are many other aspects worth exploring besides war, and what better way than a good novel? I think that A Thousand Sons, Mechanicum and Outcast Dead have been some of the best recieved novels (from what I've seen and heard) shows that the fanbase is prepared to accept these novels as well.
But I digress.
The expedition generally goes pretty smoothly, but they may really have someone unseen pulling their strings
The book itself maintains a great sense of tension throughout - getting towards the end there was a very real expectation that it was all just going to go horribly pear shaped and end up with everyone dying horribly, especially when they start the actual exploratoring
Of course I won't say what happens exactly, but the one fault of the book is that it feels like the ending is pretty strong sequel bait (or a setup for a new series even). While I wouldn't be opposed to this, and would very happily buy any continuation, I am somewhat wary.
As with Prometheus, Priests of Mars ends with just as many questions as answers. I'm not entirely opposed to this as everything, while not finalised, is settled. It is a matter of personal taste but I've been feeling very much over the tide of sequels and remakes in almost everything lately (movies are my other great love aside from books). It irritates me no end to pick up a book, look at the back and like the synopsis only to see it's book three of the whatever dodecadology, first of the whocares cycle.
I blame Isobelle Carmody for taking forever to write the rest of the Obernewtyn books, personally.
Where'd I leave that tangent picture..?
Eh, doctor looking skeptical will have to do.
So anyways, Priests of Mars is a great book, and has terrific insights into not only Mechanicus society and mindset (there's a wonderful discussion of it between the Rogue Trader and the cartographer on the subject), but a few other nuggets, most notable of which is comfirmation that Sororitas (at least Hospitallers) can get married and a link to the Horus Heresy (rather spoilery, highlight between the pics to read:
- the Kaban machine is still kicking around in some capacity
So get this book if you liked any of McNiell's recent offerings or have a hankering for the non-dakka side of the Imperium. Even if you don't get it, as it will likely change your opinion.
Final score: 9.5/10 lost 1/2 a point for the sequel bait - sorry Graham, I still love you!