Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Books in Brief : Death of Integrity by Guy Haley

I've been looking forward to getting hold of this since I learned of it as a work in progress about a year ago and as soon as it dropped I finished it off in short order. Having waited 25 years for a Blood Drinker novel, there was no way it was going to see a bookshelf until the very last page had been turned. So grab a 'brew' and pull up a chair for another not so brief book review.

Death of Integrity is the latest in the Space Marine Battles series, a series I must confess to having not read anything from previously, something I will now have to rectify; it's also only my second foray into works by the author Guy Haley. The first being his short story The Rite of Holos which featured in Hammer & Bolter last year and is now available as an eBook. I covered 'Rite' very briefly in a post back then, a cracking little read of its own and also a prequel to DoI.

If you're a regular visitor to this Blog you'll know that the Blood Drinkers have been my chosen Chapter since I first got into 40k all those decades ago, you'll also be aware that I have written extensively about their existing cannon background and generated a huge amount of my own material to fill in the blanks as it were. This makes me a harsh critic indeed, you only need look at the roasting James Swallow's Blood Angels books endure at my hand and the Angels are only cousins to the Drinkers.

Suffice to say Guy had his work cut out, he'd shown real promise with the short story, now expectations were doubly high; would he, could he deliver?

The answer is a resounding yes and by the Battle Barge load although I did have to set a few personal feelings aside from the get go. It’s hard to read the novel you always dreamt you may someday write and see much of your own interpretation suddenly become irrelevant as the afore mentioned blanks are finally filled in by officially sanctioned work.

As usual I'll avoid spoilers in this review, trust me when I say there are some BIG twists that you will not see coming and foreknowledge will drastically reduce your enjoyment of this novel; but I will be revisiting the story in a later post to discuss it in depth due to the repercussions for my own Fandex.

Death of Integrity is a hefty slice of 'Grim Dark' action, delivered with aplomb by an author who is well versed in 40k lore (a quality some writers on Black Libraries payroll occasionally lack) and skilled in the broader Sci Fi genre; talents that have enabled Guy to produce an exciting story that is at once familiar and original.

The main thrust of the story is a Space Marine mission to cleanse a Space Hulk designated Death of Integrity of its Genestealer infestation; a tale that has its origins (as I have covered in a previous post here) in a small snippet from a ‘back in the day’ White Dwarf article, accompanied as things so often were during the magazines Golden Age, by a Mike McVey diorama. It’s later been reprinted and slightly expanded in both Forgeworld's Badab War book and the Death Watch RPG.

The mission was conducted by two of the original Rogue Trader Chapters, the Nova Marines and of course the Blood Drinkers. The novel is most definitely a two for one deal; Guy invests a lot of time in his portrayal of these two ‘supposedly’ Codex Chapters, revealing them both to be divergent from Guillimans treatise but in very different ways. The book alternates between the two forces, allowing contrasting views within the narrative and interweaving their own separate and compelling side stories.

I was really taken with these Astartes, they are not the bland cookie cutter Trans Human warriors that can often fill the pages of the more ‘bolter porn’ orientated books; but neither are they the shining enlightened exemplars of the Pre Heresy Legions.

They are the overstretched and isolated remnants of that once great brotherhood, altered beyond even their perception by the passage of time and their endless duty doggedly fighting humanities desperate fight for survival; steeped in ancient dogma and ritual, much of its origin and purpose long since lost or misinterpreted. They are suitably flawed heroes fit for the mouldering and archaic Imperium.
This in itself was enough to get the hooks into me, a long in the tooth gamer with a penchant for the ‘fluff’ of the hobby, I got very nostalgic reading the exceptional fleshing out of one of the iconic moments of my gaming past and what could be more iconic than a Space Hulk mission?

Guy does a great job of conjuring up all the elements that are the hallmarks of this popular theatre of combat from the 40k verse; dark, claustrophobic conditions and desperate close quarter fighting as the Marines do battle with their fearsome and intelligent Xenos foes.

He shows a real passion for ‘reality’ Sci Fi taking pains to ground an element of realism into the fantastical setting, I would best describe it as a ‘how would that actually work’ ethic. I found this to be very enjoyable and it served to strengthen my visualisation of the tale.

For example the Hulk itself; at first the familiar linear layout of cramped metal grilled tunnels from the board & video games springs to mind but how would one of these behemoths made up of the detritus of space actually fit together?

Guy’s answer, he crushes a nightmarish conglomeration of vessels and asteroids to create a chaotic, radiation choked environment where ceilings become floors; corridors turn into plunging shafts and vast caverns open up in the voids between. The Hulk itself now becomes difficult even dangerous terrain and a very real threat to the lumbering Terminators.

This attention to detail is continued in the wealth of lore woven into the story, adding to its richness and serving up extra delight for readers such as I who search out these little links to the established timeline and background.

Throw into this some Mechanicum interaction and of course those seismic twists I alluded to at the beginning of the post, surprises which had me flicking back a few pages because I just couldn't believe what I’d read and you've got an awesome addition to your hobby library.

Just so you don’t think this to be a completely one sided review of a gushing Blood Drinker fanboy (that conjures up some disturbing claret coloured images doesn't it) overwhelmed by the fact his Chapter have made it into print; there are a few issues that mar what is an otherwise excellent book.

First and most obvious is that the proofreading at Black Library quite often seems lackadaisical and is so in this case; misprints and grammatical errors (they must be obvious for me to spot them, a writer who relies heavily on spell check to ensure you can actually read my waffle) interrupt the flow of the story.

I counted two occasions where the Blood Drinkers are called Blood Angels! Come on (feigning a voice of exasperation) I've waited years for ‘my boys’ to get out from under their cousins shadow, had to explain to countless opponents that no they’re not up against the Blood Angels and certainly not the Soul Drinkers only to be mistakenly identified by a typo in their very own book.

Also, much as I have lauded Guy’s attention to detail, it may not be to everyone’s tastes as it can slow the pace some; not a problem for me I like getting sidetracked as you can tell but again I'm being thorough.

Finally there is a lot happening in this book, so much so that when the end comes it does feel a little hurried, a bit like a missed gear change with a lurch of acceleration. Again this isn't a fault so much as an over abundance of material, loose ends are still tied up where required and paths left open for possible future material.

Overall, this was an outstanding read, that I wholeheartedly recommend to you and I look forward to reading much more of Guy’s work within the 40k ‘verse.



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