Publisher: Black Library
Genre: Military SF
Publication Date: 03/09/2019
Imperial Commissar Severina Raine leads her regiment in the Bale Stars crusade. But after years of fighting the ranks of the Sighted, it seems that the deadliest threat may come from within . . .
Honourbound was one of the most anticipated Black Library releases of 2019, so much so that the hardback sold out of my local Games Workshop within a week. without even the store manager getting a copy. Now that the paperback has finally found its way into the world, I can at last add my thoughts to the conversation.
On the face of it, Honourbound is an unremarkable book. Astra Militarum regiment? Check. Fierce Commissar? Check. Heretical Chaos cultists? Check. In essence, it’s the basic components of any number of Warhammer 40,000 novels. A recipe for success, surely, but nothing to suggest the originality contained within. because make no mistake, this book is unlike anything the grim, dark future has seen before.
The present tense writing and short, choppy chapters make the book more than a little difficult to get into. But once you are in, it’s hard to get back out again. It’s writing that won’t let go, capturing the chaos of the forty-first millennium like few others. The dramatis personae list at the start is long, and we don’t stay with any but a few characters for any length of time. Viewpoints are picked up and dropped like leaves in a blizzard, so much so that it can be hard to understand what’s happening. It can be frustrating, but the style lends itself to focused reading, which can only be a good thing. This is a book that demands your full attention. And once given, you start to peel back the layers to see the glorious carnage inside.
Like most Warhammer authors, Harrison has a good eye for violence. The action is ever-present, detailed, but never drags or overstays its welcome. The direct style of the prose efficiently conveys a palpable sense of danger. From that long list of characters, it’s never clear who might get bumped off next. As with Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts series, Harrison in unafraid to wound or kill (if not do worse to) major characters. A fine trait for any author, if you ask me. The only character who ever feels safe is Severina Raine herself, because few authors will kill of their main protagonist quite so early in their career.
In a universe containing the likes of Ciaphas Cain, Ibram Gaunt and Sebastian Yarrick, it’s hard to make a Commissar who stands among those titans of the mythos. So what does Raine bring to the table? In a word: Faith. Raine is a true believer, and unafraid to show it. While never degenerating to the rabid frothing of Yarrick, she is nevertheless devoted to the Imperial cause. The first time we see her, she is executing a man for a brief moment of cowardice. I must confess, it’s nice to see a Commissar who lives up to their fierce reputation without being cast as the villain.
While there are numerous short stories following Rain and the Antari Rifles regiment, Honourbound looks like it will be the only novel for a little while. Hopefully, the high demand will result in a follow-up. If there is a second book, I’ll be looking for it on day one.