BOOK REVIEW: The Macharian Crusade, by William King

macharius.jpg

Publisher: Black Library

Series: The Macharian Crusade (#1-3)

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 878

Publication Date: 09/02/2017

Verdict: 5/5

Solar Macharius has begun his conquest of the heretical parts of the Galaxy. A war that could outlive him, yet driven by his force of personality alone. But the greatest enemy may not be the heretics, nor the traitors in his own ranks, but Macharius himself. . .

This is the Warhammer 40,000 that I signed up for. William King may be more famous for his Gotrek and Felix series, but is here that he writes his best work. everything you’d expect to see in the grim darkness of the forty-first millennium is on show here. Millions of men laying down their lives for unknown goals, devious eldar, vicious orks, vile heretics, and blood, guts and grimy action on an unparalleled scale.

Told in the first person by guardsman Leo, this trilogy gets into the head space of the average human soldier with an authenticity that few other Black Library novels manage. In a universe of larger-than-life Space marines and immortal demons, it’s always the little men that shine. At least it is for me. Maybe it’s the lingering legacy of Starship Troopers, but there’s something about the brutal warfare and gallows humour that has always appealed to me, and King excels at it.

By focusing on a single soldier, King is able to show the chaos of battle, especially when the humans are outnumbered or outgunned by xenos and heretic threats. You can feel the roar of the guns and the claustrophobic confines of the tanks on every page. Captured too is the cosmic horror of having to face literal demons when all you have is a rifle. Leo is no superhuman, just a man. It’s hard not to feel sorry for him as he is put through yet another life-or-more-likely-death situation.

interspersed throughout the book are notes and memos regarding an investigation into whether Macharius should be canonised as a saint, while also hinting at traitors within the crusade. Serving to show some of the larger universe, these also tease betrayals in the future. reading through the trilogy in one go, they serve as the perfect appetizer for the next chapter, making this book one you won’t want to put down despite its size. the only real stumble is in the second volume, which inserts a second first-person narrative centred on an eldar corsair. Though not a major hurdle, there is little to distinguish who is speaking at any given time.

With all the thunder and fury of warfare, this book also takes time to show the quieter moments of a long-term campaign. the soldiers camp and laugh and joke with one another, even in the bleakest of surroundings. People go to bard, get drunk and have sex with locals. It’s this extra level of realism that separates this book from many others of the same breed. Though not as long, or as intricate, as Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts, it has a similar feel. The soldiers have a real tangibility to them, making them more than just another name. Not all of them are going to make it to the end, but by that end, you’ll have come to know them as well as anyone. Fully fleshed and likable, Leo and his colleagues ar ethe perfect protagonists for a military SF of this nature.

In short, this is the very best of what Black Library has to offer. perfect for both Warhammer veterans, and those new to the setting.

 

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