- A Warhammer Character Novel
- Focuses on the Black Templars
- Published by Black Library in 2022
- Grimdark SF
- 213 pages
Helbrecht, High Marshall of the Imperium, wages unceasing war in the name of the Emperor. But when faith and duty are no longer in alignment, Helbrecht must make a quest of pilgrimage to recover a relic of his chapter, and perhaps to recover his own sense of identity as well . . .
Hello, and welcome back to another instalment of ‘I ended up reading a Space Marine novel despite saying I wouldn’t, and once again have mixed feelings on the matter.’ How did I end up reading this one? Well, two reasons. First, I was recently fortunate enough to have author Marc Collins on the blog for a quick interview, and his talk about common themes in his work piqued my interest. Secondly, Helbrecht: Knight of the Throne is part of Black Library’s ‘Character’ line. These are all fairly short novels, released exclusively as snazzy little hardbacks, that highlight significant figures from the setting. You know, figures significant enough to have their own miniatures available for purchase. These Character books are a great way to sample a new faction, to get a feel for an author’s style, and to poke at a new corner of the universe. And because they’re quite short and self-contained, there’s less of a problem if you don’t get on with any of the above.
Helbrecht: Knight of the Throne begins in the Era Indominatus, with Guilliman chastising Helbrecht for his actions. That sets it firmly in the current timeline of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, meaning this is more of an exploration of character rather than an origin story. The story we get is a relatively straightforward quest narrative, with Helbrecht striving to retrieve a relic of Dorn, the Primarch founder of his genetic line. This side of things is very much the big stompy heroes being big and stompy sort of narrative that usually turns me right of the Space Marines as a concept. I have to say, that’s still the case here. It’s well-written, but bolters and chainswords and giant men being extremely violent just isn’t what I read Black Library novels for.
Where Helbrecht: Knight of the Throne sets itself a part is in its philosophies. Helbrecht is essentially a warrior angel, with absolute conviction that he is doing what the God-Emperor commands of him. Faced with a Guilliman who disagrees, the question that arises is wether duty and faith are always the same thing. Now, in a theocratic society like Helbrecht’s, you’d think the answer was clear. After all, he can literally go to Terra and look at his God. But Guilliman’s interpretation of the divine truth is different to Helbrecht’s, and the orders he gives are certainly not what Helbrecht believes the Emperor would want of him. The best parts of the novel are the attempts to reconcile these facts. There is a broader question regarding the legitimacy of Guilliman’s position, but that is not the focus of this particular book. Nevertheless, these moments of deeper philosophy raise this novel above the field of gore and action that characterised earlier Space Marine products.
This book is definitely a step in the right direction so far as Warhammer fiction is going, but ultimately a short novel like Helbrecht: Knight of the Throne just isn’t the place for deeper ruminations on the nature of faith. Yes, we can seed this questions in the reader’s mind, but the focus here is killing heretics and saving history. And really, despite my want of something more, you can’t fault the book for taking the route it does.
More Warhammer 40,000 Character Novels
Ephrael Stern: The Heretic Saint, by David Annandale
Huron Blackheart: Master of the Maelstrom, by Mike Brooks
Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh!, by Nate Crowley