Top positive review
23 people found this helpful
A good book, somewhat original but not the best
on 5 March 2012
I am always amazed when reading reviews that either heap praise or blast a book to pieces without really explaining WHY the respective reviewers either "loved" or "hated" the book. It is largely because many reviewers do this (including myself, at times, when I am not careful) that I started writting reviews of my own. Here are a couple of examples, to illustrate how easy it is to get "carried away", one way or the other:
- "The book is daringly written entirely in the present tense..." but what is so "daring" with using a present tense is not explained and, as far as I am concerned, I didn't find anything "daring", or even terribly original, with this.
- The author "does not seem to know how to handle the Astartes and ends up making a mess of them." This implies that there is an "acceptable" way to handle them (although what is "acceptable" and what is not is simply not mentioned). It also implies that - somehow -Dan Abnett did not "handle them" in the way that the reviewer had become accustomed to (by previous authors?) or was expecting. Because pre-conceptions were not met, the reviewer considers that the author has made "a mess of them". Prejudice? Anyone said prejudice?
As other reviewers have mentioned, this book has numerous qualities and some original streaks to it, but it also has defects. Some of these defects are the consequences of the author's own choices.
1) Perhaps the first and most obvious element is the style and format that is used.
The whole book is presented as a chronological account extracted from "Ultima (XIII) Operational Record", with a timeline starting at the moment of the attack on Calth, one of the main planets of Ultramar. Events prior to the attack are market as minus (-) whatever time (in years, hours, minutes and seconds) before the time of the attack. This has a dual purpose. One is to make the story "feel and sound" real, because it's presented as a battle report. The other is to make the story fast-paced, increasing tension and suspense. As another reviewer put it, you end up with a "fast paced snapshop" or rather, a collection of snapshots presented in quick succession. This, rather than using a present tense, is what makes the layout of the story somewhat original.
2) However, there is a rather heavy price to pay for these snapshots. Although I believe that, on balance, they add something positive to the story, and make it even more exciting, there are also some negative and unintended consequences:
- since events are described in strict chronological order, Abnett is forced to jump every few pages from one event to another, as they happen almost simultaneously (or in fast sequence) across the planet and system of Calth. I am not sure that I agree with the comment that "the story is so hacked up" as a result but it does make for a more disjointed narrative which is harder to follow than a more "linear" story-telling.
- In my view, however, the main problem that this creates is that it leaves even less room than usual to elaborate on characters and descriptions, hence the impression and the dismay expressed by reviewers when considering characterisation, which is somewhat limited. This is definitely NOT something that Abnett has accustomed us to. On the other hand, would you expect character descriptions or extensive descriptions of a planet's history, military or economy in a military report of an attack?
3) Another topic is the presentation of the Ultramarines and their Primarch. They had not taken center stage in the HH series up to this volume and the gap has now been filled (a similar gap concerning the Blood Angels and Sanguinius will also be filled in an upcoming HH book from Swallow).
By and large, given his self-imposed constraints, I found that Abnett had done a rather good job in presenting them but it meant that he had to go right to the core points and could not elaborate too much. So, readers expecting lengthy descriptions about the history and colonization of Ultramar are likely to be somewhat disappointed and find that there is "little flesh on the bones". Having said that, I believe that the character of Roboute Guilliman is very well captured, precisely because he is presented in action (as opposed to being physically discribed at length), as he reacts to the various events as the disaster unfolds. The characters of the Mechanicum were also well drawn, with Abnett tending to emphasize their humanity within their hybrid nature. Some of the other characters (some of the Ultramarine captains, in particular) are more "flat" and this perhaps why a somewhat disappointed reviewer found that Abnett had made "a mess" of the Astartes.
4) The BIG point here: the overall impression that Abnett conveys with this book.
You simply cannot let it go. I totally agree with at least two other reviewers: this is a book to be started on A FRIDAY evening, when you have the time to finish it. Otherwise, you'll finish it at 4 am and have to crawl into work a few hours latter. I am quite sure this needs no further explanation: we've all been there before at least once.
It is the first time that this story - the devasting and treasonous surprise attack on Calth and the Ultramarines by the Word Bearers - has been told, and with such vivid details: I could almost "see" Ultramarine warships at anchor being blasted to pieces by the Word Bearers', for instance. This piece, and a few others like it, showed Dan Abnett at his very best. What also makes it valuable is that this is NOT the usual planetary assault. There are few (if any) similarities with Prospero Burns, for instance.
I agree with another reviewer: Abnett would be well placed to write about the Siege of the Imperial Palace on Terra, but not the only one who could do so. In fact, rather than having ONE author do that, it could be an idea to have a whole book (or two?) containing 6-8 short stories on various episodes of the Assault on Terra. That way, we could benefit from everyone's talent, including Dan Abnett, of course...
5) Unfortunately, there are also some defects that could have been avoided.
One is Abnett's apocalyptic description of starships, space stations and all sorts of other equipment (such as tanks) and people litterally "raining" onto the planet from low orbit. I am afraid, as another reviewer mentioned, that the author stretched credulity here and "forgot" about physics in order to maximize whatever "visual and sound" effects he wanted to convey.
Another defect is that Oll Persson character, who, together with John Grammaticus, remains somewhat "mysterious" throughout the book and does not seem to be doing anything except finding a somewhat original way to escape the planet. It is obvious that the character will reppear in some future book, but I rather "hate it" when authors leave loose ends for the next installment. Dan Abnett does it less than others, but still...
It is partly because of these defects, and partly because of some of the limitations mentioned above, that I rated this book four stars. It's a good book, a superb read and it is quite original, although it is perhaps not among the very best.