Although we've had many great Imperial Guard novels I've always been disappointed that while a few novels have included the mighty super heavy tanks, none have focused on them. It was the same with the titans until Graham McNeill and Dan Abnett did a fantastic job with Mechanicum and Titanicus, they may have had their flaws but in general they did a superb job depicting the incredible machines. Sadly while Baneblade is a reasonable read, I was really hoping for more given the subject matter.
The novel is split into two stories which both start together with the main story going forwards and the other story going backwards to explain one of the main characters, a young Lieutenant being deployed for the first time to a world with hellish weather conditions that has been invaded by the Orks. The strongest elements of the book for me are the non-combat sections where we're given a good idea of what it would be like to be deployed alongside superheavy tanks and how it would feel to serve inside one of them. There's a simple moment near the start of the book where a couple of Leman Russ crew men while on board the transport ship at warp sneak into the loading bay just to catch a glimpse of the superheavy tanks. A section later on gives a superb guided tour of the tank and a good impression of how it all works, the different sections, how they interact and all the crew required to keep the massive machine going. Yet despite the awe of the tank from the outside, the day to day working within the tank are not in any way glamourised and conveys the fairly grim day to day life of being based in the cramped, hot tank well.
Unfortunately I felt much of the story lets the book down largely due to the amount of time wasted on the backstory as it does explain an element of the main character but it doesn't really add anything to the main story. That leaves less time for the main story which is in turn fairly simple and there's not much combat, a food chunk of the book is set around just a single Baneblade with a group of smaller tanks on their own trekking through a section of the planet. While combat sections aren't required and there's been some great moments in WH40K novels completely outwith combat, I felt the book needed more of it as there's a section at the start and one near the end that are good but just too short, they give a hint at what I'd like to have seen more of. The first few chapters of Angel of Fire have a superb battle where a group of Baneblades and their support take on Shadowswords with the engagement really heating up with titans, Space Marines and psyker heretics. That's more what I was hoping for mixed in with some of the more day to day aspects of a super heavy tank to give a feel what it would be like to be around them and working inside of one. It's possible they're planning this as part of a series with a fairly quiet start to build the characters as I notice Black Library also have a short story out which is linked to this book but even if that is the case, Baneblade should be able to stand out on its own.
Overall it's not a bad book by any means but I just found it disappointing as I'd hoped for a lot more given there's so much potential when your subject matter is one of the most fearsome pieces of machinery in the Imperium.
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