Monday, April 2, 2007

REVIEW: Nightbringer

I bought the Ultramarines omnibus a while back and have only just gotten round to reading it. This is largely because it is a big fat book and a pain (quite literally) to carry around. However, it was either this or the Last Chancers trilogy, so I plumped for Space Marines. I have enjoyed the previous Graham McNeill novels I have read, but the subject matter of Space Marines put me off reading this earlier. Anyway, here is the review of Nightbringer, the first novel in the series.

The first part is the synopsis and tells you exactly what happens, so if you don't want to know the plot just skip straight to the review.

60 million years ago. A starship is draining a star of its energy. It deposits the energy in a pyramid on a nearby world. Alien ships attack the starship.

The present, Caernus IV. Dark Eldar attack a feral Imperial settlement. Gedrik is the only survivor. The aliens uncover a strange metal beneath a hill overlooking the settlement. Uriel Ventris, an Ultramarine Captain, is summoned to Marneus Calgar, the Ultramarine Chapter Master. Calgar sends Ventris and his company to Pavonis to stop Dark Eldar raids. He is also to investigate the Imperial Governor who has not paid the requisite tithes.

Pavonis. Judges Ortega and Sharben try to defend Governor Shonai from rioters. While they smuggle her away, Judge Collix opens fire and kills many civilians. Leotas Vergen, head of the Vergen cartel, dies.

The Ultramarines ship is attacked by Dark Eldar, led by Kesharq, en route to Pavonis. The Marines repulse the attack with the help of Adept Barzano. The Marines land at Brandon Gate, Pavonis. Before they can meet with the Governor, they are intercepted by Vendare Taloun, head of the main rival cartel to Shonai. Barzano therefore knows not to trust Ballion, the local Adept, who must have informed Taloun of their arrival. Collix and Sharben hold back the crowd outside the governors palace. Taloun tables a motion of no confidence in Governor Shonai.

Tech-priest Kolurst is killed in Tembra Ridge mine as he investigates power draining from the generators.

De Valtos, head of another cartel, sides with Taloun, as does Honan and Solana Vergen, now head of her cartel. Abrogas sides with the Governor. Barzano suspends the vote, allowing Shonai to remain in power. The Marines try to hunt down the Dark Eldar while Barzano is allocated Judge Sharben to investigate the Church of the Ancient Ways. De Valtos, who has previously been tortured by the Dark Eldar and escaped, tortures and kills a victim. He meets with Almerz Chanda, one of Shonai's closest advisors.

Ventris visits Gedrik on Caernus IV. Gedrik passes a cryptic message on to Ventris before dying. De Valtos and Taloun meet to plot their coup. Ventris discovers the hill of metal, now with a component removed. The Dark Eldar ship makes for Pavonis. It is intercepted by Ventris and his small party in their Thunderhawk. Ventris and Kesharq meet in battle. Ventris is seriously wounded and the Marines withdraw.

Traitors in the Pavonis PDF gather under the instructions of Taloun.

The citizens of Pavonis march peacefully against the Governor. It is turned into a riot by fake judges who assassinate the march leaders. Judge Ortega, with the help of the Marines, discover they are PDF traitors. De Valtos meets with Solana Vergen.

Overseer Lasko struggles to breach the last door deep in the mines.

Honan visits De Valtos and Taloun. He is drugged. Four warp beasts attack the Governor's palace. A Marine is killed but the beasts are destroyed. Barzano is revealed as an Inquisitor. PDF tanks sponsored by Taloun surround the city of Brandon Gate. Ventris discovers the corpse of Solana Vergen at the country estate of De Valtos. Honan has been horrifically tortured and Ventris puts him out of his misery. Abrogas is murdered. The resulting explosion destroys the Arbites precinct house.

The traitor PDF attack the city. The judges fight off waves of PDF. Chanda shoots Barzano. He hands the Governor over to De Valtos. Chanda is tortured as De Valtos cannot trust him. Barzano, Sharben and Shonai are imprisoned beneath the palace. Ventris leads the rescue mission. Barzano escapes but is badly wounded. The Governor is freed. Ventris locates De Valtos on Tembra Ridge.

Collix and Ortega seize the palace armoury. They hold off the PDF long enough to blow the weapons and deny them to the traitors. Both judges die in the blast. De Valtos and Kesharq penetrate the main chamber, deep in the mine. The metal objects collected by the Dark Eldar fit into the ancient sarcophagus. The Ultramarines attack the mine.

The Nightbringer awakes from its tomb. The Ultramarines and Dark Eldar fight its Necron servants. Ventris kills Kesharq. De Valtos is devoured by the Nightbringer. The Nightbringer calls its ship to Pavonis. Ventris threatens to destroy the tomb and trap the Nightbringer once again beneath the earth. The Nightbringer escapes to its ship. Barzano dies. Ventris destroys the tomb.

Taloun is executed for his treachery. The rebellion is put down. Shonai is reinstated as Governor. The Nightbringer renews its strength by eating a star. Ventris returns to Macragge.

I enjoyed this book more than I had anticipated. Space Marine books have a tendency to focus on long battle scenes and 'war porn' which tends to leave me cold, but this was different. There were lots of different plot strands and many of them didn't involve the marines at all. In fact this is a good book if you want to explore some of the 40k background away from the battlefield, especially political intrigue surrounding Imperial Governors. Much of the milieu of the novel was reminiscent of Rogue Trader era background material.

McNeill handles the story deftly, and like his previous novels, there is plenty of plot so the book rattles along at a fair old pace. His writing is generally good if workmanlike, with only a few hokey cliches to jar the reader. There were no glaring plot incosistencies or background innaccuracies that I noticed.

It is also good to see the enemies of the Ultramarines (Dark Eldar and another, ancient foe) have some attention, as they are quite under represented in Black Library fiction.

All in all I would recommend this book and I look forward to reading the next books in the series.

Score 7/10


All of my reviews end in a score out of ten for the product. The table below explains what that score means.

  • 10/10 Perfect, absolutely nothing better
  • 9/10 Excellent, highly recommended
  • 8/10 Very good, recommended
  • 7/10 Good
  • 6/10 Above average, some problems
  • 5/10 Average, some good points some bad points
  • 4/10 Below average, some redeeming features
  • 3/10 Poor, major flaws
  • 2/10 Very poor, avoid if possible
  • 1/10 Absolutely appalling

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