Forge Master by David Annandale (Novella Review)

In the last two years, Black Library has gone all-out with its range of novellas, whether we talk about the Horus Heresy series or the more “contemporary” Warhammer 40,000 setting. In fact, I’d say that there are too many novellas being released, at the expense of new novels, and I stand by that statement, looking at their released schedule for the last few months. But then, there are novellas like Promethean Sun, Iron Warrior and Knights of the Imperium Master which make it all really worth it. And when the publisher goes for a combo of novellas/novels, that’s when I really sit up and pay attention.

Forge Master is part of a trilogy of novellas about the Imperium’s campaign against the Overfiend of Octavius, the Warlord of one of the greatest and most powerful Ork empires in the galaxy. Told from the perspective of different Space Marine chapters, each novella covers a different part of the campaign, in this case, the Salamanders. The novella covers a small strike team of the Salamanders as they board an Ork flagship looking for a prisoner and David Annandale’s writing here is some of the best I’ve seen from him. In fact, it may be his best work that I’ve read to date.

Forge-MasterThe primary character in this novella is the Salamanders Techmarine Ha’garen of the Fifth Company. After several years away on Mars to train under the Adeptus Mechanicus and learn the secrets of the Machine, he recently returned to chapter’s homeworld Nocturne to re-take his place amongst his brothers and took part in the recent defense of the world against invading forces. Now, he is off with the Fifth to fight the Orks, to truly find his place amongst his brothers, though he is far removed from them in his attitudes and his behaviour and personality. He is still a Salamander at his core, but he has also become more under the tutelage of the Mechanicus.

And therein lies the conflict at the heart of this novella. As much as the story is about the Fifth’s strike team taking the fight to the Overfiend aboard the beast’s own flagship, it is also about Ha’garen struggling to reconcile the two halves of his nature. He is a Salamander and thus a Space Marine, one of a very select few elite warriors in the galaxy. But at the same time, his time with the Mechanicus has given him a whole new outlook that wars with his nature as a Salamander, as a student and son of his long-dead Primarch.

Space Marine stories usually tend to cover the more “usual” sorts of such characters. Chapter Masters and Captains, Librarians and Chaplains, Sergeants and so on. They very rarely tend to cover Techmarines, and that is a niche that Forge Master covers very well. In the Salamanders lore, Forge Master is a position granted to only three among their number, those three Techmarines who have served for countless years and are at the pinnacle of their craft. There is a certain ironic play involved here since Ha’garen is a recent Techmarine, but that I think was the point, to show how the character changes and adapts to circumstances. This is all part of a larger tale of course and Ha’garen’s contribution is rather small in that grand telling, but here, he is the star.

There are several other characters in this novella, characters that I really liked. We have the Eldar Farseer Elisath, who is portrayed quite differently from most other Eldar Farseers in 40k fiction, but at the same time, he is also like others that I recognise quite well, such as Farseer Macha from the Dawn of War novels, the original trilogy based on the first game. We have the Overfiend himself, who is every bit as monstrous as the name implies and every bit as monstrous as he is supposed to be. Any scene that the Overfiend is in, my heart was pumping because of the menace and horror inherent in who he is and who he is meant to be.

We also have Ba’birin, a Salamander who has known Ha’garen since childhood and the two even grew up together. Their friendship was sundered when Ha’garen left for his Mechanicus tutelage, and since he’s been back there has been considerable friction between the two of them, which feeds into protagonist’s conflict over his identity. Together, the two of them have great chemistry that really pops off the page and I enjoyed Ba’birin’s cynical attitude, which made for a great change of pace. There’s also Captain Mulcebar of the Fifth and Ba’birin’s fellow Sergeant, Neleus, although they do not feature all that much. Still, having so many different Salamanders characters really makes the whole thing feel very… put-together.

David has written several stories for Black Library before. His short-stories Eclipse of Hope and Carrion-Anthem are among my favourites. His Yarrick: Chains of Golgotha novella is another great example of his writing. And in his Death of Antagonis novel from last year, he showed just how good he really is in writing Space Marines. Forge Master is simply an extension of that and is every bit as good as all of them. Even more actually. David Annandale really understands the Salamanders mentality as shown in this novella and while his take is slightly different from that of Nick Kyme’s, who has written an entire trilogy and more regarding the Salamanders, I find his brief take to be equally valid and great. It also helps that the writing is very fast-paced all the way through and keeps you in the story. There is certainly never a dull moment in the book, and for that I’m quite grateful.

Of course, it cannot be left out that yes, we do see Ha’garen and the other Salamanders go up against the Overfiend himself. That is a confrontation that I wanted to see ever since I read that Captain Mulcebar was sending a strike team to his flagship, and I wasn’t disappointed in the final accounting. David Annandale certainly knows how to deliver on the expectations that he creates, and with this novella, he moves closer towards becoming one of the best writers writing for Black Library right now, especially among the “newer” generation of writers like Guy Haley, Sarah Cawkwell, David Guymer and others.

Done with this novella, I will be moving off to the other two, Stormseer and Shadow Captain in short order and I can’t wait.

Rating: 9.5/10

More David Annandale: The Death of Antagonis.

More Salamanders: (Horus Heresy) Vulkan Lives, Promethean Sun; (Tome of Fire #3) Nocturne.

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Posted on May 22, 2014, in Novella Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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