Catechism of Hate and Spear of Macragge (Novella Review)

The Ultramarines are the premier Space Marine Chapter in Warhammer 40,000. Over the years, they have been built up as a Chapter that other Chapters aspire to be like, for they are the best example of everything a Chapter should be and could be. Sometimes that has been executed well, sometimes not, and often times the fandom has portrayed them as far too… vanilla, too boring because of their straightforward nature, whether in the lore or in the tabletop gaming rules. And designers and writers have often tried to change that around as well, to mixed success.

In 2012, if I recall correctly, Black Library launched its first Space Marine Battles novella, Catechism of Hate, which focused on one of the Ultramarines’ defining hero, Master of Sanctity Ortan Cassius, and the story focused on one of his missions against the Tyranids. And then late last year we had Spear of Macragge, which continued the story of the Second Company and its efforts to defeat the Necron legions on the world of Damnos as told in the Nick Kyme’s novel Fall of Damnos. Having just recently finished reading both novellas, I can say that they are both fantastic,and well worth the time spent reading them. They portray very different attitudes to war among the Ultramarines, and cover a broad range of characters, mixing some really great stories with really good execution.

UM Novella DoubellaWhen Catechism of Hate was launched, it was as a limited edition exclusive with a fancy cover, internal art and exclusive packaging. The general release didn’t come until almost two years after that point, and while it was certainly a novella I’d been looking forward to a great deal for a long time, I didn’t get around to reading it until yesterday (finished it just about an hour ago). The novella focuses on Chaplain Cassius as he leads a company-strength Ultramarines strike force against a Tyranid splinter fleet on the world of Styxia, and it shows how dedicated, determined, and relentless Cassius is in the pursuit of this objective. He detests the Tyranids with every fiber of his being, spawning a hate that can sometimes blind him to other things, and that’s what we get to see in this novella. Cassius’ obsession.

While I was expecting a very action-oriented story that wouldn’t focus so much on Cassius as a character, I knew that Gav Thorpe would still try to find a way in between. Because over the years, almost everything I’ve read from Gav has shown that he is great with characterisation. He can really get into the psychology of a character and lay it bare. Which is exactly what he does in this story. To be fair, I wouldn’t really call it a Space Marine Battles novella because that kind of implies that the action is the central theme. Well, it kind of is, but the character really stands out here.

Cassius is unique among the Ultramarines for several reasons, not the least of which is that he is one of the very few survivors of the invasion of Macragge by Hive Fleet Behemoth, the first Tyranid Hive attack on the Imperium proper. In the lore, he is portrayed as a near-psychopath in his pursuit of Tyranids, and Gav Thorpe does exactly that. He lets that side of Cassius bleed through in the story.

In the timeline of this novella, the Ultramarines can ill-afford serious losses, for they took a beating at Macragge all those years ago, a disaster that they are still attempting to recover from, and despite Chapter Master Marneus Calgar’s strict insistence, Cassius is willing to lay down the lives of his battle-brothers for the higher purpose, their duty to Mankind, to the Imperium and to the Emperor. Cassius is a devout and determined warrior, and throughout the novella, we really see what truly motivates his hatred against the Tyranids. You think you have an idea of it all, going in, but Gav still manages to pull out a few surprises, and the final twenty-five pages offer an excellent perspective on everything.

Catechism of Hate is easily one of my favourite Black Library novellas of all time, for all its characterisation and the amazing action, although most of the latter happens off-screen and we only get the big picture every now and then, which I think offered a nice change from the usual.

Rating: 9.5/10

In contrast to Catechism of Hate, Nick Kyme’s approach in Spear of Macragge is altogether different. This time he works with an ensemble cast of the Ultramarines Second  Company’s finest, and two of the Chapter’s greatest heroes, Chief Librarian Varro Tigurius and Commander Antaro Chronus. In fact, the novella is named for the latter, for he bears the title of Spear of Macragge as the Chapter’s foremost tank commander, and Tigurius is only around in cameos.

With Chronus, Tigurius and several of the Second Company’s great and vaunted, Spear of Macragge really is a great read. Nick Kyme’s action sequences with the Necrons are well-planned and thought-out, with Chronus also being characterized well. There was a teeny bit of confusion in my mind in that some of Chronus’ stratagems didn’t seem to reflect his work, but that passed quickly, because Nick wrote the tank battles as really involved scenes and he drew in all the different kind of Space Marine armour to give the story a realistic feel.

More often than not, Warhammer 40,000 stories focus on individuals and (largely) infantry battles. Armoured battles are usually rare, and I’d say that authors like William King and Guy Haley and John French have done much in recent times to change that around. Because the thing is that a Space Marine strike force isn’t just made up of the boots on the ground, it has air support and armour support as well. And when you focus on a character like Antaro Chronus, it is pretty much a given that the story is going to have some tank battles in it, and that they are going to be visceral and well-written in the main.

I’ve been a fan of Nick’s work for quite a while now, starting with Salamanders trilogy which I loved. He has recently done some Horus Heresy work as well, which is nice as well. With Spear of Macragge he gets a chance to (in some way) close the story of the Damnos Incident that he began in Fall of Damnos. I never got around to reading Fall of Damnos in full, something that I feel I need to correct now after reading this novella, because this was a fun read and also because I am in the mood to read some more Warhammer 40,000 after a rather lengthy period of staying away from it other than the occasional novel or short story or such.

With regards to the tank battles in this novella, and Antaro Chronus’ place in the story, I could say a lot honestly. The character’s brash and confident attitude appealed to me from the get go, because I knew that there was going to be a point when he would be humbled first, and I was waiting for that to happen. Only after he has been humbled, could the story really take off and become what I wanted it to be. Which it did.

Necrons versus Space Marines? It is a rather matched fight I’d say, and since Nick chose to focus on armoured battles, it gave me something much different from the norm to read about because usually all the stories focusing on Necrons as the antagonists focuses on the infantry action, and not on the armour battles. That’s where the true worth of the novella is.

Nick’s characterisation is also fairly good, and since he is dealing with an ensemble cast here, that was all the more important for me as a reader. It is certainly a challenge that Nick passes quite well, I dare say.

Rating: 9/10

More Space Marine Battles: Architect of Fate: Accursed Eternity, Architect of Fate, BloodspireDeathwolf, Flesh of Cretacia, Legion of the Damned, Overfiend: Shadow Captain, Overfiend: Forge Master, Rynn’s World, The Battle of the Fang, The Death of Antagonis, The Gildar Rift, The Siege of Castellax, The Tranzia Rebellion (Eps 1-2).

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Posted on August 30, 2014, in Novella Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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