The Eternal Crusader by Guy Haley (Novella Review)

I started reading Guy Haley’s novels back in 2012 and I quickly became a fan. His Richards and Klein Investigations duology has a bit of a rough start but it really gets better as it goes on and since then he has done quite a fair bit of work for Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy settings, as well as two original novels for Solaris Books. He has been quite prolific undoubtedly, and I have to say that his particular style of SF really appeals to me. It is descriptive and technical, veering almost into the Hard SF subgenre, and him bringing something like that to Warhammer 40,000 is just amazing.

Last year Guy published three novels with Black Library, but I got the chance to read only one of them unfortunately. Right now I’m in the middle of catching up to a lot of the Black Library stuff that I have missed in the last year and a half, and when I found that Guy had written a Black Templars novella, I got really excited. More when I saw that it was about the Third War For Armageddon. The Eternal Crusader tells the tale of how newly-christened High Marshal Helbrecht of the Black Templars arrives at Armageddon and how he carries out his duty towards the Imperium in the arena of siege warfare. It is one of my new favourite novellas from Black Library, and in a nutshell, Guy totally captures the nature of the Black Templars and Helbrecht’s place in the grand scheme of things.

The Eternal CrusaderThe novella begins in the Ghoul Stars as the Black Templars’ campaign of extermination of the xenos known as the cythor fiends comes to a close. It has been a costly campaign for the Black Templars and this opening scene with Helbrecht sets the tone for the rest of the novella in terms of the character’s portrayal and his driving motivations. Helbrecht’s interactions with everyone around him, especially with the newly-promoted Reclusiarch Grimaldus contribute to that as well. Helbrecht is the main focus of the novella, and almost all of the action takes place aboard the Eternal Crusader, flagship of the Chapter and a relic from the days of the Horus Heresy/Great Crusade, so there is a certain permanence and consistency to the novella that I loved. There are lots of things to like here, and almost nothing to not like.

The heavy focus on Helbrecht means that the reader gets the spend the most time with him, learning more about him as first he calls to a close the extermination campaign, and then goes to attend the Imperial war council on Armageddon. He is always direct and confident in what he does, which is what endeared him to me so much. Sure, he has his own doubts, doubts related to the Ghoul Stars campaign, but I think that Guy Haley managed it all really well so that it doesn’t come across as Helbrecht being incompetent or anything. Rather the reverse in fact, I dare say.

For me, the only negative about The Eternal Crusader was that the story moved too fast. We get the start of the Third Armageddon War, and then events come to a close in short order. There are whole sections essentially missing, owing to the format of the story. In that, I believe that The Eternal Crusader would have been better off as a novel instead of a novella because it is quite suggestive in places that Guy wanted to take things in a certain direction but had to curtail any and all plans because he only had so much room to work with here. The end comes far too quickly, and it is basically a touchstone for one of the more important bits of lore relating to the campaign at hand, Helbrecht and Commissar Yarrick.

Or the other small fact that some of the events are dealt with in a far too perfunctory manner and that certain things weren’t internally consistent such as a particular conversation between Helbrecht and his Emperor’s Champion Bayard about the latter’s duty and fate. Seemed somewhat incongruous to me, given what happens to Bayward towards the end.

Still, I won’t deny that The Eternal Crusader is one hell of a read. The few action scenes, primarily void battles, are extremely descriptive and engaging. You really get the sense that Guy has planned things out in detail and then just worked those details into the framework of the battle in question. And the vision he presents of the Imperial fleets at high anchor of Armageddon and racing in to engage the lead elements of Ghazghkull’s massive Ork fleet is one that is definitely going to stick with me for a good long while. Because the thing is that the void warfare was a very important part of the Third War, and though the main campaign saw the Imperial fleets carrying out hit-and-run attacks at best, they do get a few licks in.

To be fair to Guy, he has a lot of ground to cover here and making the editing decision on what to keep in and what to keep out couldn’t have been busy. I certainly would have loved a story at least twice the size of this one, more even. But still, events fit into a really neat pattern here. And I liked that. The progression itself is consistent and packed with as much action as it is, I have no further complaints if I’m honest. And thing is, I do understand the reason for the “missing story” since The Eternal Crusader by needs must tie-in with Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Helsreach novel, which covers Grimaldus’ story during the Third War. The novel came out some 4 years back or something and is already existing lore, so Guy can hardly rewrite something like that.

Getting to see flashes of other characters, such as Grimaldus himself, was great too and helped break the monotony of seeing everything coloured from Helbrecht’s own perspective. We don’t get into the heads of the other characters, no, but we do get to see them more than I’d expected from the novella after reading through the premise just before reading the novella itself.

For me, Guy Haley has done with the Black Templars here what he did with superheavy tanks in Baneblade, he made them badass and awesome. That is something that I can definitely get behind!

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), Catechism of HateSpear of Macragge.

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Posted on September 7, 2014, in Novella Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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