The Emperor Expects by Gav Thorpe (Book Review)

The first two novels in the Beast Arises series proved themselves to be a good introduction to an Imperium that is drawn into a massive galactic conflict against the resurgent Ork threat some 1500 years after the Heresy and after the Emperor broke the Orks in the Ullanor Crusade. With Dan Abnett’s I Am Slaughter we met a lot of the early players and with Rob Sanders’ Predator, Prey we saw their narratives develop even as more characters were added and the story increased vastly in scope.

Gav Thorpe’s novel The Emperor Expects is the third in the series and definitely the best novel so far. Both Dan and Rob are very good at depicting big battle scenes, but Gav takes things up a few notches in this novel, not to mention that he also gives us a fantastic naval battle to read about as the Imperial Navy finally take the battle the Orks. Even outside of the set-piece action we have some extremely well-written narratives for all the characters as the politicking on Terra deepens and the Space Marines of various Chapters prepare to respond as well.

Note: Some spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

Compared to the previous two novels, The Emperor Expects is an incredibly-focused novel with three main narratives. The first is the Imperial Navy’s response to the Ork incursions all over the Segmentum Solar which results in a massive counter-attack at the Port Sanctus shipyards, a key location in the conflict to deny the Ork advance. The second is Captain Koorland, the last of the Imperial Fists, calling together all the successor chapters of the Imperial Fists Legion to hash out their own response to the Orks. And the third deals with the politicking at Terra as matters heat up for both Inquisitor Wienand and for the Master of the Assassins, Drakan Vangorich. And I loved that. There are almost no distractions from these plots, and the story moves at a rapid pace, which was something that was sorely needed since the previous novels tended to take many a detour along the way.

Gav Thorpe is no stranger to fleet action, having written some short stories and brief scenes in various novels before. With The Emperor Expects however, I feel that he delivered a rousing narrative that really does its best to impress and amaze. We start off being introduced to elements of one of the patrol fleets of Segmentum Solar, represented by Captain Kulik of the Colossus and then onwards to Admiral Acharya who commands one of the senior fleets that patrols close to the Terran Sector. There is clear rivalry between the two fleets and Gav lets it all unfold in a really nice way. There are no abrupt turns anywhere, but you do get lots of tension and excitement, especially once the two fleets have to work together to retake the Port Sanctus shipyards which have been invaded by a significant Ork force led by one of their new terrifying attack moons.

I get the sense that had Gav written a narrative without the rivalry and tension between the two Imperial fleets, then the overall story would have been rather bland and uninteresting. Thankfully that is not the case as there are plenty of great characters on both sides and once Lord High Admiral Lansung himself is involved, things definitely start to look up. The only question that remains at this point is whether the good guys are finally going to have a victory or not, because the God-Emperor knows that they desperately need one at this juncture. They’ve taken too many knocks and morale is at an all-time low. Not since the days of the Heresy has the Imperium been at such peril.

The fleet maneuvers at Port Sanctus, the coordinated attack strategies, the battles themselves, everything is on point and a great example of naval battles done well in military SF. My only regret with this narrative was that Gav Thorpe didn’t get to spend a little more time as we don’t get to see much of the aftermath of the main battle. That was really lacking here.

The narrative involving Captain Koorland proved to be a really good one as well, though of course it too was truncated in the interest of the novel’s length. Having been found somewhere in the fleet wreckage around the dead world of Ardamantua, Koorland recovers rapidly from his injuries and decides to invoke a secret protocol devised by Primarch Rogal Dorn, the Imperial Fist himself, before he broke up his beloved Legion into various Chapters.

Some of my favourite moments in all of Warhammer 40,000 fiction are those in which officers of different Space Marine Chapters interact with each other. Having to confront divergent Chapter cultures, even though they may of the same heritage, these officers and their chats are always intriguing. And as such, Koorland meeting with representatives of some of the Imperial Fists successors in this novel proved to be an absolute highlight. The Black Templars especially, who have taken to worshipping the Emperor as a God, are such a fantastic counterpoint to Koorland who still believes in the old Imperial Truth.

And even beyond that, we have such a tense atmosphere between all of them when the others learn of how the Imperial Fists were wiped out Ardamantua and that the inaction and incompetence of the Imperial Fists was to blame. Where do they all go from here? The next novel in the series, The Last Wall, will surely answer some of that, but regardless, Gav did a fantastic job with bringing all these characters together in these circumstances.

Finally, we have the political game being played out on Terra among the High Lords. Inquisitor Wienand and Grand Master Vangorich have finally teamed up to curb the excesses of the other High Lords, the High Twelve in particular. However, it isn’t as if it is all smooth failing for them since they have their own challenges facing them. Inquisitor Wienand gets called up to defend herself and her actions to a quorum of her peers who feel that she has become too comfortable in her role among the High Lords and has forgotten her Inquisitorial duties. For Vangorich, he is in a situation where he has few allies and is limited in what he can really do since he and the Officio Assassinorum are a surgical scalpel rather than a finely-honed sword when it comes to dealing with the Imperium’s enemies. Plus they constitute a strategy of last resort rather than act as primary participants.

I’ve grown to quite like this pair of characters. They have different strengths and weaknesses to them and though they are often at odds, them being able to find some common ground to get the Imperium out of its current predicament speaks well of them. Being a High Lord is no easy task, and these two have the worst of it since they are not interested in the power games that defines that august body. Additionally, while we have had many an Inquisitor in Warhammer fiction over the years, we’ve had precious few assassins, and Vangorich is quite the character himself, being the Grand Master of all the Assassin temples.

I’m really glad in the overall sense that the architects of this series chose these two High Lords to focus on. They are the most interesting by far, and their struggles aren’t cliched struggles for power and influence over their fellows. The others are almost pathetic in comparison and would have made for poor viewpoints into the conflict. And there are plenty of signs in The Emperor Expects where the scope of actions to be taken and performed by both Wienand and Vangorich just increase rather than decrease in any meaningful way. They are being setup for some great moments in the next few novels, and that excitement is definitely strong.

Taken as a whole I found The Emperor Expects to be a more than satisfactory read. It balanced action and politics really well. It didn’t delve too much into data dumps. And the pace of the novel was always consistent and high. You are always on the edge of your seat. However, the fact remains that as with my concerns with Predator, Prey we are still no closer to learning how the Orks got the technology they did or how they have managed to attach in such numbers as they have. This is really bothering me at this point and I can only hope that we get some answers soon. Plus, where is the so-called Beast? Another novel and no scene with him as yet!

Still, highly recommended. And the fact that I finished the novel in less than 24 hours definitely speaks to how awesome it was. I just wanted to keep turning the pages!

Rating: 9.5/10

More Gav Thorpe:

  • The Beast Arises#1: I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #2: Predator, Prey by Rob Sanders (Review)
  • Path of the Eldar #1: Path of the Warrior (Review)
  • Eldar: Howl of The Banshee (Review)
  • Legacy of Caliban #1: Ravenwing (Review)
  • Legacy of Caliban #2: Master of Sanctity (Review)
  • Ullsaard #1: Crown of the Blood (Review)
  • Ullsaard #2: Crown of the Conqueror (Review)
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Posted on May 11, 2017, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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