Throneworld by Guy Haley (Book Review)

A galaxy-wide Ork invasion that heralds the rebuilding of their lost empire on an even greater scale yet. Political bureaucracy and infighting that paralyses the Imperial response. Secret and possibly traitorous experiments being carried out by the Cult Mechanics. Terra itself directly threatened. A Chapter lost. Entire sectors lost. Possible Chaos interference. The Beast Arises series has it all it seems. The previous four novels have been rather revolutionary in many ways, and as the story progresses there’s always another big twist just around the corner.

With Guy Haley’s Throneworld, the series marks the third straight novel which is among some of the best works to come out of Black Library in the past five years. I’ve read a fair number of novels from Guy Haley and he’s always impressed me with his narrative styles and his plot twists. That all holds true for Throneworld as well, in which we see the Eldar themselves getting involved with the Ork-Imperium conflict, even as the larger narrative progresses well beyond the weirdness happening on Terra, for the stalwart sons of Dorn have managed to consolidate their power and beginning anew their campaign against the Orks.

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

In David Annandale’s The Last Wall we see something rather shocking when some Ork ambassadors visit Terra from the attack moon that is besieging the capital world of the Imperium. That in itself was incredibly shocking, but of course the writers just didn’t leave it at that did they? And with the whole Proletarian Crusade that happened in the middle of the novel, itself a high-risk, high-reward gambit that failed, this was just the Orks rubbing the collective Imperium’s incredible bad luck in its face. At the end of the novel, we saw that following the visit from the Ork ambassadors, an Eldar strike force penetrates the crumbling defenses around Terra and straight into the Imperial Palace. All of which sets the stage for some more fantastic moments in Guy Haley’s Throneworld, which is a knocker in the same league as Gav Thorpe’s The Emperor Expects.

We know from the pages of the Horus Heresy novels that Farseer Eldrad Ulthran of the Eldar Craftworld Ulthwe is a psychic contemporary of the Emperor himself. And that the Eldar tried numerous times before the Heresy unfolded to stop it in its nascency and that they failed utterly. So fifteen hundred years on, what is really left for them to do? That is one of the main questions that Guy attempts to answer in this novel and I think he provides the foundation of some solid responses to those when Eldrad sends a troupe of Harlequins, the Eldar version of traveling monks who are peerless warrior-mystics as well, to the Imperial throneworld.

The entry of the Eldar into the conflict had me really excited. They’ve always been one of the more interesting xenos species within the Warhammer universe and I always enjoy reading more about them. On that front, the narrative that Guy set up was a bit of a disappointment since the Eldar don’t do anything too significant as events unfold. However, he does give us some downright fascinating action scenes as the Harlequins go up against the Imperial Palace’s defense troops, the elite Lucifer Blacks, and even the Adeptus Custodes who are the personal defenders of the Emperor himself! That part was just mind-blowing to me. All throughout the series this has been a question that has really nagged at me: what are the Custodes doing in this conflict? This all-too brief look at them did a lot to assuage those concerns and only made me wish to see more.

What I also loved about all of this was how this side-plot intersects with the side-plot involving Inquisitors Wienand and Veritus who are currently fighting amongst themselves to prove their own philosophies the superior of the other. At this point in time, the Inquisition operates as a grand monolothic entity, without the specialization of roles it has adopted by M41, so this conflict between the two Inquisition agents makes sense and the coalescing of their different perspectives is something that I was reading very intently. We are still very early in the “history” of the Imperium, at a time when much of what we see finally in M41 comes into being, and that’s one of the strengths of both the series in general and Throneworld in specific.

From all the panicked politicking on Terra and the arrival of the Eldar, we move on to the narrative centered around the Last Wall. Captain Koorland of the Imperial Fists, the last surviving warrior of his chapter, has gathered a large and mixed force of Imperial Fists successors and intends to take the battle to the Orks on Terra. About damn time. Since the Ardamantua massacre, we have seen little of the Astartes in action and now Guy just lets loose. Koorland and the Last Wall arrive in the Terran system in all their fierce glory and their assault on the Ork attack moon threatening Terra is a thing of beauty.

I’d thought that Guy did an amazing job with the Harlequins in the Imperial Palace. The Last Wall’s assault is even more terrifying by several degrees. Black Templars. Fists Exemplar. Crimson Fists. Excoriators. Iron Knights. Five chapters in all their war panoply absolutely destroying the Orks. We needed this. The Imperial victory at Port Sanctus was a welcome relief from the sense of desperation and hopelessness that the writers were building up. Then we had the break in The Last Wall where the Imperium kept getting hammered. And now we have something that was sorely needed for reader morale I feel. We needed to see some catharsis from Koorland forming the Last Wall and from it being able to affect some difference on the conflict, since otherwise they would have just been rather superfluous and just a narrative trick to keep you turning the pages. Instead, we have relevance and excitement and some great thrills.

Of course, the politicking doesn’t end when Terra is saved by a fleet of armed Astartes. The High Lords just can’t help themselves in that regard and all of it brings Vangorich’s role into sharp focus, as it does for the two Inquisitors we’ve been following since the first novel of the series. The Last Wall has proven how well a united leadership can function under the current crisis, compared to the fractious and incompetent nature of the High Lords, and the latter are afraid of what it means. I really, really enjoyed this angle. It gives a whole new meaning to the world of M41 that I’m so familiar with. The lessons of the Heresy have been learned, but the conclusions drawn are faulty. That’s the big struggle all through this novel and I applaud Guy for going so in-depth into all of these philosophies and cultures.

As I mentioned in the review of The Last Wall we also have some new entrants to the conflict in the form of the Iron Warriors led by Kalkator who has been hounded by the Dreadnought-Marshal Magneric of the Black Templars since the end of the Heresy. Through Throneworld we learn a lot more about their relationship, both before and after the Heresy, and that is a context that cannot be undervalued or ignored here given what I know of the books following this (I have finished ten of the twelve novels). On a random planet on the wrong end of nowhere, the Iron Warriors clash against both the Black Templars and the Orks in a rough-and-tumble three-way conflict that had me on the edge of my seat. Would Magneric and Kalkator work together? Would they both be swallowed up by the Orks? How deep does the distrust and enmity between the two Chapters runs? And most of all, are they both slaves to their nature or might they create something new?

Fascinating stuff really and Guy definitely weaves a strong narrative around these questions. He covers a lot of ground in the novel, and he keeps dropping hints as to the larger mysteries on all the factions while moving the plot inevitably forwards. He even goes into some detail about what the Cult Mechanicus is doing on Mars with all of its experiments into the new Ork technology, something that is sure to bring them into conflict with the Imperium at-large. Withholding key intelligence and resources is something that has always been at the heart of Warhammer, whether it be the Emperor and the Imperial Truth or the knowledge of Chaos or the various other such mysteries that we’ve seen over the decades, and it is no different now. The one difference is that the resolution is on the horizon and cannot be ignored.

Through it all, I came to enjoy the Astartes characters more than I had before. Koorland steps forward as one of the strongest characters in the series, someone who while deeply flawed is still attempting to do the right thing in the best way possible, keeping all the fractious elements in unity, and I loved every moment. His unfortunate one-of-a-kind nature helps in that regard, but I think it also helps that he is generally written so well. The highs and lows of his battle against the Orks, especially once he is revealed to be the last of his Chapter, it’s perfect.

And again, Vangorich really begins to stand out in this novel. Having been saddled with the distasteful task of standing by and watching while the High Lords bumble about and his small schemes all fail, we now get to see him really get himself into gear. His perseverance is now paying off and paired with Koorland, we see a really strong partnership that could change the conflict in the favour of the Imperium. I admit that I’ve been a little frustrated with him so far in that he hasn’t really gotten to do anything significant and he just seems to be on the sidelines. That doesn’t make for a very good characterization but, like I said, that’s changing with Throneworld and I welcome that.

As a final point, on the topic of the pacing of the novel, Guy gets all the beats right. For a novel like this, where Guy had to juggle so many different narratives and weave everything together into a cohesive whole for such an epic storyline, getting those beats right was essential. It was certainly one hell of a ride.

I really enjoyed Throneworld and my interest in the series has only gotten stronger with it. The massive storyline is progressing well and I am eager to see more of what happens next, particularly on Terra with the High Lords and Koorland, and with Kalkator and Magneric as well. Highly recommended reading.

Rating: 9.5/10

More Guy Haley and The Beast Arises:

  • The Beast Arises#1: I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #2: Predator, Prey by Rob Sanders (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #3: The Emperor Expects by Gav Thorpe (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #4: The Last Wall by David Annandale (Review)
  • Warhammer 40,000: Baneblade (Review)
  • Angels of Death: Final Journey (Review)
  • Space Marine Terminators: The Black Pilgrims (Review)
  • Third War For Armageddon: The Eternal Crusader (Review)
  • Horus Heresy: Strike and Fade (Review)
  • Richards and Klein #1: Reality 36 (Review)
  • Richards and Klein#2: Omega Point (Review)
  • Champion of Mars (Review)
  • Crash (Review)
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Posted on May 21, 2017, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

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