We’ve joked on the voxcast that the Black Library did not accurately name their current Space Marine Conquests series, that it should be “Space Marine Revelations” or something. Devastation of Baal wiped out almost all of the Blood Angel successor chapters. Ashes of Prospero finally shed the truth about Prospero to the Space Wolves. War of Secrets had the Dark Angels SLIP with the Fallen and how far they’ll go to cover them up. Apocalypse, to quote Jen, has a Saint Dreadnought and the truth behind the Imperium’s religion. We’re stoked to find out what Fist of the Imperium holds.
And then there’s Of Honour and Iron, which we did not read as part of the book club because neither of us are big fans of Ian St. Martin. Since it’s about Ultramarines, however, of course I was going to read it. I’m glad we didn’t read it as part of the book club, because this is the first book in that series to not have a big revelation. Well, unless you count the epilogue, and I don’t, which I will explain later. It also doesn’t have a conquest either.
On a Mission From
God a Demigod
Our favorite living primarch Robby G has tapped Chaplain Helios of the 8th Company of the Ultramarines on a mission of utmost importance. It’s so important, the reader doesn’t know what it is until near the end. And even then, I have no idea why it was so secretive, especially since everyone believes that this planet, Quradim, is a boring outpost for the Genesis Chapter. It should be a simple in-and-out operation, and the mission objectives are not on a Dark Angels-nuts level that requires utmost secrecy. But I suppose since the order came directly from the Main Man, everyone is on a need-to-know basis.
Also, we need a reason to keep the reader intrigued as to what they’re doing on Quradim. Because the Iron Warriors stopping by to pay a visit couldn’t possibly be intriguing enough.
In all honesty, the Iron Warriors showing up should have made the book incredibly intriguing. Quradim was one of their original worlds during the Great Crusade, the Genesis Chapter is squatting on it, and they want it back. Quradim also has something they specifically left behind and most definitely want, especially since they’ve heard that Guilliman has risen.
Would it shock you to hear that it’s the same thing the G-man has sent Helios to fetch? It shouldn’t. It really shouldn’t.
Super Slow Ramp Up
One thing Jen and I both complained about with Mark of Faith was the obvious padding. Of Honour and Iron suffers from this same fate. There are quite a few chapters early on that describe a pilot slave for the Dark Mechanicus doing what she is told and fighting whatever enemy they tell her is the enemy today. A lot of time is devoted to her just for her to die anyway.
I have a feeling that St. Martin’s purpose for her was to show how little the Dark Mechanicus care for their slaves, but I think that’s a given. For starters, they’re Dark Mechanicus, and secondly, they have no use for meatbags other than to be meat shields. This particular slave finding out seconds before she dies that she’s actually a clone doesn’t really have the shock value I think the author was going for. Instead, all of these pages felt like a big waste of time.
I’d argue the first two-thirds of the book are mostly a padded waste of time. Herman Melville would gladly take notes from this book. Nothing gets interesting until around page 250 when Helios and his Primaris friends reach the planet and find what’s left of the Genesis Chapter. Not only does the action finally get interesting, but the writing suddenly cranks up to eleven. The Iron Warriors suddenly become snarky and philosophical. The Genesis Chapter marines develop a sense of humor as well as some philosophical introspective. Even preachy Helios has a fun quip about why the Iron Warriors should be hated the most. It’s as if St. Martin wrote the last third of the book first as a novella and then had to stretch it out for a full novel.
Personal favorite part is when an Iron Warrior, who is dying, looks at the Primaris Marines with Helios, laughs, and calls Helios a Thunder Warrior. If the Primaris Marines even knew what the Thunder Warriors were or what happened to them, one of them would have yelled, “OH NO HE DI’NT!” Of course, all of the non-Primaris Marines die in this mission as a very large unsubtle nod. Even when Robby G shows up, sees only the Primaris are still standing, he tells a dying Helios that he’s done well and he can rest. Subtle, G-Man. Super subtle. That’s Khârn-levels of subtle.
The Big Reveal™
So what is it that both Robby and the Iron Warriors want? What did he just HAVE to keep secret from everyone until the Primaris Marines surrounded Helios and told him no more secrets? Life virus bombs. Guilliman is in the process of collecting every WMD cache in the galaxy to use against the Rift-infected planets. Because that’s some huge shock that such measures were needed or something? I had already assumed that all of the nearby planets with a whisper of Chaos were going to come down with a bad case of the Exterminatus. That’s just WH40k common sense.
Knowing that, it doesn’t take much imagination to see why Warsmith Bolaraphon wanted them as well.
As for the “reveal” in the epilogue, apparently Fulgrim isn’t the only primarch who likes to talk to his best friend’s skull. What should have been a nice little nod to David Annandale’s Roboute Guilliman primarch novel ends up being something rather unintentionally creepy and neurotic. Remember Marius Gage? Roboute has kept his skull all this time and bounces ideas off of it when planning. That’s not disturbing at all.
Not all books in a series can be winners, but between this one and Ian St. Martin’s primarch novel about Angron, we aren’t having a good experience with this particular author. What’s even sadder is that Of Honour and Iron does have those amazing glimpses into what must be his true writing ability. That is, until he drops bombs that don’t seem to fit in with the WH30k/WH40k lore.