After reading Shrike last year, I decided to read all of the books in the Space Marine Legends series. I acquired all of them fairly easily, and then they sat on my shelf until now. Over Mother’s Day weekend, I wanted a break from Fallen Angels and I wasn’t ready to start our current book club book. I wanted something uplifting, so I chose Lemartes by David Annandale.
And yes, that is very heavy on the sarcasm.
The only thing I knew about Lemartes as a character was that he was a tragic one. He was mentioned in Dante as well as both of the Mephiston books I have read. I knew he was part of the Death Company—where Blood Angels afflicted with the Black Rage go to die—but not much else. Whenever a book mentioned him, it was in hushed reverence. Now I know quite a bit more.
The Lemartes reviews on Goodreads aren’t entirely kind, so I went in a little skeptical. I understand why these reviewers didn’t like it, but their reasons for why they didn’t like it are exactly why I did.
So Much Blood
A daemon of Khorne has decided to show up on Phlegethon, and which Chapter is better at thwarting a blood daemon than the Blood Angels? Since the blood triggers the Red Thirst, it’s not really the best Chapter to come in, but they’re the closest.
Dante sends along the Death Company to go with them, which is led by Chief Sanguinary Priest Corbulo and the Guardian of the Lost, Lemartes. Of the Death Company, Lemartes is the only member who still has some semblance of control in distinguishing reality from the Black Rage. Corbulo works extensively with Lemartes to try to understand the Black Rage and how he has lived with it for so long. He additionally hopes that by doing so, he can find a “cure” for the Rage.
Regardless, Lemartes and the Death Company are sorely needed for this campaign. They’re the best group to send after a daemon, or at least soften up a daemon for the Blood Angels. However, no one could have expected the Blood Disciples, an obscure Chaos company from an even more obscure Loyalist Chapter. They also couldn’t expect the Prophet of Blood to rise again and start a ritual that includes a pillar of blood that can pull asteroids from the void to crash on the planet. There was so much blood in this book, between the Red Thirst and blood floods, I gagged more than once.
A Day in the Life of the Death Company
The book shifts perspective often. When Corbulo, Colonel Reinecker of the Imperial Guard, and Blood Disciples captain Khevrak tell the story, it’s in a third-person POV. When Lemartes tells the tale, it’s in first-person AND it switches to present tense. At first I was annoyed, but then I realized this was the best way to show what someone with the Black Rage goes through. Every second that Lemartes is in combat is almost an eternity as he wrestles with where he is, who he is with, and whom the enemy is.
At one point, he falls into the Rage so far, he doesn’t realize that the Death Company is killing loyal Imperial Guard. Lemartes comments he hears someone pleading with him, which was Colonel Reinecker and then Corbulo, but he ignores it. It’s when he realizes that they’re able to kill the Traitors so easily that he slowly snaps out of it.
They die so easily.
An impression more than a thought. A passing flicker, the best of an insect’s wings, then gone.
Not quite gone. It leaves a flaw in the uniformity of the rage. A hairline crack in the periphery of the vision. I smash two more Traitors to pulp with consecutive blows of the Blood Crozius.
An insistent buzz now. The crack growing longer, a jagged splinter of light. It will not be ignored.
The buzzing would restrain me. I shout my outrage and fight harder. The Traitors dissolve before my judgement. They are nothing but weak bags of vitae. The stench of blood is thick. It coats my armour. It drips from the Crozius and my gauntlets.
The buzzing multiplies. A choir of faint discord whispers in my ears. But Horus’ forces are still lined before me… Too small.
Large shapes in the red and black. The Traitors have brought reinforcements. Terra’s plight grows. They have us surrounded. I focus on the threat, force clarity through the sheet lightning of the fury. Tanks, more powerful than the ones we have destroyed.
The Traitors are much larger too.
It is these ones who are small.
This passage haunted me almost as much as when Gandalf the Grey reads the Book of Mazarbul in Moria.
But this is Lemartes’ life. This is how he lives every day until he’s put back in stasis. Annandale’s book isn’t really about how the Death Company fights the Blood Disciples and “frees” Phlegethon. It’s about what Lemartes and the Death Company go through, how they perceive the world. It’s both enlightening and heartbreaking.
Now I know why Lemartes’ name is always spoken in hushed reverence. Now I know why he’s such a tragic character. It seems so cruel that he has this ability to tap in and out of the Black Rage, when the Black Rage itself is already so cruel.
Lemartes may not not have had the action people wanted, but it provided a unique insight into Lemartes’ character and life with the Black Rage. That’s all I ever could have wanted.