Finished this audiobook.
I get annoyed by all the author-bashing on these forums, but I have to say that this one lived up to criticism of James Swallow, for all my attempts at pointing out the positives in everyone's work. The parts that were good were pretty darn good and the parts that were bad were pretty darn bad and the stuff in between was bleh.
Absolutely agree that it feels just....off. Like, the final numbered volume of the entire fifty-four book HH series seems a bit closer to the first 10 in terms of tone and quality and the last ones that really stepped up the game. And to be blunt, it goes out with a whimper (or should I say it decays? Oooff that's a bad one).
It's 3 stories in one novel:
-Mortarion and Death Guard trying to get to Terra for da siege
-Mortarion growing up on Barbarus
-Knights Errant doing Knights Errant-y things
None of those really feel like they get the breathing room they deserve and probably should have been 3 separate novels in and of themselves, or perhaps just 3 novellas. I can understand how the first two are meant to go together: the formative years of Mortation and the impression that leaves on him and how that leads to his choice down the road. The Knights Errant piece feels just stuck in there. I was personally least amused by the Knights Errant stuff...I found it a slog and I'm still trying to figure out how our understanding of the 40k setting is bettered by their existence at all. I know that's a loaded statement and I don't mean to throw shade at anything, but it just feels so superflous to everything else in the setting. The only thing less interesting (to me) is Blackshields....like, we need yet even more power armored dudes running around doing things on their own? Now, granted I have not really kept up with the Garro + Knights Errant strands outside of Flight of the Eisenstein, and Vengeful Spirit, so I'm coming in the end without having all the other materials as well and that's admittedly the wrong way to do it. I know. But, in the context of this book it still feels grossly out of place.
Speaking of gross, the Barbarus parts were the best part of the book. One of the best parts of the HH series, in fact. Even though I have no particular love for Morty or the DG in either 30k or 40k, I have found the anecdotes about Barbarus to be some of the most compelling of the setting. And the bits we get here live up to the billing. What's worse: Mortarion's upbringing on Barbarus or Angron's introduction to Nuceria? Both are like reading horror stories, but Barbarus comes out the best (as in the worst) in my opinion. The entire narrative just oozes despair and fear. And it really puts things in perspective about why Mortarion turned out how he did....which is precisely what any look at a Primarch's homeworld should do. It also does not directly answer the unasked question of "nature or nurture" as to why he turned out as he did: was it impossible for anyone raised in such an environment to turn out as anything else? Or is it the inherent character trait of stubbornness in Morty that refuses to let him overcome his upbringing any more than he does? I loved all these parts, although the Typhon stuff was a bit on the nose.
The bits with Mortarion and the XIV trying to make it back to Terra were uninspiring, to put it mildly. It all happens so slowly as to put you to sleep, yet it also happens too fast. If that sounds like a contradiction it is, just like Mortarion's acceptance of the warp and transformation is. And that's the whole point, dontcha get it? It just seemed so phoned in, to be completely honest.
The whole thing was pretty anticlimatic as well. The opening of the book feels needlessly action-filled (both the Death Guard and the Knights Errant in their separate threads killing a bunch of mooks not even worth naming), while the second half has hardly a bolt round wracked into the chamber. Weird criticism, considering we all complain about too much bolter porn, so an author just can't win. Self-aware critique there. But there's very little weight to any of it. Suddenly Morty accepts
and slightly less-suddenly an handful of Knights Errant
. Again, more breathing room for all of that might have had some weight to it.
My biggest critique (in case it seems like I haven't trashed this enough already) is that this is the end of the HH series? It just feels so..........empty. That's it? I get that the Siege of Terra is basically a mini-series that caps off the HH, but a 55th book that just sort of ties everything together and does a snapshot of where all the pieces are would have gone a long way. It also feels so weird that these three stories are between the same covers. I get that
. The Barbarus piece is a big letdown for me precisely because if it had been sliced out and put in say its own novella series specifically looking at the origins of each Primarch <hint hint> and thus given even more breathing room, it could have been awesome. Instead, it gets jammed into these other two.
In any case, it wasn't terrible and provides more info for us rabid fans to absorb, but it suffered from a lot of things. I don't think I'm changing anyone's opinions with this commentary, but there it is.
5/10 arbitrary score and most of that is from the Barbarus parts.