Anyone else get this yet? Really enjoyed it, simultaneously deeply sad, very funny, and a good inner view of necrons waging war. Jeeves and Wooster merged with Goodbye Lenin. I don't think there have been many books from the necron POV besides Damnos and maybe some of the Shield of Baal stuff.
Zahndrekh’s fantastic. He was already a brilliant character and this adds so much. His voice is captured perfectly, like an elderly aristocratic British general who's losing his marbles, everything is ‘dear boy’ this and ‘how unsporting!’ that. He gestures with his goblet so much that if there were anything in it, it would spill. He cheers on his warriors (“A fine blow struck!“) when they mindlessly do something well. He writes bad poetry between battles. He recites rhymes and mnemonics he learned in his upper crust military academy and slaps other necrons on the back effusively. He is extremely likeable.
Obyron is also great as the POV. He’s stoic, weary, a former necrontyr commoner, now masterful warrior and bodyguard who finds himself all but running the show for Zahndrek. There’s a wonderful banquet scene where all the other necron lords are glaring daggers at him over empty plates while Zahndrek rambles on. Every one of them has tried to assassinate the nemesor and Obyron has foiled them all, repeatedly. When Zahndrek leaves the room, Obyron lingers just a moment after to meet all of their gazes as a reminder that he knows. And he knows that they know that he knows and they’re all going to sit down and indulge their overlord or it will go badly for them. And they can’t do a thing about it, they just have to sit there fuming and pretend to enjoy a feast.
And he loves Zahndrek. He’s constantly sighing internally and proverbially grinding his teeth at the nemesor’s nonsense but he really, really loves him. It’s more than just duty or his own identity - though he tries and initially fails to envision what his life would be like without Zahndrek - it’s a flicker inside, something which remains for him the main argument that he’s not just a soulless machine with a functioning mind.
There’s this repeated idea of the necron’s obsession with eternity and permanence, born out of their short mortal lives, which still gives pathos post-sleep. For nobles and great lords, this accounted for their lust for conquest, for a common soldier like Obyron, it’s just the chance to get remembered in a marching song.
But one of the things that makes him such a good warrior is that he has esoteric senses. He can slow down subjective time massively with his internal chronosense and run rapid divination programs to predict the enemy’s moves. Bullet time plus, basically. But the effect this has on his memory engrams is stressful and if he does it too often, he’ll irreparably damage his own mind, not a million miles from Zahndrekh’s trouble. So when Obyron pushes himself too much in a fight, maybe he permanently forgets the name of the city he was born in. Again, and he forgets the taste of water. To stay ‘alive’, to do his soldierly duty, to ensure the permanence of his achievements, what is he losing? Is it worth it?
And ultimately, and this is a big spoiler for the emotional peak of the novella,
Also of interest here is the fact that the majority of the novella is necrons fighting necrons. There’s a battle with the AdMech at the start, which affords Obyron many opportunities to grimly reflect of the ironies of what these humans have done to themselves, but otherwise it’s all necrons. The fascinating thing is that this is not at all a surprise to the lords. This is portrayed as far more important and proper than fighting orks or humans or tyranids. This is actual war, serious business, the rest is just putting the lesser species in their place. There’s also a lot about the practicalities of necron politicking and the details of how they deploy their legions and make decisions.
It’s also very funny! Even apart from Zahndrek’s charming rambling, it manages to take the tragedy and work it for humour. Case in point
The ending felt a little rushed, I'm still undecided on how much I like a particular possible revelation, and the actual plot isn't as interesting as the wonderful dynamic between the two main characters but I can’t think of a BL book I enjoyed this much since Lords of Silence.