|Another beautiful cover from Jon Sullivan, though with a rather spoilery detail.|
"A grimdark and action-packed adventure into one of the darkest parts of 40k, filled with secrets and lies and the dubious gifts of the past. Haley's finest work yet!" - Lord of the Night
Death of Integrity is a title that i've been looking forward to reading for quite a while, after all it's all about Terminators purging a Space Hulk of a Genestealer infestation. But DoI is about far more than just a simple alien purging, and as the story took more twists and turns while delving into the culture and history of two proud but very different Space Marine Chapters, I found myself enthralled by Haley's depiction of differing bloodlines of Space Marines, the deadly Genestealer menace, the nightmarish ship-graveyard that is a Space Hulk and the temptation of ancient mysteries and technology that drives many characters further and further into the darkness, both literal and metaphorical. A brief note that the story also addresses on the very first page, this story is set in M39, approximately 2000 years prior to the current 40k timeline of M41.
The long chase has finally yielded fruit, after decades of hunting the elusive Space Hulk Death of Integrity Chapter Master Caedis of the Blood Drinkers must call in aid from his cousins in the Novamarines Chapter to purge this vile nest of xenos and save a sub-sector, even though Blood Drinkers though have another concern, that none must discover the Rite of Holos and the method behind the salvation of their Chapter. But when the Adeptus Mechanicus arrive with a writ of the highest authority both Chapters must commit to a lengthy purging of the xenos to salvage the STC technologies hidden within the hulk. However even faced with the might of two Chapters of the Astartes the Death of Integrity will not surrender it's long-held secrets easily or without a fight, and as the warriors and priests of the Imperium descend further into the darkness and ships forgotten by time and man they will find that there are some mysteries better left unsolved.
The story in DoI is really split into a few strands. The first is the main story, that of the purging and the efforts undertaken to purge the Hulk. Haley's depiction of a Space Hulk is fantastic and he really gets across the hazards caused by simple gravity and the changing of a ship's form in crushing pressure, and the claustrophobic and tense atmosphere that comes from entering what is basically a giant xenos nest filled with aliens adapted to hunting and killing in such an environment. As the main story advances Haley shows the campaign in each stage, planning and preparation and finally execution as the Novamarines and Blood Drinkers take to the field, and how each side fights the Genestealers in their own way. The second story focuses on the Blood Drinkers and their relationship with the Flaw that all Astartes of the Sanguinius bloodline suffer, and how they have managed to find an equilibrium with it. This was the most enthralling part of the story as Haley really made the Blood Drinkers feel like a unique chapter, and even though it was obvious from the beginning he still managed to make the revelation of their secret to the reader a shocking scene, but even that paled when he went further and showed the origin of their salvation and the secret hidden behind a secret. The main story and second story begin to merge as the final few chapters come in and we learn the truth of the Death of Integrity, which was an absolutely knock-you-to-the-floor scene that left my jaw unhinged. Haley really thought out of the box for that scene and it paid off immensely with a fantastic conclusion to the story that showed that the book's title does not just refer to the name of the Hulk, but how it changes each character and reveals the truth about many things for each side in the story.
The characters were a very good group because of the contrasts between them. On one side you have the Novamarines, a proud and austere Chapter descended from the Ultramarines and who can be quite fairly compared to them in most aspects. On the other you have the Blood Drinkers, a secretive and isolated Chapter descended from the Blood Angels and who carry quite a few secrets that the novel takes the time to explore and expose to the reader. And finally the Mechanicus who while not featuring centre stage for the most of the novel do play a central role and show how far some will go to recover treasures and mysteries, and the perils of the quest for knowledge that is central to every Tech-Priest's existance. Haley's characters work well because of the contrast between light and dark and grey, each side in the story fitting into one of those niches, and the personal stories of several characters that accompany the main story. Captain Mantillio Galt, Chapter Master Caedis and Veteran Sergeant Voldo all have their own story that is told throughout the novel and each one was very well done, but the standout was definitely Caedis's story as through him the mysteries behind the Blood Drinkers are revealed and we also get a look at what the Flaw is like to live with and how this particular group of Sanguinius's sons work it into their existance. I particularly enjoyed the contrast of characters between the Chapter as well, the Blood Drinkers arrogance and bloodlust compared to the Novamarines martial honour and near-worship of the Codex Astartes. The Mechanicum characters were also well handled, the inhuman and human aspects of them both present in the novel and how they deal with technology is addressed in the book, and particularly in the final chapters when we hear an alternate viewpoint on the Mechanicum and it's practices.
The action is very well written and really immerses the reader in the environment of the book. Haley's battles are filled with low gravity, tight corridors and caves and battlefields made of the corpses and husks of ancient ships of both human and alien origin. Since the novel mainly features Terminators with only a handful of scenes featuring regular Space Marines the battles feel much more powerful but also slower, and always the theme of a small group of warriors surrounded by a horde of xenos. One thing that Haley did very very well was the depiction of Terminator armor in battle, showing it's strengths and weaknesses over regular power armour and how the unique environs of a Space Hulk affect Terminator armor and the mechanics of fighting in it; all of this really made the battle scenes feel realistic even in a sci-fi setting and it shows that Haley really knows how to write battles in not just an epic sense, but a detailed sense. The Genestealers were also well depicted with their full strength on display, their adapted bodies perfect for hunting in voids, low gravity areas, poisonous pits and in spaces that no human could ever fit into. The novel showed why fighting Genestealers is never simple and that despite their beastial appearance there is a deadly cunning and malicious intelligence behind them, and in one or two instances that just because the Genestealers don't comprehend human emotions and thoughts, doesn't mean they can't comprehend human strategy and how to fight it. And one thing that was personally very enjoyable for me, Lightning Claws were used quite a bit and as one of my favourite weapons in 40k it was nice to see them, and how well the Blood Drinkers used them against the Genestealers.
The pacing was handled well but the novel does lag in a few places, mainly the preparation and planning stages for the main battle and the early exploration of the Space Hulk does take time, though the scenes were well written and enjoyable it did feel like it took quite a long time for what was meant to be a simple recon mission. Once the battle really gets underway things speed up and take on a lightning pace, which I felt was fitting for the Genestealers considering the speeds they can move at, and as the novel enters it's final part it does slow down a little until the mystery behind the Death of Integrity is revealed and things once again become fast-paced and gripping. On the whole the novel reads very well, battle sections and parts of real story and character development are fast-paced while the exploration and explanation sections are slower, but revealing in information and the lure of the mysteries behind both the Space Hulk and the Blood Drinkers kept me interested the entire way through and both paid off very well with very shocking and satisfying answers.
My favourite quote is definitely this one, though the context behind it makes it 1,000,000 times cooler,
"I need no master. I have no master. Once, I willingly served you. Now, I will have no more to do with you."
Now I must give a few honourable mentions. First off is Chapter 11: Brothers of Bone, Brothers of Blood. This was one of the best parts of the book, brilliantly written with both sections showing the great contrasts between the Novamarines and the Blood Drinkers, the atmosphere of both scenes was appropriate and showed the light and dark natures on display. Second is the answer to the mystery of the Blood Drinkers, now that was a bold move by Haley to decide such things for an established chapter and it definitely makes them one of the more interesting Space Marine Chapters, and the possibilities for them are very interesting to contemplate; personally I think, in context this makes sense, that "Yes" will come one day, or hell maybe it never will. And thirdly the mystery behind the Death of Integrity, I will say just this. It was excellent in every way, and a very nice nod to some obscure lore which also paints said lore in a whole new light. Guy Haley made some very bold choices in this novel lore and story wise and I think all of them were very very good choices that paid off with this story and some very nice lore additions. Oh and a very nice cameo 3/4s through the book, even if he was never named it was obvious who he was.
The ending is quite a good one and at first ties in with the title and the double-meaning I mentioned earlier, all of the main characters have been changed by this story and it shows how each one's integrity dies and the reasons behind it and how they react to it. With both mysteries answered Haley leaves some things open-ended and closes some things completely, and we do get to learn the fates of the characters in minor detail but that is due to the context of the story and it's fitting considering how this campaign ends. The epilogue is a very ominous one and it shows that one of the mysteries revealed to the reader may be close to being discovered and when it is bad things will happen, but that is a story that will likely never be told rather left to our imagination on what will happen and whether or not one character was right, or the cameo was. I'm personally banking on the cameo being right, but that's just me.
For a great story filled with plot twists, superb character development and epic action scenes that perfectly suited the Space Hulk environment I give Death of Integrity a score of 9.0/10. This is a 40k novel that I would recommend to any fan of the franchise, hell even regular science fiction fans should enjoy this gripping story of treasure hunting, secrets between brothers and the mysteries of the past coming to light in ways nobody expected. This is Haley's second 40k novel and third novel overall for the Black Library, and it's definitely the best of the three but I also think that it's Haley's best work to date. I can't wait to see what he has in store for us next, perhaps he will get a chance to write his own 40k series which in my opinion would be brilliant.
That's it for this review. My next review will be for the second book in the Mechanicus trilogy by Graham McNeil, the middle book Lords of Mars. So until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!