|A very nicely designed piece of art, and one that definitely made me wonder what was going to happen in the story.|
Lord of the Night reviews the exhilarating second book in the Adeptus Mechanicus trilogy, Lords of Mars by Graham McNeill.
"A stunning second novel that sucks the reader right in with strong characters, tantalizing mysteries and a space opera like story that relies on characters rather than violence to tell itself. A must-read novel and series from McNeill." - Lord of the Night
Lords of Mars is a title that departs from the norm of Black Library by being a novel that does not in fact feature many battles, of course it does offer more violence than it's predecessor Priests of Mars but as I said above this is a story that relies on characters and mystery to keep the reader interested and involved rather than the epic scenes of battle that are common in 40k, this is not a bad thing but rather a refreshing change of pace and one that results in a damn fine novel that I read in under ten hours. It was that fun and that hard to put down.
The voyage into the unknown continues. Archmagos Kotov is determined to discover the legacy of Vettius Telok, the fabled Breath of the Gods, and return to the Imperium a hero. But each of his crew have their own agendas on this quest, and some of them have no desire to see the others have their way. But as the Speranza and it's crew journey further into the Halo Scar they begin to see that things are far from what they expected and that something vast is approaching, something with the potential to change the face of the galaxy forever and something that the Eldar are very eager to prevent humanity ever getting their hands on. Will the Speranza and it's collection of explorers, warriors, scientists and slaves find the answers to all their questions on the dying world of Katen Venia, or will they too be lost to the mists of history?
The story is a very exciting one and deserves bonus points for focusing on the characters of this voyage and not on the many battles they could be used for. Picking up right where Priests of Mars left off LoM dives right into the main mystery that is Katen Venia but things quickly become more complicated and what at first seemed like a simple hunt for archeotech has now become something much grander and with much more far-reaching consequences. McNeill really amps up the stakes for the cast in the novel and while he does answer one or two questions in the book he poses far more and these questions are colossal in scale and comparison to the few answers we have, and they have me dying to read the third and final novel so that all of them can be answered and the whole thing can make sense. The personal stories of the characters are also very well done and many reach quite interesting points by the end, and several plot strands are created that will undoubtedly be revisited in the final book and make things even more difficult for the characters, so I can't wait. One thing that I particularly enjoyed is the space opera feel to the series, McNeill makes the story feel like an epic adventure and at the same time a drama, each characters interactions with the other make for interesting reading and each strand of the plot is as interesting as the others which kept me going to read the novel in one sitting.
The cast is still a nicely varied collection of individuals from all across the Imperium and with a few new additions, and sadly the exit of one or two characters including one that I particularly liked, McNeill improves on an already strong cast. The personal stories of each character also pick up right where PoM left off and continues, some with the cliff-hangar reveals of the previous book not dealt with until much later into the book, but all were dealt with satisfactorily and in some cases in a quite unexpected manner. McNeill continues to develop his characters, showing us more of their personalities and in some cases some rather hidden depths that we would not expect of these characters, and it's the continued clash of personalities between characters of the same group or different groups that makes the novel so good to read, among other things. One thing that I particularly enjoyed was that more time was spent on different characters in this book, we saw more of Archmagos Kotov and the Tychon family, and that other characters that dominated PoM were still around but not as prominent, but of course we knew they were still there and playing their parts. One or two of the new characters very much interested me, one for surprising me with who he really was and one for possibly being the nicest Tech-Priest ever. One thing did disappoint me however but it was something personal, my favourite character of the last book did something horrible in this book and now I hate him and want him to die, so now i'm a little sad because he isn't my favourite anymore. McNeill's characters are, alongside the mysteries of the plot, the best part of the novel and will definitely stick with you the entire way through and after you've put the book down.
The action is, as with PoM, secondary to character development, plot development and pretty much everything else. This is an adventure story, one that doesn't rely on epic battles but rather the mystery of the journey into the unknown, and those who make that journey and why they do it and how it affects all of them. But it is still a 40k novel and does have more battle scenes that PoM did, and McNeill can really let loose with his imagination since he isn't bound to have the enemies be a recognisable xenos like the Orks or Necrons, but instead he provides the expedition with some very memorable and unique enemies and ties them in with the mystery, making them a part of the story for more reasons than existing to die fighting the expedition and killing some of them. Since so many Imperial organizations are represented in the novel we get many different scenes of combat, some of the Black Templars doing what they do best; kicking ass in sword to sword combat and in one case doing something awesome with a sword and a chain; the Imperial Guard and Skitarii who both fight very differently but bring the weight of numbers and offer a more traditional side to the battles fought in the book, and the Titans of Legio Sirius who not only continue to impress in every scene with their pack behaviour but finally get to show what they are capable of with some pretty unorthodox styles of battle and well-written fight scenes that pit them against worthy foes though I won't say what as it would be a spoiler. Despite the action being secondary in importance to the rest of the novel's elements the scenes we do get are exciting and well-crafted and McNeill again shows why he's one of Black Library's most veteran authors.
The pacing was quite well done. This novel is only separated into two sections rather than the three of the last novel but contains just as many chapters. McNeill makes each chapter exciting to read and ends them on such notes that you have to keep reading to find out what happens next to this character or that character or just to find out what the hell just happened. The book reads nice and easily despite the advanced scientific concepts that come into play midway through the novel, which I will say McNeill nicely explained in such a way that you could understand as much as the characters did but he kept the mystery of it by not explaining it fully to the readers in the narrative; we know as much as the cast does. Hardbacks are always easier reads for me, they just seem to flow more than a paperback does, and LoM was no exception as I read the entire book front to back in under 10 hours, taking small breaks to think and etc along the way, and I regard it as time well spent as I greatly enjoyed this extended read.
My favourite quote, admittedly one didn't jump out at me like PoM but after a brief check I think this one is my personal favourite,
"Listen. To all the lost souls."
Now I would make several honourable mentions to things I particularly liked. First off the entire theme of this novel and series is great, I really like the idea of venturing beyond the Emperor's light and reading about places that have never felt the presence of the Imperium of Man and McNeill really makes Katen Venia and the Halo Scar feel like uncharted territory, the part of the map that says "Here be Dragons." Second is the scale that is developing over the course of the series, this is a book that really amps that up and by the end I felt it was apparant that events occurring in the Halo Scar could affect the entire galaxy even though we know that it won't because of the status quo, but it feels like it could and that is what matters. Thirdly McNeill really paints a very beautiful and vivid image of the areas in the Halo Scar, they feel mythical and beautiful in the way that space is, because it's vast and all the stellar phenomina that fill it are just simply beautiful and McNeill describes them very well throughout the book. And finally the rather unique approach to a Titan Legio that McNeill takes is further explained and my reservations about Legio Sirius from PoM are gone, I very much like them now and am looking forward to seeing them again in the final book, hopefully they'll get to walk for real this time.
The ending is again a cliff-hangar but rather than PoM's multiple character cliff-hangars LoM goes for just two. One a personal twist and cliff-hangar that I suspect will deeply alter the dynamic that has been established aboard the Speranza and may give one or two characters a nudge in a very interesting direction plot-wise, and made me hate what was my favourite character of the series, and the main end which has the whole plot on a cliff-hangar that is both epic and when you stop and think about it you find yourself thinking "What the hell is happening here, what does all of this mean?" (But in a good way.) Or at least that is what I felt. It's definitely an end that will have you coming back to the series for the final book, titled Gods of Mars and due for release in 2014 around summer time, and which nicely closes the book but not the story. This is a series that isn't told in self-contained stories but rather each book feels like 1/3 of the greater whole, and I think that once all three are released reading them back-to-back would result in a better reading experience than reading all three over the course of a few years as I and others have done.
For a continuation of a great story that is really shaping up to be one of Black Library's best trilogies, more of the strong and memorable cast of characters that McNeill has created for the series and in one case brought back, and for the mysteries that I am dying to know the resolution to; I give Lords of Mars a score of 9.1/10. This book is an improvement over Priests of Mars but only because of the natural progression of events in the book, otherwise it felt as good as PoM but not so much better that it was blatantly obvious. Given the events in this book I do feel that Gods of Mars has the potential to be greater than Priests and Lords and GoM has made it's way onto my most anticipated books list. Summer 2014 is a wait but I think it will be worth it when I can sit down and see how this epic adventure ends. And one final note, why oh why did you have to make my favourite character do that at the end on page 311 McNeill? Now I hate him, despite how awesome he is, and am hoping that two particular characters kill him.
That's it for this review. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!