Book Review: Baneblade

frontier wars 728x90 KS

Author: Guy Haley

Publisher: Black Library

Reviewing Author: Jim Zabek

Reading Warhammer: 40,000 fan fiction is something of a guilty pleasure. It fills the time when I’m not in the mood for military history. Its quality is usually high but I’ve run across a few books that weren’t quite up to snuff. But sometimes I run across a novel that stands above the normally solid entertainment that this genre offers, and Baneblade is that book. It’s not only a great Warhammer: 40,000 novel, it’s a great fictional war novel.

For those unfamiliar with Warhammer: 40,000 books, they are set in a dystopian gothic sci-fi universe in the 40th millennium. You don’t have to play Warhammer: 40,000 to understand them but there is no good “introductory” novel to ease readers into the universe. One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading these books is gaining insight into the world in which they’re set, but in order to properly create an atmosphere writers have developed a highly contextual and somewhat foreign vocabulary that puts readers in a sink-or-swim juxtaposition. In order to read the books you have to understand the role and context of a commissar, tech-priest, lascannon, adeptus astartes, et al. Yet there are no good ways to learn what that stuff is other than by picking up a book (or three) and plowing through them. After a couple of novels the context is easier to understand and eventually becomes second-nature, but the initial foray requires a commitment that few readers who haven’t play the games can develop.

Baneblade, great as it is, doesn’t depart that mold, although my gut tells me it isn’t quite as baffling to outsiders as some of the other books might be. That said, from the top the reader will need to either have a priori knowledge of the subject of the title or will have to endure some ambiguity in order to learn. Understanding what the Imperial Guard is and how it fits into the Warhammer: 40,000 universe is just the start, and as much as I’d like to write that introduction I think that goes outside the scope of this review. Suffice it to say that the Warhammer: 40,000 novels are well worth the investment to learn.

That said, I will at least fill in the context of the Baneblade. It is a superheavy tank used by humans. A behemoth on the battlefield, it is one of the most powerful units in the game, and is in fact introduced not as part of the regular units but a special part where players break out the biggest of the big guns.

In Haley’s book, the Baneblade in question is named Mars Triumphant. An ancient machine that has survived in battle through a thousand years of fighting. Its commanders have a small plaque on a wall inside the tank, and the first commander’s name is so old that it has been worn away by time. And while the reader is introduced to Mars Triumphant on the first page of the book, much of the novel focuses its attention on Lieutenant Colaron Artem Lo Bannick. Bannick is a young man born to an aristocratic caste. Wealthy beyond comprehension, he has whiled away his youth as most privileged young adults do: aimlessly carousing. But somewhere along the line he made a mistake, so shameful that he felt he needed to atone for his sin, and the only path open to him was leaving his life of luxury behind and joining the hard life of the Imperial Guard to fight to save the Empire.

Bannick’s story is nothing new, but is in the telling that the reader will appreciate Haley’s work. Haley masterfully zips the reader from setting to setting, starting with the birth of Mars Triumphant and then to the grit of war on the deadly wasteland planet of Kalidar. The reader feels the cramped quarters that is the interior of the Baneblade. As enormous as the tank is, filled with crew and equipment it stinks, bumps, and cuts its crew as they are jostled about the battlefield. Haley relentlessly makes ever setting feel real, and his ability to make a superheavy tank both an extremely deadly instrument of war and yet vulnerable is a skill I can only marvel at. He makes us feel the tension of war with the xenos Orks as he writes, but he weaves in another opponent; the planet’s fine dust creates myriad ways to also kill. The planet is every bit as capable of ending Bannick’s short life as the Orks he faces. But then, just as quickly, the reader may be transported back to Bannick’s home planet before he joined the IG, and gradually through these bounces in and around people’s lives and settings the reader will gradually come to understand the full story of Bannick, all the while facing ever more threatening Orks.

As much as I’d like to write more I simply cannot. Haley manages to make every page interesting and I simply won’t spoil the fun. Imperial Guard fighting Orks as a boy grows into a warrior is hardly new material either for Warhammer: 40,000 fiction or writers in general. Haley makes Baneblade a book worth reading every word.

Share your thoughts on this review here.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *