In Retro-Review: Warhammer 40,000: The Emperor’s Gift

This is the best entry novel into this universe.

Warhammer 40,000: The Emperor’s Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Published by The Black Library in 2012. Paperback of 432 pages at $16.00.

The cover: A Grey Knight raises his left hand to unleash the hell from a bolter, while his right hand holds a staff that crackles with mystical violet energy. This knight looks great and I took him to be the protagonist Hyperion. I like seeing the gold inlay on the character’s armor and that he’s not adorned with so many tracts that other knights usually have. Having him on a vivid green background makes him stand out. There’s a blurb from Dan Abentt in the upper left corner and the book’s title is at the bottom just below the character’s waistline. The author’s name and the Warhammer 40K logo are below the title. Very nice cover from Cheoljoo Lee. Please note, my review of this cover is based on the 2018 re-released edition. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “The Grey Knights are all that stand between mankind and the ravages of Chaos. Since their secretive beginnings during the Horus Hersey, these legendary Space Marine daemon hunters have journeyed into the dark realms of the warp — and beyond — in pursuit of their supernatural enemies. Through an intensive regime of psychic training, new recruits are brought to the clandestine fortress of Titan to join the hallowed and vaunted ranks of the 666th Chapter. More than ever, these legendary battle-brothers must be vigilant and ever ready to defend the Imperium, for the forces of Chaos are never truly defeated, and Armageddon beckons…” This is very generic, not stating any specific characters, nor where they’re going to battling, except for mention of the world Armageddon. I was hoping for something a little more detailed, but I’m craving a Warhammer 40K novel, so I nabbed this. Overall grade: B-

The characters: Hyperion is the book’s protagonist. He is the newest member of Squad Castian, consisting of three other knights (Malchadiel, his twin brother Sothis, and Dumenidon) with Galeo as their leader. Hyperion’s powers build as the book progresses, but not to outrageous levels. The three knights are fairly interchangeable until something horrific occurs, then each really stands apart from the other. Galeo is interesting because he communicates telepathically. The team works well together, though Hyperion often changes plans or does things his own way, resulting in trouble for all. Inquisitor Annika Jarlsdottyr accompanies the knights on their first mission and sets them, unknowingly, on their path to destiny on Armageddon. Often inquisitors are not to be trusted, but she is utterly devoted to doing right by these knights, especially Hyperion. The leader of the Wolf Space Marines is Grimnar. Something happens halfway through the book where this ally becomes a enemy to the Grey Knights and they have to battle his order. He is a warrior of honor, but his men come before all else. Inquisitor Ghesmei Kysnaros becomes an enemy by the last quarter of the novel. It is his orders that have the Grey Knights in battle with the Wolves. He is obsessive to the point where only his title has him commanding others. He is doing what he believes is right, but is blind to seeing that he is actually causing more harm than good. There are several demons in the book, starting small and then becoming epic beasts, such as those found on Armageddon. Few are named, but their ferocity is not forgotten. Overall grade: A

The settings: Frostborn is a seemingly deserted derelict ship of the Wolves. The Grey Knights discover it through chance and investigate. It is described wonderfully, full of all the gaudy trappings of such vessels, but is also like a haunted house where there are no bodies. The primary action occurs on Armageddon, a world discovered too late to be infested with demonspawn. There is not enough time to gather a full number of knights to take it back, so the five Grey Knights and ninety-five Wolves go to the world to subdue the evil. They are battling a force in the thousands. This world is a horror brought to life. The last third of the novel takes place in space as order battles order. Overall grade: A

The action: There’s no action until the battle on the Frostborn, which is followed by the landing on Titan, then the battle for Armageddon, leading to the conflict in space between ships. It’s great stuff. I enjoyed every time the knights went into battle, for no one is safe in this universe, no matter their abilities or experience. The battle on Armageddon is brilliant. It is the high point of the book. That said, I was on pins and needles regarding the conflict in space. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: A perfect and surprising ending. I am used to the battle continuing in the end or the lead character sacrificing themselves for the battle. This ending is suggested early on, but not everyone survives to get to it. Overall grade: A+

The final line: This is the most easy to read Warhammer 40,000 I’ve encountered. I enjoy the over the top adjectives and adverbs employed in this franchise, but this book doesn’t have a lot of them, instead Dembski-Bowden chooses to go with a more direct storytelling voice, which suits newbie Hyperion. This is the best entry level novel into this universe. The characters were engaging, the action riveting, and the foibles in the structure of command staggering. I really enjoyed this and hope that Hyperion appears in other novels, as do the Grey Knights. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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