Let us start with a touch of honesty. I am bitterly jealous of Aaron Dembski-Bowden.
I confess that the only of his previous works I had read was The First Heretic. And though a fine read, I found a point or two to which I raised question. But after reading this piece, I am reminded of why I wish to be more than an aspiring writer. As I finished the last page, I knew that my novel submission (which involved Helsreach) to the Black Library in July had tanked. I wish I had read this book first before writing the submission.
As if that wasn’t enough, I read the ‘About the Author’ section and learned that the proper way to spell fiancée in the feminine form involves an extra -e at the end. This is significant because in the Xaphan story I sent in yesterday, I used the wrong form. It was like being kicked when you were down, learning that not only is your past writing not good enough, what you just submitted also has mistakes.
Helsreach is the tale of the defence of Hive Helsreach during the Third War for Armageddon. Grimaldus, recently appointed Reclusiarch of the Black Templars, is left to defend Helsreach while High-Marshal Helbrecht takes to the battle in space. Grimaldus has resigned himself to die defending the Hive. And given the size of the Ork invasion, every page seems increasingly likely to confirm this grim prophecy.
Despite my envy for Dembski-Bowden, the fact is that this tale is flawless. I was hesitant to read Helsreach because my last experience with a Space Marines Battle Novel was long and unending. But this one was difficult to put down. From the aspects of the siege, to the character interactions. From the action to the themes of hopelessness and duty.
And best of all was that Dembski-Bowden took a gamble and told portions of the story not only from Reclusiarch Grimaldus’ perspective but also from inside his head. This is rare. Many a would be author have tried and failed to get inside a Space Marine’s mind. What are their thoughts? How are they different from humans?
Helsreach is a cleanly written and well told tale, but at the same time has these lasting, haunting elements within the story that make it hard to put down. Hard to ignore. They are not unlike The Last Chancers or The Founding, the two books I return to read again and again. To say I would do the same with Helsreach would not be a genuine claim until it happens. But something about this story will remain with me, bugging me. Telling me that there is something more here and that I should reread it.
Time will tell.