The Emperor’s Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings writes a book review of The Emperor’s Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, his first Grey Knight novel, published by Black Library and set in the Warhammer 40,000 Universe.
“Dembski-Bowden continues to impress. A fantastic storyline that sheds light on the First War for Armageddon and its aftermath. His best non-Chaos Space Marine novel yet.” ~The Founding Fields
The Emperor’s Gift is Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s first full novel this side of the Night Lords Trilogy, and particularly after the epic conclusion in Void Stalker, and before I read this book, I wondered if he would be able to live up to the hype that any novel that is going to be released by him in the future will have now. However, I can gladly say that the author has lived up to the anticipation that was caused before the release of The Emperor’s Gift, and if there is any hardback novel that must be brought so far this year from Black Library, it is most certainly The Emperor’s Gift. It is a stunning piece of tie-in fiction, and is much better than Ben Counter’s Grey Knights Omnibus (review here), which I had mixed feelings about.
The Grey Knights are all that stands between mankind and the ravages of Chaos. Since their secretive beginnings during the Horus Heresy, 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…
The Emperor’s Gift manages to appeal to not only the hardcore Warhammer 40k fans who know a lot about the lore, but also provides an interesting new look for newcomers to the universe, as long as you know that the First War for Armageddon was Space Wolves and Grey Knights vs Chaos, and not Orks versus the Imperium, which was the second and third wars for Armageddon, which is basically serves as the main ‘big battle’ in this novel. You can’t get much better than a large portion (if not entire chapters) of Space Wolves and Grey Knights fighting against fearsome World Eater Bezerkers, and if anyone can write the First War for Armageddon and write it well, it’s Aaron Dembski-Bowden.
Okay, maybe other authors such as Graham McNeill, Dan Abnett and Chris Wraight could have given it a decent go, but Aaron Dembski-Bowden has managed to do it justice. The Emperor’s Gift is superb, although sadly, not perfect. I did have a few issues with The Emperor’s Gift, which I’ll touch on later, but first, let me explain why this novel is great.
The Emperor’s Gift focuses on the main character Hyperion, a typical lone-wolf in the rank of the Grey Knights Chapter. Hyperion is a character that Dembski-Bowden has written well and manages to really develop him over the course of the novel. He gets into the mind of Hyperion and we learn what makes him tick. As well as enthralling the reader with tense action scenes, he also explores the Grey Knights themselves. Although we don’t get to see the training in which Hyperion undertook to become a Grey Knight, what we see in the rest of the novel makes up for it, the Battle for Armageddon and its aftermath easily being the highlight of the book, and The Emperor’s Gift serves as a thrilling standalone novel.
The Grey Knights are also not the only characters that Dembski-Bowden ‘gets’. The Space Wolves are the other major Imperial faction presented in this novel, and after reading how they’re presented in The Emperor’s Gift, I would love to see the author write a novel about them. Heck, I would love to see Dembski-Bowden deal with every faction in the 40k Universe, but unfortunately he can’t write that fast. The Wolves are deadly warriors who you don’t want to get on the wrong side of though, and in this book, that’s exactly what happens to a certain faction. I’d read the section on the First War of Armageddon in the 5th Edition (and current) Space Wolves Codex, so I knew what was going to happen. However, that doesn’t stop Dembski-Bowden from making the predictable unpredictable, and even a veteran fluff fan will be surprised at some point in this book.
As much as I enjoyed The Emperor’s Gift, there were a couple of things that I didn’t like about it. I didn’t like the pacing for one, the first half of the book was a lot more slower it seemed than the second, as there was a lot more info-dumping in the first half. However, once you got to the First War for Armageddon though, the pace increased, and I was reading the second half a lot quicker than the first. I also found the fact that The Emperor’s Gift a little hard to get into at first because of the sole first-person narrative, but once I got used to it (As I’ve rarely read science fiction novels in first person before), I found that the first person-aspect didn’t bother me as much anymore, and now – having come out of Dembski-Bowden’s latest novel, I am eagerly wanting to read more first-person sci-fi novels.