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Bellarius drives headlong into the insanity which is Warrior Brood and sees just how completely a book can fail within thirty pages.
“If you want a guide on how not to do Warhammer novels, look no further.” – The Founding Fields
There’s always something important when it comes to writing for fictional universes: Research. No matter what it is, whether it be Marvel comics or a tv series which has just started you always take a look at the structure behind the events. You study the basic principles of the universe, the laws and the histories behind the characters to minimalise your unfamiliarity contradicting something major. The longer something had been running the more time you spend looking into it.
C.S. Goto takes that rule and proceeds to not only throw it out the window, but feed it to his dog, soak the remains in petrol and set it on fire first. The only things he tends to get right are the names of some units, and often not even that.
Now, his other more infamous work on the Dawn of War novelisations could be considered worse. It certainly ran for far longer and managed to find entirely new ways to break the canon which if Matt Ward read he would have been furious he’d not thought of them first. Warrior Brood however is where people started to realise he had no idea what he was talking about and was the cause of his nickname “C.S. multilaser”. This is a novel so bad that this review will not cover the whole thing. Trying to comment upon every failure as it comes would likely make this review longer than the novel itself. Instead we’re just going to look in detail into the first chapter, and believe me it’s clear to see where things start to unravel.
The book opens up on the astartes of the Mantis Warriors chapter engaging a tyranid swarm. There’s no listed reason to why they’re there, no comment upon their motivations, no introduction, nothing to flesh out or give substance to the conflict, it’s just BOOM! BUG WAR!!!
The Mantis Warriors themselves were one of the book’s biggest selling points: A chapter with a dark history, dwindling in numbers and a successor of the White Scars; something not often seen in 40K. They were a point of genuine interest, a good focus to be fleshed out and a reason for many to pick up the book. To those people: you have my sympathies.
It quickly becomes clear that the author had little to no idea of what he was writing about. While there are some details which were gotten right, there were vast numbers which were either gotten hilariously wrong or acts of such stupidity that I’m surprised none of the marines stopped and announced “you have to be fething kidding me!”
Take for example a few minor details like this: The battlefield is described as “nothing but arachnid forms, barbed scales, dripping claws and the glint of sharp teeth.” With the Mantis Warriors themselves being clad in “adamantite armour”, their entire company loosing endless streams of hellfire rounds in support from veteran Devastators who were “discharging volleys of laserfire from their multilasers.”
To save you a long winded rant: The author has given the marines en mass specialist equipment, guns their armoury doesn’t stock, armour of a non-existent material and made the world devouring alien horde a race of spiders. Even though there is little to nothing the tyranids have which has eight legs and on the same page winged gargoyles are mentioned flying around. And all this is told with the same narrative skill which produced these lines: “Theirs were the last human feet on Herodian IV, and theirs were barely human.” “[…] like glorious green and gold avenging angels.”
Within five pages this is beginning to make Mass Effect: Deception look like genuinely good storytelling. There are a total of twenty-nine pages in this first chapter.
The biggest crime of Warrior Brood is its presentation of the space marines. While the Mantis Warriors themselves aren’t using tactics they are known for, prolonged attrition tactics through multiple guerrilla strikes, that can be forgiven due to who they are facing. The tyranids would just overrun via sheer numbers if they tried it. What can’t be forgiven is the fact these just aren’t astartes. They also seem to have arrived on the battlefield drunk. There’s no skill to their actions, no discipline to their attacks and no strategy. One point specifically notes that the big creatures the tyranids are sending are effectively shrugging off bolter shells, yet the Devastator squads armed with tank killing weapons are blasting away at the fragile flapping gargoyles. No, really, they are:
“Gargoyles fell from the sky, where lascannon fire had ruined them or deformed into molten lumps were the squad’s multi-meltas had cooked them.”
Yes, that typo is actually in the book. Now, this might not be so bad if the focus space marines at least acted like space marines, but they don’t. There’s no steel to their words, no discipline or hints of them being the crusader styled superhumans of the universe. Worse still, they show less logic and discipline than the average Imperial Guardsman. Something symbolised in this gem of insanity:
“The Mantis Warriors, captain ducked under the claws of a swooping beast, firing off a volley of bolts into the advancing ground swarm as he did so. As the gargoyle overshot, Audin slashed blindly behind him with his power sword and rent the creature cleanly in two.”
This is the sort of unorthodox stunt which would be expected of a trainee at the most. In any normal book if this were seen, it would have the nearest marine slapping him over the head and taking away his weapon until he went through weeks of penance and learned to use it properly. Blindly slashing about with what is effectively a lightsaber, amongst a crowded group of allies at a flying enemy, when you have perfectly good bolters nearby, is an act of such sheer stupidity it is simply amazing it got past the editors. Then again that goes for this whole book. As if this weren’t enough, the best hope for humanity apparently can’t even remember basic mission details as we get one noting this:
“he could vaguely recall moments of Audin’s briefing before the Mantis Warriors made planet-fall only a day earlier. Something about giant warriors and psychic nodes. Ruinus had not paid a great deal of attention – he had just been eager to get down onto the surface and start devastating some aliens.”
There’s also a scene in which a hormagaunt successfully pins one marine, causing him enough trouble to require help from others. Ignoring the mechanics of the game, which nerf and enhance the skills of factions to create a general balance between armies, usually anyway, this should be an easy fight. Instead the hundreds of years old power armoured doom bringer who can punch through reinforced metal is having trouble with one unassisted cannon fodder the size of a great dane. For the record, this is like a crocodile trying to pin down a full grown psychotic bull elephant and succeeding.
Now, admittedly the tyranids in this book are far more powerful than they should be. They utterly ream the marines with little effort with many units like the zonethropes (called “tyranid sorcerors” argh!) being borderline unstoppable. The most notable part of this is where even the tyranid suicide bombers stop taking the Mantis Warriors as a serious threat and apparently start trying to have fun. A spore mine is fired into the midst of the marines’ command squad but rather than exploding it instead grabs the standard bearer’s leg, then drags him away. Despite being struck by multiple hellfire shells, stabbed and hit repeatedly, it successfully pulls him out of cover and into the swarm. Doing so with enough force to crush his “adamantite” armour.
This is however, quickly overshadowed by the two dumbest actions ever seen in 40K. Winning the Mantis Warriors the much touted “Least Tactical Sense In A Science Fiction Setting” award.
After finally turning their guns on the big monsters, yes there is dialog telling them “Use the lascannon!” and “bring that thing down!”, the Devastators turn their attention to the things they should have been shooting at to begin with. For some reason the Devastators can’t get a line of sight on it. Instead the Devastator squad heroically sprints away from their barely holding defensive lines. Rather than using the large heavy weapons which could have killed it with some concentrated fire, they charge into the massive tyranid swarm. Then we learn that they all so heroically died to buy time for their sergeant, who kills one biovore with a bundle of grenades and a chainsword.
This would likely be the dumbest moment in the chapter, for more reasons than can be counted, were it not for what follows it.
A group of Mantis Warriors in tactical dreadnought armour die fighting against a carnifex. This isn’t too surprising as even the elite of the first company would have trouble with a twenty meter tall death machine which is the living definition of “the last thing you want to meet in a dark alley”. Except, despite both being far better at close combat than they are shooting, they choose to enter a gun battle with one another, despite only a few pages ago the novel itself stating bolters were having no effect on the bigger creatures. Were this not ludicrous enough, the carnifex is initially winning with a barbed strangler. A weapon which wraps around the Terminators, starts to break through their heavy armour and is so strong that matter splitting power weapons cannot cut through it!
Oh, but all this results in heroic sacrifice with the sergeant winning at the last moment. Again. Out of nowhere he produces a cyclone missile launcher and insta-kills the beast. No mention of this, no hint of him carrying the massive weapon, and suddenly he has it. Does he use it when they’re fighting anything else? No. Does he use it before his entire squad dies when they’re fighting at long range? No. What’s more is that this thing has supposedly has the force of a small nuclear device:
“Hoenir ducked his head towards the monster and activated the cyclone missile launcher on his back.
In a flurry of power, the missiles seared over his head, punching deeply into the flesh of the carnifex. They burrowed their way deep inside, like giant maggots, before detonating. With an immense convulsion, the massive creature exploded outwards, sending chunks of sizzling flesh raining into the swarm. A huge fire ball erupted from the heart of the beast, blasting outwards in a wide radius, incinerating dozens of broods of tyranids and reducing the barbed tendrils to ashes, cleansing the dead bodies of the Terminators.”
And no, there’s been no hint of it ever being this powerful in any other material.
Admittedly the stupidity doesn’t get any worse than that in the first chapter’s final moments. We get lasers, apparently of the multi kind, mounted on a Thunderhawk gunship, some bad dialog, forced exposition and a visibly forecasted plot hook but nothing that quite exceeds those two moments. Bear in mind however, this is only the first chapter and that things get progressively worse as you read further into the book.
One small spoiler of an example of just how bad things get: Why is the great devourer seemingly unstoppable in this? Because of a chair made of tyranids.
So is it really as bad as fans think? Yes! It really is!
Avoid anything with Goto’s name on it at all costs. Having been reading Warhammer fluff and the Black Library for over a decade I can safely say C.S. Goto is definitely the worst person to have written a novel for the 40K universe. Worst writer overall? Perhaps not, unlike the other defiler of fluff he at least didn’t write codices and his stuff can be happily ignored.
Between his other canon screw-ups such as of eldar tech apparently being widely accepted and deemed “safe” by the imperium, Terminators backflipping into combat, Land Raiders transforming into Razorbacks and Eldar Prophecy; it’s fairly clear to understand why he is so hated by the fandom. Why Lexicanum.com allows him to be cited as a source for pages, not so much.