Blood Gorgons by Henry Zou – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius returns with a look at Blood Gorgons by Henry Zou.
“An interesting if very flawed experiment in seeing Chaotic life beyond the Eye of Terror” – The Founding Fields
A frequent problem with Black Library books focusing upon traitor astartes is that they tend to stick to the legions. Major series and titles with Chaos space marines as the focus characters tend to focus upon Iron Warriors, Night Lords, Word Bearers and the others. Blood Gorgons is a big exception to this as its warband was not only founded long after the Horus Heresy but as far from traditional traitor marines as you can imagine.
The novel shows the Blood Gorgons in a time of crisis. Along with the sudden loss of their chapter master and the warband being on the brink of civil war, one of their vital recruitment worlds has come under attack. A virulent plague has begun to sweep through the planet’s occupants, slaughtering them en mass and reanimating their corpses as savage murderers. Even as Bond-Brother Barsabbas’ unit is sent to investigate, they face their darkest hour finding new foes at every turn.
The novel’s biggest selling point is the Blood Gorgons themselves. With the sheer amount of time it spends fleshing out their traditions, attitudes, personalities and characteristics it needed to be well thought out. Thankfully this was delivered upon this in full giving a force which is quite unlike that found within many novels.
While they are clearly scavengers, pirates and traitors they have an oddly twisted version of rules and aspects which would usually be found within a loyalist chapter. While they don’t have an empire, they retain recruitment worlds which they protect. While they avoid having subjects and worshippers; they have artificers, smiths and servants who are loyal in the manner serfs are. While they are fractious, they have a sense of in-built loyalty to one another as a result of Chaos rituals. While they venerate a figure as their patron deity, they do not treat him as a god or blindly worship him.
The book goes through stage by stage in exploring what they are from the viewpoint of everyone. Right from those who lead them to the slaves who are vital to keeping the chapter equipped, then using them to explore what separates them from both the Imperium and those who reside in the Eye of Terror.
Even some of the factions who are introduced a considerable way, those threatening the recruitment world, in get some surprisingly detailed explorations as to whom they are. Something which they desperately needed at the time the book was produced.
If there’s one thing Henry Zou seemed to do well it was giving a detailed, fully explored and well thought out background to the major powers that played a core part of the story. Something which makes the book stand out, but is unfortunately the writing’s only real strongpoint.
Much like Daemon World the novel suffers from the problem that while it’s good for inspiration and as a well of ideas, it falls short of being a good story for a fair number of reasons. Foremost amongst these is the protagonist, Barsabbas, who is bland to the point of being a blank slate. There’s no specific tone or attitude which helps to distinguish him from the other Blood Gorgons and ultimately he comes across as being extremely weak in personality. Something which is a definite problem as there’s nothing to make the reader accept he is capable of half the things he pulls off or even deserving of the final reward he is given. This, combined with some very improbable accomplishments, makes him skirt the line of being a Mary Sue very closely but he’s hardly alone in this problem.
While the Blood Gorgons are very strong in terms of background lore, individuals fail to stand out in any way and introductions fail to make any real impression upon the reader. They’re stoic, grim and temperamental but Zou lacks the talent people like Rob Sanders have to make them truly interesting. There are honest points where’s its extremely easy to mistake two viewpoint Gorgons for the same person because they’re written in such a similar way. The only real exceptions to this are chapter master Gammadin and the sorcerer Anko “not-a-villain-at-all” Muhr. Neither of who are written exceptionally well and barely escape the fate of the others by either being one note antagonists or heavily detailed in the chapter’s lore.
The plot is similarly flawed in that there are no surprises. Right from the beginning to the end you can guess what’s going to happen just by looking at what’s on paper. The novel all but holds your hand the entire way through in a similar manner to the Alpha Legion in Deliverance Lost. You’re never allowed to guess anything or wonder what will happen next because it’s bluntly obvious what will follow in a short amount of time.
The weaknesses in the story are only made more evident with some severe problems in Henry Zou’s writing capabilities. While the man can build up a reasonably good atmosphere in the right situation, he has serious problems with certain phrases. Every few pages you’re bound to run into a sentence which is supposed to be poignant but come across as self-contradictory or lacks the sufficient style to have the impact the author desires. While they’re passable they don’t ever really rise to anything special. The same goes with the fight scenes which more often than not feel either very run of the mill or don’t reach the levels of excess you’d hope to see in a book with Chaos at war.
Ultimately your opinion of Blood Gorgons will vary heavily depending upon what you want out of it. If you’re after inspiration or ideas for an army you couldn’t do better than this novel, but if you’re looking for a story it might seem underwhelming or painfully average. It’s hardly bad but there’s some very visible flaws which run throughout the tale, limiting the potential for it to be something truly memorable. Read it if you want something different from Chaos, but don’t expect to see anything truly mind-blowing.