Fist of Demetrius by William King – Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the second book in the Macharius Crusade trilogy, Fist of Demetrius by veteran Black Library author William King.
“A book that starts off strongly but sadly reveals a fair few flaws along the way that let it down quite a bit.” – The Founding Fields
My last experience with William King’s work was the sadly poor Sword of Caledor, and while that book has soured me on his Tyrion and Teclis trilogy, I still looked forward to his Macharius trilogy and while Fist of Demetrius has not been as bad a second book as SoC was, it still is greatly inferior to the fantastic first book in the trilogy, Angel of Fire.
The Macharius Crusade continues to blaze a trail of victory across the stars. Thousands of new worlds have been brought back into the fold of the Imperium, millions of xenos and heretics have been given the Emperor’s judgement and the Imperium itself faces a new golden age of conquest. But things are not as bright as they appear, the Lord Solar Macharius makes enemies of those who wish the corruption that he purges to remain and those who fear he conquers not for the Imperium, but for himself. And when the Dark Eldar steal an ancient relic of the Imperium it falls to Macharius to recover it and free yet another world from the yoke of alien tyrants, but this time he may have finally taken on a challenge that even his tactical genius cannot defeat.
The story in Fist of Demetrius is one that I felt was stretched a bit too much. One problem was that I did not care for the elapsed time in the crusade, I feel this is a symptom however of the series being a trilogy when a long-running series, ala Gaunt’s Ghosts, would serve it much better and allow more character development for the main cast, and more stories to be told rather than just referenced briefly and then forgotten. I also felt that the book itself might have been better as a novella, as the battle against the Dark Eldar felt longer than it should have been and the plot took too long to reveal certain key details about events in the story and one thing was barely explained at all beyond two sentences near the end, which as it was key to the story felt very disappointing. However I did like the scenes with Macharius and his generals which showed the mechanics of a crusade and some of the inner workings of the Imperium, and one particular scene in the final quarter of the novel was bloody fantastic and was an event that I never dreamed would be in this novel.
The characters are a good point to the book, but they too have some flaws. The trio of Leo, Anton and Ivan return but this time some of the light-heartedness is gone, mainly in the humour that has turned from funny jokes to picking on Anton over and over again, which got old quickly. Macharius is still as awesome as ever, but for the first time we see the potential for flaws in his character and hints that Macharius may not be as perfect as many believe him to be. The cameos by the Space Wolves, including one particular wolf who shall remain nameless, were a nice touch and I liked their portrayal that was a nice callback to King’s Ragnar series. The Dark Eldar however were not as threatening or malevolent as they have been portrayed before, though I liked the aspect of boredom of eternity that King gave the Archon, a nice touch showing how easily long-lived beings can succumb to ennui. Though yet again characters seem unable to tell the difference between Eldar and Dark Eldar and I do not believe that that is possible, surely the Imperium is smart enough to tell the difference between two so obviously different cultures. I also did not care for the lack of knowledge that the human characters had about the Dark Eldar, you’d think they’d know more than hearsay and rumour about one of the Imperium’s deadliest enemies.
The action in the book is fairly good as always. The Dark Eldar are cripplingly powerful opponents and I liked how they were portrayed here, each one able to match an entire platoon of troops and their cruelty on the battlefield and even tactics giving way to brief outbursts of sadism. Action-wise the Dark Eldar were portrayed flawlessly, with the kind of power and grace that explains why the Eldar so few in number can outmatch humanity. The rest of the action however felt slow, the environments of the battles were very hard to picture and the human response was always very very simple and ultimately the same throughout the entire novel. Macharius’s tactical duels with the Archon brought a nice touch to the battles, these two commanders battling with armies, but I only really enjoyed the Dark Eldar moments of glory.
The pacing of the book is the key problem, it’s so slow. The entire book seemed to drag as if it were moving at a snail’s pace, even the climactic final chapters felt like they were in slow motion. I think this is because ultimately I just wasn’t drawn into the book, and I didn’t want to know what happened next enough to really get into it and read. I’ve had this problem with a few of King’s works, I guess I just find his work to be slower paced than I do others. One thing I had a real problem with was the Dark Eldar’s plan, it seemed like King didn’t even know what it was until the last few chapters when we finally got a name for what they were looking for and then near the end we found out what it could do. It was awesome no question but it felt like the enemy just looked for this thing based on nothing but dead history and then found it and it just happened to be something very powerful and dangerous, and that before they found it they had no idea what they’d do with it. And even at the end there was no definitive answer as to what the Archon would have done with it given the chance.
Now my favourite quote, which took a while because another issue I have with King is that he doesn’t write good dialogue, at least not quote-worthy dialogue,
“There is nothing that Chaos cannot turn to it’s purposes, nothing.”
The ending was very abrupt and felt like it had been sped up just to get there. And I was very unsatisfied with the fate of the Fist of Demetrius, I expected much more than the two sentences we got about it near the end that explained it. And the intrigue subplot that was teased never manifested, no threat from within against Macharius happened or was even hinted as beginning to happen. It felt like the protagonist was warned about it and then it just never happened, but I bet by the third book there will have been plenty of intrigue that we’ll never get to see. I now firmly believe that this series should have been a long-running one, to fully explore the crusade and the ramifications of it on the galaxy and for the Imperium at large, a trilogy is too short to cover such the vast amount of time and conquest that the Macharius Crusade encompasses.
For a decent enough story with some very enjoyable action scenes and some good characters I give Fist of Demetrius a score of 6.8/10. This is a book that I would recommend only to real fans of the Imperial Guard and of William King, and I wouldn’t recommend it as an introductory novel to the series or as a must-read. It’s not a bad novel but more an acceptable one that has some really good moments, but is let down by a slow pace, a story with a few too many holes and a distinct lack of the humour that was so enjoyable in Angel of Fire.
That’s it for this review. Not sure what will be next, likely it’ll be the limited edition Corax: Soulforge by Gav Thorpe. So until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!