Death of Integrity by Guy Haley – Book Review [Bellarius]
Returning to the Space Marine Battles series once more, Bellarius takes a look at Guy Haley’s Death of Integrity.
“An unfortunate waste of great potential.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
The problem with Death of Integrity is that this should not have been hard to screw up. The idea of space marines purging a hulk of genestealers is a scenario as old as the setting and provides a wealth of opportunities. It can feature very straight forwards tales, concepts attempting to break new ground, character focused individual stories or just all out action fests. Combined with two contrasting chapters and the involvement of the Adeptus Mechanicus, there was the potential here to do something truly great. This is why it’s so baffling that what we got fell so short of the mark.
Following a battle against eldar corsairs, a large detachment of the Novamarines chapter are called by their allies, the Blood Drinkers, to assist in the destruction of a space hulk. The titular Death of Integrity, has been chased by the Blood Drinkers’ chapter master for years and is rapidly approaching a heavily populated Imperial system. With time against them, they seek to halt its path before the genestealers infesting the derelict can bring ruin to more worlds. However, something immeasurably dangerous and valuable lurks within, sought by a brilliant but ruthless servant of the Mechanicus…
While this may sound like an interesting plot, the concepts behind it are hamstrung severely by the execution. Foremost among these is the structural and pacing problems within the tale. While the novel actually gets off to a fairly solid start, once the terminators board the vessel things unfortunately start to unravel.
The entire initial excursion fails to truly gel with later events and, despite a number of plot crucial moments onboard the fleet, it comes across as a false start. With the group only there as a precursor to the major assault, the whole event feels as if it should have taken a far shorter time. There are no truly major revelations which justify dragging out the operationand the time isn’t even taken to introduce the villain beyond a fleeting hint. As a result you’re just waiting for the novel to hurry up get to the meat of the plot. Unfortunately when it finally does, the novel rushes through it at twice the speed of the previous excursion but without anywhere near as much detail in the combat.
Unfortunately poor structuring and pacing are not the novel’s only problems. Many environments lack distinction and become formless voids due to a lack of detail, and the action lacks the punch it needs. The writing is very focused upon the technical aspects and details of the equipment rather than using more poetic terms. While this benefits the work in some respects, making it one of the very few books to actually treat terminator armour as an actual powered suit of machinery, it unfortunately detracts from many other elements. Far too often, rather than utilising emotive language, it instead features details which are simply stated to be there. It’s not so much telling the story, selling it to the reader, as it is stating what is there.
Unfortunately this flaw also carries over to the characters themselves. Beyond their chapter/organisation and occasionally their rank, the personalities of each astartes are completely interchangeable. Each with an extremely basic and very dry personality which fails to offer any figure to connect with, and even the one or two exceptions to this are hardly outstanding figures. It could be argued that this has been intentionally done to reflect the lack of human traits within the Mechanicus or psycho-indoctrination of the space marines, but we’ve also seen this done far better in other tales.
What doesn’t help atop all of this is that, while Haley has obviously done his homework, he seems to have taken details from less than accurate sources. The most glaring of these Novamarines share attitudes seen in Ultramarines successors in the fifth edition Codex: Space Marines. Rather than having a true identity unto themselves, they behave as little more than subservient extensions of the Ultramarines’ power. Lacking truly characterising traditions and seeing themselves as a separate force, the chapter seems to constantly be “remembering Macragge” and members seem to view themselves as less than their progenitor. This is highlighted specifically in a conversation between Novamarines and Blood Drinkers representatives. The Blood Drinkers themselves follow the “WE’RE CORRUPT! WE’RE DOOMED! WE’RE DYING OUT!” mentality which was ramped up to the Nth degree in all of Sanguinius’ chapters the last Codex: Blood Angels. However, at least in that case it’s presented as an individual trait to some degree. It’s unfortunately this aspect which prevents this novel from being recommended as a source of inspiration about one faction like Daemon World.
Then of course there is the last second reveal of the book’s villain whose reveal is crammed down into a third of the space it should have taken. It’s one who the idea behind seemed great, but the novel ultimately lacks the focus and detail to fully explore as much as it should.
All this said, while Death of Integrity might be a poor novel, it’s mostly one which looks as if it needed a few more re-writes and still retains a good few qualities. As with the terminator armour, the bigger details and ideas are handled quite well and with far more convincing effectiveness than by other authors. While the novel might be lacking when it comes down to the action and characterisation, the planning and technical aspects are all spot on. This is most evidently seen in the massive joint operation to clear out the hulk, and the rare justification for sending terminators against genestealers. There were ideas here which were good, but the execution was ultimately lacking.
If you want to see a good Imperial story by Guy Haley, give Baneblade a look as it plays towards his strengths. If you want to see a novel which has the same end goal and reveal as this one, but does it far better, Ben Counter’s Dark Mechanicus is the way to go. Death of Integrity though? Skip it.