Siege of Castellax by C L Werner – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius takes a look at Siege of Castellax by C L Werner to see if it can do its legion justice.
“Orks – Great. Iron Warriors – Terrible.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Another book in the long running Space Marine Battles series, Siege of Castellax shifts focus to the traitor legions. Having long since liberated the planet from the Imperium of Man, the Iron Warriors Third Grand Company holds dominion over countless billions of slaves. With the mineral rich planet being continually strip mined for its wealth to supply their forces on Medrengard, they soon find themselves under threat by a massive Ork WAAAGH! With their pride preventing them summoning reinforcements, the Iron Warriors will soon learn if their legendary resolve is enough to withstand this foe…
Along with the Night Lords and Word Bearers, the Iron Warriors are the most popular Chaos faction used by writers. It’s easy to see why as well. With a very different attitude to Chaos, a callous disregard for life and an iron discipline many legions have since lost, they’re an interesting force to see written about. The success and popularity of Storm of Iron definitely helped in this regard. Siege of Castellax wears that inspiration on its sleeve, both to its benefit and determent. You can easily see the scope and many aspects of that book reflected here despite the Legio IV serving in a defensive role.
The siege itself is conducted in stages, initially encountering and engaging the orks in the void and then attempting to contain them at various landing points. At every turn the Iron Warriors and their regiments are seen attempting to combat them as best they can and draw up new defensive lines. Along with being an excellent sign of an escalating conflict, we see this through the eyes of many individuals. While the many astartes of the Iron Warriors themselves are at the forefront of this, a number of slaves and soldiers also serve as viewpoint characters.
The book gives some scale to events as you would expect with such a varied focus, but plays up the angle of the astartes’ traitorous nature and the effects of their rule through fear and obedience. The various captains within the Third Grand Company are constantly fighting among themselves, constantly vying for power while at the same time adhering to an odd kind of code. The almost casual nature of their brutality and unwarranted acts of violence to simply remind the humans who commands them are quite often effective, and remind you why rebellion seemed like an impossibility.
Despite these qualities, easily the most interesting aspects of the book are when the try to explore the world itself and how Castallex has operated for years. Very early on the book goes into detail on how certain vessels have taken trophies from stricken ships, Castellex itself has become a polluted hellhole without any pure water and is less a fortress than a massive manifactorum. It gives some idea of the planet’s inner workings and just how life itself developed there; showing a new aspect to Iron Warriors’ operations away from true fortresses. Unfortunately once the book departs from these details very early on major problems start to appear.
Much of the book feels as if it was written with Storm of Iron used as a reference without fully understanding many events behind it. While a similar story structure and even certain ideas being taken are acceptable replications, at many points ideas are lifted wholesale. A certain scene with a surface to orbit weapon and sub-plot with a Tech Priest are extremely similar, as is the constant overconfidence of the defenders.
The problem is that, while these ideas worked in the previous book, they are not nearly as effective here.
Take for example Warsmith Andraaz. Despite being the ruler of the world and a leader without equals, he barely involves himself with even basic planning of defending the planet. While the Warsmith of Storm of Iron had legitimate reasons for remaining outside the conflict, Andraaz has no such defense. It simply makes him look lazy and an ineffective leader unwilling to get his hands dirty. This is something only made worse when it’s revealed there are barely sixty Iron Warriors on the whole planet, yet he an his elite terminators do little to nothing against the orks.
The same problem is evident with the politics within the Grand Company. All too often it seems to be overriding their efforts to actually defeat the orks. Even as their entire world is being demolished around them, the traitors’ attention is less upon the orks and more about how they can one-up one another for favour. The book establishes the reason the Third Grand Company is so under strength is thanks to previous infighting, and it just ends up making the Iron Warriors look like halfwits who cannot focus upon a true threat.
In fact, far too many times it feels as if the servants of the Dark Gods are being played for laughs rather than as a force to be contended with. One millennia old superhuman warrior in service to Chaos is slapped across the head, declaring “Ow!” in response. A pilot of an advanced Iron Warriors’ fighter dies effectively delivering a one liner worthy of a rimshot. Worse still, one Iron Warrior is crippled by what is effectively a light tap to the head through his helm. This is a level of obscenity even Vulkan Lives never achieved. If anything this book seems to be a counter point against other depictions of the Iron Warriors by showing them here as blithering incompetents.
Another problem is actually showing the real scale and focus of the war. While the book does give a sense of escalation with the orks overcoming every bastion and defense placed in their way, it lacks impact thanks to how it is established. Rather than introducing certain locations very early on only for them to gradually be overcome by the orks or besieged, they are demolished within paragraphs of being shown to the reader for the first time. You have no time to take them into account or really be surprised by their fall because you’re barely aware they even existed on the planet.
Oh, and the editing reaches the point of ludicrous when a character suddenly turns into a Techmarine for the final chapters.
The only thing which really saves Siege of Castellax is its depiction of the orks. One of three factions traditionally wheeled out to serve as punching bags for bigger foes, they are very rarely used as a true threat. Here you’re given a real impression of them being a true threat on par with the tyranids and just why they are so often thought as the force who truly rules the stars. Unfortunately, it’s not really enough to truly justify the price here.
This book really needed to be better thought out and its elements reworked until they truly felt as if they were truly fine tuned. Skip it unless you truly want a positive example of how an Ork WAAAGH! can operate against a foe like Chaos.