Devouerer by Joe Parrino – Novella Review [Bellarius]
With another Black Library release in his hands, Bellarius focuses upon the larger problems dominating Joe Parrino’s Devourer, and its wasted potential.
“Sadly a textbook example of how much conflict and focus upon violence can drown out good world-building.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
The problem going into this story is that, right from the word go you can tell it’s completely the wrong type of tale for this format. Novellas have been hit and miss in the pass with Black Library, and it’s not hard to see where those misses stemmed from. The unsuccessful ones overburdened themselves, trying to tell too vast a story with too many characters and perspectives at once, without streamlining itself. Daenyathos, Masque of Vyle, and the more renowned ones all did this, following a single straight forwards event rather than anything too vastly broad. The only one which has gotten away with this so far is Eater of Worlds, and even that was only thanks to an extended length and primarily focusing upon two groups of characters. Devourer though? You have three major parties, several major ambitions, and entire war and at the same time trying to present a completely alien perspective. Mashed together and compressed as they are, what we’re let with is an overstuffed and overburdened tale which would have been far better suited to a full novel, or ditching two of the major protagonists.
The story ties into Games Workshop’s Shield of Baal event, and serves as an infamously similar moment where a Necron Dynasty allied itself with the Blood Angels during a war with the Tyranids. Having traveled to the Cryptus System as it is beset by the a tendril of Hive Fleet Leviathan, Anrakyr the Traveller seeks to awaken another Tomb Complex and add its warriors to his cause. Even as the slumbering immortals awaken, Anrakyr finds himself fighting a three way war between himself, the Tyranids and a band of Blood Angels tasked with defending this world. War, as ever, has a habit of making the strangest of bedfellows…
The bulk of the story revolves around Anrakyr as he tries to hold the world, Cryptek Valnyr as she is awoken from within her tomb, and the rest surrounding Sergeant Jatiel of the Blood Angels. The reason I say “the rest” is that Jatiel’s tale is sadly tacked onto the story, contributing little to the tale itself until the final couple of paragraphs. The fact is that this story could have been done completely without the astartes and it would have been all the stronger. It’s somewhat unfortunate as this is one of the few tales involving them where their every last characteristic isn’t defined by their primarch and twin curses, but there’s really little actually to them. Removing them and replacing their arc would have strengthened the tale considerably by focusing purely upon the necrons for a number of reasons, chiefly to help develop the ideas behind them.
What proves to be relentlessly frustrating throughout the entire tale is how the necrons themselves waver on the edge of being truly interesting. We have two completely separate Dyansties meeting one another for the first time, one awakening for the first time in millennia and the other combating what should be entirely new threats. Yet for all this we only catch brief shades of what could be a stronger tale. There’s interesting moments to be sure where the story throws up some solid questions. After awakening a number of necrons wonder how many of their people have survived and if the Webway is even intact, while others accompanying Anrakyr have been noted to have traversed the galaxy for countless centuries before he began his personal crusade. Atop of this, there are shades and moments where we start to see where the more differing ideas and concepts which might help to truly better depict the race from an inwards perspective (well, to do so without them treating the scenery as a gourmet dish anyway) but then the book starts to make mistakes. It starts calling the Tyranids just as “Tyranids” when there’s no actual reason for them to do so, and it’s the same with the astartes. Well, no, not even that as “astartes” might have some weight rather than just Space Marines over and over again. This basic element does a lot to rob the story of any feeling that these are alien ancient robots rather than dressed up humans, and it only gets worse from there.
Both of the necron protagonists have little actual opportunity to (no pun intended) become fleshed out, often boiling down to a few general characteristics. Anrakyr is arrogant, almost spiteful at times and driven, but he’s very two dimensional here and it honestly seems that his accompanying necron advisers are the more interesting characters. It’s only made worse when his dialogue and thoughts can be sadly cliched at times, with his clipped statements and repeatedly commenting upon the repugnant nature of organic beings hardly helping. Valnyr is little better, as despite her prominent role within the Tomb Complex she never impresses upon the reader as being a figure in control or a position of power. With more time, more pages and spacing there might have been a chance to properly depict this between her alarmed awakening and the horror of discovering that flayers are among them, but it’s so squashed in that she just seems powerless. Rather than character moments, we just get a constant chase with no moment to really let up on the action or explore things.
Even the action here is very mixed from the start. Some moments are good, but others are surprisingly poor. The big failing often tends to be trying to depict massive armies acting or fighting at once, as a lot of the bigger bits tend to be skipped over or described in very general details. Parrino has always succeeded when it comes to smaller focus tales like an Inquisitorial strike group, a lone Librarian or even duels, and a full blown planetary invasion just doesn’t come across well here. The scale of Leviathan’s invasion is never delivered with much impact from Anrakyr’s perspective, and a lot of elements here seem all too conveniently tied up or added via sudden suggestions by side characters.
It needs to be stressed that there was a good story in here, but it was buried beneath overstuffed storytelling, a demand for action, and a non-ending which seems to just tie into another book. It would be fantastic to see this author be given a real chance to map out and cover the necrons in a book where they were the sole focus, but for this one it’s not worth your time really. Perhaps consider it if you’re die hard necron fan and you want a few good ideas or concepts, but otherwise skip this one.