Priests of Mars by Graham McNeill – Book Review [Bane of Kings]


Bane of Kings writes a review of Priests of Mars, a Warhammer 40k novel written by Graham McNeill and published by Black Library.

“An original 40k novel with an interesting premise and superb delivery. McNeill is on top form.”~The Founding Fields

I’d like to start off this review by talking about the cover art. It’s superb, isn’t it? It’s certainly eye-catching, and it looks particularly awesome in hardback. And as it’s Graham McNeill, I was 70% sure that I was going to enjoy what was within Priests of Mars. I say 70% because although I’ve enjoyed a lot of his novels, there were a few blunders. Courage and Honour, The Chapter’s Due, I’m looking at you. But what you get with Priests of Mars though, is something different. Something that even hardcore Black Library readers will find new, refreshing and engaging. Utilising a variety of the Imperial factions and seeing the return of an old soldier from one of McNeill’s previous books (It’s mentioned on Black Library’s website here, so technically it isn’t a spoiler) added to the enjoyment factor, particularly as we got to see Black Templars in action, something that we don’t see a lot of these days (Helsreach by ADB excluded).

Legend tells of a foolhardy expedition, led by the radical Magos Telok, which ventured out into the unknown space beyond the Halo Worlds in search of the ‘Breath of the Gods’ – an arcane device with the power to unmake and reshape the very stars themselves. Thousands of years later, the ambitious Lexell Kotov musters his Adeptus Mechanicus Explorator fleet and sets out to follow in mad old Telok’s footsteps. With the might of the Imperial Guard and the Space Marines to augment his own forces, he searches for the hidden clues which will lead him to greatest power that the galaxy has ever known. But who knows what ancient perils may yet lie outside the Imperium and the dominion of mankind?

So, Priests of Mars is certainly ambitious, and an original tale so far as 40k stories go. It’s as close as a fully-blown Space Opera in 40k that I’ve read so far, and in my opinion, it succeeds.  McNeill’s latest offering is engaging, varied and as it’s been a while since I last reviewed anything published by Black Library, I really enjoyed what I got here. When I say varied, I mean that as well as the action being different all the way through, we also get a wide variety of characters participating in the conflict. Everything from Titans to standard Guardsmen we get to see in action here, and McNeill weaves a grand tale to add to the enjoyment.

This is a wonderful novel. Fans of McNeill who have been disappointed by The Outcast Dead, Courage and Honour and The Chapter’s Due will love Priests of Mars. It’s a delightful display of form for one of Black Library’s most-renowned authors, that shows us why he’s often heralded as the top three out there, along with Aaron Dembski-Bowden and Dan Abnett by fans. Priests of Mars is certainly worthy of being a hardback, and should be brought as soon as possible, even if you want to wait for the paperback.

Priests of Mars is a very different 40k novel for what regular readers will be used to. Don’t get me wrong, It’s still recognizably 40k, but rather than tell the tale of a siege, a battle or a series of engagements for a planet, McNeill has produced a space-exploration novel. We’re entering uncharted territory here folks. Here be Dragons. Priests of Mars does offer a potentially big plot, and you’ll be pleased to see that it delivers spectacularly. Despite the relativity slow pace, Priests of Mars keeps the reader enthralled and unwilling to put it down.

The cast of this novel is huge. As McNeill covers a lot characters, we spend the opening part of the book getting introduced to our dramatis personae one by one. As mentioned earlier, we’re reunited with an old friend, introduced to some Black Templars, and  a variety of other cast including Arch Magos Kotov himself. There’s even an appearance of an ex-Ultramar resident named Roboute (no, not the Primarch), who has become a Rogue Trader. Kotov, Julius Hawke (yes, that Julius Hawke, the Imperial Guardsman from Storm of Iron), the Bondsman Abrehem, and many others. These are the main characters that get the most page time, but there’s also plenty of others featuring as well, with the Black Templars featuring almost as often as the humans (and the Mechanicus). Whilst this tale will probably not be the best place to start for the newcomers to the Warhammer 40,000 Universe, it’s certainly a delight to read for returning fans.

If you’re a 40k fan looking for something fresh, then Priests of Mars may be for you. It’s McNeill’s best Black Library novel since A Thousand Sons, and his best Warhammer 40k novel since Dead Sky, Black Sun. And the best part is, it’s not a standalone. We’re getting more from Arch Magos Kotov and his expedition hopefully later next year, probably in August with Lords of Mars. (Not confirmed date). I found very little wrong with Priests of Mars, it’s a character driven novel that is executed brilliantly.

Verdict: 4.5/5


Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer