The Siege of Castellax by C.L Werner – Advance Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the exceptional 40k debut of C.L Werner with The Siege of Castellax, the first of hopefully many Chaos Space Marine Battles books.
“Werner brings the dark humour and memorable villains he’s notable for and is let loose in 40k, and produces a stunning novel that will definitely delight his fans and win him many more.” – The Founding Fields
All my readers will know that i’m a big C.L Werner fan, Grey Seer Thanquol is my favourite fictional character and i’ve read practically everything by him that I could get my hands on. So when I found out he was writing a Chaos Space Marines Battles bo0k involving the Iron Warriors I was beyond overjoyed. One of my two favourite authors writing about one of my two favourite Legions against an enemy even more brutal, sometimes, than they are?? I was on board the second I saw the name, the contents just made it even better.
War has come to Castellax. As slaves scream under the lash and the factories of this damned world churn out weapons for warlords on uncaring Medrengard its skies are filled with the ramshackle craft of the Orks. Waaagh! Biglug has come to smash the Iron Warriors from their fortresses and plunder their factories, but the Iron Warriors will never surrender to filthy xenos. But with rivalries between commanders fracturing the Legion, tech-priests meeting in secret in the sewers and mutterings of discontentment from the slaves, the Third Grand Company is in dire straits as they march to war.
Now TSoC is different from all the other SMB books not only because it uses Chaos Space Marines but also because Castellax itself is an unresolved battle in the Codex. Thus Werner was able to make his own ending to go with the story, which is of course fantastic and everything that we can expect from him. Dark and unrelenting with an undercurrent of black humour and plenty of memorable villains who steal the spotlight from the heroes, though this book has none of the latter. I was lucky enough to discuss this book with Werner many months ago and I was amazed by the aspects of the story that he showed me, specifically the Flesh and Iron theme and the idea of villains clashing against each other with no good guys in sight. Werner tells a grimdark tale, though admittedly not as grimdark as Wrath of Iron, that is interspersed with enough dark humour to keep it from becoming bleak, and has everything that makes 40k great, including a frantic train chase and Space Marines trying to fly an Ork plane.
Villainous characters are a strong suit of Werner’s. From Thanquol to Carandini to Puskab Foulfur he writes the bad guys well, making them cool and enjoyable despite having no redeeming qualities. Such is the maxim for the Iron Warriors of TSoC, you won’t find any tragically sympathetic Night Lords or evil yet engaging and funny Word Bearers here, or even the never-give-up-loveable-bastards Iron Warriors of Honsou. These are the cruel and callous Chaos Space Marines we see on the other side of so many Imperial Space Marine books, the guys who torture and kill slaves for nothing, who hate each other and conspire to murder their brothers and ruin their careers and who are scarecly any better than the monsters they are fighting. And even his human characters are not heroes, they are either the poor wretches who are caught up in a war between monsters or the Flesh that has been beaten and twisted into service to the Iron Warriors and who aren’t evil but are definitely not good. It is this dynamic that sets TSoC apart from other CSM books and proves why Werner is a perfect choice to write Chaos Space Marine stories, he can make them evil as hell and still make the reader think they are awesome.
The action is visceral as you could only have in a story where evil demi-gods battle roaring green monsters across a planet practically made of pollution. The Iron Warriors are powerful, and as Raptors are the main CSM characters their aerial tactics and close range combat is featured heavily and feels very brutal. And of course the real Siege itself is amazing, the Orks arrayed against the Iron Warriors and their Flesh make for a grim picture as the Orks get to showcase all of their demented warmachines and their odd yet effective way of making war. But the real standouts are the fights of Captain Rhodaan and Brother Merihem, the Raptor Captain’s winged jet-pack and plasma pistol/chainsword combo make his fights feel really unique and Merihem’s are just overkill on every page, but when your an Obliterator that’s practically made of weapons that is inevitable. The Flesh get some good moments as well, as it’s very fascinating to see how barely trained slaves and poorly armed janissaries fight against some of the most brutal aliens in the galaxy, though one particular jannissary was quite a badass and actually shows how said slaves and janissaries can do a good job.
The pacing of the book is nicely written. The chapters are numbered on days, specially how many days before and after Invasion Day it has been. Because of this the book moves at a very good speed yet makes you aware of how much the siege is dragging on, the time that it takes to conquer a planet and allows for time and more events to take place without feeling like the novel is being sped up to get to the good stuff or going too slowly to keep the reader’s interest. The character development, plot twists and action scenes will keep the reader engrossed as the Siege and all the background events unfold. And it wouldn’t be a Werner book without a reference to his other work, this time it’s a cameo from a familiar face who actually plays an important role in the one charater’s plans even if he doesn’t realise it. And one other thing that I greatly enjoyed about the book was Werner’s Orks, not only does he make them fearsome and a force to be reckoned with, he manages to throw in the little stuff that makes us laugh like an Ork Painboy who wears glasses and a cigar-chompin’ gunner, a nice mix for those who like the fearsome Orks and those who like the funny Orks.
Now for my favourite quote, a few stand out though sadly many of them are long conversations and quotations, but this one had me bursting with laughter and is definitely my favourite of the book,
“For a homicidal sociopath, you talk too much.”
The ending is surprising, and impressively done. As Werner was able to write his own ending to the battle you cannot predict how the Siege of Castellax will be won. Will the Iron triumph? Or will the xenos grind them all into the dirt? The outcome surprised me, and wrapped up the various plot-lines nicely and in all cases very satisfyingly, cruelly so in two particular cases. I particularly enjoyed how Rhodaan’s story ended, and the stories of Brother Merihem, Brother Gomorie and the slave Yuxiang. This is a brilliant debut for C.L Werner into 40k and I say it’s time he be let loose fully into 40k and work on some more Chaos Space Marine book and perhaps some Ork stories, he really does write undeniably evil villains better than any other BL author which makes him the best choice to delve into the darkest parts of 40k.
For a top-notch story, some of the best CSM characters yet written, and for Werner’s first 40k novel being such a marvellous enjoyment I give The Siege of Castellax a 10/10. This is a story that no fan of the Chaos Space Marines can allow themselves to miss, or any fan of the SMB series and if your on the fence about either, this book will hopefully sway you. I would even recommend TSoC to any who have not enjoyed the SMB series thus far, it’s that good in my opinion and if not the best, though I think it is, is definitely in the Top 3 of the series.
That’s it for this review, it’s been a blast writing it. For my next review I will be delving into the Vampire Counts before they were the Vampire Counts with Josh Reynolds’ Time of Legends: Neferata. So until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX! IRON WITHIN! IRON WITHOUT!