Lords of Mars by Graham McNeill – Book Review [Bellarius]


After some delay, Bellarius returns to Graham McNeill’s Mechanicus saga with Lords of Mars.

“A solid follow-up to Priests of Mars, with great characters and serving its purpose well but leaves you wanting.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

Do you ever get the feeling as if a single story was stretched out to cover multiple instalments? You know, when you’re watching something and it just feels as if every new part you see is an extended act of a tale. That’s almost what Lords of Mars feels like. In the review of Priests of Mars it was noted that the tale felt less like the plot of a book and more like it was simply Part 1 of a tale. That carries on here, with Lords of Mars seeming less like a novel and more like “Priests of Mars: Act Two”.

Following on from the climactic events of the last book, the Explorator Fleet of Magos Kotov orbits the newly discovered territory beyond the Halo Worlds. The single distress signal emanating from the planet they now orbit is their one clue to hunting down the last Imperial ships which braved this unknown region of space. Even as tensions flare between the overworked crews of the massive Ark Mechanicus and their masters, the vanguard deployed soon discovers a heresy beyond comprehension…

As you might have guessed from that opening, if you’ve not read Priests of Mars you will likely be lost here. While there is a brief recap covering the events of the last book, many character introductions and relationships go unmentioned along with many need-to-know elements. This will lock out any new readers, but it does mean that the story gets to the point very quickly placing too much emphasis upon reintroductions.

While characters such as the Black Templars are quickly covered again with brief mentions commenting upon their scars and changes from the last story, this is more character development than anything else. Their perceived curse continues to haunt them at every turn and given their losses last time it is only right time be given to looking at their reactions. It speeds things up and means that, when this series is inevitably released on omnibus form, it can be read as a whole story.

The characters themselves remain as strong as ever, each with their own personal quirks and touches which make certain sections from their perspective distinct. Whether it be Robute’s perceived superiority of those born of Ultramar or Kotov’s overriding ambition, there is more than enough here to keep any reader interested. While certain elements have lost focus, this is only to help include certain other ideas and deal with events building up for some time. As such while the Templars and demi-Legion of Titans remain mostly in the background after the first chapters, it’s only to let someone else have the spotlight. Plus it’s hardly as if they have been completely forgotten and they still follow their own independent subplots.

The action additionally remains consistent here as it did with the last tale. Mostly reserved for big pieces or occasionally delivered through disasters than full conflict, it makes sure that the pace rarely drags. Unfortunately while this might provide excitement, there are times when the action almost feels as if it is getting in the way of a more interesting tale or is somewhat forced. A surprisingly large scale battle is soon added to the story very soon after the novel begins which feels out of place. As the start of a new novel it needed a bit more build up, and as part of an on-going story it follows on very soon after a much more impressive major engagement. Too many times these feel as if McNeill had added them out of perceived requirement to fulfil the novel’s required quota of bolter porn.

A further issue that that many of the points brought up within the story are not resolved or directly discussed. While there are some very interesting revelations and character moments, all of which easily justify this book’s worth despite its flaws, too often they seem to only be set-up for later on. While certain elements like the mutiny are resolved to varying degrees of success and give the characters something to react to, others are just ignored. Combined with the revelations provided in the final few chapters, it’s obvious a great deal of this book is just set-up for Gods of Mars.

As stated in the opening, this really is act two of a much bigger tale. In that respect it works perfectly fine, but as a story on its own it leaves a great deal to be desired and offers little to those who did not read Priests of Mars. While recommended for the character interaction, wide assortment of figures and a very interesting plot hook, too much payoff here is being saved for the finale of this trilogy.

Verdict: 6.8/10


Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
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