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Bellarius looks at the latest Grey Knights release, giving a few thoughts on Sons of Titan by David Annandale.
“An unfortunate disappointment with a few gems sprinkled in.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
At first this seems like a match made in heaven. Whatever you think of Annandale as a writer, he’s a man who has an obvious love for the Warp and all its weird creations. His best known novels have focused entirely upon the war between the Imperium and Chaos, often going into a greater detail than many contemporaries and he favours conspiracies, mysteries and old secrets. So, letting him take charge of a Grey Knights novel seemed to make sense, which is why it’s sad this is a misfire. It’s not bizarre, it’s not even hard to pin down where it went wrong, but it’s still disheartening.
The story here ties into the ongoing Ork WAAAGH! invading the Sanctus Reach, with the Grey Knights racing to a world caught in its path. Lacking the marines and resources to hold it, nevertheless they are moving at the behest of the Inquisition to intercept a potential threat arising there, they find not only orks, but retired Guardsmen and a Ordo Xenos vessel. Differing factions of the Inquisition are soon to lock horns, and far worse machinations are at work than the orks.
From that, you can guess that Chaos is at work. It’s a Grey Knights novel, Chaos is going to show up and daemons will flood into the world. Even without that, when you have a radical Inquisitor poking about old ritualistic ruins, you know a daemon prince is going to emerge sooner rather than later. Well, the problem is that the book seems to somehow think that this is still a surprise. Most of the opening novella – the book consisting of one novella and several short stories – drags its events out. There’s only some serious Chaos on Grey Knight action right at the very end, no doubt disappointing neckbeards everywhere who came for some fast and violent brawling. Instead the astartes are stuck fighting the orks, and they make a poor substitute.
Annandale seems to be unable to bring them to life as he does daemons, and lacks Steve Parker’s brutal edge when it comes to depicting them. As such, they are given a general presentation of what you’d expect but it reads as something entirely uninspired. They also die a great deal, and while the book does present them as a very lethal threat to both the astartes and Guardsmen and inflict serious casualties, they die in droves. Beyond a rather spectacular but all too brief void battle, they never seem to seriously harm the Grey Knights, and never feel like anything besides a secondary threat. This sadly makes much of the combat all too dull and the book feels like it’s spinning its wheels, not helped by the fact that describing a continually oncoming horde can only be done so many times before it becomes repetitive.
The only real points which stand out in this part of the book are minor ones, characterising ones, secondary bits which do help in some regards. Showing the Grey Knights as having next to zero tolerance for radicalist elements is another major step along the road towards repairing what the Fifth Edition did to them. Their hectic, uncertain nature and major risks are a big part of what makes up the novel, along with having to operate by vague prophecies was interesting. Plus, once it actually gets to using Chaos, there’s some fun scenes involving its corrupting nature and commentary upon how the Imperium has categorized its types into ordered variants. Unfortunately though, these are just additional flavour. You can praise the spices all you want but when the meat of the book is bland, it feels like you’re damning it with faint praise.
It hardly helps that we’ve seen a lot of the core ideas done before and handled far better by Ben Counter. It’s only compounded by the fact that, by the end, I honestly couldn’t remember the names of any characters. None of the Knights stood out and beyond the main villain, the former Guardsmen, and both Inquisitors, no one felt all that engaging to the narrative. As the big opening story, it could have been an excellent character piece, opening the way for the shorter stories to be more action focused with the core characters now established. Instead though, the short stories just become as unremarkable as the main one.
There’s little else to really be said here, as at its best it’s just not very fun or engaging. The best of the bunch, and the closest Annandale seems to have been given to really try and be creative, has also been sold separately as an audio drama: Blade of Purity. Give that one a look if you like Annandale’s previous work, but you should probably avoid this one unless you’re hard up for some good background information on the Knights.