Legends beget legends. But they all have to begin somewhere. In David Annandale’s The Hunt For Vulkan, we saw the beginnings of the latest legend-in-making when Inquisitor Veritus sent Chapter Master Koorland to a planet of legend to find a living legend in the form of the Primarch Vulkan. In the process, the novel itself became a legendary story about honour, oaths, duty and service. As I’ve said so many times in reviews of the previous novels, The Hunt For Vulkan laid the foundation of what was to follow.
And follow Gav Thorpe’s The Beast Must Die did. With the return of Vulkan to the highest levels of the Imperium, the stage has been set for an explosive confrontation with the Orks and their new warlord, the Beast. Legend must now fight legend at a location that is itself legendary. As Vulkan often says in this novel, there is a certain pattern to events, and those who are attuned to these patterns stand to benefit the most. Following on from his last outing in the series with The Emperor Expects, Gav delivers yet another masterpiece that does justice to the characters involved.
Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.
There is a quote somewhere in fiction that in defeat are sown the seeds of victory. That idea encapsulates perfectly what the Orks in this series have been up to. Fifteen hundred years ago during the Great Crusade they suffered their greatest defeat in history in the Ullanor system at the hands of the forces of the nascent Imperium led by the Emperor himself. And yet, inevitably, they turned that defeat into victory. They rose again. They evolved both in technology and culture and became a galactic threat once again, enough so that they laid waste to countless sectors, thousands of worlds, and brought the Imperial Fists to their knees, reduced to just a single Astartes.
And yet, in these defeats the Imperium has found the seeds of victory with the miraculous survival of Captain Koorland of the Imperial Fists, now a Chapter Master without a Chapter. He has called the successors of his Chapter to form the Last Wall which has already seen some victories against the Orks. The Imperial Navy has also managed to score a victory or two. And now they have the Primarch Vulkan on their side, ready to lead them on a cataclysmic campaign against the Beast of Ullanor, at the head of a massive army unseen since the days of the Great Crusade itself!
I have said of some of the novels before that they were incredibly focused in the narrative that they chose to shine a light on. A very valid argument at the time. The Beast Must Die however puts them all to shame in that regard, and in a good way I might add. One of the most fascinating elements of the series has been the politics that have defined the conflict, both on Terra and outside of it. In this novel however, Gav downplays the politics completely. With Vulkan leading the Imperium for the moment, the politics amongst the High Lords are null and void as he asserts his will and even educates some of the High Twelve on their proper duties and roles. Taking place over just one brief Chapter, it nevertheless packs a punch because we get to see some great little moments, especially with regards to Ecclesiarch Mesring and the Imperial Creed as it pertains to the divinity of the Emperor. The brief touch rankled a little bit since I wanted to see more of it played out and because there is just so much damn potential here, but sadly it was not to be.
However, Gav more than makes up for all that once the unified Imperial forces begin their attack on Ullanor. As with The Hunt For Vulkan before it, this novel is non-stop action. In-your-face brutal action as only a Primarch leading an army of Astartes can do. Everything is as I expected it to be. Vulkan is once again a reaper of Ork souls, slaying left and right with abandon. Koorland, Thane of the Fists Exemplar, Valefor of the Blood Angels and all the other senior Astartes lead their respective forces through some of the most intense combat scenes that were nail-biting and edge-of-your-seat.
If anything, the one big surprise was the relationship between Vulkan and Koorland. Though Vulkan is the nominal head of the forces assaulting Ullanor, he still keeps Koorland as the Lord Commander and the one to dictate their strategy and tactics, taking a very hands-off approach himself. I think it added a lot to the subtlety of Vulkan’s character and how he sees himself in these new and different times that are unlike those of the Great Crusade and the Heresy. We already know from both the Heresy and the M41 era that he was a believer in myths and legends and signs. He attempts to impart some of his knowledge of such to Koorland, in a very mentor sort of way and I really liked that. He wasn’t just a big beefy and nigh-unkillable warrior, but something much more. It made for a great change of pace and to see Koorland grow further as a character was also heartening. He’s becoming a strong protagonist for sure.
Another thing was that we also got to see some more psyker action. Before the Imperials attack Ullanor itself, the various Librarians of the Astartes gather to gain more information and such. What follows is another highlight of the series, though a cautionary one. The Orks are a rather inimical species to those they inhabit the galaxy alongside and as such their psychic powers are also on a whole another level. This is something that Gav explores well in the novel, though of course he doesn’t give the whole deal, since that will be provided later on in the next three novels after this one (at the time of writing this review I’ve finished the series). It is an aspect that I expected to be touched upon and wasn’t disappointed by.
The true gem of the novel however is in the description of Ullanor itself. We never saw how the Emperor and Horus prosecuted the Ullanor Campaign during the Great Crusade. We know only of the Triumph that followed and how the Emperor declared that He would step down from his war duties and promoted Horus as Warmaster in his place. We know only that the Cult Mechanicus redefined the geography of the planet to hold this Triumph. We knew little more. Until now. Gav explores how the resurgent Orks have changed the planet to suit their own needs. They have become craftier and more sophisticated than when the Imperium last clashed with them in that legendary era. They have appropriated the memories of the Triumph for their own use. It was a stark reminder at how devious and an incessant threat that they can be. Kudos all around to Gav for these details. They completed a very necessary picture of the Orkish evolution and I’m really glad that he got the chance to do this. You really have to read it to get the full impact of it because no matter how many words I write to describe all of it, I cannot do it justice.
And of course, as the title says, there’s a pretty big confrontation in the end between Vulkan and his senior Astartes warriors and the retinue of the Great Beast of Ullanor. More heart-wrenching action with some highly detailed play-by-plays. And the Beast, its well and truly the Great Beast, deserving of his moniker and deserving as well of the terror it has spread throughout the Imperium and beyond. Fantastic reading.
As befits an action-heavy novel like this, the pace is frenetic and never really lets up. It is almost like an acute sugar-rush in many ways. You just won’t want to put down the novel once you get stuck in by the fourth chapter. That was certainly my experience as I finished the novel in less than 24 hours of picking it up. A glorious installment in what has proven to be a great series. And it just raises my expectations for David Annandale’s next book in the series (his third!) The Watchers In Death. For my money’s worth, this was practically a perfect novel.
More Gav Thorpe and The Beast Arises:
- The Beast Arises#1: I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett (Review)
- The Beast Arises #2: Predator, Prey by Rob Sanders (Review)
- The Beast Arises #3: The Emperor Expects by Gav Thorpe (Review)
- The Beast Arises #4: The Last Wall by David Annandale (Review)
- The Beast Arises #5: Throneworld by Guy Haley (Review)
- The Beast Arises #6: Echoes of the Long War by David Guymer (Review)
- The Beast Arises #7: The Hunt For Vulkan by David Annandale (Review)
- Path of the Eldar #1: Path of the Warrior (Review)
- Eldar: Howl of The Banshee (Review)
- Legacy of Caliban #1: Ravenwing (Review)
- Legacy of Caliban #2: Master of Sanctity (Review)
- Ullsaard #1: Crown of the Blood (Review)
- Ullsaard #2: Crown of the Conqueror (Review)