Hello again to you all in 2020! I hope you had a good night on Hogmanay and now it is time for me to begin my first review of the new decade! I really wasn’t sure where to begin until it dawned on me. For most of the post-Christmas period up until New Year I was on a rather extensive Black Library/Warhammer listening kick. For heaven’s sake I got through three quite large audiobooks in the space of a week. And so I shall review my favourite of the three stories in question.
Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (ADB for short when discussed by many) is a very engaging read and listen. The story can be considered something of 40K in microcosm. The general plot is as follows: The world of Armageddon is under assault. An uncountable army of alien ork (That is how they spell it in this setting) creatures have began to lay siege to the entire sector. The Black Templars chapter of Space Marines are among those sent to defend the world. Part of the largest fleet of ships, soldiers and everything else gathered in hundreds of years. The Black Templars under their group commander – Grimaldus – have been tasked with defending one particular battlefield. Hive Helsreach and the civilians who live in the Hive. However as the numbers of the invaders grow, will Grimaldus and his defenders be able to hold out until reinforcements arrive? Or will this defence be in vain?
The story of Helsreach has very quickly become a personal favourite. In simple terms you could think of it as the closest thing Warhammer has to a Battle Of Helm’s Deep or The Siege Of Antioch. You are stuck in Hive Helsreach with all the characters and it allows you to see just how everyone interacts while trying to defend all the strongholds they can create.
This is truly almost every aspect of 40K in microcosm. You have the Black Templars who are among the most battle hungry of all Space Marines as well as mentions of other chapters and their different customs and personalities. You have Grimaldus a Space Marine who is convinced of his inevitable death and his rather entertaining inner thoughts. Not to forget the citizens who live here and how they deal with the defending forces. Or the Imperial Guard who are essentially a conscript army of the general public who are forced to battle against the orks and all their insanity. You have the Martian Mechanicus who are a Martian religious order who prize machines above flesh and who worship the Omnissiah – a specific aspect of The Emperor of the Imperium. And lastly there are Titans which are in essence giant – and I MEAN giant – sentient battle tanks with super powerful weaponry created by The Mechanicus. And Aaron Dembski-Bowden successfully manages to balance all of it.
His writing is absolutely superlative. You truly feel the emotions of the characters and you understand their viewpoints even if you think they are wrong. You feel yourself drawn into the battles. You want the defenders and their friends and allies to survive. Even when things are at their lowest you desperately hope for reinforcements. Will they come? And if so…will they be the right kind? There’s plenty more about the story that I haven’t yet mentioned or alluded to and ADB – the writer of many great Warhammer stories from The First Heretic to Spear Of The Emperor and numerous short stories in anthologies – utterly envelops the reader and listener in this setting. This story actually makes a very good starting point for those interested in Warhammer. If you find yourself drawn to any particular group while listening to Helsreach? You can find plenty of stories on them! Not to mention the audio!
The narration for this particular Warhammer audiobook is by the always wonderful Jonathan Keeble who has done narration work for several different Warhammer releases over the years including some of my previous reviews like both Realmslayer instalments and The First Prince.
Keeble is excellent at doing different accents and voices to distinguish the MULTIPLE (emphasis for a reason) different characters as well as to allow something of their personalities to bleed through into their voices. A few personal favourites being a noted stormtrooper character with a rather entertainingly casual personality, the leader of the local Mechanicus group and her rather abrasive personality, a Black Templar Apothecary who is notably unafraid to disagree with Grimaldus and a few others. His narration was incredibly enjoyable to listen to and I could hardly bring myself to put the story down. If that isn’t an endorsement of how talented both writer and narrator are I don’t know what is!
In conclusion I was utterly gripped by the story. I have heard many apocryphal stories from fellow listeners that Helsreach was their jumping on point and given how well told the story is I hope some of you will give this particular story a chance. But Warhammer isn’t all I talk about. Perhaps I should discuss the Heart Of Gold? Or at the very least a certain Douglas Adams?