Mechanicum – Graham McNeill

Title: Mechanicum
Author: Graham McNeill
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 25th Nov. 2008
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback
Source: Private Collection

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As the flames of treachery spread throughout the Imperium, Horus plots to subvert or destroy all those who would stand against him. On Mars, home world of the Mechanicum priesthood, the great manufactory-cities have long produced much of the weaponry required for the expeditionary fleets across the galaxy – making the world invaluable to whoever controls it in the coming war. Now, the Warmaster’s agents begin to stoke the fires of rebellion, turning the loyalist forges and the mighty Titan


After Battle for the Abyss I had some serious doubts and reservations about picking up Mechanicum. This was the point I gave up with the Horus Heresy series on my previous attempt at a read though, but I am glad that I persevered – mostly thanks to Dave – as I actually enjoyed Mechanicum a lot more than I thought I would.

I found myself appreciating how Mechanicum linked back to previous novels in the Horus Heresy, there are things mentioned early on that take the reader back to aspects that have already been explored and it makes the novel feel part of the larger whole of the series. This is something that doesn’t feel like it has been done since Fulgrim. It was a reminder that what I am reading is a long-standing saga and not a series of smaller one offs that are loosely slotted together somehow and for that I found myself very grateful.

Mechanicum follows events as they unfold on Mars. Dictating the larger impact the planet will play in the many wars to come. There is a large focus on the Knight and Titan Legions that have their home on the red planet and I found the attention to detail amongst these factions really enlightening as I have only ever viewed them in a ‘These machines are awesome’ way. There’s so much more detail to them than that and it was really good to explore them in that detail. How the houses of these factions worked and their feudal hierarchal systems slotted together. Of course, seeing them in action and beating up bad-guys was expertly written and got the blood pumping! The actions scenes were well crafted and immensely delightful. I naturally found myself rooting for the good-guys but captivated by everything that happened to involve these awesome fighting machines.

Mechanicum isn’t just about Imperial Knights and Titans and while I did enjoy the impressive combat aspects of the novel, I found myself just as captivated by the ‘human’ element to the novel. Although, not everyone in Mechanicum would appreciate me using the term! I found the intricate details of the Tech-Adepts inspiring and how each of them different from one another in both personality and physical attributes was marvellous. Of all the adepts (and other ranking characters in the Mechanicum) I particularly took to Forge Mistress Zoriel Keth. Her descriptions and scenes held a certain appeal to them, her no nonsense attitude was refreshing in a series that has come to hold religious and philosophical aspects highly. She had a strength and curiosity within that didn’t seem to be held by other of the members of the Mechanicum for one reason or another, be it reverence to the Machine-God or rejection of it. Her desire to push boundaries of discovery gave her an appeal that the other characters, Kelbor-Hal, Urtzi Malevolus and Ipluvien Maximal seemed to lack. I think it was this appeal to her that made the characters she surrounded herself with the most just as appealing.

Another character level to Mechanicum is the even more human element of the underlings that Zeth brings into her fold – Dalia Cythera, Zouche Chahaya, Rho-mu 31. These novices at an exploratory note to Mechanicum and their journey of discoveries add a mysterious element to the novel. I can’t say I quite understood the conclusion of their section of the story but I think that is meant to be part of the appeal? What is it all about? Will what they discover rear its ugly head in future novels? I don’t know, but I hope some understanding of the events that unfolded on Mars will be brought forth in the future.

I’ve not touched upon the human pilots of the Knights and Titans yet, but I found these characters shined brighter than the rest. Especially the stoic Indias Cavalerio of Legio Tempestus and Lord Commander Verticorda of the Knights of Taranis. They were well presented and individual in their interactions, their tragedies are compelling and only embolden their characters further while giving additional insight to the Legios in which they belong.

The plot is somewhat ponderous and it did take me a while to really get going with Mechanicum. There were scenes that stood out and helped to give some pacing, but at the beginning of the novel it did feel a little stagnant. I also had some reservations about some of the choices characters made. Fabricator General Kalbor-Hel’s decisions made sense, but not his actions. Why embark on such a whole-scale war and destroy much of the knowledge of Mars in the process? Especially when technology and knowledge is so revered? I would have liked to know more about his motivations and inner thoughts, but these are only touched on a surface level.

Towards the conclusion of the book the Titans and Knights engage in a large-scale battle which is both awesome and underwhelming. There are tactical decisions that are inspired and engaging, but there is a lot of drudgery to get through too. It’s action packed but a lot of that action came across dull. Thankfully, it’s spliced between other events unfolding which gave me a thirst to keep switching between the events and discover how they all unfolded together. I think if the focus had been on a single aspect of the war I’d have found the conclusion a lot less satisfying. As such, this was an inspired editorial choice that made Mechanicum a lot more enjoyable.


Not a book I would recommend as an entry point to the Horus Heresy or to Warhammer 40k/Black Library as a while. It has some fine moments and tense drama but I found the book slow to begin and rather underwhelming in it’s conclusion – which an added element of confusion thrown in.

There are some interesting characters and Mechanicum does more to advance the Horus Heresy as a whole compared to some of the previous books. It’s one of those vital, semi-enjoyable reads that’s certainly more hit than miss in the series.

2 responses to “Mechanicum – Graham McNeill”

    • Overall, it’s a good series (so far) but some of the books do miss the mark.
      The first three books are worth a read, even if you go no further than that.

      Good luck with the series if you do start.

      Liked by 1 person

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