Title: Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar
Author: David Annandale
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 20th Oct. 2016
Source: Private Collection
Long before the coming of the Imperium, the realm of Ultramar was ruled by Roboute Guilliman, the last Battle King of Macragge. Even after learning of his true heritage as a primarch son of the Emperor of Mankind, he strove to expand his domain as efficiently and benevolently as possible, with the XIII Legion Ultramarines as his alone to command. Now, facing a rival empire on the ork-held world of Thoas, Guilliman must choose his weapons carefully – otherwise his dream of a brighter future could be lost forever.
Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar is the first release in Black Library’s ‘Primarchs’ series. A series focusing on the stories in the Pre-Heresy era of Warhammer 30k. Originally released in 2016, this book is now out of print in Hardback and I was very lucky to be given the chance to purchase it from Luke in the Warp over on Twitter. I am grateful for this.
Lord of Ultramar follows the Utramarines as they purge the world of Thaos of the last remnants of an Ork infestation that has settled on its surface and in the ruins of its previous civilisation underneath. The battle is as the tide of greenskins grows around them; waging war with the Orks on an epic scale. Roboute Guilliman, at this point, has been leading the Ultramarines for some time and has come to know their workings intimately; to the point that some of the tactics employed by one of the Chapters unsettles him. A dilemma that he is to overcome as the novel progresses.
Sadly, this book didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had placed on it. For a new series that centres on the Primarchs (Or, so you would assume from the titles) Roboute Guilliman didn’t seem to be the central feature of this particular novel. After reading Angron: Slave of Nuceria and Vulkan: Lord of Drakes, I was looking forward to reading into the back story of the fabled leader of the Ultramarines; sadly, instead I got a lack-lustre novel of combat against a race with the personality of a dried bread-crumb.
When it comes to Ultramarines, I actually know very little, so I was looking forward to learning more about their past and what drives them. They are the standard that all other Space Marine Chapters are measured by, so I was eager to discover more about them. Unfortunately, Lord of Ultramar, didn’t deliver on this front. I found the taste of the book rather dry and lacking in personality, the Ultramarines themselves weren’t the entirely of the problem. There is tension within the 22nd Chapter as they receive their new Chapter Master, Iasus, in an attempt to temper the Destroyers, in a new direction. I confess, I liked these parts of the novel, the dialogue was well written and the inner conflict within the members of this Chapter were sublime. The drama of how certain individuals reacted to the breaking of their Chapters traditions was well-played and it fed back into how the story progressed as a whole.
However, this is where, for me, the fun ended. I’ve already expressed a disappointment in the lack of depth in the Roboute Guilliman department. More tragic however is how the Orks were portrayed; as a mindless drones. Not a single word is uttered by the Orks in this book. There’s nothing to them except an exceptionally high number. I am disgusted by this portrayal of the faction as it does them a huge dis-service. I know Orks seek war for the sake of seeking it, they take great pleasure in proving themselves superior in combat, they sure aren’t master tacticians, but there is certainly more to them than sheer numbers – which is all they are portrayed as here.
In Lord of Ultramar, the Orks are being drawn to something within the ruins of Thoas. This was the plot hook that keeps the reader guessing. A civilisation prior to the Orks, a human one, grasps the attention of Roboute Guilliman, causing him to question the requirement of the Destroyers Chapters methods of war. There are arising questions in the conflict between perfection and precision, art and destruction. Questions that I would have enjoyed being given more development; especially over the uninspiring antagonists and the disjointed writing. However, there seems to have been a favour towards these drab elements over those that could have made Lord of Ultramar shine.
The writing to Lord of Ultramar is often clipped. Using very short sentences to emphasise the action at certain points, however, more often than not it felt too staccato, re-establishing the same elements over and over. Making the book feel like I was reading bullet-points rather than an actual novel. I understand that the use of shorter sentences is to make the action feel faster paced, erratic and of a swifter-pace, but there was very little flow to advance the narrative between some of these bullet-point statements
The manner in which the Ultramarines rationalised their thoughts and actions was of interest to me. It took me a few attempts to get used to the Theoretical/Practical aspects of their speech-patterns, but once I warmed up to it, I found it a fascinating concept and well presented. It highlighted how the Ultramarines are encouraged to think; coming up with their preferred method of strategy – precision while in the heat of combat. This part of the writing, while I understand can come across as unusual, really worked for me and I am happy to have received, at least, this insight into the Ultramarines.
I’ll continue to read through the rest of this series as I have highly enjoyed other novels in it; and unlike the Horus Heresy series (of which these are attached) there isn’t any benefit to the reading order.
A rather dry, standard affair when it comes to Space Marine novels. Sadly lacking in character development or insight on key individuals. Not the best start for a series of books and probably best enjoyed by die-hard Ultramarines fans as the disservice given to the Orks is criminal at best!