Wednesday, 11 February 2009

‘Ice Guard’ – Steve Lyons (Black Library)


On the battlefields of the Warhammer 40,000 universe it’s the Space Marines who stand out as the iconic figures in mankind’s never ending battle against the encroaching alien hordes. They’re genetically bred to be practically invincible and equipped with enough firepower to make that invincibility very awkward for any aliens that happen to be in the immediate vicinity! The thing is though that I’ve come to find that this combination doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting story. Where’s the tension if you already know that the marines will win through? Luckily for me, the rank and file of the Imperial Guard provide enough scope for the kind of stories that I’m after. These are men and women who are thrown into battle with the bare minimum of weaponry and protection, the average life expectancy for a Guardsman in a warzone is fifteen hours...

The fight for the planet Cressida has gone so badly that Imperial forces are ordered to withdraw in preparation for the virus bombing of the planet. However, an Imperial Confessor is stranded on Cressida and it is vitally important that he is kept alive and out of the hands of the encroaching forces of Chaos. Enter Colonel Stanislav Steele and his Imperial Guard squad of Valhallan Ice Warriors, hand picked for a mission that has no chance of success and the clock is counting down to the bombardment...

Every chapter of ‘Ice Guard’ begins by showing how much time is left on the clock until the virus bombing commences. This is an extremely effective way of raising the tension that’s made even more effective by the fact that various members of the squad must find their way back, from far ranging areas of the battleground, before the mission can even begin. Hours have already passed by the time the mission is able to begin and the constant countdown leaves the reader in no doubt as to what is at stake...

If this wasn’t enough then a planet that has fallen to the ravenous hordes of Chaos can only mean one thing and that’s a long hard march through the ice fighting the enemy for every gore soaked step. Lyons doesn’t disappoint his readers here as he delivers a constant stream of armed confrontation and its inevitably bloody conclusion. Things are kept fresh by the switching backwards and forwards between icy tundra and ruined hive city and these settings throw up plenty of tricky situations that the Guardsmen must negotiate. There is plenty of action here for fans of fast and furious military sci-fi. However, the relatively short length of the book (two hundred and eighty one pages) means that there isn’t a lot of time to go into the various twists that such battles could potentially throw up. Coupled with the demands of the plot, this casts things very firmly in a ‘pro-Imperium’ light that don’t truly reflect the horrors of war on both sides...

I had a similar issue with the way that the characters were portrayed over the course of the book. Lyons turns the squad into an interesting cross section of Imperium citizens ranging from the madly zealous to the quietly terrified. He also takes a look at how the insidious influence of Chaos can affect even the stoutest heart... I really got into this side of the story and was a little disappointed to find that the length of the book doesn’t allow time for a more detailed look at certain characters. However, it has left me eager to read more Warhammer 40,000 books and see if I can find more of the same kind of thing.

At the end of the day though, despite my own personal misgivings,‘Ice Guard’ fully delivers on its promise of high octane warfare in the fortieth millennium. I’m looking forward to reading more of these books!

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

James B said...

Ahhhhh. Black Library. To misquote a famous character: 'We have you now....' :)