Tuesday, 28 April 2009

‘Courage and Honour’ – Graham McNeill (Black Library)


When I was a lot younger I used to love reading the blurbs (for other books) in the back of whatever book I was reading at the time. It was the best way to decide how to spend my birthday and Christmas money :o) These days publishers have gone one better by printing whole excerpts from forthcoming books and this suits me right down to the ground. Now I can get a lot better idea over whether I want to continue with a series or not...

After I’d finished reading Graham McNeill’s ‘The Killing Ground’ I immediately went on to the excerpt for ‘Courage and Honour’; the resulting fire fight between Space Marines and the alien tau really caught my imagination and I was pleased to see a review copy come through the door not long afterwards.
I knew what to expect, having read ‘The Killing Ground’, and ‘Courage and Honour’ didn’t disappoint as far as this went. It didn’t really deliver anything new though but that didn’t stop it being a very good read indeed...

Having fulfilled the conditions of their death oath, Ultramarines Uriel Ventris and Pasanius are free to return to their home world in triumph. However, their brother marines view their return with suspicion. Can anyone return from the Chaos infested Eye of Terror and still remain pure in heart? Fighting invading tau forces on the planet of Pavonis is the best way for Ventris to prove that his honour is beyond reproach...

‘Courage and Honour’ gives it’s readers exactly what it’s predecessor does, focussing mainly on a stand up fight between two massive opposing forces. Size really does count here and the death toll quickly runs into the thousands in a flurry of fiery explosions that take out entire cities. You’re not going to see a lot of development in the main characters here (although they are well drawn, more on that later) and the same has to be said of the plot. Certain characters have a journey to make but these are incidental to the immense displays of firepower on show. The bottom line is that the plot of ‘Courage and Honour’ is little more than open warfare from start to finish but, having read a few of these books now, that’s what I had come to expect and that’s what fans will expect as well.

‘Courage and Honour’ might just be constant warfare but what it sets out to do is done very well. Troop movements make sense and McNeill does sterling work in his microcosm of a galaxy in conflict. War does not forgive mistakes and McNeill makes this abundantly clear in the case of the planetary governor who picks the wrong side to back! The warzones of the future are notoriously capricious places where a trooper can easily be crushed by a tank from his own side as he can be shot by the enemy, McNeill doesn’t hold back from showing us the horrors of war and this lends an air of realism to a futuristic setting. All the while this is happening, McNeill is ramping up the pace of the battle and the reader is well and truly along for the ride.

Uriel’s quest for redemption comes across as a bit of a foregone conclusion as he comes across as being so perfect that he can do nothing but succeed. The abundance of Ultramarine heraldry and tradition makes up for this though, I love the background to the Warhammer universe and ‘Courage and Honour’ grounds you in it just that little bit more.
Other authors have countered the invulnerability of the Space Marines by focussing more on supporting characters instead and McNeill also takes this approach. The frailties of characters such as Lord Winterbourne and Adept Lortuen Perjed do freshen things up but I still got the feeling that they were all being carried along by the Space Marines (the book proves that they are) and this robbed certain scenes of their tension...

If you’re after a rousing tale of futuristic warfare then you can’t go too far wrong with ‘Courage and Honour’ but if it’s character development and plot that you’re after then you may want to look elsewhere. If you’re a Warhammer fan though, you probably knew this already. I’m still up for reading more by Graham McNeill to see what happens next...

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

8 comments:

DanielF said...

Personally, I find McNeill to be a fun war-author to read from the Black Library stable, but I prefer the Abnett works - they have the war down pat but are better at individual characterisation and actual tense moments, as well as being willing to kill popular characters, whilst making such deaths meaningful to the plot and development of the story. So whilst McNeill is decent "fluff", Abnett's a better bet.

Graeme Flory said...

I've read one of Abnett's 'Horus Heresy' books but haven't yet read his 'Gaunt's Ghosts' novels which are supposed to be very good. I might have to find myself some copies of these...

Sam S said...

I absolutely love this series, I cant wait for the next installment. In response to the things said here about Dan Abnett, I can agree that he focuses a whole lot more on character development and tension (Horus Rising was amazing in that department) but Legion did this far too much - it became stale and boring very quickly with virtually no action whatsoever. That's why I love Graham - he doesn't let up on the brutality of war (especially war in the 41st millenium) and there is action and excitment all through the books - I still can't wait to see where the cliffhanger at the end of Dead Sky, Black Sun is going :P.
Having said all that, I respect the opinions of others and the people here have made some valid points. Thanks for listening ^^.

ryan.damon2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

I just finished reading Courage and Honour and thought it an immensely good read. Uriel Ventris is the epitome of a perfect warrior and Pasanius is just a whole heap of good fun. Graham McNeil is a great author and should win some kind of award for his books.

Karim said...

Am looking forward to reading it. Ive always loved Storm Of Iron (also by Mcneill) much more than the Ultrasmurf series. In case anyone didnt know, in the the Black Libary catalogue it mentions the next book in the Uriel Ventris series.."The Chapter's Due".
And its going to involve Honsou! Im so excited ;)

Alex said...

While I agree the novel was very good plot- and character-wise, I just wish to say that if you are even remotely a Tau enthusiast, do not buy this book. As soon as you start reading the Tau codex and compare it to this novel, there are so many blatant disregards to the Tau it is almost insulting. Here are three things that the author should have known before writing:
1) Tau do not hold their ground. It is consistent in every other novel except this one. They will disengage and ambush pursuing forces rather than pointlessly lose lives.
2) Tau do not make frontal assaults and charge up through the no-man’s land. For all the tactical idiocies we see in this novel, it might as well be orks disguised as Fire Warriors. Tau either systematically destroy their ennemie’s defences at long range BEFORE surging in for the killing blow, or they will simply go around the uber-strong fortifications, attack something else, and draw the defenders out of their static positions.
3) Tau value their sodier’s lives. They do not send them marching up a killing field, neither will they throw their soldier’s lives away. The attack on Brandon Gate smacked of idiocy. If you just pause for a minute, the whole attack was pointless. It was stated the Tau did not have enough forces to attack on a wide front, but they apparently had enough for a useless and suicidal mission, since they lost everything they sent at Brandon Gate. The author calls it a diversion from Olzetyn. However, as stated in the book, the Tau are very fast at moving armor, yet they leave plenty of time for a Dreadnought to walk all the way from Brandon Gate to Olzetyn? Essentially, the whole attack on Brandon Gate did abslutely nothing except give the Space Marines a chance to butcher the Tau.

If you do not know Tau or do not care about them, you will like this novel.If you like Tau, you will hate the novel. So this is a warning for all those Shas out there who want to know more about Tau. Do not buy this book.

Anonymous said...

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