The Ultramarines Chapter Master steps into battle
The Realm of Ultramar stands as a shining beacon of order and strength in a galaxy wracked by war and torment. Custodian of this realm, and Chapter Master of the Ultramarines, Marneus Calgar has fought many foes and won countless wars to ensure its borders remain safe. But when an immense space hulk emerges into the Ultramar system, carrying with it the threat of something ancient and terrible, it is Calgar once again who stands in defence of his realm, prepared to meet whatever horrors are aboard and discover the mystery at the heart of the ship dubbed Fury.
Reviewed by Abhinav Jain
The Ultramarines have been the poster-child for WH40k’s various Space Marines Chapters for multiple years. The blue-armoured warriors can be seen on most of the primary packaging for the tabletop models and rulebooks as well. As the typical example of Space Marines, over the years their image has morphed into one that says, “These are the boring old Space Marines who do everything and are just perfect little warriors.”
While true to some extent, this is also wildly generalistic. Graham McNeill, especially, has done a lot over the years to change that image with his various Captain Uriel Ventris stories. Now, Paul Kearney offers a distinctive look at Marneus Calgar, the Chapter Master of the Ultramarines. Calgar’s Fury is a no-holds-barred action story, set on a derelict space hulk, the most classic of all 40k settings, and really delves into the psychology of the Chapter’s warriors at all levels of command.
Paul Kearney starts us off with introducing the reader to a recently-promoted senior officer, Captain Caito Galenus of the Fifth Company. When an unknown space hulk materializes in the Iax system and causes havoc with the system patrols, Galenus and his warriors are dispatched to deal with the intrusion, and we learn a lot about the psychological make-up of the Fifth Company in the process. There are some hints of Graham’s Uriel Ventris novels, here, as Ventris’s story also started his promotion from Veteran-Sergeant to Captain, following the death in battle of the previous incumbent. For me, it was a nice, familiar approach and gave me something to connect with Galenus. I really liked him as a character. Sadly, we don’t see much more of him after the initial stages, because Paul switches his focus to Marneus Calgar (he is the titular star of the novel, after all).
To his credit, Paul presents us with an uncompromising perspective on the Chapter Master. As with their lower-ranked senior officers, Space Marine Chapters are often defined by their Chapter Masters, and the Ultramarines are no different. Kearney gives us a Calgar who believes wholesale in the Codex Astartes, the epic tome on warfare penned by the Ultramarines’ fallen Primarch Roboute Guilliman, some ten thousand years ago. A vast and comprehensive treatise on warfare, the Codex is also a near-religious text for the Chapters who believe in it as much as the Ultramarines do. The warriors of Macragge are exemplars in that way, and Calgar as the Chapter Master is the pinnacle of that.
Throughout the novel, we follow in Calgar’s footsteps, and see his strong faith in the Codex and in his brothers. He is always… professional, and damn-near uncompromising in his vision of the Imperium and the Chapter. I’ve read stories about Logan Grimnar of the Space Wolves, Dante of the Blood Angels, and more Chapter Masters besides. Calgar’s Fury definitely ranks among the best of them. Through Calgar, we get a glimpse into what makes the Ultramarines who they are. Their strengths and weaknesses. Their motivations. Their duties and their oaths. Their brotherhood. Kearney covers all of this, and he doesn’t hold anything back.
Irony is king however, and there’s a big twist in the second half of the novel that aptly challenges Calgar, his view of the Imperium, and the true meaning of his oaths to his Primarch and his Chapter. It was a significant point in his life, and the author treats it as such, though I wish that he’d gone just a bit further, and given us more of how it affected Calgar on a personal level.
This brings me to one of my critiques of the novel. At many points in Calgar’s Fury, Paul’s descriptions and dialogues are too Codex-formal. What I mean by that is that he refers to things and writes his characters as if it has been lifted straight from the Codex: Space Marines rulebook. “Brother Starn”, “Champion Ameronn”, and so on. It created a disconnect for me since it didn’t feel organic or natural, and there was no informality. To put it another way, this was a novel of etiquettes. I suppose that the approach suits the Ultramarines and imparts a layer of the formality they themselves have as the exemplars of the Codex, but it seemed a bit too cheeky and unnecessary to me. The novel could well have done without it.
Another thing is that I wasn’t satisfied with the way that the mystery of some of the… antagonists was drawn out. This, too, felt a little unnecessary since it created too much uncertainty for me. The action scenes were all good, perfectly written in their details, but all the same, the mystery of the villains was stretched out. Then, once we got to the climax, the pace picked up and we didn’t really spend any time on the whys and the hows. Things happen, and we have to take it on faith. There’s no revelation, so to speak.
Other than that, however, Calgar’s Fury was a fun novel. It changes perspectives at various intervals, and gives a good Chapter cross-section through the various characters involved, which was another enjoyable aspect of the novel. I’d definitely recommend it to readers both new, old, and everywhere in between. It is a great scene-setter no matter what your level of WH40k knowledge. There’s something for everyone here.
Paul Kearney‘s Calgar’s Fury is published by Black Library, and is out now through their website and Games Workshop stores (general release apparently in October). Kearney also wrote Calgar’s Siege, another novel focused on the battles of the Ultramarines Chapter Master.
Also on CR: Guest Post on “On Writing and Being a Writer”
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