Quick Review: CASSIUS by Ben Counter (Black Library)

CounterB-CassiusA fast-paced, action-packed introduction to the Ultramarines

When a tyranid hive fleet is detected dangerously close to the Sol system, two entire companies of Ultramarines are sent to find and destroy the aliens. Led by their legendary Chaplain, Cassius, the Ultramarines must stop the tyranids, no matter what the cost. With typical bravery, courage and honour, the Ultramarines set about their task, but faced with impossible odds, and Cassius’s impetuous nature, victory is far from certain.

Another novel in Black Library’s Space Marines: Legends series, it turns our focus on Chaplain Cassius: a dedicated, single-minded champion of the Codex and Imperial mission. This is a pretty interesting introduction to the Ultramarines, a Chapter known for its rigid adherence to rules, and less-than-stellar sense of humour.

Anyone who’s been following the news about WH40k will know that the story has just been moved forward in quite a big way (finally). The first novel in the new universe, Dark Imperium, was released a few months ago. I have it, but I wanted to get caught up on a few of the pre-shift novels I still have to read. Ben Counter’s Cassius is one of those novels.

If you like your science fiction action-packed, and stuffed with battles and big set-pieces, then Cassius will certainly appeal. Counter has shown over many novels for BL that he has a talent for writing about warfare in the far future, and this book is no different. This novel is packed with scenes that would fit into a Michael Bay sci-fi movie, as Cassius and others take on the massive, terrifying might of a Tyranid horde. The action is portrayed on both the macro- and micro-scale. Sometimes it’s maybe a bit tongue-in-cheek, and at others I felt like it offered a nod to movies like Gladiator and the TV series Spartacus.

A winged creature dived at the Chaplain, and Cassius threw himself up to meet it, ignoring its slashing claws as he thrust the spike of his eagle-winged weapon through its skull. He bore the monster down under his weight, slamming his weapon into its twitching form again and again. He stood, covered in alien blood, and the roar from the nearby Ultramarines almost drowned out the cacophonous sound of beating wings. ‘Cassius!’ they chanted as they slew the enemy. ‘Cassius! Cassius!’

What about Cassius himself? Well, he certainly embodies most of what we’ve been told about the Ultramarines so far: steadfast, devoted to the Codex and Imperial creed, and humourless. At times, he comes across as annoying, which is kind of the point. Counter doesn’t spend any time trying to smooth out his edges, or soften his devotion. But it is also clear that he is an amazing force on the battlefield.

Fabian was a fine warrior and an experienced leader, but he could not set a fire in his warriors’ hearts like the Chaplain could. Cassius was an icon, a symbol of the undefeatable, eternal glory of the Adeptus Astartes. He had been purging the enemies of mankind for centuries before Fabian was even born, had held back the tyranid tide on a hundred worlds. His mere presence was enough to convince the men that they would destroy any force sent against them – how could they possibly fall, with the legendary Master of Sanctity at their side?

At the same time, Cassius’s single-minded purpose is something of a menace to his comrades. He is so set on his own mission and — in the case of this mission — vendettas, that he is willing to sacrifice a great deal in order to achieve his goals. He’s reckless with his fellow Ultramarines’ lives. Fellow officers are exasperated by him, but also aware of the incredible impact he has on the morale of the majority of marines. Cassius is willing to do anything to win, and his suggestion for defeating this particular Tyranid horde is… well, it’s ballsy, out-of-the-box thinking, for sure. I won’t spoil it, but it involves messing with the planet’s tectonics…

Counter’s writing is very good, and really pulls you through the novel. There are a few moments of humour, but for the main the novel moves too fast for many moments of introspection or analysis.

‘I’ve rarely had the chance to observe the rituals of the Mechanicus,’ said Morvion, thoughtfully. ‘They do this every time they pull a lever?’

Cassius is not my favourite of the author’s novels, nor is it my favourite in the series. However, it definitely grabbed and held my attention. if you’re looking for a quick SF read, then I think you’ll find what you’re looking for. It’s big, brash and brutal.

*

Ben Counter’s Cassius is out now, published by Black Library.

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