The Indomitus Crusade forges ahead
As the Indomitus Crusade begins, fleets of mighty warships leave Terra on a vital quest to stabilise Imperium Sanctus in the wake of the Great Rift. The returned primarch, Roboute Guilliman, leads a huge force towards the shrine world of Gathalamor, where stable warp routes will allow the flotilla to spread across the beleaguered southern half of the Imperium.
But grave tidings reach the Imperial Regent’s ears. Warnings from an ancient race, and eerie silence from the army tasked with holding Gathalamor until his arrival, lead Guilliman to send a reconnaissance mission to the world, at its head, Shield-Captain Achallor of the Adeptus Custodes.
Achallor discovers a world on the brink: a beaten Imperial force and sinister agents of Abaddon the Despoiler who have unearthed an ancient evil – a weapon that when harnessed not only threatens the primarch, but perhaps the holy Throne of Terra itself…
Clark picks up the story where Guy Haley’s Avenging Son left off, and chronicles another early, major engagement of the Indomitus Crusade. Gate of Bones is a solid WH40k novel, one that moves the overall story ahead, but could also work as a stand-alone if you happened to stumble across it. Great characters, good writing. I enjoyed this.
As with all of the best WH40k fiction, Gate of Bones offers new insights into the various factions. A new character, introduced by Haley, the historitor Fabien returns in this novel: he’s a very useful narrative device, providing context at the start and end of the novel. Tasked by Roboute Guilliman to document the truth of the Crusade, to provide the Primarch with unvarnished accounts of what the Imperium and its subjects are like, what they think, and believe.
He winked at Fabian. Lucerne baffled him. He was enormously devout, unlike most other Space Marines the historitor had met, and yet he lacked the humourlessness of mortal religious humans. The opposite, in fact; Brother-Sergeant Lucerne had a surfeit of bonhomie. To a man of Fabian’s morose character, it was particularly irritating, and made the sergeant all the more terrifying. Violence lurked behind his smiles. Good humour only prettified this engineered murder machine, it could not obscure his purpose.
Clark includes some interesting discussion of the nature of faith in the Imperium as well as more generally in this setting. This is something that Haley kicked off in Avenging Son, too, but Clark’s characters allow for the topic to be kicked into higher gear. Given what readers will have come across in the Horus Heresy series, and the atheistic nature of the Imperium when the Emperor still walked amongst his sons and Legions, I’ve enjoyed the ways in which authors have explored the shift to the hyper-religious nature of the Imperium in the “present”. The Custodes, the defenders of the throne and arguably the mightiest of mankind’s warriors, know the Emperor to be a man — albeit the most powerful to have ever lived. Until recently, they’ve been restricted to operations on Terra, but with the Crusade and Guilliman’s return, some of them are attached to the Crusade fleets. This brings them into direct contact with a large variety of Imperial forces. In Gate of Bones, Clark shows us what happens when the Custodes are allied with a Sororitas force: an all-female force of ultra-zealous warriors, they believe in the Emperor’s divinity with a ferocity that is, well, terrifying. There’s one moment, in particular, when Custodes Achallor is confronted by the impersonal and calculating nature of the Sororitas’ approach to warfare that is quite chilling.
As is normal, for me, I preferred the “quieter” moments of the novel, when Clark explores the lore, the shifting nature of the Imperium and galaxy, and the various relationships between factions (friend and foe alike). Each of these moments shows that the setting isn’t as black-and-white as it has sometimes been portrayed. I enjoyed reading the conversations between General Dvorgin and Canoness Veritas — the former a human general on Gathalamor, worn down by a life of endless war; the latter a fervent Sororitas attached to Dvorgin’s defence force on the planet. He, doubting his faith in the Emperor and worthiness (he’s basically suffering from Imperial Leadership Imposter Syndrome), and her providing a surprising comfort and support for him, bolstering his confidence and faith (rather than censuring him, which one might expect).
As WH40k has changed with recent meta-events, and the clear influence of the Heresy series, the setting has developed far more nuance and depth. Just as Imperial factions have different opinions on the Emperor’s divinity, so too do readers learn about other examples of tension. For example, the Custodes are suspicious of Guilliman — as the defenders of the Emperor, they are suspicious of any Primarch who accrues what to them appears to be too much power. They are part of the Crusade not only as warriors and defenders of the Primarch, but also sentinels keeping a watchful eye on the Primarch.
In addition to the aforementioned rumination on the nature of faith in the Imperium, I particularly liked the friendship between Kar-Gatharr and Lokk — a Word Bearer Dark Apostle and Iron Warrior tank commander, respectively. While they may not use the word “friends” (they are Heretic Astartes, after all), there is a bond between them that seems to go beyond what a soldier has for a fellow soldier. There’s a weariness to their exchanges, too, when they discuss their part in the Long War. There’s more evidence of a lack of trust or respect between various factions within the Traitor ranks, a fracturing of the “brotherhood” that might have first kept them together. It’s a nicely nuanced portrait of two traitors.
‘… Abaddon, another vainglorious fool,’ said Lokk. ‘He’s the same as Horus, a liar who has deceived himself.’
‘But he will triumph. Victory must be won correctly. It must be done with faith. Abaddon does not honour the gods, not as he should, not yet.’
‘Nor does my primarch,’ said Lokk.
‘Would you have an eternity of rule by the Lord of Iron?’
‘I would have no eternity under anyone,’ said Lokk.
‘Then why do you go on?’ said Kar-Gatharr.
‘I don’t know,’ said Lokk. He stoppered the bottle and put it away, his thirst forgotten.
If you enjoyed Avenging Son, then you should definitely read Gate of Bones. It moves the story of the Indomitus Crusade forward, expanding the story, and setting up events for the next book in the series. There’s plenty of action and conflict, but, if I’m honest, sometimes the larger battle scenes/chapters were just a shade too long for my taste, but they were still well-composed and often intense. Clark does a great job of bringing the setting alive, and all of his characters felt distinct and three-dimensional (even those we don’t spend much time with).
‘Mankind already endures a living hell, Kar-Gatharr,’ said Lokk. ‘Do not pretend any of us are in this for anything but ourselves. If you taught me one thing, it is that Chaos has no mercy. We have been lied to by everyone. All we can do is fight. That is all there is.’
Definitely recommended. I’m really looking forward to the third book in the series, whatever it might be (its details have yet to be announced).