Baneblade – first published in 2013 – is a 441 page novel follows the exploits of Lieutenant Lo Bannick as he joins the crew of the mighty Baneblade Mars Triumphant as it arrives to provide relief to the beleaguered desert world of Kalidar IV. World builders can sometimes be on the receiving end of criticism when they make an entire world have a single ecosystem, but Guy Haley’s depiction of mechanised warfare on a sand filled death world is definitely crunchy and detailed in its depiction. The emphasis of the book is on tank warfare, with some enjoyable background filling of the Adeptus Mechanicus as well as the construction, maintenance and operation of super-heavy behemoths.
Guy Haley writes great combat, I frequently got the sense of being in the cramped confines of Mars Triumphant, being jostled up and down as it crested another sand bank. He also writes very credible Orks – you get a sense of raw power coupled with brute cunning. The later Beast Arises series portrays individual Orks as ridiculously powerful and threatening, and it makes it difficult to fathom how the nascent Imperium ever triumphed at Ullanor in the first place. Thankfully there’s none of that here – the Orks are tough and have plenty of tricks in their green skulls, but there remains the chance that they can be beaten.
Peppered throughout the book is a series of flashbacks to the events that led Bannick to decide to join the Imperial Guard. I enjoyed the exploration of Bannick’s home world – the fleshing out of worlds that aren’t currently at war is always enjoyable, especially when they’re novel ones like the sixth moon of Paragon VI. Unfortunately the central mystery of the flashback was rather easy to guess at, and I’m not sure it added much to the story.
The other difficulty I had with Baneblade is the focus on Bannick. He repeatedly is single-handedly responsible for acts of derring-do and feats that move the plot forward, bearing little personal cost as a result of such heroics. It stretches belief sometimes, and the sense of peril I felt suffered as a result.
Baneblade touches on some very interesting threads of journeys of faith, some of the different types of beliefs and approaches of the adherents of the Machine God, and even what drives visionary Orks to lead a Waaagh! Add to this the superb tank battles, the depictions of various worlds and a glimpse of the higher ranks of the Guard, and this book is worth a read.