Sunday, 10 June 2012

Books in Brief : The Outcast Dead by Graham McNeill

This latest outing to the 31st Millennium, under the guidance of veteran 40k writer Graham McNeill; takes another detour around the warring Legions and lands us smack bang at the heart of the Imperium, on Terra.

I found it disappointing and more than a little frustrating that Outcast Dead is another Heresy novel with no intention of moving the main storyline along, taking place in a period starting just prior to the Drop Site Massacre (I just can't say the 'I' word anymore) and leading up to the burning of Prospero.

But those feelings were soon pushed aside as McNeill's wonderfully descriptive narrative brought to life as yet unexplored environs of the Emperors Palace, including the eerie City of Sight, home of the Telepathica and the desperate squalor of the Petitioners City.

This evolving geography is populated with some great characters; as with some of the best Heresy novels the protagonist is not an Astarte, this time it is through the 'eyes' of an Astropath that we see events unfold. This allows the author to expand the readers understanding of another one of the essential cornerstones of the Imperium and whilst not on a scale of his sweepingly epic Mechanicum these sections of the book make for an enlightening read.

A strong supporting cast includes a very cool 'Hunter' who shows more than a passing resemblance to certain ancient warrior tradition. A group of misfit Astartes, who despite being far removed from the war, still get to do what super soldiers do best when it comes to 'clobbering time' and a couple of criminals who cast intriguingly 'large' shadows.

However the book has more than a couple of faults which hampered me some; it suffers from a secondary plotline involving a statue, which served as a rather weak MacGuffin and raised unanswered questions regarding its nature and location.

I was a bit confused by the lack of back-story for the group of Space Marines; it's never clear what they are doing on Terra and why they end up where they do. There are also a few inconsistencies concerning them that brought me right out of the story at points.

One revolved around a firm explanation of the limits of Psychic powers, only to have those limits apparently forgotten shortly after, seemingly for expediency. Another was how 'Super Human' these super humans were, emerging victorious from combat with almost nought but their birthday suit and their fists, against fully armed and armoured opponents that previous writers have shown to be the most implacable warriors.

Despite these gripes, I still enjoyed this book; Graham McNeill excels when he is weaving pieces of lesser known lore into his tales and I savour every opportunity he takes to insert references to real world history. He is also the master of conversation and some of the most intense scenes play out with two characters exchanging nothing more than words.

A filler for the series, not essential but if you're a real fan of the lore then it's worth your time.


Spyrle said...

I have to agree with you on the Custodes poor showing in this book. It just seemed so out of place. I really did like the "large warriors" and how they may have felt abandoned by their creator.

Bix said...

Yes, another strong set of characters that could easily have their own spin off, even if it's just a short story. The Heresy novels (McNeill's in particular) have several of them.

The way these two had been treated had me questioning my Loyalties once again.

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