Thursday, 18 June 2009

‘Emperor’s Mercy’ – Henry Zou (Black Library)

While Space Marines and the Imperial Guard fight on the front lines of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Imperium itself ticks along in the background but can be just as dangerous a place as the frontiers. Cultists and other heretics seek to bring chaos to Imperial space, rogue psykers are a danger that cannot be left unchecked and certain alien races can be particularly insidious in how they infiltrate human worlds. A hitherto secure world can become the front line, for humanity’s survival, all too quickly unless stern measures are taken. Enter the agents of the Imperial Inquisition. Tasked with rooting out the threats within the Imperium, Inquisitors will do whatever it takes to ensure that the God Emperor’s rule is maintained. Dan Abnett’s ‘Eisenhorn’ and ‘Ravenor’ books are the most well known of the Black Library’s ‘Inquisition’ books but I don’t have the time to get stuck into the weighty omnibus editions. I thought I’d start with something a little bit smaller and Black Library newcomer Henry Zou’s book looked like a very good place to start...

Somewhere on the ancient worlds of the Medina Corridor lie the Old Kings of Medina, ancient relics that (according to myth) harbour unimaginable power. The forces of Chaos want these relics and declare all out war on the Medina Corridor. As planets fall to the rampaging hordes, Inquisitor Obodiah Roth is tasked with discovering and securing the Old Kings. Roth has no idea what the relics look like or where they are based, the only thing that he does know is that they must not fall into the wrong hands...

Do you ever find yourself reading a book where, just as you’ve decided not to bother reading any more, it gives you enough to be going on with but not enough to really enjoy yourself with? That’s how I found ‘Emperor’s Mercy’, an entertaining read that had flashes of the fact that it could have been a lot more...

If you’ve ever read Games Workshop’s ‘White Dwarf’ magazine then you’ll know all about the battle reports that the magazine covers of tabletop games played in the Warhammer 40,000 universe; pages of troop movements, tactics and an eventual outcome. For me, this was how a lot of ‘Emperor’s Mercy’ read and this wasn’t something that I was too happy about. Fans of the game (and books) will probably get a lot out of the scenes of massed warfare but what I got was a dry recounting of various battles. Zou provides a great level of detail to events, and obviously knows what he is talking about, but there’s very little there for the reader to connect to.

I’ve been racking my brains for a WH40K author to compare Zou to and I came up with Dan Abnett. Here is a guy who builds his wars from the ground up and gives his readers an unfolding picture through the eyes of a select band of soldiers. This approach gives me something to hold onto, an emotional connection with what’s happening,
Zou, on the other hand, approaches the description of warfare in exactly the opposite way. He gives his reader an overview of a pitched battle and then zooms in to focus on individuals. For me there was no connection to events, just a massed scrum of bodies with the occasional name thrown in to try and make things personal. This lack of connection made the ensuing descriptions all the more dry.
It might well work for you but it didn’t for me...

This approach is all the more infuriating as when Zou takes a step back from it the story gets one hell of a lot more interesting. This is what kept me going through the bad times...
Zou paints a compelling picture of the Imperium, behind the front lines, and it’s an Imperium that’s as devious and backstabbing as the aliens they are fighting. No one can be trusted, even in the face of a threat that should be bringing everyone together! This raises some interesting questions, and makes for some interesting moments in a book where the plot can sometimes come across as a little linear (the relics aren’t on Planet A or Planet B, lets try Planet C!) Events are usually fast paced and flow in such a style that makes the book easier to read.

It’s also a shame that there wasn’t more time to spend with the characters themselves, all of whom merit further attention. Roth’s gradual decline, in the face of the mission, is an interesting study in the pressures of warfare and I was particularly impressed by Zou’s ability to keep my hopes up for Silverstein’s safety until right at the end when... The universe of the fortieth millennium is certainly an unforgiving place!

‘Emperor’s Mercy’ had it’s problems, as far as I was concerned, but there was still plenty there to suggest that Henry Zou is a name to look out for in the future if you’re a fan of Warhammer 40,000. I’d certainly pick up his next book to see what he comes up with next.

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten


jemaine said...

I would honestly give this book a solid 9 out of 10.

It completely lived up to its expectations, and was exceptionally well written.

Michael said...

Id give this book 1 (maybe 2) out of ten. I was bitterly disappointed. After reading the prlogue on the BL website i was looking forward to one hell of a thriller. What i got instead was a bland, boring this-is-whats-happening-now mess full of underdeveloped charcters. Bad times.

Stefan O. said...

As an avid Dan Abnett fan, I'm abit reluctant to indulge myself it the worlds of other Warhammer 40k authors. However after recently finished Ravenor: The Omnibus, I saw a page ad of 'Emperor's Mercy' by Henry Zou and Abnett's positive words on it. So the following day I purchased this novel.
I admit, it lacks the certian...gritty and vivid reality of Abnett's works. And overall it feels like a total Ravenor wannabe. The book's main character and another squad member (also a woman) are both pyskers (Akin to Ravenor/Patience Kys) Although Zou made these two lower-end Pyskers.

I did enjoy this book, but it will take you the first 100 pages to get into it. I love Chaos, and I love Henry Zou's vivid feel to the ArchEnemy.

Is this book one of the great 40k Novels? No. Is it a good book to immerse yourself In? Certainly.

This is a new author, first novel. You cannot compare him to others like Abnett who's done dozens of books, thousands of comics, and even a few plays.

Henry Zou is a darn talented author, and I'll be looking forward to purchasing his upcoming book.

Out of a scale to one to ten...I'd have to give this a solid 5. Now that may seem medicore, however, that's a solid score considering I only rank Ravenor and it's series with a 8.

Very good book, worth the money.

Anonymous said...

Very disappointing in my opinion.Warning spoilers below.

I was expecting more than 3 pages or so for Khorsabad Maw.He get's a 2 sentences in and destroys a single tank before getting his brains blown out like some kind of bad movie villain.

It's like Zou ran out of ideas and decided to end the book with a and they all lived happily ever after(Except for the villain who got cheated).

I mean really,who else wanted to see how Baeder/Maw had developed?Or even if any of his old comrades were still with him?
Instead "Tap Tap" he's dead.