Wednesday, 30 March 2011

‘Fall of Damnos’ – Nick Kyme (Black Library)

I’ve had a bit of a problem with a couple of the ‘Space Marine Battles’ novels for the reason that, well... they’re just about fighting and stuff. I know that sounds a bit silly and I suppose it is to an extent. If you’re reading a series called ‘Space Marine Battles’ then what the hell do you expect it to be about? I mean, seriously... Well, there is that but I generally find that some story wrapped around the edges generally gives the battle a little bit more resonance. If you know about the people fighting then the battle is going to mean a little bit more; at least that’s the way I see it.

I’m after a little more from my reading than mindless stand up violence without a plot but every so often I find that’s exactly what I’m after. Like last week for example. Several disturbed nights sleep (teething baby) left my brain feeling like mush and in need of something mindless to read to wake me up if nothing else. The perfect time then to read the latest ‘Space Marine Battles’ novel and ‘Fall of Damnos’ certainly delivered on that front. Surprisingly though, there was a story as well and ‘Fall of Damnos’ was all the better for it.

The planet of Damnos is being invaded from its very core. Imperial mining operations have awoken the Necrons, a robotic race from the dawn of time that have slept for millennia. Now they are awake, the Necrons want to take Damnos back and their implacable advance will not stop until every last human on the planet is dead. The call for help goes out and, as luck would have it, a detachment of Ultramarines is close enough to come and lend their assistance. Will it be enough though? How can a Necron be truly destroyed when their regenerative abilities knit them back together as they are being torn apart? And can the seemingly peerless Ultramarines deal with their own internal quandaries to take a stand against this foe? If things aren’t bad enough, the attending Librarian has a vision that the Ultramarine’s beloved Captain will die on Damnos...

Before I get started, just a couple of things... Can anyone explain the Imperial Calendar to me? The prologue kicks off in 274.973.M41 but by the first chapter we’re already in 779.973.M41. It seems like a lot of time has passed here, or has it? I haven’t really come across this calendar very much so if anyone can shed some light things would make a lot more sense. As it was, the whole ‘date thing’ made it difficult to get into the flow of the book at just the wrong time...

Also, this must be the fourth story I’ve read now (from the Black Library) where mining operations have disturbed slumbering Necrons and bloodshed has ensued. As waking up Necrons seems to be a regular occurrence in the Imperium I couldn’t help but wonder why no-one seems to have learnt a lesson from this... How about ‘If you come across an unexplained artefact whilst mining, please dig round it and carry on; it’s probably full of Necrons...’ It does make you wonder how much of a threat these Necrons really are if people are still prepared to run the risk of waking them. Something else that made it a little difficult for me to get into the book.

All that to one side though, once those first few pages are out of the way ‘Fall of Damnos’ becomes as compelling a read as any of the Black Library’s better works. Here is a story that gets its hooks into you and won’t release you until it’s done.

It’s not all easy going though. Apart from the bits I’ve just mentioned, ‘Fall of Damnos’ is very much a book aimed squarely at Warhammer 40K gamers and this means that it might not be quite so accessible to those readers who aren’t used to the ways in which the Ultramarines Chapter works. There’s a lot made of tactics here and passages devoted to how the Marines respond to particular threats. I think this is great for those people who game with Ultramarines, they’re going to get a lot out of it and might even come away with new ideas for tactics. For the rest of us though, these particular passages break up the ebb and flow of the battle with a little too much detail at precisely the wrong time...

I fell into this second camp but what I did find was that this shortcoming was balanced out by all the stuff going on when the battle sequences really find their groove. There’s plenty of pyrotechnics on display (and Kyme proves more than adept at ramping up the tension beforehand) but the real attention is paid to the people caught up in the middle of it all and that’s just the way it should be. It’s individuals who make up the overall conflict and Kyme’s ‘Fall of Damnos’ is a very personal conflict as a result.

Whether it’s the Space Marines struggling to overcome possible internal conflicts (and their own self doubts) or non-augmented troopers and civilians struggling to stay out of the crossfire (in a battle that they cannot hope to win) everyone has their own story to tell and equal footing is given to all. Even the Necrons themselves have a story to tell and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for one of them at least. The end result is a conflict that is extremely well fleshed out and rounded.
I think what I liked most about Kyme’s approach here was the attention he paid to all the individual plot strands. Everything is resolved by the end and no-one is left hanging. The only thing left open ended is the battle itself and that lends a delicious air of uncertainty to the whole thing. I don’t think there will be a sequel but I wouldn’t mind seeing one if this book is anything to go by

‘Fall of Damnos’ does suffer some of the flaws of earlier books in this particular series but rises above these to become a book that I ended up enjoying far more than I thought I would. Recommended for long time fans, possibly not so accessible for the casual reader though and this is more about the book’s structure than the actual content.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten.


pinchy said...

To work out the imperial date take a look at

The first of April (on earth) should be somewhere around 1.250.011.M03 being pretty much 1/4 of the way through the year.

miteyheroes said...

The first three digits tell you how many thousandths of a year have passed. So 274 to 779 is about 500/1000 of a year, half a year.