Friday, 7 October 2011

‘The Purging of Kadillus’ – Gav Thorpe (Black Library)

As much as I enjoy the Black Library’s output (and long term readers will already know that I do) I always find myself approaching the ‘Space Marines Battles’ series with a degree of trepidation and maybe this isn’t entirely fair. I’ve read a few books in this series and have found that most authors will flesh things out a little bit by looking at how Space Marines interact with the non-augmented humans they are protecting. This can, more often than not, open up a little chink in a Marine’s sense of invulnerability and make the story a little more interesting to follow. What has also been the case though is that authors will use this selfsame invulnerability to have the Marines steamroller their opposition and get the job done in a manner too predictable to be properly engaging. Basically, for every ‘Battle of the Fang’ or ‘Helsreach’ there has been a ‘Hunt for Voldorious’ or ‘Rynn’s World’. Nick Kyme’s ‘Fall of Damnos’ tipped the scales in terms of the positive but there has been enough of the negative to make me wonder how things are going to go when I pick up a new book in this series. I can’t help but pick these books up though and this brings me neatly onto Gav Thorpe’s ‘The Purging of Kadillus’.

I’d recently read Thorpe’s ‘Shadow King’, a heavy going read that ultimately proved worth the effort, and I was wondering if I’d be in for more of the same in ‘The Purging of Kadillus’. As it turned out... No, not really. ‘The Purging of Kadillus’ does it’s job but it didn’t take long before I worked out how it was going to end... which was exactly how it ended.

The planet Piscina IV has an Ork problem, quite a serious one in fact. Standard procedure is clear on how to deal with an infestation like this; ‘purge the Xenos and cleanse the very ground that they sprang from’ (trivia fact: 40K Orks grow from fungus like spores, that’s pretty cool any way you look at it). What do you do though when the Orks just keep coming? That is the problem facing the Third Company of the Dark Angels Space Marines as they fight to save the planet from an all encompassing infestation. While the mystery of the Ork reinforcements is being investigated by Dark Angels scouts, the pivotal battle will be fought at Kadillus Harbour and the fate of an entire planet hangs on the outcome.

Reading ‘The Purging of Kadillus’ left me in two minds for pretty much the duration of the book. There was enough there to keep me going but at the same time I kept finding myself toying with the idea of putting the book down for something else. I finished it but not for any real reason other than I’d got over halfway through the book and it felt easier to keep going rather than put it down.

If you’ve come to ‘The Purging of Kadillus’ looking to kick back and watch a huge scrap kick off then you’re probably going to have a lot of fun here. Here is a book that is essentially four hundred and ten pages of genetically enhanced super warriors going up against big green monsters who won’t let a tiny thing, like the loss of a limb, keep them from doing what they love (stomping humans into a thick paste). The fighting doesn’t stop, not for a second, and you can sometimes find yourself trying to block out the sounds of the gunfire in order to concentrate on what’s happening on the page. It’s that intense (tellingly though, these passages are rendered in a very matter of fact style which sometimes makes the whole thing feel a little flat...) and that is what kept me chugging along with the read despite everything else.

Unfortunately though, that’s all it is.

By limiting the Space Marine’s interaction with their human allies, Thorpe isn’t really able to explore a theme that has successfully been exploited by other Black Library writers. All he really has to fall back on is how well the Dark Angels stand up to their enemies and, given how completely useless the Orks are (their strategy appears to be to just run at the Marines whilst shooting lots) the outcome is never in any doubt. This killed off a lot of the tension for me; I knew how it was going to end and I wasn’t surprised at all when I was proved right.

The mystery behind the Ork reinforcements proved not to be that much of a mystery after all (given that we are shown what’s happening very early in the book). In fact, it felt like the real mystery was why the Marines didn’t work it out a whole lot sooner. Again, the outcome was never in any doubt. I was waiting to see it end rather than waiting to see how it ended...

 ‘The Purging of Kadillus’ is an energetic read that ultimately proved very disappointing. Try Thorpe’s Warhammer fantasy fiction instead, it's a lot better.

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten

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