Continuing a recent trend of books released to tie in with new Games Workshop miniature ranges, Rob Sanders’ latest novel – Skitarius – is the first Black Library release to feature the new Adeptus Mechanicus forces. It follows the impersonally-named Alpha Primus Haldron-44 Stroika (largely referred to as just Stroika, or occasionally the even more impersonal Stroika-unit) as he leads his Skitarii cohorts into battle, enacting the wishes of his distant Adeptus Mechanicus masters. After a new discovery leads to the invasion of a Dark Mechanicus forge world, Stroika finds himself battling daemon engines and twisted machine cultists in an increasingly desperate battle for survival.
The Adeptus Mechanicus has always been an interesting element to the 40k universe, and the opportunity to see them in a new light is always going to be welcome. Here Sanders highlights all of the fun new toys as Stroika and his cohorts get stuck in, showing the brand new troop types and their arsenal of exotic weaponry and exploring the unusual way in which everything works together both on the battlefield and off. It does at times feel rather like a glorified advert for the miniatures, with all the unfamiliar names crammed in as often as possible, but that’s made up for by the way that the Skitarii as a whole come across as a genuinely fresh, interesting force with all their own unique quirks and characteristics. Sanders has done much more than write an Imperial Guard novel with lots of bionics – from Stroika down to the individual Skitarii under his command, the characters really stand out from the usual 40k tropes.
This is another of the new-style shorter novels (like Anthony Reynolds’ Kharn), running to 223 pages in hardback, but it’s nice to see Black Library offering it in all formats (ebook, standard and limited edition hardback, and audiobook) at the same time and allowing readers the choice straight away. And even though it’s shorter than many previous Black Library titles, it’s testament to Sanders’ writing that it doesn’t feel any less like a complete story. The plot is simple but effective, and the story maintains a brisk pace throughout that keeps the reader’s interest and regularly puts Stroika and the other characters into interesting, challenging situations which allow Sanders to delve into the workings of the Skitarii and the Adeptus Mechanicus. There are some really interesting ideas on show, and it’s really brought home just how cold and calculating the Adeptus Mechanicus can be.
Overall this is a thoroughly enjoyable, interesting book, which feels fresh and vibrant in context of the wider Black Library canon. It’s not perfect by any means, sometimes getting itself bogged down in all the new technology and names at the expense of readability, but on the whole it’s a satisfying read. It’s particularly interesting to see how Sanders has managed to inject such humanity and personality into a character in Stroika that could under other circumstances have come across cold and impersonal. Based on this, it looks like the Skitarii are going to be a worthy addition to the Black Library books and the 40k universe as a whole.