David Annandale’s latest Black Library release is Lemartes : Guardian of the Lost, a novella in the Lords of the Space Marines series. Having already looked at the only Blood Angel ever to conquer the Red Thirst (in his previous Mephiston novella), he now turns his attention to the only one ever to contain the other of the Blood Angels’ curses – the Black Rage. Roused from his stasis to lead the Death Company into battle on Phlegethon, a world consumed by madness and anger, Lemartes must cling tight to his tenuous grip on reality as the Blood Angels face a dark mirror of themselves in the form of blood-hungry traitors.
Unusually, Lemartes is not only a Black Library First Edition but is also free! Well, sort of. The only way to get hold of this book was through Black Library’s Service Stud loyalty scheme – spend enough money, get a free book at the end of it. The First Editions are contentious at the best of times, and the Service Studs scheme has met with some antipathy in places, but for those willing and able to spend enough to qualify for a copy, Lemartes is a nice reward to receive. It comes packaged in a striking slipcase and includes a small paperback featuring two short stories – The Endless Fall and The Ghosts of Rage – which bookend the main story.
Portraying a character constantly on a knife-edge of emotion and sanity was always going to be somewhat tricky, but Annandale has captured Lemartes and his constant struggle remarkably well. We flick between seeing events through Lemartes’ own eyes – constantly fighting against his curse, torn between the real of the present and the blood memories of the Battle for Terra – and those of other Marines and mortals; to his fellow Blood Angels he’s a conflicting figure of hope and fear, and to the humans of the Mordian Iron Guard he’s a confusion of fear and awe. To the reader he’s a fascinating character, but the way the book is written when seen from his viewpoint – short, terse sentences, a confusion of conflicting imagery that beautifully highlights his internal struggles – is not always easy to read. It’s a stylistic choice that works for the most part, but does occasionally make the book a little dense and slow to work through.
Putting aside any concerns around exclusivity and so on, and simply looking at this book on its merits, chances are it’s a book that will divide opinion. In typical Blood Angels fashion it’s got action by the bucketload, and blood by the gallon, but it’s much more of a psychological story than most Black Library books, delving into not just Lemartes but the Blood Angels as a whole. The antagonists of the story, the Blood Disciples, are there to be a chaos-tinted mirror to the nobility of the Blood Angels, and the book itself looks closely at the characteristics of this chapter which make it at once noble and dangerously flawed. It’s bleak and dark (very David Annandale) and not necessarily an easy read, but it’s a fascinating look at a complex group of characters.