The second in Rob Sanders’ mini-series of short Adeptus Mechanicus novels, Tech-Priest continues the story started in Skitarius, as the forces of Archmagos Omnid Torquora battle to take the Dark Mechanicum forge world of Velchanos Magna. Where Skitarius showed the world of the Adeptus Mechanicus from the front lines, seen through the eyes of Haldron-44 Stroika, this time the perspective switches to Stroka’s master, the ancient Tech-Priest overseeing the battle remotely from orbit. Locked in a stalemate but with enemies on all sides, Torquora’s options appear to be limited.
At 189 pages this is a little shorter than Skitarius, but following so close to its predecessor it benefits from not needing so much in the way of setup or exposition. Where Skitarius sometimes felt slowed down by the need to highlight the cool new toys that the Mechanicus now have, here there’s much less emphasis on that, and the few new additions that crop up feel like they’re there to support the story as opposed to dictating it. Without that burden the story is free to rattle along at a rapid pace, the action skipping between the war-torn surface of the planet and the corridors of Torquora’s ship, with the gruesome flesh-machine hybrids of the warped Iron Warriors providing nicely appropriate antagonists for the Mechanicus to deal with.
What stands out the most, in a story seen through the eyes of a character who is considerably more machine than man, is how human Torquora comes across as. As he not only watches through the eyes of his rapidly-sacrificed troops but actively participates in the battles, making difficult decisions and experiencing first hand the consequences, there’s an interesting sense of responsibility to the character that comes as something of a surprise. He even gives a rousing speech at one point, appealing to the still-human aspects of his troops, and Sanders does a really good job of highlighting the differences between Torquora and Krendl, the brutal and inhuman Iron Warriors warlord.
Fast-paced, full of action and surprisingly insightful, it’s arguably the better novel of the two in the series. Once again it’s great fun to see the new-style Mechanicus in action, and this provides a satisfying conclusion to the wider story. Could these two books have been combined into a single, standard-size novel? Yes, absolutely; there’s no doubt that this feels a little like a money-making exercise on the part of Black Library, splitting the story across two books. In the interest of fairness to the author however, these are well-crafted, enjoyable books which do a really good job of bringing the Adeptus Mechanicus to life. Definitely worth the read.