IMPORTANT: Don’t read this review if you haven’t yet read I Am Slaughter – there will inevitably be spoilers.
Following on closely from I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett, Rob Sanders’ Predator, Prey is the second novel in Black Library’s 12-book The Beast Arises series. With the Imperial Fists annihilated on Ardamantua and the High Lords of Terra preoccupied with jockeying for political power, the Imperium is unprepared for the sudden assault of The Beast, quickly finding itself beset on all sides by the impossible arrival of colossal attack moons. No world is safe, even space marine chapter homeworlds and Adeptus Mechanicus forge worlds coming under devastating attack as the orks rampage through the Imperium. In amongst the devastation however, there are still some Imperial forces fighting back and clinging desperately to survival, and vengeance.
In a bleak, shocking introduction Sanders immediately widens the scope from I Am Slaughter’s tight focus, revealing the devastating initial impact of The Beast’s invasion as world after world falls quickly to the greenskin attacks. The scene suitably set he goes on to focus primarily on four separate arcs, each highlighting a different facet of the Imperium – the Fists Exemplar chapter’s furious defence of their homeworld, the calculating coldness of the Adeptus Mechanicus watching and observing as their worlds fall, an ex-pirate PDF commander on a desperate rescue mission, and Vangorich’s political maneuvers back on Terra. Between these four arcs we get a powerful look at the terrifying power of this new breed of orks, and the struggle faced by the Imperium if it has any hope of survival.
Abnett’s opening novel set the bar high for this series, but Sanders has done a fantastic job of not just carrying on the series but expanding it, broadening the story’s reach and showing just how much trouble the Imperium is in. The structure works brilliantly, the different viewpoints providing a range of outlooks on what’s happening from the stoic determination of the space marines to the horrifying detachment of the Adeptus Mechanicus, but it’s the (fully) human viewpoints that have the most impact, particularly that of the PDF commander, Lux Allegra. In a short space of time Sanders sets her character up beautifully, with a conflicted backstory that adds real pathos to her arc, and seen through her eyes the ork invasion is appallingly, devastatingly brutal. It really can’t be overstated just how scary these events are for anyone familiar with orks in the 40k universe – this is a different level entirely.
So two books in and things are looking bleak for the Imperium, with entire systems falling to The Beast’s completely unexpected invasion, and an entire chapter of space marines annihilated. Well, almost. The authors involved in this series have been quite open about each of the books ending on a cliffhanger, and this is no exception – Sanders cleverly holds off looking at the aftermath of Ardamantua until right at the end, the miraculous survival of a single Imperial Fist adding a delicious sense of anticipation that leaves the reader hungry to know what comes next. This is powerful stuff, full of everything you expect from a Black Library book, and despite the relative brevity provides a full-strength shot of action, intrigue and excitement. It’s exactly what the series needed to really get readers hooked after the outstanding opening novel, and easily lives up to the standard set by Abnett in I Am Slaughter. If they’re all this good, this series is going to be an absolute winner.