Book three in Black Library’s The Beast Arises series, The Emperor Expects sees the reins handed over to Gav Thorpe for the first proper look at the Imperial Navy during this time of intense upheaval for the Imperium. The spotlight falls on Captain Rafal Kulik of the Colossus as he navigates the treacherous waters of naval politics, caught between two antagonistic fleet admirals as the Navy launches a desperate assault on an ork attack moon. Meanwhile the politicking continues amongst the High Lords back on Terra, while Second Captain Koorland – sole surviving Imperial Fist – calls a gathering of power that hasn’t been seen for a thousand years.
After Abnett’s powerful first chapter and Sanders’ subsequent setup, this novel signals the point where events really start to build up a head of steam – if you thought there were some surprises in the first two books, just wait until you read what happens in this one. The focus is very much on Kulik and the wider naval action taking place around him, and this is an arc that Thorpe clearly has a load of fun with. He fleshes out the Navy beautifully, from the relationships Kulik has with his immediate subordinates and superiors to the sheer scale of a naval battle, not to mention the brutality of an ork boarding action, and these sections have a delightfully old-school 40k feel about them.
While the Navy arc is happily building up steam, Gav does a great job of developing the other arcs taking place elsewhere, building upon what’s gone before back on Terra and elsewhere in the Imperium. We see the continuation of Vangorich’s attempts to influence the High Lords, to varying degrees of success, a really interesting progression for Wienand as her Inquisitorial role lands her in considerable danger, and a meeting of Space Marine might that turns into an unexpectedly emotional and powerful scene. In short, this takes pretty much all of the fun stuff from the first two books and runs with it, providing more of the same but ramping up the intrigue and threat level accordingly.
If there were any lingering doubts about how good this series was going to be, consider them essentially dispelled by this book. There’s obviously still a long way to go in the series as a whole, with nine more books still to go, but the signs so far are incredibly positive. Gav has clearly had some fun with this novel, tackling the continuation of existing arcs with aplomb while fleshing out the Navy in considerable style, and he’s joined Abnett and Sanders in telling a satisfying story within the context of the wider series, all within the confines of a 50k or so book. It’s great stuff, and the cliffhanger at the end? Well…it’s a big one.