Black Library’s The Beast Arises series continues with book five, Throneworld by Guy Haley. Following on from the disastrous events of The Last Wall, it sees the ork attack moon still looming in orbit over Terra and the High Lords paralysed by fear, while a troupe of Harlequins emerges from the Webway into the Imperial Palace in search of an audience with The Emperor himself. Meanwhile in the Phall system the Imperial Fist successor chapters gather their strength to form the Last Wall, in preparation for striking back at the orks. As Koorland leads a largely unified force to the defence of a conflicted Terra, elsewhere Marshall Magneric of the Black Templars pursues the Iron Warriors of Warsmith Kalkatos right into the teeth of the oncoming orks.
All the elements of the series are present and correct here in the expected mixture of political intrigue and explosive action, Vangorich continuing to take centre stage in the scenes on Terra and the Space Marines showing up in force to take the lead on the action front. There’s probably the most Astartes involvement here since I Am Slaughter, but it’s not all fighting – it’s interesting to see Koorland’s increasing, if unhappy, involvement in the politics of both keeping his forces united and navigating the murky waters of Terra. There’s still plenty of Space Marine action mind, not least with Magneric’s furious pursuit of the Iron Warriors, which results in some decidedly unexpected decisions being made.
Unlike the previous titles in the series this feels a lot like a crossroads novel, as though it’s the point in the series where lots of the plot strands come together and then start to diverge again. The Space Marines are starting to properly fight back while Vangorich and the Inquisition are finally beginning to work together a little, but we’re also beginning to see hints of what’s coming next in the actions of the Eldar and the Mechanicus. Strangely there’s no reference made to the shocking actions of the orks at the end of The Last Wall, which does feel a little odd, but there are occasional glimpses of similarly strange ork behaviour which at least continue to hint at these being very, very different to the orks of the 41st millennium.
Overall it doesn’t feel quite as explosive or dramatic as the previous novels, and seems to go for (relative) subtlety over the jaw-dropping revelations we’ve seen so far. That’s not to say there’s no suspense here, it’s just a little different – more teasers than cliffhangers. Haley has done a typically good job of incorporating the Eldar and digging into the fanatical, zealous Black Templars, while continuing to flesh out the regular characters, and if it maybe feels as though there’s not quite enough space to fully do everything justice, this is still another solid chapter in a continually gripping series.