Echoes of the Long War, book six in the Beast Arises series and the first from David Guymer, sees the halfway point in this twelve book series. Picking things up after the events of Throneworld it focuses mostly on the Fists Exemplar, specifically newly-promoted First Captain Zerberyn as he he drags the Exemplar fleet into battle with the orks in support of Black Templar Marshal Magneric and his unusual allies. Elsewhere we see Koorland and Vangorich attempting to take control of the situation back on Terra, and Magos Urquidex conspiring against his Martian masters, feeding information back to Vangorich.
Where Throneworld touched upon all sorts of ongoing plot threads, here the scope is much tighter – there’s still enough political intrigue to maintain the tone of the series and balance out the action, but the focus is very much on Zerberyn. First seen in Predator, Prey he’s well fleshed out here, a stern and dogmatic example of Dorn’s heritage who’s forced into making some really difficult, unwholesome decisions. There’s also a clever hand-off of Magneric’s plot arc, nicely developing the theme of ancient enemies forging alliances in the face of a bigger threat, which gives much of the book a strong sense of tension and uncertainty.
Interestingly this is Guymer’s first 40k novel, his previous full-length books having all been for Warhammer, but he’s managed to get the tone of the Beast Arises series spot on here. It’s as grim and dark as any in the series so far, in keeping with the bleak situation the Imperium finds itself in, from the creepy machinations of the Adeptus Mechanicus on Mars to the brutal, desperate action scenes which see the Exemplars finding it tough going against the worryingly sophisticated orks. Dark it may be, but there’s plenty to enjoy, not least a return to the explosive, eyebrow-raising moments that have typified the series so far. As for the final cliffhanger…it’s a doozy.
Halfway through the series, what’s most interesting is that these books are managing to feel consistent and maintain a similar tone, while each tackling quite different topics. Here it feels more like a traditional 40k novel in that it’s spread out much less than some of the others have been, but it also taps into a little of that really old-school vibe of bleak, desperate, lose-lose situations that really suits the series. It maybe doesn’t offer quite as much variety as some of the previous books have done, sacrificing that in favour of concentrating on one core theme, but it does that job really well. If the second half of the series is as good as the first, there’s a lot more darkness and a lot more entertainment to come.