IMPORTANT: This is book eight in a series – there will be spoilers unless you’ve read I Am Slaughter; Predator, Prey; The Emperor Expects; The Last Wall; Throneworld; Echoes of the Long War or The Hunt for Vulkan.
We hit book 8 in Black Library’s The Beast Arises series with Gav Thorpe’s second in the series, The Beast Must Die. We’re two thirds of the way in now, and with the return of the primarch Vulkan the Imperium finally has a chance to strike a decisive blow against the invading orks. With a withdrawn and brooding Vulkan as figurehead and Koorland reluctantly calling the shots, a combined force the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Heresy besieges legendary Ullanor in an attempt to bring The Beast to battle and kill the ork warlord. Simultaneously, unwilling to trust to brute force Vangorich secretly makes his own plans for dealing with The Beast.
With four books still to go there’s an understandable sense of inevitability about the story here, underscored by the haunting, melancholy thoughts of Vulkan that precede many of the chapters. Koorland and his various lieutenants are filled with a hope that gradually dims as the book progresses, while Vulkan broods, unwilling for the most part to take charge of events. We see almost nothing through Vulkan’s eyes, instead cycling through the viewpoints of various combatants during the course of the book. When the primarch fights he’s a force of nature but the focus is on the mortal characters, cleverly keeping Vulkan at arms length to maintain a sense of mystery about his thoughts and actions.
With the focus on taking the fight to the orks, the majority of the story here is taken up with battles. After a brief moment on Terra and an all too brief glimpse of Vangorich the action moves immediately to Ullanor, where the various Space Marine, Imperial Guard and Adeptus Mechanicus elements offer a nice amount of variety to what could otherwise have been disappointingly repetitive. As it is this feels noticeably different to the earlier instalments in the series with none of the scheming and politics, trading that in for impressively massive action scenes and a slow-burn character study of Vulkan. Koorland remains an engaging character, still struggling to impose his will on his subordinates and unsure of how to handle Vulkan, but the big guy is the real draw here. It’s fascinating to see more of a primarch whose [SPOILER ALERT] involvement in the Heresy series has so far largely involved dying, and who by this point is understandably nihilistic – if it still needed reinforcing that this is neither the Heresy nor 40k, here it’s hammered home.
Some might be disappointed by the emphasis on action over intrigue here, but really that’s just the nature of how the series is going. What this book clearly does is set things up for the start of the last act – it’s the false climax before things get really, really dark…which presumably is what’s going to happen next. Gav’s done an excellent job with a tricky subject, and given us a book full of inventive action and suspense, with none of the massive shocks of the early books but plenty of thought-provoking details. It’s essentially a single huge set piece, but one whose outcome feels like it’s going to be very important. Once again, The Beast Arises delivers.