For Issue Four of Hachette’s Warhammer 40,000 Legends Collection the action turns away from Space Marines and Inquisitors to the Imperial Guard, and a humble guardsman. Fifteen Hours by Mitchel Scanlon was first published waaaay back in 2005 and is one of those books that hasn’t quite made it to be an all-out Black Library classic, but is nonetheless held as something of an Imperial Guard must-read. A quick look on Goodreads shows it to be rated at 3.7 out of 5, which is pretty good, while on Amazon (UK) it’s got nine 5 star reviews and one 4 star review! Sounds like it’s worth a read, right?
Focused very much on putting the grim in grimdark this is the story of one guardsmen among countless others, a wet-behind-the-ears recruit who’s caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. With little real chance to survive, about the best he can hope for is to beat the odds…by making it more than the ‘average’ guardsman’s life expectancy of fifteen hours. If that sounds dark to you, well…yeah, it is. I’m not giving anything away by saying that in the very first line the protagonist acknowledges that he’s dying. Yep, it’s dark. There’s no happy ending here – as it says in the ‘Collection curator’s introduction’, the first edition of 40k (that’s Rogue Trader to you and me) included this happy line: “the universe is a big place and, whatever happens, you will not be missed…” That’s very much what this book is working towards.
So is it a good choice for the first Imperial Guard novel in this collection? Yeah, I reckon it does. Sure, you could say that one of the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels would have been a good introduction as well, and indeed quite a few of the many Imperial Guard novels could have worked…but this one nails the core idea of the Guard. These are not Marines, they’re not the elite of the Imperium, they’re just ordinary men and women. When they come up against the endless horrors of an unkind galaxy, they’re going to be outclassed; individually, they don’t stand a chance – the strength of the Guard is in weight of numbers. Each soldier is just another lasgun, and as grim as that idea is, it’s what lies at the heart of how the Imperial Guard works.
I won’t go into detail on the production values of the book, as you can read all about those in my posts about Issues One, Two and Three. Suffice to say this is the same impressive standard, complete with foreword, internal colour artwork section, and suitably moody cover art. It’s considerably shorter than the first three books, clocking in at barely 200 pages (including the foreword), but then it comes from a period in Black Library’s history when books generally were a lot shorter than they are now. Don’t think in terms of page count, but more the quality of the story! It also continues the trend of each new novel having spine numbers that are completely out of sync – this one is number 49.
It’s another interesting choice then, continuing the collection’s theme of not necessarily going with the obvious options. Compared to books like Xenos this is potentially less of a safe choice, but that’s admirable in my book. And yeah, this book out of all of the Guard novels is probably the right place to start…as long as you don’t mind it being exceedingly bleak.