The first in what will eventually be a series of eighteen short novels, David Annandale’s Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar kicks The Horus Heresy – The Primarchs off with a look at the XIIIth Legion…the Ultramarines. Set during the Great Crusade this isn’t an origin story for Guilliman, instead it sees him leading his legion against the final remnants of an ork empire on the planet Thoas. Determined to honour the legacy of its original human inhabitants, he commits his legion to battle even while he makes moves internally to shake things up and remind some of his sons of the legion’s identity.
Guilliman and the XIIIth are the obvious choice to open this series, seeing as the Ultramarines have always been the poster boys for the Space Marines as a whole. Don’t expect the boys in blue to have things all their own way here though, as while it’s heavy on the theoretical/practical concept there’s a strong sense of Guilliman and his sons being tested, and their identity challenged. We’re reminded that the Ultramarines are not in search of perfection, like the Emperor’s Children; instead Guilliman’s aim is precision, which includes the ability to adapt and turn even the worst situations into opportunities for success.
We see Guilliman fully involved in the planning and execution of his war, but at the same time clearly thinking ahead to what he still expects will be a bright future for humanity. He’s a little like a walking text book at times, which doesn’t always make it easy for the reader, or indeed his sons, to warm to him…but he’s charismatic and powerful enough to pull it off. If you’re not a fan of the theorising, you’ll enjoy it when his blood gets up! The other characters are less detailed but still engaging, from the stalwart Marius Gage to the officers of the 22nd Chapter who bear the brunt of Guilliman’s reshuffle. Meanwhile the orks are portrayed as a begrudgingly worthwhile foe, genuinely dangerous and occasionally capable of surprising even a primarch.
The decision not to make this an origin story is a wise one; instead of spending time setting up the character of Guilliman and his legion, this story is about how that character is challenged and affected in the crucible of war. It does take an oblique look at Guilliman’s early years in the excerpts from his various treatises, but the emphasis is on the legion as it was before the events of the Heresy. As such there’s a sense of innocence still about them, and a hint of foreshadowing as the story progresses. Not everyone’s going to get on with this depiction of the legion, but there’s plenty to enjoy in the simple pleasures of a well constructed and written story. It’s short and sweet, with a narrow focus that lends it a precision of its own…a good start to this series!