In his debut novel Kingsblade, Andy Clark gives us the first full Black Library novel focused on the mighty Imperial Knights. When the world of Donatos falls prey to the machinations of the Word Bearers, led by Dark Apostle Varakh’Lorr, the Knightly Houses of Adrastapol are in the forefront of the Imperial response. Young and untested, two newly-raised Knights join their Houses in battle, keen to step out from under the lengthy shadows of their highborn fathers. When disaster strikes though, they have to shoulder unexpected burdens if they are to survive and find victory.
Kingsblade starts as it means to go on, as the Knights of Adrastapol launch their assault via drop keeps…yep, they attack out of huge, gothic castles dropped from space. It’s not subtle, but then this is a story about giant mechanical knights, so it probably shouldn’t be! What it is, is massive fun. It’s great to see Imperial Knights in action, and expanded beyond what we’ve seen so far in the Heresy and their rare 40k appearances (like Knights of the Imperium); we get plenty of detail on how they organise themselves, how they fight and resupply, which is all nicely thought through and fleshes them out as a faction beyond being just big killy machines. Also it’s endlessly entertaining to see massive machines killing stuff, too!
Clark has emphasised the links with historical knights, focusing on their chivalric code of conduct, so the key themes of the book deal with honour, loyalty and duty…on both sides of the conflict. The naming conventions and adherence to this code can occasionally be a bit distracting, but for the most part they add an enjoyable sense of identity to the story which keeps it feeling different to your average Space Marine or Imperial Guard tale. The youthful protagonists lend it an almost Young Adult feel, the sort of against all odds/boy to man adventure story that many readers will have cut their teeth on when they first got excited about Fantasy and Sci-Fi as a genre. In case you’re not sure, that’s definitely a good thing!
This is a strong debut novel, one that captures the dark, gritty essence of 40k but manages to retain a sense of fun beyond the grimdark. It’s not perfect – plot-wise it occasionally sticks a touch too closely to the predictable path, and while the Dark Apostle Varakh’Lorr is entertaining to watch, he’s perhaps a little one-dimensional in terms of motivations. That’s all made up for by a range of stronger characters, not least Danial Tan Draconis whose bookish awkwardness gives way to strength and surety as the story progresses, and a well-realised backdrop of Knightly goings-on. It’s worth reading the short story Becoming before tackling the novel, to get a sense of some of the characters and themes, but as long as you like adventure stories and giant mechanical war machines (and who doesn’t?) then there’s lots to enjoy here.