Space Marine Battles books are tricky beasts. On the one hand they cover some of the coolest events in 40k history and give us the chance to see a range of different chapters in action, while on the other hand the authors writing the books are constrained by the nature of the series – they are after all, Space Marine battles, so they need to be based heavily around some pretty big scraps. The best of the bunch balance the action with a healthy dose of insight into the chapter(s) in question, and Catechism of Hate just about manages to achieve this balance.
Penned by veteran Black Library scribe Gav Thorpe, it’s a novella-length tale featuring Chaplain Cassius and his Ultramarines (with added titans) facing off against the alien horror of the Tyranids. Set in the aftermath of Hive Fleet Kraken and the battle for Macragge, we get an interesting insight into the impact that the Tyranids have had on the Ultramarines, both in terms of their fighting strength and their collective psyches. As fans of the Ultramarines will know, Cassius is especially fond of fighting the Tyranids, and Gav draws upon this to show us a different side to this familiar chapter. Here we see the way that Cassius tempers his chapter’s typical efficiency and discipline with his own righteous anger and hatred of this terrible foe, perhaps realising that not all enemies can be fought with traditional, rational tactics. It’s interesting to see how other Ultramarines might react to Cassius’ methods, and while the Chaplain and his men don’t get much in the way of character development we do get to see just how much fun can be had residing in the head of a man who’s quite so angry all the time.
Like all Space Marine Battles books this rewards an existing level of knowledge about the 40k universe, and the Ultramarines in particular, especially as it’s a shorter length tale than the full novels, but in this instance the shorter format works in its favour and rewards the inclusion of more in the way of introspection and observation. The story takes place over a relatively short period of time and keeps things quite small in terms of scale, but this has allowed Gav to measure the pace nicely. We get plenty of explosive Space Marine action but instead of dominating, the fight scenes provide contrast to the more reflective elements of the story.
Overall this is a welcome addition to the range; it’s different enough to the standard Space Marine Battle books to provide a nice change of tone and gives an interesting view on probably the most written-about chapter. If you’re after a full-on bolter fest, try one of the full novels. If you’ve read all of those and are after something a little different, this is just the ticket.