David Annandale’s Warden of the Blade is the first novel in a new trilogy from Black Library featuring Castellan Crowe of the Grey Knights, beginning the series by showing how Garran Crowe came to wield the Black Blade of Antwyr. The Grey Knights are sent to Sandava II to prevent or halt a daemonic incursion, Crowe and his fellow Purifiers following the then-Castellan Gavallan in the righteous prosecution of a daemonic plague afflicting the once-loyal world. Forced to battle both the daemons and the insidious power of the blade, Crowe and Gavallan lead their brothers into a battle only the strongest and purest could hope to survive.
There’s a bigger story taking place that we’re teased with early on, but the focus is on introducing Crowe, Gavallan and the blade, and demonstrating just how heavy a burden the blade is to the Grey Knights, and its Warden in particular. This isn’t just another artefact that can be held in stasis or destroyed; it must be guarded every second by the very best of the chapter lest its endless, intrusive whispers corrupt anyone and everyone nearby. It’s a slow death sentence for whoever takes the responsibility, as the blade gradually grinds them down. Here we see both the beginning and the end of that process, and it’s brutal.
The entire book is brutal, in fact. It’s a genuinely dark story where even the incredible heroism of the Grey Knights and the bravery of Sandava II’s human defenders is heavy with inevitability, and it’s truly, utterly relentless. Annandale cleverly uses the endless waves of daemons that Crowe has to battle to symbolise the internal war he’s fighting against the blade, as well as the wider role of the Grey Knights within the Imperium, and while there’s a lot of fighting here it all serves to hammer home how his entire life is a constant, never ending slog. Despite that, Crowe has plenty of depth as a character; patient, insightful, humble, he’s the calm centre of the story around which the other characters revolve.
Annandale’s style is eminently suited to a book like this with it’s oh-so-40k sense of darkness, of fear and ignorance and mankind being its own worst enemy. It’s not just style over substance though – this is a carefully constructed and well plotted story that tells an exciting tale while also exploring a slightly different side to the Grey Knights than what’s normally seen. Here we get a profound sense of just how powerful the Grey Knights can be, but also how bad things have to be for them to get involved. It’s a compelling story that beautifully illustrates the character of Castellan Crowe, and while it works perfectly as a standalone it should provide strong foundations for the rest of the series.
*The Limited Edition version of this book is, as usual, an absolute beauty. It doesn’t include any additional content, but the standard of production is outstanding and it’s just a pleasure to read. It’s well worth the additional cost if you can stretch to it…*