The third book in Black Library’s Space Marine Legends series, Shrike sees George Mann tackle the most famous 40k-era Raven Guard character – Kayvaan Shrike. Perhaps providing something of a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t followed recently-told events in the Damocles Gulf, this follows Shrike through the years and his advancing rank as he finds himself time and again facing up against the same ork warlord, Gorkrusha. As Shrike progresses through the hierarchy of the chapter, so too does his hatred of Gorkrusha develop and grow, until it threatens to become a dangerous obsession.
It’s a pretty short book, but suitably fast paced and nicely structured to fit plenty of action into the short page count. Split into three parts representing Shrike’s upwards trajectory within the Raven Guard, it ties in flashbacks to a seemingly innocuous event in his past which has powerful repercussions over time, and links in with his vendetta against Gorkrusha. There’s an overarching theme running through the book of how the desire for vengeance, even to correct a mistake or avenge a fallen brother, can end up as a negative influence. It’s not hammered home too heavily, but adds a welcome touch of depth to the story.
Other than that theme, however, there’s not a lot else beneath the surface, with the focus mostly on action. The usual Raven Guard style of war is talked up plenty, but we don’t see a vast amount of their vaunted stealth, or preference for striking fast and melting away – all of the action takes place against orks, who are portrayed as satisfyingly dangerous and capable rather than the old-style comedy aliens, but Shrike and co. seem to get bogged down a lot in straightforward slugfests with them. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it feels a touch laboured and not as characterful as it could be. Meanwhile Shrike’s main strength seems to be tenacity and the ability to keep fighting after taking a beating, rather than any real sense of strategic nous or overt combat prowess.
It’s all good fun, and there’s nothing that feels outright wrong or particularly badly done, but there’s a sense that this doesn’t really offer much of an insight, which is a shame. There’s an attempt to dig into the Raven Guard’s rituals that, given more time, could have been expanded into something really interesting, but as it is it feels a little like window dressing. The constraints of such a short novel mean that the emphasis is on pace and action, at the expense of the chance to really add some depth to this character and his chapter. It ends up as the sort of book that will appeal the most to someone looking for a quick, Space Marine Battles-style read, as opposed to something that really gets beneath the skin of its protagonist. It’s enjoyable, but perhaps a bit of a missed opportunity.