Review: I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett

Posted by DarkChaplain at 3/10/2016
A brand new Black Library event series begins! After a millennium of peace, the Imperium is beset by a brand new invasion. The Imperial Fists respond... and havoc ensues. The Beast has arisen, and the galaxy will burn.

It is the thirty-second millennium and the Imperium is at peace. The Traitor Legions of Chaos are but a distant memory and the many alien races that have long plagued mankind are held in check by the Space Marines. When a mission to exterminate one such xenos breed on the world of Ardamantua draws in more of their forces, the Imperial Fists abandon the walls of Terra for the first time in more than a thousand years. And when another, greater, foe strikes, even the heroic sons of Rogal Dorn may be powerless against it. The Beast Arises… and it is mighty.
In December 2015, Black Library kicked off a new 12 book series, scheduled to release one installment every month. The Beast Arises is set to tell of the Beast's Waaagh, almost ten thousand years before the current 40k timeline. Set about 1500 years after the Horus Heresy, this has the potential to be a monumental series for BL. Let's have a look at the first book.

The Story:
"A brand new Black Library event series begins! After a millennium of peace, the Imperium is beset by a brand new invasion. The Imperial Fists respond... and havoc ensues. The Beast has arisen, and the galaxy will burn.

It is the thirty-second millennium and the Imperium is at peace. The Traitor Legions of Chaos are but a distant memory and the many alien races that have long plagued mankind are held in check by the Space Marines. When a mission to exterminate one such xenos breed on the world of Ardamantua draws in more of their forces, the Imperial Fists abandon the walls of Terra for the first time in more than a thousand years. And when another, greater, foe strikes, even the heroic sons of Rogal Dorn may be powerless against it. The Beast Arises… and it is mighty."

The Review
I am really torn on I Am Slaughter.
I could barely decide whether to rate it at 3 or 4 stars, though in the end I decided to go with the better rating, as this is merely a "prologue" novel (if you can even call it that, at barely half the usual size for Black Library releases).

First off, the Imperial Fists (one of whom is brandishing his sword at the reader from the cover) are rather inconsequential to the plot. While the book opens up with them, and features them throughout, it is mostly for shock value and to present a credible threat to the Imperium, not for their merits. They are by far the weakest and least exciting part about the whole book.

Readers familiar with Imperial Fists offerings by Black Library will probably know what's coming for them. It is almost a tradition at this point. Yes, they die in droves. Some deaths are well executed and shocking, while the vast majority happen off-page, unspoken of and unremembered. Even during the final confrontation with the Beast's greenskin hordes, we barely get to see the action unfold, and in the cases we actually do, it is for last stands that are over within a few pages.

At first I was slightly annoyed by Dan Abnett's trademark habit of injecting novelty traits and cultures into Space Marine Chapters. He did it with fairly blank slates like the Alpha Legion in the Horus Heresy novel Legion, which made sense and was appreciated. I even enjoyed most of his Space Wolves additions and changes in Prospero Burns, despite them not flowing entirely well with previous Wolves works. By Know No Fear I was groaning a bit, since as good as the end result was, his rendition of the Ultramarines didn't go hand in hand with any previous Horus Heresy work they had appeared in.
By The Unremembered Empire, I was on one hand happy about his looks at Legion culture, but hated the final conflict between Primarchs, who did felt somehow detached from their many previous appearances.

Which brings me to my point. It has been on my mind for quite some time already, and I believe it to be very relevant here.

Dan Abnett is not a good team player when it comes to tie-in fiction and multi-author series.
He excels at crafting his own niches within the Warhammer 40,000 and Horus Heresy settings, creating his own sub-plots and mythologies, character arcs and cultures. But when it comes to tying his works into the mythologies and plotlines of others, I consider him relatively weak.
When Nick Kyme depicted the Lion of Caliban better than 40k Grand Master Abnett himself, in a sequel to the latter's last novel, I couldn't help but wonder.

What Abnett has going for himself, however, is his incredible talent for starting projects, kicking off new series and laying the foundation for other authors to build on. His Horus Rising set the tone for years to come, giving the following authors an anchor point to build around. His Eisenhorn trilogy, one of the very early works in the franchise, did an invaluable job at expanding the Imperium of Man beyond "its a thing" status, turning it into an actual civilization.

I believe that having him pen the first novel in the The Beast Arises series of twelve (half-length) novels was a very solid decision, especially due to it being set in the twilight millennium following the Horus Heresy, long before the Imperium turned into what we know from 40k.

His additions to the Imperial Fists, while not entirely consistent with my expectations for them from the other lore about them - I would never imagine them picking silly honour names such as "Slaughter", "Killshot", "Frenzy" and the likes, for example - were for the most part reasonable and indicative of cultural shifts within the Imperium post-Heresy. I didn't love it, but I can see the point and figure that it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be from the early chapters.

But then, as I said, the Imperial Fists parts of the book were the weakest to me. The big, exciting things happened either in orbit of the doomed planet of Ardarmantua (following the actions of the imperial relief fleet led by Lord Commander Militant Heth, High Lord of Terra, as well as Admiral Kiran and General Maskar), or right back home on Holy Terra.

This book did a fantastic job at showing just how complacent the High Lords of Terra, leaders of the Imperium, have become. They are shown to be petty politicians who would rather rob mankind of easy and abundant resources, than taking a hit to their family business's profits. They play each other on a multitude of occassions, and end up sending the whole of the Imperial Fists Chapter to their doom - while not even aware of the threat they are opposing.

Enter Drakan Vangorich, Master of Assassins. His role no longer part of the High Twelve, instead replaced by Inquisition, Ecclesiarchy and others to better suit the changing Imperium's needs, he is full of resentment and disappointment for the council. He plays his own schemes, often taunts his supposed allies through veiled threats and making light of their security measures.

Readers familiar with early 40k lore will of course know that this character has been part of the setting for a very long time, and his actions would go down in history.
So, knowing of it, I went in expecting Drakan to be a malicious villain - but to Abnett's credit, I actually rather like the fellow, and can relate to him easily. He sees problems arising, and how the High Lords deal with them. He despises their petty power plays, and at least appears to have good intentions to protect the Imperium.

Drakan Vangorich, by far, is the most interesting and satisfying character in this whole novel, and might remain so for the entirety of the series.

As for the "Beast", there really isn't a lot to say. The big bad foe's appearance is intimidating, but he hasn't yet joined the fray in earnest. In fact, the orks don't even appear for about 80% of the novel. When they eventually do, the results are devastating, but I felt that it was too little, too late. The book is more of a prologue to the threat the Beast poses, rather than a good look at him and his forces.
As impressive as the first look at the massive Waaaghboss was, chilling and intimidating, it was the human generals in orbit of Ardamantua who stole the show through their reactions to the threat.

One thing I really didn't find myself liking was the way the title phrase "I Am Slaughter" was used. There is two characters who use it - the Beast itself, and an Imperial Fist Captain, whose honour-name is Slaughter. Considering how little significance the character really had throughout the novel, I feel this was unnecessary and silly, even though it was used as part of a small joke later on.
And then there is also a second character called "Beast", who happens to be a former assassin. A little too much for my taste. I can see that Abnett tried connecting dots here and created parallels, but it felt overdone.

Be that as it may, though, this was a damn fine setup for the series. It opened up a lot of questions for the other authors to follow up on, and introduced the key players back at Terra, though everybody else might not even appear after the Beast is done with them.
Imperial Fists fans might feel betrayed once more, but readers who enjoyed Abnett's previous takes on Imperial policy and politics will be delighted.

I Am Slaughter is a novel that plays to Abnett's strengths, but still shows some of his usual weaknesses. Thankfully, the overall read was a solid one and prepares this series to be a big hitter.
The story will continue in Predator, Prey by Rob Sanders. I am looking forward to seeing the further developments on Terra.

I Am Slaughter on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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