Review: Predator, Prey by Rob Sanders

Posted by DarkChaplain at 5/07/2016
The Imperium is under attack by a relentless tide of orks. The Imperial Fists have been destroyed, leaving Terra itself vulnerable, and across the galaxy, worlds are beset by greenskin savages.

After centuries of peace, the Imperium is thrown into panic as human worlds everywhere are menaced by orks. In a relentless tide of slaughter, ork attack moons destroy planet after planet with gravity weapons of unstoppable power. On Terra, the High Lords are paralysed by the scale of the threat, and fail to take any effective action. With entire Space Marine Chapters missing, or known to have been wiped out, does anyone have the will and the power to rise to the Imperium’s defence?
Predator, Prey is a bit of a different beast from Dan Abnett's I Am Slaughter. While it is a direct sequel and snatches up the dangling plotlines, its scope is larger, adding more characters and worlds into the pool.
The Story:
"The Imperium is under attack by a relentless tide of orks. The Imperial Fists have been destroyed, leaving Terra itself vulnerable, and across the galaxy, worlds are beset by greenskin savages.

After centuries of peace, the Imperium is thrown into panic as human worlds everywhere are menaced by orks. In a relentless tide of slaughter, ork attack moons destroy planet after planet with gravity weapons of unstoppable power. On Terra, the High Lords are paralysed by the scale of the threat, and fail to take any effective action. With entire Space Marine Chapters missing, or known to have been wiped out, does anyone have the will and the power to rise to the Imperium’s defence?"

The Review
I am not lying when I say that the opening chapter had me amazed. It almost felt like a historical rundown of a world-shattering event, a great war through the lens. Sometimes it would dip into scenarios, giving a quick account of people, but it would always return to the overall view of the unfolding catastrophe. I loved that. It set the stage for the conflict against the Beast in a great way, and made apparent that this is a galaxy-spanning problem, not isolated in a way we have seen in the novel's predecessor.

Sadly, I don't think it ever quite reached that charme again for me, after the first chapter. There were still glimpses of the wider war, and various worlds' fates were explored, but I found the close-up view to be less satisfying in the long run. It worked better on a macro level for me than on the micro level.

With all these attack moons of the orks popping up here and there, I found it hard to care about either of them in particular. In Star Wars, the destructive potential of the Death Star is overwhelming and awe-inspiring. In The Beast Arises, these Death Stars are a dime a dozen. They are popping up all over, and it seems obvious that simply by destroying one, you are making room for the next. Similarly, the orks here were countless masses. Thousands upon thousands die in various ways throughout all plotlines, but I didn't find them to be menacing or particularly horrific. Their excessive numbers took away from individual threats.

To draw a comparison, the ork forces in David Annandale's Yarrick: Imperial Creed are massive, and resistance seems almost futile. Hives fall in droves, as do Imperial Guard. And yet still the conflict felt somewhat more personal. Ghazghkull himself never openly enters the battlefield, yet his influence is felt throughout. His lieutenant Ugulhard is a more active antagonist who, in the end, faces Yarrick in melee. The struggle against the Beast of Armageddon was personal even though one side was only felt, not seen.

The conflict here, spearheaded by the Beast, lacks this kind of personal connection. Not once did I feel the Beast's hand at play here. It was simply a massive assault, random and chaotic, with orks who might as well have been Tyranids for all their individual threat.

On the other hand, the political side of the story got some good developments, and Drakan Vangorich, Grand Master of the Officio Assassinorum, remains my favorite part of the series. However, scenes with him and the High Lords of Terra are few and far between, scattered amidst a bunch of plotlines showing various aspects of the Beast's waaagh. I did not think there was enough of it, and what there was of it, was mostly isolated cases of Vangorich confering with his assassins or hunting for information. There were no full table conversations between the High Lords like in Abnett's book, though glimpses of politicking existed. But that's what they were: Glimpses.

Of course, this is a storyline that has to be maintained throughout the whole series. The back cover description of volume 12, The Beheading, already set the end point. There is a lot of ground to cover elsewhere before things can progress more rapidly. Yet still, the Terra-plotline was very heavy on setup and light on payoffs.

Likewise, I found the Adeptus Mechanicus twin forge worlds of Incus Maximal and Malleus Mundi to be too limited. We first see Incus Maximal's struggles and their latest Fabricator Locum in chapter four, then again in chapter eight. The war itself is never tackled in too much detail (which I find to be a small mercy), instead it focuses more on logistics and the intrigue directed by Mars - a plotline whose continuation I am looking forward to very much. Only in the very last chapter do we get a resolution for the forge world's fate. The way it was delivered - clinical, detached - fits the AdMech for sure, but as a reader, I found it a little disappointing.

A bigger chunk of the book is dedicated to the ocean-heavy world of Undine, where a female ex-pirate-turned-military struggles with her group of Maritine Guard to extract the planetary governer before moving on to a more desperate solution devised to stop the orks from taking the world. She is presented as sympathetic and warm, but also as efficient when needed. However, I felt like we spent too little time with her. The relationships between her, her crew and partner were thinly developed, making inevitable losses a little shallow. I could see the impact they had on her, but didn't experience it myself. A bit of a bummer.
Nevertheless, the plotline's conclusion speaks of the immense desperation that is a product of the Beast's waaagh. Being faced with no other option than pure denial of resources, I felt that this was well executed.

And now to the Space Marines. With the demise of the Imperial Fists in the first book, the grail passes to their successor chapters, namely the Fists Exemplar and the Black Templars.
While the Templars are represented by Marshal Bohemond and his Vulpius Crusade, the Fists Exemplar come up with Captain Maximus Thane. The former only get one chapter of void warfare for themselves, facing the difficulties of accepting that retreat is the only option. Dorn's sons are stubborn like that, after all.
The Fists Exemplar provide the bulk of Astartes action, and action against the orks in general. They are standing in defense of their downed star fort turned chapter fortress, on a world whose sun irradiates the surface to the point of burning the orks to a crisp. Yes, this is another last stand-ish appearance of Dorn's scions.

The Exemplars seem to personify many of the reasons why I am not that into Imperial Fists, usually. They are stubborn, sticklers for protocol, and the one time they acted outside the box in an attempt to stem the tide (down to Thane's command), I was genuinely surprised. Fists are stiff and unyielding by design, and I am not sure they're really for me.
But the thing that really bothered me about this plotline was the lack of forward momentum. It was a war of attrition through and through, with little attempt to break out and take drastic measures. It is certainly very IF-y, countering the massed assault with sheer stoicism and stubborness.

The resolution to both Templars and Exemplar was satisfying, however, and Maximus Thane is interesting at the very least. His introspection about Rogal Dorn's decision to split his Legion in accordance to the Codex Astartes was enlightening. But again I thought that this happened a little too late in the plot.

At the end of it all, I feel like the book is more of a staging ground than I Am Slaughter was, in many ways. It added plotlines for the rest of the series, and branched out from the relatively focused plot of its predecessor. There's more here than just Ardamantua and Terra.
On the flipside, it might have been too much for the short novel format. Many aspects needed more time to really flourish and connect.

I am happy to see the Wall-Names nonsense from I Am Slaughter to only receive lip service here (hard to do anything more, with how the Imperial Fists ended up anyway), and the AdMech's conspiracy might have been the highlight of the book. Sanders really has the hang of them by now.
Undine was a very interesting world to visit, and I wish there had been more of it. And good old Terra is gearing up for disaster, dialing up the stakes as Vangorich plans for contingencies.

Predator, Prey was enjoyable while it lasted. Sadly, that wasn't very long, for any of the characters involved. While the scope of it all started out excellent, I feel that its diffuse nature might have worked against it in the end.
A lot of its problems are most likely down to the series' design itself. Here is hoping that subsequent novels will be more focused, now that the scale of the war became a lot more obvious to readers.

Predator, Prey 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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