Review: Tallarn: Ironclad by John French

Posted by DarkChaplain at 8/14/2016
The Battle of Tallarn grinds on to its climactic end, but what secret purpose drives the Iron Warriors to commit such mindless atrocities? The answer lies buried deep beneath the planet’s surface...

The battle for Tallarn rages between the traitor Iron Warriors and the Imperial Army. A carpet of armour covers the surface of the toxic planet: Dreadnoughts versus tanks versus Titans. But what secret purpose drives the Iron Warriors onwards to war?

This is the biggest armoured conflict in galactic history – there’s a million tanks! However, no one can leave the safety of their claustrophobic war machines for fear of melting into a toxic puddle. While this story supplies plenty of action, what brings the entire might of the Iron Warriors to battle is much more intriguing.
The book is advertised as being about the "biggest armoured conflict in galactic history", but when it comes down to it, it isn't that at all. I was hugely disappointed with this book. Be warned, this review contains a few SPOILERS!

The Story:
"The Battle of Tallarn grinds on to its climactic end, but what secret purpose drives the Iron Warriors to commit such mindless atrocities? The answer lies buried deep beneath the planet’s surface...

The battle for Tallarn rages between the traitor Iron Warriors and the Imperial Army. A carpet of armour covers the surface of the toxic planet: Dreadnoughts versus tanks versus Titans. But what secret purpose drives the Iron Warriors onwards to war?

This is the biggest armoured conflict in galactic history – there’s a million tanks! However, no one can leave the safety of their claustrophobic war machines for fear of melting into a toxic puddle. While this story supplies plenty of action, what brings the entire might of the Iron Warriors to battle is much more intriguing."


The Review:
After loving Tallarn: Executioner, I am thoroughly disappointed with Ironclad. The way it wrapped up is simply not enough.

Maybe it is down to the format, being a good 100+ pages shorter than the usual Horus Heresy novel, but there were so many things left open or forgotten, that I was left thinking "so this is all there is to Tallarn?" by the end of it. The big, decisive battles are only told of through interludes, which in general I enjoyed. Problem is, these are very short, and deliver a topdown view, with historical context, which, while I enjoyed these aspects, also isolate them from the rest of the story. This is especially obvious due to the minimal amount of crossover between interludes and main narrative.

Sure, the Battle of Khedive is going on towards the climax of the novel, but is only covered twice in interludes, which had no effect on the overall plot. It is said to be the decisive battle between loyalists and Iron Warriors, but we only see the opening bit, the chaos of arriving tanks, and at the very end the end result, "Imperium victor". That's it. And following the main chapter between, it doesn't seem like it was relevant at all. Perturabo isn't shown interacting with his forces on the ground. The loyalist characters from the main plot had no stake in Khedive.

Almost every single one of these interludes and the decisive battles and actions they describe only serve as a sideshow for the Iron Warriors' secret hunt for an old artifact Perturabo believes he needs to use as a weapon behind Horus' back, and a loyalist tank commander's obsession with finding out the real reason for Tallarn's destruction. Had these been two different stories, I don't think it would have mattered.

It is a shame, as the interludes hinted at some spectacular bits of warfare, which would be well-deserving of some closer looks via short stories.
To be frank, I very much enjoyed seeing the various pieces of Tallarn stories come together. From Executioner over Siren to Witness and even the audio dramas The Eagle' Talon and Iron Corpses, all of these contribute to the overall conflict and fleshing out some key events. In comparison, Ironclad feels disconnected from the rest, too concerned with its own conspiracy/counter-conspiracy shenanigans to pay attention to the surface war that was advertised as massive, featuring one million tanks or more.

What I enjoyed were the tank crew chapters. They weren't as good as in Executioner, but Kord and his peers were playing off one another and the situation reasonably well. I also liked Hrend the dreadnought Iron Warrior leading the search for Perturabo's artifact. His mental state and bodily condition, and the flashbacks to his "death" on Isstvan V, were well executed and provided a good character arc.

Disappointingly, the presence of Slaanesh daemons (which were even featured on the limited edition hardcover release's jacket) was basically nonexistent. There are some tiny glimpses at the very end, but people hoping for a big daemonic element to the story will be disappointed. While it does foreshadow the artifact's purpose and identity (as it featured long ago in an Imperial Guard Codex), it does very little for the story. And even being aware of what the thing does via said Codex, it isn't really explained just how Perturabo would use it as a weapon. If anything, recovering it in the first place seems to defeat the point.

On the other hand, the Alpha Legion's involvement is fairly ridiculous here. They are playing both sides, on the surface supporting the Iron Warriors while sabotaging their efforts. There are various implications tying them into the internal schism of the Alpha Legion, but even then, they're eating their own tail. I guess that is the point, in a way, but that also made their role frustrating to follow. Certain revelations around them also came out of the blue, like the Vanus assassin's sudden knowledge about an AL operative who had it out for her. A reveal just afterwards also felt like thrown in randomly.

The emissary of the warmaster plotline also had me wonder. There were many things that weren't explained, resulting in a lack of context in certain situations or conversations. It added more intrigue to the plot, something I feel was not required, and could have been handled way quicker, and wouldn't have needed to stretch through the whole short novel. To me, it took away more than it really added. Thankfully it ended with a big entrance from Horus, post-Molech, presumably, so at least there was some payoff.

Ironclad felt bogged down by conspiracies and intrigue and a constant desire to surprise the reader. A lot of twists were easy to anticipate, while others just seemed added to convolute the plot further. On the other side it almost forgot it was a novel about Tallarn, paying very little attention to the key events of the war. Large parts play in the loneliness of the surface deserts, with relatively minor engagements in the grand scheme of things.

It could have been so much more. Given the full, numbered HH novel treatment and a change of pacing and condensing of certain plotlines, instead connecting the events more closely to the war, it could have been the defining book about Tallarn. The way it is, however, there was more of the dead world's soul and character in Executioner than there is here.

Tallarn: Ironclad 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


The Reading Lamp

0 comments:

Leave a Reply

DarkChaplain's bookshelf: read

The Dragon Engine
Tomb Raider II #7
Star Wars #22
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Adaptation #3
Deathwatch: The Last Guardian
The Harrowing
Whacky
The Awakening
Blackshield
Poe Dameron #5


DarkChaplain's favorite books »