Review: The Last Son of Dorn by David Guymer

Posted by DarkChaplain at 9/23/2016
With their new Deathwatch kill-teams a resounding success, the forces of the Imperium return to the heart of the ork empire to finish what they started…

As the ork menace ravages the galaxy, the Imperium faces its darkest hour. Its fleets are in ruins, its armies devastated – amongst them the noble Imperial Fists – and even a primarch of myth has fallen against the Beast. As brute force fails, Koorland resorts to increasingly desperate tactics against the greenskins. A final hope lies in deploying the controversial Deathwatch and the Sisters of Silence in a deft strike at the heart of the ork empire. As the situation grows more dire, Koorland must live up to the symbol he has become as the last son of Dorn or all of humanity will be doomed.
This has to be my favorite book in the The Beast Arises series so far. It'll be hard to top with just two more novels to go. Likewise, it will be difficult to wrap up the story neatly from here. I felt my excitement for the series slip a bit, but David Guymer managed to pull it right back and I am eagerly anticipating the remaining two books and the series' conclusion.

The Story:
"With their new Deathwatch kill-teams a resounding success, the forces of the Imperium return to the heart of the ork empire to finish what they started…

As the ork menace ravages the galaxy, the Imperium faces its darkest hour. Its fleets are in ruins, its armies devastated – amongst them the noble Imperial Fists – and even a primarch of myth has fallen against the Beast. As brute force fails, Koorland resorts to increasingly desperate tactics against the greenskins. A final hope lies in deploying the controversial Deathwatch and the Sisters of Silence in a deft strike at the heart of the ork empire. As the situation grows more dire, Koorland must live up to the symbol he has become as the last son of Dorn or all of humanity will be doomed."

The Review:
The Last Son of Dorn is probably the best entry in the The Beast Arises series up to this point. It has politics, action, huge twists and gutwrenching scenes. It brings plotlines to their conclusion in a satisfying way and completely boggles the mind on how in hell the series is supposed to wrap up within the next two books.

The book continues on from where Watchers in Death left off, albeit on an increased scale. We are immediately plunged into multiple Deathwatch missions, all running parallel with similar goals, broken up by scenes set on Terra.
Those Kill Team scenes are to the point, introducing new characters and making up for the somewhat lackluster variety in Watchers; all manner of Space Marine Chapters are part of the Deathwatch now, from Flesh Tearers over Raven Guard to Doom Eagles and others. While most attention is paid to the Space Wolf Kjarvik Stormcrow as a new point of view character, I was happy to see the Deathwatch opening up from being just about Fists-successors, Dark and Blood Angels, Ultramarines and Space Wolves. That was a big criticism I leveled at Watchers in Death, and David Guymer doesn't repeat that mistake.

In general, The Last Son of Dorn offered a lot of variety. One of the Kill Team missions brings us back to Eidolica, giving us a much-needed look back for the Fists Exemplar, but the coolest thing was seeing Valhalla hands on. The Valhallans had harbored a deep hatred for the Orks ever since they first invaded their world, so seeing them in this series as one of the outposts resisting the Ork advance felt good, natural and brought a sense of galactic scale to the table that has been sidelined lately.

Looking back, a lot of the earlier novels in the series had split narratives that got us to different worlds and made us witness to their destruction. While I wasn't much of a fan of Predator, Prey overall, I appreciated the way it built up the Ork menace as an all-encompassing threat to the galaxy, especially with its fantastic first chapter. Somewhere along the way, the story got very focused on the more immediate threat of the attack moon above Terra, Ullanor and elements like the reunion with Vulkan. Fleshing out individual points of import like these, in a series with roughly 250 pages per book, meant that other side plots and the galaxy's general state of turmoil fell by the wayside, both for reasons of pacing and lack of room to tell more stories like those of Undine or Incus Maximal.
With this installment, we return to some of that at long last. Incus Maximal is revisited, giving us a direct view of what the orkupation did to the forgeworld. I liked the way Guymer incorporated stuff like that, as it makes previous events more relevant to the core narrative and shows the effects the War of the Beast had on mankind's dominion over the galaxy.

Likewise, this entry returns to the plotline of the errant Fists Exemplar and the Iron Warriors under Kalkator. This didn't have much room in the core narrative lately, and I wonder what it will lead to before the end. There wasn't terribly much about it here, but it gave a neat sense of foreboding and creeping corruption. Zerberyn is being set up here for something big, though I am not sure if the reveal will be able to contest the scale of his growing arrogance and delusion.

Back on Terra, we have another arrogant individual raving in madness: Ecclesiarch Mesring, with death finally upon him, after having endured longer than I had expected after his poisoning early in the series, shows himself clearly as the blaspheming, selfish individual that he is. His actions here speak of desperation and almost made me want to pity the man, if it wasn't for the fact that he was deserving of everything he received. His role in the story leads to the attempt of big reforms by Koorland. He tries to abolish the Imperial Creed and instead issue a return to the Imperial Truth, which had been ignored in favor of the cult of the Emperor-as-God. Vulkan lamented this in earlier books, and this was a good step in the series.

It also fueled the rivalry between Koorland and High Marshal Bohemond of the Black Templars. They had clashed before on various occassions, even on Ullanor, and seeing this theological disagreement between the two made me fear for a big fallout. What I got instead was a very rewarding tale of brotherhood and, dare I say love between the two that became clearer as the book progressed and ended with me appreciating Bohemond much more, despite his rashness and zealotry. Guymer managed to turn a character I disliked into one I could feel for.

On the subject of feeling for characters, there is more here, not least of all through Magos Laurentis, whose presence has always been interesting to me. He was there to witness the demise of the Imperial Fists and his blossoming friendship with Koorland was one of the best things of Abnett's I Am Slaughter. Here, there is a massive payoff to that. It had me stunned and in awe, and offered a very different view of the tragedies unfolding on Ullanor. The clinical, detached senses of the Adeptus Mechanicus lent themselves incredibly well to depict the numbness of the pivotal moments of the book, and the author handled it incredibly well. It jerks at one's heartstrings to see the personal struggle of the Magos, who has lost so much of his humanity already.

Wienand, too, receives some special attention in The Last Son of Dorn. Inevitably, she wrestles control of the Deathwatch from Koorland, as we all knew would happen, and part of the book shows her trying to earn the respect of the superhuman soldiers of the order. It felt right seeing her closer to the action again, rather than just scheming back on Terra. Of course, she continues her power plays, but in a more direct fashion than usual.
Beast Krule also gets to show off his skills - he impressed me, and showed for the first time just how dangerously powerful he really is. Before this entry, Krule has always felt more leashed and grounded by Vangorich, but on his second visit to Ullanor, he is finally loosened and reaps a heavy toll. I hope my predictions for the character's future will prove accurate, as this is a man who deserves some special attention in the series finale, The Beheading.

Overall I loved the novel. Seeing Koorland, Thane, Bohemond and co come into their own was amazing. Thane especially has some big shoes to fill, leading the main assault on Ullanor while Koorland takes a supposedly more direct route to the Beast. The Beast, too, is depicted as incredibly scary and makes you wonder just how the Imperium can prevail under the threat of such pure savagery and cunning. The final chapters were thick with action and emotions of all kinds. They drag you into the Beast's throne room and worry for the heroes, cheer for them, and despair with them. This installment is suspensful, raises the stakes even further, even if it shouldn't have been possible at this point, and marks a distinct turning point for the series.

‘The real work begins tomorrow and the day after. We will rebuild the Imperium, brother. [...] I would make our father proud.’

The Last Son of Dorn is literally two minutes before midnight. It channels the glorious heroism and the Astartes' willingness to sacrifice their own lives in their entirety to serving the Emperor and mankind. There's action of every scale, intrigue, character development that draws upon the whole series to convince, and a climax that takes the breath away. This is a novel that David Guymer should be proud of, even if it wasn't his favorite to write in this series. It deserves its spot on the pedestal for everything it does oh so right.

The Last Son of Dorn 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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