Review: Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar by David Annandale

Posted by DarkChaplain at 11/13/2016
Roboute Guilliman, the Battle King of Macragge, leads his Legion, the mighty Ultramarines, in conquest of the galaxy as part of his father's Great Crusade. Faced with an alien empire, all his dreams of a shining galaxy of peace threaten to fall into ruin...

Long before the coming of the Imperium, the realm of Ultramar was ruled by Roboute Guilliman, the last Battle King of Macragge. Even after learning of his true heritage as a primarch son of the Emperor of Mankind, he strove to expand his domain as efficiently and benevolently as possible, with the XIII Legion Ultramarines as his alone to command. Now, facing a rival empire on the ork-held world of Thoas, Guilliman must choose his weapons carefully – otherwise his dream of a brighter future could be lost forever.
I was genuinely excited when Black Library announced Horus Heresy: Primarchs, a new spin-off series set to showcase the eighteen fathers of the Legiones Astartes. Despite its popularity, the Horus Heresy series has moved on from the point where authors could address the Great Crusade or Primarch origin stories, or tackle defining events. Primarchs is set to fill those gaps, like the honor duel between Leman Russ and Lion El'Johnson in Leman Russ: The Great Wolf. Fans have long wanted more of the kind, and now they're getting it.

Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar is the first book in this new series, and it ticks all my boxes.

The Story:
"Roboute Guilliman, the Battle King of Macragge, leads his Legion, the mighty Ultramarines, in conquest of the galaxy as part of his father's Great Crusade. Faced with an alien empire, all his dreams of a shining galaxy of peace threaten to fall into ruin...

Long before the coming of the Imperium, the realm of Ultramar was ruled by Roboute Guilliman, the last Battle King of Macragge. Even after learning of his true heritage as a primarch son of the Emperor of Mankind, he strove to expand his domain as efficiently and benevolently as possible, with the XIII Legion Ultramarines as his alone to command. Now, facing a rival empire on the ork-held world of Thoas, Guilliman must choose his weapons carefully – otherwise his dream of a brighter future could be lost forever."

The Review:
Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar is pretty much what I expected and wanted out of the Primarchs series. It offers a closer look on Guilliman, pre-Heresy, giving him time with his Legion before the events of Calth and Imperium Secundus - something that was sorely lacking up to this point.

First off, the book is structured in a very neat way. Each of the nine chapters is presented with an interlude, taken from Roboute Guilliman's treatises and reflections on war, cultural upheaval and morale. These interludes put an interesting spin on their chapters, as Annandale attempts to explore these disparate themes in the ongoing storyline. In my eyes, he succeeded in making the Primarch's actions consistent and sensible, and fully in line with his belief system.

Obviously, Roboute Guilliman is the star here. Unlike his pencil-pusher presence in the Horus Heresy series, with few actual personal engagements to speak of, here he kicks serious ork backside. He is a god of war, shown the way you'd expect a Primarch to act, slaughtering xenos and being a symbol to his Legion. If you've been bored of bean-counter Guilliman during the Imperium Secundus arc, this is for you.

This doesn't mean that the book isn't full of introspection on Roboute's end, however. He reflects on history-changing events such as the humbling of Lorgar and the Word Bearers at Monarchia, and the need to show his Legion that they are not just destroyers, but also creators during the Great Crusade. That is a theme that goes through the whole book, putting the Ultramarines in a tough spot.

The plot comes down to a simple premise: The Ultramarines are busy eradicating an ork empire around Ultramar, and on the brink of utter victory they come across an infested world which shows signs of human civilization. While no humans are still alive, Guilliman wants to preserve the remaining architecture and raise the world up as an example of human indurance and reincorporate their findings into the Imperium and resettle the planet.
This means that Guilliman compromises his Legion's heavy weapon usage and has no desire to utilize the Destroyer companies of the Legion, serving with the Nemesis Chapter. Unhappy with the divide between the heavily terran Destroyers and the rest of the Legion, and unsettled by the resentment they have for their idleness during the Great Crusade, the Primarch attempts to shake things up by appointing a captain from a different Chapter as their new Chapter Master, in spite of tradition and the Destroyers' prefered candidate.
Loyalty is questioned and disobedience considered, throwing a wrench or two in the campaign, on top of the greenskins' dominance.

The Destroyer forces within the Legion were relative latecomers to the Horus Heresy series; it is safe to say that ForgeWorld's work on the tabletop system were the driving force behind their inclusion. So to me, this novel did a good job rationalizing their relative absence from at least the Ultramarines and by extension other Legions, and shows very well just how contradictory the devastating tactics of the forces are when the Legions are supposed to bring worlds into compliance. It is difficult to bring worlds into compliance after you nuke them and poison the ecosystem for decades if not centuries to come. Guilliman's distaste is fully justified, and also echoes forward to Gav Thorpe's Angels of Caliban, where Lion El'Johnson lets his own Dreadwing loose on potential traitors and terrorists on Macragge.

In my opinion, the biggest draw of the novel is Guilliman's characterization and his interactions with his Legion commanders. It is a great book to give you a feel of his style of leadership, and how his famed pragmatism is contrasted by his idealistic streak. He rationalizes various decisions throughout the campaign, despite some doubts remaining, and is willing to make concessions for idealistic goals. He is utterly competent, but not infallible.
Additionally, he also reflects on a few of his brothers and their ideologies, especially Fulgrim's search for perfect warfare, or Angron's brutality. There are some good nuggets here that are as of yet untouched by the Heresy, and I appreciate them. It also shows his distaste of what the XIIIth Legion had to do on Monarchia, and the wounds that left for the Legion; we had plenty of examples of how it affected the Word Bearers, including Annandale's own The Unburdened, but the Ultramarines had little on that front, as the treachery of the sons of Lorgar almost immediately overshadowed it.

Readers shouldn't go in expecting big revelations, however. The war itself isn't vital in itself, and the stakes seem relatively low early on; they do shoot up sky high about halfway through, however, resulting in some big, bombastic scenes and massive risks to the Ultramarines. But the real worth is in Annandale's characterizations of established and new characters alike, and showcasing the spirit of the Legion. It feels like an Ultramarines book at the core, with interesting implications and well-handled characters that iconify the Legion's philosophy and way of war. That is all I wanted, and I am happy that Roboute Guilliman delivered.

Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar 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 »