[Review] The Emperor's Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Friday, August 30, 2013 K.Z. Freeman 0 Comments

Annika and Clovon attended to their own weapons. They were sitting on the opposite sides of the room, which only spread the scent they shared. He smelled of her skin; she of his. It wasn't the first time they'd reeked of last-minute intimacy before a mission.
I would never understand humans.

The above paragraph sums up nicely why I enjoy Aaron Dembski-Bowden's portrayal of Space Marines the most out of all the authors in the Black Library's repertoire. He makes them so inhuman yet so human at the same time it's nothing short of intriguing to read about them.

The writing in The Emperor's Gift is similar to what he has done in his Space Marine Battles novel, Helsreach, which to this day remains my favourite of the Battles novels (although supposedly Rynn's World is pretty great too, one which I have not read). A large part of the greatness seeps from the fact that the novel is written in first person, making lines such as that above more personal and interesting. But largely because Hyperion is a great character, too.

Space Marines struggle with few things, so it's funny to read about one struggling to comprehend humans.

I can say little about the story itself other than the fact that it is not your usual Bolter Porn. This is not a Space Marines Battles novel, and thank whatever pantheon of gods for that shit, because some of those that I have read were pretty terrible, while this piece of textual artistry is decent, to say the very least. It doesn't feel like a Warhammer 40k novel, and that's the best thing about it, or at least one of the best things about it. Perhaps because I actually know quite a bit of the lore, that I found what the Grey Knights were doing so interesting, but the other part is how the book is written. It is simply well done, the pacing could not be better. There are some points when you think, nonono, not a battle, give me something more interesting, and that's what happens. Don't get me wrong, battles can be pretty great, but after one has read the whole Horus Heresy, a myriad of space marines novels and another bunch of other novels, you tend to start looking for things that are fresh, and not descriptions of how things are blown apart. Although I still have a weak spot for horizontal storms of lead.

The length of the book is perfect, even if it is rather short. Any more and it would be unnecessarily drawn out, any less and it would be too short. I'm pretty sure this is meant to be a standalone novel, which is rather rare for black library, but it works. There is excellent closure and things never go quite as expected. For those who liked Helsreach you get to revisit it for a while, but not for too long, since Aaron is a heathen who knows that would be pretty redundant.

I got exactly what I expected from this book, an entertaining read filled with great writing and something completely different for a change.

And the Inquisition are some real fucking bastards.


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