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Review: The Siege of Castellax / Author: C.L. Werner / Publisher: The Black Library / Release Date: Out Now

The Space Marines Battles series of Black Library novels are pretty self-explanatory: the books will feature Space Marines in some sort of battle. In the case of The Siege of Castellax, the combat is between two extremely distinct factions, The Iron Warriors and Orks. The former are siege-smashing superhumans who are servants of the dark forces of Chaos, the latter are a green-skinned horde of savages, exactly of the sort you should expect to find in a fantasy novel, but with big noisy guns and horribly dirty bombs and the like.

In theory, this should be a cracking blow-by-blow adventure. The two forces are rich, interesting, and filled with personality – at least potentially. However, Werner consistently fails to make us engage with any of the characters, despite the use of multiple perspectives. Most of the entertainment comes from the Orks, who look ludicrous and live up to their billing as horrific monstrosities. The cruelty and strangeness of the Iron Warriors, by contrast, only serves to alienate the reader.

Werner is usually brilliant at evoking dark, filth-covered worlds and the unrelenting grind of surviving in a grim reality, whilst maintaining a steady, action-filled pace. But unfortunately, The Siege of Castellax slows down at critical points, and we simply don’t care enough about the characters for what action sequences there are to have a great deal of impact. This may be because it’s a book filled with villains and no heroes (though with 40K novels that's generally what you expect).

The central issue is that the book is incredibly disjointed in places, and the elements that draw it all together arrive too little and too late. Werner’s skill works against him here; he does evoke the feeling of a siege, but alas the reader is also left on the outside trying to get in. Despite these flaws, they are some great moments and it does have some very nice surprises. Fans of Chaos Space Marines or Orks will certainly find something to love here, but casual readers or those new to the Black Library will find not this easy going.

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