Review: Lords of Mars / Author: Graham McNeil / Publisher: Black Library / Release Date: August 29th
Lords of Mars is the latest novel by Graham McNeil, and the eagerly anticipated sequel to Priests of Mars, which delighted fans by being very different to other Warhammer 40,000 books. It deals with one of the least examined aspects of that franchise, namely the Adeptus Mechanicus, a branch of mankind that worships technology. The plot follows on from Priests of Mars; an expeditionary force has set out to the edge of the galaxy, not only to recover possibly galaxy-shattering tools left behind by a previous expedition, but also to see what is out there.
This makes the series somewhat unique; the 40K milieu is one of decline and looking back, the glory of humanity long gone. In Lords of Mars, we see through the eyes of the Adeptus Mechanicus that there is still a tiny spark of curiosity that has not yet been snuffed out by the cruel and dark realities of the setting. Though there is plenty of action here (including massive tanks, big siege engines and giant robot killing machines known as Titans), the combat does not lead the story, which makes for a very refreshing change of pace.
For a franchise that has very few characters that are instantly recognisable by the casual fan, 40K sure has a lot of character-driven novels written for it and Lords of Mars is no exception. The ensemble cast includes a microcosm of the broader setting; we have Space Marines, tech-priests, brave imperial guard soldiers, cowards, serfs, fools and far stranger things.
McNeil tells his tale on multiple levels; the circumstances of one character serve as a metaphor for the problems of another and this draws the reader in, making it hard to pull away from the narrative until the story is told. There isn’t a single character who isn’t engaging or interesting, though more than a few are quite unlikeable. The pace is gentle, punctuated with sequences of rapid action and incredible violence.
Lords of Mars does suffer slightly from being the middle book in a series; it doesn’t so much start, rather it simply continues and the conclusion is mostly set-up for the next novel, which won’t come out for another year. This makes it seem slightly incomplete and arguably certain story arcs could have been ended earlier to give the work a more satisfactory closure. Overall, though, this is a novel that uses the least human Imperial faction in the Warhammer 40,000 setting to explore the nature of humanity in the 41st millennium, and does so in a way that includes plenty to delight action-junkies and drama-llamas alike.