Book Review: Priests of Mars / Author: Graham McNeil / Publisher: The Black Library / Release Date: August 2nd
One of the things that allows the Black Library to produce so many books set in the same universe is that the Warhammer 40,000 franchise has a huge amount of scope. It’s an amalgam of sci-fi concepts and influences, and draws inspiration from some of the oldest ideas out there, mixing it up with a fresh yet dark perspective. One of these re-mixed ideas is the notion that a technologically advanced society can remain fantastically powerful and capable of producing powerful machines, and have forgotten so much about science that the machines themselves are held in religious awe. These “tech-priests”, known in the setting as the Adeptus Mechanicus, are the main focus of Graham McNeil’s Priests of Mars.
These red-robed cyborgs have begun to appear more regularly in the Black Library books, and it’s about time. The notion of a trans-human society that venerates technology is one with great potential, and in the past, they’ve mostly been portrayed as slightly humourless, slightly creepy machines, rather than a complex society of beings that have developed beyond humanity and yet continue to stay part of it. Priests of Mars changes this by delving straight into the possibilities of such a society in a strongly character driven way. We care about the half-human heroes, as well as their all too human companions. Various characters help throw the society of the Adeptus Mechanicus into sharp relief; one of the sub-plots involves the miserable lives of the unenhanced human beings who have to maintain the vast machines of the Mechanicus, and this contrasts strongly with scenes involving tech-priests talking about how their own cybernetic enhancements let them understand the cosmos in a sublime and yet wonderful way.
The main plot revolves around an expedition to the edge of the galaxy to investigate the perilous Halo Scar; a devastatingly dangerous part of space which may contain lost technology precious to the Adeptus Mechanicus. The expedition fleet is made up of all sort of interesting people drawn from the Warhammer 40,000 setting; we have a Rogue Trader (a sort of space faring privateer), elite soldiers from Cadia, (a world under constant threat that produces tough warriors) and of course, Space Marines. For those who may be interested, they’re Black Templars, which are essentially holy crusaders but with even less of a sense of humour.
This is perhaps McNeil’s best work so far, though it’s only the first part of a series. Those who may have disliked his previous work may want to give Priests of Mars a look - it really is very engaging and a refreshing evolution of the writer’s already considerable talent. I look forward to the sequel.