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Book Review- “The Ultramarines Omnibus” by Graham McNeill

October 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Ultramarined OmnibusThe Warhammer 40,000 universe is such a massive and entertaining one that it takes awhile to get to know it’s major players. As you read and become acquainted with the various heroes, villains, and armies that populate it you start to hear intriguing things from other fans about characters and concepts you may like. So when you finally get a chance to read about something like a Space Marine Legion you’ve heard so much about it you wonder if what you’ve heard will live up to the hype.

That’s what happened to me with the Ultramarines and writer Graham McNeill’s novels about their 4th company and it’s heroic leader Uriel Ventris. When I started the first “Ultramarines Omnibus” that contained McNeill’s novels “Nightbringer,” “Warriors of Ultramar” and “Dead Sky Black Sun” the Salamanders were my favorite Space Marine Legion thanks to their humanity and Nick Kyme’s great novels about the Sons of Vulkan. I was very curious about the Ultramarines though and their battle cry of “Courage and Honour” it seemed to me that they might be like the Captain Americas of the 40K universe.

Having finished the first “Ultramarines” omnibus I now realize the warriors of Ultramar are not quite like my favorite super hero, but they are fascinating and fun heroic characters and I loved reading about them. I’d say their now my second favorite Space Marine Legion.

For me part of the appeal of the Ultramarines is they’re consummate heroes. Their fun guys to root for when the chips are down and they refuse to let themselves be broken, but what makes their Legion especially interesting is that they’re literally the most “by the book” Space Marine Legion ever. That’s because their Primarch, Roboute Gulliman wrote the “Codex Astartes,” a sort of 40K version of “The Art of War.” A number of other Space Marine Legions follow the “Codex Astartes,” but to the Ultramarines it’s almost a sacred text. So it can hamper their effectiveness in the field.

That means characters like Uriel Ventris are faced with a great challenge. What happens when they’re put in a conflict whereGraham McNeill following the rigid instructions of the “Codex Astartes” means innocents and fellow battle brothers will die? Is Ventris’ duty to “Codex” alone or the larger principles of courage and honor?
Those are some of questions Ventris wrestles with over the course of the three novels. It’s fascinating to watch him grow as both a leader and a person as he sometimes decides he has to break away from the “Codex.” It’s also exciting to watch him deal with the consequences of his actions. And even though Ventris is an eight foot tall genetically engineered super soldier and no longer technically human he’s still easy to identify with. He suffers moments of doubt, uncertainty, sadness and horror as he navigates the three novels.

Uriel isn’t the only great character in the Ultramarine Omnibus. We also get to know a number of his battle brothers like Sergeant Pasanius; a big bruiser even for a Space Marine, and Uriel’s best friend. I have a soft spot for loyal strongmen types I think because of my love for Marvel Comics Thing, and Pasanius does share some of Grimm’s qualities especially when it comes to sticking by your friends. That loyalty was pretty moving and by the third book there’s almost a Frodo and Sam vibe to Ventris and Pasanius that is especially poignant

I also grew to really like Uriel’s sort of rival in the 4th Company, Sergeant Learchus. In the second book, “Warriors of Ultramar” McNeill gives him some scenes that shows just how cunning, capable and badass he is. McNeill also populates each book with an interesting cast of characters that inhabit the particular world Ventris and his battle brothers are fighting for or fighting on; like the law enforcers of the Adeptus Arbites in “Nightbringer,” the soldier and physician who is haunted by survivor’s guilt in “Warriors of Ultramar,” and the renegade Space Marines that Ventris and Pasanius encounter in “Dead Sky Black Sun”

As for the actual stories of the novels? They’re a lot of fun and it’s great that each book is a very different kind of tale. In “Nightbringer” Ventris and the 4th Company find themselves embroiled in a mysterious alien conspiracy that could spell doom for an entire planet and perhaps the galaxy. “Warriors of Ultramar” finds the 4th Company battling the Ultramarines most hated foe, the savage, ravenous bio organic monstrosities of the Tyranids. The fallout from that battle is felt in the final novel “Dead Sky Black Sun” where Ventris and Pasanius suddenly find themselves stranded on a demon world in the heart of the infernal “Eye of Terror.”

Of the three novels I think “Dead Sky Black Sun” is probably my favorite. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it reads like “Return of the King” if Mordor was turned up to 11 and Frodo and Sam were ass-kicking sci-fi warriors relying on nothing but their courage, cunning, and combat skills. Yes it’s that fun. McNeill has a great and cinematic way of writing fast and furious action scenes that reminded me of something that you’d see in a Matthew Vaughn film.

So, once again, yes the “Ultramarine Omnibus” did live up to the hype for me. It was an exciting and action packed read full of diverse stories and characters I really cared about. I can’t wait to tackle the second volume, which features the next three adventures in the saga of Uriel Ventris.

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