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Book Review- “Mechanicum by Graham McNeill

January 9, 2017 Leave a comment

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Games Workshop’s “Warhammer 40,000” universe has so many cool and diverse elements, but one part of it that I’ve always been lukewarm and kind of “meh” about is the Machine Cult of Mars. They just always felt a little too weird and uninteresting to me. So I approached Graham McNeill’s ninth entry in Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” series (which is sort of a prequel series that chronicles the intergalactic civil war that sets the 40K universe up), “Mechanicum” with some trepidation. A whole novel focusing on the tech priests of Mars? I’m not sure if that’s something for me. Turns out I was quite wrong. “Mechanicum” is a highly, enjoyable, read where McNeill pulls off some Herculean heavy lifting and pretty much succeeds at everything he had to do and intended to do.

In “Mechanicum” McNeill had to bring Horus Lupercal’s rebellion to Mars, which meant he had to introduce many readers like me to a whole new world. He had to establish the power players on this planet, the places they lived and worked, and also introduce a number of characters in Mars’ various military orders like the Titan Legions and mecha piloting Knights. He also had to make us care about them. Then he had to create an interesting tale about the subtle and insidious way civil war comes to Mars and how it gives birth to the Chaos and Horus aligned Dark Mechanicum. Then he had to give us a number of gripping, action set pieces as the Chaos and Imperium aligned members of the Machine Cult war against each other for control of Mars. Plus he had do that without relying too much on established, cool concepts like the Space Marines. Some members of the Imperial Fists chapter of the Adeptus Astartes appear in “Mechanicum,” but they appear very briefly and only towards of the end of the book.

Admittedly some elements were better than others, but McNeill accomplished all of that. Graham McNeillWhat made “Mechanicum” especially enjoyable though and showed how great a writer he is was the fact that he didn’t stop there! On top of all those interesting things we also got a very cool and incredibly imaginative tale about the ancient past of the Imperium’s ruler, the Emperor of Mankind. We also got a fun almost Lord of the Rings quest style adventure featuring an incredibly endearing band of characters that I don’t recall ever seeing before in a “Horus Heresy” or 40k book.

Those sections of the book were the high point of “Mechanicum” for me. In those portions we journey to Mars with Dallia Cytheria; a compassionate, curious, transcriber with an eidetic memory. Dalia is a great character and her kind and caring perspective is a refreshing one to see in the “Grim, Dark” world of the “Horus Heresy” and 40K. That perspective also earns her a band of loyal and caring friends. My favorite member of Dallia’s band of friends was the cybernetic being assigned to protect her, Rho-Mu 31. He starts off as kind of an aloof, almost alien character but as his relationship with Dallia changes and grows you get to see the humanity beneath his cybernetics.

Midway through the book Dallia and her friends embark on a quest to get to the heart of an ancient Martian mystery. What they find at the end of their journey is fascinating, poignant, and powerful.

Of course while Dallia and her friends are on their quest things unravel on Mars and some epic fighting breaks out. The Mecha style combat between the rival giant robot pilots of the Titan legions and Knights was cinematic and breathtaking. There was apocalyptic pace and tone to the battles that just made them pop and flow.

So in “Mechanicum” McNeill did the unthinkable for me. He changed my mind about the Machine Cult and Mars. He did that by telling a hell of a story that included a ton of great world building, memorable and fascinating characters, and some intense action. Plus he did all of that in just a little over 400 pages. It made for a hell of an impressive feat and and incredibly enjoyable novel.