Getting into the Warhammer 40,000 Universe is a daunting task. I started with Horus Rising, the first book in the Horus Heresy, but many people suggested that I start with Dark Imperium by Guy Haley. This is set in the most recent era of 40k and attempts to give new readers an insight into the complex lore and help experienced readers get up to speed with the many changes to the ongoing Warhammer narrative. It manages this with mixed results for both parties but does serve as a decent introduction and has plenty of enjoyable moments.
Dark Imperium opens with some important background about the Imperium and dives into a flashback to after the Heresy War with Primarch Roboute Guilliman chasing his brother Fulgrim through the void. I love this bit. Partly this is because anything that pits two Primarchs against each other is exciting, but it also bridges the gap between the past and present in an organic, natural way. This is since this is the first time in 10,000 years that a Primarch (not a demon Primarch) has played an active role in the fate of the galaxy. Oh yes, that’s right Roboute Guilliman is abroad once more.
We pick up in the 42nd Millenium with Roboute Guilliman closing out the Indominous Crusade which is a war he has waged against the forces of Chaos across the Galaxy. For the first time in a long time, good is prevailing and this gives the entire novel of more hopeful, brighter tone compared. It remains true to its grimdark heritage but you get a real sense that with Guilliman and the Primaris Space Marines, humanity stands a chance against the horrors that combat them. And as an introduction to the world of Warhammer 40k, there is a lot to enjoy about the avenging son and his new shiny Astartes.
Before we go any further, I have a confession. I don’t like the Ultramarines. I find them boring and the Guilliman of the Heresy years to be barely better. However, in Dark Imperium I started to take a shine to the blue boys and their big blue daddy. While the Ultramarines and their successor chapters remain your standard men with guns and not much else, they serve well enough against the forces of Nurgle that stand against them. I didn’t need much more than that from them to enjoy this story.
And then there is the Lord of Ultramar himself, Roboute Guilliman. Since his rebirth, he is far more interesting. He stands as a beacon to those around him and is as stoic and tactically minded as ever, but there is more beneath the surface. Gulliman has doubts. He doesn’t believe that the Emperor is a god and fights against the ecclesiarch on this matter. He isn’t sure he is doing the right thing and questions himself and his ability to save mankind. He still oozes confidence in most situations but there is always bubbling under the surface of a son who is angry with the events of 10,000 years ago and with the current state of the Galaxy. Gulliman is shrewd and has learnt from the lessons of the past and this has reforged him into a far more interesting Primarch.
Once we see the conclusion of the Indominus Crusade, we move to the next field of combat which is the region of Ultramar. Here the Death Guard are besieging the system with key players like Mortarion and Typhus cropping up to foreshadow future events. We also take some much needed time away from the Primarch and his sons to focus on the humans who are on the front lines of this conflict. We get to see the human cost of this war in both physical and psychological terms. For me, these are the best parts of this book. As much as I enjoy the new Guilliman, he still feels too distant from humanity and unrelatable. However, you can see the pain in the Imperial Guard who are fighting against the Death Guard and it paints a compelling picture.
I won’t go any further into the story as there some fun twists and turns that should be experienced first hand. Dark Imperium is a decent story that occasionally overindulges on the time it spends with the new Primaris Space Marines. And while this is understandable as Games Workshop want to showcase their shiny new toys, none of the characters are interesting enough to justify this time. This leads it feeling like advertising more than storytelling. It’s never too excessive, and if you love the sons of Gulliman then you’ll enjoy it more, but it does lead to a few eye-roll moments.
All in all though, if this is your first step into the world of Warhammer 40,000, then Dark Imperium is a good entry point. It brings together the past and the present and provides some important context. It also has some brilliant Death Guard and Nurgle bits that I adored. While the overall story isn’t amazing, it does set up the next novel nicely and provides some exciting moments throughout. I’m looking forward to starting Dark Imperium: Plague War as soon as possible.
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