12th December 2020 Edit
So Games Workshop has re-released the Avenging Son audiobook with a new narrator, so I thought it was probably worth me revisiting the first book in the new Dawn of Fire series.
While I’m sure that Mark Elstob is a decent narrator, the direction he was given in Avenging Son was baffling. So the switch to John Banks was welcomed with open arms. As you can see below the narrator was one of my major criticisms for this book and thanks to that change, you’d think that Avenging Son would be a five star best book ever, you need to start your 40k journey here, story. However, my revisit shone a light on some areas of Avenging Son that either I was too distracted by the previous voice actor to notice or didn’t register. So here’s my re-review of the Dawn of Fire: Avenging Son audiobook.
Firstly, before I dive into my criticism it’s worth reiterating that this is a great book. The multiple plot strands are engaging, the scale feels epic and the treat is convincing. However, the book occasionally buckles under its own weight. Characters are introduced, backstories established and then never seen again. Avenging Son feels too much like an extended prologue rather than a story of its own.
As part of a larger whole that we’ve not seen or read yet, this could be a masterstroke full of foreshadowing and nuggets of information that link across multiple books. However, on its own it struggles. We need the payoff of later books to appreciate the build-up here. And while that might not be an issue, in the long run, it means that Avenging Son is a massive book that only has a satisfying payoff for about a third of its narrative threads.
The threat posed is large, that I’m staggered by how they are possibly going to top it with the climax to the series. I could easily be wrong here because only time will tell but if your starting story is Imperium ending, then what is the escalation? I think by trying to have such a large bang out of the gates, it could harm subsequent stories. However, that’s all speculation and by itself Avenging Son is a good read, so maybe it’s irrelevant anyway. You can go read the rest of the original article now.
After the incredible disappointment of the Indomitus novel, I was cautious about where I set my expectations for the first book in the multipart saga that tells the full story of the Indomitus Crusade. However, unlike Indomitus (the novel, this is getting confusing), Dawn of Fire: Avenging Son has almost everything I want from a Warhammer 40k book. There’s action, there’s enjoyable characters, a sense of scale and importance to the events, and all of it’s tied together with a plot that has me intrigued to see where this story goes in the future. I won’t bury the lead here as this is a great book and well worth your time, but let’s dive into why.
Firstly, I want to address some of the negatives before I go on with my praise. I listened to the audiobook version of Avenging Son and found that the narrator took a lot of getting used to. The voices he used for many of the Space Marines were grating but manageable. However, the voice he used for Guilliman was awful. He sounded like a hoity-toity nobleman, coming across more like Prince George from Blackadder than a demigod Primarch who is about to wage war throughout the galaxy. The voice used and the way the character behaved were at complete odds with each other. On top of this, we’ve had other portrayals of Guilliman before that sound nothing like this so it comes completely out of nowhere. Maybe it is meant to show growth to Dark Imperium but this is not the way to do it and I can’t understand how anybody thought it was a good idea. I want to read the actual book as the narrator often ruined parts of the story.
My second criticism is less severe. It concerns the book’s cover. You could be forgiven for mistaking Avenging Son as a story about the Ultramarines but it isn’t. This book spans various ranks and roles in the Imperium and the Ultramarines are but a single element. We do have Fleetmistress VanLeskus on there but the cover is not representative of the novel, so literally don’t judge this book by its cover. There are Inquisitors, Xenos, Mechanicus, Administratium Workers, Imperial Guard, Astartes, Primaris and more. This is an ensemble cast of characters where each plays their own important role but you can glance at this book and its description and miss all of that.
Alright now onto the positives and what this book is actually about. The main driving force of the plot for Avenging Son concerns the Chaos Crusade of Slaughter which is attempting to expand the Cicatrix Maledictum. The Indomitus Crusade is tasked with stopping this from happening. Through this, we see the start of the Crusade, the introduction of the Primaris and lots of fun battles against the World Eaters and Khorne. However, there is more going on as we share several perspectives with the diverse cast of characters mentioned above. And not all of them are on the front lines, chainsword in hand. Guy Haley isn’t afraid to bring the action to a standstill to allow us to spend time to better understand a character and their place in the Warhammer Universe. But at the same time ratchet up the tension for a confrontation that is more than simple shooty bangs as we now care about the characters taking fire. And it’s in exploring these characters that Dawn of Fire: Avenging Son flourishes.
Where I think Avenging Son occasionally struggles but manages most of the time, is fitting it all into a single book. A lot is happening in the first Dawn of Fire novel and while we spend time with a lot of characters, the book still progresses at an incredible pace. This means that characters can disappear for large portions of the book and that their character development is stunted in comparison with others. There’s a lot of ground to cover and looking back, I hope certain events are looked at in more detail in the future. And I hope that is exactly what they do because they’ve established some interesting characters and it would be a shame to waste them by letting their story end here.
You could easily criticise Avenging Son for having a plot where you know that the Imperium is going to win because it’s ‘historical’ and we know what happens after the Indomitus Crusade ends. However, as with many Warhammer books, we know the destination. That is either already set in stone e.g. The Horus Heresy leads to a very specific point. Or it’s a book that is filling in a piece of the story previously unknown to us e.g. in the Dante novel we know he becomes Chapter Master. However, as with those books, in Dawn of Fire: Avenging Son it’s the journey rather than the destination that’s important. We know the historical landmark events but we don’t know the characters that fought and died to make them a reality. So yes, the Crusade of Slaughter is stopped but who stopped it and how is what this book explores and it does not suffer from us knowing how it ends.
Dawn of Fire: Avenging Son is a great start to a new series and I can’t wait for the next book. It isn’t the best that the Black Library or Guy Haley have produced but it deftly weaves a myriad of plot threads together into a coherent whole. If you want a book that truly represents the Indomitus Crusade then pick this up, but you might want to steer clear of the audiobook version.
Thanks for reading, for some of Guy Haley’s other work check out Dante or either of the Dark Imperium novels. If you want a Warhammer 40k video game then head over and read my review of Battlefleet Gothic: Armada.
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