As I’ve progressed through the Horus Heresy, for some reason I’ve not been looking forward to Mechanicum. I don’t know why but the worshippers of the Machine God have never held any interest for me. In other Warhammer stories (30k or 40k), they felt like odd robot people without any particular character or development. So when my read-through of The Horus Heresy reached book 9 (wow, can’t believe I’m nearly at double digits), Mechanism by Graham McNiel, I wasn’t looking forward to exploring Mars at all. However, after finishing it my interest in the Mechanicus has grown, and more importantly, I’m now fascinated by the Dark Mechanicum. This book isn’t without its issues though, so let’s dive into the full review.
Mechanicum mostly follows a young scribe called Dalia Cythera as she is taken to Mars for unknown reasons. The Adept who summoned her has plans for Dalia to help with some groundbreaking new technology. As part of this Dalia makes some new friends, discovers she has some fancy powers and goes on a journey through Mars for reasons that make sense within the context of the book. I enjoyed the Dalia sections. The fish out of water approach works here and is a good excuse to clue the reader in on how the Mechanium and Mars operate. And as someone with essentially no prior knowledge, these bits were enlightening and helped me to understand how they fit into the larger 40k universe.
However, the problems with the Dalia parts are that once she starts her journey to parts unknown it starts to feel contrived. We moved very quickly from Dalia has total recall and that’s a useful talent, to Dalia can control machines with her mind very quickly and the justification is flimsy at best. This meant that any character growth we’d seen from Dalia was pushed aside in favour of her new powers. This feels frustrating because Dalia already had weird powers manifesting but when you add even more on top of that it starts to get a bit much. Having said all that, I like Dalia. She’s not confident in her new powers or why she’s there but she tries anyway. For a series that’s all about big manly Primarchs stomping around with their Daddy issues, it’s nice to see a girl who’s come from nowhere trying to understand what’s happening to her and why. All the while having some badass powers.
The other part of the book follows the escalating tensions between Titan Legions. This explores the Mechanicum’s relationship with the wider Heresy and the Imperium at large. This closely examines the start of the civil war on Mars and we get to understand the lines drawn by both sides of the equation. Exploring these stomping war machines and their pilots goes a long way to humanise the death bots and Mechanicum does an excellent job of helping us understand their sheer scale. The destruction on Mars is terrible and apocalyptic and there’s something almost scarier because it’s closer to home.
However, it’s here that Mechanicum again runs into issues. One of the main ones is how much ground it tries to cover in such a short period. This means that major battles are over quicker than you’d expect (although with the firepower on display, maybe that makes sense). We blitz through the mounting tensions, the birth of the Dark Mechanicum, skirmishes between Titan Legions, large battles between Titan Legions, big doomsday weapons, how this impacts the Imperium and Horus and all of the story needed for Dalia. In short, this could easily have been two separate books as neither side interacts a great deal until the end. If they had been two separate books, then the time needed to develop both sides could have been taken. Instead, Mechanicum moves at a blinding pace with reveals and twists every chapter. In theory that sounds exciting and page-turning, in reality, it’s too much.
Yet somehow even with everything going on, Mechanicum can also feel cumbersome. Since the two sides don’t interact, you can feel like you need to get through one or the other to get the next part that interests you. This means that you will always have a favourite perspective and the other one will feel like it’s getting in the way of you enjoying this book. If the two had woven together more cleanly or been two distinct stories, then this issue would not exist.
However, criticism aside, I enjoyed Mechanicum. It was refreshing to have a female lead and delving into the Mechanicum was interesting. For me, the Dark Mechanicum were the highlight and I realise why everyone wants Games Workshop to make models and rules for this faction. Mechanicum is an interesting story that delves into how Mars factors into The Horus Heresy, but it isn’t without its issues. If you can get past them though, there are two intriguing stories to enjoy here.
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