Dawn of Fire, Warhammer 40,000‘s epic new series of novels, finally has a follow up with The Gate of Bones by Andy Clark. If you missed my review of the first book, Avenging Son, go and read that because it lays a lot of the groundwork for the events and characters in The Gate of Bones. However, unlike other instances, I don’t think you need to have read Avenging Son to enjoy The Gate of Bones. Instead, it holds up as a stand-alone story and as part of a wider narrative. The big question, though, is whether this series is shaping up to become a worthy addition to the Warhammer canon?
For me, The Gate of Bones is a difficult book. On one hand, it does a lot right. We have interesting and relatable human characters, the Custodes are hulking demi-gods that barely resemble humanity and the Chaos characters are more than moustache-twirling villains. All of which I love. However, for all of that, The Gate of Bones is about as standard a Warhammer 40,000 story as you can get. The basic premise of the narrative is that Chaos has taken hold of a world, the Imperium doesn’t like that and wants to rid it of this corruption. At which point there’s a lot of shooty bangs, dead characters and honourable last stands. It’s very safe and never strays too far from the expected path. This feels like a massive shame because it meant that the twists weren’t really twists and the turns felt more like the author was turning to the reader saying “You know that thing that happens in most Warhammer fiction? Well that’s what’s going to happen here”. And I’m not saying every book needs to be some earth-shattering revolution, but The Gate of Bones rarely put its own stamp on the 40k universe.
And I say that because while some of the characters were excellent attempts, the problem is that these were the ones we spent the least amount of time with. My personal favourite, the dirty Chaos loving cheese ball that I am, was Iron Warrior Torvann Lokk. He is such an unlikely sad character in a world where Space Marines, and Chaos Space Marines, are generally portrayed as murder fueled behemoths. Instead, Lokk was sorry for his lot in life. Sure he sided with the Dark Gods (they defo need a rebrand) and hates the Imperium, but mostly he sounds like a man who just wants a long bath and to be left alone. You feel the weight of the years of war and the sense that he’s come along this path too far to stop now even if he wants to. And yet, we don’t see enough of him. And I know this is an Imperium led series, praise the Emperor (eye roll), but it’s characters like this that turn alright Warhammer stories into fantastic fiction.
Another excellent character, that is woefully underused, is General Dvorgin of the Mordian Iron Guard. The good General is leading the fight against the heretics when the Indomitus Crusade arrives and that’s all your standard strategy shooty bang stuff that we’ve seen before. It’s his doubt in the Imperium and the Emperor that is interesting. This is because Dvorgin refused to have a child with his wife on the account of the universe being a terrible place to live in and is now wracked by guilt and doubt. It’s unusual to see an Imperium character that goes through this kind of crisis of faith and Dvorgin makes some excellent points, why would you want to bring a child into a life of war? His attachment to another Mordian Guard shows why he doubts his decision as he sees her as a surrogate daughter and sees the promise and life in her. This leads him to feel guilty about never having a child of his own all those years ago. To draw this allegory to real life, the world is awful but don’t let that stop you from filling it with people you love. Which is the most amazingly upbeat and life approving message that I’ve seen in a Warhammer 40,000 book. Especially considering it is mostly concerned with which side can explode the other first. Again though, he’s underused which is a shame.
And other characters are interesting but none to the level of the two above. Oh, and there are the Custodes. They are tricky. I like that they see everything and everyone as an insect and below them. The scene where they track their kills shows how little respect they have for life, which is chilling. This part also has some of the best action in the book with some exceptionally written butchery. However, that’s pretty much all they amount to. There are somewhat different personalities amongst the group but they are basically big strong men who have a disregard for life. And this is interesting at first because even the Space Marines look human compared to the Custodes, but we spend an awful lot of time with these guys and they are the same throughout. A lot of the action centres around the Custodes which is interesting but because of this, the action is a bit same-y. Once you’ve seen one Custodian kill a room of people you don’t need to see it again and again.
However, if you love yourself an action-packed Warhammer book then this is one of the best. It has action but also some excellent characters. And while the scope is much smaller than Avenging Son, it builds on those events to show the Indomitus Crusade in action. However, I would also say that this could easily have not been part of the Dawn of Fire series. There are links to the previous book, but it doesn’t feel like the second part in an epic tale. This is less the start of the Horus Heresy and more like how the Devastation of Baal and Dark Imperium share similar elements. It isn’t quite as distant as that but it feels much closer to a general setting rather than a sweeping narrative. It will take future releases to confirm whether I think this is a good idea, or whether there is a sweeping narrative that’s going to sneak up on us.
So would I recommend The Gate of Bones? Yes and no. I would say that you don’t need to rush out and pick it up. Rather, if you see it on sale or want to check out something the next thing in the Dawn of Fire series, then give it a shot. There is a certain amount of whiplash going from Avenging Son’s wide scope to The Gate of Bones’ narrow one, so keep that in mind. Altogether though, it’s an enjoyable read that had untapped potential.
Thanks for reading. For a Warhammer 40,000 novel that I cannot recommend higher, check out Black Legion. Alternatively, if you want an epic series then check out Tales of Heresy as it’s our latest review in The Horus Heresy series,