Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Almost Praetorian IG Novel? A Review of Imperial Glory by Richard Williams

The observant, and you'd had to have been really observant, might have noticed a year or two ago that there were faint mumblings of the Black Library releasing a book from their successful Imperial Guard series centered on Praetorian's. Suffice to say at the time I was quite rabid about it, and went in search of the truth. In doing so I was able to get in touch with the author who had pitched the idea, Richard Williams, who at that time had just seen success with 'Relentless'. Richard was good enough to reply to the ravings of this particular mad man, and confirm that while he had indeed wanted to write such a novel, and had pitched the idea, it had sadly not been given the green light. Instead he was given the green light to write about another lesser known regiment, though at the time, understandably he was'nt able to go into any more detail.

I completely forgot about this in all honesty, with all that life tends to chuck at us, until I received a PM from Chosen Man, the Imperial Guard forum moderator on 40k Online. In his message, amongst other Praetorian related shenanigans he dropped in a bombshell - had I read the new Black Library novel, and that it was virtually Praetorians. I did a little digging, having been utterly out of the loop with Black Library releases since I started my OU degree last year, and realised that this was Richard Williams new novel, named Imperial Glory and centered on the Brimlock Dragoons. As I was about to head off for a long weekend away I picked up the book as a e-book (my first as it happens) and read it with almost inappropriate haste! What follows are my thoughts, though I've kept the spoilers to an absolute minimum!

The novel focuses on the story of the Brimlock 11th, a veteran regiment, composed of the remnants of hundreds of others - 10 million men, reduced to just a handful of companies. At the end of a long campaign they are dispatched one last time to a frontier colony, a world whose inhabitants have tried to escape Imperial rule only to find their new home invaded by every bodies favourite xenos, the Orks. The regiment includes Light Infantry, Armour, Artillery, Sappers, Armoured Fist Infantry (following the little established background of the Brimlock Dragoons which was introduced for the Third War for Armageddon), and brilliantly some aloof, and elite Cavalry. It is a regiment of courageous and (mostly) disciplined soliders, lead by its Officer class. Though of course we have some specific interesting personalities, such as junior officer, Carson, his career stunted because of his tendency to kill the wrong people as a renowned duelist, the thief 'Mouse' and his opposite the almost clean cut company colour sergeant 'Red'. We also have the Major Stanhoope, an Officer with an addiction, the loyal and friendly Ogryn, and the mysterious 'Blanks' who remains a mystery until the very end.

After the prologue, which introduces some of the key characters, and sets the scene as they reach the end of the current campaign, the book rapidly build ups and tells the story of the 11th's campaign against the Orks in some detail. While continuing to seamlessly build upon the characters, slowly introducing us to their past, and motivations. It is well written, and though this takes fully half the novel, it did not feel drawn out.

Throughout the novel, there are occasional interludes, which a number of Black Library authors have taken to including. Imperial Glory is I think the first time I've really felt they were successful, they each depict something of a flash back, explaining brilliantly the characters motivations and actions at the appropriate moment, as well as horrendously showing the darker side of Imperial discipline; one savagely reminiscent of the Indian Mutiny. One in particular also alters the progress of the story with a dramatic twist, but one which is utterly appropriate.

However, there are a couple of things I was'nt quite so fond of, the depiction of an almost super human Storm Trooper was a little OTT, though fun none the less. The penultimate scene also felt a little rushed, with little details given towards certain climatic ends, while focusing just on a single element of the storyline. That said, to do otherwise could of left for a confusing conclusion jumping back and forth through separate stories. I wasn't overly fond of how the Orks were depicted as dealing with vehicles towards the end either, it felt a little too convenient, I feel I'd have preferred to have seen them mob them instead.

That said the Ork's were overly depicted nicely, with a good mix of the normal Orkish 'duff em up' mentality, mixed in with some seriously bestial cunning, particularly from the Warboss. The idea of 'new spawns' also worked well given how the novel was written, had the Orks been shooting back it just would'nt have worked quite the same.

It's here we come to the crux, is this a Praetorian novel in disguise?

Is Brimlock the new 'code word' for Praetorian?

Well the answer is 'maybe'.

Certainly if you closed your eyes, and imagined that Brimlock read Praetorian you could read Imperial Glory as the almost perfect depiction of how many of us imagine the Praetorian Imperial Guard, right down to tea stained helmets (its in there!). There are many similarities, ranked up, officer lead Volley Fire is regularly used by the Guardsmen, several times they are ordered to 'Fix Bayonets', the units, and characters, and the intra-unit rivalries. Many of these simply would'nt fit in the depiction of many other regiments.

However, these similarities could simply be based upon the same historical sources, with obvious nods to the Zulu War with an objective named 'Chard', bombastic Colour-Sergeants, the comparisons which could be drawn between Native combatants, both human and loyal to the Brimlocks, and the opposition in the form of the Orks who as depicted, and armed, fit in with the stereotypical native warrior of the age of empire. In Stanhope there is also perhaps a nod to the actor Stanley Baker who both stared in and produced the classic war film, Zulu.

The truth is, only Richard Williams really knows the answer, and to be honest I'm not sure we need one, because whatever it is, this is a damn fine read.


mk6marine said...

Just moved up on my list of things to buy.

Atreides said...

Richard Williams is the brother of one my my very good friends. he is a great guy who really loves the hobby and has been in it since a very young age. i know for a fact that on occasion he gets a little irritated by the restrictions of writing in a fictional universe with so many restrictions, so it is possible that the inconsistencies you mentioned are just small instances of him being allowed to use his imagination :) all in all i am glad to read such a positive review of one of his books!

Der Feldmarschall said...

I've been think of picking this one up. Might just have to give a go now. :)

Col.Gravis said...

mk6marine & Der Feldmarschall, I would very much recommended it. Personally I could'nt put it down, especially as things progressed.

Atreides, I had a feeling he might have had such a connection with the hobby from his writing, and I can imagine that it must be quite frustrating to be limited sometimes within the established background, despite its depth. At the end of the day though, my little gripes certainly did'nt detract from my enjoyment of his book, I think they are more observations. Suffice to say I've dropped him another email with a big thumbs up.

Aethervox said...

Stanhope is the lead character in the play "Journey's End" set in the trenches of WW1.

Col.Gravis said...

Good catch Aethervox, that's a possible inspiration!