If there’s one thing which is all too frequently forgotten about the Warhammer universes, it’s their diversity and depth of lore. For a franchise whose most recognisable tagline is “There is only war” and seems to only feature stories military campaigns against one enemy or another, there’s often a lot of opportunity squandered. All too often the content of Black Library’s novels emphasises upon warzones and crusades rather than the cultural differences or societies of worlds. Priests of Mars seems to be one of the exceptions to this.
Magos Lexll Kotov of the Adeptus Mechanicus is a desperate man. Having lost his forge worlds in uprisings or the hordes of the Great Devourer he is close to having his remaining assets seized by rivals. His only hope comes in the form of debris found by a Rogue Trader suggesting the survival of an expedition to find the mysterious technological artefact “The Breath of the Gods”. Using his remaining influence, Kotov gathers forces for an explorator fleet to pursue the expedition beyond the Halo Stars.
Now, just to be clear this is by no means a novel which outright avoids conflict. It’d be an extremely dull one if it did, but instead it treats war and bloodshed in the same way A Game of Thrones does. It’ll turn up in short bursts, occasional fights and eventually escalate into war; but the drive behind the narrative comes from the characters.
Along with having a huge ensemble of figures within the novel, Graham McNeill seems to have taken the time picking out representatives of the most diverse factions of the Imperium. Tech Priests, Cadian Imperial Guard, Black Templars, Legio Titanicus, Rogue Traders and even poor sods pressganged into running ships. Outside of Titanicus or Warriors of Ultramar this is probably the most widespread collection of figures you can get, many of who have an increasingly fractious relationship due to their contrasting differences and goals. While they might be working together the potential for personal agendas to lead to infighting and is always on the cards. Many clash with the Mechanicus over their mission, strategies or the actions of their leader. Others are haunted by their personal demons and past failures.The novel always depicts unity between thecharacters but it’s a tense unity. One always in doubt due to the desperate,borderline insane, mission of Kotov and the natural opposition some characterseasily have to one another. Let’s face it, just how long do you think a RogueTrader and Black Templar Reclusiarch will remain on good terms for. This isjust with those who meet however and in a few cases some focus characters arethe stars of their own side-stories, completely detached from everything elsebut with signs of much greater importance coming later on. This is especiallytrue with Julius Hawke (yes, THAT Julius Hawke) and the eldar orBeil-Tan.