Priests of Mars by Graham McNeill

PRIESTS OF MARS by Graham McNeill, The Black Library, h/b, €25.00,

Reviewed by David Rudden

The majority of Graham McNeill’s books for the Black Library haven’t impressed me. They’re far too quick to jump to ‘rivers of blood’ and ‘mountains of skulls’ and while those phrases fit nicely in the over-the-top Gothic nature of the 40K universe, they become slightly lacklustre after they’re used for the fiftieth time. Surely skulls are far too difficult to stack to get to mountain status, and ‘hillock of skulls’ just sounds silly.

‘Priests of Mar’s is therefore a welcome change. McNeill’s clearly been influenced by other BL writers like Dan Abnett, and descriptions here avoid hyperbole and instead couch the plot in intricate detail, rather fittingly for a novel about the 40K universe’s scientists and technologists. Maybe it’s because there aren’t that many set-pieces in the novel, but the focus here is on the interplay between factions preparing to explore the dangerous and unknown Halo Scar region, and the whole book reads more as a political thriller than a story of the far future. This is in the book’s favour though; war and death have been adequately covered by the Black Library and it’s fun to read a novel that mostly intrigue instead.

The characters are interesting, though as this is obviously the first of a series plenty of questions are brought up and not answered. There was enough left hanging that I was actually disappointed when the novel ended. It avoids McNeill’s usually too-florid style (in ‘Fulgrim’ for example, he describes how ‘hundreds of men were dying per second in a battle between a hundred thousand men, and how the battle went on for hours. I realise that it probably wasn’t the time to be doing simple maths, but it was still slightly jarring) and as the priests of Mars are rarely dealt with besides being sinister almost-allies, I thoroughly recommend Priests as a surprisingly good start to an intriguing drama.