Monday, May 22, 2017

REVIEW: Cult of the Warmason

Genestealer Cults have always interested me. There is something about them that just feels very unique to 40k, and at the same time very different to a lot of the other factions. When I saw a book featuring both them and the Sisters of Battle from C.L. Werner I knew it was going to be my next read. So how do the Cults fare in one of their few literary outings?

We open up on the Imperial world of Lubentina already suffering some minor uprisings from the Genestealer Cults, although they don't know that's what it is yet. The world is a giant shrine world and derives the vast majority of its profit from pilgrims coming to see the many shrines, most important of which contains relics of Vadok Singh, the Warmason in the title of the book. Fans familiar with the Horus Heresy series may recognize this name since he is the designer of the Imperial Palace's defenses during that tumultuous time. Being a shrine world, there is a permanent detachment of Sister of Battle stationed there to keep watch over these relics. The Sister Superior, Trishala, is the one who first figures out that this local uprising is something a bit more insidious than your standard civil unrest.

Unfortunately her cries of alarm fall on deaf ears, since the ruling members of the planet do not want to drag other forces of the Imperium into this conflict, thinking it will diminish their standing amongst the pilgrims and lead to decreased profits. The first few chapters of the book deal with the Cult slowly making more and more gains as they spill across the world, forcing the Imperials back into a few well defended areas, such as the central spire, the spaceport, and the cathedral housing the Warmason's relics. It's at the last location that the Sisters focus all of their efforts. It's interesting to see how the Cult begins to overthrow a planet, but for me this part all felt a little slow. The action was fast paced, but nothing really grabbed my attention. This all changes about a quarter of the way into the story when one of the Imperial leaders decides to go rogue and sends out an astropathic distress call against the main ruler's wishes.

Instead of a regiment of Imperial Guard being diverted to the planet or a strike force of Space Marines, the message is intercepted by a cabal of Chaos Space Marine sorcerers. Cornak, an Iron Warriors sorcerer, realizes there is something of value on this planet for them and ropes in a Warsmith, Rhodaan, and his elite retinue into striking out for Lubentina. When they land on the planet the Imperials manning the spaceport at first don't know what to make of them. When they see that they are Space Marines, albeit traitor ones, they mostly give them a wide berth, although there are a few token spots of resistance. The traitors are there to head straight for the Warmason's cathedral as well, though their goal remains a mystery until near the end of the book. Now we get to see the Chaos Marines fight their way through the streets against both Imperial units and the forces of the Genestealer Cults, as well as the Sisters attempting to keep the cathedral secure. Keep in mind this is a group of only about five Chaos Marines, but they still wreck face. I love the depiction of a tiny group of Marines being able to fight against overwhelming odds because of how incredibly tough they are.

The action in this is pretty fast paced, and it's interesting to see three different forces all converging on the same objective for different reasons. The final confrontation is pretty cool, and very fitting for the kind of lower level stuff we see in here. By that I mean there aren't any big tanks or huge explosions, but a bunch of skirmish level fights in tight confines, which is pretty dang awesome when it involves Space Marines, Sisters, and Genestealers. The very end of the story has a couple of nice hooks in it that leave you with a little smirk on your face, my favorite involves the true Imperial forces that end up answering the distress call.

The characters in here had some interesting arcs, with the Sisters probably being my favorite. Trishala and her Sisters had to balance out the needs of protecting the relics and saving as many civilians as they could, while also making sure no intruders snuck their way into the cathedral. This led to some interesting moral dilemmas for them. It was also cool seeing them face off against the Iron Warriors since you really get a feeling for how outclassed they are by the Space Marines. You think of Sisters as being pretty equivalent, but in the end they are still no match unless they hold some sort of huge advantage. That's one of the things that C.L. Werner did really well in this book, balance out the power levels of all of the forces involved. Everything felt the way it should. The Genestealers far outclassed the regular humans, while they were about on par with the Sisters, who themselves were outclassed by the Space Marines.

Rhodaan was okay, but he felt very much like an average angry Chaos Space Marine captain. Having said that, he was definitely more restrained then others we have seen, still valuing the discipline and training they hold as Space Marines over pure anger and hatred. In fact, they pretty much dealt with the Imperial forces they ran into as if you don't bother me I won't bother you. Normally we see Chaos Marines just slaughtering everything they come across, but the Iron Warriors were more interested in their mission and figured there was no need for distractions and wasting ammunition unless they didn't have a choice. The sorcerer, Cornak, was also a little typical, but he had some interesting interactions with the Genestealer Cult Magus, Bakasur. These were mostly psychic interactions, but it's always fun to see a Chaos Marine experience fear.

Bakasur was probably the least interesting character for me. He just didn't feel like he had much going on. There was no real arc for him, but he did act as a nice entry point for us to see how the Cults work and their beliefs. I liked how he always cursed the human parts of him but kept thinking ahead to when he would be able to shed those when he joined with the greater power.

Overall I enjoyed Cult of the Warmason. It was a fun read, even if it was a bit slow for me at the start. Once the action got going with the Iron Warrior's arrival I was hooked and the Sisters really shined as a standout for me. The intense and claustrophobic fighting near the end was a perfect cap to the story and the epilogue did a great job at tying up all of the loose ends with a few fun twists thrown in as well. If you like the Sisters of Battle I think this would be a good read for you. It definitely felt more like a Sisters story than a Genestealer Cult story, which wasn't a bad thing. Rhodaan and the other Iron Warriors seem to be characters from the Siege of Castallax novel, which I haven't read. So, if you have read that already then I am sure you would get even more out of this book then I did.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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