REVIEW: Dark Imperium by Guy Haley

To me, Guy Haley’s Dark Imperium, the highly anticipated advancement of decades of Warhammer 40K storyline by the Black Library, is the story of what should have been. This should have been a book that reinvigorated those of us hundreds of books deep into the 30K and 40K universe. This should have been a carefully constructed mix of the brilliant story style of the opening books of the Horus Heresy mixed with the colossal re-introduction of Roboute Guilliman and the introduction of the Primaris space marine upgrades that would align with Games Workshop’s model range releases for these models. It should have been a jump-in point for new fans. It should have been the start of a massive wave of new books and short stories and lore and… It should have been many things, but for this Black Library buff and two-decade Warhammer 40k fiction fan, Dark Imperium fell flat.

To recap the story, Roboute Guilliman is a century clear of the stasis field that kept him alive for ten thousand years. He has teamed up with a rogue machanicus priest who designed the bigger and better primaris space marines ten thousand years ago and has kept them safe and secret ever since the Imperium tore itself apart. He’s now chasing his brother Mortarion and his Death Guard plague marines across the sector while at the same time learning of his home system of Ultramar coming under siege. This book is the story of Roboute’s fight to face his brother, rescue his homeworld, break the Imperium out of its frozen-gear state to start working as it needs to in order to restore its former glory, and to reverse people’s thinking that the Emperor is a god, all the while keeping his own mental state—dormant in stasis for ten thousand years—in line.

The story has a bunch of PoVs: Guilliman, a wounded soldier on a hospital world, a Primaris space marine, Mortarion shows up for a short bit, and a priest recently elevated to be Guilliman’s key member in the Imperial church. Guilliman’s PoV was fine (though it lacked the sheer magnificence of thought Abnett and McNeill created in the Horus heresy books), as was the wounded soldier’s and the space marine’s (probably the pick of the bunch). However, Mortarion’s PoV felt pointless, and the priest just read like a fan-boy stroking himself over Guilliman the entire time. Upon finishing the book, I can only assume Mortarion has been placed in there as a PoV for use in a sequel book, because I’m buggered if I know why he was there otherwise. Such a colossal foe deserved more, or should have been referred to but left out as a PoV. And on the topic of PoVs, the author flagrantly wandered between PoVs throughout the book, making the reading experience frustrating, at best.

When it comes to the storyline, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in a book ending in my life. It was just an absolute let down of an ending to follow up a confusing and meandering middle. I really can’t say more without spoiling the ending, suffice to say I was sitting on the bus when the reveal—for lack of a better way to say it—dropped and if it weren’t for being surrounded by people I would have thrown the book at a window.

It would also be remiss of me to not mention the info dumps. Crikey. There are long stretches of it and they can be pretty dense. And then, sometimes, just in case you didn’t get it the first time, the information is re-dumped on you.

We don’t do this very often on the GdM blog, but I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to our readers. Knowing a fair few authors and hearing their stories about how Black Library run the publication process (some good; some not so good), this book feels like the author wrote something pretty good, then some lore-master jumped in and went BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DETAILS, and then a publishing exec went BUT THIS COULD BE A TRILOGY, and then a project manager shouted at Haley YOU HAVE 48HRS TO IMPLEMENT ALL OF THAT AND COME OUT THE OTHER END WITH SOME SORT OF SERVICEABLE STORY. And Haley just sat down and went, “Fuck.”

Buy Dark Imperium by Guy Haley

I reiterate that I’m not giving this book the thumbs up, but if you’re a 40K tragic like I am, you’ll probably do it anyway, because hell … it’s the first time the storyline has moved forward in donkeys. Use the below links.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.