My fascination and exploration of the Warhammer 40,000 universe continues with Mechanicum, a novel that tells a story set during the Horus Heresy, when the Primarch Horus, second in command of the whole human empire, was corrupted by evil space gods and betrayed the Imperium of Mankind and started a civil war that would cost the lives of billions if not trillions of human; remember, 40k is a MASSIVE universe, equipped with millions of planets, trillions of humans, as well as an equal number of aliens and other such threats to the very existence of mankind. Also, there are demons, gods and pseudo-magic. It’s also all an extremely over the top setting of massive violence, absurd causality rates and grimdark antiheroes. Our heroes, such as they are, kill far too many planets, commit genocide far too often, and will kill hundreds of innocents to get at one Chaotic cultist. I’ve reviewed Warhammer 40K books before.
I’ve been reading and enjoying the Horus Heresy novels for a while now and while the novels definitely vary in quality, they all have been pretty entertaining so far. Mechanicum is one of the more unique novels in the series thus far in that it does not deal with guardsmen or Space Marines, the most popular sources of protagonists and stories that I’ve read thus far. Rather, this entire book takes place on Mars, which sits both at the heart of the Imperium, based on Earth, and the gigantic techno-economical-scientific-production-research group known as the Mechanicum. They are responsible for research, technological advancements and the production of basically everything the Imperium needs to function as an intergalactic society. They create ships, weapons, industrial tools, bullets, armor, tanks, fighters, destroyers; you name it, they make it.
So, when agents of the traitor Horus make a deal with most of the leadership of the Mechanicum, so that they switch to his side in exchange for forbidden technology and absolute freedom to research whatever they want… that’s a bad sign for the Imperium at large, who literally cannot function without Mars. The bigger story is the civil war as a whole, where various master builders who control city sized factories and production centers fight a bitter battle to the end, but there are also smaller stories about some mech piloting knights and a small cadre of scientists who much search out and restrain a dragon. Only… the dragon is a billion-year-old demigod alien who can control all machinery if it were to ever wake up and was put into a coma of sorts by the immortal Emperor of the Imperium. Good grief, it all sounds so dumb when you spell it out like that.
Some books in the Heresy series end up feeling much more important to the overall narrative than others while some feel like fun diversions but don’t have much to really add to the larger story. This one falls somewhere in the middle. It is enjoyable to see other aspects of humanity react to this impending schism and author Graham McNeil does a solid job of making the various members of the Mechanicum feel unique. They are so often wrapped up in their pseudo religion of science and machines, as well as being mostly cybernetic and mechanical themselves, that their entire view of life is warped and weird when compared to other, more organic humans, even if those other humans are 8-foot-tall super soldiers. It’s also readily important to the overall story; both sides need Mars and at the end of the book, neither side seems to have really gotten much out of this conflict, as Mars is mostly left a mess, which is a typical 40k outcome so I really shouldn’t be that surprised.
The various characters are all pretty interesting or fun to read. Kelbor-Hal is a suitably villainous, mad scientist who doesn’t seem to have any common sense for what is best for him; his motivations may not be all that original, but they are readily understandable and communicate both who he is and what kind of universe this is. Forge Mistress Koriel Zeth comes off as one of the most centered, reasonable people I have ever read in 40k, as does her little group of scientists whom she sends off to maybe fight a dragon. That group especially, led by Dalia Cythera and Rho-mu 31, feel so refreshing to see in this world because they act like actual humans; they show love, they show fear, they are not certain of themselves nor are they religious zealots. They are for the most part, good hearted scientists who truly just want to make the universe a better place for themselves and all of humanity. It’s almost unheard of to see these kinds of normal folk in 40k. Besides enjoying such a likeable group of men and women, the brave Knight and Titan pilots we see fight for the Imperium offered some of the best written combat I have seen in 40k yet. It’s all Titan or Knight based, which are huge, semi-sentient mechs of various sizes piloted by the men and women of the Knight houses, and Graham does an excellent job of plotting out and showing us how they fight, from smaller sized units to giant, Godzilla scale robots of absolute death and destruction. The large Titan battle at the end, led by Lord Commander Verticorda, was one of the more enjoyable last stands I’ve read in quite some time. The fog of war often cloaks the large-scale battle scenes in 40k books, either because the writer is not quite up to it skill wise or it’s a stylistic choice, I don’t really know yet, but Graham does a really nice job of laying it all out for the reader.
Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Compelling characters and some intricately laid out combat will get a book far with me, and this book has both well in hand. I can’t tell you to just go read this book, you really need to be familiar with the setting and read the other Horus Heresy books before this (you also need to know what a C’Tan is…). But if you do are and you have read those other books, this book is pretty good and will certainly entertain you.