Review: The Purging of Kadillus
19 March 2012 | 5th Edition
It's taken a time to get around to it and it may no longer be relevent. But here's my thoughts on this Space Marine Battles book by Gav Thorpe.
This is a long read and contains spoilers.
It is actually the first book of this Battles format that I've read, and straight off I like it the physicality of it. The size of the book is bigger in both width and height compared with the Horus Heresy books for instance, and consequently the font size used throughout is bigger too. I can't say how pleased my old eyes are at this! As a result of its larger physical size (and the inclusion of a four page colour centre section), it is more expensive than many Black Library 40K books.
This is full of surprises.
As an avid reader of military and naval history and biographies over 35-odd years, I somehow got into my head that this series would be more like an historical account, i.e. written third person from a very high viewpoint and consequently with very little in the way of character dialogue and thought insights. I was wrong. It is a collection of mini novels in one, each following the exploits of a particular character through specific phases of the campaign. So that was the first surprise.
An interesting structural format struck me was that each individual chapter (or tale as they are called) mimicked fairly closely various battle scenarios found in the Games Workshop Storm of Vengeance campaign rules released back in 2007 (I think) as a downloadable pdf. This results in the story unfolding neatly in a roughly linear time line. I thought this tie-in was great. That was the second surprise.
Third surprise was the Order of Battle of the 3rd Company and associated support units and ships. I love this kind of thing and drink in the details of names, numbers and dispositions. Goes back to the military history thing I guess.
The fourth surprise wasn't a good one, so I'll get it out the way now. The map featured in the centre of the book is frankly, appalling. Its purile and lacks any real detail in the type of military map that I would understand. And this puzzled me a there was already a perfectly good map used within the Storm of Vengeance pdf. Why wasn't that used as a basis and coloured? Not only is the map terrible to look at, it's also innaccurate. The large circular item (itemised as #2 on the map) is incorrectly labelled as 'Kadillus Harbour'. While the rectangular item (#1) is incorrectly labelled as 'Northport'. Both these labels have been transposed. Northport of course should be #2 item and vis versa. Check out the Storm of Vengeance map.
There's no excuse for that kind of sloppiness — especially as perfectly good artwork already exists as reference.
And on artwork, the illustration, such as it is, of Captain Belial on the page following the map is also awful. Again rather childish in its execution. The Dark Angel marine that features on the spine has more finesse, why not use that as a basis? Better still why not enlarge a section of the brillliant front cover art and caption that?
It's such a shame that Black Library have allowed such poor atrwork through. I love maps — especially military ones, why not make the effort and do the book justice? I'll say that this tarnished my view of this book as an item of creative output. Shame.
The background to the campaign
After recently recruiting from neighbouring Piscina V, the rest of the Chapter has left the area leaving only the 3rd Company and a few auxiliary units to finish the process. Belial's swift action in getting to Piscina IV fast had ensued that the planet hadn't fallen more rapidly to the unexpected greenskin invasion.
The whole campaign centres around the unprecidented joint strike by the warlords Ghazghkull Thrakka and Nazdreg.
From Belial's point of view things are further complictaed by the fact that the orks have captured the high powered defence laser in Kadillus Harbour and this renders any kind of strategic air lift or low level strikes from the Unrelenting Fury — the Dark Angels' Battle Barge — extremely risky. He must contantly balance his limited forces between containment of the orks within Kadillus Harbour and the defence of the strategic eastern approach to the city — Koth Ridge. The remainder of the Dark Angels Chapter are currently too far away to render any assistance. Besides which Belial is reluctant to ask for help.
And somehow, the orks seem to be contantly reinforced from off-planet sources.
That's the prelude to the series of chapters that make up this book. Each essentially a mini story in their own right, independent yet interlinking to form the bigger picture of events.
These are notes and thoughts scribled down during several read throughs. Within each chapter they may not be entirely chronological, and you will see the same themes repeated across several chapters. That's just how it goes.
The Tale of Boreas — Dark Cathedral
An action sequence opening chapter detailing the efforts of Chaplain Boreas to recapture (after many unsuccessful attempts) the Dark Cathedral ÿÙ¿ a basilica of the Dark Angels and an extension of the Tower of Angels, a spiritual part of Caliban — and the highest building in Kadillus Harbour.
The action comes thick and fast but is a bit bang-bang-you're-dead. We get a glimpse though of what is undoubtedly doctrinal pig-headedness from Boreas who dosen't seem to take criticism well. And, how he is constantly analysing the fervour of the accompanying DA squads for the battle. In many ways this is all standard 40K fare — definately as far as representing a Chaplain goes. But thank God the orks don't talk — I hate the way Black Library and Games Workshop vocalise orks in print!
I'll be honest Boreas comes over as a bit if an ass. Arrogant. Domineering. The DA brothers on the other hand are a bit more characterful and have a typically soldier-like pragmatism.
The Tale of Naaman — Cut and Run
Altogether a different pace. More interesting in that we see the rebellious nature of Naaman coming through in his wish to 'interpret' order rather than obey them exactly as per the letter. On a hunch he wants to head out east beyond Koth Ridge to try and find the Orks landing site.
However, Belial is convinced he has Ghazghkull exactly where he wants him — holed up around the power plant in Kadillus Harbour. But what do they want the power for?
Yet after reports from other DA recon units of Orks in the area, Belial himself agrees to an extended 50km sweep further east to exterminate further stragglers (as he perceives them) who have fallen behind from the main advance on Kadillus.
Naaman wants to press on beyond Belial's sweep area, Ravenwing sergeant Aquila is initially against Naaman's idea of going further east, but is loyal enough to go anyway. The Ravenwing squadron sacrifice themselves in order that Naaman can get his intel back — although this doesn't come to light until the next chapter. You have to admire their selflessness.
It's a story of a cat and mouse hunt through the East Barrens in search of the ork's landing site. Ravenwing squadron Aquila (led by sergeant Aquilla) provide the motorised firepower. Sergeant Naaman proves his worth, using his intelligence and heroism in gathering vital information. Cool description of a [Scout] squad action against ork trucks and a battlewagon.
In terms of the Piscina campaign this chapter is pivotal — as it is of Belial's growing understanding of it. And starts to set out Naaman's stock as a hero of the Dark Angels.
The Tale of Nestor — Hold the Line
Great atmosphere built in the depiction of the preparation of Koth Ridge and the ensuing action sequences in defence of it from the first large scale Ork thrust. Insightful glimpses into the work of Brother-Apothecary Nestor on the field of battle and his use of the medical equipment at his disposal. The author must have done some homework here as the [physiology-based] writing and terminology just seem 'right'. Nestor shows comendable compassion for his patients' sufferings — both Piscina defence troopers and Astartes alike — while still remaining a pragmatic logic-driven Space Marine.
In this chapter we see a Deathwing squad with a heavy flamer in full battle for the first time, witness an orbital bombardment, see the awesome power of a Dark Angels Brother-Lexicanium (Acutus) wreaking havoc, and meet Interrogator-Chaplain Sarpedon for the first time. A lot happens!
All this on top of two or three concerted Ork attacks that are beaten back with blood, guts and courage. The defenders anxiously await the arrival of much needed reserves that are being withdrawn from the fight at Kadillus Harbour to bolster their fairly thin defensive line. Naaman turns up out of the wilderness to make his report.
A note on Sergeant Scalprum's Devastator squad — broken into two combat squads each armed with a heavy bolter and a plasma cannon.
I really took a liking to Nestor.
The Tale of Naaman — Shadow Winds
After passing his field report to Belial, Naaman is ordered east to the Indola station with another Scout squad (Damas') to clear any remaining resistance. Despite Naaman's clear, factual report, Belial is still unconvinced that there are orks of any great number further out in the East Barrens — thinking they are straggling orks that didn't get to the main assault at Koth Ridge in time. This is a judgment of error that will haunt Belial later.
Free Militia reinforcements drawn from Kadillus and other parts of Piscini to secure Koth Ridge.
Being Scout-based we see some neat infiltration tactics and a good account of the recovery and rescue of downed Thunderhawk's surviving crew member with the 'Hawk's vital scanner data, and convey him and it back to Koth Ridge.
Belial recognises his error of judgement regarding the strength of orks forces remaining in the east, but can't account for their numbers. At last Belial orders Naaman to get a better idea of their numbers by a probe out towards the East Barrens geothermal station. Scout squad Damas accompanies Naaman on this full-blown recon mission.
Naaman realises that this is a one-way mission and he doesn't expect anyone to return. He is issued with a teleport homer with which to call in Belial and Deathwing squad Adamanta from the Unrelenting Fury. Relying on stealth would then be impossible and the Scouts would be hunted down and not make it back to Koth Ridge.
The Tale of Naaman — Revelations
What Namaan has discovered at the geothermal mine is that the orks are using a teleportation device (powered by the geothermal plant) to bring in a constant stream of reinforcements. Naaman's mission now becomes one of taking energy readings of the plant and noting the rate of reinforcements and relaying this back to Belial and examination the force's Techmarines as fast as possible.
Naaman delpoys his teleport homer and Belial (note: in power armour) and a terminator squad teleport in and destroy the energy relays before teleporting back out again.
'Mission accomplished'. The Scout squads are now alone and facing the wrath of the enraged orks. Heroic action ensues. Eventually Naaman is the only one remaining alive until he is killed while attempting to meltabomb an ork dreadnought.
One can see why Naaman is held up as such a DA hero (and his own and Damas' Scouts too it must be said).
The Tale of Boreas — Battle at Barrak Gorge
Barrak Gorge is another geothermal mine that must be defended at all costs lest the orks capture it to link up the planet's power systems to enhance the efficiency of their teleportation device.
His force is small — just two companies of the Free Militia, sergeant Zaltys' Assault squad and a Ravenwing Tornado Land Speeder.
He also recognises it is his duty to try to convey into the Free Militia the purpose and the duty of the Space Marines — something he finds impossible to do — when looking into their tired and nervous faces. Boreas recognises their weaknesses as men fighting far from their own homes and little regards their fighting ability.
Boreas recalls his interrogation with Astelan. Through it he had learned fortitude and purpose of being a Dark Angel Space Marine — and the contact with the Fallen had shown him the warning signs of lies and deceit, misinformation and the seeds of doubt, that he should strive to spot and overcome wherever it appeared within the Chapter.
Nice cameo of a humorous bickering Ravenwing Land Speeder crew — a refreshingly 'human' display of the normally humorless Astartes.
It's a heroic last stand defence of Barak Gorge by a combined Dark Angel and Piscina Free Militia force while being greatly outnumbered and — as it happens — out thought by the Orks. Shamefully, two dozen of the Free Militia make a dash for it, but this only serves to contrast the heroism (fruitless though it is) of the Assault squad in this action. Boreas is fervent in his loyalty and zeal, and takes on pretty much anything that comes too close to him. In the end hs is in hand to hand combat with a hulking ork Warboss — who eventually smashes him, broken, to the ground.
The Tale of Belial — Counter Attack
Council of war on the Unrelenting Fury… Belial is ashamed to have been out-witted by two Warbosses. Azrael orders Belial to destroy Piscina IV as a last resort rather than let it fall into enemy hands.
Belial relishes the opportunity of the simplicity of an Atartes strike against the Orks with power and ferocity.
'We are Space Marines! We are the sharp tip of the Emperor's spear; the cutting blade of the Emperor's sword. We attack, surely and swiftly, and sweep all before us.'
He realises he has committed the cardinal sin of underestimating his enemy earlier in the campaign and he did not want to fall into that trap a second time around.
Despite his self-doubt, Librarian Charon (Grand Master Azrael's representitive) states Belial is strong an a good warrior destined for greater things [within the Chapter].
At least we see the mettle of Belial. He thoroughly plans both the logistic side of the advance as well as a detailed four-phase assault plan on the geothermal station. Having such a detailed strategic plan in place, Belial realises that it is not his place to get involved in the close action squad actions/tactics — trusting those under his command.
Like any good commander, Belial listens to sound advice from all sources and acts accordingly. He is not rash, nor does he suffer over self-confidence or self-agrandisement nor does he consider himself omnipotent. In other words — in terms of the general 40K genre — he isn't your average Space Marine commander.
The Tale of Tauno — Death by Midnight
We're back on Koth ridge with Piscini Free Militia defence trooper Tauno. They are getting jittery and rebellious (after they learn that the Space Marines might destroy Kadillus Harbour from orbit rather than let the orks fully take it) and need a lesson from the Astartes as to how war is prosecuted. The Dark Angels come across as arrogant and self-serving to the Free Militia — but their loyalty to the Emperor and their zeal for the fight cannot be faulted.
As the orks assault en masse again, in a desperate fight by Tauno and his fellow Free Militia troopers they witness and appreicates the Atartes in action as never before. Not just their destructiveness but their brotherhood and selfless belief in what they are doing. Awed by their power and given an Astartes bolt pistol by Ophrael after losing his own weapon — he is spurred on to fight, overcoming his own guilt at running from the action at Barrak Gorge under Boreas.
At the critical moment reinforcements arrive and drive the orks back. Wounded, Tauno asks 'Have we won, sergeant?'. 'Yes, trooper, we've won the battle' said his staff sergeant.
Recognising his valour and dedication, the Atartes honour him, dubbing him a 'Son of Caliban' and giving him a piece of Naaman's armour.
This is an interesting insight into the relationship between the rock-steady superhuman warriors who literally know no fear, and the all too human frail, weak humans who must fight alongside them. At last, Tauno 'gets' what they are and what they are for. It might be laboured, but it works well enough.
'Emperor bless the Astartes.'
The Tale of Belial — Aftermath
Belial assaults the Barrak Gorge geothermal station to drive the orks out. On their eventual success they discover the black-armoured corpse of Brother-Chaplain Boreas — incredibly, he is still alive!
The remaining orks are holed up in the docks at Kadillus Harbour and they must be contained for three days before the rest of the Chapter arrives to help erradicate them. The battle goes on.
As we have previously seen, Belial is wracked by his over-confidence and failures early in the campaign that has undoubtedly cost many lives — human and Atartes. He fears Azreal's judgment and considers he might lose the command of the 3rd Company and be returned as a brother in the Deathwing.
Inevitably the Tower of Angels arrives in orbit, and Azreal is the first to make planet-fall. The Grand Master is grateful and magnaminous in his praise of Belial's actions. Belial's self-doubt has been unjustified it would seem. He has out-witted the Ork invasion and by his actions has undoubtedly saved both Piscina IV and V.
I'd say the meeting with Belial and Azrael was weak. I was expecting a bit more from them both here — what I don't know — the whole thing just seemed a bit flat and underdeveloped somehow.
Heroes and villains
As a story of a campaign it fills in a lot of holes and fleshes out a lot of characters. Of course we know (or I would think many of the books readers would know) the outcome of the operation beforehand just as we know the fate of Naaman and that presents an obvious problem as it's hard to build in tension when the end is already known. But actually that doesn't take away anything from the entertainment factor of reading this faced-paced book. At no time did I think 'this bit is boring', something that often crosses my mind when reading Horus Heresy books. My favourite chapters centre around the Scouts and sergeant Naaman. But Nestor's and Tauno's chapters are equally readable for different reasons.
Belial has been criticised for being weak and undescisive. I can fully understand that point of view, but I think the author was trying to convey a commander of unusual sensitivity to mission and strategy rather than a stereotyped hell-for-leather type. Like all good commanders he listens to wise council, realises his mistakes and changes strategy according to the facts as they present themselves — for that he should be highly regarded. Good enough eventually lead the Deathwing? I wonder.
This is very much the story from the Imperial side of the fence as the orks are just targets to be shot at. Until the Epilogue that is, where we see Ghazghkull and his gretchin abandoning the rest of 'da boyz' in Kadillus Harbour and teleporting to Nazdreg's space hulk. Then we learn that the whole thing was a practice for a bigger campaign. So the orks are naturally the villains.
The heroes? Naaman for sure — he's the obvious. Much of the early story is quite rightly focused on him, his and Damas' Scout squads. The real cool unsung hero for me though is sergeant Aquila — leading his bikes on a wild goose chase to draw off pursuing orks from Naaman, thus allowing him to return to Koth Ridge with important intel. In fact the Ravenwing as a whole come across as a pretty solid bunch of totally selfless brothers.
I have nothing to compare it with from the Space Marine Battles Novel series. But at face value a great read. Fast paced and punctuated with gut-wrenching action. Tactics and battle scenes are well choreographed, battle scenes in particular being written in a very matter of fact approach with very little emotional involvement in the style of a war correspondent. Characters are largely well thought out and apart from Boreas, likeable, and invoke empathy. Technical and weapon details are believable and solid to the 40K genre.
Apart from some reminiscing by Boreas on the Fallen you don't get much in the way of additional background lore of the DA here, it's all 'current time' stuff focussing on the facts of the campaign. In that respect it's miles away from Gav Thorpe's other Dark Angels book Angels of Darkness. Nothing to really point the finger at and fault as far as the writing goes. But the poor quality and inaccuracy of the map and internal illustrations rankles with me and holds the total package back from being, well, better.
UK PRICE: £8.99 (paperback, when first published)
UK ISBN-13: 978-1-84416-896-5
GW PRODUCT CODE: 6010 0181 129