Review: Titanicus by Dan Abnett
2 March 2014 | 6th Edition
For me there are two facts that made the purchase an absolute necessity: 1, it invloved the Mechanicus; 2, it was written by Dan Abnett.
Titanicus is a story of greed and ambition. Like so much of fiction based around 40K it's grounded on very basic traits of human nature.
The main backdrop to the narrative is set upon a Mechanicus world Orestes, recently invaded by an unnamed Chaos enemy (the Archenemy) consisting mainly of the Dark Mechanicus. Various home units are mobilised to deal with the threat including the local PDF forces, the resident Mechanicus Legio and an off-world Legio diverted away from another war zone and drafted to help out. Despite the Salamanders Chapter on the front cover there are no Space Marines in the book on either side. But don't let that disappoint you.
There are a fascinating array of vividly portrayed characters from both the Mechanicus and the Imperial population. Part of the fun is their mutual misunderstanding of each other, and this is highlighted when previously sequestered information is 'leaked'. This has the effect of not only splitting the Mechanicus into two ideological schismatic factions but also risking civil war with the Imperium of Man too.
The war itself is portrayed very vividly but not in the tawdry sensationalist way that it can be in other Black Library books. There is a coldness especially to the business of one engine killing another. That's not to say these scenes aren't tense, they are, it's edge of the seat stuff. Stalking, hiding and ambushing, engine versus engine battles are brutal and ultimately totally destructive for one side or the other — victory being both continued survival and a validation to the harmony and tactical savvy of the crew serving the machine-God. War at ground level is messy and frantic. The Skitarii of both sides hyped to kill-frenzy with drugs and augmentations. The local PDF by contrast seem largely ineffectual at best in the face of the invaders.
Threaded throughout are a series of sub-stories where we follow groups of individuals from various backgrounds in their endeavors to add their bit to the defence and/or just keep themselves alive. Some of these plots work better than others it must be said. While they all start promisingly they don't necessarily all fulfill that promise at the conclusion — one in particular is just baffling. But they add an important 'human scale' dynamic counterpoint to the titanic large-scale engine duels and faceless Skitarri masses. Despite it all the humanity of these small groups comes through in the values of compassion, fear, leadership qualities and basic survival instinct.
But this isn't actually a book about a war at all. War is used merely as a convenient cover for elements of the Mechanicus to attempt to wrest control of the planet through a coup. It's a bit of an obvious ploy to be honest, though handled well. The problem is it's very hard to gain empathy for any of the plot characters involved. And the plot materialises too late in the narrative in my opinion as much more could have been built around it, especially regarding the aftermath.
Throughout Titianicus the language although richly eloquent rich never falls into the trap of hyperbole as some 40K fiction can. Descriptions that paint scenes of huge massed battles between immense engines of war, the skitarii and smaller engines that accompany them amongst the plains, hives and industrial settlements are breathtaking. As is the (imagined) topology and architecture of the planet. Indeed the stage on which the characters performs outshines the characters themselves manyfold.
And talking of the stage — Titanicus has a map. Yes strange to say but maps in fiction books add gravitas somehow and help develop the 'world'. One other oddly fascinating aspect to the realism of Titanicus is how Dan Abnett took pains to name different indigenous small animals and plant types. It might seem a very trivial thing, but important, we are of course expected to believe we are on an alien world some 40-odd millennnia in the future — so what better way?
This is authored by maybe one of the best current Black Library authors. Yes there is much we learn of the workings and technology of the Mechanicus, as well as insights into the social stratas of the Imperial elite, and much we learn of the hive worlds society at large. And these apects were for me the highlight. As such it's an unparalleled success.
But it's a great read. A page-turner in the old-fashioned sense and fast-paced. Plot-wise it feels rushed towards the end which takes away a bit of the gloss and leaves one feeling a bit "so what?". Which is a shame as it didn't possibly live up to the expectations built upon the foundations of the earlier magnificent narrative.
UK PRICE: £7.99 (paperback, when first published)
GW PRODUCT CODE: 6010 0181 104