Title: Shadow of Ullanor (The Beast Arises, Book 11)
Author: Rob Sanders
Publisher: The Black Library
Date of Publication: October, 2016
Approximate Pages: 193
Review by: Anthony
Here we arrive at the penultimate installment in the Beast Arises series. Shadow of Ullanor gives us the welcome return of Rob Sanders to the series, last seen with Book 2 – Predator, Prey.
One note before I start: certain elements of this review (and the review for The Beheading, when I get it up and written), may seem a bit spoiler-y. At this point, what transpired is pretty much common knowledge. I’ll try to keep the focus on the elements of the book, of course. Here we go.
The second assault on Ullanor has failed. Worse yet, it has claimed another irreplaceable icon as a victim – Lord Commander Koorland, wall-name Slaughter, has been killed. The last surviving Imperial Fist; the Last Son of Dorn, is no more.
It turns out that among this new breed of greenskins, with their increased intellect and mastery of strategic maneuvering, there was a sort of “mirror-hierarchy” to that of the Imperium – with the Beast as the Emperor, and lesser monstrosities as the primarchs – or “prime-orks”, which is the word I mentioned that had ticked me off a bit in the last entry. I mean, anyone who has been paying attention over the last few books has probably noted the different heraldry and unit types of the orks, so, it does make sense.
Koorland’s plan to combine the psychic null power of the Sisters of Silence combined with the pent up mental energies of the weirdboyz worked to a degree, but in the end, an obstruction got in the way, and the Beast lived to fight another day.
The Imperium, defeated yet again, had to return home and lick their wounds. Also, they had to plan who would be next to lead; who could finish the job when all their forces had been diminished, against a threat that had claimed not only the Lord Commander, but also a Primarch?
Shadow of Ullanor is broken down into four primary portions – first is a rather long, but well written Feast of Blades which serves as the beaten Astartes grieving process. Secondly, we have Zerberyn, still fraternizing with the Iron Warriors, attempting to relay a message back home. These two take up the first third of the book. Predicated upon an epiphany Thane has at the culmination of the Feast, we have a theme about the rebuilding of the Imperial Fists. This is no surprise. Back with the release of Predator, Prey, we had one savvy forum poster that recognized Maximus Thane as one of the names scrimshawed along with other great Fists in Ian Watson’s classic yarn Space Marine. And finally, we have the last assault on Ullanor.
There is a reason why I mention the four distinct portions. That is, although they each have varying degrees of quality (no, don’t worry, the book is well-written throughout), they do feel tacked-on. I really got the notion that Sanders wrote this installment “backwards”. To me, in seems he wrote about cobbling the Fists back together from Successor chapters, the final assault, and then had to figure how to lead up to it.
So, the Feast of Blades is fine and all, but it’s a bit of excess. The fight choreography is balletic brutality. However, Sanders already gave us a marvelous Feast in Legion of the Damned, and that one came across as more emotionally driven, since Kersh (a much better protagonist than Thane), was mired in a Catch-22 at the time.
The second portion, with Zerberyn entering an outpost to try and send a message back to Terra, was a bit harder to swallow. Again, the scene was well-written, but it’s a bit odd that Zerberyn doesn’t connect the dots when Imperial forces open fire from him. It’s not too much of a stretch to figure that mayhaps a brutal regime that frowns heavily on fraternizing with traitor legions might have caught whiff that he has been doing just that.
The best part of this segment is the Inquisitor that Zerberyn runs into and his team of psykers. This scene plays out as a sort of “X-Men 40K” with the Inquisitor playing a twisted Charles Xavier.
The part of Shadow of Ullanor that works best for me is the “rebuilding” of the Fists. Sanders really solidifies Thane, a character which he introduced, as a solid leader. The show of force, where the newly reformed legion is paraded in front of the bickering, impotent, conniving High Lords is pretty striking.
Also rousing is the (third) assault on Ullanor. Yes, along with a newly formed and decked out Imperial Fists legion (vehicles and all), plus a Phalanx that magically appears, Thane managers to strongarm out of the High Lords yet another considerably sized planetary assault force. Well, I won’t bicker about all that now. I am getting ready for a post-series review rant that will address all the inconsistencies and lapses from logic, strategy, and common sense.
Where we veer into anti-climactic territory is with the, well ‘climactic’ battle. If you have seen any other reviews floating around that cite its brevity as an issue, I can assure you that they are correct. Now, it is a fine enough fight; but the issue is, it in no way matches the buildup that has been accumulating for the past ten books. I mean, this is supposed to be the Great Beast; the one that has out-strategized the Imperium for months, developed the technology to teleport ork attack moons throughout the galaxy, the Beast who spoke Gothic and sent envoys to the Palace of Terra to demand humanity’s surrender.
No, this fight is more resilient Space Marine vs. a really big, really bad greenskin. And that’s a huge problem coming to light in these last few books. The series never achieved the hype it put forth; and, despite the admirable effort of very good authors, it is not a well realized concept. Rob Sanders is a great wordsmith, and you can see where he is having a good deal of fun. There are vivid parts, emotional parts, and rousing parts. But the core story is flawed, and it shows. This book is painfully thin, and with thirty extra pages (which would make it average Beast Arises length), we could’ve had the Beast act in a manner consistent with what he has been made out to be.
Shadow of Ullanor is well-written, yes. However, it has no right being as short as it is, especially with so much on the line at this point in the game. We needed a headlining, main event. What we got was a schoolyard brawl. A slight fumble so close to the endzone.
Another slight fumble where the primary series antagonist doesn’t get his due. You know how, in movies, when you are filming a huge person or monster, you want to film from the ground up to enhance their size and presence? Yeah, that’s what was needed here. This pose has the Beast slouched, with a distorted perspective drawing focus to the claw, not the creature. We needed a focus on the Beast’s magnitude, with the tininess of his devastating claw a terrifying afterthought.
Cover Final Score: 7/10