Astra Militarum/Imperial Guard "Wiki"

Ave Omnissiah!

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My blog is primarily my own personal fluff in the Warhammer 40,000 universe regarding the Draconis system such as the Knight House Yato in Draconis III, the Imperial Guard...I mean, Astra Militarum regiment trained there, the Draconian Armored Defenders, and the Forge World of Draconis IV with its Adeptus Mechanicus priesthood, Cybernetica cohorts and Skitarii legions, and the Titan Legion, Legio Draconis, known as the Dark Dragons.

Oh, and I'll throw in the Thousand Sons from time to time because they're my favorite Space Marine Legion. I refuse to believe that they are Traitors! They're just...ahem...secretly loyal to the Imperium!

Featured Post

Beginner's Guide to playing Thousand Sons

All right, so you've read all the awesome lore on the Thousand Sons, beginning with A Thousand Sons  by Graham McNeill  and culminatin...

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Flesh and Iron

If there is one single word that can describe Flesh and Iron, it is brutal. The theme is brutal. The setting, the characters, the actions, the scenes and the events are brutal. Flesh and Iron is a truly military and brutal novel that captures the realism of warfare. Henry Zou, the author, had joined the army in his homeland, Sydney, Australia, and it shows. The soldiers in Flesh and Iron don't merely fight. They suffer the same things all soldiers do during a mission, especially in an environment as hostile, humid, grassy and wet as Solo-Baston. Bugs, infections, diseases, lack of water - all these are common problems that plagued a soldier and while I'm fortunate enough not to experience most of them during training, military training has pretty much made us very aware of them.

The characters are so very human, except for the supposedly Chaos Space Marines who are described as more than human. But they are so few in number and they are not invincible. One fell to the protagonist, Colonel Fyodor Baeder and his battalion - he got caught by a missile while fighting Baeder. One was actually defeated in melee combat by an Adepta Sororitas, the cold btich, Palatine Fure. A Chaos Space Marine, defeated in combat by a human woman (granted, she was in power armor with the standard Sisters of Battle weapons, a maul and a chain flail)! How awesome is that? Usually I would be cheering, but in this special case Fure was such a bitch I actually wished the Chaos Space Marine would win. Sigh. That was how bad most of the imperials were in this book. The Cardinal of the Ecclesiarchy, Lior Avanti, was also quite the bastard that I was overjoyed when he met the end (spoilers, but hey, in what book does the villain get away? Come on, I know you all saw that coming).

Other than the cliched and hateful villains that Henry Zou does to make us hate them to their core, which in a sense actually renders them as two-dimensional cardboard characters, the other characters are actually very likeable, sympathetic and relatable. The soldiers of the 31st Riverine, definitely, and the indigenous natives of Solo-Baston, and even the cultists and followers of Chaos were rendered in a very sympathetic light. In contrast, the authorities of the Imperium were merely caricatures, representations of the worst corruption, self-serving greed, cold ruthlessness and evil exploitation. There is nothing that makes them humans, Henry Zou might as well call them daemons or Sins in human disguises. They are evil for the sake of being evil, and their motivations are flat and boring. Probably they also represent the worst excesses of colonialism and the evil of genocide, so I can see Henry Zou actually making some sort of statement about colonialism and the real world here, but it doesn't take anything away from a compelling story.

And compelling it is. The struggles of the 88th Battalion of the 31st Riverine felt very real and relatable to me. Ever curse and grumble whenever the higher-ups guve you a seemingly impossible task to you? Yeah. There were times in the military where I would whine alongside my comrades about the stuff the officers made us do, the discomfort and pain of outfield missions, the annoying bugs that infest the forests, the sticky feeling of perspiration and water if we had to cross a damned river. The pain, the struggle, the mentality - all of that was perfectly captured by the 31st Riverine as they went about their mission. The lack of water - that happened during training as well, so I know how they must have felt. The officers and sergeants allowing a little infractions - yeah, we did that too. Rule of the army, "do whatever you want, but don't get caught." Our commanders allowed those because of morale, and when I read Flesh and Iron I felt like I was reliving my army days all over again.

Make no mistake, the first journey to take out super-heavy siege artillery batteries was brutal, for the reasons I mentioned above. It wasn't just the fighting and the guerilla tactics of the insurgents. The lack of water, the bugs, the environment, infections, etc. All these compounded the already brutal toll on the poor men. Yet they push on, as we did during training - but obviously theirs were a lot more brutal. Peacetime training can never compare with that of real warfare.

There were also very ill feelings stirred within me, Tomas Duponti, the pilot of the Lightning strike fighter who served as recon for the Riverine, really struck a chord with me, and it left a very bad taste in my mouth when he was mercilessly offed. All that hard work, and boom. Bloody hell. Similarly, I was outraged and furious when after all their hard work, the 31st Riverine was rewarded by bloody massacre by the Cardinal and the Caliguan Motor Rifles, as well as the Persepia Nautical Fleet. All that hard work and sacrifice, just to be betrayed by the Imperium they gave their lives for? Who are they kidding?! Yeah, Henry Zou is great at invoking emotions and responses like that. Usually, this twist (though anyone can see that twist coming far, far, far away) would warrant a groan at how cliched it was, but the character development, realism and journeys that Henry Zou put into the characters had me so invested in them that I couldn't help but feel for them. They almost felt like comrades.

Even among the 31st Riverine, there are the typical traitorous elements. The backstabbing Corporal Sendo Schilt and initially hostile Sergeant Major Giles Pulver, but while I hated Schilt at first, by the end of the novel upon his inevitable death, I pitied him. He didn't backstab or betray Baeder the way most cliched traitors do. He just snapped, released his pent-up anger and resentment and flew at the Colonel in a knifefight, in which Baeder won. He had been reduced to a crazy, slavering nut by this time, despite his constant threats of killing Baeder (which were annoying but understandable, we always have men like that but they were usually all talk and don't take action because they're merely venting and they don't really mean anything or intend to kill anyone). Ironically he was also the only character who remained loyal to the Imperium despite their horrific betrayal of the 31st Raverine. Well, he was delusional, but pitiful.

Pulver is a character I came to really like. His no-nonsense attitude and hostility toward Baeder put me off at first, but when Baeder finally earned his respect, his response and actions became downright admirable. I really had to respect him when he did a final last stand to buy the Colonel enough time to fulfil their first mission. He was a military man through and through, a commander with honor.

The twist at the end was good. We all know the Cardinal was going to get off, but I didn't expect to see Baeder actually...well, you'll find out in the epilogue. It was a dark turn in the story, and normally I would hate it, but after going through the Imperium's brutal betrayal, I totally understand the course of action Baeder took. There was no place for him to go now, so he could only embark down this road. The Imperium, for all of its supposed benevolence, had betrayed him and tried to kill him. Where can he stand, except?

Another person of special mention is Mautista. His was a tragic story for he watched his entire tribe get massacred by the Caliguan Motor Rifles under the Eccelsiarchy's orders (or Avanti, I'm not going to condemn the entire Eccelsiarchy for one man's actions). After that he swore vengeance on the Imperium and became one of the antagonists. But he turned into an ally after the Imperium's harsh betrayal and became a character I actually liked. Valiant, noble and self-sacrificing. Knowing that he has little time left to live, he sacrifices himself for others, which earned quite a bit of respect. Yeah, sounds easy, but if you were in his shoes, would you be just as noble, or would you be resentful or in despair? It takes a brave man to have that kind of resolve and Mautista has that.

The combat is also brutal. The men of Riverine 31st fight like possessed, using hammers, machetes, bayonets and whatever is necessary to get the job done. They lack the grace and elegance of the supposedly elegant Adeptus Astartes and I love it. I don't like Space Marines at all, and as you can see I hardly read Space Marines, preferring the gritty realism of Imperial Guard novels. Montarion and the Death Guard with their fancy death scythes?! A total joke - who wields scythes in the battlefield!? Space Marines wielding their chainswords with choreographed grace and flashy movements? Not my kind of thing, I prefer the brutal hand-to-hand combat of the 31st Riverine. They get the job done, no matter the cost, and they fight similarly to how I was trained. Stab, slash, kill. Simple, effective and brutal.

As I said, the underlying theme in Flesh and Iron is brutal. Brutal realism, brutal combat, brutal betrayal, hell, even the journey is brutal. The characters go through some brutal experience, especially the natives. And though I was outraged by atrocities by the Imperium, which often left a bad taste in my mouth such as the genocide carried out on the indigenous population and the outrageous backstabbing of the 31st Riverine, I became quite invested in the characters to actually like the story and the eventual direction it took, even if it was quite unorthodox. That isn't something I can say for the Space Marines, who didn't feel human at all. Only Alaric from Grey Knights was human and relatable enough, but he still felt a little Mary Sue-ish until the last book where his last act left a very bad taste in my mouth, as did the horrid treatment of the Imperial Guard. At least the Imperial Guard in Flesh and Iron wasn't treated that badly, and I was relieved at how they survived, albeit the twist in ending.

Overall, it was a good book with very deep and relatable characters, but be prepared for an utterly brutal experience that will tear you inside out. I would recommend this book, but not very highly. I personally like it, but it was grimdark to the extreme and there were just moments of despair that were unpleasant. If you're prepared to endure that, or prepared for the brutality that is war and betrayal, then wading through all that pain is worth the effort because the characters will definitely grow on you. Or at least they did on me and that's why I'm giving it a thumb's up.

I don't know about the other Bastion Wars novels. I'm not very keen on reading the series from the perspective of a Chaos Space Marine so I'm hesitant in picking it up unless it contains Khorsabad Maw, who was a former human like Alaric. We'll see. Anyway, with the end of this book review, I'll be moving on to Priests of Mars and the Adeptus Mechanicus series!

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