Adeptus Mechanicus and Astra Militarum/Imperial Guard "Wiki"

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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 Force, and the Forge World of Draconis IV with its Adeptus Mechanicus priesthood and Skitarii legions, and perhaps the Titan Legion, Legio Gojira (which will never happen because I don't have money for Forge World Titans).

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!

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Tallarn: Ironclad

"Victory is a child of many parents. Defeat is an orphan." - ancient Terran aphorism, origin unknown

Tallarn: Ironclad by John French is about the Battle of Tallarn. As you guys probably know by now, I'm a huge fan of Imperial Guard armored regiments, and so when I heard there was a Horus Heresy book detailing the battle of the greatest armored conflict in Warhammer 40K history, involving over millions of tanks and armored vehicles, I was excited to get this book. Furthermore, when you look at the cover, you can see the tagline right at the bottom, "The Battle of Tallarn rages on, becoming the single greatest armored conflict in the history of mankind." Even the synopsis at the back hints at such a tale, with the line of the "...the poisoned earth shakes beneath the treads of countless battle tanks and war machines."

Unfortunately, Tallarn: Ironclad is not about that. Rather, it focuses on a few characters and small skirmishes between these characters, rather than open out into the vast, colossal armored conflict that the Battle of Tallarn background has so much potential for. The book does hint at it, yes, but the details of the larger war on a massive scale is only described within small excerpts ahout one to two pages long, not unlike those little bite-sized excerpts you see in codex and campaign books.

Yes...you got that right. The massive scale of the Battle of Tallarn is reduced into codex and campaign-styled bite-sized excerpts to give a background, rather than be the focus of the story itself. What a letdown. Or maybe it's my fault for holding such expectations and misinterpreting the synopsis. Oh well. But seriously, if I wanted to read excerpts of the Battle of Tallarn, I wouldn't have bought a novel. I would have just relied on the Imperial Guard codex or a Horus Heresy campaign book to read those kind of excerpts. I mean, Graham McNeill or Dan Abnett might have done a lot better in terms of weaving all the different threads together into a much larger story and either of them would have done epicly described battles taking place on an apocalyptic scale without needing to insert one to two-pages excerpts in the middle of chapters. They would have just melded these epic wars into the narrative itself. Why was there a need to divorce the larger battle from the more personal ones? If anything, the mere 235 pages that make up the novel does not justify its price tag of 18 British pounds (or S$45 - Singapore dollars). It's overcosted, and the whole "limited edition" thing is quite frankly, rubbish. Books are meant to be read and shared, not to be hoarded by collectors.



The writing style and content are okay. John French writes well, and his battle scenes are described competently. He might be no Dan Abnett or Graham McNeill, but he does his job adequately, and the characters are a joy to read about. I particularly like how he split the story into the viewpoints of four people, from Colonel Commander Silas Kord to Hrend, then Argonis, and then finally to Iaeo. He juxtaposes the goals and actions of these four characters, using Kord as a counterpoint to Hrend as the latter searches for the weapon Perturabo seeks, while Kord moves according to his suspicions that the Iron Warriors are attacking Tallarn for some insidious reason. They might be subtle, less direct opponents. On the other hand, Argonis and Iaeo have a common rival in Jalen, the Alpha Legion operative, who is investigating what the Iron Warriors' motives are. The way John French weaves and ties these four loose threads into a single, underlying plot is a joy to behold, and when everything comes together, particularly at the end, it's a really fun read.

So yeah, let me thank his wife, Liz French, and his editor, Laurie Goulding, for helping John French write this story. It had been entertaining in its own way, and I really like Silas Kord. I could relate to him, and he was quite the awesome character. Hrend is...well, I guess cool because Contemptor Dreadnoughts are always cool and that cover of him ripping open a tank (see above) just rocks. Argonis, on the other hand, is the typical Space Marine, y'know, loyal to his Primarch Horus (even though Sons of Horus is a traitor Legion), duty-bound, overly serious, blah blah. Iaeo is a really different viewpoint, providing insight into how the assassins of the Vanus Temple work. I can't say I really like her, but I did appreciate the difference she provided in viewpoints. She was cold, effective and cunning, even if brutal and merciless to her own allies. I might not like her character or the things she had done, but her thread was a very good read that provided an alternative perspective to the whole war. If anything, I feel Argonis was the loose end, an unnecessary thread who only existed so that his story and meeting with Jalen could be tied into Iaeo's encounter with the archenemy.

And wow, that twist at the end, where the faithful and loyal Origo turned out to be the third triplet of Jalen (after Iaeo subtly led the other two to their deaths) was just amazing. As I said, when it all came together, it just clicked so well.

However, that's probably the only part I like about the story, other than Kord being one of my favorite characters. The rest of the book kind of falls flat. This is not to say that it is a bad book (it is overcosted and not worth its price tag, though). My criticism stems from personal reasons rather than any fault of the writer. John French is a competent writer, no doubt about that. It's unfair to compare him to Dan Abnett or Graham McNeill or even Sandy Mitchell, who rank among the greats in terms of Black Library novelists. He's definitely better than Matt Ward, that's for sure.

Rather, what I don't like was the whole revisionist history thing. As you know, the Tallarn Desert Raiders are one of the most famous Imperial Guard regiments in the Warhammer 40K universe. You can check back in the old codex (2nd, 3rd, 5th ed) or Only War RPG books, and they all describe the Tallarn Desert Raiders as mobile guerilla fighters relying on hit-and-run tactics. They also described the Battle of Tallarn as a hollow victory for the Imperium, who managed to win the battle at great costs, primarily thanks to the Tallarn military conducting lightning-quick guerilla warfare against the Iron Warriors and making it so costly for them.

Yet, for some reason John French sounds like a closet Iron Warriors fan. Now, I don't think he is, but the writing style and content somehow implies that he loves the Iron Warriors, and the narrative often slants toward the Iron Warriors' favor. Throughout the whole book, the Iron Warriors are described as always winning, and the Imperium always losing. Okay, I get that the Imperial Army failed to break through and conquer the Sightless Warren fortress that the Iron Warriors constructed (or actually converted from the Sapphire City) THREE times. I mean, the fun of reading was to see how the Imperial Army went against overwhelming odds and drove out a Traitor Astartes Legion, right? But no. When every engagement (with the total exception being the Rogue Trader fleet called the Golden Fleet) goes the Iron Warriors' way, with them winning every engagement either detailed in the excerpt or in the narrative of the novel itself, something is seriously wrong here. This isn't a balanced tale of how the Imperium forced the Iron Warriors to pay a devastating cost. No, for some reason it seems that the Iron Warriors were winning...not easily, admittedly, but seriously? Every engagement?

For example, there was a scene where Silas Kord and his armored company were ambushed by Dark Mechanicum forces, and they were basically wiped out to only Kord's Malcador assault tank War Anvil and Origo's Scout Razor, but in almost the same chapter Hrend's armored team went and destroyed a company that included TWO super-heavies - 1 Baneblade and 1 Stormlord, even though they don't have any super-heavies of their own. To rub salt into wounds, he did so by destroying half of that armored company, including the Baneblade, without losing a single tank. He only lost 3 of his Predators and 1 fellow Contemptor Dreadnought to the Stormlord, whose Vulcan Mega-bolter chewed through...but they brought it down eventually. The Baneblade got destroyed too easily, with just a hit or two, and the Leman Russ tanks that escorted it did absolutely nothing. Yes, they were completely useless. It's as if the Stormlord alone was the only thing that could fight the Iron Warriors. Now, I'm not against the Iron Warriors winning, I just think they're winning way too easily, especially when the Imperium has been described throughout the entire book as losing battle after battle after battle. Seriously? Even the Golden Fleet that wrecked the Iron Warriors fleet before running away for some obscure reason (why not stick around and finish the fight?! What's the whole point of running through the system, wrecking orbits, destroying supply transports, only to leave right after that?!) wasn't a part of the Imperium.

Worse, it seems that John French has confused the Iron Warriors for Tallarn forces. As I wrote above, any Imperial Guard fan who is remotely familiar with the fluff and read the old codex and campaigns will know that the Tallarns are famous for their guerilla warfares, lightning-fast hit-and-run raids and cunning ambushes. Yet in this story, the roles are reversed. Iron Warriors, who are supposed to be masters at siege warfare, turn into the freaking ambushers in this story. Remember when I said Hrend and his armored company went and wrecked a company that had the Baneblade and Stormlord in it? Yeah, they did so in a Tallarn-styled ambush. If you're talking about tanks rushing in and taking an armored convoy by surprise, it should be the Tallarn doing that, hitting an Iron Warriors convoy then running away after inflicting maximum damage! Not the other way round! And in case you wonder if this was a one-off...it was not. Kord and his Tallarn armored company, who should be the one carrying out guerilla warfare, ended up being on the receiving end of a Dark Mechanicum ambush!

Oh, and the failed third attack on the Sightless Warren at the beginning of the book? Turned out that the Iron Warriors knew the Imperial Army's assault was coming, and they had ambushes ready to pincer the Tallarn armor and wipe them out as they attempted to retreat. So much for Tallarn being masters of guerilla warfare and determinedly wreaking havoc on the Iron Warriors by hitting and running and disappearing into the sand before the Iron Warriors could track them down and destroy them.

Yeah...if you're an Imperial Guard fan or familiar with Tallarn lore, you'll be going "HUH?! What in the Emperor's name!?" right now. Like I said, revisionist history.

To make matters worse, the Tallarn and Imperium were given their obligatory victory (because the fluff has already deemed it so) in a very grudging (or so I imagine) manner. No, the Imperium didn't win because they forced the Iron Warriors' hands and made the war too costly for the latter. They didn't win through sheer grit and determination. Nope. According to John French, the Imperium won only because the Iron Warriors, particularly Perturabo, the Lord of Iron, was ordered by Warmaster Horus to pull out. The way John French put it, the Iron Warriors and their Chaos forces could keep on going and win eventually, but Horus had to throw a fit and force Perturabo to withdraw all his forces from Tallarn just so he could have consistency with established fluff. I'm just as perturbed as Perturabo at this.

I mean, c'mon...the Iron Warriors bias is strong in this book. Even in the excerpts regarding the big picture, there was one scene where the Imperium forces conducted a surprise attack that broke through the Iron Warriors' orbital defenses and fleet to land reinforcements and armored vehicles for the final battle against them. Now I understand the need for a final battle that forced the Iron Warriors to withdraw, but as I said earlier, the way the final battle was concluded and ended via Horus forcing the Iron Warriors' Primarch to withdraw left a terrible taste in my mouth. I wanted the Imperium to at least have some credit for forcing their hand, not everything being strung along by the Iron Warriors as the entire book had been about (or by Iaeo, who was the one Imperial force who actually did any good). But despite the Imperial Navy's success in smashing thee warships and orbital platforms to land reinforcements, the Iron Warriors would soon counterattack and that this was only buying time. John French was basically implying that the Imperial Navy wouldn't win against the Iron Warriors' counterattack. Yet another bias slant toward the Iron Warriors. Ugh.

I mean, it wasn't enough that the Imperium won the war at great cost...but this revisionist history had the Iron Warriors winning all the way only to technically "lose" by being ordered to pull out by the Warmaster? That was a cheap, anti-climatic way to end the story, which was unfairly slanted toward the Iron Warriors almost the entire way. It's taking way too much liberty in rewriting the history of Tallarn and ignoring all the usual fluff about Tallarn Desert Raiders and their long history of guerilla warfare. Where was this guerilla warfare and hit-and-run raids they were so famous for? Not one mention of them actually carrying their specialties out, and when it was indeed executed, it was done by the enemy Iron Warriors who are supposed to be masters at siege, not ambushes!

On its own, Tallarn: Ironclad is a good read, and I honestly enjoyed the way the four different threads from the different viewpoints of several characters tied together into one single underlying plot. On the other hand, I couldn't stomach the Iron Warriors bias, and was more than annoyed at the way history was revised and rewritten to slant toward the forces of Chaos. Give the Imperium some credit, man. And the anti-climatic ending was just unsatisfying. Not only that, the big-scale battles were reduced to separated excerpts instead of being tied to the whole narrative, and the Tallarn and Iron Warriors seemed to be mixed up by a writer who confused who specialized in what...

As a side note, since I didn't like the ending where Iaeo tried to terminate Kord and his immobilized tank, I'm going to add a little something. Basically Iaeo failed to realize that Kord's distress call wasn't the only signal being transmitted. The Iron Hands have also been tracking down Menoetius and his Predator, and when they went to search for them in the Hacadia Flats, they found the damaged War Anvil. Silas Kord and his crew were rescued, and their report regarding a stray Iron Warriors armored assault group seemingly in the middle of nowhere was lost among the millions of reports submitted about the Battle of Tallarn. That's why nobody knew about the Cursus thing. In fact, Kord himself didn't know about it either, just that the Iron Warriors were searching for something beneath the earth. And at that time, he was too wounded to care what they were searching for, and by the time he recovered, nobody paid much attention to him to search for that place again.

Kord also retired after the Battle of Tallarn, probably to take responsibility for losing his entire company. Origo somehow survived and disappeared after that, most likely returning to the Alpha Legion. And the Tallarns lived happily ever after in this grimdark galaxy of Warhammer 40,000.

Well, anyway, as I said, the gripes I have with Tallarn: Ironclad are personal stuff concerning fluff. If you're looking for a book to read to pass the time and be entertained, Tallarn: Ironclad certainly achieves that. But beware, you are paying a premium for a thin book with not a lot of content. I can buy a Warhammer 40K novel that is twice or almost thrice the length of Tallarn: Ironclad for two-thirds of its price. So yeah...be warned that the price tag isn't justified. And if you're an Imperial Guard fan like me, prepare to be outraged by how the history for the Battle of Tallarn has been callously revised and rewritten to slant in the Iron Warriors' favor.

For the Emperor.

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