Dark Imperium 1

Book review

settings scifi warhammer

The Dark Imperium trilogy is a series set during the Cicatrix Maledictum era (which, at the time of this writing, is the "current" time of Warhammer 40,000). It's notable because it features Roboute Guilliman, the primarch of the Ultramarines, risen from a centuries-long coma. This is my review of the book. This review contains maybe a little more than you'd find out from the back of the book, but nothing I consider a spoiler.

As somebody who started out with Warhammer not with 40,000 but with 30,000 (that is, Horus Heresy), I find the presence of a Primarch familiar and, as it turns out, surprisingly relatable. Roboute Guilliman (I'm a big fan of your flesh paint, by the way) is a fish out of water in this book. He made a tactical error back in the 31st Millennia, got put into stasis, and awakens to an Imperium that actively worships his father as a god, embraces the powers of psykers, and is at war with pretty much everybody in the galaxy. It's a lot like reading 50 books of the Horus Heresy and then engaging with Warhammer 40,000. It's the same universe, but also totally different.

In this book, Guilliman is mostly dealing with the administrivia of managing the whole of the Imperium. He has been appointed Regent of the Imperium, basically the Emperor's living voice. Guilliman is running the show. But as much as you might like to think that the return of a Primarch would sway everyone to unify, the reality is a lot more like reality. Lots of people don't like the changes Guilliman is making. Some people don't trust Guilliman's surprise resurrection, believing it to be engineered by the Xenos or powered by the Warp, or both.

High tech

Worse still, Guilliman has consulted with the Aeldari, and is working closely with the controversial Belisarius Cawl, an ancient archmagos dominus of the Adeptus Mechanicus who believes in developing new technology. In fact, he's already improved on the Emperor's Adeptus Astartes design in the form of the Primaris marines. Primaris marines are sort of Warhammer Call of Duty marines. Bigger, better, and apparently much fancier technology in their helmets.

If I know anything about Primaris space marines from this book, it's that the computer in their helmets are better. I lost count of the times the heads-up display in a Primaris marine's helmet is mentioned. Cool, they have fancy computers now. This is actually a significant point, for me. Part of the aesthetic of Warhammer is the Imperium's old and failing and often biologically-driven tech. It's a unique look of the franchise, and this book feels like it's threatening the reader with new high-tech gear. I don't particularly want Hollywood sci fi in my Warhammer, so every time a Primaris is mentioned, I get a little nervous that they're going to turn into Iron Man or something.

Luckily, that never happens, but I'm keeping my eye on Primaris space marines from now on. I'll happily retreat back to the Horus Heresy if I need to.


As with lots of bloated Warhammer novels (and most of them are bloated), I'm not entirely sure yet what the plot is. I think it's Guilliman vs. Mortarion, and if that's correct then I'm excited for it. Mortarion is one of my favourite traitor Primarchs (in part because he was one of my favourite Primarchs before he turned traitor). He's a great and powerful villain, and in this book he's laying a series of traps for Guilliman in the form of strange clockwork shrines. Will Guilliman fall for it? We don't quite find out in book 1 of the series, but it has me ready for book 2.

Good Warhammer

Dark Imperium is a good book. It does a lot to convey how Guilliman's mind works. He looks at the theoretical, and then derives a practical application. I'm not sure whether this form of "logic" is all that scientific (surely it would be better to start with a hypothesis, and then test it, instead of just inventing an idea and imagining the practical result?) but I get the idea, and it works. Guilliman comes across as an analytical, data-driven Primarch, and the Ultramarines come across as obedient and regimented. The story is engaging, and it's great content all around.

All images in this post copyright Games Workshop.

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