Reviewed by Cameron Flynn
Out of all of the talented authors that have written tales for the grimdark future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Mike Brooks is one of the more recent additions to Black Library’s catalogue. However, don’t let that make you believe he hasn’t already made a name for himself as a top tier writer. After cutting his teeth on Alpharius: Head of The Hydra and establishing himself as the ‘Ork guy’ with his novels Brutal Kunnin and Da Red Gobbo’s Revenge, Mike Brooks went in a different direction for his next novel: Huron Blackheart Master of The Maelstrom. Moving away from the goofy comedy of the Orks to the blatant over-the-top evil of the demonic Chaos Space Marines is a huge tonal shift, and while Brooks has documented the exploits of traitor Space Marines with Alpharius, that was a story about a pair of demigods falling from grace whereas Huron Blackheart and his Red Corsairs have long since fallen to the corrupting influence of Chaos. So, with such a dramatic shift in trajectory, was Brooks able to write yet another tale for us lovers of the grim darkness of the forty first millennium?
Yes. The answer to that question is yes. I enjoyed reading Huron Blackheart Master of the Maelstrom from beginning to end. Much like his transition from Alpharius to Brutal Kunnin, Brooks shows a clear understanding of the setting and factions, and this is reflected in how his writing style changes depending on how each character’s outlook on the universe is shaped depending on the faction they belong to. As for the characters and faction that this particular book follows, Huron Blackheart and the Red Corsairs have been fan favorites for a long time. This is mainly due to the fact that, much like Brooks’ beloved Orks, the Red Corsairs are one of the more goofy factions in the setting solely due to the fact that they are actual space pirates, with Huron himself having lost a few limbs and an eye, replacing them with crude substitutes, and having a demonic pet monkey. Brooks leans into this concept by making it clear that the characters we follow in this book are not heroes, but rather protagonists, as the appeal of Chaos Space Marines is that they are a faction that is fully aware that they are irredeemably evil and enjoy every second of it (a particular moment that comes to mind is when Brooks introduces the reader and goes into great detail about their appearance and mutations, only to have Huron immediately stab them in the chest without a word).
That being said, while I myself enjoyed this novel, I recognize that it is written for people who have already made themselves familiar with the incredibly extensive lore of Warhammer 40,000, a task that I can tell you from personal experience is not easy to overcome. Furthermore, while I did find this to be an enjoyable read, I would not say that it was important to the overall narrative of the franchise. To explain what I mean by this I will have to explain how Games Workshop as a company usually handles its lore. First, there is the material that surrounds the tabletop game for Warhammer 40,000. This usually takes the form of rules and codices for specific faction rules, but often times there are also campaign books. Campaign books are primarily for giving tabletop players a specific setting to set their round in, and to do this these books advance the timeline of the overall setting by creating specific events and battles that can be played through and reenacted. Then there are the novels published by Black Library, Games Workshop’s publishing division. Black Library novels like Huron Blackheart are usually pretty fun to read, but their stories usually have little to no impact on the overall direction the larger narrative is going in. These novels are mainly used as marketing material for the characters and factions that you can play on the tabletop, as that is Games Workshop’s primary profit margin.
Overall, I would still say that this is a good book, but the target audience is for people who are already fans of the franchise like myself. That being said, I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of Mike Brooks’ latest novel Lion El ’Jonson Son of the Forrest as soon as I possibly can.