Uriel Ventris Chronicles Volume One is a huge omnibus collecting 3 novels and 3 short stories written by Graham McNeill for the Black Library. The novels are Nightbringer, Warriors of Ultramar, and Dead Sky, Black Sun and they follow the adventures of Uriel Ventris, Captain of the Fourth Company of the Ultramarines Chapters of the Space Marines.
In my first read, I expected more story and less correct lore about the Warhammer 40K Universe, so I was ambivalent about my feelings. Once I finished a rereading, I can say it’s the best introduction to the world of Warhammer 40K and Space Marines. It has some unexplained terms (for beginners) but it covers the essentials of what makes Warhammer Universe Warhammer, and what it means to be grimdark in this universe. I will start and discuss each novel. It needs to be mentioned that the short stories directly connect to the following novel (they fill some very minor gaps in the story).
Nightbringer is the first novel featuring Uriel Ventris and as a new captain, he doesn’t do much. It respects the lore, but it may cause some reader dissatisfaction. On the other hand, the novel is best at presenting the bureaucracy of the Imperium, the corruption existing on various planets, the political plays always in motion, and the betrayals between factions, as well as dreadful cosmic mysteries in this old galaxy in which the human empire while vast, is pretty young. It covers everything you need to know about the Warhammer 40k universe and the general feeling of this world.
Nightbringer – quick plot points
A world in turmoil. Parvonis. Alien raiders attack unsuspecting ships. Heretic cults bomb innocent settlements. A power play behind the current governor. Unrest in the worker’s population. Uriel Ventris is sent to escort an adept of the Administratum, the vast administrative power of the Imperium. Their troubles start even before reaching their destination.
This would be a quick summary of the first few chapters of the first novel. I have to admit that the first half of the book is the most engaging when various pieces of the puzzle cling together to form the shape of the mystery. The second half of the novel deals with a constant battle for survival, so if you’re keen on military and fighting scenes, this is a treat. Overextended battle scenes are not my favorite, but Nightbringer has enough for everyone in small doses. Enough to understand what to expect from the average Warhammer novel. True, there are some exceptional novels in this Universe (see Eisenhorn), but Nightbringer is not bad, just because it is such an excellent blend of action, intrigue, and world-building, all in a small package. It makes for a quick read with no slow parts.
Warriors of Ultramar
Warriors of Ultramar, directly preceding the short story Leviathan, deals with a simple Tyranid invasion. But nothing is simple with Tyranids. As expected, this story is the story of survival against an unstoppable force. But Graham McNeill created a well-balanced tension between heroic battles and alien horror, as well as the struggle for survival in a city/planet of the vast Galactic Imperium. And, the best part is that we somehow got more screen time (page time?) with Uriel Ventris, the protagonist that gives the name to this Omnibus.
The second book lacks intrigue and treacherous plots. What we get instead is more character conflict. Uriel is haunted by the events of the first book and he struggles to accept his nature and his destiny. Pitted against an invasion for which humanity is not ready, will Uriel find his resolve and change the outcome of this last stand?
Well, you have to read it to find out. Warriors of Ultramar is somehow the opposite of the first book, but too many battles don’t make it a fast-paced book. Quite the contrary. Some people may like it, some people may hate it or at least consider it less or more than the first one. I’m a fan of the zerg in the StarCraft games (and Tyranid are as far as we come in similarity with the zerg in the Warhammer Universe). So battles against aliens that keep coming, aliens that can mutate and adapt to their environment, aliens controlled by a hive mind whose only purpose is evolution and consumption of all life – basically, aliens that are neither good nor evil, but perverse nature unleashed – these battles are what I want to see in my books.
Dead Sky, Black Sun
Onto the third novel. Dead Sky, Black Sun is in all its entirety epic and demented. Nothing from the previous stories could ever prepare you for the insanity of this one. Uriel and Pasanius were kicked out from their Chapter for insubordination towards the Codex Astartes, the Bible that details how every fighting engagement should go. But there’s a catch. They can redeem themselves if they can manage to complete a mission so impossible it’s almost sure it will end with their death. It does seem like the final book in a trilogy, am I right?
The action of this novel is set in the world of daemons, in the Eye of Terror, where real-space blends with the warp to form fantastic and repulsing scenes. Laws of nature are optional here, and gruesome and disgusting sights are the norm.
If you haven’t read the Iron Warrior novel, The Storm of Iron, by the same author, now would be a good time, because the hero (more like the villain) of that story makes an appearance in this one. It’s Ventris versus Honsou time and it is epic. Reading the aforementioned novel is not mandatory but it will make you root a little for the bad guy too. And that is helpful. More conflict, more emotions, better reading experience.
Dead Sky, Black Sun – criticism
A minor inconvenience I have with this novel. While it is indeed epic and you must leave your sanity at the door when threading on the realm of daemons, the constant description of torments and gruesome scenes can get tiresome after a while. As a reader, you will get sort of desensitized to the horrors of this world. And because most of the book is written to shock you, it kinda loses its power. And again we return to the characters. When characters are compelling, everything else is secondary, to me at least.
We even have some daemons that eclipse everyone with their powerful and, may I say, charismatic (or intriguing) presence when they make a brief appearance.
Dead Sky Black Sun cranks everything up to eleven and puts Uriel Ventris face to face with his mortality and the inevitability of defeat while challenging his faith and honor. Everything is bigger, better, and more explosive than ever. If you enjoy big finales, but also new beginnings, don’t hesitate to pick this one up.
There it is, The Uriel Ventris Chronicles Volume One, published before as Ultramarine Omnibus, is an amazing value for money, and also it’s a volume that looks quite thick on the shelves – always a big bonus on my account. While I don’t agree with Graham McNeill’s writing style most of the time, I have to give it to him for creating larger-than-life characters and interesting scenarios that lean on the crazy side (which I like).