Straight to the point: Damn good!
There is often a little snobbery around books which are written for and within established Intellectual Properties; writing a good Doctor Who book or a best-selling Star Wars novella isn’t viewed as much of an achievement as much of the work has already been done. People love the world / characters and so using them successfully doesn’t require much skill. Or so the logic goes.
And, to a depressing extent, this can be true. There are some truly awful tie-in cash-ins on many a bookshelf. I’m looking at you, ‘Book of the Movie’ genre.
The Black Library and its respective Warhammer / Warhammer 40k universes are no exception. Most people will not view them as being a ‘legitimate’ brand of books. I disagree and hold them in high regard because, well, I grew up with Warhammer 40k. If you didn’t, I don’t expect you to have such respect.
But you should try Imperial Glory. The title and attached IP of Warhammer 40k are mere spices to a very meaty, very thoughtful sirloin steak of a book. Written with an interesting and effortless style, the concepts and characters that Richard Williams introduces and juggles are universal and this could just as easily have been a modern day war novel with a few tweaks.
Imperial Glory follows the Brimlock 11th regiment as they execute what should be their final engagement at the end of a long and bloody campaign. A nearby planet has an infestation of Orks (Orcs who can drive spaceships) and have called for aid in dispatching them. The Brimlock 11th set off to help, knowing they have a while longer to wait before the fighting men can retire and either return home or settle on this imperiled planet.
What Richard Williams does well is he concentrates not on the very rich setting of the 40k universe but on the people within it; primarily on the marked Lieutenant Carson, the reclusive Major Stanhope and the enigmatic Private ‘Blanks’, who has had his memory wiped. But Richard also deals with the petty squabbling of a large military organisation, the in-fighting and jostling and political posturing that will likely be present even in thirty-eight thousand years and the horrible, abrupt power of an officer such as a Commisar, creating an intriguing world similar to the one Captain Yossarian faces in Catch-22.
As the battles both within and outside the regiment continue, you are brought in to the regiment’s brutal sort of love for one another and their desperate struggle to survive one another and their orders, let alone the ravening hoard of Orks. You understand the panic and fear of all the men, even the hapless officers, of making a mistake and falling at the final hurdle. All of the inadequacy is handled with an understanding that could only come from someone who truly understood the situation they were writing for.
I really enjoyed Imperial Glory, a book which I felt transcended the material it worked with to become a poignant commentary on all militaries. It made me laugh, it made me angry and it made me sad. The basic measure of any book, genred or not, is to inspire such feelings within the reader and Richard Williams succeeded here.