Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way.
If you’ve looked up any criticisms about this book you’ll know that the main characters aren’t from the chapter on the front cover. No member of the Legion itself has a speaking role and largely are explored as a background presence. Rob Sanders himself has written a articles on this subject; defending his choice of title, focus and even just expanding upon minor details surrounding the book. I would strongly recommend anyone with criticisms to look at these and see the thoughts behind the novel.
Set in the dying days of the 41st millennium, the novel follows the severely under strength Excoriators fifth company. After attending the traditional Feast of Blades, the space marines are called to defend a minor cemetery world against an oncoming crusade of Khorne berserkers. The planet’s defenders face seemingly inevitable defeat but the spectres which haunt Zachariah Kersh may yet have a role to play in their war.
If there had to be a single Space Marines Battles novel to which all future instalments of that series should be measured against, it would be this one. Why? While it might lack the complex plot of some books it retains the tone and characters which make Warhammer distinctive.
From beginning to end the book retains a grim atmosphere fittingof the era, emphasising upon the Imperium’s dark darkest hour as much as thatof the Excoriators. Every victory is written as being an arduous costly affair andeven those leading the Imperium’s spiritual arm are presented as decadent, disrespectfulto even their faction’s own edicts. The descriptive style used for theenvironments only enhances this. Giving the locations the mood of grim darknessyou would want but never reaches the cartoonish levels the franchise has beenmocked for.