Before we delve in there's one thing we need to get out of the way:
A lot of people are saying this book was done by Matt Ward. Truth be told this is yet another case of a book going without its writer being listed in any way. I was going to go into a whole thing about how whoever did it didn't matter given the quality but after a bit of searching it turns out that it was indeed Ward, once again at the head of the thing he has the least skill in handling. He wrote the majority of the background for the book, Cruddance allegedly handled the rules and a few other unnamed staffers assisted in smoothing things out.
This actually explains a lot, as while the rules did seem uninspired (Cruddance isn't a bad author when he's working on what he knows, just give him more tank armies already!) they lacked the gaping flaws of Codex: Black Legion. The same really goes with the fluff, as while the lore is still horrible it occasionally makes some vague sense.
It veers between things actually seeming for a moment like they might come together as things are explained, only for the next major reveal to drop down to the level of "I've seen Transformers slashfiction better written than this." There's some actual effort in here to make certain superficial and minor elements work, but huge swathes of the fluff are bastardised jokes.
Take for example the very introductory page of Codex: Sentinels of Terra, which establishes that the Imperial Fists are Terra's guardians. They are specified to be those who held the line during the final hours of the Horus Heresy and consider that moment with pride. This is immediately followed by the following information:
"For the Imperial Fists, the Great Crusade never ended, it merely changed form."
No, you just read that correctly. It gets worse:
"Where other forces of the Imperium fight and die in order to preserve Mankind’s dwindling holdings, the sons of Dorn blaze a trail of reconquest through the galaxy, bringing back into the fold worlds separated by Warp storms or xenos expansion."
Oh, and let's not forget this quote!
So let's just make this crystal clear to all present:
The Imperial Fists have been written as crusaders permanently fighting to retake the worlds lost to the Imperium. Later sections emphasise how, while they have a single hold in the form of the Phalanx, they are scattered about the galaxy on various different minor crusades. There is also a surprisingly large number of named Chaplains which make up the book's numbers, and Lysander himself is presented as extremely zealous in his efforts to drive forwards a crusade.
Did no one bother to tell the writers the Imperial Fists and Black Templars are NOT the same chapter? Did no one editing this supplement think it strange how the pragmatic, urban fighting siege specialists with an addiction to pain sounded a lot like the Knights Templar? Did no one bother to edit this!?
This is truly embarrassing! At least with Codex: Iyanden you had the (admittedly extremely poor) reasoning that the Eldar Craftworlds are underdeveloped and overlooked, so Ward was latching into a more popular one to flesh them out. This? there is no excuse here! These are very seperate chapters with multiple novels, codicies and tales separating them! How the shitting hell did he manage to confuse the two of them! Or is this just Ward's attitude towards supplement codices now? Is he just going to transplant the personality and themes of any army he can't handle with other military forces?
There are points in the book where the Imperial Fists here do actually act like Fists. Unfortunately these are also very few and far between. The main story follows crusade after assault after crusade, with the Imperial Fists frequently avoiding any area they are good at. Their targets range from factories to a crashed Space Hulk, and they are never called in to defend a location. Even in the one opportunity where the 3rd company can, they completely avoid doing so in favour of launching an all out attack on their foe.
The few points where they do show actual skill at demolishing/defending buildings are quickly skimmed over or are jammed into the timeline and barely covered. These are so few, one of them is the events of Storm of Iron and that's only in there to excuse yet more crusades! Even the few moments of them actually launching urban engagements read less like experts in that environment and more like generic marines.
It's understandable that a writer might want to show an army doing beyond what they are best known for. It could give the book variety, allow for more varied scenarios and prevent it looking like a force is overly specialised in one aspect of war to the point of pigeonholing themselves. The problem is that you still have to actually remember to give them moments of conflict where their specialty shines through to make people remember "Oh yeah, there's a reason why they are known for being good at this!"
Things aren't made any better when it comes to the Imperial Fists newfangled flaw. Yes, the book gives them a new sodding chapter-wide flaw which is their inherent failing, and no it's not repeatedly being massacred to make everyone else look better: It's pride.
"Those that know them better – such as the Blood Angels – recognise the passion that all Imperial Fists keep under tight rein through adherence to protocol. This continual mortification is necessary, for pride has ever been the Imperial Fists’ greatest weakness.
Those who master their pride are able to embrace the strength it offers, but also have the wisdom to know when it tempts foolishness. Such Space Marines become heroes, but they can never truly escape the hubris of their blood."
Now, I don't know about the readers here but in nearly every Black Library novel I have read the Imperial Fists have largely been level headed, stout and down to earth figures. Stubborn? Certainly when oaths were demanded or they felt they could still win, but none ever allowed personal pride to get in the way of their battles. Steve Parker's Deathwatch, Ben Counter's Soul Drinkers saga, Seventh Retribution, Graham McNeil's Storm of Iron, Warriors of Ultramar, Chris Robertson's Sons of Dorn, all books which featured them as the above.
Of all the space marines ever to be devised, they are hardly the most prideful nor the ones to allow such a concept to get the better of them as ones are here. Things like the Iron Cage were a hard learnt lesson which showed why pride could so easily cost them, and the few teachings of Rogal Dorn mentioned do nothing to encourage pride in his warriors. Some Imperial Fist successors, White Scars, Marines Malevolent, Black Templars, Ultramarines, Flesh Tearers, any one of these chapters could have sold the angle of pride being a flaw in their number causing overconfidence or inability to think straight! This isn't just character assassination, this is pulling a full 180 degree flip on their most basic personality traits and turning them into the total opposite of what they were before.
Let's ignore all that though, and focus upon one little detail: The man, because author is too generous a term, who declared "They can never be Ultramarines" to be an inherent flaw in the entire Adeptus Astartes, is claiming the Imperial bloody Fists are too prideful! So stubbornly sure of their own skill and capable of taking slights, that it is worth mentioning as a chapter wide specific flaw, alongside the likes of the Black Rage!
Guess what else - Most of this is just from the opening pages. We've yet to event start on the real content of the book!
Welcome to Sentinels of Terra ladies and gentlemen! Leave your brain at the door, there is plenty of stupidity and hypocritical penmanship to go around!
If turning the Imperial Fists into Black Templars 1.5 wasn't enough for you, get ready for more of that with the units! In an effort to try and shill the Centurions to people, they're continually used in place of terminators. No, not just once or twice, relentlessly. Every single bloody boarding action has them being used in place of the tactical dreadnought armour which is best suited to cooking fools inside enemy ships! They can't even be justified on account of better anti-infantry weapons either, as the only guns they are ever referred to blasting people away with are lascannons! This goes on throughout the entire book, and never once cites height or size difficulties in moving through corridors.
That sort of hack writing is rife throughout the entire book and it's a genuine problem throughout all Ward's works. He tends to focus less upon the details which help things sense, or ones that actually give the story some coherency and more upon the fine details of the environment or what glorifies the troops he likes.
Take for example a bit where Tactical Squad Renon is effectively stealth assassinated Assassin's Creed style by a Maulerfiend. The description is less interested in the overall battle or actually explaining how the unholy hybrid of junk-heap and dweller of Hades managed to sneak up on them, and instead focuses upon the exact number of Imperial Fists it killed.
Staying on that theme of dead Fists, the book covers how the chapter can rapidly recover from losses thanks to a huge number of recruits they effectively keep in reserve. It notes this fact very clearly, notes that they numerous enough to replace entire companies if need be, but fails to explain several points: How they are kept "stockpiled", how they are armed so quickly upon the loss of so many Imperial Fists (usually with their equipment), how they are kept trained to the point of being ready to be astartes and at the right age, and where the massive stockpiles of gene-seed needed to infuse into them come from when a company is quite literally lost.
Even when the codex gets onto the subject of Lysander's successes, it leaves only questions and head scratching moments. The incident where his special bolter drill proves its worth is an especially prevalent point. Rather than describing the environment of the Battle of Colonial Bridge on Iduno to give some idea of a short range drill would work there over the usual one, or what specifically gave it an edge there, the tale busies itself with other details. Namely how the Captain of the company there died, which only opens up more questions: "Captain Jostin perished in the initial moments of the attack, a lucky autogun shell smashing through his helm’s left eyepiece to bury itself deep in his brain." Mostly questions of why that specific autogun round/eyepiece was so obscenely powerful/weak and why a space marine could be outright killed by a wound like. We've seen them take bolter rounds to the face, their arms ripped off and even buildings collapse atop them, so how did that manage to instantly kill him? Did the cultist roll Righteous Fury!?
It's like he wants to write about certain things, but doesn't want to put the effort in to actually make them fit in or make sense.
Still, we've brought up Lysander now, might as well start on the book's characters at long last. Despite having no special rules, stats or even rules specific to him in the book, nearly the entire damn codex is given over to Lysander. The entire description of the Imperial Fists and 3rd company is actually shorter than the level of depth the book goes into about his past, history and backstory. Before the book even gets to the first missions, it's already clear that the codex's focus is placed squared upon individuals not the army involved.
What makes it worse is that said individuals are largely introduced via brief paragraphs smashed between events, and have neither models nor stats to use them. This might seem odd given the criticisms these reviews have placed on herohammer, but consider this: Usually there was at least a reason to have such figures in the codex with Games Workshop trying to push new characters. This time there's no such excuse, and during one major opportunity to bring back some variety and individual choice to players, Ward has forced massive numbers of his characters upon people. You can't have your own chaplain for the 3rd, he's already invented one. You can't have a unique veteran sergeant, he's already commanding his own squad. You can't have a unique librarian of your own creation, Ward has already created someone to fill that spot!
Effectively what the whole thing boils down to is the fact this is Ward's army here, and you're stuck playing with his backgrounds, his rules and his toys, with no opportunity to truly make them your own. All the previous supplements had their problems, but they at least allowed for a relatively good degree of freedom on the part of the owner, even when the army was overburdened by special characters like with Codex: Farsight Enclaves.
Or to put it in other words: Matt Ward has managed to create herohammer without even having heroes on the tabletop!
The main reason for the sheer number of characters specified here is to try and create some ongoing compelling narrative between missions. We had already seen this sort of thing in previous ones, Codex: Iyanden and the Codex: Farsight Enclaves to varying degrees, but not so closely written. Events here more or less directly followed on from one another and have a visible character arc focusing upon Lysander. At least that's what it's supposed to do, the result is very different.
The side characters are very poorly characterised and feel very uninvolved with the plot. While the book goes out of its way to name every Imperial Fist involved (usually listing off those killed one by one, just to twist the knife for those fed up seeing their chapter die) few of their characteristics ever shine through the writing. The codex makes a huge point of Lysander's old sergeant Makan, now a venerable dreadnought, being a force to temper his pride and stubbornness, but he's barely mentioned beyond the opening pages of the Crusade of Thunder. Similarly the 3rd company's chaplain does little of recognition beyond lose an eye despite being built up and many other named characters might as well have not existed! Even the only character in this book to actually have some stats, Sergeant/Captain Tor Garadon feels largely superfluous and bland. There's a sense of them only being there to forward Lysander's own story and eventually absolve him of his past mistakes.
So everything's riding on Lysander here. How well does that go? How do you think.
Without mincing words, Lysander's story is a poor rehash of other Imperial Fist tales we've seen over the years. He effectively repeats the events Taelos went through in Sons of Dorn: Disgraces himself, loses many under his command, atones for this action by raising the next generation and fighting better, redeems himself. The difference here is that, whatever Sons of Dorn's flaws, it skips major events which would help drive home the emphasis of Lysander's failure. Chief example: the captain's time on Malodrax. Despite decades of torture and witnessing his companions die around him, the book's recounting of this effectively skipped over and focuses more upon building up a Warsmith as Honsou on steroids. Here's the entire event as it's listed in the book sans said Warsmith:
“Such was Lysander’s force of will that he endured where few others could have done so. Though burdened by grievous harms, the captain tore free of his bondage scant weeks after his capture. Bereft of arms and armour, he wrought a storm of destruction on Malodrax’s capital, seized control of a shuttle, and escaped with two of his battle-brothers.”
Worse still, the event which might have still actually sold the idea of Lysander's future obsessions or failings, his return to the world with a massive army only to let the Warsmith escape. As a result basic set-up for his whole motivation is skipped and ignored!
That however is nothing compared to the actual event which Lysander is supposed to disgrace himself in, the Invasion of Taladorn. It's effectively the Asylum Film mockbuster of the Iron Cage incident. Lysander goes in, gets people killed due to his own desires and madness, has to be rescued by Ultramarines, returns disgraced. The difference here is that unlike the original, Iron Cage 2: Cage Harder features so much stupidity and outright character assassination it's hard to even begin to take seriously.
Let's keep this straight: Lysander has been tortured by the Iron Warriors for weeks. He watched all of his comrades die around him and only escaped with two at his side, neither of who managed to make it off-world without him. He has lived through the deaths of his closest comrades, knows Dorn's teachings and is supposedly a pinnacle of what it means to be an Imperial Fist. However, at no point are the deaths of those he fought alongside for so long ever brought up. In fact, the astartes barely cares even when he gets over half of 3rd company butchered in a stupidly pointless advance just to kill the Iron Warriors faster, and refuses help because of "honour". Rather than, as with Dorn, his drive to punish the traitors stemming from grief for others, Lysander here is written as a self serving sociopath desiring only his personal revenge.
Along with resembling nothing of the soldier seen in Ben Counter's books, the arc which follows is poorly thought out at best. Lysander barely seems to change and there's no distinct point where he seems to shift in his beliefs or values. Hell, the final battle of the novel itself is effectively a slightly mixed-up re-hash of the events on Taladorn only here he didn't refuse the assistance of the Blood Angels and Ultramarines.
So thus far, the characters are pointless and Lysander has been re-written into a halfwit no one would ever recruit as captain. What about the villain? Again, Honsou on steroids.
Warsmith Shon'tu, yes the guy from Endevour of Will, has effectively been retconned into every moment of Lysander's career. The Siege of Haddrake Tor where he took up his iconic hammer? Shon'tu was the commander of the installation. Malodrax? Yep, he was there torturing Lysander at every moment. The following several missions of the book? All of them, and the timeline, are effectively Shon'tu's scheming at play! We barely see him, are barely given anything more than gibbering madness, and there is next to no personal contact or connection between himself and Lysander. Despite having the depth of a Saturday morning cartoon villain, he's also someone built up to be such a genius threat he is the biggest enemy of the Imperial Fists chapter. Unlike Honsou however, he's shown to put no effort into this.
Now, say what you want about Graham McNeill, but when it came to Honsou he put effort into building his menace and showing he was not simply invincible. He lost troops, had setbacks, suffered from failures and could be wounded. He prepared for major assaults and took his time when it came to them, what's more he actually met and spoke with his arch-nemesis Uriel Ventris. Shon'tu on the other hand seems to snap his fingers and things happen. While there is some vague suggestion of preparation most of the time he is seemingly pulling things out of his rectum. Two of these things were a captured tyranid norn queen, and a Dark Age of Technology warship which could go toe to toe with the Phalanx. How/where did he get them? Never answered. Every time, his plots are foiled and he's seen flying away yelling "I'll get you next time Gadget! Next time!!"
The whole story can't even end right. Despite concluding at Malodrax (making it three times Lysander has wrecked the place), the timeline afterwards just keeps going! It doesn't stop where the story is still in-depth and instead lists several events quickly along the timeline where he's running about cackling and painting "Shon'tu Lives!" everywhere in blood. Even the Joker would be embarrassed by this guy's antics at this point.
Still, all of these flaws are overshadowed by the following event. An act which comes purely down to humiliating the Imperial Fists, and opening up a plot hole large enough to send a Black Crusade through:
"999.M41 From the Ashes to the Fire
[...] As matters transpire, the 3rd Company does not stand idle for long. Warsmith Shon’tu and the Daemon Be’lakor, united in their desire to see Abaddon’s Black Crusade upstaged, launch an attack on Holy Terra itself. Emerging from a Warp rift that appears in the centre of Phalanx, the unholy allies aim to corrupt the mighty vessel to their purposes and use it to bombard the Emperor’s Palace.
Under Garadon’s direction, the newly-formed 3rd Company fight with a determination that belies their inexperience, and the accessways and halls are soon choked with the broken corpses of Daemons. Ultimately, Garadon delays the incursion long enough for Phalanx to rouse its engines and enter the Warp, thus ending the immediate threat to Terra. The mighty vessel hurtles through the Immaterium, and neither side is able to contact their allies in realspace. Garadon and his company gather beneath the Banner of Staganda’s tattered folds for one last effort, and Phalanx’s lower decks are consumed with raging fire as the spectral warriors of the Legion of Damned join the battle. Taking their arrival as a sign that victory may yet be theirs, the 3rd Company counter-attacks, but the battle’s outcome is far from certain…"
Again, this isn't built into some grand conclusion. It's added as "Oh, and the Iron Warriors commit Grand Theft Phalanx!" at the last possible second. There's no build up, it follows after the climax and quite frankly this is stupid! Shon'tu pulls this, like everything else, completely out of his arse with no suggested preparation or even difficulty!
He just sent an army the size of Genghis Khan's horde through into the heart of the Imperium in the time it takes to fart!
He completely dodged the Cadian Gate, why hasn't Abaddon ever done this!?
How can a vessel like this be so easily breached when there's no previous indication of this being possible and why didn't Chaos just do this ten thousand years earlier!?
Why is Be'lakor suddenly there!?
This makes no sense!
Oh, and yet again, Ward's producing very similar works to those from other authors in order to do this! Phalanx, the closing novel of the Soul Drinkers series, sounded extremely similar only there it at least made a degree of sense and explained how/why this was possible It actually took effort and a very long gambit by a corrupt chaplain to pull off, not some sudden whim by a jumped up daemon worshiping Cobra Commander! Worse still, this event and the murder of a major character from that book retcons that series from existence along with Endevour of Will thanks to conflicting timelines, and Sons of Dorn due to turning Captain Taelos into a non-person. Yeah, this is more than just coincidence.
There is so much more here that is wrong. I would need days to explore every last thing which went horribly wrong with this book. Declaring the Phalanx to be so run down it's barely operational, declaring that Imperial Fists use older "inferior" marks of power armour to make life more difficult for them, there is so much here that is just wrong! So many times have I re-read it only to find more problems, because I was distracted by the bigger piles of shit on the paper. Outside of Battlefield Earth, this is the only work in existence where its incompetence is nuanced!
There are bits and pieces here which are honestly good, the death of Pugh, occasional bits of Shon'tu's plan and the Imperial Fists' sneak attack on an ork facility. I salute whoever on the writing team was honestly trying to make this book good, especially in light of how little effort was put into basic research and thought with this codex. However, they are utterly overshadowed by the horribly written elements littering every page of this book.
Do not get this. Don't even pirate it. In terms of lore it's the worst codex I have read since, well, the last time Ward was allowed near a codex. There is nothing here to offer any fan of the Imperial Fists. You would honestly do better to just write your own work than ever look at this monument to everything wrong with Games Workshop.
It is disgusting to see that a company would not only pay for work like this but also publish it.
So now we've covered what's wrong with the book, let's take a look at how the rules could have been written.