Blood Ravens: Dawn of War/The Trials of Isador (C.S. Goto)
Dawn of War is the novelization of the popular real time strategy game developed by Relic. Set on the world of Tartarus, and tightly following the events of the original game, it chronicles the Blood Ravens Space Marines and their attempts to cleanse the world of an Ork infestation. Their ongoing efforts lead them to discover an even greater threat buried in the planet's past, but destined to be brought to the present by the forces of Chaos. Unfortunately this strong premise is ruined by an overly complicated writing style, ceaseless and boring fruitless battle scenes, and a mostly dull cast of characters.
The plot, basically an excuse to throw the Space Marines against three of the most popular alien factions in 40k, is a linear progression of battle sequences with brief respites in between. It stays entirely faithful to the original game and doesn't really deviate except to give us more imagined settings than the game could on its archaic engine. It is definately a simplistic and action oriented plot, focusing more so on the action then on the twists and turns that get us to the conclusion. It wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't a ton of unnecessary and boring action scenes thrown in, but ultimately I can't say the plot has any more depth or intrigue than that of the game.
Our cast of characters is fairly weak. Gabriel Angelos, the protagonist, does get some solid development, including a backstory that helps give his inner conflict and decisions some weight. Unfortunately, everyone else is relegated to support status. Isador, the librarian, is the only other character that truly progresses over the story, though even he is relatively underdeveloped, with the supporting short story, Trials of Isador, being concocted just to shed some light on his progression. Besides these two, the Imperium characters consist of the shadowy Inquisitor Mordecai Toth, the leader of the Imperial Guard forces, Brom, and a host of faceless and utterly anonymous Space Marines and Guardsmen. We do get to explore the origins and methodology of the Blood Ravens Chapter a bit more than in the games, including their fascination with knowledge and documentation. This is the only thing the book brings to the table that the game doesn't touch upon much.
Opposing the Blood Ravens for this adventure are three of the most potent alien factions in the universe: Orks, Eldar, and the Alpha Legionaries of the Chaos Space Marines. The Orks are the same as they always are, a mindless and lumbering tide of destruction that generally aren't much of a match for Space Marines. Their presence in the book is only relevant for the first few chapters, and eventually they bow out in favor of a more in depth appearance of the Eldar and the (not so sudden) expansion of the Chaos storyline. The Eldar act more as anti heroes here, shifting between reluctant opposition and hesitant companionship towards the Blood Ravens. The Eldar are an interesting race in general, but here it seemed as though they were white washed a bit. Maybe this is how they are meant to be portrayed based on the tabletop war game (still haven't played it, probably won't) but the way the author described the Eldar as being basically perfect at combat and super advanced as a culture is kind of grating. This is mostly because the way it is handled is completely blunt and graceless, telling you that the Eldar are amazing warriors and easily the match of their enemies instead of just showing it and letting their actions do the talking. On the other hand, the portrayal of the forces of Chaos is pretty good, gruesomely depicting the blood sacrifices and insanity that comes hand in hand with the fall to Chaos. The actual antagonists, sorcerer Sindri and warrior Bale, are one dimensional and kind of boring, but the various rituals and tidbits of background info, in addition to some strong scenes showing various characters spiral into madness, make up for this deficiency.
The Dawn of War omnibus comes with a related short story, Trials of Isador. Trials of Isador is set after the events of the main novel, and features our protagonist looking through the diary of one of his closest friends. The story does shed some important insights into Isador's thought process, but it is needlessly complicated and overly dry. It reads more like an academic thesis than a genuinely entertaining piece of fiction, and because of this I can't whole heartedly recommend bothering to read it.
In the same vein, the main story also suffers from bland writing in places, never quite reaching the level of the arid prose seen in Trials of Isador, but rarely functioning as more than a bunch of intermediate level words thrown haphazardly together in the least exciting manner possible. Additionally, there were a ton of typos, misplaced commas, and even a repeated word or two. Sloppy mistakes like this can't always be pinned on the author, but no matter who is at fault, it just pulls you out of the action when noticing mistakes like this. The dialogue, most of which is lifted from the Dawn of War videogame, is really melodramatic and awful, but fortunately we are spared from having to listen to the atrocious voiceovers in this adaptation.
Battle scenes have their moments, and benefit from some strong plotting particularly in the middle of the book, but there are two flaws, aside from the generally boring writing that pops up from time to time in the book, that prevent them from being more enjoyable. Firstly, the point of view will often randomly switch even within the same paragraph, shifting from one character to another with no rhyme or reason, something that accomplishes nothing more than diluting the action and slowing down the pace. This is especially true of the early conflicts with the Orks, where we are cut away from the thick of the battle to see some random Orks do stupid things to one another far behind the lines. The author's Ork voice is terrible, and these scenes lack a real purpose to make up for the fact that they are cutting away from the main story and throwing new characters into the mix. Secondly, there is actually two much action in this book. It has the unenviable task of trying to novelize a video game, and while random missions of dubious importance, not to mention ceaseless combat, are just fine in the context of most games, for an actual book there needs to be a bit more restraint. The book is too eager to just keep doing the same things over and over again, throwing the Marines against the Orks, Eldar, and forces of Chaos with reckless abandon just because the game does too. What we are left with is a book that reads like a game: twenty pages of action followed by four or five pages of down time, the "cut scenes" if you will, followed by yet another battle scene. Even though the WH40k universe is built primarily on epic battles and copious amounts of gore, I was burnt out after reading this.
A by-the-numbers novelization of the Dawn of War video game, this book is a decent read if you can't play the game, but you miss out on nothing if you'd rather just fire up the RTS for a few hours and enjoy the interminable action scenes first hand.