REVIEW: Hammer & Anvil, by James Swallow
Hammer & Anvil is a more-or-less sequel to 2006’s Faith & Fire (which I will be reviewing next). I say “more-or-less” because the only thing these books really have in common is a few characters — this isn’t a direct continuation of the story from the earlier novel.
This time out, the Sisters of Battle of the Order of Our Martyred Lady take a trip to the world of Sanctuary 101, where years before, an outpost of Sisters went silent and was never heard from again. In fact, the Sisters weren’t even allowed to know exactly what happened to them. It seems the Ordo Xenos got involved and has managed to put of any mission by the Sisters to sanctify the site of their fallen. Finally, however, they’ve been given permission to return to Sanctuary 101, and so a relatively decent-sized force of them heads off, accompanied by Lord Questor Tegas of the Adeptus Mechanicus and retinue of mechanicum tech-priests.
It is discovered that the aliens that destroyed the outpost on Sanctuary 101 were Necrons — which makes everyone more than a little nervous — and soon thereafter Tegas and his merry band traipse off into the desert on an errand of their own. Neither of the groups have been entirely honest with each other about exactly why they wanted to return to Sanctuary 101, and as they each pursue their own agendas the “common good” (such as it is) is rapidly abandoned.
Things go to hell quite quickly.
And that’s when we get to the good stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Sisters of Battle (new joke-codex notwithstanding) but I was very interested in seeing if we were going to get 3rd Edition Necrons or 5th Edition Necrons…right up until I read the acknowledgements from Mr. Swallow, which state: “Thanks to…Mat Ward for assistance with all things necron…” All right then, 5th Edition Necrons.
And so, we’re treated to pretty much every new toy in Codex: Necrons. Cryptek? Check. Ghost Ark? Check. Imotekh? Che…well, sorta. Annihilation Barge? Check. Deathmark? Yep. New Necron attitude? Checkity check check! All present and accounted for!
In fact, the most interesting things about this book are the expounding on the new Necron fluff that it contains. If anything, Hammer & Anvil does a great job of driving home the idea that Necrons aren’t just machines, they’re alien intelligences contained in metal bodies, something I think previous attempts at portraying them has failed to do.
However, I should also point out that if this book showcases 5th edition Necrons, it must also be portraying…6th or 7th edition Sisters of Battle. Why? Because they pull off hijinks that would normally be attributed to Movie Marines. Maybe you could attribute that to Acts of Faith, but there’s no example of any Sororitas praying and getting some special power (which was a bit disappointing, but since it didn’t happen in Faith & Fire, either, I wasn’t expecting it). All this brings up a point, though: it’s pretty clear Black Library writers know about upcoming products before the rest of us, so maybe there’s hope for Sisters fans after all (and as an owner of more than a few Sisters of Battle models, I certainly hope so).
Also, one of the subtle themes of this book that I enjoyed (despite it not being a new concept) is that the Adeptus Mechanicus are something like Necrons Light, humans aspiring to the supposed perfection of the machine forms. The tech-adepts and the Necrons echo each other in several ways, and I thought that was a nice touch.
Last but not least, mindshackle scarabs are nasty, and that’s all I’m going to say on that subject.
So, should you read this book? If you’re a Sisters of Battle fan, certainly. If you’re a fan of the new direction the Necrons fluff has taken, almost certainly. If reading about Sisters of Battle do things they could never do on the table top will make you cry…then probably not. I enjoyed it, and was actually entertained by the “reveals” towards the end. Good job, Mr. Swallow. Good job.
Don’t you wish your army played on the table top “in accordance to the fluff”? Just how much do Black Library writers know in advance about upcoming products? Is it a good idea to get hopeful about your army if a Black Library book gives them power buffs?