Sons of Dorn by Chris Roberson Review

This being my first review for BSC, I wanted to say one thing straight away: objectivity is a myth. I have none. My reviews will be guided almost exclusively by my enjoyment, or not, of the book in question. My job, as I see it, is to explain to you, dear reader, what I liked and didn’t and why.

Chris Roberson

In an age where movie remakes are all the rage, Sons of Dorn seems to unashamedly hop on the homage bandwagon in novel form. This story bears nearly all the hallmarks of Ian Watson’s Space Marine (1993), but without any of that SF legend’s quality prose.  The author, Chris Roberson, has made clear on his blog that he took inspiration from the Ian Watson novel, and the premise of his story was set before he settled on using the Imperial Fists as the Chapter in question.

I believe him. However, I wonder at the wisdom of effectively remaking a classic, particularly when Black Library is about to release the original in Print On Demand format. What’s more, I have always felt that the Warhammer 40,000 universe has almost limitless depth, which raises the question of why the author chose to re-do a done-to-death storyline instead of expanding the Imperial Fist’s mythology? And, worse still, why the Black Library editors allowed it?!

The story in this new book follows the fates of three young men recruited to the Imperial Fists Chapter of Space Marines (I must confess that I’m writing this review on the assumption that you are already familiar with the universe in which it’s written). It goes from their lives on their home planet, through their selection and training, and into their first battle, and it is here at about the halfway mark that the wheels start to come off the wagon of this novel.

The book starts off well enough in portraying a battle between three very different cultures on the planet and the personal conflicts that then follow the recruits into their new world of eternal war. While the cultures are very clearly and perhaps unsubtly taken from our own planet, Roberson’s protagonists grabbed my attention and interest quickly. Though the author tugs at his readers’ heartstrings with some rather clichéd motivations, perhaps that’s forgivable in the context of a military SF novel.

However, when Roberson reaches the setpiece conflict–the first time we see the newly minted scouts in action–his already weak prose descends to that most heinous of tie-in fiction crimes:  he starts to use gaming terms!  He often describes the armor and weapons in ways that seem to be taken straight from the game’s army guidebook (aka Codex)! Instead of losing myself in the story, I found myself asking whether the scouts get to re-roll their “to-hit” dice, and the suspension of disbelief that is a necessary part of any novel vanishes. His portrayal of combat is rather weak and carries none of the heart-stopping qualities of the likes of Dan Abnett or Graham McNeill. In addition, Roberson’s attempts to convey a sense of drama often fall flat and left me cringing on his behalf…

…I feel I’m being rather harsh, and it troubles me. But the process of picking apart a story until it’s good with trusted first readers or editors seems to have been almost entirely lacking here.

All in all, this is not a novel I can recommend with any sincerity. It starts well enough, though Roberson’s particular brand of prose doesn’t grab me personally, and then really seems to lose the plot with lackluster action scenes and poorly conceived attempts at drama. While Roberson is an already successful and well established author, I feel that his strengths do not lie in this particular genre.

Phillip is an Existential Psychotherapist and Teacher by day and a writer, gamer and all round geek in the hours of darkness. He claims to be enjoying the creative process enormously and secretly harbours the hope of publishing a novel one day…