Warhammer 40k Imperial Guard novels are one of my guilty pleasures and Iron Guard by Mark Clapham didn’t disappoint. The novel is structured around the Unbreakable Mordian 114th, and in particular, newly initiated guardsman Fernand Hool along with those closest around him.
For the 114th battle on Elisenda was simple enough: eliminate the rebel never ending and production cannot be stopped. However, simple and routine evolves rapidly when Major Geiss is appointed a strike force and tasked with investigating an unknown situation on the mining planet, Belmos VII. Belmos VII, appearing dead and abandoned upon initial contact is anything but, and the strike force is quickly under duress when day turns to night.
Hool, Sergeant Polk, and Lieutenant Smoker provide your core group, and you couldn’t ask for a more unbreakable trio to cover your backside. The relationship existing between Polk and Hool isn’t anything new to Imperial Guard novels. (At the beginning of the book Polk is the reason for Hool joining the guard, a solid introduction lending Polk a watchdog role.) also I enjoyed the slow-played transition of Hool and his character advancement throughout the novel, especially upon conclusion. He was always a solid shot and stand-up guardsman, now he is both something more and perhaps something less.
Without giving too much away, Major Geiss tries fervently to dig to the bottom of what’s behind the malaise affecting the citizen population on Belmos VII and their “change in demeanor” during the night. Let’s just say it is something of Xenos in origin and most of the 114th strike force won’t live to see it through to the fiery conclusion.
I loved the collage of forces crashing together at the end and especially the raising battle field hidden deep beneath the surface. Clapham did a fantastic job with the introduction of one other main character and I hope to see more of his and the Iron Guard’s interaction in further developed Guard novels, but I’m not holding my breath. I’ll get straight to the point, Iron Guard was a brilliant and excellent introductory novel by Mark Clapham. You can be assured I would be overjoyed at reading a follow-up. But so far most of the Imperial Guard novels have been simple stepping stones for other Black Library author and sadly, those novels have become stand-alone pieces as their authors whisk away to other more vaunted works with “Space Marines” and such. So it is with a heavy hand that I am afraid that I may have turned the final pages on the 114th Iron Guard, Hool, and Smoker, most likely never to read of their exploits again.