The Emperor's Gift grips you from the first chapter with a gauntleted fist. The prologue is a stark reminder of the brutal reality of those living in the 41th millennium. A lone prisoner is held captive and sedated only to be awakened to answer the same question over and over again, 'What is your name?'.
The first chapter is also a strong opener, where we are introduced to Inquisitor Annika Jarlsdottyr of the Ordo Malleus, and her motley crew. An interesting bunch of people, but they are not who The Emperor's Gift is about. Annika Jarlsdottyr is present on Cheth to root out a Chaos infestation, one of the worst kind where the ruler has fallen under the influence of the Warp. She is not alone, five of the Grey Knights are travelling with her.
Once the threat was dealt with, Annika Jarlsdottyr asks the Grey Knights one by one to come with her for one more mission. She refuses to tell them exactly what the mission is, just that she has a feeling they will be needed. In spite of being assigned to another Inquisitor the Grey Knights accept, and the Inquisitor finally reveals what needs to be done. A Space Wolves ship was found adrift by a patrolling ship. Initial scans showed no life signs but a lot of Warp traces. It was deemed too dangerous for the patrol ship to investigate, and the responsibility was passed on to the Inquisition.
Together Annika Jarlsdottyr and the Grey Knights will discover a threat beyond anything they could have ever imagined. A threat so grave space marines will turn on each other.
Aaron Dembski-Bowden does a fantastic job with the both humans and Astartes. Hyperion, one of the Grey Knights and also our protagonist, is very close to Annika Jarlsdottyr. His constant bewilderment over human emotions and feelings is endearing, and a reminder of what a space marine sacrifices to serve mankind. There is more depth to the characters than what I normally expect from a Warhammer 40k novel. Aaron Dembski-Bowden gives Hyperion plenty of difficult choices, choices which goes against the space marine's very nature. In The Emperor's Gift there is no black or white, only different shades of hell.
In the 41st millennium the stakes are always high, but in The Emperor's Gift they are higher than normal. It truly was difficult to put the book down, every page is more intense than the previous one. The plot takes more than one expected turn making it even harder to stop reading. I can only admire the ease with which Aaron Dembski-Bowden moves the plot forward, never a cheap trick, never a feeling of a character being forced into a situation with an inevitable outcome.
I read Warhammer 40k for the fantastic lore, the grim existence of the individual, and for the butt kicking action. All these things and more are present in The Emperor's Gift. Aaron Dembski-Bowden gives of plenty of spine chilling action. Not always easy when your characters are immortal killing machines. Space Marines are close to unstoppable, but can be killed. He gets the balance between mortality and immortality spot on. When one goes down he sold himself hard, not because of a stupid mistake.
”We didn't split up. We were Grey Knights, not a pack of idiotic salvagers. Each of us had been raised and trained to act as his brother's shield, and we kept our minds faintly linked, ready to see through each other senses at a moment's notice.”The Emperor's Gift is a master piece, which deserves to be written in High Gothic, bound in the finest leather, and engraved with precious metals. Aaron Dembski-Bowden's prose is powerful and compelling, his words bleed sparks of force. It's one of those rare books which seems to disappear while you read it, letting your imagination take charge.
The Emperor's Gift weighs in at 320 pages and is published by The Black Library. It's scheduled for release in June 2012.