I have been provided with an advance copy of the new Black Library Masterworks book Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden published by Black Library, so here is the honest review I promised in exchange for the book.

So here is an important disclaimer which is always important to put out there first, I am also friends with Aaron on Facebook, but I suspect that’s more about him connecting with fans rather than being a big fan of mine!

I am going to try my best to not let that cloud my judgement in this review, but I accept that subconsciously it might.

What is Warhammer 40,000

Warhammer 40,000 is a miniatures Wargame set in the 41st Millennium and published by Games Workshop. It is the worlds most popular miniature Wargame.

In the 40k universe, the Imperium of Man, a stagnant human empire in which scientific and cultural progress have ceased, individuals matter very little and exist only to oil the machines of war.

The Imperium is under siege from the forces of Chaos, and various Xenos races.

The setting owes a lot to the influence of Lovecraft, Tolkien, Milton, Herbert and a lot of 2000 AD with a sprinkling of 1980s political satire.

It’s a setting in which there is little hope and is often described as being Grimdark after the marketing line, in the Grim Darkness of the Future, There Is Only War.

The Story

This story is set during the third war for Armageddon and focuses on as the title implies, the Siege of Helsreach.

The Third War for Armageddon saw this cursed world, invaded by Orks lead by the Beast, Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka (an example of some of Games Workshops 1980s satire).

Helsreach is an important port and promethium refinery on the Tempest Sea, and is defended by forces of the Armageddon Steel Legion, the titans of Legio Invigilata, sisters of the Order of the Argent Shroud and a small force of Black Templars lead by newly promoted Reclusiarch Merek Grimaldus.

This story explores the events that lead to Grimaldus attaining the tile of Hero of Helsreach, as originally told in Codex: Armageddon back in the days of 3rd Edition in 2000.

The story is told from multiple points of view, not only Grimaldus, but also includes Zarha Mancion the Crone of Invigilata, and possibly one of the funniest and most charming characters in all of 40k, Andrej Valatok.

The story is one of defiance in the face of hopeless odds, the characters all know they will lose, they questions is how long can they last before they succumb to the endless stampede of the Orks. As plots go, it’s pretty straightforward.


Helsreach is a masterpiece, and I am going to be honest, I am a huge fan of Aaron, he is able to conjure up an emotional response from a book whose main focus is on Dakka.

The book was originally published under the Space Marines Battles banner, books who generally were considered to be Bolter Porn, but in reality they were often a lot more than that. This book, the second in the series, very much set the standard of being action based books, that could be well written and emotionally evocative.

There is an interaction at the end of the book, which will make you weep for the character, it’s honestly one of the best written character arcs in all of Black Library fiction, despite it being relatively short.

If you have previously dismissed fiction as action books for teenage boys, I would strongly suggest you give this novel a read, ok you need a little bit of background to 40K to understand some stuff, but only a very surface level amount, but it’s well worth a read.

Seriously Aaron has yet to write a bad book, this was only his second Black Library novels and there is a very good reason he is considered one of the greatest writers ever signed up by Games Workshop.

5 out of 5 Stars

Helsreach is available now as an eBook, MP3 Audiobook and Hardback as a Masterworks.