Book Review: Day of Ascension, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I’ve got something rather interesting to review this week, as Arthur C. Clarke Award winner Adrian Tchaikovsky has written a Black Library novel. How does Day of Ascension compare to their usual output? Read on to find out!

The forge world of Morod is nothing less than an industrialised vision of hell. For generations, human beings have tunneled through its poisoned soil and gasped their every breath in its toxic air to supply their masters in the Adeptus Mechanicus with raw material for the Imperium. But something has taken root below the surface of Morod, with mutation-heavy cults forming in its wake. Genetor Triskellian seeks to harness the power of this divergent strain of humanity for his own ends, but can this alliance possibly prove mutually beneficial?

As a genetor, Gammat Triskellian is rather more concerned with the organic side of humanity than many of his fellows in the Adeptus Mechanicus. That’s not to say, mind you, that he is unmodified himself. Nobody, in fact, conforms to a particularly “normal” blueprint of humanity in Tchaikovsky’s wonderfully John Blanche-tinged vision of the tech priests. Fabricator General Burzulem is like some kind of giant bronze bell, scuttling around the place surprisingly quietly on a number of articulated limbs, while his constant crony Alloysia is “a stiletto of a woman, all sharp edges and a coiling of servitor tentacles holding writs and scrolls and an ancient reckoning engine.” Best of all are Triskellian’s fellow genetors, Claven and Herma; the former a man with a nervous disposition and patchwork skin, the latter a head mounted on a set of gurgling bellows and towed around resignedly after him. They bicker constantly, Herma occasionally extending a shock prod from her trolley to jab irritably at Claven with, and they’re incredibly memorable despite their few scenes.

Uneasily allied with Triskellian is Davien, who has spent her life among the miners and factory workers patiently awaiting the coming of the Emperor and his angels. If this particular daydream sounds familiar – and like something that might pop up in any number of Black Library titles – it’s worth pointing out that Davien and her pals in the Congregation of the Divine Union have a slightly different idea of how the Emperor might look. More arms, for one thing, and a considerably wider, toothier smile. The ever-so-slight wrongness of their depictions of the Emperor are close enough to the accepted version that they could almost be chalked up to artistic license, and the way Tchaikovsky crafts the different faiths as diverging rather than wholly separate gets across the insidious nature of a Genestealer Cult – for that’s of course what they are – perfectly. Their tactics are right out of the existing lore for the most part, sowing seeds of rebellion in the populace where they don’t have a foot/clawhold otherwise, while there are plenty of instances where units straight from the Codex are seamlessly threaded into the narrative.

The same is true on the Adeptus Mechanicus side of things too. Wildly divergent and factionalised priests command rank upon rank of the cybernetically enhanced Skitarii, who obey their commands without question and fight in perfect, emotionless unison. Units familiar to hobbyists make their appearances in lovely moments of fan service, but Day of Ascension isn’t as concerned with depicting the theater of war as some of Black Library’s other output is. This is more of a character study in many ways, with Triskellian treading further and further down a dangerous path as he seeks to overthrow the Fabricator General and realise his ambitions. His ability to convince himself that his actions are justified feels totally organic (somewhat ironically, given his vocation), while the occasional tests of Davien’s faith add another level of nuance to something that in less skilled hands could have been a bit of fluffy fun and not much more.

Thanks to a cast of colourful characters and a well considered approach to their motivations, Day of Ascension is both an entertaining and memorable entry in Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 expanded universe. Established fans will find plenty to enjoy here, though newcomers might find themselves with some background reading.

Day of Ascension is published by Black Library, and is out now.

Currently reading: The Witness for the Dead, Katherine Addison
Currently listening: Splatterthrash, Ghoul

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Day of Ascension, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

  1. The Adeptus Mechanicus has never been a favorite of mine to read about, so while Tchaikovsky writing in the WH40K universe sounds interesting, I’m not sure I’d want to read this particular story. However, given Tchaikovsky’s obsession with insectile life, the Adeptus does seem a perfect match for him.

    Is this a complete standalone novel or part of a larger overall sub-series?

    Like

    1. I’ve had a look into that myself, but haven’t been able to find anything out about whether there are more on the way. It’s a self-contained story, but is certainly open for more development. I’m optimistic, but perhaps they’re going to wait and see how this one does before announcing more.

      Liked by 1 person

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