View Full Version : Dead Men Walking Review

05-12-2010, 04:59
Minor spoilers ahead.

Dead Men Walking is an imperial guard novel written by Steve Lyons. I admit that I had not read anything by Mr. Lyons before and was half expecting the novel to be mediocre. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel because it was faithful to the spirit of the Death Korps and it did not pull any punches; instead it provided a "realistic" account of the Death Korps' fight against the Necrons.

In a nutshell, the book describes the Death Korps' campaign against the Necrons when they start appearing on a mining planet. The book does not go into the point of view of any Death Korps soldiers. Instead, the Death Korps are viewed through the lense of people around them--ranging from a miner, a commissar, the planetary govener (among others). I think that this was a good idea. Anyone who has read IA's Seige of Vraks (I am fortunate enough to own all three parts) would know that the Death Korps are not going to be very identifiable with the reader. I would even go so far to say that they would probably be more like the Necrons than, say, Cadians. The Death Korps really just see things in black and white and all of their lives (and anyone else's) are expendable as long as it assists in reaching their objectives.

One standout moment for me was reading a native miner go through training by the Death Korps (at this point, I believe that a draft had been instituted). You can start to see the miner losing his identity and humanity; now imagine being brought up in this environment all your life. You start to understand what it is to be Death Korps so that when a Death Korps soldier tries to gives the faintest hint of a smile, it speaks absolute volumes.

Another aspect of this book I enjoyed was its sober tone. While there are many heroic deeds, don't expect anyone to become some type of uber soldier taking out all these necrons. Instead, brace yourselves for some heavy losses and "all-this-work-for-nothing" type actions. The book itself didn't progress the way I thought it was going to, ignoring cliches and twisting in different directions. Still, I thought that the ending was appropriate and satisfying given the tone of the book.

We do not get into the heads of the Necrons, although there is a good amount of Necron units appearring in the novel to wreck havok on the Death Korps. The Necron units are adequately described; the Flayed Ones flay, the Warriers shoot, and the Necron Lord. . . well, let's just say "game over, man". There is also some interesting characteristics of the Necron Lord that has not been described as such in the codex, such as the Necron Lord wearing a headdress and is armored. One wonders if Mr. Lyons was privy to information regarding any new updated looks for the Necrons. We know that a new codex is rumored to come out next year so it's not all inconceivable that Mr. Lyons was given some information regarding the look and theme of the Necrons. Speaking of themes, I found it odd that the Necron Lord initially gave the people of the planet an ultimatum: leave the planet or be killed. This would suggest that the Necrons have more than just the prime directive of harvesting people in mind. The fact that the Necron Lord even issued an ultimatum suggests that there were other factors in play; perhaps the Necrons on the planet were not at full strength yet or maybe the Necron Lord took pity on the planet. ;)

Anyway, if you are a fan of the Death Korps (and who isn't), or of 40k in general, I recommend this book.

Lord Damocles
05-12-2010, 10:23
I was thinking of doing a review of Dead Men Walking myself...

**SPOILERS** etc. below

I must admit that initially, I wasn't overly keen on the depiction of the Death Korps - nameless, seemingly emotionless, child soldiers from planet Grimdark who have no fear of death, and live for war. Great.
However by about two thirds of the way through the book, my opinion of them had changed rather. While the Korps' tactics of conscripting everyone they could lay their hands on, not giving them all guns, and using them as cannon fodder initially seems like classic over the top grim:skull:dark silliness, General 186's rationalisation for the sacrifice of the PDF actually makes a lot of sense - which in turn makes the setting seem much *more* grimdark than just having skulls everywhere.

There were a couple of things which I wasn't so sure of relating to the Korps (although I can't claim to be any sort of expert, so I may be wrong): 1) them having numbers rather than names - but don't several of the officers in the Seige of Vraks IA books have actual names?
2) The description of the Centaur(s) impied that they were fully enclosed - but they're open topped...

The only real point in the story which I wasn't keen on was Gunthar's role in the final attack on the pyramid. I didn't mind that he was chosen to become an atomic human bomb; but I just feel that single characters being involved in every stage of a war from discovery of enemy, through enemy attack(s), becomming a soldier, facing near certain death in battle, organising the counter-attack, to being central to the plan for final victory has become something of a cliche (not just with Black Library, but in general).

The main reason for me picking up this book though, was the Necrons.
I thought that their depiction was one of the best yet - as far as being enemies of the main protagonists goes - mainly because they weren't actually explored all that much. This has the benefit of them not becomming stupid looking contradiction-filled punchbags which they were in Hellforged for example, but does mean that relatively little new information is learned about them.

The result of this was that some interesting questions were left unanswered regarding the Necrons:
1) The Lord hologram's machine cant - a copy of Mechanicus language, or the other way around..?
2) Lack of power? That would explain why the Necrons needed the generators, why they didn't fire on unarmed humans, and might explain how they were able to be contained in the city. But why couldn't they generate [more] of their own?
3) The pylon portals which brought in reinforcements inside the tomb - Gauss Pylons? Reinforcements from off-world, or just newly awakened from deeper in the tomb?
4) Why did the servitors in the mine kneel before the obelisk? free will? control over machine(s)? field like the Annihilator from Phobos Worked in Adamant?
5) Did the Necrons have any direct dealings with the cultists? This was only the second confirmed instance of Necron worshipping human cults in the background (the other being in Warhammer Monthly 64), and the Necrons 'use' of the mutants, and lack of 'kill all humans!' action (to begin with anyway...) may explain other instances of close contact with active Necron forces.

Also, why can Necrons never seem to eliminate small numbers of intruders in their own tombs..?

05-12-2010, 10:56
Great post. You made some great points about Gunther. I suppose it's a way of keeping a stronger sense of continuity to stay with the same character throughout the campaign, even though it may seen a bit of a strech. Regarding your other questions:

1) I'm surprised that they were even able to translate it.
2) Maybe I didn't read it close enough, but I was left with the impression that the Necrons might not have needed the generators at all. It was the humans who assumed that they needed the generators.
3) Who knows.
4) That was interesting. Perhaps a nod to the notion that all of the imperium's tech was influenced by the Void Dragon on Mars.
5) I don't think the Necrons had any dealings with the cultists, as it seemed as though they never communicated with them and the only interacton with the cultists was to shoot them.

06-12-2010, 05:07
Soldiers as numbers? Oh man, that's really Stormtrooper of them isn't it??:(

Necrons with head-dresses? Tomb Kings of Khemri with gunzors? :p

06-12-2010, 08:10
I enjoyed this book too, by far Mr. Lyon's strongest effort to date.

I liked the bit about how the guardsmenw ere instructed that if they were shot their instructions were to try and throw away their gun(s) so they wouldn't be damaged, as they're harder to replace than men. It's a man's life in the DKoK, clearly.

Lord Damocles
06-12-2010, 09:54
Necrons with head-dresses?
Hellforged got there first.

The 2nd ed. Lord also had a sort of proto head-dress.

Tomb Kings of Khemri with gunzors? :p
Yep :shifty::D

07-12-2010, 08:10
My eyes!

Oh man, I just saw the Necron Lord with the the headress from 2nd edition and it is so very ugly. Let's hope that if that is the direction of the Necrons that the designers will update the look. Personally, I'm intrigued if they give the necrons more of a Tomb Kings look, but only if it is done right.

15-12-2010, 00:16
I thought that this book was very well done. The portrayal of the Death Korpsmen is fantastic, and I love it when Colonel 186 is bashing the Governor-General.

"Would you rather it was my men who died?"

I think that this did a fantastic job of illustrating the macabre atmosphere of 40k without becoming silly. Death World and Ice Guard were a little weak in my opinion (the former more than the latter), but this work has definitely vindicated Steve Lyons for me.

25-12-2010, 17:54
Damocles, it was my understanding and I believe it is pointed out in the Vraks books(I don't have them in front of me) that most of the higher ranking officers in the Kreig Armies have names, but low ranking soldiers do not.

And the only real names I can recall being Krieg names were the off planet generals and Tyborc.

25-12-2010, 18:19
Damocles, it was my understanding and I believe it is pointed out in the Vraks books(I don't have them in front of me) that most of the higher ranking officers in the Kreig Armies have names, but low ranking soldiers do not.

Could be not all the higher ranking officers get a name. Could be that they're only given a name/revealed their given name when they've reached a certain rank. Could be that Colonel 186 uses his number as a simple artifice to gain influence with the troops... Take your pick...

09-02-2011, 22:13
I really liked Dead Men Walking... But it was nothing like I expected it to be. Which was a big pointless Krieg vs Necron grind in some far fetched cityscape.

Basically, the big difference from other BL books was that I was guessing wrong about pretty much every character thread, and the story overall. While I felt Thorpe got Eldar right both story and characterwise in Path, ADB is doing marines "right" and so on, this book "gets" 40k too, both hivecity and guardwise. And makes it interesting to read.

Combat wasn't fun per se, it was more of a "lets just mess up the good guys" kinda thing, that provoked reactions in the characters. Just like it should be. No "Marines beat up helpless people in bad dresses" thing going on, or easy choices for the leaders, or anything like that.

Is it just me or has BL released a lot of good books lately that feels rather different than the usual mass productions?

09-02-2011, 23:44
I think BL is starting to let authors take more chances and they're paying off. I've enjoyed a lot of the recent books and have found that a lot of the "new" writers are quite good, which wasn't how BL felt 2 or 3 years ago.

13-02-2011, 20:59
The only thing that put me a bit off was the value all outside the deathkorps had for human life. It made a good contrast but to me many such notions were very un-imperial. Another thing I didn't like was that a world of 9 billion has so a small armed force and not even weapons in stock to arm a militia... it's 40k after all.

But in general this was the one of the best BL works I've read so far. I thought the miner would get the girl and I so much wanted him to.... in the end I felt sad for him and his tragedy really made me want to cry for him.

14-02-2011, 07:02
I agree on the quality of BL writers. Many of the "new blood" have been really good, from ADB to Chris Wraight (if you haven't already, get Sword of Justice and Swoard of Vengence RIGHT NOW). Surprisingly good, in fact. Kudos to the BL for spotting great talent.

14-02-2011, 17:02
I don't really like this book, its not bad but the combat or action were quite brief... Get it if you are a DKoK fan.