Pursued by vengeful eldar, Magos Kotov’s Explorator armada heads into a newly revealed area of space in pursuit of ancient secrets. As the Adeptus Mechanicus forces and Black Templars Space Marines tackle the twin threats of the wrathful aliens and insurrection aboard the fleet, a greater danger reveals itself…
Lords of Mars was a tricky book to get started. Priest of Mars had started life with a vision that I’d follow a single character through the book, with him or her gradually ascending the ranks of the Mechanicus until they were somewhere at the heart of power. But I realised that would require too much time to pass to be entirely credible. Then I thought I’d follow the Rogue Trader, Roboute Surcouf, and use him as my window into the Mechanicus, but that seemed a little obvious (and I’d kind of done the same thing with Leofric Carrard and the Wood Elves). As it turned out, Priests of Mars quickly became an ensemble piece with each faction and character claiming equal importance within the narrative. And therein lay the problem with Lords of Mars.
Kicking off the second book of a trilogy with an ensemble cast meant it was taking a loooooong time to kick the story into gear, and it took a bit of reorganising and reshuffling of characters’ entry points to the story to get enough of a recap of previous events without derailing the continuation of the story. Working people into a new scene that moves the story forward and requires their presence killed many birds with one stone.
As things turned out in the break point between novels, Priests of Mars was all about the journey, Lords of Mars was all about what they found on the other side, and Gods of Mars will be about the consequences of finding what they were looking for. A neat division that’s paid dividends in the writing process. Lords of Mars further developed the themes of an ‘Age of Sail’ spirit of exploration, deepened the relationships between the characters (not always in a good way) and allowed the potential of the warrior factions to shine as they were properly tested with enemies they’d never fought before.
Just as the characters were tested with being in the unknown, I wanted to test the readers with story elements they’d never seen before. A servitor rebellion, unknown aliens, space they’d never ventured into. It was a book unlike most others within the BL catalogue, which worried me at first. Would the readers warm to it as they’d seemed to with Priests of Mars? Would its lack of overt warfare be a problem? But as with A Thousand Sons before it, I wanted its lack of war to be a boon. The legion of Magnus are known for their knowledge, and thus the first part of that book had no fighting in it whatsoever, and it was the same for this book. The Mechanicus are all about knowledge, and fighting is what destroys knowledge (unless you happen to be Magos Dahan). Getting the reader to experience and see things they don’t expect is a great way to either alienate them or drag them through a book, and I hoped the unknown and new elements of Lords of Mars would do the latter.
Lords of Mars also has a scene in it that I thought long and hard about. It’s the final scene between Galatea and Linya, and though it’s not a gory scene (particularly) or a violent one, it disturbed me in the crawling nightmare of what was happening and the utter lack of care evinced by the machine-hybrid. Conveying Vitali’s horror at what he was seeing was paramount, and judging by the amount of e-mails, tweets and the like I’ve had over that scene, I think it hit people square between the eyes.
A number of plot threads dangled at the end of Priests of Mars have been tied off, but several others are left hanging. And the ending and a few moments before then pose questions I hope will have people hungry for the next book. Now the Explorators have to face the consequences of meeting their idol, and where most treasure hunt movies or books end with the object of their quest lost forever or locked in a vast warehouse in an unmarked crate, I want the object of his quest to be found. But whether that’s a good thing or not, remains to be seen…