Writing of Dark Imperium

With the release of the Dark Imperium, the brand new edition of Warhammer 40,000, just days away, Black Library author and regular contributor to Warhammer Community, Guy Haley, tells us the tale of how he approached the task of writing the next chapter in the history of the Imperium.

Guy: Toward the middle of last year I got one of those calls. You know, I mentioned them before, the ones where my editor emails or telephones me and says “Guy, we’re going to have to change your schedule.”

I’d just finished writing Perturabo. My writing plan was all locked down and extended well into this year of 17M3. Happy days.

But there was the call. There is always the call. No schedule can survive THE CALL.

I’m not complaining. It makes me feel wanted, like A-Team wanted. Even if I don’t make rocket launchers out of old potatoes and discarded gardening hardware and use them to fix minor injustices. I just write books. Anyway…

Big things were happening at Games Workshop. Warhammer 40,000, a universe I had watched grow for thirty years and lately had spent a lot of time playing in, was about to undergo a fundamental shift. Untold events were about to be unleashed.

The story was going to advance.

I was well pleased to be selected as the author who would write the novel connected to the new edition of my fave grimdark sci-fi battler. As the story of what was about to unfold was revealed to me (on pain of Inquisitorial visits, as usual), I got really excited. Themes woven into game books over the last few years were coming to a head. The Eldar god(dess) of the dead was awaking from a prenatal slumber, Chaos was resurgent, and most amazing of all, a loyalist primarch was to return to the Imperium founded by his father.

My editor and I, the ever ebullient Nick Kyme, kicked about some ideas for the story. Initially, I thought I’d be covering off the Indomitus Crusade, but it was explained to me that a tale set in the new now was required. The story of the Indomitus Crusade is told in some detail in the new Warhammer 40,000 book, and Black Library didn’t want to simply repeat that straightaway. Naturally, the Primaris Space Marines had to feature. It had to be action packed, as is always the way.

Other than that, I was actually given free rein over what to write. However, I thought it would be a strange tale indeed that did not feature Roboute Guilliman as the main character. I also felt I could not neglect the Plague Marines. With my marketing head on (writing isn’t all wonderment and magic unicorn dust, I’m afraid), I figured that people would be most excited about the primarch, and that it would probably be a good idea to write something that reflected the contents of the new boxed game without slavishly following its storyline.

So, although I was offered the galaxy, I opted for Ultramar, zooming in on the war underway there between Guilliman and his twisted daemon-primarch brother Mortarion.

I mean, writing about primarchs in the 41st Millennium? Come on! No brainer.

Focussing on the returned Avenging Son enabled me to address some of the questions the new lore threw up. For example, I wanted to address what kind of formations the Primaris Space marines fought in before being assigned to existing or new Chapters. Hence the Unnumbered Sons – or Greyshields, as they are informally known – were born.

There’s a lot of mystery yet in the relationship between the Primaris and existing Space Marines, and many cool stories to explore and lore to uncover regarding their creation, integration with the Chapters and other fundamental questions, especially regarding the more exotic gene-seeds.

Then there was Guilliman. How he feels about this new Imperium drives the novel. He’s a very different man to the character he was in the heresy. He’s had to change. The war he thought won is effectively still ongoing, 10,000 years later. The way I see it, Guilliman is a good man who is horrified by what has happened to his father’s dream, but he is also the Imperium’s last hope. I was itching to explore what that did to him.

His interactions with other characters were also important in shaping this new, harder Guilliman, particularly regarding how he now sees the Emperor – or more accurately, how the Emperor sees him – for which I drew heavily on Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s awesome depiction in Master of Mankind. The book explores his awkward alliance with the arrogant Belisarius Cawl, how he treats the Ultramarines and their leader, Marneus Calgar, and his difficult relationship with the Adeptus Ministorum who, despite Guilliman’s immense misgivings, venerate him almost as much as they do his father.

There was so much to play with, so many brilliant concepts, so much going on… It was difficult to choose what to include. I wanted to make sure that the story encompassed the vast sweep of Imperial history, linking the Horus Heresy and the present day, with nods to those deep time aspects of the universe I love.

As you might expect, it turned out to be quite a long book (as did my next one, but that’s a story for another time). As a cheeky bonus for me and for you, I decided to open the book at the battle of Thessala, where Guilliman was injured by Fulgrim a couple of hundred years after the Horus Heresy. See, three primarchs! Am I not generous?

Unusually for me, there was a lot of adjustment to the story to make sure we got it just right. It was a hard book, harder than most, but hopefully, the results will please you.

Finally, exclusively on Warhammer Community, I can reveal to you right now that this story doesn’t end with Dark Imperium. The novel is part one of a series, so there’ll be more to come from me on the matters of Guilliman, Cawl, the Primaris Space Marines, and Mortarion.

Well, colour me excited! The result of Guy’s hard work, the Dark Imperium novel, is released this weekend and is available to pre-order now from the Black Library website.  

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