Literature: Priests Of Mars

You are Ark Mechanicus. You are Speranza. You are the bringer of hope in this hopeless age.

Priests of Mars is a Warhammer 40,000 novel written by Graham McNeill featuring Archmagos Lexell Kotov's explorator fleet and its voyage across the wild astronomic sector known as the Halo Scar. The novel is notable for describing how the Adeptus Mechanicus explorator fleets work as well as insight into the Mechanicus itself, presenting us a whole array of characters from the different elements of the fleet, from the command staff to the menial workers. It also features, in good 40K tradition, epic battles both on the ground and in space. It is the first book in a trilogy. The sequel, Lords of Mars was released in August 2013. The third book, Gods of Mars, was released in November 2014.

The series provides examples of:

  • A God Am I: The second novel opens with Telok proclaiming himself to be this.
  • Ave Machina: The novels brings some nice insight about the views and works of the Adeptus Mechanicus.
  • Black Box: The Speranza is built from ancient archeotech that even the tech-priests do not fully understand. More strangely, it was found underground, largely finished but unactivated on one of Kotov's Forge Worlds.
  • The Bus Came Back: Julius Hawke, who was last seen being extracted from Hydra Cordatus by the Imperial Fists a full decade ago, returns as a major character. He is shown to be every bit the "requisitions" man and cad that he was since his days in the guard; he even has some sets of stills set up from scavenged parts. While he is a bit of a Jerkass, he does embody the aging veteran and looks out for his new buddies, though himself first.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: The Eldar take up the mission to stop the Kotov fleet with the official objective of keeping the Breath of the Gods out of Human hands. Beside being one of Humanity's political and military rivals, the Eldar view the humans as being to childish and brutish to be allowed the custodians of archeotech like that. The personal goal of the Farseer heading the Eldar warhost comes up when she surmises that Kotov succeeding would eventually prevent her future children from being born. After successfully killing the Black Templars' Reclusiarch Kul Gilad, she finds that the destiny she's pursuing is actually less likely, and it gets more complicated when the Speranza one-shots her own ship and forces the few survivors to take refuge in the Speranza's lower decks. Her farseeing capacity, while more an art as a science, actually failed her and the warhost. This was a tragic, but satisfying subversion.
  • Character Filibuster: Each book opens with a three-part monologue from one of the main characters. The first is by Archmagos Kotov on the purpose of the Adeptus Mechanicus and the Speranza. The second is by Archmagos Telok on the short-sightedness of the Mechanicus and boasting of his own achievements. The third is by the Speranza itself, on the ignorance of the Mechanicus, the nature of knowledge, and the nature of itself.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Even for the setting the secret capabilities of the Speranza are so advanced not even the high-level priests of the Mechanicus can understand some of the functions of the ship.
    • The true capabilities of the Breath of Life similarly defy understanding: bringing a dying star back to life and causing planets to rapidly regress in age. Gods of Mars implies that if Telok were to reach Mars and tap into the power of the dormant Dragon, he'd be capable of restructuring the whole galaxy.
  • Cool Starship: The Speranza, an Ark Mechanicus class exploration ship built during the Dark Age of Technology, so huge it can dock other ships inside its bulk. Its combat training chambers can have entire small cities erected in them, and are large enough to allow Titans to train alongside infantry and tanks. The Speranza is also host to mind-bogglingly advanced technology an order of magnitude above what the Imperium currently possesses, with weaponry capable of crippling an Eldar warship with one shot in the middle of a temporal and gravitational storm— after first bending time so that its initial miss becomes a direct hit.
    • The eldar antagonists have the Starblade, a ship so fast it can evade light-speed attacks.
  • Genius Loci: The Speranza has a machine spirit that dwarfs those of forge worlds in depth and complexity. Most of it is still dormant, however.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: In the beginning of the first book there is a poem written by Archmagos Kotov where he reflects on how far mankind has fallen since the Dark Age of Technology.
    The Great Machines of Old Earth were wondrous engines of creation whose power dwarfed that of any myth or legend. They shaped entire worlds, they drank the hearts of stars and brought light into the dark places of the universe. The techno-sorcerers who crafted them and wielded their power bestrode the world as gods. How far we have fallen.

    • Perhaps a sentiment Kotov himself relates to. Being an Arhcmagos, he was one of the most powerful individuals within one of the most powerful organizations within the Imperium. He had three forge worlds (which were lost to Tyranids, Orks, and the last was destroyed when the electronic birth cries of the Speranza overloaded the entire world's electronic systems, even those keeping the nuclear power cores in check). Having lost those, the finding of the Speranza was the only thing keeping him from losing his position and the last of his holdings. He's now trying to earn back a measure of good graces by finding one of the greatest pieces of Archeotech left, with everything, even the Speranza on the line.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: There are about 39 named characters by the third book, and nearly all of them are important somehow.
  • Lost Technology: Half of Kotov's efforts is to recover a device known as the Breath of the Gods.
    • The Speranza itself, an Ark Mechanicus is on of the best ships ever created by Humanity with the knowledge needed to recreate it being lost. Close to the end of the Priests, the Speranza itself is much better than that, and represents some of the most advanced technologies ever created by mankind such as Faster-Than-Light Travel fueled by the galactic gravitational background, alternate dimension generators and weapons capable of cracking planets open.
  • Magic from Technology: Speaking the Lost Tech, the Breath of the Gods is thought to be an advanced terraforming technology, though no one knows how it would work or what it looks like when the fleet sets out. As it turns out, the Breath of the Gods can simulate the Big Bang on a local scale, revitalizing stars and worlds and effectively turning back the clock by billions of years throughout huge swathes of space.
  • Mind Hive: The artificially intelligent construct Galatea claims to be this, but the brains it totes around seem to be there for it to leech knowledge from more than anything else.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: The Halo Scar. A large gravity anomaly at the galactic edge (presumably within the mysterious Halo Zone) where space time is alternately stretched and compressed or otherwise stressed nearly to the breaking point. The Eldar describe it as being the aftermath of a superweapon (though it gets bonus points for a Wedgie in 40K that doesn't invoke the Warp for once). It's known for ageing nearby stars by eons virtually overnight, and being untraversable as ships break apart in the gravity anomalies shortly after entering. The Kotov fleet has to find a way to navigate through it before they can find the Breath of the Gods. (It should be noted that there's no reason given why they don't go around it, so presumably they can't.)
    • Inverted in the region of space where the Breath of the Gods was finally activated, which turned space in that region into what space looked like in the moments after the Big Bang. When space returned to normal a few hours later, entire systems had the clock turned back by billions of years. Strangely, on one of these newly primordial worlds, the ruins of an ancient Imperial Hive was found on a world where the Mechanicum had no record of humans colonizing.
  • Refuge in Audacity: In Lords of Mars, what happens with Magos Blaylock and Captain Surcouf when Blaylock confronts Surcouf over his counterfeit Letter of Marque. Surcouf, already knowing that one day his mark would be up, is prepared to accept the consequences, no matter how dire. When Kotov is brought in to help resolve the situation, it turns out he already knew since before the expidition started. Kotov was impressed enough with Surcouf's resourcefulness and the sheer balls of it that he had retroactively ratified his Letter of Marque himself. At the resolution of this, a horrified Blaylock protests, Kotov responds with "I'm an Archmagos ... I can do whatever I want."
  • Shout-Out: In the second book, a Land Leviathan named Fortis Maximus is briefly mentioned.
    • At the end of Priests, Surcouf's last line after finally ...leaving the Imperium was "Second star on the right, and straight on till morning..." A twofer, as it was the last line Capt. Kirk gave in his own series, which itself was a reference to Peter Pan.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: The creators of the Breath of the Gods are described as such. Turns out they were Necrons, and the Breath of the Gods itself is powered by a C'tan shard.
  • Superweapon Surprise: During the climatic space battle of Priests of Mars, a weapon secreted within the superstructure of the Speranza activates, a chrono-weapon capable of retroactively hitting the Eldar vessel, and destroying it. In the end, this forces some further, albeit minor (so far) complications for the Mechanicus, as the few Eldar survivors somehow board the Speranza to take refuge in the lower decks.
    • In Gods of Mars, the Breath of the Gods turns out to be as capable of obliterating spacecraft as it is of restarting the life cycles of stars and planets.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Galatea's stated goal is to kill Telok for abandoning it aboard the Valette Manifold station. Though given that this is Galatea we're talking about, it's entirely possible that it's lying.
    • The servitors of Speranza do this in Lords Of Mars, unplugging themselves from the ship's systems and refusing to work any further, courtesy of Ismael.
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: The Speranza, as with all Imperial ships, requires enormous amounts of manual labor to function. Most of the laborers are "conscripted", being kidnapped from the streets by Imperial authorities and turned over to the Mechanicus as slave labor. A few of those slaves are main characters, and showing off the awful quality of life for Mechanicus-indentured laborers is a major part of their story.
    • In Lords of Mars, this becomes a plot point: said slaves go on strike— every last one, including the normally mindless servitors— until the Mechanicus improves their working conditions.