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Literature / Brothers of the Snake

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Brothers Of The Snake is a Warhammer 40,000 novel by Dan Abnett, the adventures of Priad, a brother and then sergeant of the Iron Snakes Space Marine chapter.

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  • Accidental Pun: In-Universe: the Children of Khorne, a Chaos cult from a planet whose main produce is... yes, corn. The Inquisitor sent to investigate laments that the pun seems lost on everyone but him.
  • Achilles in His Tent: A variation: Priad doesn't nominate his squad for the honor of first deployment because he's still pissed at them over the trench dive incident. Petrok later remarks that it might actually have been a good thing, as the first twenty-five squads to be deployed ended up surrounded by greenskins and needed Damocles and other squads to help extract them.
  • After-Action Patch-Up: Priad explains something to Petrok while being patched up after a battle.
  • Angry Guard Dog: A heroic one Priad has to calm down and turns friendly. It helps him in his mission, and later returns as a plot element.
  • Armor Is Useless: Discussed and averted, as light weaponry fails to penetrate the Power Armour. Played straight, however, when Snakes fight the Black Tusks, one of which has a weapon that makes a giant hole in one of the Space Marines.
  • Attack Pattern Alpha:
    "Damocles, form and cover, Hades spread!"
  • Back for the Dead: Inquisitor Mabuse shows up in one story, then reappears in another only to die by the end of it.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Why Petrok insists on bringing Damocles squad to battle, even when Priad insists they're not combat-ready.
  • Big Bad: The Dark Eldar, or more specifically, an unnamed Archon. While they have been raiding and plaguing the Reef Stars for decades, they eventually lured an entire WAAAGH! there to make life difficult for the Iron Snakes. That was a plan that was at least 50 years in the works.
  • Blue Blood: A whole swathe of them in the chapter "Blue Blood". Turns out Imperial aristocrats have a hard time with being told "no" by other Imperial servants, even by Space Marines, who are by no means required to answer to them.
  • Booby Trap: While the Iron Snakes were trying to retake a city from them, some Dark Eldar mine a critical location before withdrawing. They were clever enough to place them in phosphor vent so the entire city would have blown up, so the Iron Snakes had to physically carry the bombs out and hope that they don't go off.
  • Book Ends:
    • Both first and last story end up on Baal Solock, and in both Priad refuses to take part in post-battle festivities to his honor.
    • The last story opens and closes with a trench dive, although it's two different people who make it.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": In the Reef Stars, the Dark Eldar are known as primuls.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: When they first meet, Petrok takes a moment to compliment Priad's hunting skills after having one-shotted a wyrm as an initiate, much to Priad's flattery, while they were under Dark Eldar suppressive fire. Turns out there was a point: Priad's squad and Petrok were under fire because they failed an ambush to destroy the Dark Eldar's hard point with one shot from a plasma cannon, and Priad needed to be reminded that hitting it multiple times was going to be necessary rather than just taking for granted that the tactic failed altogether.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The Orkish artifact from the first story is being used by Dark Eldar to lure a WAAAGH! to the Reef Worlds.
    • The venom from snake bite one of the Marines gets early in the story saves his life by the end of the book.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: A Khorne-devoted village tortures one of the Snakes to sacrifice him for their god.
  • Colourful Theme Naming: The chapter names ("Black Gold", "Blue Blood", "Crimson Wake", etc.), each of which were a different mission, or otherwise an adventure that Squad Damocles goes through.
  • Come to Gawk: Khiron thinks that this is what Priad's doing when he comes to his cell. Subverted, as Priad has come to recruit him for his squad.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Autolochus the Venerable Dreadnought, of all people.
    I'm always awake. Noise you idiots make, it's hard to slumber.
  • Declaration of Protection: Priad gives one to the farmers. He's forced to rescind it once he realizes that they're the Chaos cultists he's been hunting.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The use of boy slaves as ammo loaders and servants is constantly mentioned. Fortunately the pederasty implications aren't there.
  • Die Laughing: One of the dark eldar raiders killed by Priad and Antoni on Baal Solock has the last laugh after realising that the plan to lure in a WAAAGH! using an Ork relic will succeed, and the locals just destroyed the only chance they had at turning it away, despite the entire raiding party being wiped out.
  • Distant Finale: The last story ends with the narrator describing events ten years later.
  • Distressed Dude: Khiron is this for a moment, given that he's standing on a rock staring at giant sea wyrms trying to eat him, carrying just a spear.
  • The Dreaded: The Inquisition; Priad reflects wryly that the Princess Royal who is arrogant and sheltered enough to not be afraid of Space Marines (in fact, she thinks she can order them around) runs away screaming when she sees an Inquisitorial sigil.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Librarian Petrok, whose job partly is using his powers for prognostication.
  • Due to the Dead: The Snakes collect gene-seed and burn the body, then throw the ashes into the oceans of Ithaka. If a sea wyrm eats them, it's considered a good omen.
  • Dug Too Deep: In Black Gold, the refinery crew dug out some Chaos substance which proceeded to possess them all.
  • Enemy Civil War: The orks keep fighting each other, but the Astartes can't find a way to take advantage of it.
  • Ermine Cape Effect: Antoni inverts this, putting away her official portrait for being too good.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Autolochus' line as cited under Deadpan Snarker? The second thing he says upon his arrival, in fact.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Priad's Chapter apparently trains its men in the use of dogs to fight Dark Eldar.
  • The Evil Prince: Upon learning that the old queen was murdered, Priad guesses that the new king is the murderer. The Inquisitor tells him to leave the investigation to him, since that conclusion was all too obvious (and from what we see of him, the new king is too much of an Upper-Class Twit to be behind it).
  • Eye Scream: Natus loses both of his eyes in fight against the greenskins, but has his hearing improved to compensate for it before artificial replacements can be put in place. The impact was so strong, his head has to be wrapped in metal bands so that the skull won't fall apart. He later gets hooked up with a jury-rigged camera that gives him black-and-white vision and depth perception (and makes him look like a cyclops to boot).
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Iron Snakes are a high-tech version of Ancient Greece. Even their names are slightly-off names of figures of Antiquity or myth (especially characters from The Iliad): Priad -> Priam, Andromak -> Andromache, Seydon -> Poseidon, Khiron -> Chiron, etc. The way the squad leaders argue among each other is reminiscent of the Greek chieftains arguing in the Iliad.
  • Fearless Fool: Khiron observes that folly and courage are not always distinguishable.
  • First-Name Basis: Petrok insists on this with Priad, who doesn't always obey, given that one is the Chief Librarian of the chapter, and the other is a "mere" Brother-Sergeant.
  • Fish out of Water: The entire squad when dealing with the environment Imperial nobles built around themselves. Space Marines live a very spartan life dedicated to war and training. When put into an environment of luxury and intrigue, all they can do is stare in curiosity and try not to step on anybody's toes.
  • Flashed-Badge Hijack: The Inquisitor does this on their behalf.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Priad smacks Natus across the head to get his mind off the blasphemous texts on the Khorne-doll when the latter is frozen in terror by looking at them.
  • Glamour Failure: Seeing the chaos beast with the naked eye among the cultists. Also, the one that infiltrated the Chapter.
  • Heroic Bystander: Antoni, who insists on watching Priad in action and blows up two primuls herself.
  • Heroic Dog: Princeps, the attack dog who follows Antoni and Priad on their errand, in the first story.
  • Hollywood Tactics: The Iron Snakes attempt to take back a world from at least two ork Waaaghs! with a total of thirty ten-Marine squads and no vehicles. Even more noticeable as the first story gave Priad a Land Speeder for his One Riot, One Ranger deployment.
  • Hot-Blooded:
    • Xander has little patience and is quick to get annoyed.
    • Once Autolochus is awoken, he can't stay in one place and keeps on prowling the ship from one end to the other.
  • Human Sacrifice: Some cultists catch and try to sacrifice an Iron Snake.
  • I Meant to Do That: When one of the Space Marines misses the shot that's supposed to blow the laid charges, he claims he was just checking the distance.
  • Intro-Only Point of View: The first story is from the POV of the human on the world Priad visits.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Played for laughs in the denouement. When Antoni, now the governor of her world, marvels at Autolochus, she refers to the dreadnought as "it", having never seen one before and not knowing there's a marine inside the vehicle shell. After a bit of this, Autolochus decides he's had enough and declares "IT can HEAR you", which gives Antoni quite a shock. At the end, when they are leaving the planet:
    Antoni: [whispering to Priad] Have I offended it?
    Autolochus: Only by continuing to refer to me as an "it."
  • Karmic Death: The primuls which lured the WAAAGH! to the Reef Stars are later slaughtered by the greenskins who were lured to their planet in the same way.
  • Kill It with Fire: The only way to ensure that a daemon doesn't escape to another host is to burn it.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Antoni never had children because of whatever Priad injects her with when she's suffering from radiation sickness at the end of the first chapter. It's implied that it's his own, genetically enhanced, blood causing it.
  • Malevolent Mutilation: The Chaos Cult in the book has a way to etch Chaos sigils on their bones without disturbing the flesh over them. The Inquisitor investigating the Cult is very curious to know how they manage this.
  • Mood Whiplash: The beginning of the last story starts with the Marines getting out-ambushed by their trainees and everyone laughing, but then suddenly turns serious when it turns out that one of the trainees used to commotion to attempt the trench dive and died as a result.
  • Morton's Fork: An ordeal will prove Khiron's innocence if it kills him; if he survives (the wyrms won't touch a Warp-tainted man), he's guilty.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Averted, a princess who tries to order the Space Marines around also strikes her guard for disagreeing with her.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The greenskins are noted to be so covered in Improvised Armor and what's not armored to be painted black and red and pink that they aren't even remotely green.
  • No Place for a Warrior: Played for Laughs in Part Six, when Damocles Squad is assigned to act as envoys to the court of a recently-crowned monarch, who invites them to "mingle freely" at the reception.
    "Mingle"? What in the Emperor's name does that mean?
  • No Sense of Humor:
    • Priad doesn't understand humor even when it's quite obvious, like when Petrok claims he has killed four or five equerries for being annoying.
    • Inverted with Petrok, who sometimes seems like the only Iron Snake with any sense of humor.
  • Not So Above It All: At the end of the novel, Priad demonstrates solidarity with his squad by making the forbidden trench dive.
  • Obviously Evil: Ceres, the agri-world where Part IV takes place, has such a high concentration of iron in its geology that the soil, the water, and even the clouds in the sky are all exactly the color of human blood.
  • Oh No You Didn't: When the Princess Royal objects to Damocles Squad commandeering her vehicle, Priad tells her politely but firmly to go away. She responds by shooting him with a micro-laser gun. The laser barely scratches his armor, but instantly the squad has their bolters trained on her, and Priad's helmet display automatically plasters a target across the Princess' forehead, which he tries to ignore.
  • One Riot, One Ranger: In the first story, the Iron Snakes decided that one green Battle-Brother (Priad) is enough to deal with primuls invasion of the planet. They are proven correct. Later inverted most of the Chapter proves to be entirely too little against a Waaagh! and suffers horrific casualties.
  • The Only Believer: A furious Priad demands to know which man in his squad was stupid enough to do the trench dive. He discovers that he's the only one not to have done it. The entire squad gets punished as a result, which ends up saving quite a few lives.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Aekon hallucinates, briefly of one, before realizing it's Khiron.
  • The Power of Friendship: Petrok urges Priad to consider this in his squad's wrong doing.
  • The Promise: Priad promises to protect some civilians.
  • Punny Name: Children of Khorne, from a corn-producing planet. The Inquisitor calls the little corn dolls they use as totem "Khorne dolls", but the pun is, sadly, lost on Space Marines.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: In Black Gold the Marines take the facility, but lose three of their own and it turns out that the refinery has to be destroyed either way, which could've been done from the orbit.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: The orks are noted to be painted red and black and sugary pink. No explanation is given for the pink (black and red are known to have connotations of toughness and speed in ork culture).
  • Requisite Royal Regalia: A sceptre and an orb, which are supposed to react if the heir is improper. They double as a can for Sealed Evil.
  • Royal Brat: One princess at the coronation, who tries to shoot the Sergeant with a lasgun built into her ring when he refuses to kowtow to her. The marine's response can be summed up as "Did you really just do that?"
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The regalia was meant to contain this; they managed to seal it up before it escaped.
  • Shout-Out: "The Children of Khorne", to Stephen King's Children of the Corn. As a bonus, they come from a corn-producing planet.
  • The Squad: Squad Damocles. Led by Raphon when Priad joins up, who takes the torch-er, Lightning Claw fairly early in the narrative.
  • Take Up My Sword: When Sergeant Raphon is mortally wounded, he detaches his relic Lightning Claw and gives it to Priad. It's implied that this is how leadership has been passed down for much of Damocles Squad's existence, since the Lightning claw originally belonged to Sergeant Damocles.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: When comatose, Petrok sends his consciousness to Priad's dreams to warn him of incoming Dark Eldar.
  • Tempting Fate: Discussed then played straight. When hunting for cultists and possibly more, Memmon the apothecary removes his helmet to get a sniff of the air to get a sense of things. Priad notes that he would have berated anybody else for leaving his head unprotected, but Memmon's sense is good enough that he let's it go. For that very reason, he gets killed a few moments later.
  • Time Skip: There are huge time gaps between each story, ranging from two months to five years. Zigzagged and Lampshaded by Priad when he returns to Baal Solock. He's surprised to find that Antoni is now an elderly but still sprightly woman who became the ruler of the world after her adventures with Priad many decades before gave her prestige. Priad notes that he didn't really consider how fast time can move outside the warp or for non-Astartes (by his reckoning he's been a Space Marine for twelve years).
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The township of Hekat is a hotbed of Chaos cults.
  • Weather Dissonance: At first rain on a desert world is taken as a good omen, but it soon becomes clear that something is wrong.
  • We Do Not Know Each Other: An Inquisitor appears in two stories. In the second, he alerts Priad to his concealed identity.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: They try to protect the farmers. Later almost averted when an irredeemably stupid aristocrat tries to browbeat and threaten Damocles Squad into guarding her.
  • You All Look Familiar: Governor Antoni thanks each member of Damocles Squad, then turns to Priad and whispers that they all look identical to each other, except of course the one who's missing an eye. Priad says they're not.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Priad, after the Princess Royal tries to stop him from taking her vehicle by shooting him with a dinky laspistol.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: The trench dive, where young initiates and Iron Snakes dive a very deep trench and leave an offering at the bottom. It used to be an unofficial tradition of the chapter, but is now officially forbidden due to too many deaths attempting the dive. Aekon makes the trench dive in order to prove himself, given he's the youngest member of Damocles. Priad is incensed when he later learns that everyone in Damocles has done the trench dive except him and has them put through extra training and off combat duty as atonement. He's also thrown for a loop when he learns that Chief Librarian Petrok has also made the dive. At the end of the story, he makes the dive himself.