Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 5 January 2022)
Series: Astra Militarum – Book One
Length: 9 hours and 50 minutes
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
Prepare to dive back into the brutal chaos of the far future of the exceptional Warhammer 40,000 universe with the powerful and intense Steel Tread, a fantastic tank novel by Andy Clark.
At this point in its existence, the Warhammer 40,000 canon has advanced far from just a tabletop game and has turned into quite the complex extended universe that features a range of interesting factions, species and unique narratives. From fantastic stories about crusading genetic Space Marines (check out my review for Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker), to unique underworld stories about warring gangs (Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty and Fire Made Flesh), and narratives about ancient metal aliens (The Twice-Dead King: Ruin), this franchise has it all. However, to my mind some of the best Warhammer 40,000 books are compelling war stories that pit ordinary human soldiers against the very worst monsters in this distinctive universe. Examples of this include the awesome Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett, (check out my review for First and Only), which is pretty damn awesome. As such I was very excited to check out the new novel from talented Warhammer author Andy Clark, Steel Tread, which looked to follow a group of tank soldiers in the worst of situations.
Following the fall of Cadia, war reigns across the universe as the forces of Chaos push further and further into Imperial space. There are many battles occurring in this new warzone, but none are more desperate or destructive than those on the world of Croatoas, where the armies of the Astra Militarum, better known as the Imperial Guard, face off against twisted forces serving the Ruinous Powers of Chaos.
Following a devastating campaign, veteran tank gunner Hadeya Etsul is reassigned and consolidated into a Cadian regiment and placed in command of the ancient Leman Russ Demolisher tank, Steel Tread. Already haunted by the events that destroyed her last tank and crew, Etsul is forced to adapt to her new command whilst immediately getting thrust into the midst of a new offensive. However, rather than the well-run team she is used to, Etsul finds herself leading a dysfunctional and aggrieved crew who don’t believe she has earned the right to be either their commander or a member of a Cadian regiment.
As the campaign takes a turn for the worst, the crew of Steel Tread will need to find a way to work together if they are to survive. The enemy has unleashed vast and terrible horrors against the Imperial forces, from dark sorcery to mutated machines, and only the very best crew will have a chance to hold out and fight back. Can Etsul gain the respect of her crew in time, or will Steel Tread be yet another victim of the unrelenting forces of Chaos?
Wow, that was awesome! I knew that I was going to have an amazing time reading Steel Tread, especially as it had a great synopsis, but I was unprepared for just how enjoyable it was. Clark, who has previously written several Warhammer 40,000 novels, including his Imperial Knights books (which he makes certain homages to here), did a fantastic job with this latest novel, producing a grim and powerful tank novel that proves near impossible to stop reading.
Steel Tread has a powerful and action-packed narrative that sees a dysfunctional tank crew thrust into the middle of a hellish warzone (literally hellish) and forced to come together to face their foes. Clark does a great job of setting the scene for this novel, introducing the conflict, the main characters, and the Chaos based antagonists, in quick succession and ensuring all the key aspects of the book are well established. The first part of the narrative is mostly dedicated to setting up the crew dynamics and exposing the major personal conflicts that arise when a new commander appears. This dysfunctional crew mentality continues as the characters are thrust into their first conflicts, before a major battle occurs that separates them from the rest of their command. Surrounded by all manner of foes, including magical zombies and a terrifying giant war machine (a corrupted Imperial Knight), the crew are forced to come together, especially after overcoming some losses and major personal conflicts. This all leads up to the big finale, in which the crew are once again thrust into a do-or-die battle and must overcome immense odds with little hopes of success. This finale really pays off, as the readers are on the edge of their seats during the entire conclusive sequence and beyond as they wait to see what happens to the crew they’ve come to know and love. This novel is brilliantly paced out and constantly in motion, ensuring that there are no slow spots to stumble across as they move from one excellent sequence to the next. I loved the great combination of intense action and character moments, which results in a powerful and impressively thrilling read.
I deeply enjoyed the exquisite writing style that Clark utilised for this great novel, especially as it was written in the style of a tank based military thriller. Clark is an amazingly detailed writer and he perfectly captures the claustrophobia of a classic tank movie. It was brilliant to watch the six main characters crammed together inside Steel Tread as they face all manner of hell, often by themselves. You really get a feel for all the stress, rage and fear that the characters are feeling, especially during the amazing action sequences. All the battle scenes are written extremely well, and the author ensured that you are placed right in the middle of the action. I really loved all the epic fights, and I really must highlight the scary and insane enemies they faced, including cultists, zombies and that awesome Chaos Knight. I deeply appreciated the work that Clark put into describing that Chaos Knight into a fearsome and freaky war machine, especially its spider-like walking style, and it easily stole every scene it was in. This impressive writing style really helped to enhance an already amazing story and I loved how the author was able to tell such a brutal and complex war story.
This proved to be an exceptional entry in the Warhammer 40,000 canon, and I deeply enjoyed the way in which Clark was able to transplant his impressive tank story into this universe. While there are a few references to events in Warhammer history that set the scene for the plot, this ended up being one of those tie-in novels that can easily be read by people unfamiliar with the franchise. Anyone who loves a good science fiction war novel can have a lot of fun with Steel Tread, although there is also a lot that Warhammer fans will really appreciate. I loved all the references to the fall of Cadia featured throughout the book, especially as the characters are part of a Cadian regiment. Clark spends a lot of time examining the psyche of a typical Cadian soldier, and there is an interesting focus on members of other regiments being consolidated into the usually insular and elite Cadians. As such, you get some great insights into the different Imperial Guard regiments, including their unique traditions, and it was fascinating to see several characters, including the main protagonists, try and find acceptance with her new Cadian colleagues and subordinates. This book does feature a ton of awesome Imperial Guard and Chaos troops, and it was great to see Steel Tread caught in the middle of it, especially as Clark does a great job of describing how the various units move and fight. I also really loved seeing this story unfold from the common soldier’s perspective, and it was very insightful to see the tank crew when confronted by Chaos sorcery, corruption, mutations and other insanities, especially as half the time they don’t really know what they are. Clark has produced a great tie-in to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and this is honestly an excellent first novel for any reader interested in exploring this massive franchise.
Another feature of Steel Tread that I enjoyed was the amazing array of characters featured within. Clark has come up with an interesting and diverse central group of protagonists for the book, with the primary six being the crew members of Steel Tread. I had a lot of fun with these great characters, and I liked the interesting mix of personalities and backstories. The author has hit on a few military stereotypes here as you have a new and untrusted officer, a grouchy sergeant, a religious zealot driver, a strong and mostly silent loader with a mysterious past, a young rookie eager to prove himself and a rebellious former street thug turned soldier who constantly tests the new commander. While some of these character types seem a tad familiar, there is a reason that they work in a military fiction novel such as Steel Tread, as these diverse personalities play off each other extremely well. There is the requisite hardship and clashes you would typically expect from this sort of crew, but they soon develop into a strong team, especially once their new commander finally gains their trust and respect. Clark does a great job of setting all six of these main characters up and it was great to see them slowly come together through their joint experiences. Most of the narration is done by central character Etsul, who is still dealing with the aftermath of her last devastating mission and must overcome her memories and doubts to lead the team. This intense and compelling narration is perfectly complemented by the second narrator, the young rookie Garret Verro, who offers a slightly more hopeful counterpoint to the rest of the characters in the novel. I really liked seeing this great group of characters come together and you really come to care for the whole crew by the end of the book.
Aside from the central six characters, there are a few other interesting figures that Clark features throughout the novel. The main one of these is probably Steel Tread itself, as the author works to give the tank its own personality (which is helped by the fact that machines in the Warhammer 40,000 universe have their own souls, known as machine-spirits). The old but still deadly tank (an Agamemnor-pattern Leman Russ Demolisher), really feels like a member of the crew, especially with how the other characters interact with it, and you end up feeing just as attached to the tank as you do to its human passengers. Another great character was Lieutenant Horathio Aswold, a fellow tank commander who is consolidated into the Cadian regiment at the same time as Etsul. Aswold is a fun and slightly eccentric character who bonds with Etsul over being the newest members of their Cadian regiment. Aswold proved to be a fun counterpoint to Etsul, and I liked how he was a great soundboard for her concerns and doubts, especially when it comes to their new regiment. The rest of the Imperial characters in this book are only really featured briefly, and due to most of the action occurring inside the tight confines of Steel Tread, there aren’t a lot of extended interactions between the main cast and supporting characters. I think this smaller cast worked extremely well in the context of a tank-based novel, and it allowed the readers to get to know the main characters. The fact that the reader never really sees the main antagonist of the novel was an interesting choice from Clark, but it honestly didn’t detract from how awesome the story was. While it might have been cool to see a powerful traitor Space Marine attack the tank, I think that keeping him away from the protagonists and letting them face only opposing soldiers, machines and monsters helped to emphasise the fact that the characters were only a small part of a much larger war. I hope we see more of Steel Tread and its crew in the future.
I ended up listening to the audiobook version of Steel Tread, which came in at just under 10 hours, which I ended up listening to in a few short days once I got caught up in the impressive narrative. I felt that the audiobook format was an excellent way to enjoy this book, especially as the amazing narration really highlighted all the impressive action scenes. The intensity, complexity and brutality of the various combat sequences is really emphasised in this format and I was engrossed in all the elaborate firefights. Thanks to this great translation of Clark’s detailed writing style, I found myself practically seeing every shot as the book was read out, and it really helped bring me into the narrative. I need to highlight the fantastic narration of Remmie Milner, who moved the book along at a quick and enjoyable pace. Milner had an excellent voice for this thrilling science fiction novel and I loved the great voices she provided to each of the characters. Not only did these amazing voices really help the reader to appreciate the emotions and thoughts of the protagonists but they highlighted the cultural differences that existed amongst the multiple Imperial Guard regiments, with the newcomers having different accents to the established Cadians. This excellent voice work was also enhanced in a few places by some clever sound effects, such as the enhancement given when a radio was being utilised by a character. This great voice work and design elements of the audiobook really helped to bring me into the story and I had a brilliant time listening to it. Easily the best way to enjoy Steel Tread, this audiobook format comes highly recommended.
Overall, Steel Tread by Andy Clark was an exceptional and impressive Warhammer 40,000 tie-in novel that takes the reader on a wild and compelling ride with a great group of characters. I loved the brilliant combination of the Warhammer universe with a brutal and grim tank-based military story. Filled with all the awesome action any science fiction fan could want, Steel Tread was an extremely thrilling and very fun novel that is really worth checking out. One of the best and most enjoyable Warhammer novels I have had the pleasure of reading.