Steel Tread is a novel about a tank and its crew. The crew is a tattered remnant of perhaps overly-proud locals and an imported commander, Etsul, who had seen action on another planet and gets sent to Cadia to fight part of their war for them. Etsul, however, has an uphill battle. She must deal with a tank crew that is perhaps among the least disciplined she’s run into, despite the fact that they think of themselves as superior due to their being native Cadians.
Meanwhile, the planet is facing a dire threat from a bunch of mutated heretics (see the section below on lore) who have betrayed their people and come under the thrall of an evil warlord. The majority of the book finds Etsul and crew jammed into the tank, fighting against armies of mutants, horrifying enemies, and large armored units even as the commander must try to keep the crew’s morale from imploding.
The story is claustrophobic. You’re stuck in the tank. The crew is stuck in the tank. Even opening a hatch on the tank at times in the novel would be deadly. Their vision is limited, and communication is spotty. They’re cut off and alone in hostile territory. It’s a riveting experience that keeps the action going at a high intensity throughout the book.
For readers who don’t know *adjusts nerd hat a bit, opening notebook,* Warhammer 40K is an incredibly deep world with literally hundreds of novels to its credit. The lore goes as deep as anyone could want, with thousands of years and worlds to play with. There are so many factions that new ones can be invented whole cloth and seamlessly integrated on a whim, due to the hugeness of the world and diversity of possibilities. It’s an intimidating universe to get into, and frankly, for myself, I’m glad I didn’t know how big it was when I started. All of that said, Steel Tread is one of those books you can read fairly well on its own with little knowledge of the wider lore of the universe. While the prayers and mentions of the Omnissiah and other things will make more sense to readers who know some of the lore, there isn’t that much to lose reading this one as an introductory novel. That gives it yet another strength.
Steel Tread is one of the best Warhammer 40K novels I’ve read, and I’ve read dozens. Its intensity is what sells it, but the comradery and hodgepodge band of people working sometimes together and sometimes at odds with each other is what brings it home. Highly recommended.
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