I’m not done with the Sabbat Worlds Crusade yet, and nor, apparently, is it done with me. Let’s pick up where the last post left off.

The Archenemy is once again at war for the forge world of Urdesh. That planet has already changed hands multiple times as the balance of power in the Sabbat Worlds has pendulumed back and forth. It’s a lynchpin for the military efforts of both sides, a mineral-rich world equipped with enormous industrial capacity and a highly skilled population which also, unusually for such worlds, is fertile enough to sustain that population and even export sizeable and well-trained military regiments. It’s all output for very little input. Its Imperial defenders are ferociously loyal, its Chaos attackers are deadly determined. The next stage in the great war will be shaped by which way Urdesh falls in this newest war.

That’s where these newest books come in.


“Books”, plural. Dan and I are writing two complementary, interlocking novels covering Warmaster Macaroth’s all-out assault to win back Urdesh once and for all. Dan’s will be Warmaster, the next instalment in the story of Gaunt’s Ghosts. My book, just called Urdesh so far as I know at present, will form part of Black Library’s Space Marine Battles collection. The Space Marines in question are Brother-Captain Priad and four squads of the Iron Snakes of Ithaka, brought to Urdesh to do what they do best. The battles in question, well, we’ll see an awful lot of those as we follow the squads across a broad and complex battlefront, where nothing is quite what it seems to be and especially not…

…but I’d better keep some surprises for the actual book, hey?

A lot of the early work has been in the plotting and worldbuilding, rather than actual manuscript. The casts of the two books are not going to be constantly rubbing shoulders, but they’re in the same strategic theatre on the same world and we don’t want the novels to just sort of float along as though they were literally worlds apart. The world of Urdesh has also been a well-known battleground planet ever since the Ghosts fought beside some of its regiments on Phantine in The Guns of Tanith, and it was important to make it a vivid and memorable world with its own character and sense of place. But so far, the actual writing has been fantastic fun.

The thing is, I’ve written five novels now, and all of them feature protagonists who are consciously designed to not be combat monsters. That doesn’t mean that they’re helpless in a scuffle, but the distinction is there. Sinden Kass in Junktion has a good collection of personal weapons and knows exactly how to handle them, because he lives in a world where you have to, but really he’s a small-town tradesman who just wants to do his job. If he doesn’t have to put his finger on a trigger it’s been a good day. Shira Calpurnia trains hard for combat and gets plenty of chances for that to pay off; she could certainly stomp me in a fight. But I was careful with her fight scenes: she wins by rigging the odds in her favour with strategy, or with smarts or tenacity or by a willingness to fight as nastily as needed to get the job done. She is very deliberately not the kind of action-movie threshing machine who can wipe out ten times her weight in baddies. And Tallie Perrault in Strange Flesh is not a fighter of any kind.

Like I said, it’s a conscious decision. If I create a character who can’t dominate through brute force, it means that in the action scenes that define this part of the genre they can’t prevail simply by wading in with swinging fists or blazing guns. They are forced to find a way around the fight, not through it, and I like what that challenge brings out in the character and the story.

I have no idea who the artist is for this, but if I can find out I’ll attribute it. If you know, why not leave it in the comments?


Then, however, we come to the Space Marines. These guys define that all-conquering archetype I described up above – hell, an Astartes who only wipes out ten times his own weight in enemies isn’t trying. (Now, in my head, a couple of Space Marines have started a Pythonesque argument over whether the ten-times-your-weight takes armour and reactor pack into account. This is how I know it’s coming up on my bedtime.) They are intended to be the finest soldiery and the most feared adversaries in the galaxy. Don’t get me wrong, one of the classic challenges to give these guys is a battle to fight that needs more than just brute force. But I think we can agree that you don’t get a Space Marine Battles book to write and then decree that they’re so outclassed that they just won’t get to fight at all.

Space Marine Battles, ladies and gentlemen. Bolter fire, screaming chainswords, knock-down-drag out two-fisted action. This is going to need a change of gear.

Like I said, I’m still early in the actual writing process, but I’m far enough in to find it exhilarating to run along behind the Iron Snakes as they light the Archenemy up, trying to keep up, being carried along by martial excellence and sheer posthuman power. And of course they’ll be blazing this trail right into the heart of the enemy’s forces only to…

…but no. You’ll need to wait for that. Just trust me, I’m doing my level best to make the wait worth it.

That’s all for Urdesh right now. But this isn’t the only thing I’ve got on. I’ve got some other writing I’m way overdue to talk about. I’ll be back to do something about that as soon as I can.

20 thoughts on “Urdesh

  1. Awesome, awesome stuff. Great praises from Nikola nd Dan himself on your work. I hope – you will do Iron Snakes justice and don’t write them too overpowered 😉 Can’t simply wait for that book. My 10 friends could sign under my every word 🙂

    1. Thank you for the kind words. It’s been great fun so far – I hope I can pass that along to everyone who reads it.

  2. It has been quite some time since I posted on your blog…actually nor have you hence me not returning. I was brought here by the latest youtube video interview of Dan Abnett where you get several mentions both around the Sabbat Crusade anthology…yay…and Urdesh. To say I am psyched is an understatement. You and Dan are, perhaps with Aaron, by a very long margin my favourite BL authors (I have gushed aplenty re the Calpurnia books). To see you actively collaborate to build a universe…well world…is simply awesome. I really cannot wait. Is the intention to release Warmaster and Urdesh at the same time? Any idea on release date yet? Oh and the million dollar question (being greedy now for more Ser Farrer) will there ever be more Calpurnia? Good luck with he writing process cannot wait for the results. Jay.

    1. Hi Jay, good to see you back. It’s a fair cop, though – I was becoming excruciatingly aware of how I’d let the blog slide, and that just put me off coming back to try and do anything with it. It got like Dirk Gently’s fridge after a while. Still, here we both are again anyway, right?

      Thank you very much for the support and the compliments. It makes sense to me to release the two books at the same time, but the actual decisions about that are well out of my hands so I’ll be waiting on the release schedule just like you. I believe our deadlines are simultaneous, for whatever you want to read into that.

      I don’t like to ever say never, but from where I am now I don’t see myself writing any more Shira Calpurnia stories. I’m satisfied with the way those three books tell her story, and I’m satisfied with where the end of the trilogy places her. At that point her most important battle, the one within herself, is over and she’s able to face the future. I have a deep affection for Calpurnia but at this point I’m minded to let her story rest. (Sorry.)

      1. Yes that makes sense. In THAT case can I implore you to pitch BL more “domestic 40k” because the Calpurnia books, along with Eisenhorn, Ravenor and Bequin, show a side to grim dark we sadly do not see enough of. I know this is tie in fiction for a tabletop WARgame but those books that show society away from the front line somehow make it all more real and more like “serious” sci fi (to me at least). Anyhow, really looking forward to Urdesh. I do wonder (and look forward to) how a writer like yourself who has to date shied away from the front line/warzones and is so adept at world building will tackle the BL SMB brief which is basically “space marines” in lots of “battles”. For me, with the exception of Gildar Rift, Helsreach and Legion of the Damned, this series has really been bolter porn. Have complete trust you will be able to give this more dimensions. I wish you a good writing experience.

  3. I commented on Twitter when I saw this news, but color me pleased to see that this is en route. I look forward to seeing how you handle a more combat-driven 40k novel, after how well your stories have illuminated some of the less-frequented corners of the galaxy.

  4. Hi Matt,

    I heard from Dan himself at the Black Library Weekender that you would be writing ‘Urdesh’, an unexpected highlight!

    As Jay mentioned in the previous post, I also think that you and Dan are way ahead of the pack in the BL stable of writers. I’ve said this before, but I am a big fan of Junktion. You made a real human story. Now that I’m older I appreciate my sister and I found that novel so sad, but in a good way. I believed in Sinden Kass and the world he lived in. Great characters and great plot. Showing and not telling. These are why I enjoy books and I’m really excited Dan and yourself are working together.

    And I’m getting good vibes from your philosophical take on Space Marines. I kind of see them like a spice that you have to use just right in the making of a great meal. Too much and its overpowering and to little you won’t notice them. You have to get them just right and you can find out all sorts of things that you wouldn’t expect.

    I’m so glad you are writing this book and I can’t wait to hold it in my hands. And if I post my copy to Australia with a return address and postage would you sign it? Pleeeeease!



    1. Thank you Tom, I really appreciate the kind words. In particular it’s always great to hear people’s reactions to Junktion, which got a much smaller readership than the other books. I’m still proud of it as a story, I’m pleased to have been able to tell it so as to move you in the way it did. Hopefully it’s a trick I’ll be able to pull off again with Urdesh.

      On the signing side: it’s a deal. I have had a few physical letters from readers, as opposed to feedback through various electronic avenues, and I am ashamed to admit that I have not been as conscientious in answering them as those fans deserve. I need to lift my act a bit and do the right thing by my readers. So, let’s lock that in as a promise: if you get your copy to me I give you my word I’ll sign it and return it to you.

      In the past BL have forwarded correspondence they’ve received to me; I’ll check that they still do that and confirm here, since that’ll probably be the easiest way to get it to me.

  5. Matt,
    Just checked your blog (as I infrequently do for all my fave authors) and saw the news about Urdesh. Really looking forward to its release in the new year after your back grounding above.
    While I understand why you are happy to leave Shira behind, can I add another vote to Jay’s call for more ‘slice of life’ stories. They provide a much needed grounding for the setting beyond grim dark and (usually) stretch the authors writing chops.
    Hopefully this will lead to several more novels from you – your work has been missed!

    1. The slice of life, home-front 40K are my favourite things to do in the setting, but they’re a harder pitch nowadays than they used to be. All I can say is “we’ll see”. Well, that and thank you for the kind words.

  6. Matt, there are plenty of people across the various boards who want to see more “slice of life/home front 40k”. The most obvious of these were your Calpurnia books (and Necromunda) and Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn, Ravenor and Bequin books. These somehow seem more, mature! While I enjoy a bit of shooty death kill as much as anyone else AND while I acknowledge that basically W40k is a setting designed to sell toy soldiers, it is a shame this is now a harder pitch.

    I suspect, nothing to back this up really except my own experience, that more mature readers who are no longer actively playing W40k but love the setting, are the ones who particularly enjoy this “domestic 40k”. Mainly because it adds more dimensions to an already amazingly well developed sci fi setting.

    Authors like Dan who are good at world building manage to combine some domestic insight with the warfare (the Gaunt’s Ghost novels for example) but most working for BL focus on the war (some of which is great).

    So I really wish BL and GW realised that they could extend the length of time their fanbase may continue to spend money with them by embracing a broader view of the surrounding materials (I for example still buy every codex and background book because I love the fluff – but it has been nearly 20 years since I last bought a figure and painted it).

    I guess it may also be that “slice of life/home front 40k” novels have not sold as well?

    Anyhow, please keep pitching “slice of life/home front 40k” so the setting can continue to be multi dimensional.

  7. Hi Matt, how are things with Urdesh supplementary book? Is it still going? Or it was cancelled with Dan’s ‘Warmaster’?
    Hope that’s not the case, cause it should have been great. After the ‘Kings’ duology i cant simply wait for your SMB book.

  8. Hi there Jay and Boris (and anyone else who has stuck through the long silent months since I last wrote anything here). Thanks for checking in.

    The Urdesh book is still in progress – I have the manuscript open in another window even as I write this, in fact. It certainly hasn’t been cancelled (hell, it better not have been, I’m kind of counting on it to pay for the new deck that’s being built at the moment). It has been slowed, though, and repeatedly, by other deadlines and some family situations. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve written, though, and with how the story is unfolding; Dan has read the first half of the MS and pronounced himself happy with it. I couldn’t get it to you when I wanted to, but I think I can at least make it worth the wait.

  9. At the risk of coming across like a virtual stalker (I am back again!)

    Is the plan to still release Warmaster and Urdesh at the same time? If so any target date in mind at present?

    Also just this morning finished The Inheritor King. Awesome. Seriously awesome. With your writing I always find it initially hard to get into but know it is worth it to persevere. I think it is due to the level of world building you do meaning at first what you read feels somewhat alien to my 21st century sensibilities. But THAT is the point and the value of your work…it is deep and convoluted and involved. Once I “got it” and my head accepted the way you were portraying the inner workings (literally) of the Magos it was extremely compelling and rewarding.

    So a simple thank you from me for another mature slice of 40k that really challenged me but was so very worth it. Really enjoyed it and love the three way spin on the way the Mechanicus have to view creation!

  10. Hi Matthew, just wanted to thank you for all your great stories and give you some info you’re asking on that Iron Snakes picture: the artist is Paul Dainton and it was first shown in “Inferno!” magazine, issue 18, accompanying the Iron Snakes short story “White Heat”.

    I can’t wait for more Snakes!

    1. Thanks Augur! I remembered Paul’s colour cover art of the Snakes for INFERNO! (I even had a story in that issue, from memory) but that piece obviously slipped my memory.

      More Snakes are on the way. Dan and I are working on the fine points of the Urdesh/Warmaster connections at the moment – I think it’s going to turn out pretty well.

  11. Saw in the recent BL preview that Urdesh is finally coming up for release later this year. Hallelujah!
    By and by, those slice of life stories may be back in favour now they have the Warhammer Crime imprint up and running. You (and Shira) were ahead of the times it seems.

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