In the Warhammer 40k pantheon, I find Space Marines tremendously dull. Hyper humans in lobster shells with enough firepower to raze a large city block on a whim isn't anything (or anyone) that I can relate to. But flesh and blood ground pounding grunts- that I get.
Henry Zou focus' on the Imperial Guard. This regiment are a light naval unit used for what ends up being an insertion and assault on an asset far from the reach of air or standard naval forces. The leader, Colonel Baeder, is new to the troops. He is far from welcome and though his intentions are well placed, he has yet to earn their respect.
Then the assignment comes in. Typical of the rot of the Imperial rule, Baeder and his riverine troops become pawns in a larger game where blind fealty to the Emperor and the absolute contempt of Chaos becomes blurred.
All in all, I think Mr. Zou is getting there. The ideas are solid, the moral dilemma's presented are worthy story telling and as in any mission of this nature, death is a coin spent as a drunken sailor on shore leave. The shortcomings, in my opinion, are relatively easy to address. One is a personal observation. I expected the riverine troops to be more of a stealth, insertion and sabotage (sapping) variety. Instead they seemed to be more comfortable in light maritime assault instead of stealth.
But the larger problem I had with this book was I simply didn't think the characters were fleshed out enough. And in that, it's a bit of a shame. These troops are pariah's among pariah's. They can't conform to military code, they know their lives are measured in months and each time they survive another fight is another day to drink, cavort and start fights. These troops are fertile ground for developing, for humanizing, but as I finished reading Flesh and Iron, most of the troops seemed to be vehicles for delivering lines instead of the story being developed around them.
Overall, Flesh and Iron is a worthy read. I liked the moral ambiguity and the fact that it ended up about as realistically as one can expect in the Warhammer 40k universe.