Monday, 29 April 2013

The Horus Heresy thus far Review: By Allen Ward & Andrew Babcock

ALlen: A series of recent policy changes by the Black Library have meant it will be a number of months before I read Angel Exterminatus Betrayer or Mark of Calth (the Mass Market Paperback is not out til August and I’m not wrecking the uniformity of my bookshelf for ANYONE). This therefore seemed like an opportune moment to take stock and summarise the series thus far and maybe look at the future. Myself and the esteemed Mr. Babcock will discuss this and more in a transatlantic Hour Heresy overview....

Mr. B: After 7 years, 24 novels, some collected works, and many more stories and audio dramas, the Horus Heresy series is alive and strong. Each story has a unique perspective as they’re written in a pseudo-historical sense where the reader knows that Horus and his fall into the grips of Chaos creates the world of the game Warhammer 40,000, so each novel must present itself in the light of a “Warhammer 30,000” universe. My favourite part of the series, and much of its appeal no doubt, is the glimpse of the Space Marine Primarchs shared through the multifarious viewpoints of lesser Space Marines, Imperial soldiers, and the “Remembrancers” or civilian crew following the many arms of the Great Crusade so that they may spread the news and glory of this achievement back to humanity.

ALlen: I agree that the Horus Heresy series has done much to expand our knowledge of this period of the 40K universe. The Remembrancers are one of my favourite new additions, the idea that humans are assigned by the Emperor to catalogue and record the Great Crusade. This allows for a human element to the series that may have otherwise been missing as these books are very power armoured centric (understandably) Space Marines can actually become very boring if not supported with other characters, although the Astartes characterisation in the Heresy series is better than in most books. The Primarchs are also a large part of the series and it is fair to say we are now blessed with more information on the Primarchs than ever, sometimes with multiple authors giving different perspectives on each Primarch. Again there has been some great characterisation of the Primarchs and their various triumphs (and falls) been documented here like never before. There have been some great books, some good books, and some books that frankly probably should have not been printed, we're going to cover them all here. 

So here we go! I've read every single novel that the Heresy has to offer and Babbers has read all but the very latest few so allow us to present you: the Horus Heresy Thus Far.

Opening Salvoes:

Mr.B: The entire Horus Heresy series opened with a bang in 2006 with a trilogy of books: Horus Rising, False Gods, and Galaxy in Flames. These mainly follow Garviel Loken, a Luna Wolves captain raised into the hallowed ranks of the Mournival, which is an advisory council for the newly crowned Warmaster of the Crusade, Horus Lupercal. These three books are required reading, it’s that simple. The authors for these three novels (Dan Abnett, Graham McNeilll, and Ben Counter) really scripted the events and characters evenly, so there is little differentiation in behaviour or voice between novels. This opening trilogy is a real testament to the spirit and energy behind the team of creative geniuses the Black Library holds in its pens (pun intended). The so-called High Lords of Terra seem to hold regular meetings together in order to brainstorm and plan the series very well. It’s almost as if they were planning a long term galactic siege of an ancient planet…

ALlen: I loved the 'Loken Trilogy.' I almost consider these first three books as one entry despite being written by different authors. You can tell that they were written with a lot of mutual collaboration. Horus Rising, although perhaps an unexpected and understated opener-offering was well written and Abnett was a good choice to begin the series. Action takes a backseat for the most part as characters are established and the central foundations of the Crusade are laid down. This largely unexplored period of 40k history being fleshed out chapter by chapter. It’s really weird reading a series where the concept of Chaos is completely unknown. The idea of an Astartes turning on a battle brother is palpably written as anathema to them, and Daemons (even if they are not known as such) are something they can barely deal with . It’s somewhat refreshing having this liberation from the normal 40K tropes, which goes a long way to setting these books apart from all other Black Library series.

False Gods steps things up as Horus is gravely injured leading the Mournival into making a decision on which the fate of the entire galaxy will depend. This was actually the first time I was a little disappointed with events in the series. I could live with the idea that Horus wasn't the first to encounter the Chaos Gods and ultimately it is Horus's own decision to turn his coat, but the circumstances of his corruption somewhat diminishes the character somewhat. I can see that they were trying to portray the good in the Warmaster to add another dimension to his character, but I still couldn't see why he couldn't just want power and take it. That said, I felt much the same about the Star Wars prequels and Darth Vader’s turning to the Dark Side and I never got over that either (yeah I just compared the Warmaster to Hayden Christensen, sacrilege I know, but deal with it). That said I really liked some of the themes being presented as the Emperor’s intention to create a grand enlightened Imperium free of theistic beliefs and cults unravels despite his best efforts. Elsewhere, Horus' conflict as the title of Warmaster weighs heavily on him is well explored and this goes some way to mitigating the circumstances of his betrayal.

Galaxy in Flames is the first real epic of the series as the proverbial shit hits the fan when brother turns on brother and the legions that have turned traitor expunge the loyalist portions amongst them. Some truly devastating consequences unfurl as the first great act of betrayal at Istvaan is brought to life in horrific and vivid detail. Allegiances and bonds are shattered and the sense of escalation is profound and brutal. By far the most action packed of the Loken Trilogy, it is a non-stop ride of treachery, travesty, and slaughter on a planetary scale.  There are some really memorable scenes and the chaos (if you'll excuse the use of the word)  is very well portrayed as Horus finally makes his play. It’s such a satisfying end to the opening trilogy and the kind of thing that would work really well as the end to a first film if fans’ dreams were ever to be realised and the book series make it onto the big screen.

The stage gets set here in a near perfect fashion. The first line of the series is something along the likes of, “I was there the day Horus slew the Emperor,” deliciously foreshadowing the entire Heresy itself with a tale of a false emperor. The invention of the Remembrancers is a great addition as a viewpoint and something the post-human Astartes are learning to adjust to their involvement as the series opens. We really get to see some of the chief revolutionaries in these tales: a great deal of Horus, Fulgrim, Angron, Mortarion, Abaddon, Eidolon, Fabius Bile, Lucius, and the wish-there-was-a-better-word-than-evil Erebus.

It’s also unique to think of the way things are established for this WH 30K universe. The Astartes legions are huge, huge, HUGE. The Ultramarines number in the hundreds of thousands. Primarchs, commanders, and space marines are inexperienced or completely oblivious to the forces of chaos or the existence of daemons. Imperial society is built upon science and progress. Religion, especially divine aspects of the Emperor are frowned upon or openly spurned as superstitious babble. Then there’s the horror of betrayal after betrayal that feel real and world-ending to the characters involved. It’s like these guys didn’t realize that Horus was a bad guy…    oh.


Mr.B: After Galaxy in Flames, the gig is up. Heresy and revolution are in the works, but only a very small part of the Imperium is in the know, so we start to gather various viewpoints from around the galaxy. The Flight of the Eisenstein brings word back to Terra of Horus’ crime, Fulgrim explores the story of the Emperor’s Children as well as their perfectionist and depraved Primarch, Descent of Angels introduces the world of Caliban and the Dark Angels, Legion explores the mysteries of the Alpha Legion, Battle for the Abyss starts the conflict between the Word Bearers and the Ultramarines, and Mechanicum blasts the priests of Mars into full conflict as schisms build and divide the worlds of men.

Descent of Angels and Battle for the Abyss were nearly unmemorable for me. I can see them on my shelf and I know I slogged through them, but I cannot tell you who those stories revolve around. I have a glimpse in my mind of a Dark Angel working his way up through the ranks and some space marines fighting on a huge ship called the Abyss. These were the first duds of the series.

Fulgrim and Legion on the other hand are FANTASTIC. Both novels cement themselves as deeply as possible within their Astartes chapter; you get the full treatment of life within the Emperor’s Children and the closest glimpse of who exactly the Alpha Legion are. It’s actually hard to discuss these two novels without blowing the huge events and colossal secrets revealed within their pages. Want a marathon of epic? Read Fulgrim. Want a mystery wrapped in an enigma? Read Legion. I cannot go on any further.

ALlen: Totally agree with DOA (an oddly fitting acronym, no?) and BFTA. Both snorefests. Descent of Angels pretty much ensured Mitchell Scanlon never wrote for the Horus Heresy again. It was a horrifically dull experience that tried to tell of the early days of Caliban, but merely ensured it to be one of the poorest books in the series. I remember Battle for the Abyss having some average bolterporn and decent boarding sequences, but still nothing to recommend it over other entries. Perhaps the fact that it technically precedes the far superior Know No Fear gives you a reason to check it out, but I consider it eminently skippable. I almost consider Flight of the Eisenstien to be a part of the Loken Trilogy as it deals so directly with the aftermath of the Istvaan Massacre (the first one). There are some great elements to it; a real fight or flight aspect permeates the book and the sequence as the Eisentein is attacked in the warp is outstanding as the Nurgle Daemons finally make an appearance. It’s also the start of a whole sub plot within the Heresy which is still being heavily explored to this day, most recently with anthology Mark of Calth so it’s definitely one to read.

Things do escalate somewhat in Fulgrim, a delightful portrayal of the Emperor Childrens Primarch’s descent into madness, effectively told from a refreshingly human perspective by Graham McNeill thanks to Fulgrim’s chief remembrancer. It’s a bit twisted and dark, but since when was that a bad thing?! It also deals with the first instance of Primarchicide (yeah its a word now). Fulgrim is a great book full stop that really explores the relationship and strong bonds between two brothers and the different paths they take that tear a schism between them. It’s maybe the first true GREAT book of the series. So much happens within its pages and Babbers is absolutely right to call it an epic. The back section dealing with the drop pod assault would make the book worth reading alone. Dan Abnett’s follow up, Legion, was even better (DOA came in between, but I pretend it doesn’t exist) as it’s the first time we really see the Astartes being covert as the Alpha Legion’s nature is fully laid bare. Some fascinating concepts are presented and explored and it becomes clear that the Alpha Legion specialises in deception and espionage as their status quo. The books double whammy of revelations at the climax takes nothing away from what comes before, but also overshadows it entirely. Jaws dropped.

Mechanicum was another first in the Heresy series as Graham McNeill dove into events on Mars exploring the origins of the Dark Mechanicum. As with Fulgrim, he keeps a human perspective in this largely Astartes-free outing. Some might describe it as filler, but I found it fascinating to have this facet of the Imperium explored as Horus corrupts Mars to gain access to the war-machines and supplies he will need in his march to Terra. More of an oddity than anything else, Mechanicum still sits in the upper side of the scale of Heresy books, quality wise, and I'd quite like to see it explored further at some point outside of short stories.

I’m also adding Tales of Heresy into this section, the first of the collected short story books. Amongst the short stories, only a few stood out although all of them were at least readable. Abnett's Blood Games was a cool story, Wolf at the Door was shocking and brutal, and After Desh’ea was fantastic giving us a first look at both Angron and Kharn. It starkly portrayed the World Eaters’ Primarch’s savage fury and asked what would become of the World Eater marines when they met their Primarch for the first time.

Phase 2
Mr B: We’re currently entrenched in the middle of what I’d call Phase 2 of the Horus Heresy. Bad things are happening all around, some know, some don’t, and everyone’s going to be a part sooner or later. This is different from Phase 3 because then all the lines will be drawn and the major conflict will be on the horizon. No one’s near the Siege of Terra now, so we’re in Phase 2.

To open, let’s discuss the duology novels: A Thousand Sons and Prospero Burns.
Of course now we really get down to the nitty-gritty, the whole reason why these two legions hate each other, what created two forever-rivals from this moment onwards: the destruction of Prospero. Graham McNeill does a fantastic job with the Thousand Sons, especially the seemingly good and caring Ahzek Ahriman. Magnus is awesome, of course, but the sorcerous details of the Thousand Sons felt on-key and correct, I loved it. The whole first chapter of Prospero Burns with Abnett’s display of life on Fenris is absolutely gripping. It’s an immensely visceral read.

The end of A Thousand Sons felt very constrained and got me thinking. I wonder if the pre-determined outcomes are hindering authors in the series. Prior to the fight with Leman Russ, Magnus is penitent, so downtrodden by the realization of his actions that his final act seems sudden and arbitrary. Graham McNeill does such a good job at building Magnus’ character that the pre-determined outcome, the fact that we knew there would be a duel between Russ and Magnus and then some sort of sorcerous escape to the Eye of Terror, felt too Deus Ex Machina to me and required a lighter touch in my opinion. For example, Mr. McNeill gets free reign to fill in some of the details as he explores the triumph at Ullanor, the Council of Nikaea, and Magnus’ intrusion at the Golden Throne and each of those scenes are striking parts of this book. If the author were allowed to let their story flow the way it could have, then there might have been a grander confrontation at the end and a more satisfactory outcome. There’s been a change in the Black Library release schedule, I wonder if they’re moving novels around and changing things to allow for this sort of freedom?

ALlen: I really liked A Thousand Sons. I thought McNeill did a great job of fleshing out Magnus's legion, I loved the different sects he established, and his description of the way psychic powers worked. I felt he brought a lot more to the series overall than many of his peers (but then, of course, he has written the most books). Again, using remembrancers heavily, i felt McNeil really brought home the anguish Magnus feels as the attempt to warn the Emperor brings everything to ruin. I've ALWAYS felt that Magnus's fall was the most tragic of ALL the Primarchs and I thought Graham nailed it. There’s some great telling of the Council at Nikaea as well, the Emperor’s arrival portrayed in particularly flamboyant style.

Prospero Burns, however, although well written, really did come across as false advertising to me.  They would have been better off sticking with the subtitle: The Wolves Unleashed. Abnett does just as good a job of fleshing out the Legion he is saddled with, but his telling of the destruction of the home of the Thousand Sons is rushed and limited to about 40 pages. It’s very traditional Abnett with lots of build up and a frantic ending, but Prospero really took a backseat in my eyes and even the famous Abnett 'twist' left me cold. Abnett was going through some serious personal issues at the time (Prospero Burns was heavily delayed), so he gets a free pass from me on this one. What is there is very, very good and the denizens of Fenris are explored as never before as Abnett really hammers home the 'Norse in Space' aspects whilst still making them his own. It’s just a shame that the actual sacking of Prospero is dealt with in such an offhand and secondary manner.

Mr. B: Yes, Prospero Burns goes off in a scattering of directions. I re-read the book recently and I think it suffers from both Mr. Abnett’s delay (mid-life diagnosis of epilepsy ruined his 2010) and the fact that it’s not the book that the reader expects it to be. From the title, you expect this this novel to be a full-scale, scorched-earth telling of the Wolves ripping Prospero apart. What the novel actually is about is the secret war between the Space Wolves Rune Priests and the Thousand Sons Sorcerers – and yet the story isn’t about that at all. It’s a tale of identity – who is Kasper Hawser? Who are the Space Wolves in relation to the other chapters? Who are the Thousand Sons and what would they do to gain the most important part of warfare: information? The book goes on several meta-physical trips to explore all of that and leaves the expected slaughterfest behind. Again, the few chapters on Fenris are enough action for the whole book in my opinion. The book’s main letdown is that it doesn’t deliver the scene on its awesome cover art.

Nemesis is a romping good story. Have you ever wanted to see one of each of the temples of the Officio Assassinorum send an agent to kill a traitor? How about forming a kill-team of deadly assassins to take down Horus? It’s those kinds of scenarios and the real glut of action in Nemesis that keeps me coming back to Black Library novels and the Horus Heresy. It’s not a space marine book, but that makes it a great change of pace for the series as a whole.

ALlen: Nemesis was a decent distraction, I felt. A very cinematic distraction it must be said, it really was a dirty dozen (well quartet) style affair and, although some characters were given short shrift in the attention stakes, it rattled along nicely enough even if the whole thing did feel really superfluous. Punchy and with a decent climax, but it didn’t really stick in the memory for me.

Mr. B: The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden deserves great praise for exploring some of the space and history of one of the murkier chapters of the Heresy through Lorgar and the Word Bearers. I think it comes to no one’s great surprise that Lorgar’s need to find a deity worthy of his worship drove him into the Chaos Gods, but the full depravity and sensation of skipping over the line while singing a jaunty tune that goes into this novel is a thrill. I really love when we get to see some of the more obscure chapters and their Primarchs, so the battle of Istvaan with Konrad Curze, Lorgar, and Corax was exhilarating.

ALlen: The First Heretic I REALLY enjoyed. Goes straight up into the top 5 of books for me with so many great sequences and I wish all books in the series met that standard. I think this was Dembski-Bowden’s first Heresy book and probably the most Custodes heavy entry in the series. This book really had it all: some great action scenes, characterful protagonists, included (as Babbers has said) a plethora of Primarchs, and a fantastic plot that meant once I picked this book up I devoured it. It also has some great building of characters and relationships that make the final scenes all that more stark and powerful.

Mr. B: I do wish I had picked up Deliverance Lost prior to this review. Gav Thorpe isn’t one of my favorite writers, but his Warhammer novels are great,so I’d like to see his take on the Raven Guard. They’re a favourite of mine from a fluff perspective and I cannot flog myself enough for not having picked it up yet.

Know No Fear, which is promised to be a part one of the Word Bearers’s campaign against the Ultramarines, got some great action and treatment by Dan Abnett. I had some serious concerns about the boys in blue in WH 30K, but Señor Abnett did his homework. The Ults are passably Grecian-Romano, stiff about the edges, and I didn’t hate Guilliman. I really loved the structure of this story, but I went on and on about that in my blog (yes, shameless plug).

ALlen: You should definitely check out Deliverance Lost, Mr. Babcock. Although it has one or two annoying niggles, it is one of the better books. Thorpe does a great job of portraying Corax’s desperate efforts to rebuild his legion after the devastation suffered at Istvaan. Some of the characterisation is off, something that has been commented on in many a review - his attempt to portray maybe the most important character of all, The Emperor, comes off a bit flat. Weirdness and oddness aside there are loads of action to go with an excellent telling of the misfortune to fall the Raven Guard, partly brought about from within as malign forces seek to ensure Corax’s failure.

Know No Fear is EXCELLENT. I definitely recommend this one. Destruction and action on an immense scale abound as the Word Bearers devastate Calth. This is one of my favourite Abnett Heresy entries (up there with Legion) and totally restored my faith after the disappointing Prospero Burns. Know No Fear also seems to be an important book in the grand scheme of things, a branching novel that will have many associated books to accompany it and even a planned graphic novel, no less. That’s not bad seeing as the Ultramarines were no more than a footnote in the original Horus Heresy lore. It’s an excellent book and grand in its scale. Well worth checking out.

Mr. B: As I type this up, I’m only about 150 pages into Fear to Tread, but I’m really enjoying the positioning and voice of the Blood Angels and Sanguinius. They’ve got the same grandeur as the Emperor’s Children in Fulgrim, but more practicality. James Swallow also wrote Nemesis, so I think he’ll do the Bloodies right.

I did an extensive review on Fear to Tread, but suffice to say it didn't really impress me. Swallow showed a lack of awareness for the era in which he was writing, worked in a hideous retcon, wrote two of the most ridiculous villains ever to be committed to paper, and also failed to manage “epic” without resorting to “bombastic.” That said, it’s not a total write off and does have one or two redeeming values, it is at least more memorable than DOA or BFTA.  A mediocre book overall, I thought the Blood Angels deserved better.

It was better than The Primarchs however, that was an abomination of a book and easily the most disappointed I have read thus far in the series. McNeill seems to totally lose the plot with his effort for Fulgrim,The Reflection Crack'd,’ although it started off promisingly enough. Ferrus Manus is portrayed as an unlikeable imbecile (spoiler alert!) making you quite glad he is dead. Rob Sanders failed to do justice to the Alpha Legion with ‘The Serpent Beneath,’ a largely forgettable tale made to look competent only due to the poor quality of what has preceded it. In fact, it is Thorpe’s 'The Lion' that comes off best out of this anthology, at least maintaining your attention for its duration. (Seriously, the Iron Hands story took me three attempts to get through)

This leaves just a few books that haven't been discussed. One of these is Outcast Dead, much maligned amongst the community for having the MOTHER of all continuity errors. The book itself is not too bad. A group of Astartes are locked up for being members of the traitor legions or delinquents in general, although their actual loyalty is undetermined. Needless to say, they escape (when have Astartes EVER been forcibly detained successfully?) in a well written sequence. However, the actual crux of the story is Kai Zulane, an astropath dealing with incredible levels of guilt and becomes privy to a secret that could alter the course of the whole Heresy. From here on out it becomes a bit of a chase story as the outcasts meet up with the astropath and attempt to get him off Terra. There are a few nice surprises and even a Thunderwarrior (Pre-Astartes superhuman) turns up at one point. The book never really becomes more than the sum of its parts however, even if it does break new ground by breaking away from established heresy lore and introducing many concepts of its own including the mysterious Cabal. A decent effort, but nothing amazing.

Also to be discussed are another two collected stories books, Age of Darkness and Shadows of Treachery. I really like most of the short stories that have come from the Horus Heresy, there have been some real strong entries. Age of Darkness contains a few of these and one is ‘Iron Within.’ Even within the traitor legions loyalist elements remain and this short story tells of a Warsmith fending off against his brothers as they attempt to destroy his small force. Elsewhere, there are a few character pieces. Chris Wraight, in what I figure must be one of his first stories, takes on Kharn the Betrayer and Abnett sheds more light on 'Little Horus.'

Shadows of Treachery deserves mention as it is the first book to feature what had previously only been available in audio format in print. Outside of these short stories are a couple of gripping novella length entries, one dealing with the Imperial Fist retribution fleet sent to take down Horus at Istvaan  and the other telling of the Night Lords functioning without the guidance of their Primarch under the command of 'The Prince of Crows.'

So to the Future: Well, already published are Betrayer and Angel Exterminatus, due in Paperback in June and August respectively. Black Library is being incredibly coy about its Heresy lineup, we know that the Ultramarines war against the Word Bearers on Calth is taking centre stage with another short story anthology, Mark of Calth. Also on the horizon is another version of the Visions of Heresy book, allegedly due to be updated with new material. A graphic novel focused around Ultramarines vs. Word Bearers is also due at some point. In fact, for what was originally only a subtext in the grand scheme of the Heresy, the Ultramarines have been a point of much focus here as a whole section of the Heresy series seems to be put aside just for them. There is even a book coming out called Unremembered Empire which is rumoured to tell of Guilliman’s plan to reconstruct the Imperium if the Emperor were presumed dead and Sanguinius heralded the new as the Master of Mankind, although it would remain to see if that will be as any more than a figurehead. It’s certainly an interesting concept and should allow the author (whoever that may be) free narrative reign unburdened by the yoke of established fiction. There are also a few audio books coming out including 'The Sigilite' by Chris Wraight.

Further afield, it is Amazon that yields answers. Although the “Coming Soon” section of the Black Library website is barren of information, a quick search reveals two titles: Vulkan Lives and Censure, both by Nick Kyme due for release around October. Censure is an audio book and Vulkan Lives is listed as a paperback. So the Salamanders will be heading to the Horus Heresy at last (barring a couple of short stories and the Ltd edition ‘Promethean Sun').

Ah yes, the Ltd Editions. I HATE these. Seriously. Making a premium version of something and making it more expensive? That’s fine. Making it the ONLY way you can obtain this material? Not so cool. Presumably this material will become eventually available in another format, but it’s been quite some time now and no sign thus far of seeing ‘Promethean Sun’ on a larger scale. Obviously what started as a desire to flesh out the Horus Heresy as it is THE single grandest event in the 40K background has become so much more over time. It is now a bonafide franchise for the Black Library and Games Workshop. The books are regularly New York Times Bestsellers and the series has reached a much larger audience than may have initially been thought possible.

Mr. B: With you 1000% on the Ltd Editions. I have no issue with limited print runs and deluxe versions, but that fact that some of these stories aren’t rumoured to come out in another collected short work is a bit off-putting. Some basic GW cash grab tactics, amiright? Vulkan Lives intrigues me, but only if the Salamanders actually have interaction with another chapter. They’re the little loners of the Astartes so far, the clique no one wanted to play with and that’s weird.

Other legions that I want to see get a novel: White Scars, Imperial Fists, Night Lords, Iron Hands, and the Death Guard again. The White Scars have a unique position as both a loyalist legion and having a key role in the Siege of Terra (which often gets overlooked in fending off the traitors) and I want to know what the Khan is up to on the other side of the Galaxy. Rogal Dorn has only had cameo appearances thus far and I’d like a look back at his legion and how they were founded and grew, maybe something about the battle to bring Necromunda into the Imperium and their rivalry with the Iron Warriors.

I think the Night Lords are getting some short story support I haven’t read yet, but something needs to be written on Konrad Curze and why none of the other Primarchs took a liking to him. Mr. Dembski-Bowden could probably explore that quite well. The Iron Hands get hosed by the series for some obvious reasons (see: Fulgrim), but they must have had some heroic actions. The best parts involving them so far are the many stories of Ferrus constructing weapons for his brothers on Terra. Just put together 20 (ahem, 18) stories of that, right? Then I’d also like to see a little more of the Death Guard, definitely some more Mortarion. He shows up in the Loken Trilogy and in A Thousand Sons as an opponent of the use of Librarians, but his motivations and decision to join the Heresy are up in smoke. It seemed to me that he joins Horus in Galaxy in Flames just because the Warmaster told him to – I want more.

But really, who doesn’t?

ALlen: So after 24 novels, a handful of audio books and a few (spit) Ltd Edition Novellas, where are we with the Horus Heresy? Out of 18 legions, the majority have been featured in some capacity or another.  Those that haven’t are absent only because they have not featured chronologically in the narrative or just never really featured a great deal in the Heresy at all. As we have seen with the Ultramarines, this can be changed easily enough. Both Istvaan massacres are out of the way and the slow march to Terra can finally begin (not that I would expect the series to end any time in the next dozen books or so). The Black Library has already demonstrated that they are not averse to looking outside of established lore in the name of additional material. Surely the very Siege of Terra itself will comprise a half dozen or so books, such is the scale of the engagement.

And who is to say the series will end with the Siege of Terra? I doubt very much that it was the case that the traitor legions vanished upon Horus's destruction. Even after the aftermath of the Heresy is documented, will they touch upon the creation of the Codex Astartes? The fates of many of the Primarchs will also be ripe for use as material for further books. Even after the Heresy ends I have no doubt that this series of books will continue. The timeline of 40k is a stagnant one, in 5 editions of the game (I’m not counting Rogue Trader) events have barely shifted, and although the latest books speak of Age of Ending little is changing in the grand scheme of things. This makes the Heresy Era an absolute goldmine and if the authors can establish further identity for this time I can see additional material on a nearly unlimited scale still to come.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Space Marine Battles Book Review: Architect of Fate

​Architect of Fate ​ by Various Authors

It's fair to say that the Space Marine Battle series has been somewhat hit and miss. We've some outstanding books like Battle of the Fang and some absolute stinkers such as Hunt for Voldorius, the rest have been decidedly average with some faring better than others. With Architect of Fate we have four short stories based around a single protagonist Karios Fateweaver, chosen of Tzeentch. Set in the area surrounding the Eye of Terror, it tells of the Adeptus Astartes efforts to contain the Chaos forces spilling from the Eye and Fateweaver's machinations therein. The potential is there but can the reality really make for a coherent and gripping story?
  I must admit my heart sank somewhat when i saw that the first installment Accursed Eternity was penned by Sarah Cawkwell, i really struggled through her Silver Dulls (sorry Skulls) book The Gildar Rift finding it to be wholly unengaging and inconsistent, and the less said about the James Bond ending the better. That said i did find Accursed Eternity an improvement even though it is still a slog at times. Coming across like Event Horizon meets a bad episode of Star Trek, i found the prose whilst competent enough to be uninspiring and will-sapping and the story and twist such as it is, clumsily handled. The protagonists themselves, the Star Dragons, are no more interesting than the Silvers Skulls and the 'Inquisitor - by - numbers' is equally forgettable. Some of the action is ok though and the story is by no means unreadable, it just requires more effort than it should.

   Next up is Darius Hinks Relictors story, immediately more promising, he establishes mystery at the start that gives a reason to keep reading and the Relictors are far more identifiable than Cawkwells Star Dragons. With the advantage of pre established background their eternal hunt for lost and forbidden artifacts brings them dangerously close to being labelled heretics even as they use the same relics in a quest for redemption. With a snappy pace and only a couple of sections which drag slightly, the tale of the Relictors trying to reach a fabled artifact before an Inquisitor unleashes Exterminatus upon a doomed world is compelling. Unfortunately the end is not as strong as the rest and outstays its welcome somewhat even if it is tied up more competently than its predecessor.
Endeavour of Will by Ben Counter is the next offering, Counter is another author that i have had issues with in the past, particularly with his Soul Drinkers series.  Although i must confess to having only read the first three books, i found the Soul Drinkers to be of odd characterization and the books in general to be a little far fetched. Thankfully Endeavour of Will is a straight up action story as the Iron Warriors attempt to seize the titular Star Fort defended by Captain Lysander and his small force of Imperial Fists. Yet again Counter insists upon the marine forces (Lysander in particular) doing some wholly uncharacteristic things, but the prose is well balanced between the descriptive and the action packed and if you ignore the talking Star Forts (yes really) and the frankly stupid climax it's an absorbing enough read that rattles by comfortably enough.

Which leads us to Fateweaver, despite having by far the smallest page count amongst the featured novella, John French somehow manages to not only tie together the narrative across the story as a whole, but also produces a well written fast paced tale as the White Consuls investigate a distress call from an astropathic relay station only to be caught up in a Chaos attack. Whilst not perfect (none of the stories within Architect of Fate are) it provides a strong sense of completion to matters and i found it to be an engaging and satisfying read.
So that's it, overall Architect of Fate isn't bad, its, average, sits around the middle of the scale of quality.
Certainly its no threat to the best book in the series, Chris Wraights Battle of the Fang. I enjoyed the setting and the impoverished and attrition struck nature of the Adeptus Astartes chapters featured within, and although for the most part Karios Fateweaver is a peripheral character the narrative gels quite well. I am hoping for better from the next Space Marine Battles book though, Wrath of Iron, by a certain Chris Wraight.... hmmm..... 

3 Talking Star Forts out of 5: Al

Space Marine Battles Book Review: Legion of the Damned By Rob Sanders

Having not read any of Rob Sanders novels before i was quite eager for his take on what is certainly one of the most mysterious of all Space Marine chapters. In fact it appears that Sanders has thrown us a bit of a curveball, although the fabled Legion do feature in this book (albeit in the same way Prospero features in Prospero Burns) the story is in the main about the Exoricators, a flagellating chapter on the brink of destruction, ravaged and desperate and at each others throats. Their only hope lies in one amongst their ranks they revile. Dishonoured and marked pariah, it is up to this most unlikely of figures to guide this 'legion of the damned' to salvation or certain destruction.

I must say i enjoyed this book, Sanders portrayal of this 'Chapter on the edge' is compelling and some minor odd characterizations aside, it is refreshing to see the Emperors finest imagined with such imperfections and vulnerability whilst still being mighty warriors. The action is well paced and no part of the book really drags. the other characters in the book although not explored as deeply are done well for their part and the plight of a cemetery world before an approaching all consuming chaos horde is believable and identifiable.

As previously mentioned, a few of the actions and events are a little off kilter and require a little charity from the reader. these oddities are easily forgivable however, when measured against the quality of what is on offer here. In summary then, a solid read.

Swords are crossed blood is shed and the much mooted identity of the Phantasmic Legion of the Damned is finally laid to rest (no surprises here really.)

Not the best of the Space Marine Battle novels but certainly amongst the better of them.

Verdict: 4 fire wreathed skulls out of 5: Al

Space Marine Battles Book review: Wrath of Iron

​Wrath of Iron By Chris Wraight

After a string of mediocre installments i was expecting Wrath of Iron to herald an upturn in the quality of the Space Marine Battles series.

Chris Wraights last book Battle of the Fang was one of the highlights of the series and i was hoping for more of the same from Wrath of Iron, Focusing upon the Iron Hands, who thanks to the Horus Heresy series have enjoyed a rather more prominent profile in recent years. Wraight does a good job of fleshing the Iron Hands out further, although 'fleshing them out' ironically is the wrong term given their predilection towards bionic enhancement/replacement. It is this concept that forms the core of the book as the Iron Hands eschew their (super)humanity and embrace the machine in an endless quest for perfection, purging the weakness of the flesh and supposedly emulating their Primarch. Set against a backdrop of an assault on a corrupted hive city, mortals are callously sacrificed as the Astartes relentlessly pursue their objective.
   The uncaring nature of the Marine Commander Rauth  is perhaps focused upon a little too much although it certainly continues the template of disregard to mortals set in Nick Kymes short story  'Feat of Iron' in the Horus Heresy book 'The Primarchs'( a book i found to be rather underwhelming in all honesty). Still the concept of Astartes role in the imperium as to regards of being Humanity's protectors or uncaring instruments of the Emperors wrath has been handled with much more grace previously in Steve Parker's  'Rynns World', the first book in  the Space Marine Battle series.

The cast of Wrath of Iron comprises of Three Space marines, (a full Clan - roughly a company - is in action but only three marines are focused on and i believe only a handful are even named) a death cult assassin, and a number of human miltary figures. These include your usual general, Commissar and Titan Princeps with a couple of resistance fighters inside the hive thrown in for good measure. The general Nethat is probably the only one of these of real note. A foil for Rauths callousness, he resents the way his men are being wasted and Rauths brutally efficient methods.
This sets up an interesting dynamic which unfortunately never feels like it is explored to its fullest potential Wraight does do a decent job of wrestling with this fairly expansive cast and the different subplots that they all present. The action, unsurprisingly, is well written without becoming gratuitous bolter porn and the emphasis is certainly upon the nature of the Iron Hands and their method of war. As you read Wrath of Iron however you will probably notice that opportunities are missed in the narrative to bestow a more epic feel to proceedings, something this book lacks.
Nothing about the story really stands out, it seems to be a fairly standard action by the scions of Manus (although the climax reveals a rather more grandiose aspect to affairs) Despite the rather pedestrian nature of events in the book the focus of the story is, as i have said, the Iron Hands themselves.
Are they losing their humanity as they become more and more reliant  on their bionic parts? Aspiring to the perfection they feel their Primarch symbolised (although it is revealed early on that Manus in fact wished to cure his condition) certainly the Iron Hands in this book are painted more in the vein of terrible angels of death rather than mankinds protectors.

So overall a slight step down from Battle of the Fang,  Wrath of Iron is a solid if unremarkable read.
Some interesting ideas about morality and the human condition are presented but never really explored and it feels like something is missing from the book.
Perhaps the ultimate irony is that Wrath of Iron could have done with more mettle.

3 embittered Imperial Guard Generals out of 5 : Al

40k Book review: Pariah (Spoiler Free)

Pariah By Dan Abnett

Before i start this review proper, one of the first things to get out of the way is that, whilst not absolutely necessary to have read the preceding series Eisenhorn and Ravenor, it is highly recommended and you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t check them out. Both are available in a comparatively cheap omnibus format now and are amongst the best that Abnett, and indeed the Black Library, have to offer. In fact, I would go as far as to say they are some of the finest Science Fiction novels I have read.

Pariah takes place quite some time after the events of its predecessors, and although subtitled Eisenhorn Vs Ravenor it is very much the Gregor that takes centre stage. Indeed the first part of the book reads more like a memoir than anything else (the whole book written in the First Person perspective Abnett has utilized for all his Inquisitor books) this perspective really allows you to get in the head of the narrator and is as effective as it has been previously.

Abnett is actually quite clever in his construction of this book. The early chapters where the pace is a little slow are kept deliberately short, each little more than a single scene. It keeps the reader turning the pages and by the time the chapters do become longer you are so engrossed in the story it matters little, you won't put this book down mid-chapter. I can assure you.

In fact, I can think of only one stage where my attention started to wander slightly and that was more because of not knowing what was going on than it actually being boring. In fact, the sense of mystery is a large part of this book, Abnett keeping his cards close to his chest for much of the time. At times you will have no idea what is going on. This is deliberate and as the story progresses more and more revelations are made, few will be dissatisfied by the end. Multi-layered and with a few great surprises, new characters appear along old favourites and the sense of familiarity, especially towards the end of the book, is profound.

Abnett is one of the few authors responsible for actually increasing the 40K lexicon, terms and names in his books being adopted in 40K canon. So it proves here and the focal point of the book hangs upon one of these entries (first used in Ravenor if I recall correctly) and is so mindbogglingly audacious that it may prove too much for some to assimilate. It is nonetheless impossible to ignore even if it seems pretty far fetched. Another thing that few will dispute is that NO ONE nails settings like Abnett. In the grim darkness of the far future there may be only war, and we know Abnett can do that with Gaunt's Ghosts, but he is also king at all the other stuff. He excels at the minutiae and creates settings and people that feel real and are not just mindless battling automatons. Some of the dialogue is very well written and at times quite moving, adding to the three dimensionality of the characters. Its almost like being back amongst old friends and its great to get back surrounded by these characters we know so well.

Previous readers of Abnetts work will no doubt recognise his easy and confident style. This is classic Abnett, another great effort from an author who rarely fails to deliver. Even when you are completely in the dark the book is not difficult to read but nor is it dumbed down, the prose exuding an effortless class born of a veteran author. It is worth noting that this book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, the story very much unresolved and I cant wait to get my hands on Penitent, the next volume in the series.

So overall no real surprises. Another great Abnett book, vastly enjoyable and cleverly constructed. It's not perfect and perhaps feels a little brief, ending just as it really gets going, but its a great start to the Bequin trilogy which will hopefully provide a fitting end to the most revered of series. 


40k Book Review: Ravenwing By Gav Thorpe

Although it should be noted that for the most part this spoiler will be spoiler free, I would say that if you have not already read it, pick up Angels of Darkness before embarking on Ravenwing. Gav Thorpe's first Dark Angels novel, written a number of years ago presented some revelations and facets of the 1st Legion that at the time caused some consternation amongst the community such was the magnitude of its content. Now with the return of the Dark Angels as a gaming force it seems many if not all of his concepts have been embraced and become part of the Dark Angels background, rendered canon by the powers that be. Reading Angels of Darkness will grant you added perspective when it comes to reading Thorpe's latest effort. He has written another Dark Angels novel in between, a Space Marine Battles book called Purging of Kadillus and, although that is very loosely connected to this series, its by no means required reading.

Ravenwing is a solid if unremarkable book proudly heralded as the first part in the Legacy of Caliban series. It deals mainly with the titular Black Armoured elite 2nd Company, supported by the 5th company of standard foot-soldiers. Privy to secrets unbeknownst to those wearing green armour, the Ravenwing hunt down the fallen, trying to atone for their terrible legacy, of which the normal Dark Angels are barely aware. This does set up an interesting dynamic as the lesser orders of the chapter fight furiously for objectives only to be denied in the final stages as the Ravenwing come in. Perceiving this as an affront as well earned glory for the 5th company is taken from them again and again.

Inevitably this resentment between companies leads to moments of ill feeling and insubordination. Indeed, Thorpe barely escapes from portraying them as naughty schoolboys, such are the levels of admonishment and punishment doled out. Still, a rather neat sequence late on involving honour bouts puts paid to much of the bad feeling amongst ranks and the conflict does drive home the fractious nature of this most divisive of chapters.

Thorpe does a good job illustrating the different levels of confidence as to which various parts of the chapter are entrusted, although it seems somewhat unfeasible for any of the Adeptus Astartes to be so naïve about Traitor Marines. It's a difficult thing to handle and for the most part Thorpe handles it with aplomb. The strong characters in the book help, the hierarchy in this most secretive of chapters clearly laid out.

There are no Deathwing in this book (perhaps being saved for the sequel Master of Sanctity), but Sammael and his circle of command staff represent the most 'in the loop' - although it is made quite clear that not even the Master of the Ravenwing knows all the secrets of the Dark Angels. The Black Knights then know more than the normal Ravenwing, who then know more than the other companies.

The main characters in this book are Annael, a new member of the Ravenwing and therefore just becoming aware of most basic of secrets, and Telemenus, still of the 5th company and therefore ignorant of the greater workings. They are supported by a fine cast of secondary characters both in green and black armour. One thing Thorpe does do very well is portray Space Marines with just the right amount of humanity and that is evident throughout this book.

Also explored with great effect (although not as central a theme as in Angels of Darkness) is the role that the Dark Angels play in the wider scheme of things. Questions are raised as to whether Lion'el Johnson's progeny can ever truly function as Astartes when they are so overwhelmingly consumed with hunting down their fallen brethren whilst going to extraordinary lengths to keep their terrible legacy secret.

Gav Thorpe's style is punchy and the action is well written and prominent without resorting to bolter porn. Although he cannot compete with the class of Abnett et al, I have always found his writing to be competent and easy to digest. His descriptiveness never comes at the cost of exposition and he also takes time to flesh out his characters. Ravenwing is an easy book to read and I flew thorough it in a couple of nights. The pace of the book is maybe a little odd, the majority of it takes place over one action on a starfort and the ending section of the book feels perhaps a little rushed. There is also one GLARING error on page 388 that makes me question whether anyone at Black Library actually proofreads what is to be published (there was even a blatant spelling error early on in Pariah).

Of note also is the epilogue. I personally felt it was a little far fetched and certainly makes a mockery of succession in the 1st Legion (basically, if you accidentally see one of the Fallen you get promoted). Still on the whole, Ravenwing is a strong beginning for a series I look forward to seeing develop. Worth your time.