What makes a Horus Heresy novel if not the name? Damnation of Pythos is easily the most ‘filler’ book in the series so far and yet it is one that despite a few major flaws I really rather enjoyed and respected too. It is credit to David Annandale (in his first full length Heresy novel) that he has managed to address hidden depth and moralities in a series that has all too often become action orientated if not outright degenerating into Bolter Porn.
However, before we get to the real meat of the book let's have an overview of the narrative. Much as the last few books have greatly expanded upon Ultramar’s role in the Heresy we have had a large amount of focus poured into the shattered remains of the victims of the Istvaan Dropsite Massacres, no longer just a footnote in the annals of the 31st millennium, now the Iron Hands, Salamanders and Raven Guard have added influence in the greater narrative. Damnation of Pythos deals SOLEY with these three (traitor legions notwithstanding) as their ravaged forces look to make a meaningful impact on the Enemy in the wake of their catastrophic defeat. Coming across a mysterious beacon on a forgotten world they are beset by horrors both tangible and ethereal (much of the book is Marines VS dinosaurs) and as their human counterparts start to unravel before them they must make a meaningful stand against the Damnation Of Pythos.
Roles are by no means equal within the book Indeed the vast majority of page space is given to Ferrus Manus’ legion alone with only a few supporting cast members from the Raven Guard and Salamanders making an appearance. This however is a good thing as the vastly reduced Dramatis Personae (even within the ranks of the Iron Hands there are only half a dozen named characters) means that the author has time to explore some refreshingly complex ideas.
And of course being the Iron Hands these ideas largely revolve around the most established of Sci Fi tropes, Man Vs Machine. As the Iron Hands continue their quest of the abandonment of the Flesh do they grow more detached from what the Emperor planned for them to be? Even the fact that Manus was still largely flesh is addressed and this is easily the most in depth and detailed look at the nature of the … Legion, what they have gained and what they have lost. The token presence of the other two Legions only serves to put these elements in stark contrast as well as provide a Foil for the dispassionate and mechanical Captain Atticus. His approach to War is methodical and efficient and brutal, thinking nothing of civilian losses in his mmilitary pursuits. Despite all of this Atticus is quite admirable if not readily likable or even identifiable. Indeed The Salamander Kidhem is the link
between the excessively weak human elements of the Story and the totally inhuman Iron Hands.
So whilst we have the bionic Marines and their counterparts on the one side the book is balanced by a large human element with the non astartes serfs and another introduced factor that appears a bit later in the book (fear not these reviews are spoiler free) These parts of the cast give Annandale the opportunity to explore another of the books main concepts. Faith. With the horrors of Pythos proving too much for many of the humans to take the Leticus Divinitus takes hold and the worship of the Emperor provides their only means of solace. With the Emperors divinity being embraced by lesser mortals the Astartes are forced to question what they know time and time again as the Damnation of Pythos becomes more apparent.
And later events in the book are suitably epic and dramatic, beliefs are shaken, heroes die and this more than any other is a book that truly brings home the grimdark nature of its setting even if it has little to do with the heresy overall. In fact The Damnation of Pythos feels distinctly old school in scope and subject matter. This may also be the first Horus Heresy book to have NO primarchs in it, at all, indeed that may be what makes it feel so detached from its series counterparts. Apart from mentions of the recent massacre and the Astartes ignorance over the true nature of the warp this book could have been set at anytime in the last 10,000 years of the 40k timeline. Its is testament to Annandales skills that even without the #Primarchs he manages to create several multifaceted, memorable and strong characters
BUT, The Damnation of Pythos is not perfect, in fact in places the narrative stumbles quite badly. Split into three uneven parts the tone of the book alters drastically and at times seems almost schizophrenic. The pacing is also a little off and although I am pleased the author has restrained from resorting to Bolter Porn the action beats in the middle third are stilted and oddly placed. This is more than made up for in the last section of the book however. The other failing that I would have to lay on the book is that some of the writing as regards to the motives and actions of the protagonists is a little clumsy or at least out of place. Put bluntly it is hard to believe that the Emperors finest warriors can exercise such poor judgement as can be found in this book. Deaths are easily preventable and overall the Marines just come across as incredibly naive and done. None of the actions make sense, things are done and indeed not done against all reason. It’s a bit jarring when even the reader is second guessing Astartes judgement or foreseeing an obvious trap. It’s all the more out of place as supreme military brilliance is displayed earlier on in the book in some sublime space battling.
Another problem that Damnation of Pythos has is it really doesn’t need to exist. Although some worth is to be gained from the reading, overall it is more or less entirely pointless. A non event in the larger scale of the Horus Heresy that barely manages to justify its own presence a sidestep in the Heresy narrative Though it is laudable just what Annandale has achieved one cannot help that feel that such a throwaway narrative may have been best reserved for a Novella rather than taking up a full novel (few and far between as it is) release. Of course were that to be the case then there is a good chance that the aspects of the book that I am congratulating in the first place would not exist!
Not enough happens and it feels like often events happen only to justify events immediately before hand as if the author had an idea and then the narrative just ran away on him leading to some writing that is very hard to comprehend leading to the reader becoming more and more bemused, never a good sign. Overall the book gets a pass from me, it is far from the worst book in the series and although it has some problems justifying its own existence there is merit within and some refreshing character development and advancement of the moral scope and some of the more philosophical aspects of the universe. The book has some juicy morsels within but unfortunately the stew on a whole is rather bland and thin.
3 rampaging Suarians out of 5