Spoilers abound in these posts, if you haven’t read the books and will get upset by finding out what happens just stop.
This is also not a recap, if you want a recap go to Lexicanium.
What The Black Library says about the book
After thousands of years of expansion and conquest, the human Imperium is at its height. His dream for humanity accomplished, the Emperor hands over the reins of power to his Warmaster, Horus, and heads back to Terra. But is Horus strong enough to control his fellow commanders and continue the Emperor’s grand design, or will such incredible power corrupt him?
What the book is really about?
In the most part, it’s about world building and scene setting.
Not a lot actually happens in the book, sure there are some action sequences and character development but there isn’t a lot of WHAM BAM reveals and earth shattering developments. It’s actually a pretty subtle book that mixes the BIG BOYS COMMANDO ACTION style of 40k with some nice character development and gentle exposition.
Nothing seems horribly forced and the 30k world is allowed to develop naturally over the course of the book.
Introducing the Hero-Protagonist
|Serious.... serious profession|
Get used to this archetype as you will be seeing a lot of it in the future. Garviel Loken is a good honest humble warrior without delusions of his own importance. He loves The Emperor, His Primarch, His Legion and the Imperium in roughly that order. He has a square jaw and a poorly developed sense of humour. He fights hard but he fights fair and he has the welfare of his men as a top priority and has a rigid sense of good conduct and honour and stuff.
Seriously, you should really get used to this type of character as it will form the template for many other Horus Heresy protagonists. One of them is even introduced in this book.
What separates Garviel from the pack? Well, he does have some doubts about things that many other characters don’t consider. After seeing one of his men fall to chaos possession he has a bit of an existential crisis and he develops genuine relationships with no less than three non-space marines in the book.
Yep, even 8 foot tall killing machines have self-doubt, and having Garviel show this demonstrates his character.
Why are there humans in my book about super-powered Space Marines?
Well, for the 1st point, so it isn’t 100% a macho, yet homo-erotic, circle-jerk like a lot of this kind of fiction.
Without the human characters to show contrast and be “real” any gravitas of the events unfolding would be lost. If everyone in the world is a colossal Space Marine, you can’t see them for what they are. The human characters give us this perspective, to see the inhuman monstrousness and grandeur of the Astartes in human eyes.
And a bonus it also allows the story to have some female characters… and real characters at that, not just hot boobs in power armour.
This is a good thing unless you are currently sitting in your lounge masturbating to "guns and ammo".
The mechanism used to introduce the human characters is genius. They are rememberancers, a fleet of artists and scholars sent by the Emperor to chronicle the crusade. They dodder about, like artists, exploring the ship, trying to get interviews, taking photos and writing poetry. It’s a nice way to explain why there is an untrained human at a battle who has to be told everything from scratch and it’s a tasteful way of dumping a bundle of exposition needed for world building.
The photographer, Keeler, gets to witness chaos first hand and to take a photo of it. Her reaction is suitably human and she breaks down and finds religion as a comfort. This kind of frailty would have been out of place if every character was a Marine and I think the story is far richer for including her.
This brings me to the real hero of the book…..
|Um officer..... our cat is stuck up that tree......|
MVP – Ignance Karkasy
I love this character. Karkasy is an iconoclastic, drunken, loud mouthed, smart-assed poet with one redeeming feature, he speaks truth to power. Garviel and Karkasy strike up a fascinating relationship after Karkasy gets his ass kicked for suggesting the imperium will not last forever. He serves as a comic foil to the straight laced Garviel, while remaining a believable and likeable figure.
Worst Character – Abaddon
|Try harder to be bad please!|
Abaddon is basically Worf…. Or at least a bad Klingon analogue.
“What should we do Abaddon”
“UGH! SMASH! KILL! SMASH! DERP!”
He’s predictably boring and totally unlikeable, I can see why all his black crusades fail in the future.
“My lord, it is time for another crusade into the Imperium, what are your plans”
“UGH! SMASH! KILL! SMASH! DERP!”
Get to know your Legion – The Luna Wolves
Right, I still don’t get the Luna Wolves and I’ve always hated that name. They seem to be good at everything without any real weaknesses. As fierce as a Space Wolf and as planned as an Ultramarine.
The net result is they end up pretty bland.
The one cool thing they have is the Mournival, a group of four senior captains who advise the Primarch. This artifice is used in conjunction with the four humours,
- Sanguine (Full of life and energy, HUZZAH!)
- Melancholic (Grumpy, moody, perfectionism)
- Phlegmatic (relaxed, content, diplomatic)
- Choleric (UGH! SMASH! KILL! SMASH! DERP!)
Each member of the Mourival represents one of these aspects, with our hero Garviel being the Phlegmatic one. These four voices are balanced by the Primarch in his decision making process, which is quite a neat concept. These four humours are also used in most of the books by Marines to describe their current emotion state.
Get to know your Primarch – Warmaster Horus
I must say I was a little disappointed with Horus. A big deal is made about him being the bees-knees but he really comes across as an insecure stuff-up.
The book has three set pieces and Horus pretty much fucks everything up on each occasion and then has a cry about how hard being so amazing is. “What’s this, a planet infested by killed arachnids with no strategic value; best piss away my forces while ignoring requests from all the other Primarchs for advice…. Seeing as I’m their boss and everything”.
He also plays some political games using the Mournival, but it’s Machiavelli 101 stuff. Then he has a cry about it.
I know the Author is trying to show that even the mighty Warmaster has weaknesses, but seriously.
Why the Emperor is a giant douche
This will appear in every single book because the Heresy only happens because the Emperor is a giant douche.
This time around it’s failing to transition power to Horus with nothing more than an over the top parade and a short speech. He orders and entire continent flattened for one parade, then says
“Right… I know the war isn’t over but I’m buggering off, I won’t tell you why, but keep fighting….. oh you work for this dude now…. BYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE”
It’s like you were in class one day and your teacher organised a big event, introduced the relieving teacher as Bob, and then got on his Harley and drove off into the sunset while giving you the finger. No wonder people though “holy shit…. Is he coming back? Have we been abandoned?”
Probably, and it’s because your god-king is a giant douche.
|Gentlemen..... i'm popping down the shops for a pack of smokes.... i'll be right back|
Moustache twirling evil-bastard award - Erebus
|Yep.... this guys is initially introduced |
as a level headed adviser
Erebus is introduced as an even handed advisor from the Word Bearers to Horus and later revealed to be a complete cock.
His involvement is small at this stage, but he is pretty much the only evil character in the story. One aspect of his story is his involvement in the Warrior Lodges (secret bloke societies of space marines that Garviel does not approve of but that everyone but Garveil seem to belong to).
He does singled-handily start a war with a benevolent species however, and for that alone he gets the evil bastard award.
The writing – technical review and evaluation
This is a good book and a must read for the series, if only to get the context of the rest of the books. The action schemes are pretty solid, if that’s what you are in this for, but the real strength is the world building and characters, specifically the human characters.
It’s not as creative as some of Abnetts later books and I feel at times he is struggling within the tight narrative guidelines he would have been given. Oh, I also wished he hadn’t just watched Starship Troopers as well.
This book gets a “must read if reading the series” rating. (4/5)
*disclaimer, borrowed art is borrowed.