Well folks, this one is a strong contender for my favourite Horus Heresy novel to date! Horus Rising is probably still my all-time favourite to date, don’t get me wrong, but this was just a truly amazing read!
The plot is far too complicated for me to do it justice here, so let’s just ramble inanely for a bit instead! First off, rather than truly following one of the twenty Astartes Legions, as other novels in the series have done, this one primarily focuses on the little people of the army, with only minimal interaction with the actual space marines for the most part of the book. We follow a few regiments of the army, prominently the Geno Five-Two Chiliad, during the Compliance of Nurth.
I found the opening chapters of the book to be particularly impressive, as Dan Abnett sets up the scene of a prolonged siege, giving the various regiments a real sense of individuality, amid the desert warfare setting. The native Nurthene were an interesting bunch, resisting the Emperor’s Peace with their Oriental-style weapons. I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get to see more of them, and learn about their culture more, but that isn’t really the focus of the story, I guess.
The principal plot thread follows the psyker John Grammaticus on a mission for the Cabal, a group of xenos who have seen the future and need to warn humanity that it is about to tear the galaxy apart and let Chaos (referred to as the Primordial Annihilator) rampant. John’s mission is to bring the Alpha Legion, widely known as the most pragmatic of the Emperor’s sons, into the Cabal’s confidence as to how they can save the galaxy.
(Beware, there are spoilers inbound from here on in!)
After several twists and turns, one of which sees the Nurthene essentially destroy their world rather than let the Imperials get hold of it, the Alpha Legion arrive at the meeting point designated by the Cabal, 42Hydra Tertius. The Cabal meet with the twin Primarchs, Alpharius and Omegon, and warn them that Horus is about to tear the galaxy apart in Chaos – if he wins, Chaos will eventually extinguish itself; however if the Emperor wins, the galaxy will slowly decline over thousands of years and wipe itself out. The Cabal gives the Legion the choice: either side with Horus, and prevent Chaos from triumphing, or wipe the galaxy out. Reasoning that the Emperor’s sole intent is to stem the tide of Chaos, both Alpharius and Omegon decide to “turn traitor” our of loyalty to their father…
This book is amazing. I’d decided to paint my Betrayal at Calth marines as Alpha Legion, which has perhaps given me something of an affinity for them before coming to this book, and so I had been looking forward to it even before I’d read Horus Rising. Despite the foregrounding of the army troopers, you quickly get the sense of the Alpha Legion working behind the scenes, and the subtitle of the novel, Secrets and Lies, becomes abundantly clear as the action moves forward.
This isn’t a novel about spies, as much as it deals with espionage and intrigue. There are still plenty of battle scenes, and I have to say, I really liked the change of pace that we get from the focus on the army. We don’t learn about the XX Legion here in the manner we learn about the Death Guard in Flight of the Eisenstein, or the Emperor’s Children in Fulgrim, but that’s partly the point. The Alpha Legion is a secretive legion that uses any means open to them, primarily infiltration operatives like Hurtado Bronzi and Peto Soneka. That said, we do get some bits, and I love the fact the legion has the twin Primarch thing going on, that was really cool!
Something I think I mentioned in the Descent of Angels blog was how dismayed I was to go backwards in the timeline from the end of Fulgrim, and read a story that had next to no relation to the story that had been established up to that point. Legion also takes place well before (and also around) the time of Horus Rising, which does annoy me a little bit, but rather than spending so long on a story that has no real sense of the Warhammer universe, Legion is a story set during a Compliance action of the Great Crusade, so it doesn’t feel as annoying to me somehow.
My copy of Battle for the Abyss still hasn’t arrived yet, so I’m probably going to get back to reading some comics for the time being. I have no idea what to expect from book eight in the series, and have so far managed to avoid all sense of spoilers from it. I’m curious to see what I think of it, going in completely blind. As always, stay tuned for more!