I have finally finished A Thousand Sons! It’s taken almost a month, but I’ve gotten there. What a book!
This is the twelfth novel in the Horus Heresy series from Black Library, and the fourth entry from Graham McNeill, which makes him the most prolific HH writer to this point. I think of all the previous novels, this is most like his novel Fulgrim, in that it is every bit the portrait of a whole Legion, and a wonderful document of their fall from grace.
First – let’s talk about the story.
A Thousand Sons is very much in the mould of earlier HH novels, as it shows us the Legion during a mission of compliance, here bringing the Imperial truth to Aghoru, a desert world with something sinister lurking under the surface. The sons of Magnus are interrupted in their work by the Space Wolves, who request the XV Legion’s assistance but are rebuffed by the Crimson King. The Wolves and the Thousand Sons work together to bring to compliance to the world of Shrike, and during the conflict the two Legions almost come to blows due to the Space Wolves’ distrust of their sorcerous brothers.
We then have a bit of an interlude, during which we see the Legion at Ullanor (where obviously all the main Thousand Sons captains know and are best friends with the Sons of Horus captains), before they are summoned to the world of Nikea for a conference with the Emperor. This turns out to be the famous Council of Nikea, during which the psychic Thousand Sons are censored by the Emperor. They return to their home planet of Prospero, yet continue to study the Warp. Turns out Magnus has had psychic insight into Horus’ fall to Chaos, and is attempting to use his power to turn his brother from evil.
This attempt fails (as anyone who has read False Gods will be aware), and so Magnus implements his plan B, to send a psychic projection to Terra and the Emperor himself, warning of Horus’ treachery. Unfortunately, that’s probably the last thing he should have done after Nikea, and the Emperor sends the Space Wolves, along with an army of Custodian Guards and Sisters of Silence to effectively destroy the Legion. All hell breaks loose on Prospero, but through his immense psychic ability, Magnus manages to transfer just over 1200 of his marines off the planet and to relative safety…
First of all, the story is epic. A lot of people – myself included – have expressed some level of dismay about the way Black Library appear to be milking the storyline of the Horus Heresy into a 30+ book series, when the story itself is kinda straightforward. However, their tacit rebuttal has always been the fact that the story takes in a lot the side events, and the burning of Prospero is one of these. In fact, calling it a “side event” feels like it’s a detraction. The event is pretty huge, as it sees the clash of two Legions before the Heresy proper breaks out.
We have a lot of lore in this story – not least, we have the famed Council of Nikea. This is pretty huge, because this is the first time the Emperor himself has made a physical appearance – and had lines! – in a Horus Heresy novel. Sure, it’s not much, as Malcador is there, but it’s still a big deal. It’s also really interesting to see this stuff go down, though my biggest issue with this point is that there is no reasonable justification given for the prohibition on the use of psykers in the legiones astartes. Indeed, we get a wonderfully moving scene when a whole bunch of librarians from a variety of Legions make a speech advocating for their use, and they draw in the fact that the Emperor himself is the most powerful psyker in the universe. It just smacks of so much hypocrisy, it makes absolutely no sense. Of course, that could be the point, as this novel is told exclusively from the Thousand Sons’ perspective.
The other big thing we get is the whole deal with the Thousand Sons’ geneseed. As you may be aware, a lot of the space marine legions had flawed geneseed, and the Thousand Sons were particularly susceptible to what was called “the flesh change”, whereby the marines could become horribly mutated into Chaos-spawn. Magnus managed to save his sons through psychic training, but in the end battle, many of the marines succumb to this horrifying mutation and die. The irony of this situation is that the Space Wolves have a similar problem, with their Wulfen issue, and yet they are unchecked. Indeed, their librarian is allowed to carry on about his business post-Nikea, which makes the final battle quite satisfying, if you ask me!
I’m really not a Space Wolves fan, and never have been. I find it comical that they howl like wolves, not intimidating, and I imagine that they smell and are generally unpleasant to be around. Because they seem to have such a huge following in the real world, I feel like a lot of literature just tries to do fan-service to these “real-men” space marines, and it really makes me cringe. The worst part of all of this is knowing there is a companion novel to this, told from the Space Wolves’ point of view. And it’s written by Dan Abnett! I actually don’t want to read it (but you know I will be!)
Whereas Fulgrim painted the Emperor’s Children as flawed from the outset, A Thousand Sons is an altogether more complex story. While Magnus doesn’t come across as a sympathetic character in the way Horus does early on, we nevertheless have a Legion that is not fundamentally evil. As the story progresses, we discover that Magnus fatalistically goes along with the Edict of Nikea because he knows that it is the design of Chaos for the Legions to fight, and he is trying to resist this as much as possible. It becomes so much more tragic when you realise that Chaos is going to get its way, if not with the Thousand Sons then with someone else (obviously, the Sons of Horus). Throughout the battle of Prospero, Magnus is withdrawn while his Legion is cut down, until the climax, when we finally see what a powerful psyker can do – no mention is made of the nipple-horns, but I’m sure they scared off many a Space Wolf! The whole fight between Russ and Magnus had me almost-cheering, and provided a really cinematic climax to the novel – something that Graham McNeill really excels at.
However, unlike Fulgrim, A Thousand Sons doesn’t really end with the Legion actually falling to Chaos. It almost ends with a bit of a whisper, we know they’re going to end up the baddies in the blue armour, but there isn’t really much of a hint there. The only thing we have is that the Chief Librarian Ahzek Ahriman is studying the Book of Magnus for a way to combat the flesh change and save his Legion. The only really bad thing they’re doing right now is contravening the Edict of Nikea by continuing to use their psyker abilities – you know, like how the Emperor and Malcador continue to use theirs, as well…
It’ll certainly be interesting to see what’s next for the sons of Magnus!