I’m determined to make a proper effort with the Horus Heresy series this year, starting with the juggernaut that is Vengeful Spirit!
This book, the 29th in the series, has felt like a breath of fresh air, after the last few books which were a little more difficult to get through, and always felt like they were going nowhere. I suppose I’ve been a little put off by the chunky size of this one, but almost as soon as I’d made a start on the book, I was enjoying it!
We’re back in the thick of the Heresy, with Horus reassembling the Mournival to replace both Loken and Torgaddon following the purge of the Legion. The story picks up immediately after the short story Little Horus, which I haven’t yet read (my bad), but the Sons of Horus have successfully defeated a White Scars assault on their primarch at the planet Dwell. There, Horus has learnt of the planet Molech, about which he has some hazy memories that he doesn’t understand – all the primarchs are supposed to have eidetic memories, so why can’t he remember it? He meets with his brothers Fulgrim and Mortarion, who were also there, and all three come to the conclusion the Emperor himself has tampered with their memories. According to the information Horus has learnt on Dwell, Molech could be a site of great power, possibly where the Emperor gained his god-like power. As they begin to plan their assault, however, they come under attack by an Iron Hands warband, and Horus basically decimates their ships by jumping onto them and pummeling them with his mace, Worldbreaker.
On Terra, Leman Russ decides the best course of action is to lead a surgical strike against Horus, and with Malcador’s help recruits Garviel Loken to lead a strike team of Knights-Errant to board the Vengeful Spirit and basically light the way for Russ’ attack. The team travels to Titan to arm and assemble in full, and Loken discovers his personal remembrancer Mersadie Oliton is being kept a prisoner there.
Meanwhile, the spirit of Ignatius Grulgor returns to Mortarion, fully corrupted by the power of Nurgle. The Sons of Horus find themselves with their own daemon, when Serghar Targost and Maloghurst the Twisted use the braindead body of Gor Geraddon to bring forth the first of the Luperci, Tormageddon. The Luperci are the Sons of Horus equivalent to the Word Bearers’ Gal Vorbak, and Tormageddon was initially brought forth by Erebus from a fragment of the soul of Tarik Torgaddon. The Traitor flotilla arrives at Molech shortly after the balance of power has shifted, with the Imperial Governor there killed by his own son during a beast hunt.
The Battle of Molech is pretty grim, and forms the epic central narrative of the book. The first couple of hundred pages have all that set-up, then once everyone is in position, it’s a bit like all hell breaks loose, first in the void and then on the surface. The ground assault takes place to allow Horus to learn exactly what happened on the world all those years ago with the Emperor, and in fairly devastating fashion, he finds out.
The Emperor made his bargain with the Chaos gods on Molech, gaining the knowledge with which to make the Primarchs and all the rest of it. As we know, the Emperor didn’t intend to keep his side of the bargain, and so the Ruinous Powers created the Warp storm that scattered them all. It’s hinted at early on – how did the Emperor manage to leave Molech if He left His starship on the world? – but the revelation of what exactly Molech’s importance is still managed to surprise me!
The fighting is intense, but Horus finds his way to the Warp gate, and in suitably mystical fashion, travels through and becomes empowered by the Ruinous Powers. Meanwhile on the ship, Loken and the rest discover a cult surrounding Targhost as he is about to create another Luperci, and the team destroy them all. However, Targhost’s “death” reveals that he is possessed by none other than the daemon Samus, which kinda traumatises Loken. Horus, already somehow aware of them aboard the ship, has sent a team to capture them, and following a brutal skirmish, the Knights-Errant are brought before the Warmaster. Horus tries to convince Loken to rejoin the ranks of his Sons, but despite a deep-seated desire for that earlier belonging, Loken refuses and more fighting breaks out. Iacton Qruze attempts to kill Horus himself, and many others go down fighting, but the surviving members of the strike team are rescued, to return to Terra.
I really liked this book, a lot. As I said at the start, I had been growing a bit disappointed in the series, as it seemed to just be expanding outwards with no effort to move the story on. Here, however, perhaps more so than with any other novel since Fulgrim, it feels like the book is a direct sequel to the opening books. There are so many elements that are drawn from the earlier novels, it makes things feel much more cohesive than at any other point in the series so far, I think.
A big part of this, of course, is that this is very much a Horus novel. We have three main characters that we follow – Loken, Horus Aximand, and the Primarch himself. Mingled into this are so many other elements that the book does begin to feel quite bloated, especially the second part with the main battle. A lot of the negative reviews that I’ve read seem to focus on this perceived bloat, but I think it somehow adds to the truly epic frame of the story. It’s like, we had the opening trilogy/five books which truly set the scene, then we go off into the wilderness somewhat as we explore all of the side stories and whatnot, but here is where the series begins to rein in those threads and we start to get something more like cohesion across the whole Heresy. A lot of the story that has been told in short story form, including the Garro series of audio dramas etc, is also worked back into the mainstream of the novel series here.
It’s a huge task, and it has lead to a correspondingly huge book. Some of the story does, at times, feel like it’s probably a bit unnecessary. The whole Knight storyline for the Titan legions of House Devine could probably have been cut out, of shortened, with more focus instead on the combined garrison of Blood Angels and Ultramarines, as that felt like it should have had more time devoted to it. Indeed, the Blood Angels seemed otherwise to be utterly pointless as an inclusion. Another seemingly unnecessary inclusion was that of the Red Angel, which felt almost like it had been shoe-horned in simply because it is something that has happened already in the series, and so can also be referenced. I suppose it makes sense that Horus has it, so it maybe would be mentioned in a book about the primarch, but it all just fell a bit flat, somehow.
But none of that really detracts from the whole, overall. It’s a meaty epic of a book, and now that I come to think of it, we’ve not really had anything like this in the series yet. The Horus Heresy is an epic story in every sense of the word, and I think Vengeful Spirit is quite possibly the first book (at #29) to truly show us that epic scale of the subject matter.
Very much required reading, I must say!