Today I’m continuing to catch up with the books that I’ve been wading through of late, and will be taking a look at The Damnation of Pythos, the 30th book in the Horus Heresy series! 30 books in already – man, it doesn’t seem at all like these things are dragging on…
Be warned – here be spoilers!
The book features what I think is our first showcase of the Iron Hands Legion since the series began – for sure, they’ve been in it since the start, but never as the stars of the show. The sons of Ferrus Manus were one of those Legions that were utterly decimated at Isstvan V, along with the Salamanders and the Raven Guard, and the survivors here are ragged group of all three. Led by Captain Atticus of the 111th Clan Company, the group is drawn to the death world of Pythos in the Pandorax system. There, their astropath Rhydia Erephren discovers a block of psychically-attuned black rock referred to as “the anomaly”, and cannot explain its presence. The space marines are set upon by the weirdly carnivorous beasts of the world, and begin to make a formal settlement on the world while they properly regroup.
After a battle with the Emperor’s Children, where the Iron Hands are able to extract some measure of retribution against the III Legion for their primarch’s murder of Ferrus, the Iron Hands return to Pythos to wait out a Warp storm, during which they are greeted by thousands upon thousands of junker-style ships that appear to be coming to Pythos to settle. The world continues to extract a toll on the civilians, who seem weirdly unfazed by the attacks by the massive native saurians. Meanwhile, the Legion serfs on the planet are being afflicted by nocturnal terrors, with many killing themselves in the grip of madness.
While the colonists are building their settlement, a fissure opens in the ground, revealing a submerged structure that the Iron Hands explore, only to discover it full of carnivorous maggots the size of a man. Things come to a head when Captain Atticus orders a lance hit directly on the ruins site from his flagship Veritas Ferrum, only for it to somehow be deflected back at the ship, destroying the Legionaries’ only way off-planet.
The colonists are soon revealed to be expatriates from Davin, and working to bring about the presence of the daemon Madail into realspace. The daemon’s presence then allows for a cavalcade of lesser daemons to pour forth from the Warp gates within the ruined structures under the surface, and Erephren is barely able to send a warning to Terra before the Iron Hands are completely overcome.
In the epilogue, the message is received by the astropaths of Terra, but the clerks there are unbelieving of such “mythology” and consign it to the piles of thousands of other unread messages.
It took me a long while to get into this book. Whether that was because of real life intruding on things, or something else, who knows. I did find David Annandale’s style a little too off-putting though, as well – the way that a short burst of action would be accompanied by, sometimes, a page and a half of introspection and tangents. But after I was about halfway through, I think I managed to get into it and stuff.
There is a very real sense of dread that is slowly unravelled as the book moves on, as well. After the initial furore of the native fauna of Pythos is seen, we get several nights of utter dread when something is clearly not right – it’s a wonderful way of building up the atmosphere, especially as these moments are seen through the eyes of the Legion serfs, the general humans who help the Legion. While the world also has an effect on the space marines, being transhuman they are somewhat able to shrug it off – especially when we’re talking about Iron Hands, whose motto is “the flesh is weak” and seek to replace their body parts with cybernetica.
I don’t think I’ve felt the need to put a spoiler warning on a Horus Heresy novel for quite some time, as the books all feel fairly dull as regards massive surprises go. However, the revelation that the colonists come from Davin was quite staggering, especially because of the simplicity with which it was announced. It’s a shock to us, the reader, because we know what happens in False Gods, but it’s almost irrelevant to the Iron Hands serf who learns it with us. I really liked that call-back, and I’m intrigued by the idea that we might not be done with the planet of Horus’ downfall yet.
As I alluded to earlier, though, the narrative of the Horus Heresy does seem to be getting really diluted at this point. I really enjoyed Vengeful Spirit, because it was a bit like a return to the principal narrative that had been left off sometime around book 5, but once again here we’re having a story that, while fairly decent in the end, didn’t honestly feel like a Horus Heresy novel for the most part. The little skirmish with the Emperor’s Children was the closest we got, and that only took up about 50 pages.
It’s a really intriguing book though, and I really liked the way that the tension is built up throughout, with the focus on the dread of what is out there. I don’t think I’ve read about many death worlds in 40k before now, so it was also pretty good to see just how bad some of these things can be! The finale was a bit ridiculous and over-the-top, to the point where I did struggle to picture what was going on for the most part, but this isn’t Shakespeare, I guess, so we’re just along for the ride!