I’m getting there… book 34 in the Horus Heresy series is done with now. Just 20 more to go!
While he has written a few short stories set during the Heresy, this is Guy Haley’s first full-length novel in the series. As we could have expected from his short story A Safe and Shadowed Place, the book pits the Ultramarines against the Night Lords under the command of Krukesh the Pale, and his subordinate Gendor Skraivok. The Night Lords have observed the regular energy pulses from the Pharos on Sotha, and understand it to be of value to the XIII Legion, so in turn decide to take it. Especially when they realise that it is intentionally guarded by a token force to hide its importance.
We’re never really told what the Pharos is, perhaps because neither the Ultramarines nor the Iron Warriors war smith who is helping them really know, either. It is strongly implied to be of Necron origin, however, with the inner construction seemingly of Blackstone.
There are many battles between the Night Lords and the Ultramarines as the war for control of the Pharos sees Krukesh take possession of it, only to finally be thwarted by war smith Dantioch, who overloads the system when Krukesh is attempting to beam himself aboard the VIII Legion flagship Nightfall to take control of the wider Legion. However, the massive energy surge has far-ranging consequences when it is felt by none other than a Tyranid hive fleet…
I really wanted to like this book. I thought it would be great to see what Guy Haley can do in this time period, as he has written some of my favourite Warhammer novels over the years. However, it felt quite a bit like there was a bit of a brief that he was writing to, which in turn led to some stuff being here for the sake of it.
At its core, the book is a Night Lords vs Ultramarines story, but being set in Imperium Secundus, we have several scenes that also include Sanguinius as they attempt to further that storyline, but nothing really comes from it, and it almost feels like filler when you consider the gap between The Unremembered Empire and this one. It’s been over two years since I read that book, as well, which has compounded the problem!
We also have many scenes of gratuitous torture and violence, which is of course the way that the Night Lords wage their war. I’m not trying to be squeamish or anything, but it did get a bit too much at times – I wasn’t actually sure if it was meant to be almost a parody, but it really was all too much. The character of Skraivok actually muses on this in the second half of the novel, as he reflects on how the Legion used to use their terror tactics to win, rather than just for the sake of it. It’s interesting to me, though, because of all the Space Marines Legions, the VIII are perhaps the most bizarre. Unlike many of their traitor brethren, who fell to Chaos to gain power, the Night Lords are said to have always been like this, and the Heresy merely allowed them to shrug off that veneer of respectability. It’s almost like they never fell to Chaos, they just stopped pretending to be real soldiers. Another layer on top of that, of course, is how Curze hates his own Legion, and abandons them almost the first chance he gets. All of this is interesting because it makes a pre-Heresy Night Lords Legion quite difficult to imagine, in many ways.
However, in the short stories by ADB such as Prince of Crows, the Legion has sparked my interest. Here, they seem to fall into the trap of generic renegade chaos marines, without much to make them stand out.
Another part of that “by the numbers” plotting is Roboute Guilliman, sadly. He also feels like he was included simply because the story takes place within the borders of Ultramar, and he doesn’t really do much to excite me. Guilliman in Know No Fear is an awesome entity in the very real sense of that word, but here he kinda gets on my nerves. Maybe because nobody has managed to write him as well as Dan Abnett did.
The story of the Night Lords’ invasion of Sotha, with all of its gruesomeness, is actually pretty good. I wish we learnt more about the Pharos itself, although I think we may do so in Haley’s book on Belisarius Cawl. Some of the extraneous bits could perhaps have been left out, but I suppose they’re here to remind us that this is part of a series.
Things are definitely dragging on now, and I as much as I wanted to get a bit further before the year is out, I do kinda feel like I need a break before yet another anthology…