Black Legion

Hey everybody,
Following on from the first book in the series a few weeks ago, I thought it about time to get on with the second novel in the Black Legion series, simply named Black Legion.

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I must say, while I thought the first book was a pretty slow burn, this one was a lot more dynamic from the start. We’re back with Iskandar Khayon, as he tries to assassinate Thagus Daravek, a warlord of Chaos who has been bringing several warbands to his banner in the way Abaddon has been doing. We’re several years on from The Talon of Horus, and Khayon has been acting as Abaddon’s personal blade, though Daravek has been proving to be particularly difficult to kill. When his most recent attempt on the warlord’s life also fails, Abaddon sends Khayon to the mausoleum world of Maeleum, the world where Horus had initially been buried, on a nonsense mission that led the sorcerer to discover the existence of the Black Templars Chapter, and the seer, Moriana.

Moriana insists on being brought before Abaddon, and causes a slight rift between the new warmaster and his ruling council, the Ezekarion. This is especially true when Abaddon announces that he will lead a crusade into Imperial space, finally breaking the bonds keeping the Black Legion within the Eye of Terror.

Initially, this attempt does not work, as the stresses of the Warp destroy several ships from the armada. What’s more, Daravek catches up with them and a mutual annihilation looks likely. However, Daravek offers to parlay with Abaddon, and the two groups meet on the dead Craftworld of Taial’shara. There, Khayon comes very close to understanding the reasons why his attempts on Daravek’s life have failed for so long, as the warlord appears to have a peculiar hold over him.

Daravek demands Abaddon pledge himself and his forces to his own warband, which Abaddon scornfully refuses, but before anything further can happen, the Warp Ghost Saronos appears, offering to guide either group to Imperial space. While Daravek offers them ships and matériel, Abaddon simply offers them whatever they require, and wins their support. As it happens, Saronos wants their navigators, and while the Black Legion makes it out of the Eye, Khayon’s mentor Ashur-Kai is among those sacrified in the endeavour. However, when Khayon demands that Saronos removes his helm, he reveals himself to have the same face as Ashur-Kai…

Upon escaping the Eye, the Legion is confronted by the Black Templars fleet under the command of Sigismund, whom Abaddon determines to kill in single combat. The Vengeful Spirit is left under the command of Khayon, and Abaddon led the boarding action on the Eternal Crusader. Khayon psychically possesses one of the marines of the boarding party to witness the duel, but is forced to pull back. While the Black Legion has indeed made it out of the Eye, Daravek’s armada has also managed to make it through.

It transpires that Daravek has possessed a piece of Khayon’s soul, which has enabled him to exhibit a particular control over the sorcerer, as well as track him through the Warp. Daravek boards the Vengeful Spirit and massacres his way through the ship in search of Abaddon, who is still aboard the Eternal Crusader duelling Sigismund. Khayon is able to kill Daravek, and while Abaddon kills Sigismund, he is himself grievously wounded.

Black Legion

What a book! I felt like the first book didn’t really get going until Abaddon himself appeared, around two-thirds through. Here, however, the Black Legion is already formed and we’re in the thick of Khayon’s attempt on Daravek’s life. Of course, it is still slow in parts, as we still have the narrative device of the interrogation scenes.

A lot of the characters from the earlier book, such as Lheor and Sargon, are somewhat relegated to bit parts this time around, which on reflection seems a little disappointing. The novel has a much tighter focus, revolving around Khayon’s dealings with Abaddon and Daravek, with little time for much else. We do learn a little more of Khayon’s history, though, and we get some really excellent set-pieces, such as the opening chapter that sees Khayon using a breathtaking array of psychic powers.

Oh, and the void battle scenes… my goodness, there are some fantastic battles!!

I was hoping for a little more lore from the Maeleum section of the book, maybe more on the relationship between the Sons of Horus and the Black Legion. Of course, that section was there to get Moriana to Abaddon, but I feel as though it would have been perfect to see more of that meshing of the two. The fact that this is all I can say against it, though, really attests to how much I enjoyed it!

It’s a really good book, and I feel like it was along the same lines as The First Heretic as being classic Warhammer fiction. It’s making me really excited to see what happens next in the series, and I’m hoping that it comes out sooner rather than later!

All of this talk of Chaos has made me look again at the miniatures that I have for my own Heretic Astartes army. With 9th edition on the way, of course, it’ll be interesting to see how this force (indeed, any force) will work, but I’m hoping that it will be possible to bring along interesting armies with odd bits peppered in. I’m still sticking with the Chaos Cult idea, though perhaps with a few more Marines along the way.

Though I’m really hoping for a Renegades and Heretics army in the new edition!!

The Talon of Horus, and an update!

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About a week ago, I finally finished reading this book, the first of the Black Legion series of novels by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. It took me what felt like an age to get through, and that was mainly because it felt like such a slog! I’m a fan of ADB’s work, with The First Heretic being right up there in my favourite 40k fiction, but there was something about this book that meant I just couldn’t get into it.

It is told in the first person, through the eyes of Iskandar Khayon, a sorcerer formerly of the Thousand Sons Legion, now of the Kha’Sherhan warband. He has been captured by the Inquisition, and the story unfolds as a narrative where Khayon is telling them how the Black Legion came to be formed. As a narrative device, the interrogation comes back every so often, though principally we’re treated to the account in the past tense. However, it is the interrogation scenes that reveal, I think, my main gripe about reading this novel.

Being told through the eyes of a sorcerer, ADB has taken a leisurely, almost archaic frame of speech that meanders through the tale as you would expect one to recount it around a camp fire, or something. It’s not like he goes off on tangents, or anything, but if you can imagine someone kinda waffling their way through a story, then this is it.

The Talon of Horus

The story begins with a kind of update of the situation since the end of the Heresy, with a lot of internecine conflict between the Legions since they have taken refuge in the Eye of Terror. It seems that the Emperor’s Children have been systematically attacking the Sons of Horus, and scored a particularly decisive victory when they defeated them at Lupercalios and stolen the body of the primarch Horus, which was being kept there in stasis.

The main impetus then for the book is to follow the disparate bands of legionaries, seeing a small group of World Eaters, Thousand Sons and Sons of Horus band together to defeat the Emperor’s Children (specifically, Fabius Bile). Along the way, we get glimpses into life for the traitor legionaries in the Eye, and it’s really quite fascinating to see what has been happening since the Siege of Terra.

However, the book tends to limp along – it’s not, I think, due to ADB’s writing, but more like a stylistic choice for the narration. While I feel as though this should be a book that grabbed my attention and never let go, instead the first 2/3 of the novel felt like a bit of a chore to get through…

That is, until Ezekyle Abaddon made his appearance.

One of the plot threads, much like it is some kind of RPG adventure, is for the legionaries to recover the Vengeful Spirit, the Gloriana-class cruiser that was Horus’ flagship during the Great Crusade and the Heresy. They gain intelligence from the Word Bearer Sargon Eregesh, and it all turns out to have been a plot from the mind of Abaddon, to help wage his war against Fabius Bile. The legionaries join with Abaddon, and destroy the Emperor’s Children stronghold at the Canticle City. There, they not only find Fabius Bile, but also his clone of Horus – and it takes Abaddon showing up in his terminator armour of the Justaerin, and kills him using the legendary lightning claw, the Talon of Horus.

As I say, it’s the sort of book that should have grabbed me while all the way, but it wasn’t until Abaddon showed up that I really began to enjoy it. Abaddon is every inch the commander his gene-father was, and this really comes through when we see him engage the troops that Khayon and the others bring to his banner. There is a real sense of charisma that comes out from him, in the same way that we see Horus Lupercal in Horus Rising.


So yeah, even if I didn’t enjoy the whole book as much as I perhaps wanted to, it did have one benefit…

After experiencing quite the hobby slump earlier this year, as I got towards the end of the novel, I found myself wanting more and more to start painting my Chaos Marines as Black Legion. And then I started work on the Helbrute!

It’s the model from the Dark Vengeance set which, in my opinion, has a lot more movement to it than the regular model – which is strongly modeled after the Space Marines Dreadnought. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a Dreadnought model, but there’s something a bit more animalistic about the Helbrute, which I would have thought warrants a bit more verve to its pose. Ah well.

It’s been quite fun getting this guy painted, even though he’s still a work in progress right now! I’ve really enjoyed getting the skin to look so… sore, and think it really helps to set the armour off. All that trim, though… crikey! There are parts that still need touching up, for sure, but it’s coming along nicely.

I’d had some time off last week, and had been hoping to get him finished by then, but sadly I didn’t manage to get round to it. That said, who knows what’s round the corner? The UK has been ramping up efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus, of course, and as I’m writing this blog, we may be on the cusp of a nationwide lockdown, so maybe I’ll get a lot more time for hobbying! I guess we’ll have to see, though!

Whateer you’re up to, please stay safe out there, folks!

Betrayer

Hey everybody,
It may have taken me almost a month to finish it, but I have finally made it through Betrayer, the 24th novel in the Horus Heresy series. The length of time it took me is no reflection on the quality of the book, I’d just like to put that out there now – I think I’ve just been tied up with the joys of moving home, and so reading has been put somewhat onto the back burner for the time being!

There are spoilers in this review, so you have been warned!

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Betrayer is almost a direct sequel to Dembski-Bowden’s first novel in the series, The First Heretic, as we continue to follow Lorgar and his plans to bring about the downfall of his father, the Emperor of Mankind. This isn’t purely a Word Bearers story, however, as the spotlight is shared with the XII Legion, the World Eaters, as the title might suggest. The main protagonists are Argel Tal of the XVII, and of course, Khârn of the XII. While the story is called Betrayer, Khârn didn’t earn the title until the Battle of Skalathrax, years after the Heresy – I thought it curious at first, as I was expecting some kind of payoff for this that never came. However, looking back, most of the characters could be called traitors as the novel progresses!

So it turns out that the Word Bearers and World Eaters share quite a bond, and Khârn and Argel Tal are particularly close. Most of the novel shows them fighting side by side as the combined Legion forces seek to overrun the military training world of Armatura. The planet is one of strategic importance to the Ultramarines who, as we know from previous novels in this series, Lorgar is attempting to utterly break following his humiliation at their hands (albeit, on the Emperor’s orders). The first half of the book explores the relationship between the two Legions, as well as that between the Legions and their respective Primarchs, while the prosecute the war on Armatura.

I think this book marks Angron’s first appearance in the series, as well, which is something of an event in itself! Angron is a tortured and broken man, whose Legion has a peculiarly sad relationship with him. Angron was raised as a slave in the gladiatorial arena on Nuceria, with the Butcher’s Nails hammered into his skull to make him fight all the more brutally. Upon reuniting with his Legion, Angron then insisted that his sons also take the implants, and they willingly agreed in the hope that it would bring them closer to him. However, the implants seem to be killing them slowly, and even the Primarch is being worn down. As for the Legion’s librarians, they cannot take the Nails as the implants outright kill them. Shunned by their battle brothers, the librarians are a sad coterie of outcasts among the wider Legion. The World Eaters are, quite frankly, a very troubled and tense legion!

Lorgar seeks to use this to his advantage, and the results are quite shocking!

Following the devastation of Armatura, we have more of the intrigue that we’ve come to expect from any book involving Lorgar’s Legion. Erebus makes his insidious return from Calth, and the plans are put into motion to move the fighting to Nuceria, Angron’s homeworld. The former slave moves from city to city, destroying all reminders of his former life on the planet, and as they reach the final settlement, a rag-tag armada of Ultramarines vessels arrives in-system, beginning the absolute best depiction of a void battle that I have ever read in a Warhammer 40k novel! Most battle depictions are ground based; I suppose because the source material is a miniature war game where the overwhelming number of models are infantry. But seriously, even with all of the sci-fi I have come across in my time, this battle was just so awesome.

It turns out that Lorgar is attempting to bring about the Ruinstorm here on Nuceria, the Warp Storm that will cut off the 500 worlds of Ultramar from the rest of the galaxy. However, his plans look to have been foiled when Roboute Guilliman turns up, and the two brothers have an epic duel – while Lorgar does manage to hold his own at first, Guilliman gains the upper hand until Angron rushes to his defence. It is kind of suggested that no Primarch can actually hope to defeat Angron in melee combat, due to his unfettered fury and rage, and that really comes across until the full extent of Lorgar’s plan becomes apparent: in order to prevent the Nails from killing his brother, Lorgar has offered Angron up to the Chaos gods to be transformed. The librarians, despite being shunned by their brothers and Primarch, come to Angron’s aid and fight a psychic battle with Lorgar, almost defeating him. But it was not meant to be, and all of the remaining psykers were killed in their efforts to save their Primarch.

At the culmination of everything, Angron is transformed into a Greater Daemon of Khorne…

This was a really cracking book, I really enjoyed it! If I hadn’t been so tied-up with the mechanics of moving house, I think I’d probably have read it through in a matter of days. The action sequences are fantastic, with some truly cinematic scenes – the one that keeps sticking in my mind is the attempt to destroy Lorgar by the Legio Oberon and their plasma cannons; he simply deflects one blast with a kine-shield, the second one almost immolates him completely, though just as the Titan attempts to crush him underfoot, Angron swoops in and basically stops the Titan’s foot with his own brute strength.

That void battle over Nuceria, though. I mean, wow! I’m half tempted to go back and re-read that part just for the kicks!

Of course, no book is perfect, and I think anything that deals with the Word Bearers is almost flawed from the outset by the heavy reliance on Erebus as a character. As we know, the First Chaplain was the one to plant the worm in Horus’ ear about rebellion against the Emperor. However, it has been suggested in several books now that the Word Bearers sent envoys to their brother Legions in a similar attempt to turn them, too. So why is it always Erebus? Where is the Chaplain who attempted to turn the Night Lords, or the Salamanders?

He is an interesting character of course, don’t get me wrong, but he seems to be popping up all over the place and the effect now is almost comic. Like he’s a stock Word Bearer for the authors. Where’s the diversity?! I think it was doubly annoying because it is mentioned here a couple of times that Erebus is intent on turning Sanguinius (the novel, it seems, takes place around the same time as Fear to Tread), but he was also instrumental alongside Kor Phaeron at Calth. While Warp travel is a thing, of course, Erebus gets around super quickly for my liking, and I think I would prefer to start seeing more Chaplains of the Word popping up to take on the role of schemer extraordinaire.

While their duel was fantastic, Guilliman seems to just pop up a bit awkwardly on Nuceria, as well. It was cool to see some element of retribution for Calth, following up from Know No Fear, it did feel a little bit contrived to have him join in the fray when he did.

But there are minor complaints about what is otherwise an amazing book!

The First Heretic

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The First Heretic is the fourteenth novel in the Horus Heresy series, and is an attempt I’ve made to get some inspiration to return to painting miniatures, after an alarming number of weeks where I haven’t taken up a paintbrush at all!

Like several of these early Horus Heresy novels, the book begins decades before the actual Heresy itself, as we see the Word Bearers legion humiliated by the Emperor for their veneration of him. The book opens in the city of Monarchia on the planet of Khur, where the Ultramarines systematically destroy the city on the orders of the Emperor himself. When Lorgar arrives with his legion to discover what is going on, he is met with Roboute Guilliman and Malcador the Sigillite, who explain that the Emperor dislikes the veneration shown to him, but Lorgar refuses to heed them, swatting both aside with zealous fury until the Emperor himself teleports to the ruins of the city and rebukes Lorgar in front of his entire legion. He leaves a squad of twenty Custodes to watch over the legion and ensure they do not lapse into idolatry once more.

The Word Bearers then return to Lorgar’s home planet of Colchis, along with one of the few survivors of Monarchia’s destruction, and essentially lick their wounds. Lorgar determines to renew the Word Bearers’ efforts in the galaxy, and for the next few decades, they appear to make a clean break of things by ensuring compliance after flawless compliance. The Custodes and the Astartes bond somewhat, and all seems well. However, beneath the surface, Lorgar has been swayed by his closest advisers, Kor Phaeron and Erebus, into pursuing a more devious agenda.

They arrive on the world of Cadia, and after being welcomed by the natives as if they had been expected, they are invited to witness a ceremony, at the climax of which one of the Custodes is sacrificed, which allows for the demon Ingethel to be brought forth from the Warp. Lorgar talks at length with the demon, before sending a small contingent of his warriors led by Argel Tal into the warp storm above the planet. In the storm, the demon explains several truths to the legion, such as the fall of the Eldar race, and also the birth of the primarchs in the Emperor’s gene labs. Argel Tal is told that the Emperor learnt how to create the primarchs from the Chaos gods, but then refused to keep his side of the bargain. In a sort of Back to the Future moment, Argel Tal is forced to destroy the haematrope reactor that allows for Chaos to enter into the labs and fling the primarchs to the four corners of the galaxy.

Argel Tal and the marines with him are possessed by demons, and the Word Bearers begin their efforts for vengeance against the Emperor, by sending out chaplains into the other legions to spread the word – notably, of course, Erebus is seconded to the Sons of Horus. Several more years pass, and the legion remains outwardly loyal, though the demonic possession begins to take hold, just as news is brought of the Warmaster’s rebellion in the Isstvan system. The legion makes all haste, making sure to prevent the Custodes from landing first, and join forces with the Night Lords, Alpha Legion and Iron Warriors to provide a relief force for the main traitor legions on the planet.

We get to see the drop-site massacre from a different perspective, with a focus on Lorgar’s fight against Corax, before the Custodes arrive and learn that the Word Bearers have in fact been traitors all along. Argel Tal and his company, now transformed into the demonic Gal Vorbak, slaughter the Custodians. The novel ends as the Word Bearers begin to enact their vengeance against the Ultramarines, setting course for Calth…

The First Heretic

This book was actually a pleasure to read, despite the subject matter! I suppose, having been so intrigued by Erebus since meeting him in Horus Rising, I was looking forward to seeing more of him. That said, the main focus of this book is split between Argel Tal, captain of the 7th assault company, and the primarch himself. Notably, I think this is the first time in the series where we get to meet a lot of the other legions and their primarchs – the Ultramarines, Raven Guard, Iron Warriors and Night Lords all appear with speaking parts, however minute!

The First Heretic deals with what I suppose can be construed as the absolute pivotal moment in the entire Horus Heresy – Lorgar turning from the Emperor and pursuing the path of Chaos. (I suppose “the Lorgar Heresy” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but anyway). While on the face of things, there isn’t really anything bad about this book, I did feel that Lorgar’s turn to Chaos was perhaps a little too convenient – I know that we know, as readers, what must happen, but as with a lot of prequel stories, there is a fine line to walk when dealing with the inevitability of something and making it natural and believable. For me, I’ve always struggled with accepting just how quickly Horus was seduced by Chaos in the second book, and it’s a similar thing here with Lorgar. While the story does work fine as it is, I couldn’t help thinking at times that it was only going this way because we were expecting it to do so, and it offered little surprise along the way.

As with many other books in the series, we start a long way out from Isstvan V, and I do feel a little tired of this construction for Horus Heresy novels now. With the exception of perhaps Battle for the Abyss, which itself was a fairly contained storyline anyway, none of the novels I’ve yet read has advanced the storyline beyond Fulgrim – though I did skip Nemesis to read this one, so perhaps I’m missing something here. Obviously, Forge World are keen to make this into an epic tale for the ages, but a part of me can already see just how much the storyline is being milked for all its worth!

But when all’s said and done, this was actually a really good book, and one that I found myself looking forward to picking up in the evenings after work, etc. It seems there are very few books that I’ve come across recently where I can say that, anyway!