Angel Exterminatus

It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished reading Angel Exterminatus, so I thought it about time I came here and wrote up some of my usual rambling thoughts about it!!

I feel very much like I’m in the land of filler novels at the minute, with the last full-length novel in the series I read, Fear to Tread, being the same. It seems like there is just so much to cover, having such an extensive cast already, that the stories are becoming, not necessarily the same, but alike enough that it’s growing old already. And Angel Exterminatus is only book 23 of what we now know to be a 50-book series!

This book is the first to properly feature Perturabo and the Iron Warriors, as we follow the legion during an action on the planet Hydra Cortadus (later seen in the novel Storm of Iron, of course!) The Iron Warriors are joined by the Emperor’s Children, who have all gone a bit weird since Perturabo last saw them, and Fulgrim stokes his brothers curiosity around gaining control of a fabled eldar super-weapon known as the Angel Exterminatus, from a planet deep within the galactic phenomenon known as the Eye of Terror. Perturabo is essentially duped by Fulgrim, who is attempting to rise to daemonhood through a ritual on this eldar croneworld – in order to get there, he needs Perturabo’s knowledge of labyrinths to navigate the hidden ways.

Perturabo, for his part, is well aware that he is being used, but is nevertheless curious as to what is going on, so goes along with the charade but manages to stop Fulgrim’s ascendancy at the last minute. Both parties are in turn being stalked by a ragged band of Iron Hands, who also show up on the croneworld and all hell breaks loose. A lot of the Iron Hands shenanigans did feel a little bit like they were getting in the way of the main story, partly because it felt like these sections were lifted from another book entirely, so I’m not sure they were exactly needed for this one. But I suppose it does add to the confusion at the end. Overall, though, while a lot of work has gone into the character-building for Perturabo, I think there was a lot of chaff that could have been trimmed from this one.

I’ve read of so many people claiming that this book is just so amazing, that I found myself initially let down by it. I usually enjoy Graham McNeill’s work, as well, which kinda compounded the problem. It’s not a bad book, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s just the issue of coming on the back of so much filler, because nothing really happens in this book it just also lapses into that category. We have a really intriguing character portrait of the Primarch of the IV Legion, as well as a continuation of the depravities of the III Legion, and it actually fits really well with McNeill’s earlier novel, Fulgrim. While Perturabo is definitely front and centre of the cover, the book is as much about the ongoing issues with the Emperor’s Children, and we see more of Lucius, Fabius and the Kakophoni. Julius Kaesoron also returns, which I thought was a nice touch, as it feels like he’s sometimes sidelined in favour of the other Emperor’s Children legionaries.

At this point in the story, I feel like more needs to be happening to drive the overall narrative forward, and we’re just not getting that right now. What’s going on with Horus? He hasn’t properly appeared since the opening trilogy, and the odd cameo where he just glowers and rages isn’t really cutting it for me.

I realize, however, that I’ve not been very good at keeping going with the Horus Heresy series, so I’m hoping that this year I can make some decent progress here. I’m going to aim to read up to The Damnation of Pythos, at least, and hopefully get to grips with the ongoing narrative. It’s a total of seven more novels (well, six and an anthology) so it’s not exactly impossible! From reading the backs of some of these novels, it sounds like there is a definite return to the story of the Word Bearers as architects of the Heresy, and – hopefully – we see a return to something like an ongoing storyline. Character studies are all fine and good, of course, but there is a significant part of me that is expecting more out of this series at this point!

Dead Sky, Black Sun

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The third volume in the Ultramarines series by Graham McNeill, this one forms a direct sequel to both the previous installment, Warriors of Ultramar, as well as McNeill’s earlier novel, Storm of Iron.

While Uriel Ventris may have played a successful part in repelling the tyranids on the world of Tarsis Ultra, his unorthodox methods were not approved of by the larger Ultramarines Chapter, and so he and his sergeant Pasanius are exiled from the Chapter on a Blood Oath to destroy some daemonic engines that Chief Librarian Tigurius has seen in a vision. All of this is dealt with by the short story Consequences that precedes the main story proper, anyway.

Dead Sky, Black Sun sees Ventris and Pasanius on their way to discover just what this vision could have meant, when their ship is attacked in the Warp by the Omphalos Daemonium, a daemon engine we saw briefly in The Enemy of My Enemy, the short story I’d read following Storm of Iron. The daemon takes the Ultramarines to Medrengard, the homeworld of the Iron Warriors deep within the Eye of Terror, and tells them that the daemon engines they seek are to be found within the stronghold of Khalan-Ghol, but its purpose is hardly altruistic, as it tasks Ventris with retrieving the Heart of Blood from within the fortress – “you will know it when you see it”.

While Ventris of course has no intention of keeping a bargain with the daemon, he nevertheless uses all opportunities presented to him to help fulfill his Blood Oath. And so he and Pasanius begin their journey. Along the way, they meet up with Ardaric Vaanes and his Renegades, and attempt to infiltrate the fortress only to be caught by its lord, none other than the half-breed Honsou!

The Space Marines are given over to the Savage Morticians deep within the bowels of Honsou’s fortress, creatures I’d have expected to be more at home in Commorragh than here, but whatever. Ventris himself, for defying Honsou, is stitched inside the Daemonculaba, a horrific Warp-spawned engine/womb hybrid where the Iron Warriors seek to make more of their kind. Somehow, Ventris manages to escape his grisly fate, and along with significantly less renegades, escapes the Savage Morticians only to find themselves in the land of the Unfleshed – the failures of the Daemonculaba process. These horrific brutes at first fight the Space Marines, though their leader smells the Daemonculaba on Ventris and takes them in as kindred. Eurgh.

Together with the Unfleshed, the Marines storm the citadel once more, and all hell breaks loose when they release the daemon bound to its centre, the Heart of Blood. At this point, the Omphalos Daemonium shows up and there ensues a titanic battle between the two, with the Heart of Blood victorious. However, the Omphalos Daemonium’s daemonic engine is left behind, and Ventris, Pasanius and the remaining Unfleshed use it to flee from Khalan-Ghol. Honsou, barely surviving the attack on his fortress, teams up with Vaanes and a grisly by-product of Ventris’ time within the Daemonculaba – what appears to be a Chaos clone of the Ultramarine…


This is one hell of a grisly book!

I know it’s set within the Eye of Terror, so anything goes, but still! There is a lot of swimming through blood and body parts, and various mutant hybrids, and it’s all just really quite grim!

Maybe because of that, I found myself enduring this one rather than enjoying it, as I did with the previous two. I suppose the pared-down nature of the story, with just the two Marines rather than the whole company, didn’t really help there, though. I enjoyed the earlier Ultramarines novels because they showed how the Space Marines fit into the Imperium, and whatnot. There was a really quite nice sense of world-building in that regard there. Here, however, the story felt a little more small-scale, and while I suppose it offers a fascinating look into the worlds of Chaos and what the Iron Warriors get up to on their home turf, I just wasn’t feeling as into it as I had previously.

The way that the novel brings together the Iron Warriors and Ultramarines novel-universes, though, was really very good, and I’m glad I took the time to read Storm of Iron before getting back into this series.

Having briefly looked over the remaining three novels in this series, I find myself a bit dismayed to discover that the next two seem to be dealing with Ventris’ attempts to rejoin the Chapter, as I’d hoped for more general Ultramarines action. It’s not to say Ventris isn’t an interesting character, or that his arc is not worth reading – I think I just prefer to see Space Marines fighting on the larger scale.

But I guess we’ll just have to see!

The Outcast Dead

I’m slowly making progress with the Horus Heresy series once again, having recently finished reading book 17 in the juggernaut of grimdark novel series, The Outcast Dead. It’s probably important to note that I’ve skipped Prospero Burns for the time being, as I’m not interested in Space Wolves (even if it is Dan Abnett at the pen), and have saved the short story compendium Age of Darkness for another time.

Anyhow!

The Outcast Dead is a very weird book, one that alternately fascinated me and annoyed the hell out of me. First of all to note, this is the first time a Horus Heresy novel takes place entirely on Terra. We follow the broken astropath Kai Zulane as he returns to the City of Sight for reconditioning, following a catastrophe aboard the Argo, a ship in the employ of the Navigator House Castana. Kai and the ship’s Navigator, Roxanne Castana, are the only two survivors of the tragedy, which saw a warp storm rip the ship apart, demons spilling into the ship and killing the entire crew. Roxanne herself has taken refuge from her House, who wanted to make her a scapegoat for the loss of the ship, at the Temple of Woe, a strange place near the Imperial Palace where people basically bring their dead for incineration.

The bulk of the first part of the novel deals with Kai Zulane and Roxanne alternately, and we get some insight into the working of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica at this time. However, when Magnus makes his ill-fated psychic attempt to warn the Emperor of Horus’ betrayal, the psychic shockwave is felt across Terra, and millions are destroyed by the warp spawn that manage to break into reality. During this incursion, Kai Zulane is given forbidden knowledge about the future that is deposited within his centre of guilt over what happened to the Argo, and he is incapable of accessing that knowledge until he has faced what happened.

He is taken to the Custodian Guard, who attempt to break the information out of him, but at this time a group of powerful Space Marines imprisoned within the Custodians’ dungeons make their escape attempt. Led by Atharva of the Thousand Sons, and including three World Eaters, a Luna Wolf, a Death Guard and an Emperor’s Children, the “Outcast Dead” break out, picking up Kai in the process, but their stolen flyer is shot down in the Petitioners’ City, a vast slum close to the Palace. The Marines are tracked along their way, and come up against the local ganglord Babu Dhakal, who turns out to be a Thunder Warrior that has inexplicably survived the Wars of Unification, and attempts to capture the Marines in an effort to use their geneseed to help prolong his life.

In a battle with the Babu’s enforcer Ghota, two of the Marines are killed, and so the remaining Outcast Dead take their bodies for disposal in the Temple of Woe. There, the Custodians catch up with them, and after a bloody battle, all of the Marines are killed, with the exception of Saverian the Luna Wolf. Kai, reunited with Roxanne, begs the Navigator to use her third eye’s power to kill him, to stop any further abuses of his body and mind in the effort to extract the knowledge of the future.

The book is weird, mainly because it takes place in the weird realm of the psychic. The astropaths and other folk at the City of Sight are all slightly odd, and a clear sense of other-ness really pervades the book. While we do get Space Marines in the form of the Outcast Dead, it’s really interesting to see another side of the Imperium, much like with Graham McNeill’s previous novel Mechanicum, which maintained itself largely without any recourse to the Astartes.

In addition, we get a bit of a look at the Navigators, though without as much depth as the astropaths. It was a little confusing at times, as Kai was said to be in the employ of House Castana and to be working for the Ultramarines, and I couldn’t quite work out what was going on there. Of course, the details are largely irrelevant. I don’t think the Navigators have been shown previously in the series, however, so it was nice to have them show up for a bit.

Indeed, we seem to get many fringe elements turn up in this book, as the Sisters of Silence make a brief but pivotal appearance at the final battle, as well as a couple of Custodians having some decent page-time. Finally, we get the elements of the mythical past in the form of two Thunder Warriors, who are all presumed dead following the Wars of Unity. I can’t quite decide if I liked this inclusion, or if it felt a bit like over-kill. Of course, while the fact that there were survivors shouldn’t be surprising given the breadth of the universe we’re dealing with here, I think I would have preferred them to be left out, and Babu Dhakal to have been a Space Marine washout or something.

For all that I found it fascinating, however, I was also really quite disappointed with the book. The story of the Heresy has barely advanced since the first couple of books in the series – with Nemesis providing the first proper step on the timeline since probably Battle for the Abyss. Instead of continuing the story, we’ve instead gone back a step to the psychic incursion of Magnus to warn the Emperor, which we saw in A Thousand Sons, six books prior. It’s not entirely all bad, don’t get me wrong, but I just feel like we’re not really getting anywhere right now. I get that the narrative is immense and epic and all the rest of it, but I’m used to novel series from the Star Wars universe that tell a complete storyline – even padded out quite considerably – within nineteen books…!

I’m still more interested in what’s happened to Garviel Loken at the end of Galaxy in Flames!

It was an enjoyable book for a lot of reasons, although the copy I have is absolutely riddled with typos, word omissions and, towards the end, printing errors. It is a little frustrating that we’re seventeen books into the series and we don’t seem to have advanced very far at all into the story of the Heresy, but I suppose that’s just how the series is being told.

Iron Within!

After what feels like a very long time, today I finished reading the Iron Warriors novel, Storm of Iron, and I have to say, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would! That sentiment sounds a bit more harsh than perhaps I’d want it to be, so let me explain.

Last year, I read the first two novels in Graham McNeill’s Ultramarines series, Nightbringer and Warriors of Ultramar. I’d read somewhere that the Iron Warrior Honsou appears in the series as some kind of nemesis, and has his own novel in Storm of Iron, so picked up the Iron Warriors omnibus with the intention of getting the whole story, then discovered the Horus Heresy series and the rest of that is history. I want to get back into the series though, so after looking up a reading order, I made a start on this book.

The Iron Warriors are the fourth Space Marine Legion, who turned traitor during the Heresy and fled into the Eye of Terror once Horus had been defeated. While some of the traitor legions worship a particular Chaos god, the Iron Warriors have devoted themselves to Chaos Undivided, or the idea of Chaos itself rather than one of the four deities. The Iron Warriors are siege warfare experts, but were almost constantly overlooked in favour of their brother marines of the Imperial Fists. They fell to Chaos when their primarch, Perturabo, was seduced by Horus’ promise of greater glories than those offered by their father the Emperor.

Storm of Iron tells the story of the Iron Warriors’ siege of the citadel of Tor Christo on the planet Hydra Cordatus. Led by the sinister Warsmith, the Chaos Space Marines are intent on something within the citadel, but precisely what remains unclear for most of the novel. Leading the ground assaults are three of the Warsmith’s captains: Forrix, Kroeger and Honsou. Forrix is the hoary veteran of countless battles, while Kroeger is a berserker of Khorne and Honsou is almost universally reviled as a half-breed, his blood tainted with that of the Imperial Fists.

The novel is basically the story of this siege, with the back-and-forth of the Iron Warriors attacking the citadel, being pushed back, attacking again, being pushed back again, then making a final all-out assault. It’s not really the sort of story that I enjoy – I usually go for much more varied and, dare I say, interesting stories with a lot of plot to them, and so I was a bit dubious once I’d gotten partway into this book. However, the story is peppered with all manner of small-scale stories as we learn more of the defenders on the bastion and the Iron Warriors themselves, making the tale really very compelling!

I’d expected Honsou to be something of a self-indulgent type, because of his tainted provenance, but he’s actually an interesting chap because he just wants to get the job done. Forrix and, particularly, Kroeger, are much more irritating for being “pure” Iron Warriors. There’s an interesting side story with Kroeger that I don’t want to spoil here, but I definitely found to be intriguing, especially as it went on!

We don’t get to learn a great deal about the Warsmith, he’s mainly an overlord type of big baddie who happens to be intent on daemonhood. This desire to ascend to become a daemon prince drives the story along, as he wants to conclude the siege quickly. The most remarkable thing about this novel, for me, requires me to spoil the ending, so I apologise in advance for that: the Iron Warriors win. The novel is about them, and they’re evil, but we spend so much time with the guardsmen on the bastion that I began to think they would somehow carry the day – but no, the Iron Warriors obtain their objective, and leave the planet in smouldering ruins. I was surprised by this because it was kind of unexpected! But there you have it. It’s a story where the bad guys get what they came for, and so the Warsmith ascends to become a daemon prince, and names Honsou as his successor.

Despite the idea of a book that is a pretty grueling siege, I really enjoyed it, having had my interest in the legion piqued after having read so much about them during the Beast Arises series. I think the ending really paid off, even if it is an unorthodox evil-triumphs type of ending, and I was really impressed overall!

I also read the short story The Enemy of My Enemy, which is also included in the omnibus, and deals with some of the fall-out of the novel, as we see what happens to the guardsmen who were taken as slaves by the Iron Warriors at the end of the siege. The Iron Warriors’ homeworld in the Eye of Terror is the daemon planet of Medrengard, where the slaves toil in the daemon forges to create new weapons for the legion. Some of the slaves attempt to escape, but this goes awry and they are almost killed when some renegade Space Marines led by Ardaric Vaanes, who I believe is important to the next Ultramarines novel, Dead Sky, Black Sun, which I will likely get to sometime in the new year, now…

All in all, I really enjoyed these two stories. I find it kinda fascinating to see the weird alchemy of Chaos at work, the way the use daemons bound to machinery and stuff. Doesn’t seem to be something other traitor legions use, or at least not in the same way, anyway!

Definitely recommended!

A Thousand Sons

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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…

A Thousand Sons

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!

Fulgrim

I finished reading Fulgrim, book five in the Horus Heresy series, earlier in the week, and let me tell you, this book was pretty great! It was a little heavy-going in parts, not least because of the subject-matter, but overall, it was a really interesting novel, and one that I think will bear a lot of rambling!

The book takes place over a number of years, and unsurprisingly deals with the exploits of the III Legion, the Emperor’s Children, and their primarch, Fulgrim. As with Flight of the Eisenstein before it, we follow the Legion on a sort of generic battlefield at the beginning, as we’re introduced to the key players, before getting into the meat of the story proper. However, unlike the previous book’s use of Jorgall, the fight here between the Emperor’s Children and the Laer will have significant repercussions across pretty much the entire Heresy.

Spoilers for the book, incoming!

Rather than sticking to the previously-met Saul Tarvitz and Lucius, we’re primarily introduced to Julius Kaesoron, Solomon Demeter and Marius Vairosean, captains of the first, second and third companies, respectively. The way Graham McNeill writes these characters has some pretty exciting twists, as he takes them in directions that I certainly didn’t expect.

The story details the Legion’s slide into decadence following the destruction of the Laer, during which Fulgrim finds a sword in a temple, King Arthur-like. The Laer temple is suffused with the sort of degradation that Warhammer fans will instantly recognise as Slaanesh-inspired, but despite this, I found it really interesting to read how the Dark Prince takes a hold of the primarch. It’s certainly a disturbing tale, and the effects of Fulgrim’s slide into depravity have impacts on his captains that I wasn’t quite expecting, as mentioned already.

To start with, we have Julius Kaesoron, the terminator-captain of the First. While he’s clearly loyal to Fulgrim, and almost has a father-son relationship with him, he nevertheless comes across almost as something of a Loken-type figure, and I felt sure we’d see him somehow join up with Saul as a Loyalist. However, Julius turns into a depraved maniac who fights merely to experience the rush of adrenaline. Solomon Demeter is notable for his headlong rushes into battle, and feels a kindred spirit with Lucius when the two first meet, but turns out to be the loyalist of the Legion, and his death is perhaps one of the most poignant moments of the entire novel. Marius Vairosean on the other hand, is portrayed something of an unwilling follower, going along with Fulgrim’s wishes out of duty rather than anything else. The effect of his transformation into the first Noise Marine is therefore quite startling, as we see him fully embrace the power of Slaanesh.

Along with these three, we also get to catch up with the Chief Apothecary Fabius Bile, as well as Lord Commander Eidolon, and we meet Eidolon’s colleague, Lord Commander Vespasian. Another Loyalist, Vespasian is portrayed as generally a nice guy, which should really mark his card from the get-go, and while his death was unsurprising, I nevertheless found myself wishing we could have seen more of him. Eidolon here comes across more bitter than effectual, and his biography across the five novels of the series so far really begs the question how the hell he made it to Lord Commander. Hm.

Fulgrim

Of course, it’s not all Emperor’s Children, as we also get to meet the Iron Hands of Ferrus Manus. For all those people who deride Age of Sigmar for having silly names for its armies, I would like to point out that the X Legion are one of the silliest armies I’ve ever come across. Yes, we get the iron theme that’s running through here. It’s like the Bloodsecrator all over again! Ferrus and Fulgrim are portrayed as best of friends, and it’s always something of a problem for me when we see something being set up specifically to depict the sundering of that situation, but the friendship between these two did ring true for me, so that was a good thing.

Of course, it’s probably no surprise that Ferrus Manus dies in this novel – making him the first primarch we know to have actually died (the II and XI Legions still have that annoying question-mark over them). I knew this going into the novel, and yet still managed to find myself shaken by the events of the climactic battle. In case there was any doubt, that battle is none other than the fabled Drop-Site Massacre on Isstvan V.

This battle is a horrible mess right from the get-go, as Ferrus Manus receives word of the Emperor’s Children making their base on Isstvan V, and that several of his brother-primarchs will help him to destroy the traitor. Again, any fan of Warhammer lore will know instantly just how doomed Ferrus is when he hears which Legions will be joining him – Salamanders, Raven Guard, Alpha Legion, Night Lords, Word Bearers and Iron Warriors. It’s clear that he isn’t going to be as reinforced as he thinks he is, and as the reader we’re aware of just how terrible this thing will be.

All credit to Graham McNeill for turning out a novel that deals with so much information that we, the reader, are aware of, yet the characters are not. However, as much as I liked this book, I felt it fell short on one notable element – Fulgrim himself. The character arc is something of a hero’s fall, where we see the primarch leading his troops and making perfect plans like a military genius, only to fall to the depravity of Slaanesh, whose dark power forces him to kill his brother Ferrus Manus. Once his brother’s head is rolling at his feet, Fulgrim realises what he has done and is awash with remorse. However, it doesn’t really ring true to me, if I’m honest, as Fulgrim hasn’t really appeared to be all that conflicted – or, more accurately, when he has been shown embracing the new power of Chaos, he is really embracing it. His later remorse sounds, to me, like a child who realises he has done something wrong, but is apologising for it merely because he feels that’s what he must do, and not because of any genuine remorse. Of course, this may be just me!

That said, the final fate of Fulgrim is actually quite poignant. Making a dark pact with the demon of Slaanesh in order to stop feeling this supposed remorse, he is effectively imprisoned in his own body as the demon takes over his flesh. The novel ends with the demon pondering how he will change this body in the course of time – alluding to the fact that Fulgrim becomes a Demon Prince, of course. It’ll be interesting to see how this aspect of the primarch is handled in further novels – assuming he plays a part, of course! The Horus Heresy series has, thus far, felt very realistic and gritty, even with such things as the reanimation of the Death Guard and Horus’ spirit-journey, but I’m a little concerned that Fulgrim-as-demon-prince could be seen as perhaps a little too, well, silly. We’ll see!

A good book, and the longest of the series to date, definitely worth a read, though you might need a strong stomach for some of it…

Warriors of Ultramar

Warriors of Ultramar

Warriors of Ultramar is the second installment in the Ultramarines series from Graham McNeill, following on from the events of Nightbringer a year previous. The Fourth Company, under the command of Captain Uriel Ventris, is tasked with defending the world of Tarsis Ultra from the threat of the tyranids, who have been felt in the area through the Shadow in the Warp. They join forces with one of their successor chapters, the Mortifactors, who present a wholly different way of behaving to the Ultramarines.

This book is really good, though I have to say that one or two points do make it suffer somewhat. Perhaps most obviously, the Ultramarines are up against the tyranids, almost exclusively presented as unknowably alien in behaviour, and so we only really get one side of the story. The tyranid imperative to consume all biomass of each and every world they come across is well-known in Warhammer 40k lore, and McNeill does a good enough job of giving us certain insights into the race, through the introduction of Inquisitor Kryptmann and, later on, the lictor, but ultimately we have a very one-sided story. This may not bother you, and certainly going into it knowing they were facing the tyranids, I was prepared for it, but it can still feel a little flat overall.

Secondly, there were a lot of sequences early on showing the people preparing to withstand the forces of the Great Devourer, which felt almost like some kind of stock footage. We see people barricade their homes, train to be better soldiers, etc etc, and it all feels a bit tired, somewhat.

This isn’t really a third point, as it’s very much down to personal preference here, but there’s also a sub-plot featuring a street gang that I felt was almost wholly irrelevant. Of course, it allowed insight into how the fight was affecting the little people, but the characters weren’t particularly interesting, and overall I felt that the scenes could have been excised pretty easily with no loss to the overall shape. But that’s just me, of course!

The story is actually really good, though, with so many moments that made me want to cheer and that had me in paroxysms of delight. Graham McNeill certainly has a cinematic writing style, and there were a whole bucket-load of set-piece action sequences that felt really visceral, not least among them the final mission into the heart of the hive ship. That was quite disgusting, but really quite exciting all the same! Of course, to some extent it served to almost humanize the tyranids, as we see their hive ships are basically living ships, but ships nonetheless, with holds and corridors and the like. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was perhaps a little too familiar to fit with the unknowably alien of the rest of the race.

Overall, however, a solid adventure story and a definitely enjoyable read.

Also included in here is the short story Leviathan, which shows our intrepid Fourth Company dealing with a space hulk that had been taken over by Orks. However, a more fearsome menace lurks in the shadows as, no sooner have the Orks been met in battle and defeated, than the Ultramarines are overtaken by a brood of genestealers! The story is a lot of fun, and I found it interesting to read about the Orks, even if only a little, as they’re a race I’ve not encountered a lot of in my 40k reading thus far. The story leads directly into Warriors of Ultramar as the astropaths report they can feel the Shadow in the Warp.

Definitely worth the read!

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