Fear to Tread

This is a Horus Heresy novel that I’ve had on my shelf for a very long time now, back from when I had just gotten into the series and was excited to find out more about it. I honestly don’t know why, but the Blood Angels kinda fascinate me as a space marine chapter – I don’t own an army of them, and have no intention of doing so, but I’m still weirdly drawn to them. Space Marine Legions all seem to have their counterparts between loyalist and traitor, but the Blood Angels, while they’re more commonly compared with the World Eaters for their assault-focus and brutal efficiency in close combat, are also similar in so many ways to the Emperor’s Children in their artistry. I suppose they don’t pursue things to absolute perfection, but there is a strong link between the two… and I do rather enjoy the Emperor’s Children in a lot of ways!

At any rate, Fear to Tread is the 21st novel in the Horus Heresy series, and is the first to truly follow the Blood Angels to the exclusion of all other Legions. While Sanguinius did pop up all the way back in Horus Rising, he’s here very much at the centre of things. We follow the Blood Angels as they battle the weird alien menace known as the Nephilim, before Horus then sends the legion to the Signus system with the report that there have been Nephilim sighted there. Horus has also learnt of Sanguinius’ dark secret, that of the Red Thirst, and hints there may be the answer to that problem held on the planet Signus Prime.

The Blood Angels travel there, but instead find that the system has been truly taken over by the forces of Chaos: there are droves of daemonettes along with bloodletters under the leadership of the bloodthirster, Ka’Bandha. The Blood Angels are joined on this expedition by a small coterie of Word Bearers sent by Horus, and another small band of Space Wolves sent directly from Malcador the Sigillite. As it turns out, Malcador has sent the Wolves out to all Legions, as he suspects that more may have turned from the Emperor in the manner of Horus and Magnus.

The war does not go well, as Sanguinius is seemingly defeated in single combat by the bloodthirster, prompting a shared madness of the Red Thirst to break out among his sons. The fighting is particularly brutal, especially among Amit and the Fifth Company (later the Flesh Tearers), who actually kill the Space Wolves while in the grip of this madness. Sanguinius is revived when a band of former librarians goes against the Edict of Nikea to bring him back psychically, and he manages to defeat the daemons with the help of the apothecary Meros, who sacrifices himself to a Chaos ragefire that had been intended to consume Sanguinius himself.

Fear to Tread

While there is nothing inherently bad about this book, I found it incredibly hard-going, and took over a month to wade my way through. I’ve noticed this with the last Blood Angels novel to pass under my nose, Devastation of Baal, which makes me wonder if it’s something about this particular chapter that I just can’t seem to gel with! I find it odd, though, considering – as I mentioned earlier – I do actually like the idea of and the lore behind the Blood Angels…

There are quite a few nods to other Horus Heresy novels, particularly the opening trilogy (the lone survivor from the planet Murder, brother Targa, was originally part of the ragefire that created the Red Angel, a daemon later presented to Horus by Erebus). Obviously, the use of the Space Wolves as the Emperor’s executioners also harkens back to A Thousand Sons, and the novel ends with Sanguinius arriving at Ultramar, which leads into the plans of Guilliman to set Sanguinius up as the head of the Imperium Secundus. It’s handy reading the novels in publication order, I feel, as things like this are a nice way of tying up the narrative.

Ultimately, I feel that not a lot happened in this book, and that it was essentially filler for what is already becoming a massive series. The whole point of the book is to test the Blood Angels, and attempt to bring the legion over to Chaos. Horus decides to eliminate Sanguinius lest his brother replace him as Warmaster, but none of that works. Yet the novel plods its way across more than 500 pages to do so. A lot of it just felt like padding, somehow, and I think it could have done with a trim.

I also haven’t really been convinced by Horus’ turn from the light of the Emperor in a lot of the novels where he directly appears, but here especially, his readiness to kill his brother seems to come out of nowhere. I think this is made especially glaring in that Horus and Sanguinius appear fighting side-by-side in the prologue; they have a very close relationship anyway, but not enough has been made of the break on Horus’ side, it just seems to be too much of a jolt. I know Horus is meant to be the bad guy, but sometimes (like here) he just comes across as evil for the sake of it.

It was good to have the Blood Angels and Sanguinius centre stage, but I do feel that a lot of the middle novels of the series tend to draw things out a bit too much.

Nemesis

After having read the first ten books of the Horus Heresy series in order, I’ve thus far been a bit more haphazard with my reading of the next batch of them. That said, there isn’t really a great need to read the books in their published order, as the Black Library has already told us!

Nemesis is the thirteenth book in the series, and while it does feel almost a side-story to that of the Heresy itself, it is nevertheless notable for being one of the few stories since Fulgrim that actually advances the story.

As the cover might suggest, we move from the Astartes to the Officio Assassinorum for this book, which deals with an attempt to assassinate Horus before his rebellion can get too out of hand. After yet another failed attempt from Clade Venenum to eliminate the Warmaster, the Master of Assassins pools the resources of the Officio to send an Execution Force team to strike the Warmaster at the world of Dagonet, where he is expected to appear in support of the local rebellion there.

Along the way, we also follow the plotline of a series of gruesome murders on the neighbouring planet of Iesta Veracrux. We eventually learn that the murders have been committed by an assassin in the employ of Erebus (who else?!) in a grand plan to eliminate the Emperor. The assassin is the failed attempt by Clade Culexus to create a sort of ultimate psyker-killer, known as the Black Pariah, though Erebus has performed a ritual to create a demonically-infused killer now called Spear. Spear is able to take on the aspect of anyone he has killed, and so assumes a series of roles that allow him to infiltrate a┬áRogue Trader local to Iesta Veracrux, with the goal of obtaining the Warrant of Trade. The Warrant was sealed with a drop of the Emperor’s own blood, and so Spear is trying to gain the power of the Master of Mankind through that drop.

All of this is going on while the Execution Force is assembled on Terra. I think this is the first Horus Heresy novel proper to truly deal with the homeworld of the Imperium, as we follow the team across the Atalantic and the Yndonesic Bloc. I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the vision of the future Warhammer 40k presents to us, so really enjoyed these little vignettes – even if there was an element of Blues Brothers-esque putting the band together.

The team assembled, they travel to Dagonet and find the world has already declared for the Warmaster. Falling in with some rebels, they manage to set themselves up to await Horus’ imminent arrival, though when the Sons of Horus teleport down to the planet, the assassins discover they have killed a decoy – none other than Luc Sedirae. In retaliation, Horus orders an orbital bombardment of the planet, while the Execution Force finds themselves on the trail of Spear instead. One by one the assassins are felled by the Black Pariah, leaving the Vindicare assassin Eristede Kell to finish him off.

The mission is a failure, and the novel ends with Erebus sacrificing the remnants of Dagonet’s populace to the Ruinous Powers.

Horus Heresy Nemesis

This is a really good book!

James Swallow has also written the fourth novel in the series, Flight of the Eisenstein, and that earlier entry in the series was also a really great read, enhancing the opening trilogy and also being the first published book of the Horus Heresy to take us to the Sol System. While we’ve been on Terra in the short story Blood Games, I was really intrigued to actually have it as part of a novel here, as I said earlier. It’s just so fascinating to me, especially having gotten so far through the Horus Heresy series without really getting there yet. I suppose in part, it provides a weird sort of grounding-point for the universe as a whole, as it is our own world and all. But anyway, definitely a highlight of the book for me!

I found the individual assassins to be really quite interesting in their own ways, though did find it difficult to keep a track of who was who when they were referred to by their Clade names. I suppose Culexus and Callidus, Vanus and Venenum and Vindicare are all pretty close to each other that it can be difficult to differentiate! The most useful thing, actually, was picturing them as the miniatures from the Assassinorum Execution Force boardgame – another set of miniatures that I have waiting for me to build!! Though I’m definitely more interested in doing so after reading this book…

This was a really great read, and unlike other novels that veer away from the main Astartes storylines, I actually really enjoyed the change of pace here. I’ve already read The First Heretic, of course, but it does kinda bother me that I skipped Fallen Angels – mainly due to not being so impressed by the previous installment in the Dark Angels storyline. I’m also not interested in the Space Wolves, so don’t want to progress to Prospero Burns (even though it is by the illustrious Dan Abnett). I might skip ahead to The Outcast Dead, actually, which is also supposed to be set on Terra…