Saturday catch-up!

Hey everybody!
I’m feeling the need to have a bit of a catch up here on the last day of August, as we start to look down the barrel of Autumn and all of the attendant loveliness that can bring! I usually like to spend my time painting miniatures at this time of year, and often look into playing more board games now that the nights are drawing out, and whatnot!

Yesterday, I had a wonderful game of 40k round at my buddy JP’s house. We’ve played at the local GW a handful of times, and it’s been a blast, so it was nice to have a more relaxed game in the domestic setting, and all! We’ve been incrementally increasing the size of our games, as well, and had gotten to 1250 points by this latest bout, though obviously with the various upgrades he’d gone up to 1300ish, so I added in an additional scarab swarm to bring mine up a bit more.

Maelstrom of War is a format that not a lot of people seem to enjoy at my local store, but is something that I just intrinsically associate with 40k due to the amount of battle reports I’d listen to while painting miniatures back in the early days of my hobby – I think I had the idea that I’d listen to batreps and hope to absorb the rules that way! As such, phrases like “defend objective 3”, “big game hunter” and “priority orders received” are deep-rooted in my association with the hobby, so playing these games is almost like some kind of nostalgia trip for me!

I’ve been playing the core of this list now for what feels like forever, but with the ability to go bigger, it has seen some quite interesting additions made! To start with, Illuminor Szeras is a great support character, though one that really needs to be deployed well to get maximum benefit. We only played two rounds, but I didn’t have a target for Mechanical Augmentation at the start of round two, so couldn’t do anything with him again.

For the first time ever, I was playing Necron Warriors in my list, and while I wasn’t exactly impressed with their performance, I think I can see some real advantages to having big blobs of cheaper troops hanging about the place. At the start of turn one, I used Veil of Darkness to redeploy the CCB and the Warriors, which both helped me secure one of my tactical objective cards, and also bring the Warriors closer to the enemy lines and get some shooting in right there and then.

I had used Wraiths in my last game, but had fallen into the trap of camping an objective and therefore lost a lot of the point of the unit. This time around, with the help of the stratagem that allows them to advance and charge, I managed to get right up to the enemy backline by the end of my second turn, and the fact those guys are just so damn deadly in close combat meant that, despite losing one in Overwatch, I was still able to Slay the Warlord, and secure another of my tactical objectives!

I think I’ll be using Wraiths a lot more, and I think I’ll stop paying the points for those guns…

Definitely time I got some more paint on these guys! Between the Wraiths making that impressive cross-the-board sweep, and those Scarabs sweeping from Objective to Objective, they were incredibly useful.

Less useful were the Tomb Blades, I’m sad to say! They’re wonderful models, but they just didn’t seem to be of much use to me, if I’m honest. I’m not going to give up on them, for sure, as I’m positive that I can figure something out for them, but I had expected more from the unit…

JP’s army consisted of a Daemon Prince, Dark Apostle, three units of ten Chaos Marines, a Predator, a Rhino, five Terminators and ten Bloodletters. I think there was some hope to get some Havocs into play as well, but sadly not enough time to build them. It’s a list that felt quite familiar to me, as it is similar to mine in that we’re building up from a core battalion, but it really felt a little bit off this time in that I seemed to have so many more units on the table. I suppose that’s the simple beauty of the Necron army – you don’t get the opportunity, by and large, to upgrade your units with fancy weaponry, so instead just have quite basic squads, but the points are somewhat proportionate, and so I could afford to throw in an additional Outrider Detachment here, and get the additional CP as a result.

We played Disruptive Signals, one of the missions in Chapter Approved 2018 that removes six of your tactical objectives from the deck, then gives both players the chance for 1CP to prevent their opponent from achieving one of their objectives that turn. Neither of us used that, I think mainly due to forgetting about it, and while I suppose removing the six is meant to be some sort of hampering mechanism, it only really served me well in that I was able to remove those cards that I had no hope of achieving!


I’d had to make notes on the front of my list print-out, as I was determined to not forget any of my special rules and get the sequencing right. As it happened, I didn’t miss any Reanimation Protocols, which was handy! Although I lost very few models with the rule, which was also handy! I only got to use Wave of Command once, as I then jumped the CCB up the field with Veil of Darkness, only to then see the model (my Warlord, no less!) promptly annihilated in JP’s first turn! Oh, hubris…

However, the cards were with me, the dice were with me for the first time in what feels like a long time, and I was even getting an average of 3 rolls of 6 on my tesla shots, which was just unprecedented! I managed to score two of my tactical objectives in my first turn (secure objective 3, secure objective 6), and then three more in my second turn (secure objective 2, kingslayer, and behind enemy lines), plus getting Slay the Warlord, Linebreaker and First Strike.

We ended the game at the end of the second round, because it was 0:20 and we’d both been in work all day, but it was already 9-3 to me, so while Maelstrom of War games can be quite swing-y, we called it with a victory for me. Four hours of playing a game definitely feels long enough when it’s this tactically intense, anyway!

It was definitely a fun game, though, and I’m really enjoying getting to grips with the Necron army in a really serious way like this. I’ve got a couple of ideas for some tweaks I’d like to make to the list, including adding some Triarch Praetorians with particle casters and voidblades into the mix, so stay tuned for that!!

Necrons

You know, while I am loving the time I’ve been spending with my Necrons, and getting to grips with them as an army after all this time, I am finding myself beginning to think wider once again – maybe it’s the time of year, but I’m considering finally getting round to painting some Tyranids… For now, in case this is just the need for a change from painting the same scheme, I’m painting some terrain for use in future games, but you never know – there may be some big bugs coming to the blog as the winter months approach us!!

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!

Falling to Chaos, part three

…it was inevitable, really!

While I’ve always been a xenos player at heart, I’ve nevertheless enjoyed building and painting the odd space marine in my time, and often have thought about wanting an Ultramarines or successor company to play on the tabletop. I never really thought I’d sell my soul to Chaos, but now that Shadowspear is out in the wild, and there is so much more Chaotic goodness coming out way, I thought it might be time to look again at my thoughts on the heretic astartes and all of their diabolical instruments of war…

First of all, I just want to say that I really do still want to get that army of Chaos cultists off the ground sometime soon. I’m not entirely sure when, because this year is shaping up to be pretty seismic with another house move hopefully on the cards, but I would like to get a few more of these fanatics painted up before we see another Sanguinalia.

A little over a month ago, I was rambling about my plans for a Chaos army, and was pretty determined to fit in a lot of the Blackstone Fortress stuff, as that had been the catalyst for my desire for this army. Now that we have at least some decent Chaos stuff out here courtesy of Shadowspear, I think it’s time to start looking at how to fit all of this stuff into my army!

And so…

I’m intending to add more to this as we see the full range of New Chaos unfold. I’m very likely going to get more Marines, and I do really want some Havocs for heavy fire support. Furthermore, I want to get the new Dark Apostle miniature, which I’m feeling fairly certain will have a points increase when we can add in his two mates as well, so this 1009 points list is very likely going to be changing in the coming weeks!

I’m still trying to go with the Cultist vibe, but I really want to add to that the idea of cultists who have gone a bit too far, and have managed to actually take things to the next level by summoning daemons and the unholy powers of the Warp. I’m not entirely sure how I want to play this just yet, but I’m thinking of getting some Daemonettes into the fray, and possibly some Bloodletters, though the important thing here is that I’m going Word Bearers for my Heretic Astartes forces, so I don’t want too much red on the table!

Vigilus Ablaze looks like it’s going to be a must-buy for playing Chaos Space Marines, as it has all of the specialist detachments for the Ruinous Powers that really let you go deep on the army theme. It’s definitely sounding quite exciting, and really plays into the whole Daemonkin thing we’ve had from Shadowspear, so I’m looking forward to getting hold of my copy at the weekend and really delving into this whole thing!

I’ve been quite the fan of the Word Bearers since reading the closing pages of Horus Rising, and seeing just how diabolical the machinations of Erebus truly were. The First Heretic was another high point on that journey of course, but I think it might be time to read the Word Bearers Omnibus soon, and see what they’re up to in the 41st millennium, as well!

We’ve seen a few more new models for Chaos coming, such as the Master of Execution pictured above, and that weird Lord Discordant riding atop his scuttling helstalker:

I’m not really that keen on either, though I did entertain some ideas of buying the latter simply because he looks so silly! There’s a bit of an Age of Sigmar vibe coming from the naming conventions of these chaps, which is kinda putting me off if I’m honest, so I don’t think I’ll be rushing to get either of them when they’re released.

Amid all of the fanfare and pageantry of the new releases so far, we’ve not heard anything about the forces from Blackstone Fortress coming in their own packages, and I’m feeling a bit like they’ve been forgotten now. Sure, they are part of that game and, I suppose, there is an argument there to keep them as their own thing. But I would so like a 10-man unit of Traitor Guard to add to this list, especially since we’ve seen the heretic Commissar previewed for an expansion further down the line! I hope we can get these guys in their own release, as I’ve said before, but in the meantime I’ll probably just add yet more Cultists to the force when I look to round it out to 1500 points…

So far, then, I’ve managed to produce this test mini for my Word Bearers force, and I’m really pleased with the result. I’d started the armour by going along with Pete the Wargamer’s tutorial for it, but then just started doing my own thing – all of the weapon casings are Mechanicus Standard Grey and shaded with Nuln Oil, and the eye glow is Straken Green shaded with Biel-Tan Green. All of the cloth is Zandri Dust, and the leather is Gorthor Brown, both of which are then shaded with Agrax Earthshade. I think it works quite well, though, and I’m looking forward to getting the whole army painted up like this!

I think having an element of the Astartes is going to be quite important for the overall army here – I want the Cultists to look like a rag-tag mob, so they’re not in any kind of uniform. Having a bunch of models who are in uniform will then help to make it feel more like a fighting force, and I suppose I can always add in some links such as red robes for the Cultists, or whatever.

It’s a really exciting project, for me, at any rate, so I’m looking forward to getting ahead with it! Quite how far I’m going to get with this one, I have no idea, as I’m likely moving house at some point, but even so, it’ll be good to maybe get a Kill Team out of them!

Know No Fear

Hey everybody!
I’ve been busily reading my way through a few excellent novels of late, so thought it might be time to come here and share my thoughts with you all! First up, it’s time once again to return to the Horus Heresy, and finally get to meet the Ultramarines properly at book 19: Know No Fear!

This novel is basically the start of the famous Battle of Calth. Famous, I suppose in the main, due to the boxed game from Games Workshop back in 2015, which brought plastic Mk IV Space Marines to gaming tables the world over. The battle between the Ultramarines and the Word Bearers has gone down in Warhammer 40k history as one of the most personal, the enmity between the two legions running so deep as to be utterly irreparable. Let’s take a look…

The book reads rather like a disaster movie, as we see the Ultramarines massing at the Calth shipyards for what they think is a joint crusade with the Word Bearers. It has been more than 40 years since the Emperor sent Guilliman’s legion to chastise the sons of Lorgar on Monarchia, and as with everything he does, Guilliman just thinks he was doing his duty and took nothing personally. Lorgar, however, has never forgotten the humiliation he received at the hands of the Ultramarines, and in some respects it can be seen as having caused the entire Horus Heresy. At any rate, the Word Bearers are definitely not about to join forces and fight alongside the Ultramarines…

The book builds tension until about a third of the way through, where a ship crashes into one of the orbital platforms above Calth, and all hell breaks loose as the Word Bearers open fire on their fellow Astartes. Guilliman first thinks it a mistake, that the Word Bearers had thought themselves under attack and, paranoid after Monarchia, have immediately opened-fire on the Ultramarines in self-defence. But no, it doesn’t take long for the Ultramarines to realise that the Word Bearers are hell-bent on the destruction of their legion. Unfortunately, the noosphere has been knocked out by the attack, so vox traffic is halted. With no way to coordinate their defence, thousands of Ultramarines are killed.

However, the Mechanicum and the Ultramarines resistance soon manage to turn the tide, and Guilliman himself just about manages to thwart Kor Phaeron’s plan to annihilate his legion, but the Word Bearers have already unleashed several bombs on Calth’s star, causing terrible radiation poisoning of the planet, and driving the war into the catacombs and arcologies.

know no fear

I really wanted to like this book. Dan Abnett is, of course, a fan favourite, and I had been looking forward to seeing the Ultramarines properly in the Horus Heresy. However, I felt it was a little bit drawn out in terms of the initial impact of the Word Bearers attacking the orbital platforms, then it seemed to end quite abruptly, with an epilogue set long after the subterranean battle had ended. It was a bit of an odd one, and I can’t quite bring myself to say it was that great a book. I mean, Horus Rising was wonderful, and Legion is one of my all-time favourites, so I suppose I was expecting more. I don’t know.

I did enjoy the disaster-movie-feel that a lot of the novel had, and I think it was done really well to sustain that over the course of almost the whole novel. The initial cataclysm and subsequent scattered resistance was really good, though I think I would have liked to have seen more from the Word Bearers’ perspective.

It’s also worth noting that the novel is told in the present tense, which I always feel makes me read it faster than I would otherwise. Instead of chapter sub-headings, we have the “mark of Calth”, the time-stamp of each action described within said chapter, in relation to the initial attack of the Word Bearers. It gave the novel an added sense of urgency, which I think works really well alongside the disaster-movie approach.

It’s nice to see Guilliman in the Heresy at last, and I enjoyed seeing the Ultramarines at war en masse. A lot of people write Guilliman off as boring, but I’m always fascinated to read about him and his incredibly tactical brain. He’s written as being the tactical genius of all the Primarchs, and that comes out here when we see him digest dozens of battle reports at once, to form a plan of attack within minutes, while everybody is stood around him looking vaguely dumb. Some personality quirks – such as his preference for using a stylus – are carried over by the Dark Imperium novel, which I also enjoyed. He’s definitely a more interesting character than people give him credit for, and I think anybody who is bashing on the Ultramarines should take the time to read something like Know No Fear, to see how effective and badass they can actually be!

All in all, I think I was expecting more from the novel, so felt a little let-down, but still enjoyed a lot of things about this book. Probably not one of the stand-out books from the series, but definitely not one to pass over!

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!

Battle for the Abyss

I’ve been continuing the Heresy this week, with book eight in the series from Black Library: Battle for the Abyss! This book was fairly interesting, though also really quite sad. But let’s talk story first – and please beware, I will be talking spoilers!

The book is the first since Fulgrim to actually continue the story of the Heresy, though rather than returning to any of the Legions we have already been introduced to, we’ve moved to two that are new to the series but, arguably, two of the biggest Legions involved in the Heresy. First of all, the Ultramarines finally make it into the story in a big way, and secondly, we have the original heretics, the Word Bearers. I know First Chaplain Erebus plays a significant role in turning Horus traitor in the first three novels, but we finally get to meet his Legion, and they’re all as crazy as he is…

The book begins with the enormous starship Furious Abyss being launched from orbit around Saturn, with the mission to destroy Macragge. Encountering and destroying an Ultramarines ship at the beginning of its maiden voyage leads to a rag-tag coalition of Astartes from four different Legions following the immense ship into the Warp – World Eaters, Space Wolves, a Thousand Son, and a small band of Ultramarines, led by Captain Cestus. The main part of the book is therefore a short battle, then a chase into the Warp, before another short battle during a stopover, before a second chase into the Warp and a concluding pitched battle above Macragge. I actually thought I was going to be annoyed by this structure, as it seemed to be really narrow in focus, but given the large canvas of characters, it makes for a pretty interesting story!

I’ve mentioned it before, but something I enjoy a lot about these novels is discovering how each Legion is different from the others, despite essentially being a collection of Space Marines. While we don’t really get a lot of that with the Ultramarines, enough is sketched in – along with details of the Space Wolves and Thousand Sons – while the Word Bearers are investigated quite closely.

I’m not a huge Space Wolves fan, and the World Eaters are frankly boring, but something I was hugely interested by was the Thousand Sons lore we get along the way here. The XV Legion, the Thousand Sons are essentially a Legion of psykers, censured under the Edict of Nikea that forbade the use of psykers in battle, and so regarded with some suspicion by their brother Astartes. Mhotep, the lone warrior we follow, says he wishes to re-establish a measure of trust with his comrades, but as the story moves along he is forced to use his psychic ability to save his battle brothers time and again, while being regarded with hostility at best. It’s a deeply sad tale, and I find it interesting when we see the wider lore of the Thousand Sons essentially wanting to be a Loyalist Legion, but being shunned by the rest of the Astartes. Mhotep is a new favourite character of mine, not only because he’s like some kind of Jedi badass, but because of the stoic manner in which he accepts his brothers.

The Ultramarines come across a little, well, boring here. Despite having Cestus as something of the central character of the story, we don’t seem to get a lot of information about them, which is a little symptomatic of the Warhammer universe at large – Ultramarines are so often equated with generic Space Marines that it takes a very specific writer to really make them interesting (that writer is, more often than not, Graham McNeill).

Battle for the Abyss

At any rate, the book feels a little like a slog at times, but the conclusion is just epic! The loyalist band manage to board the Furious Abyss and, after all manner of horrible things happening, destroy the leviathan by blowing its main reactor. I thought it was quite poignant to see the marines whittled down until we had just the captains of the Ultramarines, Space Wolves and World Eaters left, and seeing the three of them work together to destroy the Word Bearer’s plans – knowing the World Eaters are a Traitor Legion – was really intriguing. I believe we get to see more of these types, such as Nathaniel Garro and Garviel Loken, marines who refuse to turn traitor along with the rest of their Legion, so that should be good!

Unfortunately, I felt incredibly bummed-out after finishing this novel. I warned you about spoilers, so don’t blame me when I tell you this: everybody dies in this book. All of the main characters. Some of them quite awfully, as well. Brynngar, the Space Wolf, jumps into the reactor. Skraal, the World Eater, is stabbed through the eye lens (that happens a few times, actually). Cestus kills the Word Bearer admiral, Zadkiel, only to bleed out from several wounds he received during the final battle. However, the saddest of all, for me, was the death of Mhotep, who gave his life to keep the Word Bearer’s Warp-spawned demon Wsoric on the material plane long enough that it was weakened, enabling him to stuff a grenade inside the demon’s body. He dies saving the Imperium from the predations of the Warp-spawn, but nobody he has encountered during the course of the novel is remotely grateful for his intercession. Just so sad!

You should definitely read this if you’re interested in the Horus Heresy, because it’s a great character-study of the different Legions, and sets up the climactic Battle of Calth between the Word Bearers and Ultramarines, famous – among other things – from the recent Horus Heresy boxed game. It’s a bit of a slog, and definitely something of a downer, but it’s one of those books you read for the small things…