Posted by Gravecat at 6:59 pm under Book Reviews. Comment?
‘I was there,’ he would say afterwards, until afterwards became a time quite devoid of laughter. ‘I was there, the day Horus slew the Emperor.’
Many people familiar with science fiction will have heard of Warhammer 40,000, a tabletop wargame created by Games Workshop which features a universe so rich and deep, it’s expanded into its own series of novels, video games, and even an animated movie. Of all the factions and races in the 40K universe, the Astartes — more commonly known as Space Marines — are by far the most well-known and iconic; genetically-enhanced warriors clad in powered plate-armour, wielding weapons of mass destruction and subjugating anything and everything in their path in the name of mankind and their near-dead God-Emperor. Nearly unstoppable and quite literally fearless, the Space Marines are the only thing standing between humanity’s survival and a galaxy filled with a myriad of indescribable horrors.
In the universe of the 41st millennium, the Emperor was a figure of almost mythical power who rose up to unite the splintered factions of humanity across the galaxy under a single banner, with the aid of the Primarchs — genetically-engineered super-warriors created in his image — and the legions of Space Marines under their command. Something went horribly wrong, however, and the forces of Chaos — malevolent, demonic entities existing on a plane just outside of our normal universe — worked to twist the noble Space Marines to their foul and unholy ways, resulting in a series of events known as the Horus Heresy, where many of the Primarchs and their associated chapters of Marines betrayed the Emperor and became something entirely less than human.
The Horus Heresy series goes back to the beginning to tell this tale from its origins, during the early years of the Emperor’s so-caled Great Crusade. The first book in the series — Horus Rising – follows the exploits of the Luna Wolves, a chapter of Space Marines under the command of the Warmaster Horus, most trusted and beloved of all the Emperor’s children. Still very much alive yet occupied with other duties, the Emperor has tasked the Warmaster with the lofty mantle of commanding his crusade from the front lines, forcing each splintered group of humans on distant worlds to submit to the Emperor’s rule or be subjugated by force.
Far from the bloodthirsty warmonger one might suspect Horus to be (as did I before reading this book!), he is instead portrayed as a well-liked and charismatic leader, gifted equally in the arts of war and diplomacy, and every bit as much a brilliant tactician as one in his position should be. The majority of the book, however, is told from the viewpoint of Garviel Loken, Captain of the Luna Wolves 10th Company, a particularly dry and humourless Marine utterly loyal to his brothers-in-arms and his Emperor — a character who I found was initially quite difficult to like, but eventually grew on me. Other parts of the book allow a somewhat more human perspective when told through the eyes of the remembrancers — artists, poets, musicians, writers, painters and the like, who have been sent to document and draw inspiration from the Great Crusade as it happens.
The book spans several planets and the events between, and while all seems well on the surface, the seeds of corruption have already been sown and through seemingly minor events and actions (usually remarked upon by Loken or others for the benefit of the reader — pride, jealousy, hatred, secret meetings and fellowships) the very beginnings of the downfall can be observed, as well as a brief glimpse of Chaos’ dreadful power first-hand. It’s a slow and subtle approach, yet the book manages to be quite gripping nonetheless with its variety of settings and events, including some disastrous twists that none could foresee. While a little slow in parts, overall the story manages to hold together well and seems a good length, not too long nor too short.
Dan Abnett’s usual “everyone dies” approach is thankfully toned quite far down, though plenty of bloodshed and death lies within, so overall I’d heartily recommend this book to fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, as well as being a fairly decent introduction to the series for those who are unfamiliar with it.