In the third instalment of “Turn Back 10”, we take a look at the third review I posted on CR.
Dan Abnett’s Horus Rising is the first novel in Black Library’s long-running, at-one-time New York Times-bestselling Horus Heresy series, chronicling the beginning of what would become the Warhammer 40,000 game and fiction universe. If you’ve been following CR for even a short while, you’ll have seen that I have been an avid, loyal reader of this series — I’ve posted many reviews of the novels, short stories, novellas and audio-dramas. I haven’t reviewed all the books, though, but probably a majority have featured in some way.
The series has experienced some ups-and-downs. The first three novels — Horus Rising, Graham McNeill’s False Gods and Ben Counter’s Galaxy In Flames — form a fantastic opening story-arc that sets the scene brilliantly, and introduces us to some of sci-fi’s most interesting characters. Sadly, the novels afterwards were of varying quality, but the series picked up again with McNeill’s A Thousand Sons, and maintained a very strong run until everything screeched to a halt with the events on Calth…
Anyway, here’s the review…
HORUS RISING by Dan Abnett (Black Library)
At the dawn of the 31st millennium, the Imperium of Man has reasserted its dominance over the galaxy. It is a golden age of rediscovery and conquest, and the Emperor’s Great Crusade has placed his superhuman primarch sons at the head of the mighty Space Marine Legions – the most powerful military force ever assembled. Newly promoted to serve as the Emperor’s Warmaster, the idealistic Horus now stands above his brothers, even as the Crusade enters what must surely be its final stages and dark, cosmic truths begin to reveal themselves. Far beyond the alien threat of malignant xenos breeds or rogue human civilisations, a war now looms that could threaten the final extinction of mankind… The first novel in the epic series, detailing the fall of mankind at the peak of the Great Crusade. Warmaster Horus leads his Legion in the name of the Emperor… but for how long?
Horus Rising is the first book in a trilogy from Black Library that chronicles the events of the Horus Heresy, a time when humanity was ripped apart in an intergalactic civil war, under the leadership of Warmaster Horus, one of the Emperor’s Primarchs and formerly the Emperor’s favourite.
In Horus Rising, the Warmaster has not yet fallen from grace — indeed, he and his private legion of warriors, the Luna Wolves, are as proud and pure as can be. Focussing on the experiences of Garviel Loken, captain of the Luna Wolves’ Tenth Company, and his rise to prominence in the Warmaster’s private council (the Mournival), it paints a nice picture of the time, while avoiding cliches and the possibility of letting tales of the Primarchs (genetically engineered super-humans twice as tall as your average man) get out of hand — one, Sanguinius, has wings, so if it had focussed on him, then it could have become a little tiresome.
Dan Abnett, who has also written Black Library’s highly-praised (and rightly so) Gaunt’s Ghosts series, as well as stories for 2000AD‘s Sinister Dexter, and presently Superman for DC Comics, shows he has only grown as an author. The pacing, the prose and story arc are flawless; never rushing to get to a certain point, never giving away too much, and never falling into clumsy or over-dense narrative.
One of the most interesting elements of the novel is the inclusion of the remembrancers — effectively journalists of this time, allowed passage with the Crusade fleets for the first time, with previously-unheard-of access to the battlefields and Imperial commanders. They bring a very human element to the proceedings, and through them, the warriors of the Luna Wolves — especially Garviel Loken — confront their position as genetically engineered killing-machines, and their blind faith in being completely, unequivocally right in every way.
With the next two instalments being written by different authors (Graham McNeill’s False Gods, and Ben Counter’s Galaxy In Flames: The Heresy Revealed), one can only hope that they do this beginning justice, for truly this is a great Science Fiction novel, and an important event in the Black Library’s history. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get you reviews of these two novels as soon as possible.
From brutal, fast-paced battle sequences, to introspective and personal moments between Loken and either his fellow captains or Mersadie Oliton, his de facto personal remembrancer, and with emotion and humour in decent amounts, Horus Rising has everything you could want from a novel.
As it turned out, I didn’t review False Gods or Galaxy In Flames, even though I did buy and read them as soon as they were published. In fact, I stopped reviewing the series for a while, despite enjoying Flight of the Eisenstein, the epic and just-slightly-bloated Fulgrim, and the slightly weird (if I remember correctly) Legion. Battle for the Abyss I didn’t come close to finishing, and I ended up skipping Mechanicum entirely (not sure why — I’ve since bought it and plan to review it at some point hopefully soon — famous last words, on this site…).
Mitchel Scanlon’s Descent of Angels (book six) I did review, but also didn’t enjoy as much as I’d hoped — as a result, I skipped the second Dark Angels novel, Mike Lee’s Fallen Angels. I would still like to give that a try at some point. I’d then pick up reviewing again with Tales of Heresy (book ten), the first anthology. I’ve reviewed all of the novels since Graham McNeill’s excellent A Thousand Sons, which marked a return to the form of the first trilogy — and was also the first I received from Black Library for review.
Horus Rising was one of the last novels Abnett wrote that didn’t feature a favourite phrase: now, the author seems to come up with one phrase or description that he’s particularly fond of, and absolutely peppers his novels with them. Who can forget Prospero Burns (the sort-of sequel to A Thousand Sons) and the characteristic “wet leopard growl” of the Space Wolves…?
I’m not sure why I thought a novel focussed on Sanguinius would be tiresome — he has featured prominently in a number of short stories since I read this novel, and also James Swallows’s Fear To Tread, which I rather enjoyed. Also, the review is rather thin — I feel it doesn’t really do a very good job of conveying what I loved about the novel. I’m sure, if I’d reviewed it just a couple of years later, the review would have been too long, and probably have lost people halfway through as they fell asleep at their computers…
One day, I’d like to re-read the first three novels in series, but this probably won’t happen until it’s completed. Supposedly, there are going to be 50 novels in all — although, BL is relying on a handful of anthologies to pick up the pace, of which there will be three released in 2016 (interest in the series must be waning). In fact, there is a fair bit of evidence that either the publisher or fans (possibly both) has become at least a little bit tired of the series, because they’ve launch a 12-book series set between the Horus Heresy and the ‘present’ timeline, and also announced an 18-book series focusing on the Primarchs. Personally, I think they should have tried to finish the Heresy series off before launching others that will just pull their talent in multiple directions. But then, I am one of those people whose interest in the franchise is waning, so my opinion doesn’t count for much.
Horus Rising is a great introduction to the world of WH40k, and should suit new readers as well as established fans of the franchise.
The Horus Heresy: Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Flight of the Eisenstein, Fulgrim, Descent of Angels, Legion, Battle for the Abyss, Mechanicum, Tales of Heresy*, Fallen Angels, A Thousand Sons, Nemesis, The First Heretic, Prospero Burns, Age of Darkness*, The Outcast Dead, Deliverance Lost, Know No Fear, The Primarchs*, Fear to Tread, Shadows of Treachery*, Angel Exterminatus, Betrayer, Mark of Calth*, Promethean Sun, Scorched Earth, Vulkan Lives, Scars (I-III, IV-IX), The Unremembered Empire, Vengeful Spirit, The Damnation of Pythos, Legacies of Betrayal*, Death & Defiance*, Tallarn: Executioner, Deathfire, War Without End*, Pharos, Eye of Terra*, The Path of Heaven (April), The Silent War* (May), Angels of Caliban (June), The Praetorian of Dorn
[Anthologies marked by *]
The first two Primarchs novels will be Roboute Guilliman, by David Annandale; and Leman Russ, by Chris Wraight.
Black Library has published a handy chronology on their website, here.