Review: MAGNUS THE RED by Graham McNeill (Black Library)

McNeillG-HHP3-MagnusTheRedOn a fracturing world, Magnus and his Sons’ powers are unleashed…

Lord of the mystical and uncanny, Magnus the Red has long studied the ancient crafts of sorcery. A psyker without peer, save only for the Emperor himself, he commands his loyal followers of the Thousand Sons Legion in the Great Crusade, though also vigilant for any lost knowledge they might recover from the remains of dead human civilisations.

Now, fighting alongside his brother Perturabo of the Iron Warriors, Magnus begins to foresee an approaching nexus of fate — will he remain true to their mutual aims, or divert his own efforts towards furthering his own mastery of the warp?

This third novel in Black Library’s Horus Heresy: Primarchs series offers readers a glimpse of insight into Magnus the Red and his Thousand Sons Legion. Framed as a reminiscence of Magnus, it tells the story of a particular campaign and the terrible foe the Thousand Sons and Iron Warriors faced together in the early years of the crusade.

Aside from the huge psychic displays that one can expect from any substantial story featuring Magnus the Red, this short novel also features a fair amount of attention on the Thousand Sons’ anxiety over their specialties. Unlike the other Legions, Magnus’s include a considerable number of psykers, and prodigiously talented ones. His favoured son, Ahriman is a main character in the story as well.

… most of all he shared their deep longing to reveal their true selves. Their powers were as much a part of them as breathing, and to keep that hidden from their brother Legions was to keep a part of their soul in chains.

Only a handful of decades has passed since the Sons were united with their Primarch, and after confronting the deadly, widespread threat of mutation the Legion suffered from, the Thousand Sons have rejoined the crusade. They are cautious about displaying their mastery of the warp, of showing just how powerful they are. An admonition from Perturabo suggests the Thousand Sons (maybe all Legions?) have been warned to not meddle with the warp too deeply. Nevertheless, as the story progresses, a number of the Legion are forced to unleash a measure of their powers — including Magnus, whose feat of psychic strength is… well, bombastic to say the least.

Perturabo hasn’t featured too prominently in the series so far (save for in Angel Exterminatus), so it was nice to get his character fleshed out a bit more in advance of his own Primarchs novel. Of particular note, in my opinion, is the closeness and affection between Magnus and Perturabo. After the aforementioned feat of psychic mastery, and the incredible physical toll it takes on Magnus, they share a private moment, during which Perturabo says the following:

“You came a heartbeat from death,” he whispered. “By all rights, you should have died. And our Father’s Great Crusade would have been robbed of one of its brightest sons, brighter even than dear Horus. More importantly, I would have lost a dear brother. There are none among our kin I regard as highly as you, so promise me you won’t risk your like like that again.”

Magnus the Red is not McNeill’s best Heresy work, but it is nevertheless a strong addition to the growing canon. It’s fast-paced, engaging and illuminating. The author manages to make it feel familiar, while also providing a slightly different kind of Thousand Sons story. If you’ve been following the main series and/or the Primarchs series, then this is certainly a must-read.

Magnus’s story will continue in the next Horus Heresy novel, The Crimson King (also written by McNeill), which I am very eager read.


Magnus the Red is out now, published by Black Library.

Also on CR: Interview with Graham McNeill (2011); Guest Post on “BL Expo Canada”; Reviews of A Thousand SonsThe Outcast DeadAngel ExterminatusVengeful Spirit

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

The Horus Heresy Primarchs Series: Roboute GuillimanLeman Russ, Magnus the Red, Perturabo, Lorgar, Fulgrim

The Horus Heresy: Horus Rising (1), False Gods (2), Galaxy in Flames (3), Flight of the Eisenstein (4), Fulgrim (5), Descent of Angels (6), Legion (7), Battle for the Abyss (8), Mechanicum (9), Tales of Heresy (10), Fallen Angels (11), A Thousand Sons  (12), Nemesis (13), The First Heretic (14), Prospero Burns (15), Age of Darkness (16), The Outcast Dead (17), Deliverance Lost (18), Know No Fear (19), The Primarchs (20), Fear to Tread (21), Shadows of Treachery (22), Angel Exterminatus (23), Betrayer (24), Mark of Calth (25), Promethean Sun, Scorched Earth, Vulkan Lives (26), Scars (I-III, IV-IX; 27), The Unremembered Empire (28), Vengeful Spirit (29), The Damnation of Pythos (30), Legacies of Betrayal (31), Death & Defiance, Tallarn: Executioner, Blades of the Traitor, Deathfire (32), The Purge, Wolf King, Cybernetica, War Without End (33), Pharos (34), The HonouredThe UnburdenedEye of Terra (35), The Path of Heaven (36), The Silent War (37), Tallarn: Ironclad, Angels of Caliban (38), Praetorian of Dorn (39), Corax (40), The Master of Mankind (41), Garro (42), Shattered Legions (43), The Crimson King (44)


4 thoughts on “Review: MAGNUS THE RED by Graham McNeill (Black Library)

  1. Perturabo is an interesting character. From the old descriptions, it always seemed like Peturabo was simply a siege-fanboy with a sourpuss attitude. And he was competing with Rogal Dorn. But Perturbaro’s characterization in Angel Exterminatus was one of the best elements of that novel. The revelation of how deep-down he’s actually driven by an idealistic vision of the future makes him a really interesting character. I’m excited to see what his Primarch-novel will be like.

    As for this one… Well, I agree with you that if you’ve followed the Thousand Sons (by both reading John French’s stuff and McNeill’s) this novel isn’t that exciting. My problem with the novel is that it feels lackluster. I just got the feeling while reading it that there should be more to this than what this novel offered to the reader. I’m not saying the story feels incomplete. It’s just that it seems to me like McNeill makes the Thousand Sons’ dominant vice ignorance rather than hubris. Rather than going with a “power corrupts”-narrative, the Thousand Sons end up being unwitting victims of their blindness to what’s really going on. I feel like McNeill wants us to forgive the Thousand Sons for their flaws by showing their obliviousness to the disaster they’re heading towards. To me, at least, the Thousand Sons don’t seem sinister enough. I’m all for making their story-arc a tragedy but it shouldn’t be forgotten where they end up ultimately. For all their excusable flaws, the Thousand Sons end up being villains.

    I’m not trying to say this novel is bad. It’s just… Personally, I would have preferred to either get a story about the “deal with the devil” Magnus made or the moment where the Thousand Sons are on their own and decide to embrace their powers completely.

    Then again, maybe Crimson King will address this necessary switch from where the Thousand Sons cease to be victims and become the villains they’re destined to be. I mean, the Legion basically started with a “deal with the devil”, after all.


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