A great new Primarchs novel
Born to a life of political conflict, Perturabo was always considered a child prodigy among the people of Olympia – indeed, his philosophical and scientific works were beyond compare. But then, after his rediscovery by the Emperor and decades of thankless military campaigning on the Great Crusade, the primarch begins to resent his Legion’s place in the Imperium. When word reaches him of turmoil on his adoptive home world, he orders the Iron Warriors to abandon their campaign against the alien hrud and crush this emerging rebellion by any means necessary…
I don’t know much about the Iron Warriors and their grumpy Primarch. The only other substantial bit of fiction I’ve read that featured him prominently was Graham McNeill’s excellent Angel Exterminatus. I was pleased, therefore, that Guy Haley manages to flesh-out Perturabo’s character a great deal in this short novel.
The novel alternates between a particular campaign-period for the Iron Warriors, and multiple flashbacks to Perturabo’s upbringing on Olympia. Not all of the flashbacks are revelatory, but taken together they paint a revealing picture of the Primarch’s idiosyncrasies, his insecurities and ultimately the conflict at the core of his nature. He is, in many ways, a scholar — voracious in his desire to learn and create. However, as he quickly realizes, his prodigious abilities will inevitably be put to use by those who merely want his genius to create ever-better and more-efficient weapons.
The ‘present’ timeline focuses on a campaign against the hrud — previously only hinted at in the WH40k fluff, these time-distorting xenos are quite terrifying to contemplate. They travel through time, altering and twisting the areas around them — caught in the wash of their movement, an Astartes can age either forwards or backwards in the blink of an eye. Their effect is random, it seems, so some characters age centuries in a moment, while others crumble into dust. Their weapons and equipment aging and malfunctioning as a result. The Primarch couples his intellect with that of a Mechanicum cultist to come up with an ingenious countermeasure, while weathering a brutal barrage of an ever-greater hrud force. They’re an interesting antagonist, and Haley does a great job of bringing them into the series.
What’s most interesting about the novel is the portrayal of the titular character, of course. As with all of the Primarchs who turn their backs on the Emperor, they suffer from prodigious levels of jealousy, self-doubt and insecurity. All created and designed for different purposes, they are nevertheless prone to petulance and self-pity. Perturabo is no exception.
“What happened to the man I knew who wished for no more war? The boy who drew such wonderful things?”
“Nobody wanted them,” he said. “The Emperor uses me for the most thankless tasks. My men are thrown against the worst of horrors, given the most gruelling roles. We are divided, our talents ignored, our might reduced to splitting rock. My father ignores me. My men go unsung. Our triumphs are unremembered. My brothers mock me as my men bleed. Nobody cares.”
Despite the above quotation, in which he bemoans the dismissal of his warriors and achievements, Perturabo has a single-minded focus on what he wants to achieve. He’s narcissistic in that nothing and nobody matters except the accomplishment of his goals. He is cold, heartless when it comes to spending the lives of his Legion:
“Perturabo gave no thanks or valedictory words to his captain. He expected his warriors to die for him without question.”
His pitiless treatment of one warrior in particular was especially revealing, as was his reaction after the final confrontation in the novel. (That’s all I’m going to say.)
Cracks form among the Legion rank-and-file towards the end. It’s tricky to write about without spoiling certain plot-points. Needless to say, however, Haley does a very good job of giving a handful of Iron Warriors more rounded, complex personalities and emotions. They are so often portrayed as relentless, implacable brutes, but here we learn that they form brotherly bonds just as easily as the Legions who remained loyal to the Emperor.
Overall, then, Perturabo is a great addition to the Primarchs series. As with the others, it’s not essential have read these in order to enjoy the main Horus Heresy series, but it will add some extra detail and flavour to one of the main actors in that epic conflict. Definitely recommended.