Quick Review: SLAVES TO DARKNESS by John French (Black Library)

FrenchJ-HH51-SlavesToDarknessThe traitors gather for their final push towards Terra…

After a long and gruelling conflict, the traitors at last close upon Terra. But time is dwindling for an attack. Both Guilliman and the Lion are returning with all haste, and their armies could turn the tide. The hosts of the Warmaster must unite, for only then can they attack the Throneworld itself. While Mortarion is sent on ahead as the fleet’s vanguard, it falls to Lorgar and Perturabo to marshal Fulgrim and Angron, both now elevated to daemonhood and perhaps beyond even the will of the Warmaster to command. But Horus lies wounded and as the greatest battle the galaxy has ever know looms, it is up to Maloghurst to hold his fractious Legion together and to wrench Horus himself from the edge of oblivion.

The Traitor legions are preparing for their final push to Terra. At least, that is the plan. After the events of Wolfsbane, Horus is grappling with the wound he received from the Emperor’s Spear, wielded by his loyalist brother Leman Russ. The time has nevertheless come to assemble the Traitor legions and bring the campaign to a close. However, this is easier said than done: all is not well among the Traitors, and with Horus’s status unclear, stresses and fractures appear not only between the legions, but also amongst Horus’s closest aides and commanders…

The novel is told from the perspective of a rotating selection of characters. For example: Maloghurst, Horus’s long-time equerry and mentor from before he was reunited with the Emperor; Layak, a devoted acolyte of Lorgar’s who goes through a very interesting personal journey in this novel; Iron Warrior Volk, whose single-minded drive leads him to experience some startling changes, after catching the attention of a malevolent power; Ekaddon, a hyper-ambitious Son of Horus captain. Through these characters’ eyes (and a couple of others, if I remember correctly), we see the strained relationships between the primarchs, the legions and their brothers.

As French writes in the afterword, the novel is not just a continuation of the Heresy series, but also one that asks the question, “What is Chaos?” The afterword is one of the best from the series so far, and it was very valuable in adding depth to the novel I’d just read. French writes of how “These powers oppose and antagonise each other like the poles of magnets,” and this has an impact on how their forces and followers interact with each other. In the Heresy era, our understanding of Chaos is limited and in the development phase. We have often been presented with a picture of Horus as a unifying tyrant, rallying his fellow traitorous brothers to his cause — indeed, that is also how the loyalists seem to perceive the forces arrayed against them. The reality is very different.

While Horus has acquired incredible power from his ordeals and trials undertaken during Vengeful Spirit, and Fulgrim and Angron have been elevated to daemonhood (in Angel Exterminatus and Betrayer, respectively), there remain considerable cracks in the traitors’ alliance. Horus remains psychically and spiritually conflicted (in part due to the wound he received during his duel with Russ, in Wolfsbane). A good portion of the novel is focused on Maloghurst’s attempts to revive Horus, and put him back on his path. It’s a twisty journey, one that causes a fair amount of problems within the Sons of Horus and within the traitors’ alliance over all. This builds to a really interesting ending on Ullanor, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of certain characters. (Sorry to be vague, but it’s necessary…)

Fulgrim has abandoned his Legion, off cavorting with the daemon N’kari and other creatures of Slaanesh. Angron’s daemonic fury is near-uncontrollable, and is bleeding his Legion dry. Nobody really trusts Lorgar. Many believe Magnus to be dead. Perturabo is bitter, but loyal to Horus. Mortarion is insecure and already on his way to Terra. And Alpharius… well, nobody knows what he’s up to, really. (Although, his brief appearance in Slaves to Darkness is tantalizing in its mystery.) While the Loyalist Primarchs and Legions remain mostly united and cohesive (with just a few acting on their own),

“… the Traitors aren’t made stronger by falling to Chaos. They are made weaker. They are made slaves who can no longer choose their own path. Chaos pulls them apart, divides them, consumes them and sets Horus’ forces against each other. It does not do this because it is a winning strategy, far from it; it does this because it can’t help it. The great powers in the warp, the four that are called gods, can come together and apply their power to a single end, but this can only be temporary. As soon as they align they begin to split. And because they are elemental forces they do this messily, and with all the care of an earthquake.”

The synopsis doesn’t fully express how difficult it is to “marshal Fulgrim and Angron”. Lorgar’s and Perturabo’s missions are not easy meetings with their elevated brothers. As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, their new aspects have wrought massive change on their place in the universe and heresy. Fulgrim has abandoned the Emperor’s Children, and is cavorting endlessly on his own daemon world. We meet the aforementioned N’kari, a Slaaneshi daemon who has cropped up in the background material for decades. Angron and the World Eaters, meanwhile, are languishing on a world blasted by war — they have established a gladiatorial society on a massive scale in order to keep Angron’s fury channelled and somewhat in check. Perturabo’s arrival on the planet, and when they meet Khârne really underlines the tragedy of the World Eaters’ fall and devolution. I won’t go anymore into the details of how Lorgar and Perturabo bring their brothers back into the fold, as that will just spoil things for you. Both require very different tactics, but both are written very well.

Overall, I really enjoyed the novel. It was briskly-paced, offered a lot of examination of Chaos and what it is, and what it does to its followers, and also moved the story forward. It will be really interesting to see what happens next, and how the publisher and authors handle the dramatic events on the horizon. Highly recommended to all fans of the series, this is a great addition.

**

John French’s Slaves to Darkness is out now, published by Black Library.

Also on CR: Reviews of the Ahriman Series — Exile, Exodus, Sorcerer and Unchanged; Praetoria of Dorn

The Horus Heresy on CR: 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 SunVulkan Lives (26), Scars (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), Angels of Caliban (38), Praetorian of Dorn (39), Corax (40), The Master of Mankind (41), Garro (42), Shattered Legions (43), The Crimson King (44), Tallarn (45), Ruinstorm (46), Old Earth (47), The Burden of Loyalty (48), Wolfsbane (49), Born of Flame (50), Slaves to Darkness (51), Heralds of the Siege (52)

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