A pair of novels that look at the Emperor’s Children Legion at two very different times in their history
Josh Reynolds, who must be Black Library’s hardest working author, recently wrote two novels about the Emperor’s Children Legion: one is part of the Horus Heresy: Primarchs series, and the other set during the ‘current’ WH40k era. Together, they offer a nice look at how far the Legion fell.
FULGRIM: THE PALATINE PHOENIX
Seeking a new challenge and a mighty triumph, Fulgrim – prideful primarch of the Emperor’s Children – sets out to conquer a world with just seven warriors by his side…
Lord of Chemos and bearer of the Palatine Aquila, Fulgrim, primarch of the Emperor’s Children, is determined to take his rightful place in the Great Crusade, whatever the cost. A swordsman without equal, the Phoenician has long studied the art of war and grows impatient to put his skills, and those of his loyal followers, to a true test. Now, accompanied by only seven of his finest warriors, he seeks to bring a rebellious world into compliance, by any means necessary. But Fulgrim soon learns that no victory comes without cost, and the greater the triumph, the greater the price one must pay…
In Fulgrim, the eponymous Primarch attempts to prove himself to his father and brothers, after he feels his reputation and stature threatened by his more-accomplished brothers. It is a story of arrogance, certainly, but also one that shows us how skilled Fulgrim actually is — long before his descent into Chaos and ultimate apotheosis. An interesting novel.
Even if you’re not particularly familiar with Fulgrim and his legend, this novel does a nice job of giving readers a quick intro to Fulgrim’s arrogance, but also his insecurities. It’s a theme that has run throughout the Horus Heresy series, and for the main all of the authors have done a great job of presenting the sibling rivalry (and worse) that exists between many of the Emperor’s Primarchs. For Fulgrim, though, obsessed with perfection and aesthetics, any evidence that might make him appear lesser than his brothers is a bit too much to bear. And so, he makes an outrageous bet: that he can bring a rebellious planet into compliance with only a handful of his warriors for support.
He had allowed himself to be goaded, that much he was willing to admit. The urge to strike out on his own had been growing since the discovery of Ultramar, and what Guilliman had accomplished there. His brothers’ success rankled. Fulgrim had waged incalculable wars to save but a single world, while Guilliman and Dorn had ruled entire systems. The Legions awaiting them had numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and had swelled to greater heights since. His had numbered two hundred, and though their list of honours was greater than any, it was poor consolation.
It’s an incredible boast from one famous for his boasting. What follows is a novel that shows us all of Fulgrim’s talents: in politics, in persuasion, but also in combat. It was nice that Fabius was along for the journey, as he remains one of the most interesting characters in the Heresy/WH40k series. His role is relatively small, but it was nice to see him join his Primarch. Events on the planet escalate, as Fulgrim slowly uncovers what’s going on, and must make plenty of decisions about how to achieve compliance: a heavy hand? Diplomacy? What mix of the two? It’s an good novel, and an interesting look at the Primarch’s character.
I’ve had rather mixed feelings about the Primarchs series. Each novel has been an interesting, short snapshot taken from the titular character’s pre-Heresy life. They have all been well-written and do offer a look at a hitherto under-examined element of the Primarchs’ stories and characters. However, they have often also felt somewhat unsatisfying. I enjoyed Fulgrim quite a bit, but I still didn’t find it as satisfying as one of the ‘regular’ Horus Heresy novels. This is, of course, fine — the two series do very different things, and I think it’s just taken me a little longer than it should to accept that fact.
If you’re a fan of the character and Legion, then I would certainly recommend you check this out.
Let us now turn to the WH40k ‘present’, for the latest instalment in one of my favourite new series published by Black Library…
FABIUS BILE: CLONELORD
Once a loyal son of the Emperor’s Children, Fabius Bile now loathes those he once called brother. But when a former comrade requests his aid on a mission he cannot refuse, Bile is drawn once more into the sinister machinations of his former Legion. Now, accompanied by new allies and old enemies alike, Fabius Bile must travel deep into the wilds of the Eastern Fringe, in search of a world unlike any other. A world which might hold the key to his very survival. A world called Solemnace…
The second novel in Reynolds’s series starring the Legion’s chief apothecary, I really enjoyed Clonelord. As I mentioned above, Fabius Bile is one of the most interesting characters in the WH40k universe. He’s despicable, single-minded, arrogant, but has an air of tragedy around him that gives him a bit more of a nuanced character, and pulls him away from the two-dimensional Villain archetype that he maybe had when he was first introduced into the game universe. Reynolds has done a fantastic job writing this character, and fleshing him out in this series.
The novel is very much about the internal politics and rivalries of the Legion. We learn of the multiple factions that are attempting to seize control of the ragged Legion warbands. Fabius, uninterested in this infighting, is nevertheless coerced into joining a particular warband, and manipulates those around him to serve his own ends. Naturally, things spiral out of control, as the various characters allow their own insecurities and ambitions to overcome sense.
There’s a core component of Clonelord‘s story that was really surprising. Unfortunately, to write about it would ruin this surprise… (I know, such a tease.) What I will say, is that in this novel we learn a fair bit of how far Fabius’s experiments have progressed — his incredible ambition and hubris, his belief that he is capable of replicating some of the Emperor’s experiments that led to the Primarchs. There was one statement in particular that suggested other experiments in the past, only one of which has appeared in fiction so far, in Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Black Legion series. (Perhaps the others will be the subjects of future novels and/or short stories…? Certainly hope so.)
We realize that Fabius, despite his diabolical lack of respect for others’ wishes, overall strategies, and bodies, there remains a small kernel of pride and honour in who he and his fellow Legionaries are, or were. The state of the Emperor’s Children is in many ways repellant to him, even though he himself was integral to some of the physical changes that have come to afflict the Legion. (The noise marines, for example, began through bio-engineered enhancements he conducted.) Fabius is also searching for a purpose for himself and for his Legion. His confidence in his ability to save the Legion wanes as the novel progresses.
‘We were lost, in those days. Without true guidance. Reacting, instead of acting. Descending into barbaric excess, even as we shed all pretence of organisation and discipline. Without Fulgrim… we were rudderless. Some tried to steer the ship, regardless, myself included. We failed… I thought there was something worth saving. Now, I know better. We are failed experiments. All that remains is to learn what can be learned, and begin again.’
The novel also contains a good amount of information about Fabius’s relationship with Fulgrim. Interestingly, he is not as self-aware about it as one might expect. Others within the Legion, however, seem to have been far more familiar with the truth. For example, Alkenex says at one point,
‘I envy the love our father showed him. Fulgrim loved Fabius first, and best. Oh, vainglorious fools like Lucius, or mad dogs like Eidolon, will tell you different, but I know… Lucius was his champion, Eidolon his greatest commander – but Fabius was his confidant. Fabius understood him in ways the rest of us were never allowed to. And for that, I envy him, and I hate him.’
Overall, Clonelord is another excellent novel by Reynolds: one that expands our understanding of the characters portrayed, as well as the Legion’s place in the 41st Millennium — it does for the Emperor’s Children what Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords series did for that legion.
Well-written, engaging throughout, and with just the right balance of character development and action. Definitely recommended, I really enjoyed this.