Review: THE BURIED DAGGER by James Swallow (Black Library)

SwallowJ-HH54-TheBuriedDaggerIn the last novel in the Horus Heresy series, Mortarion finally falls to Chaos…

The skies darken over Terra as the final battle for the Throne looms ever closer… As the Traitor primarchs muster to the Warmaster’s banner, it is Mortarion who is sent ahead as the vanguard of the Traitor forces. But as he and his warriors make way, they become lost in the warp and stricken by a terrible plague. Once thought of as the unbreakable, the legendary Death Guard are brought to their knees. To save his Legion, Mortarion must strike a most terrible bargain that will damn his sons for eternity. Meanwhile, in the cloisters of Holy Terra, a plot is afoot to create sedition and carnage in advance of the Horus’s armies. Taking matters into his own hands, Malcador the Sigillite seeks to put a stop to any insurrection but discovers a plot that he will need all of his cunning and battle-craft to overcome.

It feels like I have been waiting for this novel for a very long time. I first came across the story of Mortarion’s fall to Chaos in Codex: Chaos, way back in 1996 (a book I read many, many times in my early teenage years). Then, in 2007, Swallow’s The Flight of the Eisenstein told the beginning of the Death Guard’s story in the Horus Heresy. Needless to say, my expectations were very high for this novel. I’m very happy to report, then, that The Buried Dagger is a great addition to the series, and exceeded my expectations.

The story contained in The Buried Dagger can quite easily be split in two: that of Mortarion and his long relationship with his First Captain, Typhon; and events on Terra featuring Garro, Malcador and the growing number of Legionnaires who have left their Legions to serve the Sigillite. Both threads were very good, and moved the story forward as well as filling in some bits of the ‘history’, and expanding what we know about all of the characters involved.

No doubt, the most newsworthy thread for many will be that of the Death Guard’s Primarch, Mortarion. In the ‘present’, Mortarion and the Death Guard are trapped in the Warp, and they are slowly overcome by a mysterious contagion that even brings the mighty, indomitable Death Guard to their knees. Much of this thread is taken up with this mysterious disease, and the Primarch’s attempts to discover its cause and cure.

Interwoven with this is the Primarch’s relationship with his wayward First Captain, Callas Typhon, recently returned to the fold for the final push on Terra. This means we also get some discussion and examination of Mortarion’s difficult, conflicted and sometimes hypocritical position on psychic powers, the warp and daemons. Swallow goes all the way back to the beginning of these two individuals’ history, back on Barbarus. We learn a lot more about Mortarion’s character, his relationship with and feelings towards the Emperor (he’s… not a fan), and, most importantly, the central role Typhon has played in not only changing Mortarion’s path in his youth, but also directing and shifting the path of the entire Legion. I won’t go into any detail, to avoid spoiling the novel, but Swallow does a fantastic job of showing how the seeds of Mortarion’s and the Death Guard’s fall were planted long before Horus turned traitor.

Meanwhile, on Terra, Malcador the Sigillite, Garro, Rubio and the other knights are preparing for Horus’s final attack. There are some strange goings-on, as dangerous, chaotic manifestations are occurring across the planet. Horus makes a final play, hoping to neuter one of the few remaining threats to his success: Malcador. It’s ingenious, sinister, and has been a long-time in the making.

[If you’d like to know why Malcador is such a threat to Horus, then I would recommend reading The Last Council, a short story by L.J. Goulding — it’s not essential reading to appreciate this novel, but it does add some extra background and context, as well as just a glimpse at the extent of Malcador’s power.]

Garro is still grappling with his changing understanding of the universe, and budding faith that the Emperor really is a God. He is still keeping this a secret, of course, because the Emperor has proclaimed all deities false. We learn a little bit about the ultimate fates of Garro, Rubio and also Loken (who has literally been in the series since the beginning). What are Malcador’s plans for his knights errant? What will their role be in the final stages of Horus’s rebellion? Swallow addresses these — some might not be satisfied by how far the author takes the story, but it all does make sense, and sets the scene for events still to come.

It’s strange to finally come to the end of this series — it started with Horus Rising, one of the first novels I reviewed on CR, back in 2006, and has spanned 54 numbered books and countless short stories. True, I haven’t read them all: I still have Titandeath to read (#53), which is very high on my TBR pile, as well as Mechanicum (#9) and Fallen Angels (#11). We still have the still-ongoing Primarchs series for a little while longer, at least (book 11 of 18 — Angron — out later this year), and some more short stories on the way.

It’s been a long road, but an impressive one. The Horus Heresy series is an incredible accomplishment of science fiction. There were a couple of wobbles early on, but the first six novels, and then all from A Thousand Sons (#12) have been pretty great: each contributing to the larger narrative, building on characters new and old, expanding readers’ understanding of an event that shaped everything we have come to know and love about the WH40k setting. Really fantastic, and I have thoroughly enjoyed following the story since the beginning.

The Buried Dagger is, of course, a must read for all fans of the Horus Heresy series (and Death Guard in particular). Even if you have only been reading the Horus Heresy series intermittently, then I also think this one is a must read. Swallow does a fantastic job of bringing the story of the Death Guard’s ultimate fall to a dramatic, tragic conclusion. In addition, it’s nice to see that Garro has some way still to go, too… Gripping and well-written, this is a great close to the series.

Next up? The Siege of Terra and the Solar War

*

The Buried Dagger will be published by Black Library on February 23rd. Swallow is also the author of a number of other Heresy novels — The Flight of the Eisenstein, Nemesis, Fear to Tread, Garro: Weapon of Fate — multiple short stories in the series, and also the excellent Marc Dane thriller series.

Also on CR: Guest Post on “The NOMAD Soundtrack”; Excerpt from Nomad

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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), Titandeath (53), The Buried Dagger (54)

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