Guilliman and Mortarion finally come into conflict…
Intent on rebuilding Ultramar, the returned primarch Roboute Guilliman wages war on the treacherous Death Guard – but the intervention of a greater power threatens all he works for.
In the void and upon the worlds of Greater Ultramar, the battle for the Imperium continues.
Intent on rebuilding his home realm and using it as base to reconstruct the ravaged stellar empire of mankind, the returned primarch Roboute Guilliman proceeds with his war to drive Mortarion and his Death Guard Traitor Legion from the domain of the Ultramarines.
But when Guilliman brings his brother to battle upon the diseased plains of Parmenio, the intervention of a greater power in their fraternal struggle threatens to upend the Imperial Regent’s understanding of the galaxy, and his place within it.
This is the second novel in Haley’s Dark Imperium trilogy. Meant to coincide with the recent, epic changes in the WH40k setting, it is packed with revelations and action. I enjoyed the first novel in the series, and very much enjoyed this one, too. A must-read for all fans of the WH40k setting.
As with many of Black Library’s recent releases — especially those that are set in or have connections to the Horus Heresy — the non-action scenes are the most interesting. However, the action and battle scenes are very well written and constructed. In Plague War, we see disturbing and gross descriptions of what war against the insidious and sinister (albeit jolly) Death Guard is actually like. There’s trench warfare, titan battles, hordes of daemons, and a confrontation between two primarchs. All good stuff. But, again, I found the stuff away from the battlefront to be the most interesting and rewarding.
Readers are given more information to flesh out their picture of the Death Guard, which in turn reinforces the impression we’ve been given that the traitor legions are not nearly as harmonious or cohesive as we might think. The tension between Mortarion, Typhus, and Nurgle’s daemons is clearly and interestingly portrayed. Even though they are on the same side, they clearly kind of hate each other. Towering egos, conflicting personal agendas, and pig-headedness get in the way of smooth operations. Here, for example, is daemon Ku’gath on Mortarion:
‘Seven this and three that, he’s obsessed! As if numbers excuse him of his connection to the warp. Numbers! The lengths Mortarion goes to distance himself from sorcery are laughable. The primarchs were creatures of our world before any of them fell, and he is now an arch-sorcerer. He is a liar, and, and, he insults me! I am an artist! …. If Mortarion wants a plague to kill one of the Anathema’s get, then he will have one. Eventually.’ He looked dolefully into the cauldron. ‘Mortarion is a troubled being. He keeps his jealousies to himself, but mark my words, Septicus, and mark them well, I suspect this entire campaign is the result of him wishing to prove his fortitude over that of his brother, and nothing more than that. Seven times, probably,’ he grumbled.
Ultimately, Chaos’s continued inability to exert total control and achieve total victory is as much a result of their own internal schisms and issues as it is any perceived weaknesses of the loyalist forces.
Haley seems to have been handed the reins of the post-Great Rift storyline, and he’s been doing a fantastic job of moving the WH40k story forward, and bringing together what readers have learned over the course of the epic Horus Heresy series. Bringing Roboute Guilliman into the “present”, his Heresy-era mentality thrust into an Imperium under siege and so very different to the dream of his father, has been an especially interesting and fruitful move. He has internalized his father’s distrust and disgust at religion, but the Imperium venerates the Emperor as a god, and the Ecclesiarchy has a vice-like grip on much of the way humanity lives and works in this era.
The novel also sees some of Guilliman’s subordinates chaffing at the revelations and first-hand knowledge he brings. Whether he is talking about his father, his brothers, or other aspects of the Great Crusade and Heresy-eras, he remembers how things came to be, what was actually said and thought at the time. He can speak for the Emperor in a way that no-one else alive can (save for the daemon primarchs, but they should defo not be trusted).
‘Sometimes I do not know what to think. I can see the strategic value, in fact the necessity, of the Imperial Cult, but I do not understand it. I do not think I ever will. Of all my brothers, only Lorgar had a genuine sense of the spiritual. He had faith in my father once, much like Mathieu does. He was censured for that belief, and now a version of his religion is an indispensable part of the apparatus of state. The irony of that is so black I can only laugh at it. It was Lorgar who fell first, not Horus. Did you know that?’
I really enjoyed Guilliman’s ongoing frustrations with the Ecclesiarchy, and the fanatics he has to deal with and also support. They exert far too much control over the Imperial citizenry to be disbanded or taken down a peg. The primarch is not always capable of keeping his temper in check, and there was a satisfying confrontation towards the end when he finally vents his spleen at a particularly irksome priest. Anyone who is frustrated by the blending of religion and politics in the world today will no doubt nod in agreement with many of Guilliman’s statements and frustrations.
‘I am the only living being to have spoken with the Emperor for ten thousand years. Ten thousand years, Mathieu, and yet you dare to suppose you know His mind? You priests burn, maim and condemn on the basis of supposition. You practise your barbaric religion in the name of a man who despised and wanted to overthrow all of these things. The Emperor’s purpose was to lead us out of the darkness. You, Frater Mathieu, you and your kind are the darkness!’
Given the space and time since the Heresy, I also enjoyed Guilliman’s more introspective and honest moments, examining his own actions — for example, the Ultramarines’ sanction of the Word Bearers — and how they contributed to Lorgar’s fall and ultimately the Heresy. The novel ends with an interesting moment as Guilliman considers the teachings of the Imperial Cult, attempting to put aside his natural distrust of religion.
Overall, then, another excellent novel by Haley, and one that does a great job of moving the WH40k story forward in a way that few novels/stories have in the past. It’s a must read for any fan of the WH40k setting and the Horus Heresy series. Excellent prose, some wry humour, intense battles, and a good story. I’m looking forward to reading the third novel in the series, whatever it might be, and whenever that might be released. (There are no available details at the time of writing.)
Very soon after finishing this, I started Haley’s The Great Work, which focuses on Belisarius Cawl, and is packed with revelations about the millennia between the end of the Heresy and the ‘present’. I’ll review this soon, too.
Guy Haley’s Plague War is published by Black Library.
However it is, strangely, currently not available to buy except second-hand/remaindered. I reached out to the author to ask about this, and here’s what he was able to say: “Dark Imperium and Plague War are off sale for a while for reasons that I can’t disclose, but which are nevertheless cool. It will be back on sale after a break.” I’ll keep my eyes open, and hopefully we’ll hear some news soon.