Quick Review: MANFLAYER by Josh Reynolds (Black Library)

ReynoldsJ-FB3-ManflayerThe conclusion to the Fabius Bile trilogy

As his Homo Novus project comes to fruition, Fabius Bile faces a new threat – the dreaded haemonculi of the Thirteen Scars. Can he marshal his forces to protect his creations, or are the New Men doomed to death?

In the centuries since his return from Commorragh, Fabius Bile has distanced himself from the affairs of friend and foe, content only to oversee the cruel evolution of his New Men. But when his creations are threatened by the monstrous haemonculi of the Thirteen Scars, the Manflayer is forced to seek out new allies and old enemies alike in an effort to preserve all that he has built. Homo Novus must survive… even if Fabius Bile must die to ensure it.

Josh Reynolds brings his Fabius Bile trilogy to a dramatic close. Bile is one of the most intriguing WH40k characters, one of multiple contradictions and eccentricities. The author once again brings him to life on the page, displaying in full his narcissism, mania, and insatiable thirst for knowledge. I really enjoyed this.

The novel starts with a teaser in which the daemon Primarch Fulgrim, hedonistic and preening genesire of the Emperor’s Children, turns his attention to bringing Fabius back into the fold. Fabius broke with his Legion long ago, bored of their descent into total hedonism.

Bile seems to hate everyone — not just his own corrupted Legion, but everyone. This is a shared characteristic of many of the famous Chaotic characters in the WH40k universe — they almost all hate the corruption around them, what they have had to do to survive, the deals and pacts that have allowed them to survive and “thrive” in the Eye of Terror. They also all have staggering egos — Fabius, Ahriman, Abaddon… They all believe that they, and they alone, are the future and last noble Traitor Astartes. Fabius wants to be left alone to finish his great experiment: creating Homo Novus, the next step in human evolution. It’s an experiment that has been ongoing for centuries, as new generations of his creations are born, grow old, procreate and die off. Each one stronger and better than the last. It is only in his interactions and relationships with them that we see a positive element of humanity in Bile — he is protective of them, seems to care for a small handful of them. (Naturally, this is coupled with his sometimes ruthless treatment of “failures” or troublesome creations.)

His solitary scientific ideal is disturbed, however, because there are plenty of (former) allies who need his assistance as the premier Traitor apothecary and fleshsmith. It’s also disturbed by the many, many enemies Bile has collected over the centuries. As in the previous two novels — Primogenitor and Clonelord — Fabius is dragged into a conflict in which he has little interest in taking part. This time, however, it’s not only the machinations of the Traitor Legions — no, this time, the drukhari are after him. You see, he spent some time with the Dark Eldar, learning from them, until he disappeared with stolen knowledge and resources. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game as his enemies hop from base to base, facility to facility, destroying Fabius’s work and clones.

‘Oh, Fabius,’ he murmured. ‘What have you done?’

The above quotation, in a way, perfectly encapsulates Fabius’s experiences with the universe. He seems to constantly be picking up after himself, cleaning up a mess created during a fractious, traitorous, manipulative exchange or interaction. He is single minded, and doesn’t care to trouble himself with others’ concerns. The universe just has other ideas.

Reynolds does a great job bringing this slice of the WH40k universe alive. Fabius and his Consortium — the band of apothecaries and experimenters who have attached themselves to Bile’s mission(s) — are an interesting group to read about. Each with his own obsessions, jockeying for Bile’s favour and knowledge, while simultaneously looking for opportunities to usurp him.

Contrary to the slanderous whispers of his enemies, the Consortium were not his servants. Rather, they were his students. Not quite his peers, for he had none, but close enough to be considered fellow travellers on the road to greater understanding.

We learn more about the strained relationships between the various warbands of surviving Traitors that operate in and out of the Eye. Through the eyes of Bile’s compatriots and acquaintances, we learn more about his place in the Traitor Legions, and also the ongoing debates and discussions about Bile’s and others’ place in the Great Game of the Chaos Gods. Over the course of the novel, Bile has choice words for Fulgrim, Abaddon, Angron and more: he despises the choices they’ve made, and the legends that have sprung up around them. He’s frustrated by their frequent requests for aid to combat whatever new threat has arisen in the galaxy. For example, the Primaris Marines.

Fabius dismissed the image. ‘Ezekyle wants something to counter them, doesn’t he? How predictable. They make oversized warriors, we make oversized warriors.’ He shook his head. ‘A galaxy of children, squabbling over their toys.’

Kowtowing to these entities is beneath him, even though Abandon (in his strange way) actually tries to help him. Here his is on Fulgrim:

Fabius turned away. ‘I always knew you were weak,’ he said. ‘We all did, I think. And we are as guilty of pampering you as Angron’s sons are of coddling him. We broke you as surely as the World Eaters broke the Red Angel. We gave in to your whims and petulancies, rather than standing firm and teaching you as the Emperor asked.’

I could write a lot more about the novel, but that would rob potential readers of discovering it for themselves. Reynolds sprinkles interesting observations, explanations, and minor revelations throughout the novel — each building on the myth of Fabius Bile, while simultaneously illuminating aspects of the setting and its lore. It all builds to a dramatic ending; complete with a huge, chaotic battle, a few betrayals, some strangely tender moments, and more. The ending itself, though, is deliciously twisted, and very Fabius Bile. I’m sad the trilogy is over, but I do hope we see more of the character in other novels and short stories in the future.

If you’ve been a fan of the series and character, this is a must read. Populated by interesting and varied characters, twisted creatures and conflicting agendas, grand schemes and petty rivalries… Manflayer has a bit of everything for all fans of the WH40k franchise. If you’re new to the setting/series, then I’d recommend you start with Primogenitor, and I think you’ll enjoy all three novels.


Josh Reynolds’s Manflayer is out now, published by Black Library in North America and in the UK.

Also on CR: Interview with Josh Reynolds (2017); Reviews of Primogenitor, Clonelord, and Fulgrim: The Palatine Phoenix

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter


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