Disclaimer: I know almost nothing about Warhammer 40k other than what I have seen at cons and peeking in the windows of Games Workshop stores. Here’s me learning.
I’ve been told (by Amazon and by humans) that you should start with the Horus Heresy if you are coming to WH40k lore for the first time. So here I am. Take it away. Book 1 of … 58? Did I read that right, Wikipedia??
Minor spoilers to follow.
What I Expected:
Let’s be honest. This is a silly cover. It looks like Ozzy Osborne meeting up for a LARP. But I think I get the point: guys very excited to kill things. Check!
The seeds of heresy are sown. I’m guessing there’ll be some plotting in here too.
Why are people using swords AND “bolters” (explosive machine guns?) — one of those seems more effective than the other…
What I Liked:
I liked that this novel didn’t expect too much knowledge of broader Warhammer lore from me. Don’t get me wrong, it was filled to the gills with made up fantasy words. But most of it either was easy to understand or didn’t matter enough to affect reading the book.
Abnett does a decent job with action sequences even though there are surprisingly few of them compared to what you would expect based on the cover.
There’s an attempt to provide some character to the people in this world and to show a range of emotions from them. Abnett tries to portray the “Mournival” as a brotherhood and it works sometimes. You get the feeling that these guys actually like each other.
What I Didn’t:
There’s a whole lot of reliance here on telling the reader what to think but a failure to follow through. There’s a lot of “this is the baddest dude” which is to be expected. There’s also a lot of focus on the “baddest dudes” of arts and culture though. Like: This is the best “iterator” (orator?) and he’s awesome and can change whole worlds through a speech and he’s great! OK… Then Abnett spends a few pages letting us look at one of those speeches and let’s just say I’m not sure that he’s changing too many worlds out there. The “remembrancers” (state-sponsored artists?)are of course also the “baddest dudes” of poetry and photography, etc. etc. But again, Abnett seems to be hoping that we’ll just go with it as opposed to giving us a real reason to buy into this.
Outside of one particular encounter near the end of the book, there’s really not a lot of the “grim darkness” that Warhammer promises on every piece of advertisement I’ve ever seen from them. The monster count is at a measly “one” for this book. That’s not necessarily bad, I guess, but not what I’d expect when the miniatures game is literally… monsters and dice piled up on a table. Kind of like reading a Dungeons & Dragons book and having 95% of it be humans chatting together in a castle.
Horus. Oh my goodness. I hate this guy. I hope he’s a better villain (the book tells you he’s the eventual bad guy on the first page), because as a hero he’s like orange juice and toothpaste. Lame jokes. Thinks he’s super cunning, but his plans are written in crayon. Every “genhanced” (genetically engineered?) super warrior giving him puppy dog eyes. Loves his new title so much that I bet he’s got at least two mugs that say “Galaxy’s Best Warmaster” on them.
Mostly though the book just kind of dragged. Abnett lets you know right up front: this book you’ll see that Horus is cool and then by the end he won’t be so cool anymore. That second half barely even started, so most of it was trying to build up Horus as a cool galaxy conquerin’, god-like, friendly neighborhood Warmaster.
Oh and the main protagonist? Garviel Loken? Not awful, but pretty forgettable. Mostly a stand-in for the reader.
What Stuck Out:
The visualizations of the “xeno” (alien?) world called Murder (yes, really…) were vivid and unique. The descriptions of the alien flora, world storms, and white thorned trees had a lot of personality — especially compared to the actual inhabitants, machine spiders? Which never really came together for me visually.
The Interex beach resort city and their “aria” (audio-based, omnipresent universal translator?) were memorable as well. I felt like as soon as I started to connect with that world though, the book ended. And it doesn’t look like they’ll be coming back there anytime soon either.
A weird start! It’s almost like Abnett wanted to start out by saying that this book series is not going to be just hordes of monsters and space marines chainsawing each other in the face. I know there were moments of that (the intro battle, “Murder”, the Interex battle…) but honestly 75% of the book was chatting and wandering world building. I can appreciate the effort, but felt like a missed opportunity.