With the Horus Heresy approaching book 40 int the series, I thought it was time to take a look back at the series from the start. The opening trilogy of books is very impressive and a set that I keep coming back to read, even though I know exactly what is going to happen.
I bought the first novel, Horus Rising, pretty much as soon as it was released all the way back in 2006 and I’ve kept reasonably good pace with it ever since. I’m currently reading through them all again and will be purchasing those I don’t already have once I get to them. I’m only at the First Heretic (book 14) so there is still quite a way to go yet.
Book 1 – Horus Rising by Dan Abnett
Book 1 has one of the best opening lines ever – ‘I was there…the day Horus slew the Emperor’. The first time I read that, I did wonder if I had picked up the wrong book! The conceit of that line was a great way for the series to start and introduced us to a world that isn’t quite as black and white as the 41st Millennium. This is a galaxy where mankind are still exploring the stars and trying to reclaim what was previously lost. Many of the enemies are humans that simply don’t believe in what the Emperor is, or at least they don’t want to believe. This brings a nice change from the usual battles against aliens that 40k fans will be used to. It is also a galaxy that doesn’t have endless battles against chaos…or at least not in the forms that we are used to.
The novel also introduces some of the most important characters in the 40k universe, a task incredibly difficult and full of fan expectation, but one that Abnett pulls off superbly. Not only is Horus introduced but also Sanguinius, Rogal Dorn, Abaddon and Sigismund. Beyond this there are some of the most important characters that will reoccur throughout the HH series, such as Erebus, Maloghurst and Eidolan. It can be quite bewildering with the huge cast of characters but beyond figuring out which Luna Wolves captain was which sometimes, the skill of the writing has left me not often confused.
The book shows a very human and sometimes niave side to the space marines and primarchs; understandable given that galaxy-defining events are yet occur. It is captivating though reading Horus’ struggling with doubt as to his position and how this eventually leads him down such a disastrous path. Adding to the humanity of the piece are the ‘normal’ humans in the form of rememberancers. They give us a relatively relatable point of view that is crucial narrative, as well as avoiding the book simply becoming all about battles.
The star of the show (and the trilogy) is undoubtedly Garviel Loken; a down-to-earth captain in the Luna Wolves. It is mainly through his eyes that we see how the events unfold and this works really well as a way to hold the story together. You find yourself rooting for Loken throughout and gives the book a hero; important when everything is about to go horribly wrong!
- Best character – Loken
- Best battle sequence – The opening sequence with the ‘Emperor’
- Best non-battle part – Loken’s induction to the Mournival
- Primarch Count – 3 – Horus, Sanguinius and Dorn
Book 2 – False Gods by Graham McNeill
If Book 1 showed Horus the chasm to fall down, Book 2 marks the actual descent. This is the book where it all goes horribly wrong and sets the stage for civil war. It isn’t as enjoyable a read as book 1 but the story is still captivating and fascinating.
The novel mainly centres on the world of Davin, a planet that had been subdued previously during the crusade but is now in rebellion. This eventually leads to Horus being wounded with the only way to ‘save’ him being to shut him in a temple to old gods – no prizes awarded to those who figured out who those old gods were.
Again the situation is mainly shown through Loken’s eyes and his increasing estrangement from his brothers that blindly follow Horus over the Emperor. It is borderline heartbreaking as it goes on and agian you can’t help but root for Loken.
The book also sees the beginning of the rise of the cult of the Lectitio Divinitatus and the ‘Saint’. These elements again give a good human to perspective to the unfolding events.
- Best character – Still Loken (with an honorable mention to Erebus)
- Best battle sequence – the assault on Davin’s moon
- Best non-battle part – Horus in the spirit world
- Primarch Count – 4 – Horus, Fulgrim, Angorn and Magnus
Book 3 – Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter
This is where it all kicks off and space marines start going at it toe-to-toe. We aren’t quite at Istvaan V yet but Istvaan III is a pretty epic battle in itself. I really enjoyed Galaxy in Flames and I thought it was shame then Ben Counter only got to do one more HH novel (for whatever reason).
This book is entirely focussed on the Istvaan III campaign and all that it entails – from fighting the initial rebellion, to virus bombing and then a full brother-vs-brother fight in the ruins. There are some fantastic moments of battle in it but that is pretty much all it is – there isn’t much nuance involved. That being said, as mentioned previously, I really enjoyed it and thought the battle sequences were really well done.
The moment the betrayal is realised by the loyalists already fighting on Istvaan III is one of my highlights of the entire series. The sorrow is not lessened by the fact that neither us as the readers know its coming or that Loken isn’t that surprised. Loken and Torgaddon’s fight vs Little Horus and Abaddon is also a highlight and shows just how deep the divisions have become since the happy days of the Mournival.
As an end to the opening trilogy it really works and I applaud the decision for Istvaan III to be the closing part and not jumping straight to Istvaan V. Burying the loyalists puts a finality to this part…even if not all of them are entirely finished off.
- Best character – Iacton Qruze
- Best battle sequence – Istvaan III – brother vs brother
- Best non-battle part – technically a fight but Iacton rescuing the rememberancers
- Primarch Count – 4 – Horus, Fulgrim, Angorn and Mortarian