Book Review – Shrike by George Mann

Title: Shrike

Author: George Mann

Publisher: Black Library

Setting/Series: 40k / Space Marine Legends

Published: 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78496-496-2

Publisher Link

 

Shrike is all about (you’ve guessed it) the Raven Guard Space Marine Shrike.  It looks at Shrike in three stages:

  1. As a line soldier
  2. As Shadow Captain
  3. As Chapter Master

This essentially breaks the novel down in to two novellas and a short story at the end.  The overriding themes throughout each story is the Ork Warboss Gorkrusha and the brotherhood that the Raven Guard share.

 

If I’m being honest, I had never heard of Shrike before or read that much about the Raven Guard beyond novels in the Horus Heresy series.  I bought it though because I fancied something a little bit different and this novel certainly gave that.

 

Thoughts

Shrike was one of those novels that took me a bit of time to get in to but after about 20 pages I was hooked.  Shrike is a really interesting character and it is surprisingly easy to feel empathy for him, unlike quite a lot of space marines.  His actions and thoughts are also surprisingly human; this isn’t a criticism at all, in fact I would say it is a positive.  Too often Space Marines are portrayed as inhuman and perhaps too much.  Although their superior physicality and minds take them a step above humans, it has to be remembered that they were human in the first place.

The empathy and humanity of Shrike makes him (and the novel a lot easier to understand).  I particularly thought the relationship with Shrike’s brothers Corus and Kadus was really well done.  This theme throughout the stories worked very well and tied each piece together.  The flashbacks to the three of them as initiates and the revelation the final flashback makes Shrike’s actions even more understandable.

As for the Orks and Gorkrusha, I can’t say they were portrayed any better or worse than in other novels.  Orks are Orks in the end but the final short story gave an interesting twist on Gorkrusha’s intentions.

 

Memorable Moments (no spoilers!)

  • Gorkrusha fight 1 – with Shrike as a line trooper
  • Gorkrusha fight 3 – with Shrike as Chapter Master
  • All of the flashback scenes with Shrike, Corus and Kadus
  • The interactions between Shrike and Kadus when he is Shadow Captain and then Chapter Master

 

Conclusion

Shrike is a really solid 40k and Space Marine novel.  If you are a fan of the Raven Guard or love Shrike as a character from elsewhere then this a must.  If you are a 40k and/or Space Marine fan I would also give it a go as it is something a little bit different from the norm.  Non-40k fans would probably struggle but I wouldn’t discount it either.

I think the best thing I can say is that Shrike has made me want to know a lot more about the character and the Raven Guard and I will be looking to get some of the other novels and audio dramas relating to them.

 

Further Reading

Thoughts on…The Beast Arises

Throughout a fairly chaotic year for in 2016, one of the best things (books wise) was the regular publication of the Beast Arises series.  It guaranteed me a new book to enjoy each month and I hope the Black Library will do something similar again in the future.

 

The series had some flaws and I know some people found it disappointing but overall, I found the story really good and interesting, particularly considering the difficulty of having so many different authors across the books.  If you were to take the books in isolation then you could find yourself disappointed, but if you instead read them as one continuous story, then it makes a huge difference to your enjoyment; it did for me anyway.

 

If you don’t know already, then the premise is as follows:

  • It is 1,500 years after the Horus Heresy
  • The Imperium believes itself relatively safe
  • The Orks shatter that illusion with a huge invasion of Imperial Space
  • The Orks are more organised and dangerous than ever before
  • Intrigue and politics amongst the High Lords hamstring an effective response
  • It gets a lot worse before it gets better

 

It was quite nice to have the orks as such a major threat in the series, instead of just an annoyance that will eventually be dealt with.  Although the orks are the main ‘enemy’ in the series, what is most interesting to read is the changing Imperium.  I particularly mean with regards to how the High Lords function, as well as other branches and institutions such as the Astartes and Inquisition.  My favourite passages in the book weren’t the huge battles but the intrigue between the High Lords.

 

Many great characters are in the series, but the stars of the show are:

  • Drakan Vangorich
  • Inquisitor Weinand
  • Inquisitor Veritus
  • Koorland
  • Thane

Those five really make the books, with almost all of the main events containing at least one of them.

 

I’m going to read through the series again over the coming months and as I do, I’ll set down a review of each of them on the blog.

Thoughts on…Overfiend

Thoughts on…Overfiend by David Annandale

 Overfiend is another instalment of one of my favourite Black Library series, Space Marine Battles.  It is written by one my favourite BL authors, and one of the most prolific at the moment, David Annandale.

 

The book contains three fairly equally sized stories that form a sequential narrative of a plan to lure the Ork Warboss, the Overfiend, in to a trap and kill him.  For those of you who know the background, the Overfiend is the leader of the Ork Empire of Octarius that has been locked in perpetual warfare with Hive Fleet Leviathan for many years.

 

The three stories are:

  • Storm Seer – follows the White Scars on a small moon in the system. The main focus is that of the Storm Seer (unsurprisingly) Ghazan as his visions show him an unlikely path to what he must do, much to his commander’s annoyance.  A running theme throughout the stories is an encounter with the Eldar that begins to unravel a series of mysteries.
  • Shadow Captain – following the Raven Gard as they fight against the Orks on the main planet in the system. The Eldar show up in force in this story and there is an uneasy alliance between them and the Raven Guard.  This story reveals why the Orks are here and what is making them stronger and tougher than normal.
  • Forge Master – this is the strongest of the three books and follows the Salamanders as they board the Overfiend’s flagship to save an Elder Farseer. What makes it the best though is the relationship between the two Salamander ‘brothers’, the Techmarine Ha’garen and the Sergeant Ba’Birin

 

Overall thoughts

I must admit that I struggled to get in to the first story and it took me quite a while to get through it.  However the questions the story posed towards the end led me wanting to read the other two and the overall story arc really shone through across the books.

 

What really impressed me was how the author managed to make each of the Space Marine Chapters feel so distinct.  I don’t mean just in terms of the way they waged war, but also around their personalities and philosophies.  It made them surprisingly more human and easy to understand than in some Space Marine focused novels.

 

Another real positive for me was the involvement of the Eldar.  There is a range of different Eldar involved in the stories and all of them are distinct in what they were and what they wanted to achieve.  This added a good deal of mystery to the stories as you weren’t quite sure when (or even if) the two sides were going to come to blows.

 

Overall I think this is a really good set of stories and more of a thinking mans novel than many of the others in the Space Marine Battles series.  I particularly recommend if you are a fan of any of the chapters involved or of the Eldar.

 

If you like this try…

The Beast Arises Series – starting with I am Slaughter

Roboute Guilliman by David Annandale

Salamander by Nick Kyme

The best Warhammer Old World Novels & Series

With the success of Total War: Warhammer, there has been a renewed interest in the Old World that the game is set in. Ironically the Old World no longer ‘exists’, it having been destroyed in the end times and rebooted as Age of Sigmar. It is now euphemistically called ‘the world that was’. Before the end of the Old Old World (that makes perfect sense…), there were quite a few good novels and series depicting it; some of which you can still buy. Some of my favourites are:

Gotrek and Felix (originally by William King)

The longest and best of series set in the Old World. I’m a particular connoisseur of the first set of novels written by the excellent William King.

The stories tell the tales of the Trollslayer Gotrek and his human companion Felix, who has sworn to record Gotrek’s deeds when/if he falls in battle. What follows is a series of increasingly incredible scenarios that manage to show off some of the best elements of the old world. We see everything from chaos cultists to Skaven and daemons to dragons. They are rip-roaring fun, easy to read and a great introduction to the setting.

I believe they are still all available on the Black Library as eBooks.

Zavant by Gordon Rennie

A left field one this and you can only find it on places like Amazon and eBay second-hand. It tells the tale of the great sage Zavant and his Halfling manservant Vido. The best way to describe it would simply be Sherlock in the Old World! The book is a series of short stories told as cases; my particular favourite being the one involving feuding vampires.

For something beyond the blood and mayhem of the old world, and instead something with a bit of urban adventure and mystery, Zavant is well worth a read.

Hammers of Ulric by Dan Abnett, Nik Vincent and James Wallis

This is the first ever Warhammer book I read (and the frist Dan Abnett one) and as such, it has a very special place in my heart. It isn’t the best novel I’ve ever read but it is still a damn good read. The book tells the story of the White Wolves of Middenheim and how they stop an evil threat to the city. It’s a great standalone adventure and another great urban tale in the Old World.

Available as an eBook on the Black Library website.

The Legend of Sigmar by Graham McNeill

The Sigmar Trilogy by Graham McNeill is possibly the best series of Warhammer novels that has ever been written. Each of the books is well-paced, easy to read and they tell possibly the most important story in the Old World without disappointing.

The series shows the rise of Sigmar from the son of the Unberogen King to becoming the Emperor. All the expected events are there; the tale of saving the Drawf King, the battle of Black Fire Pass and the war against Nagash…amongst so much more. All the main characters were well written and believable, particularly Sigmar’s closest companions such as Wulfgar.

Possibly the best compliment I can give the series is that they are a great read even if you aren’t interested in or know nothing about Warhammer. In their own right they are simply a great collection of fantasy literature.

You can buy the trilogy as an eBook on the Black Library Website.

The Rise of Nagash by Mike Lee

My final pick is this excellent trilogy from Mike Lee. The tone of this series is significantly different and darker to the others on this list. This is mainly due to it following the utterly evil Nagash, of whom you can’t really feel any empathy for. This doesn’t detract from the books but it can make it difficult to read at times. The style is also vastly different to almost any other novel/series set in the Old World; it is almost more akin to a story set in ancient Egypt.

As with the Sigmar Trilogy this is an excellent trilogy in it’s own right, without being tied to the Old World. If you want something a bit different from a Warhammer novel and/or have a thing for Nagash and the undead, this is an excellent trilogy of books.

Available on the Black Library website as an eBook.

Thoughts on Roboute Guilliman: Lord Of Ultramar

Thoughts on Roboute Guilliman: Lord Of Ultramar by David Annandale

I’ve always been a fan of the Ultramarines since I’ve been in to W40k back in the early 90s, and I’ve been a huge fan of the Horus Heresy series. My favourite HH book to date as been Know No Fear so I was excited to receive Roboute Guillimam: Lord Of Ultramar as a Christmas present.

I must admit that I didn’t quite know what to expect. When I first heard about the Primarchs series I originally thought it was going to be going to be about their origins and stories about their ‘home’ worlds; this is definitely not the case! Instead, if the first book is anything to go by, the series will give greater insights in to the personalities of the Primarchs and almost explaining their future decisions during the Heresy.

The Book Itself

I’ve really enjoyed David Annandale’s recent work, particularly on the Beast Arises series and he hasn’t disappointed with this book either. The main premise of the book is the Ultramarines invading the planet Thoas to finish off an Ork Empire. Obviously the fighting is important but it mainly provides a backdrop to the main themes across the story.

The first main theme is the relationship between Guilliman and Marius Gage, the Chapter Master Primus. They have an interesting relationship that veers between father-son and brotherly. Guilliman is always trying to teach Marius, with the implication that he won’t always be around and Marius may need to lead them in the future. It is also revealed that this campaign takes place not long after the humbling of the Word Bearers, giving further insight in to Guilliman’s actions throughout the campaign.

The second theme, although very much tied in to the first, is the question of leadership in the 22nd Chapter and that Chapter’s component of Destroyers; last-resort troops that practice chemical and biological warfare. The 22nd is a chapter with a high component of Terran-born and Guilliman feels it is not integrated in the legion as much as it should be. This leads to some controversial choices but ultimately a satisfactory conclusion.

The third theme for me was a more blunt one – Guilliman in combat. There is no other way to describe him in combat other than awesome and every passage involving it was enjoyable. The Orks were pretty good as well, though I think I’m feeling a bit orked-out at the moment after the Beast Arises.

Favourite Part – Fighting – Guilliman charging in to the middle of the Ork horde

Favourite Part – Other – Guilliman and Marius’ exchanges

Conclusion

An enjoyable book if you don’t misunderstand what the book is in the first place. What it is, is an insight in to Guilliman and further backstory to why he is the way he is.  From my point of view – Recommended

Horus Heresy #16-18

After the strong novels of The First Heretic and Prospero Burns, the series doesn’t exactly kick-on, rather it plateaus for a short period.  This series of books are all interesting in their own right, with one of them (Deliverance Lost) kicking-off a major storyline, but none of them are great.

 

Book 16 – Age of Darkness (Edited by Christian Dunn)

Age of Darkness is the second short-story anthology in the series and it is by far superior to Tales of Heresy.  The stories in summary are:

  • Rules of Engagement by Graham McNeill – A series of tactical simulations run by the Ultramarines using the new codex astartes, focussing on the character of Remus Ventanus
  • Liar’s Due by James Swallow – An Alpha Legion operative plays with the minds of the populations of a backward world, causing mayhem in his wake
  • Forgotten Sons by Nick Kyme – An Ultramarine and a Salammander try to convince a world to choose the Emperor over Horus
  • The Last Remembrancer by John French – The greatest rememberencer appears on a ship on the edge of the Solar system – what is Rogal Dorne to do with him?
  • Rebirth by Chris Wraight – A Thousand Son finds himself a prisoner in the ruins of Prospero, but who is his tormentor?
  • The Face of Treachery by Gav Throrpe – The Raven Guard are saved from destruction on Istvaan V, but why does a World Eaters battle barge not attack them as they escape?
  • Little Horus by Dan Abnett – Little Horus has been having haunting dreams, what do they mean? At the same time the Sons of Horus assault the world of Dwell
  • The Iron Within by Rob Sanders – Strife between Iron Warriors in a brilliant siege story
  • Savage Weapons by Aaron Dembski-Bowden – The Lion and Curze face off on the ruins of a dead world

Favourite Story – The Iron Within

Best character – Little Horus

Best fighting story – Savage Weapons – two primarchs going at each other

Best non-fighting story – The Last Remembrancer

Primarch count:

  • Rules of Engagement – 1 – Guilliman
  • The Last Remembrancer – 1 – Rogal Dorn
  • The Face of Treachery – 1 – Corax
  • Little Horus – 1 – Horus
  • Savage Weapons – 2 – The Lion and Konrad Curze

 

Book 17 – The Outcast Dead by Graham McNeill

The Outcast Dead is one of the strangest novels in the series, though the lore it offers up to fans makes it a worthwhile read.  Some people have criticised the book for inconsistencies in the chronology, though I can explain this away to myself with the warp bending space and time.

The premise centres on an astropath, Kai, who has suffered from the loss of a ship he was on and the horrors he had to witness/listen to. He is being re-trained on Terra when Magnus’ attempt to communicate with the Emperor occurs and disrupts all those with a psychic gift on the planet.  During the incident, Kai ends up with a war-changing secret implanted in his head that everyone wants to get out of him.

Concurrently a group of space marines known as the ‘Crusader Host’ have been incarcerated in a maximum security prison. It is never explained what the Crusader Host his but I assume it is a group of legionaries from all legions left to represent the interests of their legion on Terra.  Anyway the legionaries manage to break out from the prison and take Kai with them (who was also in the prison).  What follows is a hunt for both Kai and the legionaries.

If my synopsis sounds far-fetched then unfortunately that is part of what the novel suffers from.  There are too many unexplained events and characters that it left my quite frustrated. The first two-thirds of the novel for me became quite a struggle to get through.

On the plus side though, parts of Terra are explained like never before and then of course there are the Thunder Warriors…

Overall the book is average and it really isn’t necessary in the grand scheme of the series. Read if you enjoy McNeill’s work or really want to be a completionist.

Best Character – Kai

Best fighting part – the final battle with all 3 factions

Best non-fighting part – Kai’s conversations with a mysterious hooded figure

Primarch count – 1 – Rogal Dorn

 

Book 18 – Deliverance Lost by Gav Thorpe

Deliverance Lost picks up the story from The Face of Teachery (from book 16) and the Raven’s Flight audiobook.  Corax is saved from the face of Istvaan V and is determined to take the fight back to Horus.

The Primarch takes himself to Terra to speak to the Emperor, though unsurprisingly the Emperor is indisposed for various reasons. Corax does though find the secrets of ‘making’ new legionaries and take this secret back to the Raven Guard’s homeworld.  Here he sets about re-building his legion, though with outcomes that he had not expected.

Alongside this, the Raven Guard who fought on Istvaan V and those who didn’t are struggling to gel back together, causing significant tensions.  In addition the Alpha Legion are up to their tricks, trying to steal the secret Corax has acquired.

The story is very interesting and we get to see the Raven Guard properly for the first time, albeit after they have been signficantly reduced after Istvaan V. I found Corax a fascinating character and he had a real depth and humanity to him. I also enjoyed the Alpha Legion element, but then I always enjoy the Alpha Legion in any of these books. The book also begins a major storyline that will be revisited in later novels, with Corax and his Raven Guard at the forefront.

Worth a read!

Best Character – Corax himself

Best fighting part – Strangely none really stood out for me

Best non-fighting part – Corax’s reminiscense’s of his past

Primarch count – 4(5) – Corax, Rogal Dorn, Horus, Alpharius/Omegon

Horus Heresy #13-15

With Book 12 (A Thousand Sons) the heresy series finally kicked-off properly and the next three continue to get in to the real heart of the background and ever-expanding story.

 

Book 13 – Nemesis by James Swallow

Despite what I’ve said above, Nemesis does take us somewhat off the beaten track again.  It is a very interesting book but in the grand scheme of the overall storyline it is of limited value.

The premise is for Horus to be assassinated by a an elite kill-team comprising assassins from all of the major temples. Simultaneously Erebus has set loose his own assassin to steal an artifact with a drop of the Emperor’s blood on it.  Events then play out on an unfortunate planet that the Sons of Horus are forced to bring back to compliance after the assassins stoke up rebel resistance to a Horus-turned world.

The main appeal of the book for me was that story delved in to each of the assassin temples; a first for me to read. There is also an excellent sub-plot involving Erebus’ assassin that is more like a murder mystery plot for a while. The story also looks at the real cost of the war for the ‘normal’ people and you can empathise with the fear and the struggles that they face.

Overall I enjoyed it, I just don’t think that the story was necessary as a full-blown novel within the series.

Best Character – Iesta Veracrux

Best fighting part – most of the assassins trying to subdue an Eversor

Best non-fighting part – Intrigue on Terra between Valdor the Custodian and Rogal Dorn

Primarch count – 2 – Rogal Dorn and Horus

 

Book 14 – The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

The First Heretic was Dembski-Bowden’s first full-length foray in to the series and it has set him up as one of the series and Black Library’s premier authors. Without doubt it is one of the best books in the series and tells a much needed story to fill in a lot of gaps from previous novels.

The book tells the story of the Word Bearers fall in to damnation, all the way from well before the heresy starts to the Battle of Istvaan V.  It is told mainly through the eyes of the Word Bearer Argel Tal, a sometimes reluctant particpant in events. Argel Tal is a brilliant character and it is a testimant to the author that he is such a sympathetic character! His friendship and inevitable betrayal of the Custodians was heart-breakingly written.

As well as the brilliant writing, as mentioned previously the books fills in many gaps and is crucial to understanding why the Heresy happened.  It shows why the Word Bearers turned from the Emperor and how they were secretly the first to fall in to heresy.  As well as Argel Tal, the characters of Lorgar, Erebus and Kor Phaeron are well-written. Lorgar in particular is one of the most complex and interesting characters in the series.

This is a must-read book within the series!

Best Character – Argel Tal

Best fighting part – Lorgar vs Corax

Best non-fighting part – Argel Tal’s many conversations with Cyrene

Primarch count – 7 (!) – Lorgar, Gulliman, Magnus, Corax, Perturabo, Ferrus Manus, Konrad Curze

 

Book 15 – Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett

I know I said the last book was one of my favourites but this one is as well! Abnett got some very undeserved criticism for the book but I think it is well-written and tells the story from a very interesting perspective. For me, the Space Wolves have never been better understood than through this book and I think that is because we look at them from an outsider’s perspective. In a way, the story reminds me of the film The 13th Warrior (obscure film reference!).

The story’s ultimate focus is the Space Wolves ending up on Prospero to complete the story from A Thousand Sons. It does this in a roundabout way though with the story being told through the eyes of Kasper Hawser. Hawser is a conservator and pseudo-archaeologist who rose to a position of influence on Terra but ended up coming to Fenris to document the wolves. Due to a misunderstanding his ship is shot down and the story then comprises of his experiences with the wolves as a Skald, with in-between sequences of flashbacks to his past and how he came to be there. Events bring Hawser close to the Wolves as they fight through compliances, as well as the Council of Nikea and ultimately the razing of Prospero.

The twists in the tale thoughout the story are very well done and the first time I read it, I hadn’t guessed what Hawser really was. As mentioned above, I think seeing the story through the eyes of Hawser gave a really good perspective and understanding of the wolves.  They are not simply savages but a legion with a specific purpose that they will always undertake, now matter how much they may not want to.

Even as a standalone novel I think this book is excellent and Abnett has once again shown he is the best writer the Black Library have.

Best Character – Kasper Hawser

Best fighting part – On Prospero with Bear vs Chaos

Best non-fighting part – The Council of Nikea

Primarch count – 3 – Russ, Magnus, Fulgrim

Horus Heresy #10-12

Continuing the series looking at the Horus Heresy in clusters of 3, we move on to books 10-12.  My general feeling is that the series is still not quite kicking off properly, with expected story arcs still not appearing yet…that is until we get to book number 12!

 

#10 – Tales of Heresy

Tales of Heresy is the first of many short story anthologies in the series and brings together a disparate group of stories, mostly set in the Great Crusade…maybe it should have been called Tales of the Great Crusade?!

The stories in the book are:

  • Blood Games by Dan Abnett – a Custodian testing the defences of Terra.  I really enjoyed the descriptions of Terra and as ever, Dan Abnett’s writing is exemplary.
  • Wolf at the Door by Mike Lee – a very interesting story looking at Space Wolves defending a planet from Dark Eldar and then having to take a tough decision at the end.  A good insight in to the morals that govern the superhuman astartes.
  • Scions of the Storm by Anthony Reynolds – a story that links in with the later book, The Last Heretic. This story explores the Word Bearers compliance of a world with a few surprising twists along the way.
  • The Voice by James Swallow – a first proper look at the Sisters of Silence; if nothing else it is worth reading for that.  However James Swallow has crafted a good short story exploring the Sisters personalities; all whilst dealing with a terrible threat aboard a Black Ship.
  • Call of the Lion by Gav Thorpe – a Dark Angels story exploring the difference of opinion between those of the legion from Terra and those from Caliban.  It wasn’t the most gripping story but it does go towards explaining conflicts within the legion.
  • The Last Church by Graham McNeill – a tale exploring philosphy in the last church on Terra, with a conversation between the church’s custodian and a mysterious stranger.  One of the most interesting stories ever from the Black Library.
  • After Desh’ea by Matthew Farrer – Angron’s introduction to his legion; unsurprisingly it is bloody and angry! A good insight in to Angron’s background and how his mind works (after a fashion!).

 

Best story (overall) – The Last Church

Best story (fighting) – Wolf at the Door

Best story (non-fighting) – Blood Games

Primarch count – 1 (Lorgar) in Scions of the Storm, 1 (Angron) in After Desh’ea

 

#11 – Fallen Angels by Mike Lee

It might just be me but I really struggle with the Dark Angels.  Their strange ways and mystery I feel is only ever partly and non entirely satisfactorily explained.  I wonder if this hamstrung the various authors that have tried to take them on in the Horus Heresy series.

As with Descent of Angels, unfortunately this book is not the best in the series.  It is perfectly well written but the story struggled to engage me, particularly within the wider arc of the Heresy.

The story follows two narratives, The Lion on campaign, and Luther back on Caliban.  I found Luther’s story more engaging as it showed his fall and made it believable.  As for the Lion’s part, I struggled with it, even the climactic battle at the end.

Read this if you are a Dark Angels fan or really want to read all of the Horus Heresy books, otherwise I would skip this one.

Best character – Zahariel (also my favourite in Descent of Angels)

Best fight – Zaheriel and co. vs corruption on Caliban

Bets non-fight part – Luther’s conversations with Zahariel

Primarch count – 2 – The Lion and Perturabo

 

#12 – A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill

Finally the Heresy kicks off again!  This book is the first one since the opening trilogy to begin the telling of one of the major story arcs. It covers numerous big events and includes some of the most important characters in the whole series.

The story predominately follows the story of the Thousand Sons through the eyes of Ahriman, as well through a group of rememberencers.  For the first time in a while in the series, I felt that I really understood the motives of a legion and why they were exactly how they were…as well as why they fell.

In a a way the story is heartbreaking, particularly if you already know what is coming.  In a way the Thousand Sons are one of the most loyal legions, yet their methods and hubris bring about their downfall.

Partiuclar highlights are an initial stand-off between Magnus and Russ, the Council of Nikea and the final battle for Propsero.  Thankfully, by and large, the series really kicks on from here and begin to give fans exactly what they want.

Best character – Ahriman

Best fight – The fight for Prospero

Bets non-fight part – The Council of Nikea

Primarch count – 6 (!) – Magnus, Leman Russ, Lorgar, Mortarion, Sanguinius, Fulgrim

Horus Heresy #7-9

Books 7-9 of the Horus Heresy are mainly standalone stories but each tie in to the overarching arc.  All three are enjoyable, particularly the excellent Legion by Dab Abnett which is one of the most interesting and enjoyable stories in the entire series.

#7 – Legion by Dan Abnett

As mentioned above, Legion is quite possibly the best book in the Horus Heresy series – it is certainly the best of the ‘early’ novels.  It is also great as a stand-alone book, even if your Horus Heresy or even 40k knowledge is very light.

As with most Abnett novels, part of what makes Legion so good is the characters.  Those in the Imperial Army and the elusive John Grammaticus are characters you can understand and empathise with, making the story more immersive. I particularly enjoyed understanding the different regiments of the army and the political motives behind officers actions.

Most importantly, we get to see the elusive Alpha Legion for the first time.  As their first real introduction to the series they had to be done right and they have been beyond all expectations.  Their subterfuge and motives leave you guessing at all times and you are never quite sure what they will do next; a theme that will continue throughout the series when the Alpha Legion are involved.

I mentioned John Grammaticus above and he is the first ‘perpetual’ that appears in the series, as well as the mysterious Cabal.  I thought they were a great addition to the novel and I’m pleased to see they continue to play a part in the wider series.  One way to look a them would be the grey in-between the Imperium’s light and Horus’ darkness.

As for the enemies in the book, you are never quite sure who the enemy is! The population the imperials are trying to force compliance on are almost entirely incidental and play a background role to the subterfuge.

In conclusion, whether you enjoy the Horus Heresy, 40k or even general sci-fi, then this is a must-read book

  • Best character – John Grammaticus
  • Best battle sequence – The Nurthene all-out assault on the Imperials
  • Best non-battle part – The Alpha Legion meeting the Conclave
  • Primarch Count – 2…

#8 – Battle for the Abyss by Ben Counter

This is Ben Counter’s final Horus Heresy book and one, against a lot of popular opinion, that I really enjoyed. The criticism I have seen for the book mainly centres around what the point of it is.  The story appears unconnected to most of the wider arc, although it does link to Calth it is a rather tenuous link. This mistake shouldn’t detract from what is a rather enjoyable read though.

The story is about a rag-tag group of astartes from different legions hunting down a ship called the Furious Abyss, a huge Word Bearers warship.  The Abyss’ target is Ultramar and to link in with the wider Word Bearer’s assault on Calth. The story becomes a chase through space, with the rag-tag group trying to slow down and then destroy the Abyss.

I did enjoy the composition of the rag-tag group with Ultramarines, Space Wolves, a Thousand Son and a World Eater.  Horus’ rebellion isn’t common knowledge yet so all of the group are able to work together.  Their interactions are one of the main highlights in the book.  We also get to see the Word Bearers properly for the first time in the series and as expected, they come across as zealots.

Overall I enjoyed the book; although it isn’t the best black library or Horus Heresy novel I’ve read it definitely isn’t the worst either. I would read it for completeness’ sake for the HH series but also if you fancy something a little bit different and simpler to some of the far more complicated HH books.

  • Best character – Cestus
  • Best battle sequence – Mhotep vs Wsoric
  • Best non-battle part – Gathering members of very different legions for the mission
  • Primarch Count – 0

 

#9 – Mechanicum by Graham McNeill

Mechanicum tells the story of the beginnings of Mars’ rebellion against the Imperium and the origins of the Dark Mechanicum.  If nothing else, the main interest in the book is one of the first novels that has focused on the mechanicum in any significant detail.  Understanding how the organisation worked and the geography of Mars was a big plus with this book.

The story focuses mainly on Dalia Cythera, who has been taken to Mrs to help the mistress of the Magma City, Koriel Zeth, on an important project.  She works together with a group of others with particular skills and their struggles with the project provide a good background to other events happening on Mars.

As well as Dalia, there are sub-plots with the simmering tensions between the Titan Legions Tempestus (loyal to the Imperium) and Morits (who serve with Horus). The promise of titans duelling it out is always a plus for me!  Another sub-plot follow the Knights of Taranis who try to mediate between the Legios but also follows the hunt of two knights for an AI war-robot (better than I’ve made it sound). The final sub-plot is around the higher political machinications of the Mechanicum, all the way to the Fabricator General and his thirst for knowledge.

Despite the myriad of sub-plots, many of which that intertwine, the book does come together very well and is a really good read.  As with Legion it is one I struggled to put down.  It also works well as a stand-alone novel but many of the threads are explored in further HH novels and also tie back to some of the previous ones.

  • Best character – Probably just me but I had a soft spot for Fabricator Locum Kane
  • Best battle sequence – The battle for Magma City
  • Best non-battle part – Revelations at the end
  • Primarch Count – 1 – Rogal Dorn

Horus Heresy #4-6

After the opening barrage of the trilogy that make up the first three books, the series takes the first steps on branching out to huge tangents.  Books 4 and 5 do at least take up from where the first three left and tell the descent in to heresy and more on the Istvaan campaigns from different perspectives.  After that, book 6 goes completely different with the beginning of the Dark Angels story.

I can’t help but feel that after the first 3-5 books, that there wasn’t necessarily a coherent plan as to how the series would pan out.  This begins to show itself here but even more so when we get to books 7-10.  Don’t get me wrong though, there are some brilliant pieces of work and very interesting stories but I wish that there was a bit more method to madness that is the Horus Heresy Series!

 

4. The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

This is one of my favourite books in the series and off the back of this, I’ve read a lot more of James Swallow’s work.  Garro is one of the best characters in the series and the way he is portrayed by the author is very different to any other space marine we have ever come across.  Garro seems human and full of doubt, making it much easier to relate to him throughout this book and subsequent audio dramas.

It was particularly interesting to understand more about the Death Guard and their previous incarnation as the Dusk Raiders.  Also of interest was the conflict within the legion between those born on Terra and the newer legionaries from Barbarus. From this, particularly with the personalities of Grulgor and Typhon, it is almost easy to see their descent in to heresy and to join with Horus.

All in all I highly recommend reading this and delving in to the subsequent audio dramas and stories involving Garro.

  • Best character – An obvious choice of Garro
  • Best battle sequence – Death Guard vs Jorgall
  • Best non-battle part – The interactions between Garro and Keeler
  • Primarch Count – 3 – Mortarion, Horus and Rogal Dorn

 

5. Fulgrim by Graham McNeill

Fulgrim tells the full story of the fall of Fulgrim and the Emperor’s children.  At just over 500 pages, it is definitely a full and comprehensive story.  It is mainly told through the eyes of Captain Solomon Demeter who is a similar character to Saul Tarvitz, if a bit more charismatic and reckless.

There are a number of particular highlights, such as Fulgrim’s relationship with Ferrus Manus and the heartbreaking way that ends, as well as Fulgrim’s and Horus and the almost big brother, little brother way their relationship is.  Finally there is the first actual description of Istvaan V and how that battle plays out.

Although Demeter and some of the rememberencers provide a point for sympathy and humanity, the book is almost entirely unrelenting in its misery.  From Fulgrim’s doubts and petulance, to the horror and madness of the legion’s fall to Slaanesh, it can be quite a hard-going book. To get the full picture of the heresy and see it from the Emperor’s Children’s point of view though, it is an essential read.

  • Best character – Another obvious choice with Solomon Demeter
  • Best battle sequence – Fulgrim vs and Eldar Avatar
  • Best non-battle part – Fulgrim being chastised by Horus
  • Primarch Count – 7 (!) – Fulgrim, Ferrus Manus, Horus, Angron, Vulkan, Corax  and Mortarion

 

6. Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon

Descent of Angels begins the story of the Dark Angels and the mysteries that surround them.  It is mainly told through the eyes of Zahariel, who rises from inductee to the order to a fully-fledged Astartes and Librarian. Zahariel is a very interesting character and his path gives an interesting perspective.

The story begins before the Emperor’s coming, with the Lion begin to unite Caliban under his/the Order’s rule. This section of the book is actually a signficant portion of it and it almost runs out of kilter with the series so far.  It is like reading an interesting quasi-medieval story that bears no relation to the previous books.  The author has taken a lot of flack for this but as an isolated book it is an interesting read. It also feeds in to the subsequent novels about the Dark Angels, though when I first read this in 2007, these were a long way off.

My main problems with it (beyond those already mentioned) is that we don’t really get to understand the Lion or Luther properly.  I think the main character should have been a lot closer to these two to understand the dynamic of their relationship properly; if we are being honest, this is what most Dark Angels fans want to know about.

  • Best character – Luther
  • Best battle sequence – Zahariel vs a great beast
  • Best non-battle part – Zahariel’s induction to the order
  • Primarch Count – 1 – Just the Lion