Horus Heresy: Thoughts Part 1

The Horus Heresy is the bestselling multi-author series from Black Library, contributed to by some of the most talented authors in tie-in fiction. We have had 21 novels so far in the series, along with several audio dramas and two limited edition novellas. The way things are going, it is a given that there will be at least as many publications in the future for the series. The question that arises is, which author should get to writing which book/legion/faction/character etc. It is a fascinating topic as each author who has contributed to the series so far has had his strengths and weaknesses in equal measure and there is an abundance of talent just waiting to be tapped into. So for this blogpost, I’m going to talk a little about that.

Let’s start with the four authors who brought us the opening trilogy of the series and the first (concurrent) novel following on from them: Dan Abnett (Horus Rising), Graham McNeill (False Gods), Ben Counter (Galaxy in Flames), and James Swallow (Flight of the Eisenstein). The first two of this quartet are among the most prolific writers currently working within the Warhammer 40,000/Warhammer Fantasy Battles IPs, as they seem to have at least 2-3 publications releasing every year, which is nothing short of remarkable.

Dan has so far written the Luna Wolves, Alpha Legion, Space Wolves, Custodes, and the Ultramarines. While Horus Rising was a great novel that showed off the inner complexity of the Luna Wolves legion and of their Primarch, they didn’t particularly have something that set them apart from their fellow Astartes on a legion-culture level. The Alpha Legion have their mysteries, their modus operandi, their big secret. The Space Wolves became a really hard-edged mix of brutal Astartes and Vikings in space. The Ultramarines were like the Luna Wolves, in that the culture aspect wasn’t really covered in Know No Fear. Sure, we got to see Guilliman and his sons handling the disaster of Calth but that’s what the novel was, the “first half” of the Battle of Calth. It was an event novel rather than a legion novel. The Custodes, well they got some nifty stuff that set them apart from Astartes, and they became a very distinct formation within the Emperor’s military arsenal. albeit a rather personal formation.

Moving forward, what would I like to see from him? I would dearly love for him to go back to the Luna Wolves and explore the inner workings of the legion after the Dropsite Massacre. Horus is now set on his path to rebellion and is in the process of building up his forces for the eventual fatal strike at Terra. This is a great chance to explore how Horus has changed and how he perceives the new world around him. In the latest Horus Heresy novel, Fear To Tread by James Swallow, we get to see a man who matches closely to the one in the middle third of False Gods, with respect to his relationship with Sanguinius of the Blood Angels. A Luna Wolves novel set in the Age of Darkness period, the seven years between the Dropsite Massacre and the Siege of Terra, can delve into this topic. The brotherhood of the Mournival, the legion’s top unofficial advisory body to the Primarch, has also been broken. What we see of Abaddon and Little Horus in the Little Horus short story raises a lot of questions as to the relationship between these two, especially as it pertains to the ending of Ben Counter’s Galaxy in Flames. I think the time is perfect for such a novel. We can even delve into how the legion has coped with the massacres in the Istvaan system and for my money, seeing Little Horus and Abaddon being played off against each other in that respect by Horus would be pretty damn cool. We don’t need any profound characterisations of the Luna Wolves, no grand revelations or anything. This should be a novel that goes back to the basics and tells a ripping good yarn rather than being…. esoteric (?).

Graham McNeill is a busy man. He has written the Luna Wolves, the Emperor’s Children, Ultramarines, Adeptus Mechanicus, Thousand Sons, and Astropaths. That’s a heck of a lot of stuff! And he has more Emperor’s Children coming up, co-starring with the Iron Warriors, plus some more Ultramarines, a novella this time IIRC rather than a short story. Each of his novels have dealt with separate themes and issues that all tie-up together with the larger Heresy narrative. For my money, all his books bar False Gods have been excellent because of the incredible variety he has tackled, successfully as far as I’m concerned. My favourites are definitely the Mechanicus (or rather, Mechanicum!), the Thousand Sons (unnecessary Blood Ravens references notwithstanding), and the Emperor’s Children from his novella in The Primarchs. This is a man who gets the wide variety of the setting and who enjoys writing about it all.

Moving forward, I want him to tackle the Mechanicus once again. When last we were with the tech-lords in Mechanicum, the Martian civil war had started and Mars was being laid to waste by the chaos-touched rebels. His depiction of the the Titan Legios and the Knight cohorts were excellent, and he has only gotten better with them as his 40k novel Priests of Mars attests. Not to mention that the ending of Mechanicum totally screams out for a sequel. A lot of people would say that the Martian civil war has already concluded but the truth is that the events in the novel were just a prologue for even greater events. Legion-wise, I want him to go back to the Thousand Sons and to Magnus. Things ended on a very bleak note for these Astartes sorcerer in A Thousand Sons, and there is a lot of interesting directions for the legion to go to. Graham’s writing style entirely fits with the legion and its a solid pairing of writer and topic. So that’s that!

Ben Counter has had a rough patch. First, because he had to follow on from the base-work done by Dan and Graham. Then, he had to write the definitive (so far) novel about the Istvaan III Betrayal. Second, his next novel in the series got rather negative attention and he has yet to write anything within the series after that. Regardless, he tackled a lot of topics in those brief moments: Luna Wolves, Death Guard, Emperor’s Children, Word Bearers, Remembrancers, and Ultramarines. I personally consider Galaxy in Flames to be among his best work to date, the only comparisons being his sixth Soul Drinkers novel, Phalanx, and the third Grey Knights novel, Hammer of Daemons. As I have said to people in the past, his strength is that he totally gets the weirdness, the strangeness, and the absolute mind-frakking nature of Chaos. That trademark is stamped all over his Soul Drinkers and Grey Knights novels. It even shows up in his novella about Imperial Fists and Iron Warriors in Architect of Fate.

More than anyone else in the team, that’s what he is best at. And I want him to return. Forget about Battle For the Abyss, that was nothing more than a speed-bump and while the novel was largely boring and uninspiring, it did have some really delightful moments. Given his strength,  would like Ben to do a Chaos novel for the Horus Heresy, a novel from the perspective of a chaos-touched “formation” of traitor AstartesSaid Astartes would be drawn from a single legion, my money being on either the Luna Wolves or the Word Bearers, and the novel would explore this strike force’s mission to sow terror in its path. They would ultimately one of the advance units sent ahead of the main army that Horus is assembling. Said novel would also explore the growing, increasingly-dependent relationship between the Astartes and Chaos. Daemons of Khorne and Tzeentch together alongside the traitors. That has a great appeal to me. For fun, let’s throw in the Imperial Fists as the defenders in this novel!

And you know what? I have complete faith in Ben. He’s inconsistent in his work at times but he has it in him to tell a great story with great themes, great concepts, and great characters. Galaxy in Flames, Phalanx and Hammer of Daemons showed that off to great effect.

Finally, we come to James Swallow, one of my favourite authors currently working with Black Library. Jim is great at two things in my mind: Blood Angels, and the “little people”. To clarify the latter, I mean he can write non-Astartes characters really well, as he showed in the short story Liar’s Due for the Age of Darkness anthology, and his work with the Sororitas (although I don’t care much for Red & Black to be honest). With the Blood Angels, he has already peaked with Fear To Tread so for the moment I’d consider the Ninth Legion to be out of this discussion for now. So let’s go back to the “little people”.

While I kind of stopped reading Nemesis in the middle of it as I couldn’t relate with the plot at all, even though I found the characters to be well-done, I think that’s what Jim needs to go back to: doing what we haven’t seen so far. I want a Heresy story from the perspective of an Imperial Army regiment tasked by the loyalist forces (doesn’t matter which) to recruit forces from an entire sub-sector near the contested zone (is there such a properly designated in the ongoing Heresy story or in the background?). Involve Assassins and a small peacekeeper force of Astartes and you have a great novel in the works. I’m telling you right now, I’d totally buy that.

Then, as I omitted this above, he has done Death Guard as well, specifically Captain Nathaniel Garro of the Seventh Company. We have already seen Garro in three different publications, and we have another coming out soon, another audio drama in fact. I think the stage is now right for him to go back to the Death Guard, specifically to Mortarion. We need to see how the (Plague-)Primarch is turned to side with the loyalists and what he does after. Of course, I’m implying a Death Guard novel set at the time of the Dropsite Massacare, told from the perspectives of Mortarion and Typhon, plus flashbacks to their lives on Barbarus. The Death Guard have a lot of potential to them and I think Jim is the most suited to them at the moment.


So, there you have it. A small, brief train of thought about what I consider to be the future of the Heresy. Next time, I’ll be tackling Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Gav Thorpe, John French and Rob Sanders.

Posted on August 30, 2012, in Bolthole, General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I don’t think Ben Counter writes for the Horus Heresy anymore, I don’t think he was at that latest Heresy meeting, Aaron seems to have replaced him on the team.


    • Pretty much yes. I think it is a wrong move overall, as it sends the message that at one “wrong” step you are off the team. I don’t know. I’m one of the very few people in fandom who, to my knowledge, actually likes Ben’s work. The next year should be good for him. There’s the van Horstmann novel coming out for fantasy and he had an Imperial Fists novel featuring Lysander with the editors sometime in March/April IIRC.


  1. Pingback: August Report « Angels of Retribution

  2. Pingback: Horus Heresy: Thoughts Part 2 « Angels of Retribution

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