The Beheading by Guy Haley (Book Review)

The final stretch of The Beast Arises has been less than satisfactory. The crowning achievement that was meant to be Rob Sanders’ Shadows of Ullanor unfortunately left me rather disillusioned and wary of where the story might go next. I had been expecting some truly huge moments in the novel, but at best we got a regurgitation of the previous two novels, with little to recommend in-between. However, with the next book in the series, the whole thing comes to a close and thankfully, the train’s changed for better tracks.

Guy Haley’s The Beheading tells a story that has been a long time coming since we meet Drakan Vangorich in the first novel of the series, I Am Slaughter. Vangorich’s reign of terror is known of for a long time and we finally see him follow-up on his threats and his well-laid plans that he’s been putting together since that first appearance in Dan Abnett’s novel. However, the really cool thing is that there is far more to the novel than just that as Guy tells a parallel story that is also about hope and defiance against adversity, which in the end makes this one of the best novels of the series.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

The novel starts off with something extremely symbolic: a victory procession celebrating the death of the Beast of Ullanor and the death of that hated planet. With Chapter Master Thane leading a procession of the newly-reconstituted Imperial Fists and various other Chapters, all survivors of Ullanor, this symbology reflects something innate about the horrors of the conflict that we’ve soon far. It all began with the destruction of the Imperial Fists at Ardamantua and then various defeats one after another as the Imperium reeled from the Ork invasion. Worlds, fleets, armies, sectors were lost and for a time all hope was lost. And then, as surely as the great mechanism of Imperial governance itself grinds, the tide slowly turned. Three massive invasions of Ullanor was what it took to eliminate the threat of the Beast. And now that threat is over and done with.

I loved that Guy started the novel so. It set a positive and also a melancholic tone for the rest of the story that followed, grounding it in the victories that had come so that the horrors that were yet to come could have some context. And it wasn’t that he left it at just that however, because he also addressed much of the politics of Terra that had been such an undercurrent to the larger narrative all throughout the series. And he showed that while the war with the Orks was won and done with, something pernicious still needed to be dealt with. Really, that’s the theme of The Beheading.

Ever since I read the name Drakan Vangorich and read his title, Grand Master of the Officio Assassinorum, there was only one thing I really wanted to see in this series. From the lore published in various rulebooks and codices and what not over the years, we know that Vangorich is remembered as the Grand Master of the Assassins who ordered the deaths of his fellow High Lords of Terra, the High Twelve who ultimately ruled over the Imperium in the name of the Emperor. From the very first novel in the series we know that Vangorich has been rather frustrated with how the High Twelve have conducted themselves in the war, their constant inaction and infighting and egos leading to some of the worst defeats for the Imperium. As Guy continues with his narrative, we finally witness his breaking point. And it is terrifying. An unleashed Vangorich is a nightmare and Guy captures that really well. Whether working through his various assassins or personally executing some of the High Lords, he’s nothing short of a monster and I absolutely loved all these moments. Each High Lord gets a unique moment which explores their personal failings and their strengths even and these emotional points were definitely a highlight. Especially when we talk of Speaker for the Chartist Captains, Juskina Tull, who launched the disastrous Proletarian Crusade.

Aside from all of this however is something much more important. For the last several books, Inquisitors Wienand and Veritus have debated about a possible division of responsibilities for the Ordos. All of that comes to a head in this novel as Veritus finally lets flow his secrets and we learn some startling truths about his true identity and his purpose. We finally learn of the purpose of the Grey Knights and what all of that means for the Imperium moving forward, particularly as it pertains to Wienand’s future as an Inquisitor. But that must all still fall under the narrative of Vangorich’s choosing as he unleashes his killers, and the effect on both Wienand and Veritus is immense. The rest, as they say, is history, but learning some of the things about the Grey Knights was a big relief. No more were they just background flavour, and Guy even gave us a decent enough reason for why they didn’t interfere against the Beast and the ork forces that threatened Terra itself. Really good stuff.

Guy also touches on the fate of First Captain Zerberyn of the Fists Exemplar and High Marshal Bohemond of the Black Templars. I can’t say whether it was to my taste how the fates of these two warriors panned out, as I still haven’t made up my mind. But suffice to say, it was a brutal ending for both of them as far as The Beast Arises is confirmed. Bohemond had grown to be one of my favourite characters in the series and after the disservice done to him in Shadow of Ullanor I was really glad that Guy brought him back for The Beheading. There was a subplot involving him that was missing in the last novel and that’s the case here as well but I think that it was all well and good since that was something that made me a little uncomfortable reading it, as Space Marines really don’t have the power of the kind that the narrative was hinting at. And as for Zerberyn, he really surprised me. He went from a staunch loyalist to someone who could see the grey and his early kowtowing to Warsmith Kalkator was surprising. Again, not sure how well I like where his arc ended up, but at least it was a definitive end for him.

For me, The Beheading was a fitting end to the series. It has a very fast pace and covers a lot of ground as so many of the narratives need to be given closure. A lot of what we see here is undoubtedly the result of long-term planning with the other authors and the editor(s) involved, but all the same I really commend Guy’s execution. Because that is what matters most. Great ideas with bad executions are worse than bad ideas with good execution as far as I’m concerned. Execution is everything. And Guy delivers here without a doubt. After my dissatisfaction with Shadow of Ullanor, The Beheading set me right.

Rating: 9/10

More Rob Sanders and The Beast Arises:

  • The Beast Arises#1: I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #2: Predator, Prey by Rob Sanders (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #3: The Emperor Expects by Gav Thorpe (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #4: The Last Wall by David Annandale (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #5: Throneworld by Guy Haley (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #6: Echoes of the Long War by David Guymer (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #7: The Hunt For Vulkan by David Annandale (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #8: The Beast Must Die by Gav Thorpe (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #9: Watchers In Death by David Annandale (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #10: The Last Son of Dorn by David Guymer (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #11: Shadow of Ullanor by Guy Haley (Review)
  • Warhammer 40,000: Baneblade (Review)
  • Angels of Death: Final Journey (Review)
  • Space Marine Terminators: The Black Pilgrims (Review)
  • Third War For Armageddon: The Eternal Crusader (Review)
  • Horus Heresy: Strike and Fade (Review)
  • Richards and Klein #1: Reality 36 (Review)
  • Richards and Klein#2: Omega Point (Review)
  • Champion of Mars (Review)
  • Crash (Review)
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Posted on June 6, 2017, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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