It has been ages since I last read something from the Horus Heresy series. Coincidentally, that happened to be Graham McNeill’s The Vengeful Spirit. And now finally, after a gap of some three years, I’m returning to the series that I fell in love with almost ten years ago. After catching myself back up with the Legacies of Betrayal anthology, I dived head-on into the latest release, The Crimson King by Graham McNeill, which carries on from A Thousand Sons, finally continuing a story almost five years old. The Crimson King does a lot to flesh out how the Thousand Sons legion fully turned away from the Emperor and how it “healed” itself after the terrible fall of Prospero. For any fan of the XVth Legion, this novel is a must-read.
In recent years, Black Library has taken to the short story and novella formats with abundant enthusiasm, as evidence by their fiction release schedules since 2012. Bit by bit, the publisher has shifted focus from the mainstream novel format to the shorter ones, and while I don’t find that to be a healthy change at all, we have at least seen quite a lot of good stuff in both these formats, which is good enough for me, for now. It does mean however that my reading lists have gotten bigger and bigger, but that’s something to be managed in time
In an effort to catch up with the vast volume of short stories and novellas released by Black Library in the last couple years, I’ve recently started moving through them one at a time. The most recent short story I’ve read from them is The Devine Adoratrice, which first appeared in the event-exclusive anthology Horus Heresy: Imperial Truth and was then released as a digital download. It is a prologue to Graham McNeill’s latest Horus Heresy novel, Vengeful Spirit, and it focuses on mortal character that go on to become important characters in the novel. My first reaction to the short story, when I was done with it, was rather lukewarm but going through the audiobook of Vengeful Spirit right now, details are popping out at me, and my appreciation has risen significantly.
In the wake of Black Library switching and changing the printing schedules and formats of its flagship Horus Heresy series back in late 2012, I fell off with the series in early 2013. Where before I read the publisher’s novels pretty much as soon as they were released or just prior, months went by before I read anything, and this applied more so to Horus Heresy since I preferred to wait for the regular paperback editions. As such, I am significantly behind in my reading, though the experience of catching up has been fairly delightful thus far, especially with their various audio dramas. I got back on track back in May with Nick Kyme’s Vulkan Lives, and that reignited my interest in the series, though I haven’t been able to read another Heresy novel until just a few days prior.
Mark of Calth is the twenty-fifth novel in the series and to read this one, there isn’t a lot that someone needs to have read already, which is great really. The anthology kicks off from Dan Abnett’s fairly amazing Know No Fear from 2012 and it expands upon a lot of the minor arcs in that novel, as well as setting the stage for more future stories. Guy Haley, David Annandale, Graham McNeill and Anthony Reynolds deliver some really good stories, with lots of action packed in, while the stories by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Dan Abnett, Rob Sanders and John French are good but do miss the mark in some ways.
For a good three years now, Black Library’s audio output has been quite impressive. Both in terms of quality and quantity. Thanks to the success of the Horus Heresy audios such as Gav Thorpe’s Raven’s Flight and James Swallow’s Garro duology, the publisher’s audio franchise has really taken off for the Warhammer 40,000 timeline as well. I’ve certainly been enjoying them thus far, though there have been a few along the way that I did not like, and would even consider to be among the lower-tier works put out by the authors. But I won’t deny that BL audios are generally so much damn fun to listen to.
A short while ago we got the latest Horus Heresy audio by Graham McNeill, in which he built on many of the different concepts he’d introduced in his amazing Thousand Sons-centric novel, A Thousand Sons. They are one of the least-covered legions, although they do get a leg-up since they’ve had a novel published about them. I loved A Thousand Sons when I read it three years back, and I enjoyed Thief of Revelations as well. As ever, the audio quality was superb, and the script was really good too, offering parallels to the relationships between the Emperor and the Primarchs that have been the cornerstone of the Heresy.
As part of my “Top 25 Series To Read In 2013” reading challenge, I’ve read a fair amount of books this year that can be considered to be classics of science fiction and fantasy, in all their different forms. There is a certain charm to all these novels that has persisted long after they were first published. Whether we talk about Frank Herbert’s space operatic political intrigue epic Dune or Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s true-to-style epic fantasy Dragons of Autumn Twilight, I’ve had a lot of fun with these novels.
And that is my question: are they re-readable? I’ve read Dune and Dragons of Autumn Twilight several times since when I first read them in 2001. I think they are rereadable, but I’m not completely sure. Is the question answerable in part with regard to whether the book is good or not? We shall see.
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.
If you learned a secret that could change the course of history, And you knew that the fate of mankind rested in your hands, Whom would you trust?
– The Outcast Dead, a Horus Heresy novel by Graham McNeill.
Note: I would like to point out that this is an advanced review since the novel itself will not be available to the general public until December this year, and was available only to the people who were at Games Day UK a few days ago.
The Horus Heresy, essentially Black Library’s flagship range considering its popularity and the titles that have gone on to become New York Times Bestsellers, is joined in November by The Outcast Dead, written by the author who brought us the Ultramarines and the Iron Warriors, Graham McNeill. The Horus Heresy, the most influential and defining campaign ever conducted in the Warhammer 40,000 setting, is ultimately about the conflict between brothers, warriors, and sons: the Primarchs and the Legiones Astartes. Central to the entire concept they may be, but their are many other stories of these times that are just waiting to be told, and this novel delivers that quite well.
For it is not about the post-human Astartes or their demi-god sires the Primarchs. It is about those who hold the Imperium together in an invisible net. The psykers. And not just any psykers, but the Astropaths, blind psykers who are soul-bonded to the Emperor and are the communication lifeline of the entire Imperium.
As far as I am able to say on the matter, The Outcast Dead is the first novel in the entirety of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise that actually delves deep into what makes the Astropaths tick, even going so far as to give us juicy details of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica and we actually see how the the spider-web of telepathic messages are transmitted on and off Terra.
To be honest, at times the first half of the novel is bogged down with details and background as the author sets up the stage for the inevitable conflict and it makes the novel feel like it is progressing far too slow. There is a wealth of further background information inherent here that is only implied and never explained. Which is fine, otherwise the novel could easily have been half as big again. But, it is not enough to make you put the novel down for Graham’s style just makes you want to keep on reading.
Well except for one of the two pre-prologues. It raises a lot of questions that go largely unanswered and are glossed over. This scene’s placement in the novel is really an odd one, and I believe that had it been omitted from the final manuscript, the novel would have suffered nothing. The scene just doesn’t have any impact on the rest of the novel.
The second half is the explosive half of the novel, wherein the plot goes from strength to strength, introducing to us concepts most people would have never considered or thought about and that make the plot seem like it has a magic of its own.
Kai Zulane is our unwitting hero here, the genius astropath who was once the pride of the Telepathica but is forced to become a hunted man through the depths of Terra. He is joined in this run for his life by a mismatch group of renegade Astartes who have been declared traitor by association with their respective legions.
The Outcast Dead is about betrayal, guilt, truth and sacrifice, not necessarily in that order. And Graham McNeill has handled it all beautifully. The novel is full of esoteric concepts that some people have wanted to know about for years but had no avenue to explore. It also builds up on the concepts introduced in other novels, such as A Thousand Sons and Nemesis while also cross-connecting to the other novels in the series through the main characters reminiscing about characters such as Vespasian, Skraal, Constantin Valdor, Amon Tauromachian, and many others. Not to mention referencing some of the events from other novels and even showing us startling glimpses of these from other perspectives. I will leave off mentioning these because they are just too powerful as spoilers.
The style, as I have said, is something that builds upon those introduced in novels like A Thousand Sons and Mechanicum, and it does seem at times to be somewhat heavy-handed, but the dramatic conclusion of the plot and the journey to that climax easily excuse these hiccups. And that is mostly because the references are not jarring, they are just alien to a degree because we are seeing a side of Terra that has never been explored before, getting only brief screen-time in short stories such as Blood Games.
When a certain galaxy-changing event happens during the course of the novel, one of two as it were, Graham has turned to the madness of Mechanicum to really show us how devastating of an impact this event has on the civilians of Terra, and their guardians.
What is jarring though, is Graham’s naming convention. Actually no. It is not the convention but the names he actually uses. He uses the same name twice in the novel for vastly different characters and also reuses a name that he gave to a sub-faction in his novel Mechanicum. It kind of ruined the fun of the climax for me to see this.
EDIT: After having talked briefly with Graham regarding the names, I take back the statement since his reasoning was totally sound, and this was as intentional on his part. On reflection, I actually like his approach.
Other than that, there really is no fault with the novel. As said before, it really only goes from strength to strength, with the chilling scene when the astropaths receive the most dreaded message from half a galaxy away, a character long-thought dead returning to the stage, the Emperor as we have never seen before, the working of the Astropaths from their City of Sight (how bloody ironic is that name?) and more besides.
Whether you are a Horus Heresy addict, or someone who loves the life of an Astropath and wants to know more about them, or someone who wants to know how Terra was before the inevitable Siege and the death of the Emperor, or just cannot resist the Astartes, this novel is for you. It is not one you should be missing out on any time soon. It is definitely right up there in the top-tier novels of the Horus Heresy. Missing out on this book is like missing out on an experience of a lifetime. This novel is so begging for a sequel.