Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 16: “Age of Darkness”

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

Age of Darkness by various authors

Age of Darkness is another collection of short stories in the Horus Heresy line. Like the others, it delivers a collection of stories that provide background to the various conflicts breaking out along with the occasional character piece. For this review, I’ll write briefly about each individual story before posting an overall impression at the end.

Rules of Engagement by Graham McNeill

I loved this story that pitted the Ultramarines’ commitment to their Primarch with his own, in person teaching on how to fight a battle. The Ultramarines are not nearly as boring as I thought they might be.

Liars Due by James Swallow

Lots of buildup that mostly just shows how planets outside big realms of influence might react to the heresy. A decent read with some good intrigue.

Forgotten Sons by Nick Kyme

A seriously action packed novelette about trying to sway a planet’s loyalty towards Horus or the Emperor. I liked how this shows the challenges faced by planets that could be torn apart by conflict.

The Last Remembrancer by John French

Layers of trust are wiped away in this intriguing short story about a remembrancer telling the Iron Fists about Horus. The payoff isn’t as strong as I hoped, but it’s okay.

Rebirth by Chris Wraight

The Thousand Sons are turning into my favorite of the traitor legions, and this short story just solidified that even more. It’s got enough layers in it to make it interesting throughout, and the ending, which apparently reverberates in larger WH40K lore, was great.

The Face of Treachery by Gav Thorpe

A huge battle has its tide turned by betrayal. I loved this one for both its action and the tight plotting Thorpe gave it.

Little Horus by Dan Abnett

Little Horus leads the Sons of Horus in battle and effectively springs a trap intended for Horus himself. It’s got tons of action and great plotting, as is typical of Abnett. A very good read.

The Iron Within by Rob Sanders

Big action with Titans is one of my favorite things about the Warhammer universe, and this short story delivers on that. It’s not as thoughtful as some of the others in the collection, but makes up for it in cool vistas and solid action scenes.

Savage Weapons by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

A surprisingly tight-knit scene is the core of this story, but that scene is set for a clash between Primarchs. It’s got tons of great action and certainly seems to loom larger than the short story itself.

Overall Thoughts

I greatly enjoyed Age of Darkness. Every single story included was well done, with some standouts mixed in to an overall great collection. To me, these short stories help prove a point I’ve made several times in my reviews of the series: a lot of the novels would make better short stories. Too often, there is excess fluff that keeps readers away from the action or plot. In these short stories, we don’t encounter that issue. One problem that did arise is that I was listening to this as an audiobook on Audible. I have listened to a few of the Primarchs novels as well, and they all have the same issue this collection did: the sound balancing is terrible. The readers shout, whisper, etc. and do it all to the point where I find myself constantly having to adjust the volume as I listen to it on the go. It’s quite annoying, to be honest. The readers do a good job, but all of these audiobooks could do with much, much better sound balancing, so that as a listener I’m not straining to hear one moment and then having my eardrums pummeled the next.

Age of Darkness is a great collection that should not be skipped. There’s a lot here that fills in details of previous and future conflicts, along with great character building throughout. I definitely recommend the collection.

(All Links to Amazon are Affilliates.)

Links

Horus Heresy and Warhammer/40K Hub– All my posts on the Horus Heresy, as well as books throughout the Warhammer and 40K universe can be found here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 14: “The First Heretic” by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

History is a hugely important part of the Horus Heresy books, and in The First Heretic, we get some stunning insights into the background of the Word Bearers Legion. To start off, I have to say this is certainly among the best of the Horus Heresy books I’ve read so far. It doesn’t overly rely upon action to carry its story, nor does it devolve into a series of scenes with people just standing around talking to each other. It’s excellent.

The scene in which the Emperor comes and visits the Word Bearers/Ultramarines is absolutely awesome. I think it honestly raises real-world questions about deity and theology, which makes it even more interesting to me. The book constantly asks questions of what it means to be “a god” or even the “god.” While its obviously not a theological treatise, there are several scenes that poignantly ask these questions alongside questions about humanity’s need for faith and belief. As is always the case, trying to read too much into this discussion set in the Grimdark future would be a mistake, but it’s still fascinating to reflect on how these characters in the far future are still dealing with questions about faith and deity.

Dembski-Bowden also gives us Cyrene, one of the more interesting non-Marine characters in the series so far. Initially, I thought she might be a one-off character from the prologue to give us a sense of how the destruction of her city impacted a civilian. However, Dembsk-Bowden developed her into a kind of martyr-saint figure who was celebrated with adulation by the people who followed the Word Bearers. Ultimately, her death at the hands of Aquillon was tragic, and one of the more heart-rending scenes in the series for me. What made the use of her as a character particularly powerful is that it helped put some perspective into the book for the broader conflict.

For example, the overarching plot of the Word Bearers trying to find their way having been denounced by the Emperor is a much more sympathetic quest when set alongside the more human aspect of how that denunciation and retribution impacted “normal” people. As a reader, I genuinely felt the Word Bearers were generally in the right throughout the book, no matter what one thinks of their underlying beliefs. The brutal, shocking act of the destruction of the crown jewel world of the Word Bearers work surely could be anticipated as setting up a major crisis of doubt for the whole Legion. As such, it is hardly unexpected that the Word Bearers end up on the side of the Heretics.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the horrible acts they took to get there were themselves good or justified–it means only that they were understabndable.  And that says quite a bit about the writing of this novel. It’s very good. It makes you sympathize with the “bad guys.” It also makes one question whether there really are any “good guys” in this grimdark future.

The First Heretic is a fantastic read, and one that will surely pay long-term dividends for the rest of the series.

(All Amazon Links are Affiliates)

Links

Horus Heresy and Warhammer/40K Hub– Links to all of my Warhammer-related reviews and writings, including those on the Horus Heresy, 40K, and Warhammer Fantasy (pending) can be found here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.