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 15: “Prospero Burns” by Dan Abnett

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.

Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett

I have rarely been so baffled by the disconnect between a book’s description and its contents as I have with Prospero Burns. The official Black Library (the publisher) description of the book reads:

The Emperor is enraged. Primarch Magnus the Red of the Thousand Sons Legion has made a terrible mistake that endangers the very safety of Terra. With no other choice, the Emperor charges Leman Russ, Primarch of the Space Wolves, with the apprehension of his brother from the Thousand Sons’ home world of Prospero. This planet of sorcerers will not be easy to overcome, but Russ and his Space Wolves are not easily deterred. With wrath in his heart, Russ is determined to bring Magnus to justice and bring about the fall of Prospero.

Read it because
Vlka Fenryka! The Space Wolves charge into the Horus Heresy as their part in the events leading to the fall of the Thousand Sons is revealed. Spies, intrigue, plenty of action and a glimpse at Terra in the early days of the Great Crusade make this an unmissable read.

One could be forgiven, I think, for believing the book would primarily focus on the Space Wolves trying to capture Magnus the Red and/or burning Prospero (as the title and the first paragraph imply. What the book is actually about, though, is a remembrancer who gets sent to the Space Wolves and their interactions with him. So the last sentence of the “Read it because” is closer to reality, though the “plenty of action” is a bit of a stretch.

I’ll admit it, this had me both confused and frustrated. I kept flipping to the description, wondering if I was reading the wrong book–maybe some bug had crossed over my book with a different one when I got it on Kindle. But that’s not it–it’s just that the book is nowhere close to its description. And that’s annoying. I understand we’d already seen Prospero in A Thousand Sons and that this book was intended to be read alongside that earlier work, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t expecting to see the Space Wolves’ side of the conflict, because I trusted the publisher to provide an accurate vision of what the contents might be.

As for the actual contents of the book–it’s decent. Abnett is a great writer, as we’ve seen time and again throughout the Warhammer universe. The switching of perspectives is sometimes fairly abrupt and makes the book difficult to follow at times. Abnett certainly makes the Space Wolves quite interesting, though, as he notes time and again that they’re not just generic space Vikings; they’re the Emperor’s executioner. But the whole first 90% of the book is basically summarized in that point along with (here are spoilers for the ending, in case you’re worried about that) the revelation that our remembrancer was, in fact, planted by the Thousand Sons as a spy, and that the Space Wolves knew about it the whole time but didn’t really care if their rivals knew what their plans were.

This means, that, like many of the books in the Horus Heresy so far, Prospero Burns would have made a much better short story or novella than it does a 450 page novel. 400 of those pages could have been condensed into about 50, all while getting the same point across. Abnett’s writing mercifully carries those 400 pages along so that they never quite descend into total triviality, but it also leaves you with a sense of regret at the end. Is that it? one might ask. Did I really just read 400 pages of the same point repeated through an unreliable narrator just to get about 15 pages of action at the very end of the book? The answer is, unfortunately, yes. The payoff here simply does not align with the investment of time and energy.

I’ve seen the point that readers already experienced the fall of Prospero in A Thousand Sons, but this is hardly relevant. (It’s also somewhat untrue–we only experienced glimpses of this fall so far, which makes the lack of a book that is one massive conflict a bit disappointing.) This book was advertised as–hell, even titled as–the fall of Prospero from the perspective of the Space Wolves. It manifestly is not that. That, plus the fact that the actual contents we get are dragged from a short story’s plot into a lengthy novel’s duration makes this a pretty disappointing entry to the Horus Heresy. If I hadn’t had my expectations completely set up to fail going in, I definitely would have enjoyed this one more. As it stands, I’m left feeling bittersweet about what might have been.

Prospero Burns ends my streak of 5-star reads in the Horus Heresy. I’d almost say it’s skippable but it does at least give some insight into the Space Wolves that makes them more interesting as rivals (presumably) throughout 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.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 7: “Legion” by Dan Abnett

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.

Legion by Dan Abnett

Okay, this book was weird. For the first third or so I had basically no idea what was happening. The next third was me convincing myself I thought I knew what was happening. The final third revealed some pretty awesome stuff. Altogether, I’m not sure how I feel about it.

As I read through the first part of the book, I found myself constantly checking to make sure this actually was a Horus Heresy novel. It did not read like one. And maybe that’s the main difficulty I had with Legion. It doesn’t feel like Warhammer. It reads more like a future detective thriller of some kind, but one that is mired in huge amounts of world building, most of which don’t make much sense. Abnett, it seems, is trying to trick readers into thinking they know what’s happening when they don’t. It’s a unique way to approach the novel, but it left me feeling confused and a bit chagrined–do I maybe not know enough of the lore going in to understand this series? (Other readers have assured me that’s not the case and that it will all make sense, mostly.)

When the big reveal finally happens (and yes, this is a pretty major spoiler), it is awesome. To have two primarchs for the legion, as well as the way they had to face the stark choice of rebellion against the Emperor or stagnant death over a huge amount of time, was thrilling. I wonder, though, how the Xenos managed to convince them. We see them showing the Primarchs, but I’m not sure I as a reader got enough to convince me that the Xenos could be trusted with this either/or reveal. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re meant to wonder whether the choice was made was made too hastily or on too little information. I don’t know, because whether intentionally or not, the book leaves this, like many other aspects of the plot, in a cloud of fog.

I also start to worry here whether this is going to be how too many of the Horus Heresy novels play out. So far, this is the third book that read kind of slowly and without huge interest until a major twist made everything seem cooler than it was slogging through at the beginning. I hope the rest of the novels engage front-to-back. That said, Legion was a good read, I don’t deny that. Something about its tone just didn’t sit with me. The epic reveal at the end was awesome, though.

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, Books 1 and 2: “Horus Rising” by Dan Abnett and “False Gods” by Graham McNeill

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.

Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

I read Horus Rising a year or so ago and I think I just read it at the wrong time for me. I just wasn’t really in the mood to read a novel about space marines that largely centered around them talking to each other and political intrigue. So I ended up skimming through large sections of the book and not really picking up much along the way. This time, I decided to really dig in because the hype that is surrounding the series finally coming to a conclusion made me desire to get into it at long last.

I’ll be honest, though, the second time through, I still found myself drowning a bit in a sea of names and places that I just didn’t really understand. The learning curve on this first novel is pretty high, and it seems to assume at least some prior knowledge of the universe going in. I had some, but still felt a lot of the references went right over my head. That said, the second read-through of this one gave a much better impression. I have greatly enjoyed other books by Abnett, particularly the Eisenhorn trilogy.

Here, we are introduced to Horus, the bane of humankind and a name that raises the notions of heresy for all those who know the Warhammer 40K universe. Here, he is certainly larger than life, honored by all who surround him as one who has fought the Crusade for the Emperor. But even this seems foggy after reading the book twice. There’s almost too much groundwork being laid here, so that the reader is jerked around from place to place and character to character without being able to stop long enough to focus on any one of them. Don’t get me wrong, Horus Rising is a good book. It just has way too much going on in it to feel cohesive enough of a narrative for someone who isn’t as familiar with the world as others might be. That said, if you’re discouraged, read on, because next we have…

False Gods by Graham McNeill

Okay, now this is what I’m talking about! False Gods is totally awesome. McNeill takes the worldbuilding and groundwork Dan Abnett did and runs with it, drawing out characters, ideas, and combat in page after page. The characters touched on in Horus Rising that seemed like a cacophony of names come into their own. Erebus’s insidious workings with chaos are painted in an almost reasonable light. The reader sympathizes with his apparently benevolent reasoning while also wondering about what it may mean going forward. As someone who has read some other 40K fiction, it was interesting to see how Chaos could start off as such an unknown and almost innocent thing.

Not only that, but the constant discussion of gods, the Emperor, and false gods was fascinating. As a Christian, I found it particularly interesting to see that it seemed that even in the grim dark future, humanity is seen to struggle with religion and though many main characters dismissed religion as false, others struggled to carve out meaning in a horrifying universe.

There are battles aplenty here as well, though the action is never as transcendent and awesomely metal as it is in some of the 40K novels I have read.

Seriously, this book single-handedly made me want to dive into more, so I rushed to get Galaxy in Flames and continue my read-through.

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.

Book Review: “Double Eagle” by Dan Abnett

de-abnettWhen I was a child, one of my favorite activities was to browse books about fighters and bombers and envision dogfights between them. I would read all kinds of books on World War 2, and particularly enjoyed those that involved these big air battles. I’ve also been a fan of the Warhammer 40k Universe (hereafter WH40k) and its fiction. I have only played the tabletop game once, but I think the universe is extremely interesting and engaging. Thus, when I saw Double Eagle at a book store some time ago, I snagged it. A book about dogfighting in the WH40k world? What could go wrong? It’s been sitting around waiting to be read for a few years, but I finally got around to it.

Dan Abnett has written a number of engaging and realistic characters in this narrative. Each protagonist has realistic motivations and interesting development throughout the book. I quite enjoyed reading about the characters and how the reacted to the changing events.

Unfortunately, the enemies are flatly one-dimensional, in contrast to the full-bodied main characters. There is one antagonist who keeps popping up, but even this “Killer” lacks any serious development beyond a desire to toy with the protagonists. This problem is made even more obvious by the contrast with the protagonists. IT would have been awesome had even one of the “bad guys” been given some kind of backstory to flesh them out.

Another major problem with the book is the lack of description of the vehicles involved in the combat. I don’t think I missed this anywhere, but it largely seemed like the planes and carriers involved were just given names for descriptions. I understand that this is set within a known universe that involves miniatures and the like, but the lack of description for the vehicles throughout the book made it difficult to envision the combat. The combat itself is pretty well-written, though not as interesting as I’ve found other works by Abnett. There are vivid enough descriptions of how the fighters and bombers fly about in the various dogfights. However, because of the lack of in-depth description of the vehicles or even their armaments, it all collapses down into whatever readers can come up with to fill in the blanks. I even found myself surprised at one point to discover one type of plane was a bomber rather than a fighter. I think this is pretty inexcusable, even for a work set within a known universe.

A similar issue comes up with the stage upon which the story is set. There is a map in the front pages of the book, but this is about as far as the description of the planet itself goes. Little time is dedicated to letting readers know what kind of planet is being fought for, why it is in the middle of this fighting (apart from being involved in a Crusade), or why readers should care about it. This lends itself to an overall feeling of blandness that colors not just the vehicles but also the setting on which the scenes are staged.

wanted to love Double Eagle, and the protagonists do a good job trying to sell readers on the concept, but in the end the serious lack of development of antagonists, world, and vehicles made it difficult to get into. Abnett has much better works out there.

The Good

+Realistic, full-bodied protagonists
+Decent action

The Bad

-One-dimensional enemies
-Little description of vehicles involved

The Verdict

Grade: C+ “Intriguing characters are hampered by the bland backdrop upon which they are set.”

SDG.

Microview: The “Eisenhorn” Trilogy by Dan Abnett

eisenhorn-abnettThe Eisenhorn Trilogy by Dan Abnett is a set of stories that takes place in the universe of Warhammer 40K. The universe is one created for tabletop gaming (learn more here). I have read in many places that these novels are a great entry point, and I’d have to agree because they are the first I read that were set in this universe.

The trilogy follows the footsteps of Gregor Eisenhorn, an Inquisitor whose job it is to hunt down heretics, xenos (aliens), and the like (daemons, etc.). It is a perfect set up for a story with lots of fighting and intrigue, and Abnett delivers on both. Throughout the books, readers are treated to plenty of twists and turns, and the overarching plot is superb. It’s an absolute blast to read these books and engage in the plot.

The books are also filled with a slew of terminology, characters, and references to events which are not always explained. Many of these are from the overall 40k universe, and many of them are clearly borrowed from the language of Christianity. This means that although the book is often recommended as an entry point, it still has a pretty steep learning curve at points. Expect to either be looking things up a few times or just not fully knowing what’s happening or being referenced. At times, too, some side characters do not seem to get enough development. There’s awareness that they are there and generally who they are, but Abnett doesn’t often go beyond that.

Despite a sometimes steep learning curve, the Eisenhorn Trilogy is a fantastic place to enter the Warhammer 40K universe. Filled with action and adventure, with a hefty helping of deception and plot twists, the trilogy is an enthralling read. Trust me, you won’t look back.

The Good

+ Great action sequences
+ Very interesting story
+ Lots of unforeseen plot twists
+ Dark universe that is deeply interesting
+ Tons of interesting religious references

The Bad

– So many locations it becomes hard to keep track of them all
– Secondary characters lost against the backdrop
– At times, a steep learning curve

The Verdict

Grade: A

If you like science fiction with lots of action, Abnett is a must-read.

Links

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!

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Dan Abnett, Eisenhorn (Black Library, 2005).

SDG.