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.
Nemesis by James Swallow
I admit it: I was skeptical of this book. I had seen multiple complaints that its content was pointless, or that it was largely unrelated to the wider plot of the Horus Heresy. But a Twitter friend convinced me that it was worth diving into, and that, along with my insistent desire to read entire lists and not skip books, made me dive in. And I have to say, I’m very glad I did. Nemesis is a fantastic read with a lot of cool lore and moments in it.
The core of the book are two stories: on the one side, we see the Imperium’s development of the Officio Assassinorium, a branch of their military dedicated to assassinations; on the other side, the Word Bearers attempt to send in a Nemesis weapon to kill the Emperor himself. This is all centered around investigations from non-Space Marine characters trying to figure out what’s happening and set in the broader context of worlds pulling apart over the Heresy. There’s a lot of action in the novel, but what made it great was its world building and the context already mentioned.
The planet Dagonet is seen as a central part of its region’s response to the Heresy. They swear allegiance to Horus, causing concern on other planets nearby like Iesta Veracrux, another planet where some of the action takes place. Dagonet sided with Horus, having had historically closer ties to Horus than to the Emperor. Horus apparently liberated the planet some time ago, and is more popular even than the Emperor. This bit of world building was included in a brief conversation between people on Iesta Veracrux, but it was couched in the narrative of having refugees show up from the sister planet and fears over what it might mean for the wider region. I thought this was a great way to do the world building and also set the conflict of the Horus Heresy against a much broader backdrop.
The story itself is exciting, even if the outcome is somewhat of a foregone conclusion. It seems obvious that the assassins from both sides will fail, but they made the buildup interesting enough and the side characters deep enough to maintain my interest throughout. I know I’ve complained about having so many “normal” person perspectives in the Horus Heresy so far, but that was largely in novels that were supposed to be centered on entire Legions of Space Marines and seemed more focused on a random person on the street than on the Astartes. Here, care was taken to make the non-superhumans the center of the plot, and with that, the technique thrived. We see “normal” people worried about what’s happening in their wider and yet narrower worlds.
The conclusion, as Horus burns the people of Dagonet, whether they were on his side or not, is a chilling moment that shows how far he’s fallen. It also means that the worlds involved are likely not to feature much in the coming Heresy. But I don’t mind that. One-off plots in wider universes can be good if done well. Nemesis was great.
Nemesis is a thrilling read with some fascinating plot points and some of the best world development of any of the novels so far. I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend it to others, even though it doesn’t have a major impact on the overall Heresy, according to other readers.
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.
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