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.
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