Fulgrim by Graham McNeill is the fifth novel in the Warhammer 40k Horus Heresy series. It’s also the largest of the first five – running just over 500 pages. It was published in 2007 and the cover artist was, again, Neil Roberts. McNeill is the author of the second Horus Heresy novel as well as a few others in the Warhammer 40k collection.
The Warhammer 40k universe is one of my favorites. I am an absolute sucker for science fiction, fantasy, and battles of good versus evil. I like vast armies, huge dramatic storylines, and futuristic settings. A lot of “classy” readers probably would disdain most of Warhammer 40k because it isn’t great literature and is usually derivative of any number of archetypes in the genre. However, I just love the universe and the characters and the stories. It’s fun and interesting. And yes, it is melodramatic. And yes, in some books the writing is somewhat more juvenile or action-descriptive. But it’s so much dang fun!
I’m obviously a science fiction fanatic. And I love reading the classics of science fiction – good, quality, heady stuff for sure. But really nothing is so deliciously engrossing as a Horus Heresy novel. I am a big proponent of readers enjoying the books they are reading. If I am reading for entertainment, I want to be entertained. There is also plenty of room for thought-provoking or challenging. Alter the paradigms, show the parallax, explore conceptual edifices – but let me still have my fun!
Fulgrim is not the best of the first five Horus Heresy novels. I do think in some places the story stalls and the characters chase their tails a bit. In other words, yeah, this novel could have been whittled down to, say, 420 pages. And while some novels desperately need to be chopped and halved, since this is Warhammer 40k and I am insanely in love with it, I do not really mind the stuffing. The first two books of the series were awesome. Without a doubt. Books four and five kind of circle back around to the events in book three – showing us the events from a different perspective, involving different characters, etc. Some readers might not like this re-telling of events. However, in both books, the storyline does move forward. In Fulgrim, the last quarter of the book deals with the situation on Isstvan V – where the primarchs and their legions engaged in knowing, violent combat over the purpose and goal of the Great Crusade.
In the first half of the novel, the reader learns about the Primarch Fulgrim. I like learning about each of the primarchs, though Fulgrim himself is not one I’m a real fan of. He is so prissy and fancy. He is still a formidable warrior, but his obsession with the concept of perfection and the appearance of his legion is obnoxious. In other words, it’s easy to hate him and easy to see how he was pulled into the Horus Heresy. There are several neat things that the author does to this character to demonstrate the changes in him and how it affects the Emperor’s Children (his legion of space marines). Most of them are interesting and reasonable grounding for the character’s actions. Some are just a little flat or perhaps they are a little too obvious.
Fulgrim – the book and the character – develops from the author’s usage of concepts of aesthetics. Art appreciation, perfection in art, working to create art, etc. Some of this might seem a bit silly to readers who want warfare in the distant future, but actually I was impressed that the author chose to utilize this stuff. For example, I really do encourage any fans of the series to read William Blake’s The Book of Urizen either before or after reading Fulgrim. It’s interesting and contextualizes. It’s also kind of fun to see Blake-ian concepts utilized in pulp science fiction! I haven’t read The Book of Urizen since…. 1997?…. so I am actually looking forward to just flipping through that again.
Of note, Fulgrim contains some of the more “graphic” scenes in the series so far. There are not any “bad words,” but the imagery can be a bit intense. So, if you are really drawn into the book and have a good imagination, the latter half of the book has some scenes dealing with xenos/chaos forces that might be a bit ugly to imagine. The descriptions, though, do border slightly on the purple prose sort of structure in places. It is not necessarily there for shock value – it does play into the plotline. Either way, be advised to expect this. I liked elements of this section and disliked elements, as well. For example, there is something both really cool and really silly about the concept of auditory chaos, discordance, and atonal effects being used by/on space marines.
Overall, four stars – because I am a Warhammer 40k
fan addict. Three stars if you are judging based on everything else. (Again, my blog, my prerogative!)