Neil Roberts



Fulgrim – Graham McNeill; Black Library

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!)

4 stars

The Flight of the Eisenstein

Flight of the Eisenstein

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow; Black Library

The Flight of the Eisenstein is the fourth novel in the Warhammer40k Horus Heresy series.  It was released in 2007 by Black Library and was written by James Swallow.  The cover art was done by Neil Roberts.

After the “opening trilogy” of novels in the Horus Heresy series, I was worried about beginning yet another author’s take on the Warhammer40k universe.  The first three novels really set the bar high, so to speak, and I was so impressed that I was worried the disappointment would eventually arrive. Nevertheless, I was irresistibly curious as to the next events; the third novel leaves off with so much left unfinished – all the characters in the lurch.

Instead of starting where the preceding novel left off, The Flight of the Eisenstein actually backtracks a bit in time to before the battle on IsstvanIII.   So, instead of picking up with the events of the last novel, the reader goes back to the pivotal moments before the attack on Isstvan III, which, really, is the whole crux of the Horus Heresy series.  This time, however, the reader sees the events occur from an entirely different point of view.  The Flight of the Eisenstein follows the thoughts and actions of Battle Captain Nathaniel Garro, of the Death Guard (under Primarch Mortarian).

Before I get further into this review, I want to say that of the authors of the Horus Heresy that I have read, I think James Swallow is the least among them.  However, this does not make him horrible, please understand.  Further, I think that somehow Swallow is the author most suited to be writing about/as Nathaniel Garro.  Garro is different than our old friends Garviel Loken and Saul Tarvitz. He’s different from a lot of the other characters because he is a lot more introspective, it seems. He is also a member of the Death Guard and not a Son of Horus/Luna Wolf.  So, it’s fitting that a different author is writing this character and I felt, as I read, that the writing style suited Garro.

Part of me was slightly frustrated by having to return to events that I already read about.  And that frustration is only because I am so invested in the story that I am excited to know what happens next.  However, there is nothing wrong with backtracking and giving the reader a fuller picture of the events at Isstvan III, but from a different perspective. In theory, it would have been possible to write The Flight of the Eisenstein by starting off with the refugees arrival onto the ship and taking the story from there. By backtracking, the reader is forced to see the events of Isstvan III from off-planet and from a more detached character’s viewpoint. The reader is also able to develop an interest and connection with Garro.  The backtracking allows the entire storyline to fill in gaps and explain other forces and events outside of the ones already known.  It makes the entire storyline deeper and broader by not traveling solely in a linear fashion, but expanding into other characters etc.  So, though I was in haste to find out what was going to happen, I appreciated the efforts to learn about what the Death Guard was doing when Isstvan III was obliterated.

This book does continue onward, though from the point where we left off in the third novel.  The refugee-loyalists have arrived on the Eisenstein, which Garro commands.  He and his battle brothers recognize the horror that had just played out before them and are forced to escape the traitorous fleet headed by Warmaster Horus.  Swallow takes us for our first official ride into the Warp – and let me tell you, it is not a pretty place.  Swallow fills several pages with the gore and mayhem that is the Warp.  Somehow he does it with slightly less ability than Abnett or McNeill.  It’s still gripping to read, though (but maybe not while eating lunch).  Throughout the book, Garro wrestles with what it means to have faith, how to react to Horus’ violence, and how to remain a true Astartes warrior.  Swallow also spends a lot more time with developing human characters as well. (Of course, the problematic of the Empire of Man, humanity, and Astartes kind of just hangs out there in a somewhat incomplete manner, but it’s fiction…)  Two human characters in particular that Swallow develops are the captain of the Eisenstein and Garro’s housecarl (read: manservant) Kaleb.  Only one of these two makes it out of the book alive.

One of the things that bugs me about Swallow’s writing is that he uses really “rare” words more than once. If you want to use a rare word, you can only do so once – or else it seems like you are showing off your usage too much. This occurred with Swallow’s use of the word obstreperous with regard to the Death Guard warriors. It is a very rare word, and using it more than once makes Swallow seem like a little kid who learns a new word and who wants to use it all the time.  Nevertheless, it was also fun to read a word like:  mechadendrite. And on page 275, Swallow has a villain say:  “The warp’s touch is the way forward. If you were not so blinkered and mawkish, you would see it!”  ….and that’s a pretty fun line.

All in all, compared to the other Horus Heresy novels, I think this is a three out of five stars. But out of my universal novel rating system – I give it a solid four stars.

4 stars

Galaxy in Flames

Galaxy in Flames

Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter; Black Library

The third book in the “opening trilogy” of the Horus Heresy by Ben Counter was another fantastic read. I highly recommend the Horus Heresy series at this point – even though I have only read the first three. I definitely intend to continue reading the series. Galaxy in Flames follows after the second novel, False Gods. The first novel was written by Dan Abnett, the second by Graham McNeill. This is the first novel I have read by Ben Counter. The cover art, which is fantastic, was done by Neil Roberts.

This is an excellent read. It continues the intense, gripping storyline of the Horus Heresy, in which Warmaster Horus turns against the Emperor. Although it is just as intense as the previous two novels, I feel the first quarter of this novel was slightly off the high-mark set by the previous two novels. It is not easy to point out exactly what was “not quite as good,” but I think it is because instead of focusing on one character (Garviel Loken), Counter spreads his attention among the entire cast. This works very well, but after spending so much time in the first two books with Loken, I think I missed hanging out with Loken. The front half of this novel is slightly more superficial than the previous two books. However, this matters less and less as the novel proceeds, because the tension and drama increase enough to make up for it.

Treachery, duplicity, betrayal, and rebellion end in a fierce, violent conclusion that destroys a planet (Isstvan III).  The last stand of the loyalists, including Garviel Loken, Saul Tarvitz, and Tarik Torgaddon, is done really well. Lucius the swordsman also has a role to play that will make readers cringe and wail.

Meanwhile, the non-warriors (the iterators and scribes) scurry through the Vengeful Spirit, working to maintain their loyalty to the Emperor while trying to stay alive. Lots of Space Marines die in this novel – and lots of Space Marines are forced to choose between sides between the Warmaster and the Emperor.  Everyone else is caught in the crossfire and has to make choices that are far from easy.

I love the Horus Heresy series.  It incorporates everything I want in a space opera, science fiction, drama, war story. The characters are great, the storyline is great, the writing is well above-average and oftentimes excellent. I love the cover art for all of the novels.  Along the way, the reader explores concepts of brotherhood, loyalty, faith, and warfare.  I find myself putting the book down at points just to revel in the dramatic tension.  Tarvitz says: “Warheads?”  – and I had to put the book down and just cringe. But on page 212, Tarvitz has commandeered a Thunderhawk – but Horus has sent fighters after him. Again, put the book down, cringe and worry. Page 268, Qruze is no longer the “half-heard” and his epic heroism shows through! Put the book down and swell with pride for Qruze. For the emperor!

There are not many books that the reader can get this invested in the storyline and the characters. If I come across such books, I am so thrilled; I definitely evangelize: hey! Read this series!  I am going to continue reading along. I cannot stop with the last words of the book (Horus speaking): “Then we strike for Terra!”

4 stars