Those of you that follow me on Twitter, will have seen that I ran a poll a week or so ago. I was struggling with what book to read first this year. I knew I wanted to read something set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe and gave the options of The Solar War, Mercy and Xenos. I’ve heard great things about all of them, but The Solar War came out winning quite comfortably – despite a mid-poll surge for Xenos. So that is what I read this year first, right?
Well… No. I have a good excuse though!
During the poll, I struck up a bit of a conversation with Michael from Track of Words – his blog is fantastic, btw! You should definitely check it out, especially if you have an interest in Warhammer books. Anyway, as part of this conversation we discussed which Horus Heresy books to read before starting the Siege of Terra series (The Solar War is the first of these) and it came to light that there are a couple of books I had missed towards the latter end of the immense series.
So, I swiftly pounced into action and grabbed some e-book copies of Master of Mankind, Wolfsbane and Slaves to Darkness and got to reading. I’ve powered through them this month pretty quickly – for me anyway – and here are my thoughts collated into a few mini-reviews.
Master of Mankind by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
As war splits the galaxy, the Emperor toils in the vaults beneath His Palace. But his great work is in peril, with the forces of Chaos closing in…
Master of Mankind felt like a bit of weird book to me. As the title suggests, the Emperor is the character that this novel revolves around – however, he doesn’t get a huge amount of actual on-screen time. Quite sensibly, ADB also doesn’t give us anything from the Emperor’s POV. He is a character that is meant to be unknowable and enigmatic, and I just don’t think it would be possible for a writer to really do him justice. Instead, we see glimpses of him through the eyes of those closest to him – The Custodians. These bodyguards are who we spend most of our time with and they’re pretty cool being upgraded Space Marines, who are genetically engineered super soldiers. However, I wouldn’t say they were my favourite POVs in this book. Those definitely fell to Zephon – the closest thing to a ‘retired Space Marine as he is no longer able to fight due to crippling injuries– and Kaeria from the Sisters of Silence – a warrior order of women born with no souls, and as such are an anathema to daemons and sorcery as they cannot feed on them.
The plot of the story the story revolves around the War in the Webway as the Emperor, his Custodians, the Sisters of Silence and the Mechanicum struggle to hold back the endless tides of daemons that threaten to flood Terra and devour humanity’s home world. Despite that description, it starts off a little slow and plodding. It takes time to get going. Though, the second half does build to a fantastic, action-packed conclusion where the Emperor gets a chance to unleash his powers properly.
The action in this book is great and some of the POV characters are fascinating, but unfortunately the book took a while to draw me in due to its slow start.
Wolfsbane by Guy Haley
The time has come. Leman Russ, primarch of the Space Wolves, withdraws his Legion from Terra and makes all haste for Horus’s position, to try and end the traitor once and for all.
This was the book on the list that I had a bit of trepidation about – quite honestly, I’m not the biggest Space Wolves fan despite how cool super-human viking warriors with a tinge of werewolf is as a concept. They just don’t click with me as a faction, but I have to say that I really enjoyed this book!
The plot is pretty simple, it revolves around Russ and his Wolves growing frustrated with just defending and launching an almost suicidal assault against the traitors. They aim to kill Horus, no matter the cost. There’s a short side-plot based around a well-known Mechanicum adept too.
The simplicity of the story is all to its credit as it gives the book an unrelenting pace. It’s action-packed, compact and filled with some over-the-top but intriguing characters. It is sprinkled with some absolutely brilliant scenes, such as the meeting between the loyalist primarchs to plan the defence of Terra, Russ’s spiritual journey into the Underverse (very reminiscent of a particular Norse myth) and the final assault by the Russ on Horus’s flagship. Overall, it has pretty much everything I would expect from a good Horus Heresy novel!
Slaves to Darkness by John French
As the traitor fleet closes on Terra, turmoil grips its heart. Horus lies wounded, and as the greatest battle of all time looms, it falls to Maloghurst the Twisted to hold the force together and save the Warmaster…
Slaves to Darkness is a rare thing in the Horus Heresy series: a book entirely from the traitor’s POV. This gives it something unique and makes it an interesting character study. Especially if you try to compare the characters to how they start the series, and that is what this book does best. It really shows the horror of Chaos and the daemonic forces the traitors have sided in their full light. Once Chaos has its talons in you, there is no going back and some of our characters truly and finally learn that here.
The plot revolves around the traitor legions gathering for their final assault on Terra and the homeworld of the Imperium. However, some serious cracks are beginning to appear as madness descends on those legions that have sunk too far into the hands of Chaos, while the Warmaster himself has been laid low by an unhealing wound. From here it splits into three main arcs: the senior figures of the Sons of Horus legion vying for power, the Iron Warriors marching to bring the World Eaters legion back to heel and Lorgar’s plan to bring the newly-risen Daemon Prince Fulgrim back into the war.
Overall, this book has sits with Master of Mankind. It’s good, but not great. However, saying that, the confrontation between the Iron Warriors and the World Eaters was just fantastic – some brilliant, atmospheric writing that just oozes menace, carnage and tension.