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Mon, 24 May 2010

Book review: False Gods by Graham McNeill

False Gods

This is the second book in the Horus Heresy series, following on from Horus Rising. It picks up the action almost immediately where the first book left off, cutting the need for any laborious back-story (and leaving more room for action). All the main characters are struggling to come to terms with experiencing the effects of Chaos first-hand by throwing themselves into training, study or substance abuse.

An aside: I'm having trouble crediting that no-one in the Imperium, with the possible exception of the Emperor, knows about the Chaos powers. Every other race and culture that they crush seems to be aware of the dangers of the Warp. Then again, there's been plenty of indication so far that this information might be being suppressed. The plot thickens!

This book covers more of Horus' seduction by Chaos into betraying the Emperor and undertaking the Heresy. The action is well-paced and efficiently written, with no parts feeling like filler. There are more and more indications that the Great Crusade, at Horus' command, is less about unification than conquest and slaughter - the inmates are running the asylum now, and it ain't pretty. We're heading to Istvaan by the end, and (knowing the general story a little already) I'm starting to dread what's going to happen there.

The character development is this book is extremely well done. The increasingly-cynical Astartes marine Loken becomes more and more suspicious of his comrade's motives. The scientist orator Kyril Sinderman is shaken out of his rationalist worldview by first-hand glimpses of Chaos. The drunken poet Ignace sinks further into despair as he senses the darkening of the Great Crusade's purpose. Me, I want to read more about Angron - the World Eaters primarch seems like a stark raving nutbar! Hard to see how any rational person would put him in charge of tens of thousands of trained killers, but he sounds like great fun to write about.

On the other hand, I felt that the character of Horus wasn't particularly well-portrayed. He comes across as impulsive and (at times) a bit like a petulant child - hardly the charismatic near-god I expected. He seems to slip into betrayal with barely a second thought (although in fairness, I suppose that the Chaos Gods are supposed to be masters of deception). In addition, he seems to convince an awful lot of the supporting cast to betray the Emperor they have venerated for two centuries with hardly a twitch. Again, probably a reflection of how well-regarded Horus is; though it would have been nice to hear a bit more of the persuasive speech that he must have used.

It's a measure of this series' length and depth that it took two whole books for Horus to come out and talk about betrayal openly (in the final pages). That's not a bad thing though - this story really needs a proper telling. For my money, not quite as strong as the first but overall, another worthwhile read.

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