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Thu, 06 May 2010

Book review: Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

Horus Rising

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a bit like Superman or Batman - it's been around for so long, being told and re-told by so many authors that it's hard to get a handle on the definitive feel of the place. For my money, Ian Watson nailed it with his bizarrely gothic Inquisition War series (written in the early ninties). I've read a few other Games Workshop novels over the years, but they never really hooked me. Too much variation in tone and content, maybe, given the variety of authors that have tackled it.

The big 40K story we've all wanted to see get the proper literary treatment is the Horus Heresy. It's the big one - the Emperor, the Great Crusade, the seduction of Horus by Chaos and his betrayal...it's the seminal bit of canon, the 40K backstory. To my great surprise, I came back to the GW hobby after a couple of years away to find they've given it the proper treatment. Horus Rising is the first book in the Horus Heresy series, currently up to eleven books and counting by various authors. I'm curious to see if the strategy of using a wide variety of authors works out.

That said, Dan Abnett has written a strong start to the series. It's an exciting and action-packed bit of sci-fi, and fleshes out the early Imperium quite well. We get to learn a little about the philosophy and values of the Astartes (Space Marines) conquering the galaxy of behalf of the Emperor of mankind. Speaking of whom; I am extremely curious to see how this character is written (if at all). He is the most powerful human psyker to ever live, and reputedly close to being an omnipotent god - how do you write this, while reconciling the whole backstabbing thing by Horus?

Interestingly, the first book gives something of an impression that He took steps that would see a betrayal more likely (by putting Horus in charge despite resentment by some of the other Primarchs, then mysteriously ducking off back the Earth with no explanation or further contact). Setting up a late-stage reveal for "it was all part of the grand plan"? I'm keen to find out.

From a 40K fandom point of view, it was great to read a little about some of the characters important to the universe in supporting roles: Abaddon, Erebus and Lucius, not to mention Horus and the other Primarchs. It was also interesting to observe what is presumably the seeds of the future Ecclesiarchy, as well as the contrast with the original Imperium being strongly anti-religious (in fact outlawing the worship of gods).

Unless you're a 40K fan, it would be hard to give this book a really solid recommendation. It's a good read and a decent story, but it's mostly just setting up characters and scenery for the following books. Leaves you hanging, somewhat. Still, it's very entertaining, and gets a solid 7 out of 10. I'm keen to look at more of Dan Abnett's work.

Bottom line: a must-read if you love Warhammer 40K (and you're up for another dozen of these afterwards).

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