The Beasts of Cartha picks up an undetermined time after Josh Reynolds' Bridge of Seven Sorrows. It continues at least one plotline via Lord-RelicThe Beasts of Cartha picks up an undetermined time after Josh Reynolds' Bridge of Seven Sorrows. It continues at least one plotline via Lord-Relictor Ramus, while the Hallowed Knights' Lord-Celestant is tragically absent.
Where before, Mannfred von Carstein was an uneasy ally of Lord-Celestant Tarsus Bull-Heart, now the Hallowed Knights and him are on opposing sides. Moreover, Ramus is actively hunting the vampire for his betrayal, to take him back to Sigmar. In fact, we do get to hear Sigmar in the opening sequence, which depicts Ramus's reforging and fulfills the role of "the story so far" in a clever way. It didn't have the impact of Reynolds' Nagash intros from the previous series, but it was very neat regardless.
Unlike the previous dramas, we are not in the Realm of Death. Instead, the Realm of Beasts is being explored, resulting in very different environs, actual human survivors helping the Stormcasts and instead of Khorne and Nurgle warriors, we get to see Ogres - my bad, "Ogors" - in action. Hurray for much-needed variety in antagonists! Of course, this involving Mannfred, you can expect some vampiric shenanigans as well.
As for the Stormcasts, we got a second Stormhost involved, stationed at Cartha, a city in the branches of a massive tree, to defend the cities in the name of Sigmar. These Astral Templars are a wholly different breed from the faithful Hallowed Knights. Led by a highly boisterous, arrogant Lord-Castellant and a Knight-Azyros, their traditions and attitudes in combat differ greatly from those of Ramus and co. I've got to be honest - these are probably my least favorite Stormcast Eternals so far, due to their character itself (not the way they were executed by Guymer, though). I enjoyed the contrast, however.
The audio production is, once again, very good. The sound effects and audio cues are great, and there are certain pieces in the background music that I'd actually listen to on the side if they were available as a soundtrack. The characters are well-voiced, especially Mannfred, whose tongue is still as sharp as we are used to. Guymer's depiction of him works well with Reynolds', so I've got nothing to complain about there.
My favorite quote from the drama has to be the following:
“Why is it, I wonder, that Sigmar felt compelled to burden you with such poor imaginations? Very well. Judicate me, if you can.”
This taunt by the vampire is spot-on and I am incredibly happy that it exists. It made me smile and chuckle when I heard it.
I'm intrigued to see what the rest of Guymer's Knights of Vengeance audio drama series will be like. The Realm of Beasts seems very cool so far, so I got high hopes for the next installment....more
The Last Wall is my favorite in the series yet. It thus continues the upwards tendency of the series in my eyes. It alsoReview also published here
The Last Wall is my favorite in the series yet. It thus continues the upwards tendency of the series in my eyes. It also ramps up the stakes even further, which leaves us with a truly horrifying situation at the end of the first third of the series. Now I see these Orks as terrifying for real.
The end of the previous book left us with one of the Ork attack moons above Holy Terra - and that is what The Last Wall primarily deals with. While there are scenes with the sons of Dorn at Phall once more, and also some unexpected rivals, almost the entirety of the novel is set on Terra, or within the Sol System. That does not necessarily mean that there aren't plenty of plotlines to follow.
Right in chapter one, we get confronted with the Adeptus Arbites attempting to control the rioting masses of Terra's population. All hell broke loose when the attack moon arrived, and much revolves around this herd mentality here. This raging mass of humanity is the key to the plot on multiple levels. The High Lords, in their sheer arrogance, incompetence and ignorance decide to send a "Proletarian Crusade" to the ork death star - shipping the countless masses of Terra's population to the enemy in the hopes of overwhelming them in their base and bringing down the moon. They feed the despair of the people they are supposed to govern and protect, and stoke the fires of fanaticism of crusaders.
David Annandale is, for all intents and purposes, Black Library's specialist when it comes to stories revolving around questions of faith and fanaticism. I have gone into detail about that before, so I shan't repeat my praise yet again. TLW presents its own angle on the theme, which I felt were very well executed. The sheer madness and overwhelming sense of purpose of the crusaders is palpable throughout - reading the book, I could see the heaving masses of humanity ebb and flow across the surface of the attack moon, assemble in loading bays and scream in the streets of their home planet. Annandale managed to create a horrifying, mind-numbing picture of dread and despair, directed into weaponized barbarity and disregard for the individual person. This made the eventual twists towards the ending even more stunning, and I loved the way things played out.
The Last Wall, more than any other installment so far, subverts our expectations of the orks. It draws upon the familiar while adding new layers that make them feel far more alien and mortifying than we are used to. And it does so not just through showing us what acts of violence and brutality they are capable of, but also their restraint, tactical expertise and newfound search for diplomacy.
If anything, this entry turns the roles of mankind and the Beast's waaagh on their heads. In the end, we are left wondering which side is really uncivilized and barbaric, and which developed and able to operate in somewhat good faith. The depravities man is willing to commit to are laid bare, not only via the High Lords' and Inquisition's schemes and petty rivalries, but also through the way they channel the regular, powerless citizens through chains of faith and righteousness. All the while, the orks don't have to lift a finger while Terra tears itself apart.
On the matter of the scions of Rogal Dorn, we don't have much progression in terms of volume. The Astartes are still gathering their forces at Phall and deliberating their course of action. Thankfully, this plotline picks up right where it left off in The Emperor Expects, so we don't miss out on anything I'd have liked to see come off it. Captain Koorland is finally settling down in his role as the last Imperial Fist, and the underlying rivalries between the various successor Chapters were a highlight to me. Still, I would have wished for more on this side of the overall story. It is hardly the author's fault, though, as this is simply how the series was laid out. The Fists' time will come.
Back on Terra, the Inquisition's internal strife is entering its next stage, as events between Wienand and Veritus escalate further, and draw in more actors. I don't want to spoil this succession of chases, assassination attempts and the wider Inquisition's reactions to it all, so I'll just say that I am thrilled to find out where this is all going next. I expect some big moves from the =][= in the upcoming volumes.
At the end of the day, though, things are rapidly spinning out of control. As if the arrival of the attack moon in the last book wasn't enough already, I feel like the end of TLW has even greater repercussions. The stakes have never been higher, and neither has my excitement for the series, thanks to this highly impressive fourth installment....more
Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar is pretty much what I expected and wanted out of the Primarchs series. It offers a cReview also published here
Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar is pretty much what I expected and wanted out of the Primarchs series. It offers a closer look on Guilliman, pre-Heresy, giving him time with his Legion before the events of Calth and Imperium Secundus - something that was sorely lacking up to this point.
First off, the book is structured in a very neat way. Each of the nine chapters is presented with an interlude, taken from Roboute Guilliman's treatises and reflections on war, cultural upheaval and morale. These interludes put an interesting spin on their chapters, as Annandale attempts to explore these disparate themes in the ongoing storyline. In my eyes, he succeeded in making the Primarch's actions consistent and sensible, and fully in line with his belief system.
Obviously, Roboute Guilliman is the star here. Unlike his pencil-pusher presence in the Horus Heresy series, with few actual personal engagements to speak of, here he kicks serious ork backside. He is a god of war, shown the way you'd expect a Primarch to act, slaughtering xenos and being a symbol to his Legion. If you've been bored of bean-counter Guilliman during the Imperium Secundus arc, this is for you.
This doesn't mean that the book isn't full of introspection on Roboute's end, however. He reflects on history-changing events such as the humbling of Lorgar and the Word Bearers at Monarchia, and the need to show his Legion that they are not just destroyers, but also creators during the Great Crusade. That is a theme that goes through the whole book, putting the Ultramarines in a tough spot.
The plot comes down to a simple premise: The Ultramarines are busy eradicating an ork empire around Ultramar, and on the brink of utter victory they come across an infested world which shows signs of human civilization. While no humans are still alive, Guilliman wants to preserve the remaining architecture and raise the world up as an example of human indurance and reincorporate their findings into the Imperium and resettle the planet. This means that Guilliman compromises his Legion's heavy weapon usage and has no desire to utilize the Destroyer companies of the Legion, serving with the Nemesis Chapter. Unhappy with the divide between the heavily terran Destroyers and the rest of the Legion, and unsettled by the resentment they have for their idleness during the Great Crusade, the Primarch attempts to shake things up by appointing a captain from a different Chapter as their new Chapter Master, in spite of tradition and the Destroyers' prefered candidate. Loyalty is questioned and disobedience considered, throwing a wrench or two in the campaign, on top of the greenskins' dominance.
The Destroyer forces within the Legion were relative latecomers to the Horus Heresy series; it is safe to say that ForgeWorld's work on the tabletop system were the driving force behind their inclusion. So to me, this novel did a good job rationalizing their relative absence from at least the Ultramarines and by extension other Legions, and shows very well just how contradictory the devastating tactics of the forces are when the Legions are supposed to bring worlds into compliance. It is difficult to bring worlds into compliance after you nuke them and poison the ecosystem for decades if not centuries to come. Guilliman's distaste is fully justified, and also echoes forward to Gav Thorpe's Angels of Caliban, where Lion El'Johnson lets his own Dreadwing loose on potential traitors and terrorists on Macragge.
In my opinion, the biggest draw of the novel is Guilliman's characterization and his interactions with his Legion commanders. It is a great book to give you a feel of his style of leadership, and how his famed pragmatism is contrasted by his idealistic streak. He rationalizes various decisions throughout the campaign, despite some doubts remaining, and is willing to make concessions for idealistic goals. He is utterly competent, but not infallible. Additionally, he also reflects on a few of his brothers and their ideologies, especially Fulgrim's search for perfect warfare, or Angron's brutality. There are some good nuggets here that are as of yet untouched by the Heresy, and I appreciate them. It also shows his distaste of what the XIIIth Legion had to do on Monarchia, and the wounds that left for the Legion; we had plenty of examples of how it affected the Word Bearers, including Annandale's own The Unburdened, but the Ultramarines had little on that front, as the treachery of the sons of Lorgar almost immediately overshadowed it.
Readers shouldn't go in expecting big revelations, however. The war itself isn't vital in itself, and the stakes seem relatively low early on; they do shoot up sky high about halfway through, however, resulting in some big, bombastic scenes and massive risks to the Ultramarines. But the real worth is in Annandale's characterizations of established and new characters alike, and showcasing the spirit of the Legion. It feels like an Ultramarines book at the core, with interesting implications and well-handled characters that iconify the Legion's philosophy and way of war. That is all I wanted, and I am happy that Roboute Guilliman delivered....more
Leman Russ: The Great Wolf left me conflicted. I struggled to get invested in this Primarchs novel for quite some time before I decided to just sit down and get it done. Despite having some brilliant moments that left me in awe, the almost overwhelming amount of action, especially early on, left me struggling to enjoy the book.
A big part of my problems with this one isn't just down to content, or specifically a big focus on battles. The structure of it all is what made it feel as exhausting to me as it did. Leman Russ comes along split into a mere six chapters. The first and last of these form the meta narrative, putting the rest of the book into the context of Russ telling the story of his feud with the Lion of Caliban. They are, however, not labeled as prologue and epilogue like you might expect. The remaining four chapters in between focus on the war for Dulan, the Wolf King and the Lion's many disagreements and ends in, as lore would have it, them punching the living hell out of one another. This iconic and highly anticipated moment in 40k history was handled exceptionally well, in my opinion, whereas the early parts and what may constitute as the main plotline felt underwhelming to me. I digress, however. While reading the book, I found many, many scene changes that could have easily warranted a chapter break. I've always been in favor of having a good amount of chapters. As long as you're not as ludicrous with it as the Star Wars: Rogue One Junior Novelization which has over 60 chapters for a mere 192 pages, I'd say a few redundant chapter breaks are preferable to having endlessly long ones. Leman Russ, to my dismay, has plenty of those.
I honestly don't know what went wrong here. A lot of times the book lent itself to thematic breaks left and right, splitting battles from more profound and introspective moments, but instead it all runs together into one mess that I found tough to keep excited over. If you're anything like me in this regard, you might struggle.
But aside from these structural issues, I found the novel too loaded with battle scenes and all they entail. The first Dulan-plotline chapter kicks off with a massive boarding action, for example. Yes, it did a good job showcasing the Wolves' way of war, their howling and single-mindedness, but it dragged on a bit too much for my liking. It isn't that Wraight didn't make an effort to make me appreciate the Jarl of the 13th Great Company. I quite liked Jorin Bloodhowl of Dekk-Tra. His role within the Legion is fairly unique, due to being one of Russ's old guard on Fenris. It is just that I never really felt much for the Dulanians. They were the stand-in antagonists. The only thing they actually had going for them for the biggest part of the novel was their advanced and odd technological level. But if that's the only thing I can associate with them for the majority of the story, then I cannot claim to find that very interesting or engaging. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to showcase an advanced civilization that rejects the Imperium's rule, yet the only part that came close to that was the Lion's final meeting with the "Tyrant" of Dulan. That was about where I got curious about this civilization. Sadly, that's also where it became irrelevant to the rest of the book.
I guess it is to be expected somewhat to have the war on Dulan be more of a backdrop for the Wolf vs Lion story of old. We didn't really know much about the conflict before and all the interesting bits were about how Russ and Jonson started their Legion feud for good. But for that, I feel that this happened a bit too late in the book. The buildup was decent, if action-heavy, but the blows landed only in the final stages of the book. As a climax it worked wonders and made me appreciate Wraight's skill at handling Primarchs once again. But between this rivalry plotline, the Dulan war and the third plotline involving the curse of the 13th Great Company, I felt like it didn't take center stage enough. All three plotlines needed more to them to really shine. They were serviceable, but in the end I felt that the book needed more room to properly build them up. They play into one another just well enough to not make the book feel shizophrenic, but not well enough to properly satisfy me.
Having a big timeskip after the conclusion of the big brawl, rushing through the Heresy-to-come up until the aftermath of the Imperial Palace, was awkward in my opinion as well. It is clear that Wraight wasn't going to spoil Heresy-series events, and that the book needed to work stand-alone and not hold anything mandatory for the flagship series. The encounter between the two brothers also needed to be in the book. But after being relatively slow and bogged down with battles for 80% of the book, having one of the 4 chapters available to the core-part of the novel rush through decades into the future of the HH series, felt awkward. It seems more like a pacing issue to me than anything down to Wraight's skills as an author. In fact, this chapter was one of the most engaging parts of the book for me. It just didn't fit as neatly as I've come to expect from Wraight after all I've read from him.
But this is all so very negative, isn't it? I honestly don't like being this way. My disappointment has a lot to do with the high expectations I had for this novel, based on Wraight's own work with the Space Wolves both in and out of the Horus Heresy series. And truthfully, he did a bang-up job showcasing the Great Crusade-era Legion, with quite a few bits of foreshadowing and easter eggs. The Wolves felt dangerous in many scenes, and the Lion too felt authentic to his core character archetype. He is proud, deeply arrogant, but also insanely competent. Despite all of that, Wraight made it clear that the Lord of Angels wasn't quite as cold-hearted as he often appears. It was great to see Lion El'Jonson this way. The scenes putting the lense on him were some of the best in the book. Russ, too, did get some neat additions to his character and the fears he held for his Legion. This is a Wolf King that wants his Legion to be seen as more than simple-minded barbarians, quite in contrast to his appearance in Prospero Burns, where he seemed mostly comfortable with the idea of being underestimated by all. It is interesting to see how many aspects of Leman are the same as in chronologically later depictions, while subtle changes were made to accomodate his pre-Heresy Great Crusade incarnation.
Yes, Leman Russ: The Great Wolf is well worth reading. It may be my least-favorite Primarchs novel out of the first three and took me a good while to slog through, but it is still a competent novel that does a lot of good things for the Vlka Fenryka. I'd say the final chapters where everything comes to a head alone make this book worthwhile, despite the pacing and structural issues. It is, however, one of the books that I wish hadn't gotten the short novel treatment but instead been a full-length novel. I believe that, had that been the case, Wraight could have fully lived up to expectations and made all three plotlines compelling in their own right. Either way, it is a great read for fans of the Wolves, but also the Dark Angels and people like me who wanted to see more Great Crusade depictions of the Legions than we got so far....more
Praetorian of Dorn is in many ways a great - and much needed - entry to the Horus Heresy series. In some ways, however,Review also published here
Praetorian of Dorn is in many ways a great - and much needed - entry to the Horus Heresy series. In some ways, however, it left me wanting. I didn't quite know how to feel about the overall book when I finished it. I loved many parts, while others left me surprisingly cold or even disappointed.
My main complaint will boil down to what the novel set out to be, and how it approached that. This is the first actual Imperial Fists installment. Yes, they have been featured here and there (Dorn as early as Horus Rising, or the extremely cool novella The Crimson Fist from Shadows of Treachery, also by John French), but never actually had a novel to name their own. This was down to their position within the Heresy War itself: Rather than being out fighting and denying the traitors at every turn, Dorn and co were stuck at Terra, turning the Palace into a fortress.
So this should, by all rights, have been the Imperial Fists book, until the Siege of Terra begins. Surprisingly, it was not that. Its scope was very limited, and the constant threads woven by the Alpha Legion and their operatives just took much-needed pagetime away from the Fists in favor of constructing a complex network of feints and subterfuge.
We are treated to some very, very gratifying scenes featuring Rogal Dorn and the book's protagonist Archamus, master of his Primarch's Huscarl retinue, and for all intents, Archamus personifies most of the best traits of the Imperial Fists. He is a shining example of his Legion, so insights we gain through his role in the book reflect well on his Legion - but he is just one Space Marine. Even adding sergeant Kestros to the range of protagonists, as Archamus recruits him for his mission, we don't get to see much of the wider Legion, or even their labours on Holy Terra itself.
Whereas many other Legion-focused books in the series, especially when it came to first full-length outings, (re)defined their Legions' roles within the Great Crusade and Heresy and added a distinct character to them, I felt that Praetorian kinda failed at doing the same. I read a well-made argument that the perceived "vanilla"-ness of the Fists here is down to the Legion identifying themselves not by their Primarch's origin world, but by their duty within the Crusade and Heresy, which I can get behind, but even then the detail is scarce and the sample mass is too tiny to really judge that one way or another.
Looking at the Dramatis Personae list at the start of the book again after having finished it, not even half the listed Fists characters were really relevant to the story being told. I thought we'd get a good look at the overall Sol system's defences and the various Lord Castellans under Dorn, but while they are listed and certainly named throughout, their appearances, if they even entered the stage personally, were brief and as a result frustrating to me.
I enjoyed Archamus, and the interlude chapters focused on his rise throughout the Legion. Seeing his recruitment, his reaction to meeting Rogal of the house of Dorn for the first time, his defiant nature during implantation and first training, it all added up to create a good picture of Archamus. It gives a solid feel of his role, and his importance to Dorn himself. John wanted to make this novel about Archamus, and he succeeded in that to a praiseworthy degree. I liked the character, his baggage, his stoicism, and his fears. Even his relationship with Demetrius Katafalque, who we've seen before, made me smile. There wasn't much overlap between their paths here, but what there was of it was well handled and gave me an impression of shared history and loyalty.
Kestros, I'm afraid, didn't shine nearly as well next to Archamus. He came across as blunt, which admittedly was part of why he was recruited, but it made me less interested in him. Especially in his arguments with Andromeda of the Selenar cult I was swayed more towards the female's position than Kestros's. She contributed a lot to the plot and Archamus's deliberations, and is responsible for some chuckles here and there. From how she was being set up, I wouldn't be surprised to find her as one of the founding members of Malcador's Inquisition, and would love to see more of her. Kestros meanwhile played third fiddle in the trio, and came across as relatively forgettable.
I was surprised to see how quickly the plot moved away from a direct threat to Terra and the Imperial Palace, just to move towards Pluto, too. It seemed odd to me just how quickly the Alpha Legion pulled their presence off Terra, when they had the knife at the Imperium's throat already - to the point of issuing a direct challenge to Rogal Dorn, within the Palace's inner sanctum. I know, I know, the Alpha Legion is all sneaky and confusing, lies within lies within schemes and betrayels, but still. They were in, then were out, and while there are plot reasons that would indicate why that is, it still felt odd.
However, as negative as this review may sound so far - I really enjoyed Praetorian of Dorn. It had a lot of twists and turns that should be the hallmark of AL warfare by now, but also had some neat flashbacks to pre-Heresy events focusing around Archamus. Rogal Dorn comes across as the idealist he was supposed to be, and John did a marvelous job depicting his uncompromising nature, especially in the final chapters. Dorn shone in every scene he was in, which made me wish he was in more parts of the book and didn't leave the stage in favor of Archamus trying to unravel the Alpha Legion plot at his request. I understand that French probably didn't want to expose us too much to the Primarch himself, and I can generally agree with that, but I'd also say that those sections were the best parts of the whole novel.
The author's passion for the Alpha Legion, dating back years even as far as his Black Library contributions are concerned, is clear as day. The Legion's schemes were constructed in an exciting manner, with many elements working together so perfectly that, while it requires a certain dispension of disbelief, it had me at the edge of my seat. The first few chapters start off extremely chaotic, almost disjointed, but soon intertwine and drip-feed the reader answers, steadily building up to twist after twist until the big reveals start dropping. I'd go as far as to say that John's rendition of the Alpha Legion was brilliant. From the range of operatives, the small cogs assembling into a gigantic machine of treachery, to the eventual strike for the throat, I was happy with what he did, even if some fans are dismayed by the big climax at the end.
But that sheer brilliance when it comes to the Hydra is the big reason why I was disappointed by the Imperial Fists. I cannot say for certain, but it felt to me like more pages were dedicated to Alpharius and co than to the Fists, and the collective actions of the sons of Dorn paled in comparison to what the Alpha Legion accomplished here. "Alpharius" took the spotlight, and Dorn struggled to keep up.
Likewise, I would have liked to see more of Malcador and his agents, and the complete absence of the Adeptus Custodes felt jarring. On top of that, with the book ending parallel to where Chris Wraight's The Path of Heaven left off, and the novel being set firmly after Vengeful Spirit, the Space Wolves should still have been around Sol - yet no mention or appearance ever dropped in the book.
Yet still, the author pulled some pretty incredible void battles out of his hat, and fleshed out the Sol system in a variety of ways. Details from the ForgeWorld books were worked in, and some of his 40k Alpha Legion characters feature here - one being in an odd spot by the end that definitely needs following up on. The book gave a good view of where the system stands, and the degree of readiness, weariness and sense of duty everybody involved in the fortification of Terra seems to feel.
I just wish there had been more of those things and some of the Alpha Legion involvement had been shorter, or less spread out. Every chapter jumps from place to place, often between the AL's many operatives, whereas I might have prefered a stronger focus on the Fists. I noticed that I enjoyed the book's first half considerably more than the second, despite, or maybe because of, the operative subplots. Once the threads converged and Dorn and co sprung into more decisive action, the plot was firmly rolling and couldn't really slow down to flesh out the Imperial Fists' Legion character much, whereas the Alpha Legion's characterizations shined because of said action. It is another instance where the Fists' static, robust nature works against them, I believe.
The more I think about the book, the more little points I spot that bug me. Overall the novel is very strong and full of good stuff, but these smaller misgivings add up for me. I wish I had enjoyed this more than I did. Heck, the night of release I could barely sleep because of how excited I was for it. I ended up listening to The Lightning Tower again, which features Dorn and Archamus and was one of John French's primary inspirations for this book. I've listened to it so often over the years, I can speak along chunks of dialogue without much trouble. And where he tackled Dorn's idealistic nature, Archamus's defiance, or the Legion's history, French absolutely succeeded. I loved that. I loved seeing Dorn tell Alpharius off, pre-Isstvan. I loved seeing Dorn take charge and calm the rising panic of the Palace's defenders. I loved seeing him in action and explaining his father's vision to a young recruit.
If only the Alpha Legion hadn't been so dominantly represented and made up so much of the book's action that there was no choice but to react left for the Imperial Fists, I would have easily given this one a top spot in the series to date. It is still a really powerful book as far as the Horus Heresy is concerned. It is worth reading, and I recommend it. It just isn't what I expected it to be, and didn't cover all the bases of what the series needed this book to be for the Praetorian of Terra and his collective sons, even though it struck gold with Dorn's own Praetorian....more
Fabius Bile: Primogenitor is one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year. Granted, that is in large parts down tReview also published here
Fabius Bile: Primogenitor is one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year. Granted, that is in large parts down to my interest in Fabius himself, as per his various depictions in Warhammer 40,000 and the Horus Heresy, but also because Josh Reynolds is one hell of a writer. Reading this on the heels of The Master of Mankind was also a good decision I've found, prodividing a nice contrast to Dembski-Bowden's more depressing work.
Throughout the Horus Heresy series, Fabius has been depicted as more and more unhinged, especially as far as his experiments are concerned. Father of mutants and "New Men", and creator of the proto-Noise Marines, Fabius stands for corruption, insanity and a lack of restraint, making him a perfect scion of Fulgrim. There's a lot of baggage attached to the character, a lot of preconceived notions on him and his exploits, so what did Josh do? He took it all, skipped a few millennia ahead in the timeline to M34, and reassessed Fabius's circumstances and mindset to make him a pillar of sanity in an insane galaxy - and it works brilliantly.
Of course, the Primogenitor remains an unhinged individual, with his own beliefs and misconceptions, but also impressive insights and maybe the only true atheist in the franchise, after the Emperor's passing. In many ways, Reynolds manages to present Fabius as somewhat of an inheritor of the Emperor's grand dream of advancing humanity, and his rejection of the daemonic. To Fabius, daemons are no more than figments of imagination given form by some convoluted natural phenomenon - and he defies them without fear or particular respect. This serves as platform for a couple of amusing scenes in the novel, which shaped the experience quite deliciously.
‘And what does it mean to you? You are not even real,’ Bile said. ‘A bit of grit in the empyrean is what you are. Whatever message you have is worth less to me than the hiss of a lanced boil.’
As you can see from this short quote, Fabius is written with plenty of... bile and cynical comments on his surroundings. His tongue is sharp from start to finish, yet there is also a surprising degree of warmth in him when it comes to his creations. Whether they be the Gland-hounds, vat-grown, improved-upon near-humans who form a step between regular folk and the Astartes, or even the Kakophoni survivors of his Legion days, Fabius is a generous benefactor. He also has an odd fondness for his apothecary allies/disciples, including the other major PoV character, Oleander Koh.
Oleander returns to Fabius's fold at the outset of the book to propose a grand scheme: Helping the Radiant King, a high-ranking Emperor's Children general, take the Eldar Craftworld of Lugganath, and reaping precious samples for Bile's experiments in the process. Of course, Oleander has his own schemes as well, and clashes with his fellow apothecaries and his comrades under the Radiant King's command throughout. But he is also an idealist and his admiration for Fabius is clear. To the reader, he is an entertaining set of eyes to look through as well. He flirts with daemonettes, even reminiscing about a fling he had with one, and smoking warp essence through a wicked pipe. On top of that, he also hums songs here and there, which readers of Chambers' The King in Yellow might recognize...
Speaking of weird fiction references, Reynolds managed to throw a couple more in. None of them felt shoehorned to me - if anything, Josh's extensive knowledge of Weird Fiction helped build a dramatic atmosphere and underline the inherent weirdness of Fabius and his experiments, and the extravagant nature of the acolytes and daemons of Slaanesh. Oleander's songs, Fabius's penchant for classical music and art, the Radiant King's joyful parties, they all play into the theme of decadence that the Emperor's Children are known for, while maintaining Fabius's own indulgences on a more reasonable level than the rest's.
The daemons, too, feel wicked yet playful, threatening but with a sense of irony. They play with their food, and invite the characters to dance with them. I've found Slaaneshi daemons to be hit and miss in most stories, with some authors pulling them off damn well, like Chris Wraight in The Path of Heaven, while others, like James Swallow in Fear to Tread, completely disappointed me. To my delight, Josh Reynolds nailed them, making them the fickle, whimsical creatures they need to be, hiding their terror and hostility under a veneer of humor and fondness for the subjects of their attention. In contrast, the Emperor's Children in the book are mostly made up of opportunistic, backstabbing ingrates, ever chasing for greater pleasures and stimuli. Oleander straddles the line for the most part, and Fabius's desires are of a very different nature, but especially the underlings of the Radiant King are in constant rivalry and showcase the degeneracy of the Legion after Fulgrim's apotheosis just right.
Next to the obvious followers of Slaanesh, the novel also gives some attention to a mute Iron Warrior apothecary with a strong belief in brotherhood, a World Eater who speaks to the skulls of his rivals and a Word Bearer forced into service after a failed attempt on Fabius's life - and the Chief Apothecary rewarded him with implanted bombs. The Word Bearer felt as preachy and arrogant as I've envisioned them to be, post-Heresy, attempting to spread their faith across the galaxy once more. But a real surprise to me was the aforementioned Iron Warrior, Tzimiskes, who has some oddly uplifting "conversations" with Oleander and co, and even a PoV scene towards the end. I liked him a lot!
Fabius Bile himself is explored in far greater depth than ever before. I loved Nick Kyme's story Chirurgeon, which gave a lot of background on him during the Heresy and before, but Primogenitor goes far and beyond with how it redefines the Clonelord. Self-reflective yet driven. Critical but appreciative of others' advances. Reclusive yet surrounding himself with like-minded individuals. Harsh to outsiders yet surprisingly caring for his own. Rejecting authority yet constantly defiant. Broken yet unyielding.
The whole novel celebrates Fabius's achievements yet puts him into a position where he is both highly disagreeable but also incredibly likeable as a protagonist. It dials back a lot of the crazier elements while making them an intrinsic part of the character's development. Even Aaron Dembski-Bowden's The Talon of Horus factors into the book, due to Bile's involvement, his experiments and the effects the defeat at Canticle City had on the Legion at large. Josh's Fabius is the culmination of everything that has come before, while making him into a fresh, innovative character all of his own. It puts him into the spot he needed to be in my opinion, while setting up many paths for him to tread in the future of the trilogy and the franchise as a whole. That on its own is a marvelous achievement in my eyes.
The main antagonists come in the form of the Eldar, both raiders and the dwellers of the Craftworld Lugganath, and, most enjoyably, Harlequins. The latter give Josh yet another opportunity to write excellent dialogue, playing to his strengths and showing the Laughing God's children as twisted, wicked jesters. Everything about the Harlequins is a performance, a dance, an act, and it is expertly staged and complements all the themes throughout the book.
Prick his flesh, crack his bones, that’s the way the story goes. Urge him up, strike him down, call him out and pass him round. Out
Despite all its grim themes, Fabius Bile: Primogenitor manages to remain upbeat, moving at a steady pace, with its characters circling one another and orbiting Fabius, highlighting the Primogenitor in ways that made the entire book a joy to read. It had me "joybound", theorizing about the twists and turns Reynolds might yet take the story, and wishing for a revamped miniature of Fabius himself to put on my shelf next to the trilogy in the coming years. My only regrets about the book are that I didn't get the Limited Edition of it, which comes in an amazing dress-up and includes an additional short story. Everything else I absolutely adored, and I cannot wait for more....more