Review – Horus Rising – Dan Abnett

The seeds of heresy are sown

What have I started here? As readers, we are used to embarking on a new series with an ominous mountain of books standing between us and the conclusion of the epic tale we have started. Those people who came late to A Song of Ice and Fire will know the feeling. Those of us who have yet to start the Wheel of Time series know that combination of excitement and dread. Horus Rising is the beginning on a different beast altogether.

Horus Rising is the first installment in The Horus Heresy. For those among you who haven’t heard of it, it’s a tie-in series of novels to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40k tabletop game. Tie-in series often stretch to tens of books, with many characters making appearances across the different series. The proliferation of these releases are encapsulated perfectly by The Black Library, Games Workshop’s publishing arm. At my last count, there were 581 books published by The Black Library, all of these within the Warhammer (or Warhammer 40k) universe. Only 7 of these books were released before 1999, which means they have been pumping out just over 28 books per year since then. That’s one every fortnight.

The Horus Heresy itself is the pride of The Black Library. Of those 581 books, 54 of them are part of The Horus Heresy series. Many others are tangentially related without being a direct part of the series.

This all starts with Horus Rising.

Set against the backdrop of an expanding Imperium of Man, it tells the story of Horus, the newly appointed Warmaster of the Imperium, placed into his position by the God-King Emperor who is retiring from the frontlines of the campaign.

We follow, not Horus, but Captain Garviel Loken newly promoted within Horus’ Lunar Wolves legion to a position on the mournival, Horus’ most trusted group of advisors. This decision to step to one side, and view Horus from the outside is a masterful one, it allows Abnett to retain the Warmaster’s air of authority and grandeur. Through Loken’s eyes, we view Horus initially as one of his legion would, with love and respect but tempered with awe. Throughout the narrative, Loken grows closer to Horus and this allows the reader into Horus’ inner circle at the same time, understanding more of the under currents and inner struggles that face this most glorious leader of men.

Abnett does a beautiful job introducing the setting, without ever delving to expositional dumps, or boring the reader. Items of massive significance within the universe as a whole, which will be familiar to even casual followers of Warhammer and Warhammer 40k, are mentioned in passing, but without too much follow up unless they present a direct relevance to the story that is being told here. Greenskins (or Orks) and The Eldar are mentioned as past conquests, and future enemies, but are not central to the plot, so are left as background information.

The story being told is not one of action, but of the growth of the man Horus. That leads the narrative to an almost disjointed jump between battle campaigns not once, but twice throughout the book. I got the feeling that perhaps this was originally conceived as three books, or novellas, but that the focus became the relationships and the growth of the characters, so the scenery change became less important. Pure conjecture on my part, but it felt that way as the focus of the action shifted.

Through it all, this is a great book. The characters are compelling, particularly Loken and Horus themselves, but also the other of the Primarchs that we are introduced to. The narrative grips you, despite the attention shifts and the picking up and dropping of minor characters. As a reader, you are drawn to Horus, just as his followers are, this is an achievement by Dan Abnett that cannot be understated. That ethereal charisma is incredibly difficult to express in the written word, yet he succeeds without a missed beat.

Most importantly from the point of the series, Horus Rising is a very competent first book. I’m tied to the characters now and want to know what comes next in their story. I’m immersed in the setting, with an understanding of how the world is built which will allow future authors to pick up with more purely action based narratives. The patches of action that Abnett covered within Horus Rising are concluded, but not closed. And, most crucially, the events at the climax of the book are clearly just setting up for what will be the main course of the narrative in The Horus Heresy.

My one concern going into the next work is the same with any series of this type. Dan Abnett is clearly an excellent writers. The next book that he authors in the series is Legion, book seven. What if the other authors aren’t as good?

I may not have all 54 entries in the The Horus Heresy on my book shelves, yet, but I do have False Gods and Galaxy in Flames ready to go. If the subsequent authors can live up to Abnett’s start, then my shelves will soon be groaning with the full weight of The Black Library’s most epic series.

The tagline for this book is “the seeds of heresy are sown”. Abnett has done just that. Without the groundwork he lays down in this book the series as a whole wouldn’t be the raging success that it is. The seeds are well and truly sown.

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