The Heresy Takes Root
This is the second book in the umpteen books long Horus Heresy series from the Black Library. The review of the first book can be seen here.
Following on from Dan Abnett’s excellent opener of Horus Rising was always going to be a challenge and, for the most part, McNeill’s entry in the series lives up to the bill.
Reading False Gods straight off the back of Horus Rising made for an interesting comparison. Every author has their own distinct style of writing and the physicality of McNeill’s writing stood out in comparison to Abnett’s. This was obviously an advantage for a series that frequently focuses on the blood, gore and action inherent within the setting but it was a bit jarring.
The example of this difference that stuck with me was that within the first few chapters McNeill had mentioned that one of the members of the Mournival had a top-knot. It was only mentioned off-hand and he certainly didn’t dwell on hairstyles in what is a very tight narrative, but it was a distinct change of writing style.
I was disappointed in one, quite major, aspect of the book. The fall of Horus into heresy is, obviously, the major point of the series and yet it seemed to be almost glossed over at the beginning of the story. We were already aware of the inciting event at the end of Horus Rising but the Horus that we meet at the beginning of False Gods is already a very different character. He is angry, impetuous and impulsive in a way that was very unlike his previous outing.
This is, at least in part, understandable. We view Horus mostly through the eyes of Captain Garviel Loken, and Horus drawing away from and shutting out Loken, one of the more reasonable voices in the Mournival, is an important part of his change. Unfortunately, it came across as slightly lazy writing. I would have loved for McNeill to explore this in more depth.
Story-wise, Horus continues down a darker path, led by his hubris to personally lead a victorious but ill-fated attack at the behest of Chaplain Erebus of the Word Bearers. His wounds in this battle lead to him becoming ever more susceptible to the influence of the forces of Chaos and eventually to a dramatic conclusion in a part-vision, part-fever-dream.
At the end of this episode Horus is given a choice as to whether to embrace this new, darker direction or to turn back from this path and rejoin the Emperor’s Great Crusade.
Perhaps the most beautiful part of the whole book is the conclusion, wherein Horus’ choice is not revealed but we are led to try to come to our own decision based on his subsequent actions.
I was warned by a friend before I embarked on reading the enormity of the Horus Heresy series that the quality of writing can differ wildly between books. Two books in and I’m still impressed.