Review – Galaxy in Flames – Ben Counter
The heresy revealed
Here we are again. Galaxy in Flames is book three in the five hundred book long series The Horus Heresy. Ok, five hundred books might be exaggeration, the current count is fifty four, but I’m convinced that they’re being written faster than I’m able to read them. They may as well be infinite.
I’m only on book three, and I’m already finding it harder to review this book as an individual piece of writing. If I was to review this entry in the series in one word, then it was fine.
Galaxy in Flames is summarised perfectly by the tagline, “The heresy revealed”. It sets up this most vital of plot point in the traditional way of the series, a large scale invasion of a heretical world. This time around the combined might of four legions, almost unprecedented in the canon, are brought to bear on the world of Isstvan III. The usual players drive our narrative, with Garviel Loken remaining as the reader’s hook into the plot.
The military action is suspect from the start, combining this with Horus’ cracking down on freedom of the civilian population on his flagship leads us, along with Loken, to almost immediately accept that Horus has truly turned to the dark side. (Sorry, I know this isn’t Star Wars.)
Horus’ actions continue along the path of Chaos, and lead to a final dramatic conclusion. The surviving forces of the surface of the world are met with the most horrifying act of betrayal, cementing Horus’ place as the true villain of the series, not just for the reader, but for the Astartes themselves.
The book itself was, again, well written with the majority of the narrative dedicated to the invasion and subsequent fallout. I’m invested in the series and the characters already from Horus Rising and False Gods, so Counter had little work to do on that front. There was, in fact, little in the way of character development for the majority of the characters, with the surprising exception of Kyril Sindermann.
Sindermann primarily existed in the previous novels as a mentor and sounding board for Loken. Acting as both the reason for his more rigid moral compass, and the outside conscience to remind Loken of the morality of his actions.
His transformation , and the plot of his journey along with Euphrati Keeler, is this book is well handled and deftly kept to one side of the main military narrative. This allows us insight into the civilian side of the events, rather than remaining entirely focused on the plight and conflict of the Astartes themselves.
Perhaps the most surprising twist, as the main act of betrayal was so well signposted as to feel inevitable, was the last act of the civilian story. It ties back in to an earlier event featuring, my personal favourite, Saul Tarvitz and leads directly into the next book The Flight of the Eisenstein. At least, that’s my assumption. I’ll report back on how well it ties in my next review.
Overall, it’s another competent entry in the series. I wasn’t over-awed by Galaxy in Flames but it was certainly a good read, especially for fans of military science fiction. I think the best works in the genre contain a level of nuance and contemplation that feels missing from the Horus Heresy as a whole. There are moments when the philosophic, religious and moralistic issues are allowed to come to the fore and those are the points that this series shines its brightest. I don’t think I went into the series expecting a deep and introspective piece, but the moments that it does occur just highlight the potential for greater depth in what is a roundly dramatic and action filled affair.