Title: Horus Rising
Author: Dan Abnett
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 25th April 2006
Source: Personal Collection
“It is the 31st millennium. Under the benevolent leadership of the Immortal Emperor, the Imperium of Man has stretched out across the galaxy. It is a golden age of discovery and conquest. But now, on the eve of victory, the Emperor leaves the front lines, entrusting the great crusade to his favourite son, Horus. Promoted to Warmaster, can the idealistic Horus carry out the Emperor’s grand plan, or will this promotion sow the seeds of heresy amongst his brothers? Horus Rising is the first chapter in the epic tale of the Horus Heresy, a galactic civil war that threatened to bring about the extinction of humanity.”
This is the second time I am reading these books – my intention is to read the first three if nothing more – and I am finding them a lot more enjoyable the second time around; my knowledge of the 30/40k universe has grown a lot in the ten years since my first read around and as such the books feel much easier to digest. Having said that, no prior knowledge of the setting is required to enjoy the stories in the Horus Heresy series. I do owe these books a lot as they are what captured my interest with the hobby as a whole (I wonder how many other hobbyists out there can say the same?)
I got a lot of enjoyment out of rereading this book, it’s a good, fun book to read but it’s also so much more than that. Horus Rising is the first novel in the Horus Heresy series and sets the standards really high for any of the 50+ novels that follow it. It’s often said that a book is judged by it’s opening line; “I was there, the day that Horus killed the Emperor” is one of the best opening lines from a book I’ve ever had the good fortune to spend time with. The first few chapters of Horus Rising gives away so much of the over-arching story, cleverly concealed in the guise of another tale being told by the main character Garviel Loken.
Loken as a main character is an inspired choice. Not because he is an overly interesting character, but because he becomes the ‘standard’ model for all Adeptus Astartes to be measured by. Loken is a Space Marine Captain of the Luna Wolves and is initiated into the Mournival – a group of personal advisors to Warmaster Horus, the leader of the Luna Wolves. It is through Lokens eyes that we are introduced to the grim, gritty world in which they all inhabit. He gives us a lofty view of this world and the role which he and his fellow Astartes have within it. He is a tempered ‘middle ground’ between the Godlike Primarchs, of which Horus is one, and the human Rememberancers – artists documenting the glorious Great Crusade.
Amidst the scenes of battles – which are amazingly written in their own rights – we have some brilliantly crafted character development. The Space Marines in the novel are written in a way that makes them ‘more’. More human than human. These traits are easiest to pick out in the combat scenes, but also in the way they view and interact with one another and we’re given glimpses of a bond with one another beyond that a mortal can comprehend. This is not only shown in how they interact with one another but in how the Remembrancers act and react with them. How they are revered by normal humans and the Remembrancers interactions with one another seem to pale in comparison.
This book is filled with personality; which isn’t always something that come to mind when dealing with Space Marines – maybe this is due to my experiences of 40k novels mostly centering around Ultramarines? It’s a masterful stroke of genius that all the main characters differ from one another in terms of their personality; the jovial Torgaddon, super-angry Abaddon, straight laced Loken and tempered Aximand (The Mournival). Which helps to bring a sense of real life to such a fantastical, in depth and far-out setting. Giving nod to other side characters, Saul Tarvitz, Eidolon & Lucius of the Emperors Children chapter who help to shape the difference between the Space Marine Legions. Also Erebus of the Word Bearers Legion, but fuck that guy!
Horus himself, being the most Godlike character we’re introduced to, feels just as human as the rest of them, in a fashion. He uses the Mournival as a means to manipulate those around him in believing they have a choice in the world around them; but everyone dances to the Warmasters tune and the scenes including the politics of war throughout the book are very well written. Especially reading the frustrations that Horus has to keep this air of neutrality in his war politics and the overall effects that this has on his health. Charismatic and aloof in the same brush stroke.
Beyond the characters – which are a highlight of the story – the plot has enough action and intrigue to keep the pages turning with a thirst to know what’s going to happen (I know what happens and every few pages I felt a creeping sadness wash over me) and more importantly, how it is going to happen.
While this book is primarily a Science-Fiction war story there are other topics that are addressed within it’s pages; religion and philosophy being explored by the human characters and the place that these fledgling thoughts have in their lives. Poetry and art being ever relevant to human nature have a place in the story too; being off-set and powerful in their own right against the Space Marines bolters.
We’re also treated to other races in the 30k/40k universe. The extremely alien megarachnid – most relateable to 40 Tyranids -and the Interex an offering of Terran humans thought cut off from their human brethren. And it’s welcome to read about other races in the universe setting beyond what is currently within the 40k game setting.
I’ve jabbered about this with Science Fiction in other book thoughts on the blog, but I often find myself struggling with a higher-level of language that I cannot cope with which ends up in my wanting to pitch the book out of the window! Clearly, I had no such problem with Horus Rising. If you’re looking to get into 40k and start your own Space Marine army, then I assure you, Horus Rising is the best place to start; speaking from personal experience.