Tales of Heresy

The Horus Heresy series has been going into a bit of a slump recently.  Mechanicum, while it represented an upturn in quality, didn’t really harken back to the days of Horus Rising where the insight into the pre-Heresy universe was astounding.  They also made some storyline decisions that I did not agree with, but suffice to say I understand why they made them.  Battle for the Abyss was incredibly disappointing, I was hoping for more out of a Horus Heresy novel, especially one about the Ultramarines.  So much more could have been done with that book.

This is why I was very pleasantly surprised to open Tales of Heresy and find that it was a highly enjoyable read from start to finish.  The book itself is an anthology of short stories by various authors who have worked on the Horus Heresy series in the past.  Some of them are well-recognised veterans in the field of 40k fiction – Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, James Swallow – and some are newcomers whose books I have not read enough of to predict how good the quality of their writing will be.  I would just like to say that they all did well.  Each writer was generally assigned to an area that he had worked on in the past and it really helps the quality; they know how to move the story along because they’ve done it before.  Areas that have never been touched upon before by the Horus Heresy series were given to the “veteran” writers, which makes sense in my mind, so they definitely got that part right.  Now, about the stories themselves.

Abnett opens the book with Blood Games, a story about the Adeptus Custodes and their duties guarding the Imperial Palace.  I find the concept of the Blood Games very interesting, the idea of playing the wolves to test the sheep and make sure that even in times of peace they remain sharp and ready to defend the Emperor.  The way it is written implies that the Custodes have practiced and drilled endlessly for war but have not necessarily experienced it themselves, or it has been a long time by comparison to the Astartes.  Normally you would think it would be boring to hear about superhuman creations who are like Space Marines as Space Marines are to regular humans, but I was surprised to learn that they perform roles beyond standing around and guarding the Emperor’s palace.  They’re expected to take a proactive role in policing the Imperium, which will later prove to be important during the Age of Apostasy, when ultimately they move against High Lord Vandire and bring him down.  The story also reveals a little about the depth of political intrigue on Terra itself and the extent to which the Emperor’s closest servants are expected to be proficient in it.  By comparison the Astartes have it pretty easy, going out there and waging war.  In a way it provides a contrast and makes the Heresy seem like an almost petty dispute on Horus’ part, but then again it would have been if the Dark Gods hadn’t intervened.

Wolf at the Door looks at the Space Wolves 13th Company as they are recalled for the attack on Prospero but take a short detour along the way.  I liked the way this story panned out but the way Andras stubbornly insisted that they would be free even after seeing the power of Space Marines…he represents everything I hate about idealistic characters in fiction.  At least he’s not as extreme as some other examples I could name but at the same time any right-thinking person would want to have the power of the Emperor’s Astartes on their side in future and in a sense, they are free.  Every society still has to have a government right?  However, in the end they got what they deserved, and the Heresy has done a good job of characterising Space Marines as something other than the unthinking killing machines that some of them seem to be in the 41st millennium.  I wonder how this experience will shape Bulveye, he appears “later” in Wolf’s Honour, which I thought was a really good end to the Space Wolf series.

I’m really glad they got Anthony Reynolds to do Scions of the Storm after his work on the Word Bearers series.  I enjoyed those books and he really knows how to present them so that they’re not over-the-top in their zeal but it is still a major aspect of their military doctrine, even before the Heresy.  We do get some interesting tidbits of information regarding Lorgar and faith within the Imperium, probably too small to make a difference to any normal reader but I was sorta geeking out that one of my theories came true.  Kol Badar makes a reappearance from the Word Bearers series, which I thought was pretty cool.  The main thing I had to say about this story was that it highlighted the change that came over Lorgar after the Emperor reprimanded him, and how he basically dragged his entire legion down with him.  It would be nice to see some stories later in the series of Lorgar before he converted to worshipping the Chaos Gods, I’m sure that at that time his faith was a very powerful motivator even if it was out of place in the new Imperium.  For being one of the major players in the Heresy I’m surprised they don’t have a book yet.  You know what would have been really cool though?  To see Eliphas, back when he was just a Sergeant.  That would have been awesome.  Alas.

The Voice, by James Swallow.  I don’t think Swallow’s that bad.  He did work on the Blood Angels series and that is widely considered to be one of the worst examples of 40k fiction but he managed to pull up his standard and write Flight of the Eisenstein, which most people I’ve talked to agree is pretty good.  The Sisters of Silence, while very cool, did not need a story devoted to them I felt.  That’s not to say it wasn’t interesting.  The extent to which worship of the Emperor has spread is always interesting and it remains to be seen how that one sister will influence later events.  My theory is that she eventually travels to a different world to found what will become the Daughters of the Emperor but that remains to be seen.  The idea of the other sister reaching back through time to help prevent the tragedy was also something I didn’t expect, but as usual in this dark dystopian society, no one is ever allowed to have nice things.

The next story was a surprise, I didn’t think Gav Thorpe had still written anything for Games Workshop but it’s only right and proper that he do this one.  Chapter Commander Astellan of the Dark Angels is the main character here and he’s given a much more sympathetic portrayal than when he became one of the Fallen.  The conflict here between Astellan, who was born on Terra, and Belath, who was recruited on Caliban, sets the stage for a potentially incredible story of the Fallen and whose side they are really on.  I’m excited by the possibilities.  If only Gav could write Fallen Angels.

The Last Church was a really thought-provoking story for me.  It features a priest and a man called Revelation, some time before the Great Crusade even begins, and named because the area in question is the last church on Terra.  The entire story is a series of philosophical arguments and I like to consider myself a religious man, so for me reading it was a bit of an annoyance.  The priest seemed to be set up as a bit of a strawman with Revelation effortlessly deconstructing all of his (incredibly flimsy) arguments and in the end breaking his faith in everything that he had considered important up until then.  At the same time, I can’t consider this an unbalanced treatment at all because of the irony that Revelation is just as bad as the religion he is decrying.  He brings up the most extreme examples of atrocities committed in the name of a god but at the same time actively seek to deconstruct the beliefs of a man who merely wants to live the last of his life in peace and quiet, all for the sake of completely destroying religion.  His beliefs are as extreme, if not more, than the religions he believes should be eliminated and anyone who does not agree will be crushed under the iron boot of the Imperium.  Because let’s face it, if you’re not aware that Revelation is the Emperor in disguise by the end of the second page you were born in another dimension.  I don’t think a person like me could survive in the Imperium of the Heresy era; I don’t really want to let go of my upbringing and in a way religion made me the man I am today, and I’d like to think I’m not a dick.  Absolute faith in any one ideal is pretty bad, regardless of what it is, that is the underlying message in The Last Church and that is why I can’t hate it.  It’s a great story.

The Emperor is also portrayed in a way that also really highlights the difference between the pre-Heresy and post-Heresy Imperium.  He’s not a god.  He’s not even perfect.  He’s the exemplar of mankind and the pinnacle to which humans can aspire but at the end of the day he is still a man, the way Space Marines of the current era see him.  He has a grand vision, but seems to forget all the little details because he can see the grand scheme of things, which makes sense, and leads him to overgeneralise.  It’s a very human flaw.  It’s a flaw that lead to his undoing at the hands of Horus.

Finally, a brief story about the aftermath of Desh’ea and Angron’s failed last stand when the Emperor teleported him onto his flagship and left the rest of the gladiators to die.  Thus the World Eaters were born.  This last part I enjoyed for the depth it added to Angron’s character.  We only see him after the Heresy when he has become a psychotic daemon prince of Khorne and no longer seems to have anything resembling sanity.  We learn that it wasn’t always heartfelt greetings and cheers when the Primarch was reunited with his legion.  Heck, at first Angron didn’t even acknowledge them as his sons and killed a good many of them before Kharn was able to calm him down.  It’s almost a shame, as Kharn was really quite intelligent and capable before the surgery and Khorne worship.  Now he’s Kharn the Betrayer, a man far too loyal to his Primarch.

What are you still reading my ramblings for?!  Go!  Read it!

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~ by Teabee on March 21, 2009.

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