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Book Review: “Horus Heresy: The First Heretic”

12 May 2011 One Comment

Cover image courtesy of Black Library Publishing

Set in the science fiction world of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000, The Horus Heresy series follows the events of the pivotal time in the fictional history of the franchise. Written by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, the First Heretic is the 16th book in the series.

The Emperor has gathered together his prodigal children, the Primarchs, and cast them as generals of his grand armies, charging them with reuniting the scattered human colony worlds and freeing the human race from alien rule. Lorgar is the Primarch of the Word Bearers Legion of space marines. Unlike his brother Primarchs, all of whom took to the ways of war with relative ease, Lorgar’s approach to life is one of faith and religion. Gods are worthy of praise, and he will see that they are praised and he believes the Emperor to be such a god, despite the Emperor’s commandments to the contrary. Thus, he fights to bring the Emperor’s divine light to all of humanity by erecting monuments to the Emperor, and inciting religious festivals for his glory on worlds the Word Bearers conquer.

Lorgar is utterly infuriated when he learns that his brother, Roboute Guilliman, Primarch of the Ultramarines, undertook the destruction of a prized city created by the Word Bearers. Lorgar is then devastated to learn that the order was not given by Guilliman, but by the emperor himself. The emperor needs generals not priests, and so he denies any form of divinity, be it his own or another’s. Such a proclamation destroys Lorgar’s faith in the emperor’s cause, and he sets off in search of where gods and mortals may mingle, desperate to find gods that will reward his devotion. His search will take him and the Word Bearers Legion, across the width of reality and across the barriers between this reality and the next. What they discover will forever shatter the galaxy.

As a long time fan of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, I’ve greatly enjoyed the Horus Heresy series. It’s almost like reading novels about King Arthur after studying the history of medieval England. No longer are the names just names, now they become characters. No longer are the greatest heroes and worst villains simply icons within the franchise, now they are people that I can understand and imagine. The Word Bearers have relatively few stories written about them, being used more as a back-drop with only broad sweeping references to their actions during the crusades. So it was with some measure of excitement that I began reading The First Heretic.

Initially the flow of the book is difficult to follow as the story constantly cuts between multiple viewpoints and flashbacks. One passage would be written in a sci-fi styling that represents the point of view of a principle character, Argel Tal, while the following passage would be written in a much more fanciful style representing the perspective of a girl rescued by the Word Bearers that has no understanding of galaxy-spanning empires and genetic super soldiers. While initially confusing, this constant changing of styles helped to draw me into the story by way of empathizing with the plights of Argel. He goes from a deeply dedicated warrior, to suffering a crisis of faith, to extensive soul searching, to being possessed by a demon and finally to coming to terms with his chosen reality. The confusion of his world is echoed in the disjointed style the author used.

I began reading the book knowing that it was the Word Bearers that corrupted Horus and thus were the primary instigators of the heresy. Though something that I’d never known before was who within the legion was principally responsible for that direction. That was mostly due to a lack of written material concerning the individual members of the legion. Beyond historical records, presented in the context of the fictional world of the franchise, there was little enough information about Lorgar, Primarch of the Word Bearers, as a character. Thus his relation to his legion and the other Primarchs was left unclear.
Dembski-Bowden took that ambiguity and crafted a persona for Lorgar that justified it. Lorgar is shown to be tolerated by the other Primarchs but rarely welcome.

Lorgar’s relationship with the emperor is shown in questionable light. The first chapters of the book show the emperor forcibly debasing the Word Bearers Legion in front of the Legio Custodes, the ultramarines, and Roboute Guillemin, for his failure to be a general rather than a priest. This humiliation resonates throughout the rest of the book and acts as the primary catalyst of Lorgar’s renewed faith in the old beliefs of his home world, which ultimately culminate in the events of the heresy.

Overall the book is well written. It is somewhat slow to begin with, but once the principle characters are established and the world is constructed from those characters’ points of view the story moves along. It’s worth noting that story can be difficult to follow, due to the disjointed writing mentioned before, but I found it a great departure from classical stories that helped me associate with the main characters’ own personal challenges.

By: Michael Cividanes

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One Comment »

  • R said:

    You seem to be very professional in the way you write.::’~

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