Lupercal! Horus Rising Book Review

If you follow my Twitter feed, you probably saw this post coming. This week I started the Horus Heresy: an epic series set in the Warhammer 40k universe. Granted, the first novel, Horus Rising, was released in 2006 so I’m a little behind the times but since the Black Library is still churning these novels out (there are currently 22 of them), it’s vaguely topical.

Here’s the blurb:

After thousands of years of expansion and conquest, the human Imperium is at its height. His dream for humanity accomplished, the Emperor hands over the reins of power to his Warmaster, Horus, and heads back to Terra. But is Horus strong enough to control his fellow commanders and continue the Emperor’s grand design, or will such incredible power corrupt him?

Although I’m an avid reader, few stories grip me to the point where I’m either fighting off sleep to read more, or I lose track and it’s suddenly 4am. Horus Rising is one of these gems.

The odd thing about this series is that, as a past-40k gamer, I already know how it ends. It’s the journey, how we get there, which provides the driving force behind the story. Those who know the 40k universe will be on the lookout for the seeds of Chaos, reading into names and events, searching them for meaning. For those who don’t know the 40k universe, I’m not sure how this story would translate. For example, when it mentions terminators, I know to think of heavily armoured infantry rather than Arnie intimidating someone out of their clothes. The same with knowing titans as huge war machines (like mechs) rather than picturing the Greek pantheon wrestling mythical beings/anthropomorphisms. One word gives me the mental image because I’ve seen the artwork and models. More detailed description would probably hamper its lightning pace. I’d be interested to hear an outsider’s perspective.

The Imperium itself reminds me of the crusades, Richard the Lionheart and so on. Much as I’m used to thinking of them as the good guys, Horus Rising shows it’s not quite as black and white as that and their motivations reek of religious conquest. That said, their beliefs are well delivered and explored by the main character, Loken of the Luna Wolves Astartes (Space Marines). Religion is a strong theme throughout. The Imperium believes that their science and cosmos exploration have made gods and demons (sorry, daemons) obsolete. Wow, were they wrong. Kind of. And there’s an irony to their belief that I shan’t divulge.

I loved this story and devoured every word within a week. There’s more action than you can fire a storm bolter at, loads of mysteries and some great characters who guide you through it. The only stumbling block I noticed was the motivations near the start are something we’ve heard before, questioning whether the Astartes were right to conquer a world. I can see why it went that way–it was necessary for the character development and wasn’t lingered on so I’m happy enough with it.

So, my rating? There are a whole lot of stars in the Imperium of Man. Pick five of them and then have the Astartes pummel you into compliance in the name of the true Emperor, beloved by all. If you know a little of the Warhammer 40k universe, read this book! If not, give it a shot anyway. Great job by Dan Abnett.

Next week, all being well, I’ll have a retelling of a spooky local story for you. In the meantime, I’m off to get my genetic enhancements, pick up some power armour and join the Luna Wolves. Lupercal!


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