Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

625603“It is the 31st millenium. Under the benevolent leadership of the Immortal Emporer 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 favorite 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 among his brothers?”

For anyone not familiar with the Warhammer 40K franchise it can be daunting to look at the three pages of dramatis personae and wonder what you have gotten yourself into. 40,000 years in the future, mankind is spread throughout the cosmos, waging wars on a grandscale with all matter of sentient and non-sentient life; monstrous aliens, robotic-lifeforms, chaotic demonspawn, rogue factions of humans, magic-wielding races of advanced beings… Warhammer is full on. Imagine Star Wars on steroids, mixed with Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror, and everything written by Dickson, Busby and Heinlein.

Horus Rising is the first in the Horus Heresy trilogy, documenting his fall to the forces of chaos. The Imperium of Man is a complex Roman-inspired civilization split into countless factions and legions, all with varying alliances and ethos despite all fighting under the banner of the Emperor. Taken from wikipedia:

Horus Rising, the series opener, starts its real time narrative in the early years of the 31st millennium, during the 203rd year of the Great Crusade. It describes the rise to power of Horus Lupercal, Primarch of the “Luna Wolves” Legion of Space Marines, and the most versatile and favoured “son” of the Emperor. The Emperor has recently appointed him Warmaster, overall commander of Imperial military forces, and has left him in charge of the Crusade; he then returns to Terra, where in relative isolation is undertaking a secret project that even Horus is not privy to. Much of the focus of this novel is on Garviel Loken, Captain of the Luna Wolves’ 10th Company. He becomes a member of the Mournival, an informal advisory body to Horus, and participates in Crusade campaigns against anti-Imperials and aliens, referred to in the series as “xenos”. The story also hints at tensions in the nascent Imperium, exacerbated by the Emperor’s absence and actions – these are common themes in following books.

Though the scope of the franchise is galactic, and the vastness of the context for this book alone is enormous, the story relies on many small, quit and personal moments that make the characters unique and interesting. It is a heartbreaking tragedy to watch Horus on his path, knowing he will fall to darkness and many lives will be lost. It is a tribute to Dan Abnett that Horus is so well written, that we like the character and we feel a connection to him. And this makes his inevitable fall hurt so much more to witness.

But Horus is a primarch of the Space Marines – he is the pinnacle of genetic engineering and military training. And this means the book is drenched in sweat and blood and diesel and gasoline fumes and hydraulic fluid from mechs and robots and war machines, and the pages are littered with corpses that are burned, crippled, evaporated, dismembered or eaten. Dan Abnett has a skill for successfully blending the rough, testosterone-injected madness of future warfare with the quiet contemplation of philosophers and scholars and strategists.

You do not need to know anything of the Warhammer universe to enjoy this book. There are several pages of backstory and quotes and the dramatis personae at the front to bring any new reader up to speed quickly. Dan Abnett’s writing style is concise and well paced and you are instantly drawn into his world. For lovers of military science fiction or vast galactic military space operas, this book – and this franchise – is an absolute must.

A solid 8.5/10.

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