Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius looks into the latest installment of the long running Horus Heresy series to see how Graham McNeill’s Angel Exterminatus holds up.
“A celebration of both the Horus Heresy and Warhammer 40,000 as a whole, both to its benefit and detriment.” – The Founding Fields
There’s a problem which always strikes franchises after a certain amount of time – continuity lockout. It’s that specific point where a series is so deep into its storyline that any newcomers will likely end up lost or miss out on half the fun. As the 23rd book in the Horus Heresy series Angel Exterminatus is seriously affected by this, carrying on from not only several previous novels and short stories but entirely different series as well.
Taking centre stage are the Iron Warriors. After the destruction of a loyalist fortress, Fulgrim shows up trying to convince Perturabo to take part in retrieving an ancient superweapon from the Eye of Terror. Along with facing down an immortal army, a world which directly combats them and a ship full of vengeful Iron Hands conflicts begin to arise between the traitor primarchs themselves.
Both the biggest flaw and biggest strength was having Graham McNeill pen this book. His skill at individually handling multiple plot threads and his prior experience with both the III and IV legions pays off here with great characterisations. This book emphasises upon the legion as a whole rather than just the aspects of a few key characters and the primarch, and it’s all the stronger for it. This helped to present that rather than being the complete opposite of their modern selves as with the Thousand Sons and Emperor’s children, they’re just uncorrupted. There are visible signs of the familiar ruthlessness, hatred and bitter determination; but also honour, grinding loyalty, abilities as craftsmen as well as warmakers and a distrustful hatred for those corrupted by Chaos. The problem is that while they’re shown in this state and we see the exact turning point where they began to drop any remnants of nobility, they’re not shown having truly fallen. Instead McNeill is relying upon people to have picked up Storm of Iron if not most of his Iron Warriors series to contrast characters with their 41st millennium selves. So fans who’ve read those books will rejoice seeing Forrix and Kroeger being major characters but anyone who didn’t will be confused about glorified cameos given to the likes of Berossus.
Unfortunately the flaws which plague the Iron Warriors are nothing compared to the issues involving the Emperor’s Children, and especially the primarch himself. It’s not they’re badly written so much that the legion reached the end of its story with Fulgrim and there is little else to say about them. They’re mostly as a plot device and something for the Iron Warriors to work off of, lacking the narrative strength of their previous novels. This isn’t helped by an insanely goofy revival of Eidolon and McNeill’s decision to make Fulgrim’s twist reveal in The Reflection Crack’d completely true, removing the last mystery which might have helped further their tale.
Similar eyebrow raising decisions also crop up with problems which do not detract to the story specifically but feel out of place. These flaws are things which don’t which contribute anything to the plot and just awkwardly stick out such as McNeill only using the Ultramarines/ Guilliman whenever a favourable comparison to a legion/ primarch is needed. Along with the aforementioned glorified cameoing of characters, there are a number of visible discrepancies in the canon which seem to rewrite previous entries for no reason. The two major examples are the new origin of the Storm Eagle and the fate of a major character.
Another flaw in the story is the journey and objective itself. Say what you will about Battle for the Abyss but at the very least that made it clear that travelling through hellishly unstable areas of the Warp was an outright death sentence. In this however there’s next to no mention of difficulties, casualties or even troubles in their journey through the Eye. The angel exterminatus itself is almost forgotten until traitors actually reach the world it is held on. It instead takes a backseat to the character conflicts and exploration to the legions which, while for the most part excellent, isn’t what is advertised on the blurb.
Even after all that though it’s still worth reading. Both for the aforementioned aspects and ones I won’t talk about because they’d be spoiled in analysing them. Things like the earthshattering revelations in the final chapters, the presence of Fabius Bile and the involvement Iron Hands were not covered for this specific reason but behind the Iron Warriors they’re easily the best parts of the novel.
The book is undeniably more enjoyable if you have read the Iron Warriors novels, and Dead Sky Black Sun, but if you’ve not it will still keep you entertained for a couple of read throughs.