Horus Heresy: The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings reviews the latest chapter in the multi-authored Horus Heresy series from Dan Abnett, published by Black Library. This book continues the New York Times Bestselling series serving as a sequel to several previous novels in the epic saga and establishes itself as one of the best novels in the series so far.
“The Unremembered Empire explains why Dan Abnett is one of the best Black Library writers out there at the moment, and quite possibly the best. It’s explosive, action packed and a very awesome read indeed despite any flaws it may have.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
Far out on the Eastern Fringe, the realm of Ultramar stands alone. Having weathered the Word Bearers’ attack on Calth and the subsequent Shadow Crusade against the Five Hundred Worlds, the Ultramarines primarch Roboute Guilliman now draws all loyalist forces to Macragge as he contemplates a new future for mankind. With the arrival of more and more fugitives from the war that has engulfed the rest of the galaxy, all distinction between friend and foe is lost – isolated from Terra by fearsome warp storms, is Guilliman making a bid for power to rival even the renegade Warmaster Horus?
Let’s get this started by saying that I’m a massive fan of Dan Abnett. He’s my favourite Black Library author alongside Chris Wraight and Aaron Dembski-Bowden and whilst he may not have a 100% track record ( I haven’t enjoyed his Warhammer Fantasy works or Pariah, for example), the amount of books that he’s put out still manages to be nothing short of impressive (with a large number of double figures in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series alone) and The Unremembered Empire was always going to be a must-read for me, especially given the fact that the Ultramarines are one of my favourite Space Marine Legions/Chapters and Know No Fear currently remains my favourite Horus Heresy novel thus so far. And whilst The Unremembered Empire might not quite be as good as Know No Fear, it’s nonetheless pretty damn impressive, easily ranking among the Top 10 books in the series so far and delivers a stunning read that features plenty of awesome Primarch action.
The first thing to get us off the ground here will actually be what I didn’t like about The Unremembered Empire. Because whilst yes, I did enjoy it a lot, I couldn’t help but notice a few things that I wasn’t too happy with – case in point, the characters. Like Scars, the latest novel in the Horus Heresy series doesn’t spend a lot of time fleshing out its non-Primarch characters to the extent where they can be treated as Loken or Tarvitz-esque figures. A couple from previous books such as Know No Fear show up, true – but with the focus on multiple Primarchs, Abnett overlooks the other characters to the point where I’m struggling to remember their names even though I finished this novel earlier in the week.
However, when he does get characters right, he gets them right. Guilliman is well and truly fleshed out as a character in this book, and for all accounts and purposes, he’s the main character. We’ve never really had a Primarch take the role of a main character before in the Horus Heresy novels (although I’m still yet to read Betrayer), and whilst we’ve had them take center stage for a while (The titular character of Fulgrim, for example), they’ve never really felt like the one main character and it’s here where that impact is really felt. Guilliman is the driving force behind the narrative and he’s pulled off wonderfully well.
This book is a sort-of-sequel to many previous novels. Threads from Nick Kyme’s Vulkan Lives as well as of course Know No Fear are picked up and expanded upon here, and some are more direct than others. There’s plenty of page time from multiple Primarchs and if your favourite books are Primarch-heavy novels then The Unremembered Empire will be perfect for you. Abnett weaves an action packed and entertaining novel that will have you on the edge of your seat, indeed – I finished this book in a couple of sittings, something that I tend to do quite often with the recent Heresy novels. (Know No Fear, Angel Exterminatus, Fear To Tread and Vulkan Lives were finished fairly quickly, for example). Will you understand what happens here without having read them? It’s difficult to say. Probably, yes – although you’re better off giving them a read through first.
However, there are a few flaws that prevent this novel from beating Know No Fear. I’ve already touched on one, and here are two more – firstly, the novel seems to be a lot more rushed than past Abnett books. It’s almost as if he had a word limit for this book and was trying to cram everything in within the last pages to make it all fit nicely together, which was a shame as the pacing as a result felt uneven. The description isn’t your usual Abnett-level detail as well, which makes a change but it would have been nice to see the layer of detail that the author brings to his works there. But with all these flaws, you’re probably thinking that The Unremembered Empire is actually a bad book and I’ve mislead you with the pull-quote. You would be greatly mistaken, as The Unremembered Empire really shines in several cases.
If you’re a fan of the Heresy, then you’ll know that Abnett gets action sequences and this book is no exception. There are several awesome set-pieces that feature among the best battle scenes that I’ve read from Black Library’s books, and they’re done so well that the book never falls into the trap of being labelled as ‘bolter porn’. There’s an even split between the action and the ‘quieter’ scenes as well, as they are delivered with pretty awesome quality that enhances the overall feel of the book. The first two thirds of the book are very well done as well, and even though the third act may seem rushed it doesn’t do enough to drag the book down from being ‘good’ to ‘OK’ – it does weaken the overall outcome of the novel somewhat. And the inter-Primarch scenes are for the most part really strong, and I loved just how many Primarchs Abnett was able to pull off in this novel in order to create a wonderful read. When dealing with such famous characters in terms of lore, there is a risk of getting them wrong – but Abnett nails the likes of Guilliman and Sanguinius very well indeed.
All in all, despite the issues that I had with The Unremembered Empire, it remains a very strong success and I very much enjoyed it (which of course explains the high Verdict). It’s one of the best Ultramarine novels that we’ve been given apart from Know No Fear and is something that should please all Heresy fans. The Unremembered Empire is therefore one of my favourite Black Library novels of the year and I can’t wait to see what Abnett brings to the table next. Top notch stuff.
THE HORUS HERESY SERIES: Horus Rising by Dan Abnett, False Gods by Graham McNeill, Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter, Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow, Fulgrim by Graham McNeill, Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon, Legion by Dan Abnett, Battle for the Abyss by Ben Counter, Mechanicum by Graham McNeill, Tales of Heresy by Various Authors, Fallen Angels by Mike Lee, A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill, Nemesis by James Swallow, The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett, Age of Darkness by Various Authors, The Outcast Dead by Graham McNeill, Deliverance Lost by Gav Thorpe, Know No Fear by Dan Abnett, The Primarchs by Various Authors, Fear to Tread by James Swallow, Shadows of Treachery by Various Authors, Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill, Betrayer by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Mark of Calth by Various Authors, Vulkan Lives by Nick Kyme, The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett, Scars by Chris Wraight