Another Brand new member of the TFF Staff, Child-of-the-Emperor, gives us a comprehensive review of the novel Prospero Burns, by Dan Abnett as his introductory review. Say hi to him, will you.
“There are no wolves on Fenris? Well tell that to the big fucker chewing on my leg…”
Well here we have it, the long awaited ‘other half’ of the Prospero duology. Originally intended to be released back in April (the month after A Thousand Sons was released) it was postponed because Dan Abnett fell ill. But as priorities go, Mr. Abnett’s health was obviously more important. But regardless of life stories we finally have it, and the Prospero duology is complete. As expected Abnett delivers an interesting, in-depth, and enthralling take on the Vlka Fenryka (don’t call them Space Wolves, they don’t like that). We are immediately thrown into the feral deathworld of Fenris and the ruthless culture it harbours. The very first thing that comes across is the unique perspective, mind-set and outlook of the native Fenrisians. One could easily describe it as simple, but never be fooled by that assumption. They bear a fierce intelligence that one should not underestimate.
One thing that can especially be applauded is the amount of depth the Vlka Fenryka as a Legion are given. I would actually argue they are given more depth than the Dark Angels are in the entire Descent of Angels novel despite that actually being the focus of that book, which only speaks in favour of Abnett’s skill in Prospero Burns. The majority of the novel seems to have been used to establish the Vlka Fenryka as a unique Legion (in terms of purpose, mindset, perspective, traditions, Et cetera) through the eyes of the Upplander (Kasper Hawser), eventually throwing us into the established scenes of Nikaea and Prospero. Abnett throws us mass amounts of unique terminology that also help to give an unprecedented amount of depth to one of the Legio Astartes. In that regard perhaps we are finally seeing a diversion away from the cheesy (albeit classic) terminology such as ‘Space Marines’ (the official term ‘Astartes’ is appearing more often, with ADB for one now basically never using the term ‘Space Marines’) and ‘Space Wolves’ now being revealed as merely an outsider term labelled on the VI Legion, but I digress. Consistently throughout the early stages of the novel the ideological, and in several ways the philosophical opposition of the Vlka Fenryka to the Thousand Sons is established, often subtly. Abnett does a good job of establishing and putting into context the differences and eventual conflict that is present between the two Legions.
Fenris itself is featured early on. But inevitably, as with everything mythical when it is described and elaborated upon in detail, it does suffer a shortcoming. Fenris has always been described as one of the most harsh and desolate worlds in the entire Imperium, often to the extent where it is described in a mythical and legendary sense. Whilst Abnett obviously does attempt to mirror such a description, not even he could make it sufficient enough to compare with the myths. One thing that also seems strange is the general lack of wolves throughout the novel. Let me explain, wolves have always been a central part of the VI Legion, hence ‘Space Wolves’. Apart from the sporadic and vague mention of wolves, they don’t really appear at all. Not even when the culture or traditions of the Vlka Fenryka are elaborated upon. Freki and Geri (Russ’ loyal companions) aren’t even mentioned, let alone featured. And on that topic the Wolf King himself doesn’t really make any sort of prolonged appearance. He probably features as much in A Thousand Sons as he does in Prospero Burns.
The novel itself initially (for around half of it) revolves around alternate scenes between the Upplander’s current exploits in relation to the wolves, and previous memories/flashbacks of when he was part of the Imperial Conservatory which all bear relevance to his current whereabouts, mindset and adventures. Whilst this is an effective way in which an author can tie in different aspects of the overall plot it does at times become tiresome and stretched to a point almost of irrelevance. Although having said that it is used highly effectively in certain situations/chapters, and does generally speaking have an overall relevance towards the end of the novel. On that note the Upplander (Kasper Hawser) is a form of remembrancer, although a strict variation of the other types of individuals attached to the other Legions and expeditions. At first thought this seems strange given Russ’ initial reaction to the Remembrancer order in Horus Rising (‘Arm the bastards.’ Primarch Russ had been reported as saying, ‘and they might win a few bloody worlds for us in between verses.’ Russ’s sour attitude reflected well the demeanour of the martial class.) But as the tale of the Upplander is further explored it becomes clear that he wasn’t really a remembrancer in the conventional sense at all. He was a Skjald, who basically were ‘brokers of truth, neutral mediators who would not let any fluctuations like pride or bias or mjod affect the agreed value of truth’ but also to ‘keep you entertained, to keep you honest, and to keep the history.’ – page 208.
One thing that the series as a whole has failed to do in the relevant novels (Descent of Angels and now Prospero Burns) is explore the transition of the homeworlds (Caliban and Fenris in this instance) from technological (and arguably cultural/social) wildernesses into the technologically (and ideologically) advanced fold of the Imperium. It touched upon it in Descent but not to the extent one would have hoped for. As for Prospero Burns, although the primary feature of the novel is the build up to and the Burning of Prospero, not the exploration of the Vlka Fenryka itself, it would still be an interesting feature to have had explored and defined such things. Especially as large swathes of the book were used to establish other things. It would have been interesting to know the relationship between the Vlka Fenryka and the native tribes of Fenris for example, especially after seeing the strange interaction between them in the novel.
One of the best descriptive additions in the book was the Imperial siege of the Quietude, with the wolves perched and watching the proceedings from a distance. It was quite a powerful image which reminded me of the film Troy. When the Greeks first assault the walls of Troy with Achilles and the Myrmidon witnessing the almost-apocalyptic scenes from the sidelines. I must say I have to agree with SFX’s opinion on Abnett in this regard: ‘Abnett’s prose grabs you by the throat and forces you to witness the carnage!’ – one thing that can be said of Dan Abnett is that his prose is often masterfully worked and does really engross you in the scene. Hawser’s account of the Burning of Prospero itself is also very powerful in the descriptive sense. It is a shame then that the Burning of Prospero is only told from Hawser’s perspective, and therefore strictly limited to his experiences of it. I thought the account of the Burning in A Thousand Sons was short and arguably underdone, well the account in Prospero Burns is even shorter and very limited. It’s disappointing that the pinnacle event of this duology is painstakingly established throughout both novels, but is only portrayed in a very limited and minor way, Prospero Burns seems anti-climactic in this regard. The main account of the Burning appears in A Thousand Sons, but this isn’t a review of that ‘other half’.
Overall I think the novel suffers because we know what is going to occur later in the plot. I found myself willing the plot to come to Russ and the Burning of Prospero, but instead we are fed with the exploits of Hawser (the Upplander) and the Conservatory, which although is not uninteresting it does pale in comparison to the plot which we know occurs later on. I didn’t truly get into the novel until the siege of the Quietude around ~170 pages in. Although the initial brief exploration of Fenrisian culture was enthralling, it didn’t last long. Although there is a justifiable reason for why the plot takes so long to reach the Prospero saga. The Vlka Fenryka needed to be explored and their actions and behaviour (as seen in A Thousand Sons) justified before we are catapulted headlong into the Burning of Prospero. But when it finally did reach that peak, I felt it was underdone and I was left slightly disappointed. But regardless Abnett’s prose binds together a great story, coupled with the unexpected twists and revelations towards the end and the sheer amount of character and depth the Vlka Fenryka are given makes it a good novel and a very welcome addition to the Heresy series. Ultimately Prospero Burns is at its best when portrayed next to its partner A Thousand Sons. However I do think that Prospero Burns should be read the way it was intended; after it’s counterpart. A Thousand Sons reiterating the wolves’ stereotypical nature and then Prospero Burns shattering it to an extent. Because after all, the whole point of the duology is to portray vastly differing perspectives of a single event.
‘Just don’t leave me here. I am afraid of Wolves’ – page 16.
- The very fact that it was part of a duology. Prospero Burns works very well alongside A Thousand Sons. Describing the same events from different perspectives is always interesting.
- The sheer amount of depth the Vlka Fenryka as a Legion are given.
- The very fact that Abnett was the author resulted in a great tale and enthralling prose.
- The twist involving Bear I thought was fantastically handled, and the modification of previous background in that regard was a nice touch.
The twist regarding him actually being Bjorn was a great surprise, and the primary reason why he was able to resist the manifestation of chaos. The adjustment of the background to how he became known as ‘the fell-handed’ was also unexpected and a welcome addition.
The twist involving Hawser I thought was beautifully handled (building up to it throughout all the alternate scenes). Hawser’s dreams also keep you enticed right until the end.
- The anti-climax of the Burning itself was disappointing, it was established to a great extent yet failed to ultimately deliver sufficiently.
- It did take a while to get started, and personally took me a fair amount of time to get fully engrossed in the novel. Although that having been said the initial scenes on Fenris were very interesting.
- It’s also a shame that the exploration of Fenrisian culture or their incorporation into the Imperium wasn’t established more. There was a stark contrast between the initial Fenrisian scenes (with the natives) and those involving the actual Vlka Fenryka, there wasn’t any form of connection between the two that was explored.
- Whilst it’s connection with A Thousand Sons also worked as an advantage, I personally feel it wasn’t capitalised enough upon to a certain extent. There weren’t actually that many direct overlaps, the only ones being Nikaea and the fact that we knew Magnus had some form of spy or agent among the Vlka Fenryka from A Thousand Sons. Beyond that they barely portrayed the same events (apart from Prospero briefly, but even then they were not directly linked to one another). For example Horus contacting Russ was not mentioned, nor were the ‘the sinister urgings’ of Constantin Valdor.
- The Silent Sisterhood and the Adeptus Custodes in particular barely got any screentime at all. Which I felt they should have done considering they were a major factor in the Burning. The Sisterhood in regards to combating the magicks of the XV, and the Custodes as a symbol that the mission of the Vlka Fenryka was personally sanctioned by the Emperor.
- Also how many bloody times does Abnett want to use the term ‘wet leopard-growl’?! Surely he could have come up with an alternate term.
My personal table of ratings can be found here: http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/…0&postcount=19
Prospero Burns scores a clear 7/10. An enjoyable read and a landmark publication for Black Library, but by no means flawless. In my personal view A Thousand Sons was the stronger and simply better addition to the duology.
you can buy the book here if you so desire:
I’m a bit of an awesome person. I’m a semi-famous 40k Intellect and the Business Manager of Chique Geek Entertainment, LLC. www.chiquegeek.com. I’m a book reviewer and the owner of TheFoundingFields.com. Beware my wonky-ness…