The Primarchs – Advanced Review [EJ Davies]


EJ Davies takes on the latest (again) in the Horus Heresy series with the Christian Dunn edited collection of four novellas entitled The Primarchs focussing on Fulgrim, Ferrus Manus, Lion El’ Jonson, and the twins Alpharius and Omegon.

“A superb collection of stories, with some expansive ideas setting great events in motion for the later payoff in the Heresy.  Great stuff.” ~ The Founding Fields

From our friends at Black Library:

“Created in the Emperor’s own image, the primarchs had long thought themselves to be princes of the universe and masters of their own destiny – they led the Space Marine Legions in glorious conquest of the galaxy, and no enemy of the Imperium could stand against them. However, even amongst this legendary brotherhood, the seeds of dissent had been sown long before the treacherous Warmaster Horus declared his grand heresy. 

Gathered within this anthology are four novellas focusing on some of the mightiest warriors and leaders that mankind has ever known – Fulgrim, Lion El’Jonson, Ferrus Manus and the twin primarchs Alpharius and Omegon – and the roles that they may have yet to play in a war which threatens to change the face of the Imperium forever.”

Four novella length stories.  One collection.  And here… we… go.

The Reflection Crack’d – Graham McNeill.

After the events of Fulgrim and Aurelian it’s nice to get back to a little Slaanesh worshipping action.  It’s also refreshingly good to wriggle our shoulders back into one of the Heresy’s enduring characters – Lucius.  The story centres around him, and around the a realisation he has made fairly early on in the tale.  It’s one we, as readers, see from the end of the Fulgrim novel and is referenced in Aurelian: that the thing that wears Fulgrim’s flesh, is not he.  We follow Lucius, then, through the Pride of the Emperor’s halls and witness the unfolding majesty of the III Legion.

Graham has some game with this legion already, Fulgrim being one of my more favoured HH novels, and he returns to that form again with this novella.  It twists, it turns, it writhes, and all of this seen through Lucius’ rather narrow eyes.  It’s a slow burner of a tale, but as with all of Graham’s slow burners it keeps you guessing and it keeps you gripped.  We also get to see something of the goings on within the Legion post-Dropsite Massacre, which is intriguing, and should see the legion popping up nicely at the Siege of Terra, yet there is still scope for some more III Legion action on the way.

An excellent story by my reckoning.  Not quite up to Fulgrim standards, but still very well done.

Feat of Iron – Nick Kyme.

A parallel narrative this time, mirroring the plot and events of Promethean Sun, where the Salamanders, Iron Hands, and Death Guard take on the Eldar.  It’s nice to see the Iron Hands getting some love after their caning during Fulgrim, and it’s nice to return to Gabriel Santar, The Gorgon, and some other popular characters.  The mantra the flesh is weak really does get some exploring in this piece, and we also see an element of hubris.

Nick also has some game, and the novella format really does seem to suit him down to the ground – that and audio dramas.  The tale it put together in an interesting way, and returning to characters established in another author’s work can’t be easy – Nick pulls it off though, and with some style.  My only reservation is that some of the pacing felt a little laboured, and although I understand why the Gorgon goes through the trials (towards the end of the piece) I don’t necessarily see how he reached the decision he did.

A good story with many excellent features.

The Lion – Gav Thorpe.

I’ll admit, the one I was most nervous about, purely due to my love of the Dark Angels and that they’ve not had the best run in the Heresy so far.

After the events of Savage Weapons the Dark Angels pursue the Night Lords through the Thramas system.  A astropathic message relays Death Guard and Iron Hand activity in the vacinity of a location called Perditus – we discover harbours a technology that is off-limits to the legions.  As the Dark Angels withdraw to Perditus they are chased, become embroiled in a battle aboard their ship, then reach Perditus where they must intercede between the X and XIV Legions.

OK, so I’m not the biggest Gav fan.  In fact I’m not really any kind of Gav fan.  I enjoyed Angels of Darkness but nothing else I’ve read of his really has floated my boat.  This came close a few times.  The characters are well drawn – The Lion is particularly well handled and is rendered with a level, just kind of role.  A lawmaker, or a peacekeeper; a galactic sheriff if you’ll allow.  Corswain, from Savage Weapons, makes a reappearance – as does Calas Typhon.  So we have good characters, and we have the makings of a great story – the tech on Perditus echoes to The Sarah Connor Chronicles, mixed with some lovely sleight of hand too.  But there are just too many points where I found myself making the ‘oh really?’ face.  The battle aboard the Dark Angels craft was largely unnecessary – as was the predator in the empyrean.  The necessity for placing the two captains under armed guard on Perditus, but conducting talks back in space.  I think had it been tightened up a little more in the edit phase it would have worked much better for me.  But I realise I am one voice among many.

Still, a good story with some excellent features.  Just a heads up – it was once said ‘If you have something that’s cool in the background, do you leave it mysterious and cool and not write it?  Or do you write it and risk taking away what was cool?’ – ask yourself that towards the end.  I landed on the latter.

The Serpent Beneath – Rob Sanders.

My other favourite legion (my other other being VII) gets an outing with Omegon preparing an operation – Operatus Five-Hydra – gathering intelligence, personnel, and materiel as required.  We get to see the inner workings of a legion first appearing in, ah, Legion and getting some more great Heresy time.  I really enjoyed Rob’s The Long Games at Carcharias which proved he had some excellent ideas for the Alpha Legion in 40K and it was wonderful getting to see him play in the big sandbox of 30K.

This is a wonderfully written, delivered, and planned piece of work.  From outset, to completion, this is great stuff.  Real ‘A-Team’ kinda stuff, but with Space Marines.  The narrative is broken up with scenes of action – so as we see the planning of the operation, we then see the execution.  Example:  We need this person for this operation – next section: we see that person extracted, or secured.  It’s a really nicely put together story that ramps up the action towards the end.  AND we get a great twist towards the end, the like of which we expect from the Alpha Legion.  At no point did I ever feel myself veering away from the story.

An excellent story all in.  No more to say.


In terms of an anthology this hangs together well.  We start well, we end well, and the two stories in the middle are still very good.  Does this further the Heresy for us?  Not really, but it does set up some interesting plot threads for the future (I would even venture that The Lion was an entire set up for the next Dark Angels novel; and that Feat of Iron and Promethean Son were envisaged as a parallel release novella pair.)

The only disappointment really was The Lion – at the beginning and at the very end, the rest of it being very well done and the best I have received something Gav has read for a very long time.  It restored my faith a little.  The highlight of all of them was The Serpent Beneath - and I’m hoping the Rob gets the opportunity to write more Alpha Legion, but then after Legion I wanted Dan to write more.  So I hope they collaborate and make me a very happy nerd man.

All in all, this is a great addition to the Heresy saga overall.  Well worth the money.

The Primarchs will be available from all reputable (and some baseborn) retailers in June.

EJ Davies

EJ Davies: reader, reviewer, writer; and an avid lover of Black LIbrary products since the release of the seminal Horus Rising. EJ is currently working through the massive back catalogue of Black Library titles, and plugging away at his own fiction-based efforts in the vain hope of cracking his way into the author pool.


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