Horus Heresy: Fear to Tread by James Swallow – Dual Advance Review [Lord of the Night and Bane of Kings]

When you read the scene this depicts, you'll be on the edge of whatever your using to keep your body up.

Lord of the Night and Bane of Kings review the latest release in the epic Horus Heresy series, the exemplary Fear to Tread by James Swallow.

“Angels may fear to tread here, but James Swallow does not and has created a story worthy of joining the Black Libary’s best.” – Lord of the Night, The Founding Fields

“An epic tale that’s just what Blood Angels fans were waiting for. Explosive stuff.” -Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields


The Horus Heresy has really brought its A-Game to the table, our last offering was the legendary Battle of Calth with Know No Fear, and now the next most-known battle in the Horus Heresy has been put to paper in Fear to Tread by James Swallow, the Signus Massacre. And what a bloody story it is, this is a great story that is definitely among the Top 5 Heresy books, whether or not it displaces Know No Fear as the best, imo, is up for internal debate. But if it doesn’t, its a damn close second.

The Blood Angels have been called, the bonds of brotherhood and duty ensure that the Angel Sanguinius asks no questions when he is dispatched by the Warmaster’s personal orders to retake the Signus Cluster from a horde of xenos scum, but a much deeper motive lies behind these orders. And when the Blood Angels arrive at Signus both they and their beloved Angel will be faced with the impossible, the enemy that they never believed could exist, and the enemy that already exists within them.

The story for Fear to Tread is a well-known one, and of course the knowledge of how the story ends was always with me when I read the book. But Swallow has fleshed out the story to such a degree and brought in new details and old details in ways that could not have been predicted, the story has grown vastly and become much greater. What at first was just one battle has evolved into a protracted campaign against both an external and internal enemy. Personal stories are expertly interwoven with the battle, the tales of Brothers Kano, Meros and Raldoron, the personal story of Sanguinius through this trying time, and the scheme to turn or destroy the IX Legion.

When you read the scene this depicts, you’ll be on the edge of whatever your using to keep your body up.

The characters in Fear to Tread come from an established cast, featuring old characters, characters mentioned but not yet graced with an appearance until now, and brand new characters whose stories have yet to end. Swallow uses a wide-ranged cast from multiple Legions, the Signusi people, and even the denizens of the Warp to tell his story. I particularly enjoyed the characterisation of Kyriss and Ka’Bandha who felt appropriately Daemonic and yet somewhat human in certain mannerisms. And of course the Blood Angels who finally felt unique in the Heresy, their noble aspect and proud bearing with the dark fury buried deep within was a great way to portray the Legion and I hope we see more of the characters introduced in Fear to Tread in the future, one of course being the character that I absolutely MUST see again.

The action is bloody, as befits this novel. Throughout the battle from the starting skirmishes to the later full-on massacre Swallow artfully depicts the scenes by describing the enemy’s myriad forms so that a sense of uniqueness spreads across each enemy, the bolter shots and sword strikes of the Blood Angels are choreographed nicely, and the pure fury of the later scenes really sinks in as the bloodletting steps up and the drama of the final scenes sets in. Sanguinius’ own fights are nothing short of excellent as he takes to the sky and battles against some of the fiercest opponents he will ever know.

The novel is spread across three parts which are broken into twenty chapters and an epilogue, but as each part ends a flashback scene is included that reveals events prior to Signus that affect the story or reveal more information about the cast. The novel chugs along at a good pace, slower at first as the Legion travels to and enters Signus and has an element of mystery as they enter the nightmare. Then the pace quickens as things become stranger, until finally exploding as the final scenes begin and everything balances on the knife’s edge.

My favourite quote, now that is a hard one as this novel features hordes of great quotes but sadly some are very story-revealing so I cannot post them here. So I will go with an epic declaration.

“Tell your kindred it was Sanguinius that threw you back.”

The ending of the novel is shocking, as new events intrude and the start of a new story continues to begin, a story that will take the Heresy into unknown territory and something that I deeply desire to see. And the epilogue was brilliant, those who hate a particular character in the Heresy will practically be cheering as this particular character finally gets a piece of what he deserves. Swallow has definitely set up a hell of a cliffhanger, but ends the story of Signus with his own style but at the same time sticking close to the lore that we all know well.

For a fantastic story that continues the great epic that is the Horus Heresy, titanic battle scenes between the Angels of Death and the Neverborn that really show the darkness on both sides, and for revealing so much more about the Signus Massacre that was unknown to us before, I give Fear to Tread a grand score of 10/10, the Heresy series has gained another jewel and I hope to see this book on future favourite lists and the New York Times Best-Seller List.

On a note to James Swallow’s detractors, those who hate his 40k Blood Angels and feared he would mess up Signus and ruin one of the greatest battles in Warhammer. Rest assured, he has not failed. He succeeded.

Should you buy this book? If you’re a Heresy fan then the answer is obviously Yes. If you’re not a Heresy fan, become one now. Fans of the Blood Angels will greatly enjoy this book I think, for the great story it gives them and the new heroes it brings to their lore.

That’s it for this review, now keep reading for my esteemed colleague Bane of Kings’ review who has also read Fear to Tread and will share his opinion. Over to you Bane, and until next time.



 As Lord of the Night says, Fear to Tread is epic. Although it may not be as powerful as Know No Fear was, Swallow proves that he can write better novels then Nemesis. This is one of the upper-tier novels in the Horus Heresy series, for several reasons that I will go into below, after the blurb:

Since the earliest days of the Great Crusade, Sanguinius – angelic primarch of the IXth Legion – was ever among the closest and most loyal of Horus’s brothers. But the Blood Angels have long kept their true nature hidden from the rest of the Imperium, and when the Warmaster hints that the key to their salvation may lie in the ruins of a conquered world, the sons of Sanguinius race to claim it. Now, as the revelation of their betrayal dawns and the traitors’ hand is revealed, the Blood Angels must face all the warp-spawned armies of Chaos, as well their own personal daemons, upon the blasted plains of Signus Prime…

So the stage is set for one of the more well known events of the Horus Heresy series, the Battle of Signus Prime and the confrontation between Ka’Bandha and his nemesis, the angelic Primarch Sanguinius. This is essentially a retelling of that battle, but Swallow manages to make it so much more powerful than that.  Sure, there is the inevitable clash that goes down as one of my favourite duels in the Horus Heresy series so far, but what runs after it and what comes next shows that Swallow is not an author to be underestimated.

The thing that I love about Fear to Tread is that it shows how much Swallow has improved since he wrote his first Black Library novel, Deus Encarmine, which was also a Blood Angels novel. Whilst I enjoyed that, I know others who didn’t, and for those who are thinking that Swallow does not know how to handle the mighty Blood Angels, think again – Fear to Tread is as far as I’m concerned, his best portrayal of the Blood Angels yet, depicting them in an age before they suffered from the black death, which obviously makes them different to the chapter in the forty-first millennium that any tabletop 40k player will have grown used to, and they are of course a much different chapter to Swallow’s Blood Angels that filled the pages of his series focusing on Rafen.

There is lots of action in this novel, kicking off with an epic clash to grab you hooked, Swallow manages to keep you turning the pages and when you get to the battle for Signus Prime, you won’t want to stop. Even though the vast majority of readers will know what the outcome will be, which kind of robs the tension (regarding the fate of Sanguinius and the Blood Angels) a bit, I couldn’t put Fear to Tread down. The Blood Angels’ first full Horus Heresy novel is no doubt an enjoyable one, and one of my favourites, and for those who are thinking of putting off this novel because you hated Swallow’s 40k work, don’t. It’s awesome.

The characters are varied and each have their own personalities to bring to the tale. We view the aftermath of what the effects of the Council of Nikea had on the Blood Angels and their soldiers, and their reactions to those who have disobeyed the edict. This brings an element to the story that could not have occurred in any Warhammer 40,000 novel and makes the story more interesting. One of the characters, Kano – an ex psyker still struggling to deal with the fact that he cannot use his gifts anymore, is a particularly interesting character to look at. He’s one of the core characters at the heart of the book, along with others such as Apothecary Meros and Raldoron. They’re the non-Primarch figures that drive the story forward, and we get to know their reactions to the events at Signus and we get to root for them. Unlike Sanguinius, of whom most will already know his fate, Meros, Raldoron and Kano’s fate are undocumented which allows for some element of tension to be brought to the novel.

All that said though, Fear to Tread proves that the quality of the Horus Heresy series is continuing, and I have not read a book that I didn’t like in the series since Nemesis. (Ironically, Swallow’s last Horus Heresy novel).

Verdict: 4/5

More Horus Heresy novels: Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Flight of the Eisenstein, Fulgrim, Descent of Angels, Legion, Battle for the Abyss, Mechanicum, Tales of Heresy, Fallen Angels, A Thousand Sons, Nemesis, The First Heretic, Prospero Burns, Age of Darkness, The Outcast Dead, Deliverance Lost, Know No Fear, The Primarchs, Fear to Tread, Shadows of Treachery.

Horus Heresy Audio Dramas and Limited Edition Novellas: Raven’s Flight, The Dark King and the Lightning Tower, Butcher’s Nails, Garro: Oath of Moment, Garro: Legion of One, Garro: Sword of Truth (Coming Soon), Promethean Sun (LE), Aurelian (LE)

Lord of the Night

Lord of the Night is one of TFF’s original reviewers. He’s done quite a few for TFF and that number keeps expanding. You’ll enjoy his diverse mix of book reviews. Always a treat.