Horus Rising by Dan Abnett – Dual Review [Lord of the Night & Bane of Kings]

The cover, I think, is no longer as impressive as it once was what with Fear to Tread, Know No Fear and The First Heretic to compare it to. But it's still a nice one and especially nice in full hardback form.

Lord of the Night and Bane of Kings review the epic Horus Heresy series, starting at the very beginning with Horus Rising by Dan Abnett.

“An epic and eye-opening start to the beginning of the greatest story in Warhammer 40,000.” – Lord of the Night, The Founding Fields

“A great opportunity to revisit the early days of the Horus Heresy. A powerful opener to one of my favourite series.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

Lord of the Night’s Thoughts

After some discussion on Heresy Online about the state of the Horus Heresy series and about reviews for it, Bane of Kings and I decided to start a series of reviews on the Horus Heresy series, and where else would we start but Horus Rising by Dan Abnett, the novel that started it all and in the perfect place, with Warmaster Horus Lupercal.

Every great story starts somewhere. Before Horus was the Warmaster, before he was the Arch-Traitor, he was but the Primarch of the Luna Wolves, the XVI Legion, the favoured son of the Emperor and the greatest of the eighteen sons. But every great fall starts with small steps, and as Horus leads his warriors to battle on Sixty-Three-Nineteen, on Murder and to the halls of the Interex, darker forces begin to plot the fall of the beloved Primarch.The secrests of the warp will not be secret forever, and already there are those among the Legions who are plotting the beginning of the Imperium’s downfall.

As i’ve said every story has a beginning and this is not only the beginning of the epic Horus Heresy, but also the beginning of Horus’s fall to darkness, of the Imperium’s downfall from a bright nation with promises of a future, and the beginning of the grimdark that we all know and love. Abnett uses many things to show just how far away this time is from the 41st millennium, the idea of Horus making peace with the Interex and their Kinebrach allies wouldn’t even be uttered as a joke in a 40k novel, the secularism and belief in rationality and logic, all of these things and more make for a very different, and very enjoyable story. And of course the first signs of rot are there, as both Horus and Garviel Loken begin to see through the story, but for the beginning the story takes small steps in that direction, introducing concepts that we as 40k readers are very familiar with but that both Loken and Horus have no hope of understanding, until it’s too late.

The biggest surprise of this novel, and possibly in all of 30k, is that Horus Lupercal was a surprisingly nice guy. Not arrogant, but confident. Not cruel, but willing to do what’s necessary. Hopeful and even willing to be tolerant and understanding. You would not expect that of the Arch-Traitor, but as the novel shows Horus was once a nice person and that makes his fall all the more tragic as we see what he was and what he could have become had he remained loyal and dedicated to the bright future that the Imperium promised. But not even Horus can carry a novel on his own and we have a much larger cast including Garviel Loken who plays a large role in the book and the books to come, Abnett uses him well as not only an interesting character but a device to show the Death of Innocence that will take place over the first few novels. Ezekyle Abaddon, whom all 40k fans will recognize instantly, is a rather chummy and loyal friend, and someone you’d want at your back. Torgaddon the joker provides many laughs and I think best exemplifies the brightness that 30k at this point promises, he is as distant from the Space Marines of 40k as an Eldar is to an Ork. And the human cast is rounded out nicely with the logical Kyril Sindermann, the cynical Ignace Karkasy who says the things that we’d all like to say, and Euphrati Keeler whose own story will, i’m sure, have great repercussions through the Heresy.

The cover, I think, is no longer as impressive as it once was what with Fear to Tread, Know No Fear and The First Heretic to compare it to. But it’s still a nice one and especially nice in full hardback form.

The battles are much larger than 40k could ever realistically do. Legions of Space Marines numbering 100,000 go to war and they need enemies to match that. The Invisibles, the Megarachnids and others all are enemies that you’d never see in 40k and each add to the world that 30k builds, the world that Abnett started building here. The sense of scale is amazing with multiple Legions and the variety of enemies that are brought in, and of course there’s plenty of bolters and blades but with a 30k feel. Jetbikes, types of tanks and weaponry that do not exist anymore, and the ancient varieties of Power Armor only make the novel further feel like it’s own world and that makes the battles much more enjoyable, the knowledge that you’d never see this in 40k allows you to really dig into the battle as something unique.

The pacing is nicely done, though due to the necessity of building the world it can feel slow at times but as I enjoy reading about world-building and the minutiate of such things I was not bothered at all, though others may be. Abnett rarely fails to impress and Horus Rising is not one of those rare times, but an easy and enjoyable read that any fan of 40k should try as soon as possible. The world that Abnett starts to build is incredible in it’s depth, using mentions and references to battles, historic moments and terminology that we’ve heard of but never like this, to build a world that is everything 40k is not. Hopeful, bright, the kind of sci-fi you’d like to live in, and the kind of universe that you hope one day could actually be built by mankind, minus the xenophobia that is still there.

Now for my favourite quote, there’s plenty of them but one just makes me smile evilly every time I see it,

“Samus is here!”

The ending is of course a foreshadow. If Horus Rising is the beginning of the story then what comes next is the middle, which is much closer to the end. If Horus Rising is the bright start than what comes next is the sink into darkness and the final line of the novel, for anyone knowledgeable of the Heresy, sums up the dark times coming in one word, just a name but a name that all Heresy fans know is where it all begins for real and that once they reach that place, there is no going back ever again. The ending filled me with foreboding when I first read it because I did understand what that last sentence meant, and even now it’s chilling. Definitely an ending to remember.

As to the score Horus Rising is a book that will always be a classic, and Abnett’s Horus is a character that I feel has not yet been surpassed and only McNeill’s Magnus and ADB’s Lorgar have come close to doing so, and the world that is started here is one that one you’ve read it you’ll never look at 40k the same way, because you’ll know what was and what could have been. I give Horus Rising a score of 8.0/10. While Horus Rising is not the best Horus Heresy book, it still remains one of the Top 10 to me and is a book that I would recommend to all 40k fans and even to just sci-fi fans who have never read 40k before, because it is the start of an epic story of betrayal, brotherhood, fathers and sons, tragedy, the death of innocence and hope, the promise of a future lost and of ambition.

That is it for my portion of the review. Bane of Kings will follow with his own thoughts, and next from us will be a review for False Gods by Graham McNeill. Until then,


Bane of Kings’ Thoughts

It is the 31st millennium. Under the benevolent leadership of the Immortal Emperor, the Imperium of Man has stretched out across the galaxy. It is a golden age of discovery and conquest. But now, on the eve of victory, the Emperor leaves the front lines, entrusting the great crusade to his favourite son, Horus. Promoted to Warmaster, can the idealistic Horus carry out the Emperor’s grand plan, or will this promotion sow the seeds of heresy amongst his brothers? Horus Rising is the first chapter in the epic tale of the Horus Heresy, a galactic civil war that threatened to bring about the extinction of humanity.

I was there, he would later write. I was there,… There’s the thing. You see, I was going to write I was there the day I first read a Black Library novel, but Horus Rising wasn’t my first novel set in the grim-dark far future. Sure, whilst it was my first Heresy novel, it wasn’t my first Black Library novel. That honour belongs to Henry Zou’s enjoyable but-flawed Emperor’s Mercy, and I have a strong suspicious that Horus Rising was my second.

The first sentence will probably be lost on those of you who haven’t read the novel yet, but those of you who have already read it will know where I’m coming from.

“I was there the day Horus slew the Emperor.”

No, obviously not that Emperor. If you’re reading the Horus Heresy series, chances are – you’re already knowledgeable of the background. You know the current state of the 40k Universe, and you’re opening these pages to learn about the Horus Heresy and where it began. Why did Horus turn renegade? What could inspire the Emperor’s favoured son to plunge the galaxy into a war unlike any other?

Horus Rising doesn’t answer those questions straight away. It’s more of an establisher  something that sows the seeds for what is to come. But that doesn’t stop Abnett from making it one of Black Library’s most memorable novels. Whilst this isn’t thick with plot, the first novel in the series opener does what it intends to do. Abnett gives us a sense of the real vastness of the Warhammer 40,000 Universe, and we’re not even in that timeline yet. There are no Necrons, and the Tyranids haven’t quite discovered the universe yet. So Abnett takes this relatively unexplored period of history and populates it with his own creations (whether they were influenced by other Black Library writers or staff I do not know), and we really get a sense of scale for universe’s size. There is a particular conversation where Loken is chatting to one of the Remembrancers about what the strangest alien that he encountered during his military career is, and he claims that those particular aliens that they would fight would only fight in specially designated slaughter houses in order to enact war. You can probably guess what happened next. This just shows how much Abnett can pack into one novel and not need to make it a seven hundred page epic. Everything is masterfully designed and created here, and Abnett is at the centre of it all.

You can’t really talk about Horus Rising without discussing its characters. For me, before reading this book – I never believed that Horus, the Arch Traitor, could ever be  likable  even before he turned his back on the Emperor. Abnett manages to make us warm to a Primarch, a super soldier, a god of war  in a way that we would have never thought possible before reading this book, and that is a great achievement. And alongside Horus, there is a large cast of dramatis personae. Loken, who I’ve already mentioned above – stands as probably one of my favourite characters not just in Black Library but in sci-fi ever (unless of course, you’re counting superhero comics as sci-fi), Tarik Torgaddon, the joker who provides several of the more light-hearted moments in the novel,Ezekyle Abaddon, the famous first Captain,  and Little Horus Aximad, and Nero Vipus are probably the key Astartes figures in this novel, but in order to remind us that humans have a role to play in this series as well,  he adds a host of characters that allow us to get different perspectives to the Astartes featured in this book.

The key human figures in this book and indeed the trilogy to come are Kyril Sindermann,  Ignace Karkasy, Euphrati Keeler and Mersadie Oliton. It’s remarkable how Abnett manages to create an interesting story that weaves this many characters and worlds together to still make a great and enjoyable read with little flaws. In fact, I only had two issues with the novel, firstly – it’s slow pacing. It takes a while to get going and I know a couple of people, not 40k fans who have put this book down because it was “Too boring”. There is indeed an element of truth in that aspect, as Abnett has to sacrifice a fast pace in order to establish everything that’s going on. Maybe if we could have focused in on less characters we would have got a faster paced novel, but Horus Rising really could never be pulled off properly it was a page-turning, fast-paced no holds-barred blockbuster. It’s a stage setter, and in that respect, it does what it intends to do and succeeds.

So if you haven’t read the Horus Heresy series then Horus Rising is a great place to start. Just be wary of its slow pace, and that as it was written earlier before many concepts of the series were created (such as the Council of Nikea), none are present in this book but it isn’t Abnett’s fault, and you shouldn’t overlook this novel because of that.

Whilst the Horus Heresy series does have a few downers which I will touch on later in the series round-up, it remains an enjoyable read overall, and where a better place to start than Horus Rising?

Verdict: 4/5

The Horus Heresy: Horus Rising by Dan Abnett, False Gods by Graham McNeill, Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter, The 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 edited by Nick Kyme and Lindsey Priestley, 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 edited by Christian Dunn, The Outcast Dead by Graham McNeill, Deliverance Lost by Gav Thorpe, Know No Fear by Dan Abnett, The Primarchs edited by Christian Dunn, Fear to Tread by James Swallow, Shadows of Treachery edited by Christian Dunn and Nick Kyme, Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill, Betrayer by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (2013), The Mark of Calth Anthology by Various Authors (TBA), Shattered Legions Anthology by Various Authors (TBA), The Silent War Anthology by Various Authors (TBA), Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett (TBA)

All TBA (To Be Announced)  titles are discussed in more detail here and were revealed at Black Library Weekender 2012.


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.