Horus Heresy: Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter – Dual Review [Bane of Kings & Lord of the Night]


Lord of the Night and Bane of Kings continue their re-reviews of the Horus Heresy Saga, returning this time to the Siege of Isstvann III, the final act of the opening trilogy, written by Ben Counter and published by Black Library.

Galaxy in Flames is the Horus Heresy version of an over-the-top action movie, with an action-packed, page-turning read but little in the development of characters. However, Counter manages to deliver a satisfying conclusion to the last installment of the initial trilogy.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

“An enjoyable third novel that while not meeting the same standard as its two predecessors, is still a good book with plenty of incredible moments.” ~Lord of the Night, The Founding Fields

Lord of the Night’s Thoughts

Galaxy in Flames is not only a Horus Heresy novel, it is also the end of the Horus Lupercal trilogy and in a way the culmination of the “Death of Innocence” theme that has been running through the first three books. Though GoF doesn’t quite measure up to Horus Rising and False Gods it is still a good book, truthfully it would struggle not to be with some of the events that take place on it’s pages.

The end of hope is fast approaching. Horus Lupercal, once favoured son of the Emperor, now determined to usurp his throne and declare himself the master of mankind, heads towards the Istvaan system with one thing on his mind. Betrayal. His Legion drawing lines of allegience and his brothers flocking to his banner of treachery, Horus is about to set the galaxy on fire. But first he must clean house and ensure that only those who will betray their oaths for him are still around when he does declare his intentions, and on the benighted world of Istvaan III the Sons of Horus head towards their final reckoning where only one side will emerge victorious.

The story in Galaxy of Flames is the end and beginning of several stories. It is the end of Horus’s fall and the beginning of his story as the arch-traitor. It is the end of the beginning of the Horus Heresy and the beginning of the opening shots. And it is the end of several characters stories and the beginning of a few more, one of which is continued in the very next book. Counter does a good job of bringing the ending of this opening trilogy to not only a poignant but tragic close and really makes the Istvaan Betrayal into an incredible series of chapters. The final moments of that battle were amazing and were worth reading the entire book just to have read those moments. Though the story drags a little at the start, the establishing of alliances and who is with who, it does pay off as the main event of the entire book begins.

Brother vs Brother. The end is nigh...

Brother vs Brother. The end is nigh…

The characters are for the most part still quite good. Garviel Loken and Tarik Torgaddon remain two of the Heresy’s most loved characters and Counter does a good job of picking up from where Graham McNeill left off with their characters and sees them through the book with both characters growing quite a bit and some very awesome moments near the end with the two of then. Sadly however his Horus did not match up to Abnett’s, where Abnett made Horus seem larger-than-life and McNeill captured the villain he was becoming Horus in GoF is a bit more reminiscent of a saturday morning cartoon villain. Counter’s Primarch Horus may not be up to the standard that was set previously for the character, but he continues with the others well enough that it balances out.

The action in the novel is mainly focused towards the latter half of it’s pages, for the first hundred or so pages no real battles take place which I feel upsets the balance of the book. But on the other hand the battle that does take place in the book is monumental and perhaps needed to be handled differently than a standard battle, and since the battle was the whole point of the novel in story, character development and action perhaps it’s meant to be more prominent than a battle in a 40k novel would be. Counter does a spectacular job of narrating the battle, though sadly he could not cover it to the extent that the newly released Horus Heresy Volume 1: Betrayal by Forge World has, so rather than show the entirety of the battle Counter focuses on the characters and their parts in the battle, and how each one influences the battle’s outcome.

The pacing is a bit off, as due to the first half of the novel dealing with the lead-up to the battle and the second half dealing with the battle it can feel somewhat uneven. Readers who do not like this format will likely find the book even more uneven as the book does not divide up it’s action and plot moments, rather both are one and the same as the majority of the plot and character advancement takes place while they are fighting and dying. As I said above the “Death of Innocence” theme continues in this book and Counter does a really good job of showing how everyone is shedding their innocence, their belief in a peaceful galaxy, and how they are steeling themselves for what is to come, and how those who do not know what is coming change when they find out.

I didn’t even have to think about what my favourite quote was, this is without a doubt one of the best quotes I’ve ever read for the context of it all,

“Yes, we hurt them here. They’ll remember this.”

The ending is a grim one and the first sign of the future of Warhammer, the merciless and uncaring 40k universe that we all know, and is a glimpse of how the actions of these characters and others that we haven’t seen yet are going to usher in the galaxy where there no hope, only the laughter of thirsting gods. There are plenty of dark, tragic moments in the ending to the Horus Lupercal trilogy and while the final outcome was never in doubt to anyone in the know, it’s still hard to watch as some character’s we’ve really grown to like over the course of this trilogy meet their end and others take one step closer to being the monsters that we know they’ll become down the line.

For a good story that while not meeting the level established by it’s predecessors and for showing one of the darkest yet most awesome moments in all of Warhammer I give Galaxy in Flames a score of 7.0/10. GoF despite not being as good as Horus Rising or False Gods is still for the most part a good book, though there are those that will dislike it most likely those who dislike Ben Counter there are those, like me, who will really enjoy it and consider it a worthy end to the start of the Horus Heresy. From here on, things only get darker, and GoF shows that without a doubt.

That’s it for this review. Not sure what will be next, but my next dual-review with Bane of Kings will be Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow. Until next time,



Bane of Kings’ Thoughts

Galaxy in Flames

Having recovered from his grievous injuries, Warmaster Horus leads the triumphant Imperial forces against the rebel world of Isstvan III. Though the rebels are swiftly crushed, Horus’s treachery is finally revealed when the planet is razed by virus bombs and Space Marines turn on their battle-brothers in the most bitter struggle imaginable.

Dan Abnett set the ball rolling with Horus Rising, and Graham McNeill followed with a disappointing False Gods. Ben Counter’s Galaxy in Flames is the third act in the opening Horus Heresy Trilogy, and the end of the only three books so far to feature the Sons of Horus as the main cast. For the first time in the series, you couldn’t have really have picked another author to do a novel where a large percentage of it would be about the Battle for Isstvann III. Sure, other Black Library writers such as Dan Abnett and Aaron Dembski-Bowden can write action far better than Ben Counter, but bolter-porn seems to be Counter’s forte. I’ve yet to read a novel from him that couldn’t be described as bolter-porn, and Galaxy in Flames is no exception.

After False Gods, Counter takes the Sons of Horus to Isstvann where they put their latest plan into action.Calling forth legions likely to support their cause in rebellion, Horus decides that he will use the rebellion of the local planet as a way of getting rid of all the members of his, Mortarion’s, Angron’s and Fulgrim’s legions who won’t support their cause, and exterminate them. Can the loyalist fighters, fan-favourites Garviel Loken and Tarik Torgaddon, among them – survive the virus bombs, and the “most bitter struggle imaginable?”

This novel has the potential to be epic, and Counter fails to disappoint. Building up the tension to the final showdown, he delivers in a way that not only creates a page-turning read that will draw you in right the way through, but also manages to do a wonderful job of wrapping up the fall from grace of Horus Lupercal delivering a great conclusion to the trilogy that whilst you will probably spot what is going to happen anyway – it still manages to keep you on the edge of your seats. That’s the fun thing about the Horus Heresy that can be both its advantage and disadvantage. About 90% of the people reading the Horus Heresy series will come intoit knowing the eventual outcome (It’s like reading an historical fiction novel in World War 2) , which makes us want to buy the book to read about the Isstvann III event in further detail. However, in some cases – it robs a bit of the tension. Sure, Counter manages to create a high level of tension anyway in this book,but I just think that if we didn’t know what was going to happen at the end, then the result would have been more unpredictable.

This is a flawed novel though, there’s no question about it. The pace is, in some places, too quick for the level of detail required to tell, and the writing is almost typical Ben Counter, as though he almost doesn’t want to write anything other than bolter-porn. It’s all this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened – and then… You get my point. Counter’s tale is very linear. There are two novels in the Horus Heresy so far that have had to deal with war on a scale like this, and they are in my point of view Galaxy in Flames and Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear. Know No Fear gets everything right that Counter’s didn’t, and I get the feeling that not just Counter, but every Horus Heresy author, should look up to Abnett’s creations in this particular series as an example. He hasn’t written a bad book yet, and although Prospero Burns was the most controversial book of the Horus Heresy series to date, I still found it really enjoyable and one of the best books to date. But before I turn this into a review of Prospero Burns, let’s get it back on track with Galaxy in Flames. 

The great thing about this setting is that nobody is safe, and anyone can die. Some get brought back, but I’m not going to mention who here. Counter has managed to write battle scenes well, providing a great tale of the final conflict over Isstvann III and particularly the final showdown between members of the Mournival remains my favourite confrontation of the series to date aside from maybe the showdown in the short story Savage Weapons by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Counter has managed to create an enthralling tale with an epic conclusion, and whilst his writing is flawed in places, he still manages to create a compelling enough story to win over fans who enjoyed the first two novels.


THE HORUS HERESY SERIES: 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, The Dark King and the Lightning Tower by Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill (Audio), 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, Raven’s Flight by Gav Thorpe (Audio), A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill, Nemesis by James Swallow, The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Garro: Oath of Moment by James Swallow (Audio), Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett, Garro: Legion of One by James Swallow (Audio), Age of Darkness by Various Authors, Promethean Sun by Nick Kyme (Limited Edition), Aurelian by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Limited Edition), 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, Brotherhood of the Storm by Chris Wraight (Limited Edition), Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill, Garro: Sword of Truth by James Swallow (Audio), Betrayer by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer