Horus Heresy: The Purge by Anthony Reynolds – Novella Review [Bellarius]


Getting his hands on a copy of the limited edition release, Bellarius gives his thoughts on Horus Heresy: The Purge by Anthony Reynolds.

“An excellent tale which shows how even the staunchest soul can be drawn to the Ruinous Powers.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

The latest in the rapidly growing list of limited edition novellas produced by Black Library, The Purge sees focus return to Anthony Reynolds’ ensemble of Word Bearers.

The 34th Host, also known as the 34th company of the Perpetual Spiral chapter, lays siege to the Perception system in Ultramar’s Five Hundred Worlds. With the last of the Ultramarines engaged in a bloody last stand, Captain Sor Talgron commits his troops to finally finishing off the remnants of Guilliman’s legion. Resenting his battle-brothers’ urgent need for faith in higher powers, Talgron has become increasingly jaded with their clandestine operations.

Ever the loyal soldier to Lorgar, he none the less bitterly remembers the operations and choices he was called to make before Rogal Dorn at the outbreak of the Heresy. However, the Ultramarines are far from beaten and they yet have one hand left to play. As Talgron moves to face them one final time, the fickle hand of fate may yet tip the balance of power against him…

As you might have guessed from that description, The Purge is far more a character examination rather than a varied look at the entire legion as a whole. It follows Talgron’s role within the legion and just why someone loyal but without faith in the Chaos gods would be permitted to exist following the purge. However, it does so in order to further examine greater themes; about how even the most staunch non-believer of their kind will turn to Chaos, and ultimately what impact such zealous faith has so many of Lorgar’s sons has on them. For remarkably few pages it sheds a surprising amount of light upon the Imperium following news of Horus’ betrayal. It depicts how the Word Bearers were viewed after their time revering the God-Emperor as a deity while at the same time showing the level of preparation already underway for the coming siege of Terra. Preparations both by Dorn’s praetorians and by secret elements of Talgron’s own detachment.

It goes without saying of course that this ties into Anthony Reynolds’ Word Bearers trilogy and many characters who will later become prominent in that series are present here. While the likes of Kol Badar are kept to a brief if important role, Jarulek is present as a secondary character while the book shows why Talgron would be so revered when he later took the moniker Warmonger. Rather than being following Fulgrim however, it does not make the mistake of bringing their story to an ultimate end, leaving them in the exact state we will later find them in the M41. Instead it is far more akin to Angel Exterminatus, setting up many characters and just beginning to push them down the path towards being the corrupted monsters fans know and love. Unlike that tale however, it does not require prior reading of that series to truly understand or enjoy, it’s merely an added bonus which helps to make it stand out.

What remains additionally interesting is not only the intelligent insights on the part of Talgron, with his thoughts on the Custodes, Imperial Fists or the primarchs themselves, but also how both sides are treated. A big problem with any book is that one side may end up being glorified over the other or running rings around them. This can be due to varying reasons, from possible bias on the author’s part, or the researched material used by the author being written by an upstart fanboy determined to marginalise every army besides the one he likes. The last time the Ultramarines and Word Bearers truly clashed it was in Betrayer, and it was easily the worst part of an otherwise fantastic book. Whereas the World Eaters were presented as drooling fools, the Ultramarines were so insanely skilled they could apparently outdo the Imperial Fists at their own game, and only lost due to overwhelming numbers and sheer attrition. It’s insulting as it showed the traitors as utter incompetents, while at the same time carried the message that the Ultramarines need to be better than all others at everything to retain any importance in the setting.

By comparison, both sides here are thankfully treated with far more dignity. While the Ultramarines lose, their tactical genius, sheer tenacity and willingness to sacrifice all in order to accomplish their task means they do some serious damage as they fall. Even before enacting a final operation to try and prevent the Word Bearers taking the planet Perception Primus, those we see are fighting just as hard as the protagonists. When we are first introduced to them, what remains of Aecus Decimus’ 17th chapter are waist deep in a savage melee with Word Bearers’ bodies piled around them, reflecting Talgron’s actions in an early victory. While he is willing to show both sides as the true elite of the astartes, Reynolds is not afraid to show them dying in some truly brutally described battles.

However, as with every book for all that is good there are some problems.

The quality of Anthony Reynolds’ writing here does vary from page to page, and far too often it seems as if he is stating details rather than truly telling them. While there are definitely some fantastic moments where everything clicks, too many times scenes lack real impact or description and seem like run-of-the-mill sections of the tale. A greater variety of descriptive terms could have definitely helped, as could some more meaningful details of the book’s scenes.

Furthermore, while the novella lists a total of twenty-three characters in its dramatis personae, very few of these are of real importance to the tale. Aecus Decimus is largely a background figure, only appearing for a few scenes at a time and while mentioned early on, Nathaniel Garro is limited to effective a cameo appearance at the beginning. This would be fine in of itself, but many of the characters listed obviously had greater potential for bigger stories. The likes of Korolos have the potential for more stories and greater focus to better explain their histories.

While what we get is good it’s definitely hamstrung by the novella’s short length, and this is infuriating given the story potential here, especially due to how much it really harms Talgron’s story. The novella needed another fifty to eighty pages to really smooth things out, as Talgron’s final development is incredibly sudden. He effectively pulls a full one-eighty turn in his characterisation and goes from someone who internally mocks Erebus to a figure believing in the dark gods. If people thought Horus’ turn was sudden, it really is nothing compared to this and there needed to be much more before his revelation took place. Said revelation itself is well written, but there is nothing to really back what happens. No moments of real doubt or questioning his personal faith, and there really needed to be far more leading into the final instant which truly turns him to Chaos. Especially given the sheer amount of information beforehand establishing Talgron as loyal to his legion but ultimately disgusted the methods needed by the Ruinous Powers.

The Purge is a great story, but there was a truly outstanding one here which could have been made were this given more time. If this were released as an extended audio drama or a far more lengthy novella, it would be one of the best releases in the series. As it stands however, it’s merely well above average. If you are a fan of the Word Bearers and want to see a different take on a figure similar to the Iron Warriors’ staunch realists turning to Chaos, The Purge is definitely a book you should pick up. Just be wary that it’s a story that’s more recommended than a must buy when it comes to its price.

Verdict: 6.8/10


Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
Find more of his reviews and occasional rants here: