Thursday, November 25, 2010

The First Heretic - Book Review

The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Amidst the galaxy-wide war of the Great Crusade, the Emperor castigates the Word Bearers for their worship. Distraught at this judgement, Lorgar and his Legion seek another path while devastating world after world, venting their fury and fervour on the battlefield. Their search for a new purpose leads them to the edge of the material universe, where they meet ancient forces far more powerful than they could have imagined. Having set out to illuminate the Imperium, the corruption of Chaos takes hold and their path to damnation begins. Unbeknownst to the Word Bearers, their quest for truth contains the very roots of heresy…


First up I would like to apologise in advance for any spoilers or lack of plot details as I always struggle to review Horus Heresy books, mainly because even though we know the ultimate outcome I always want to tell people too much about them and this might stop people reading them as they feel they already know what’s happened and with this set of novels I would never want that to happen. I was a little worried about the book to begin with as which Aaron has written some great books some of his work has gone a shade wide of the mark. In The First Heretic, Aaron has written a very comprehensive and important book in the series and we are introduced to information that is both staggering and heartbreaking. I my eyes the 14th book in the series was excellent but the book for me was jam packed of information and events, the story that unfolds is passed on to us concisely and efficiently, the manner in which it came across was excellent and a great read, but for something as epic as what I can only describe as the first “true” falls to chaos the story could have played out further.

The First Heretic details the story of the Word Bearers chapter over nearly 60 years of the Great Crusade, continuing through the Isstvan V Massacre. Detailing the events largely through the eyes of 7th Company Captain Argel Tal, the novel details the fall of the Word Bearers legion from the initial setting off point at Monarchia, where Lorgar and his Word Bearers are abased before their lord, to the ultimate point of the Horus betrayal at Isstvan V.

The First Heretic has a very good opening gambit that sets up a running theme and a very human anchor point for the whole novel. From the eyes of a civilian on a world brought to compliance by the Word Bearers Legion you get to see a whole new side of the Emperor's finest. An invading force comes to the planet and forces them to evacuate or die, we lose sight of the invaders as what we would expect them to be and instead they become autonomous oppressors. To me this stark contrast to the standard noble warrior image really set the undercurrent and should have warned me about the shades of grey that we to come. The Word Bearers themselves are the epitome of that description, they are a space marine legion that is so unlike all the rest. Lorgar, Primarch of the XVII legion, is not the military genius and this is acknowledge throughout by him and other. Instead Lorgar is more of a priest, an ardent believer in the Emperor's divinity and is a rock for the faith of his legion.

This is a complicated book in many respects and also rushed in others. One thought to me is that The First Heretic is similar to Fulgrim and A Thousand Sons, in that it is a chronicling of the fall from grace of one of the Emperor's chosen sons. Unlike the other primarchs, Lorgar is a far less sympathetic character than both Fulgrim and Magnus. Lorgar's fall is much less pitiable as his naiveté and blind faith serve to betray him. That faith, and the nature of faith itself, serves to set this book above as not simply a science fiction novel but almost as a discussion of the human condition. Here there is a lot of good prose and stylistic uses of language to make the fall work, there are also great thoughts and ideas about the nature of fait and chaos but they are almost Too packed in to the book. This certainly doesn’t make it any less of a spectacular novel. The fall even though it takes 60 years is too rushed in the book to be almost believable but it still somehow works, don’t ask me how but it does. Annoyingly though for those of us that have followed the hobby and the fluff for a while as it’s known what happens its almost too predictable but there are plenty of nice twists and turns.

The characters are interesting, more so the Primarch, Argel Tal and the Lady are the most intriguing, the main contributors to the fall, Erebus and Kor Pheron are surprisingly too dimensional and in my opinion slightly underplayed. The First Heretic marks the first time themes beyond good and evil are explored to such an extent in a Black Library novel. The novel really does seem to be the first novel in the series that truly deals with the visceral nature of chaos and explores the changes on humanity and the history of the chaos worship. The other major and most intriguing parts of the novel are the hints and nods to the future of the warhammer universe. There are some major surprises and plot threads I would love to discuss and break down but in my mind they would ruin the novel and the enjoyment of the rest of the series, however they do leave me to hope that the series will do some work on what happened after just so these threads can be eked out.

My only major complaint is that unfortunately the Isstvan massacre is dealt with over three to four chapters but in my mind that just not enough. The massacre is the true point of no return and it pains me to see the only real information on it so far is very short. The massacre is one of the few action sequences in the book and it does work. It looks at the legions their primarchs and shows how their characters and traits effect one another, it also shows the burgeoning nature of the forces of the fallen and how their traits as we know them now are beginning to come to the fore. My only wish is that this part of the Horus Heresy is revisited in later novels and is given the chance to play out on the scale it deserves.

In my mind The Horus Heresy novels are quickly becoming the vessel for the Black Library to create `real' literature, to craft stories that examine those universal themes that turn books into literature and movies into films. The First Heretic leads the charge, and Aaron Dembski-Bowden's work is a wonderful entry to the Horus Heresy series and a superb piece of literature that should not be missed. This is a great step forward in the road to the end and is the best look at the emotional side of the fall so far. A great leap forward and a great instalment to the series. A full 5 stars from me.

Available from:
The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Paperback • ISBN 9781844168842

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