Unaware of the wider Heresy and following the Warmaster’s increasingly cryptic orders, Roboute Guilliman returns to Ultramar to muster his Legion for war against the orks massing in the Veridian system. Without warning, their supposed allies in the Word Bearers Legion launch a devastating invasion of Calth, scattering the Ultramarines fleet and slaughtering all who stand in their way. This confirms the worst scenario Guilliman can imagine – Lorgar means to settle their bitter rivalry once and for all. As the traitors summon foul daemonic hosts and all the forces of Chaos, the Ultramarines are drawn into a grim and deadly struggle in which neither side can prevail.
For any 40K fan the Battle of Calth is seen as one of the pivotal moments in the Horus Heresy. It is worth considering though that during the great crusade the Word Bearers and primarch Lorgar built up a reputation for their extremist religious views, idolising the Emperor and committing violent atrocities against those who were slow to adopt their beliefs. When the Emperor found out he ordered Guilliman and the Ultramarines to raze the whole city of Monarchia - which was known as the "perfect city" after the Word Bearers brought it into "compliance" and was seen as their proudest achievement. Lorgar and his entire Legion were then forced to kneel in the city's ashes before the Emperor and Guilliman. It's therefore not difficult to see why the Ultramarines were chosen for this fate, Lorgar and his Legion held a grudge ever since and saw this as the perfect opportunity to extract some revenge.
I liked the authors idea to write the narrative in the present tense, it's a brave move by the author but one that works remarkably well and makes the reader to really feel a part of the battle. I am quite overwhelmed at how the author manages to keep juggling all the separate elements, people, places and events that make up this epic battle - the narrative moving from one scene to the next without disorienting the reader; it's an impressive feat and one that deserves an applause.
I loved the fact that Abnett spends time personalising each and every character - even the minor ones that die moments later which gives a much richer and more personal feel to the battle, one that the reader is emotionally attached to. Even with all these cataclysmic events going on we still get treated to some real human touches such as Ventanus' attempts to protect those around him and the bitter-sweet tale of the fallen warrior who is lucky enough to be "reborn" as a Dreadnaught only to find himself hurtling toward the planet at terminal velocity after his ship is blown to pieces. My other favorite moments are the points at which not only does Abnett explain some of the idiosyncrasies of the Ultramarines (the red sergeant helmets for one) but he actually portraits this with humour and style that is often lacking in Black Library Marines.
The main protagonist is the Ultramarine progenitor Guilliman and his analytical mind, attention to detail, considered strategy and dry humour are amongst the highlights of the novel. Abnett does a brilliant job of portraying him as a "super-human" figure without it seeming over the top or condescending. This is then frames against Word Bearers launch a devastating attack, scattering the fleet and slaughtering all who stand in their way, summoning a host of foul demon and the very forces of Chaos itself to aid their fight and described in language that could only be described as delicious.
Without doubt this is the best Horus Heresy novel to date and the way in which it is dealt with makes this my favourite Dan Abnett book too. In fact it almost cost me an Ultramarines army until I realised I could never portrait the amazing characters that have been brought to life in the novel. Without any shadow of a doubt, any apology or shame this novel gets a righteous and well deserved 5 out of 5 from me and only hope the next Ultramarines book is half as good.
Paperback • ISBN 9781849701341