Sunday, 11 August 2013

Horus Heresy Review: Angel Exterminatus

Emperor’s mercy, it’s been a long and painful wait for the mass market paperback or ‘Legacy Edition’ as Black Library like to call it of Angel Exterminatus. A 9 month wait avoiding all spoilers and reviews (fear not, this review is spoiler free, if by some chance you haven’t read the book) in which I have lost interest in the Horus Heresy series and to some extent Black Library’s publications in general, such is the extent of their seemingly consumer base destroying marketing decisions recently (ltd edition exclusive Novellas that cost more than a full length paperback I’m looking at YOU) It’s actually been a hard time being a black library reader recently. 

So having finally got my hands on (for me) the latest Heresy novel I was both delighted and outraged to discover that it is one of the very best books in the entire series. Delighted, as it has been some time since a book has matched ‘Fulgrim’ ‘Legion’ or ‘The First Heretic and outraged that such a literary experience has been denied me so long. I know I could have easily picked up one of the earlier editions or borrowed the book from someone but this far into the series I am not disrupting the uniformity of my collection for anyone. Thankfully the long gap that the addition of formats has caused has passed and I can now look forward to the release of HH titles at the semi regular pace I was previously accustomed to with Betrayer and Mark of Calth both due in the next few months.
Another stonking cover from Neil Roberts.
So what makes Angel Exterminatus so good? One thing would be the class of Graham McNeil’s writing, his iron warriors may have Warsmiths but McNeil here proves himself a true wordsmith. An expansive vocabulary and intelligent writing combined with a compelling narrative meant I devoured this book like Slaanesh devours Eldar souls. Another thing is that the story functions as a sequel of sorts to The Crimson Fist from Shadows Of Treachery, the last book in the series, picking up immediately after the failed attack on Perturabo’s flagship. This and a number of other references to events in previous books mean that Angel Exterminatus feels less like a standalone book and more like the continuation of an ongoing narrative more than any book since the opening trilogy so very long ago. 

Graham sticks with what he knows here, calling upon his previous experience and indeed previous works on The Emperors Children and Iron Warriors. They are the two major players in this book and he also uses his work in Mechanicum to flesh out the Iron Hands more than ever before, rendering them and their brave struggle in a truly compelling fashion. First however, let us look at the traitor legions and their respective Primarchs.
The Emperors Children assume their true form in this book.
Fans of the Emperors Children REJOICE!!! This is the book you have been waiting for, here Fulgrim’s legion and their depravities are laid bare. By this stage in the Heresy the Emperors children have completely given themselves over to Slaanesh and there are multiple passages that tell of the lengths the fallen legion will go to in their quest for excess and sensual fulfilment. Noise Marines, Lucius the Eternal, the pleasure cults, all laid bare here and at times rendered in such stark and repellent detail that it can leave a bad taste in your mouth as you read. Also completely abhorrent is Fabius Bile (here referred to simply as Apothecary Fabius) as his grotesque experiments and subsequent genetic abominations are bought to light. Fabius is superbly bought to life here and some of his evil and ruthless actions will shock even the most hardened reader. On top of all this you also have Fulgrim and although in many ways this is not Fulgrim’s story (that has been told already in the aptly named ‘Fulgrim’) he is certainly the fulcrum about which the plot pivots. Written almost perfectly it is a fantastic portrayal of the fallen Primarch and his dialogue with Perturabo is a joy to read. McNeil understands perfectly that a truly evil character is defined by their actions not by the cartoon villain dialogue that they spout. There are a few writers out there that I would hope would take note. 

And Fulgrim is far from the tragic figure featured in his self titled novel. 
The Iron Warriors, are if anything, given even more attention that the Emperors Children. Perturabo is excellent and takes his place as one of my favourite Primarchs. The intricacies and subtleties of his personality are superbly portrayed and I doubt I have ever read such a well-rounded character in this series. Elsewhere the author draws heavily upon his previous Iron Warrior books, even to the extent of using the same cast. The nature of the Iron Warriors as siege masters is further explored and their personnel are well written even if they are personalities that many may already be familiar with. 

Of course there are also Loyalist forces present in the book and as explained previously the Iron Hands have never been handled better. Battered and bowed but not broken after their ordeals on Istvaan V the remnants of the legion, fuelled by their hatred of Perturabo, seek to continue taking action against their Primarchs killer by any means possible. Joining the shattered force are a few elements from other legions including a few Salamanders and a Raven Guard legionnaire called Sharrowkyn who is probably the coolest character in the entire book. The desperate, survivalist nature of these brave warriors is well portrayed and whenever McNeil stuck the knife in and cast them low I would wince as you really do root for these pluck and hopelessly outnumbered underdogs and revel in their triumphs. Although not as prominent as the Traitor legions, in a book so given over to Horus’s followers they make for great antagonists. 

The Superb plot aside, there are a great many memorable scenes in this book. Be it THAT sniper shot, the multiple clashes between the Traitor Primarchs, the Wargames simulating the attack upon The Imperial Palace, pretty much anything Sharrowkyn does, the many scenes of debauchery in the name of Slaanesh, the gripping battle on the edge of the Eye of Terror or the Jaw dropping and sensational climax to the book, there is always something to keep you reading and the 542 pages will simply fly by. 

Anyone who has read this will already be familiar with most of the Iron Warrior cast.

That said the book falls just short of being perfect in my opinion. It is very hard to find fault with Angel Exterminatus but if I had to pick one it would be the decision to include pretty much EVERY SINGLE character from the 40k Iron Warrior books in this Horus Heresy novel. Although it is nice to get a little history on the characters we have already read about a few of the inclusions feel somewhat shoehorned in and can lead to it all being a bit too familiar especially the twist at the end. This said they are all very well written and I cannot complain about any of them individually at all. The other small quibble would be the very minor role that the Eldar have in the book as they are very minimally featured but this is understandable given the level of detail explored with the Astartes elements.

The truth is that this book is so superbly written and full of excellent touches and scenes that it is unfair to give it anything but a full 5/5 score. More than just a great read, Angel Exterminatus has single handedly revived my interest in the Horus Heresy series and Black Library’s output in general. Utterly essential, if you haven’t read it go do so now. Bring on Betrayer!


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