Monday, 14 April 2014

Horus Heresy Book Review: The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett

Abnett we trust. Ever heard that saying? It’s fairly well known that a Dan Abnett novel is a safe bet. Aside from one very excusable exception in Prospero Burns, Dan pretty much always delivers the goods. But, as I was saying to Lee the other day maybe Dan is TOO much of a safe bet. To the point that his novels are becoming a little predictable and samey. Certainly his books seem to follow a pattern and although they are still storming good reads it’s been a while since I was blown away by one of his efforts. The Unremembered Empire is his first Horus Heresy effort since Know no Fear and he sticks with the Ultramarines here although the book is by no means ‘smurf’ centric. It’s not exactly a barnstormer but it’s still a pretty good read, be warned very minor spoilers will abound in this review.

The Unremembered Empire is another instalment in the attempt to make the events going on in Ultramar a ‘big thing’ rather than just a footnote in the timeline of the Horus Heresy. We’ve been lingering around here for some time now and although, to be fair the output has for the most part warranted it, it does feel like the overall narrative has got a little sidetracked. One can only assume that eventually we will get back to the meat of the Heresy and the March towards Terra. At least the next two books coming out seem to diverge from events in Ultramar, though we still have the graphic novel to come yet!

The Plot deals with Roboute Gulliman, cut off from the rest of the Imperium of Man, unsure whether the Horus Heresy has succeeded and the Emperor is alive or dead. Pretty much assuming a worst case scenario Roboute decides to found a new Empire with Macragge at its heart. Fashioning a new Astronomican he illuminates Macragge as a beacon and safe haven, offering sanctuary to his loyal brothers and hoping that one of them will be suitable as the leader of the new Imperium. Over the course of the book several new arrivals to Macragge cause celebration and calamity in equal measure.

This book cannot be read, I am sad to say, without having first read Vulkan Lives, one thing I will say is that although filler in its purest form it is obvious that great effort has been made to ensure the narratives intertwine in a natural fashion.  Although this is largely a good thing it does mean that it is very difficult to skip a book, in fact he two that are probably the least integral are two of the very best the series has offered! Angel Exterminatus and Betrayer. As far as The Unremembered Empire goes though it serves more or less as a direct sequel to Vulkan Lives so you’d better have read that first.

The Unremembered Empire features no less than FIVE Primarchs, easily the most since the book ‘The Primarchs’ itself, thankfully it is a long way from that abomination. It is credit to Abnett’s writing skills that The Unremembered Empire doesn’t become bloated such is the variety of content within. However it is here that the book struggles. With so much going on in the book it is hard for the narrative to remain consistent and several aspects of the book seem half finished, paid lip service and left to their own devices. There are also far too many maguffin type elements to the book, happy coincidence and convenient events abound in some shockingly lazy writing from Abnett.

The characterisation also seems a little off, not as rounded as it could been, formulaic and not really granted any depth. Gulliman is portrayed poorly in comparison to his peers and certainly not like the master strategist and tactician he is purported to be.  The Unremembered Empire is however a ‘decent read’. It flows reasonably well and is particularly easy to digest. Certainly it can be devoured in a few short sessions and is much easier to assimilate than its predecessor. Yet something seems ‘off’ about it certainly to me. It seems half thought out and half finished, like we are only getting half the story. It feels superficial and the narrative never feels like it does more than scratch the surface.
It’s a shame more time wasn’t spent exploring the concept and title of the book. So much occurs that that main idea gets rather lost in the silliness. The book is also a little inconsistent. Gulliman struggles to fend off 10 would be assassins whilst later a primarch with previously unseen demi godlike abilities is nigh on unstoppable, slaying whole squads left and right. In fact im getting a little sick of this primarch, though he seems fairly well written.
That’s not to say it’s a bad book though! It is very easy to read (this might be why it seems a little short) and the action, as you would expect is top notch, it’s also nice to see a few more Primarchs get explored although as I said some of the characterisation seems a bit off. It pace is also very quick and the book doesn’t stall in any places. In this way it is a complete contrast to Vulkan Lives which was slow but wonderful in its indepth character interactons. So The Unremembered Empire is not a bad book, it’s just the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, fast paced and full of action but a little superficial.  I hope that there is more to come I just feel that we got The Unremembered Empire Pt1 here rather than the whole deal.


Horus Heresy book review: Vulkan Lives by Nick Kyme

Wow, I don’t think I have ever been this conflicted when it comes to writing a review for a novel. Vulkan lives is an inconsistent and controversial book and for everything about it I liked I found another I didn’t. I certainly don’t hate it and I sure as hell don’t LOVE it but I can’t work out if I like it or not. I’ll do my best to lay out my issues with the book in this review, but I’m not exactly sure whether I’ll be able to accurately portray my feelings regarding the book without breaking my usual spoiler free format so expect the odd revelation here or there.

First a brief overview of the story. In the wake of the Isstvan dropsite massacre Vulkan has been captured by Konrad Curze of the Night Lords, and is subjected to both psychological and physical torture by his brother. Driven to incomprehensible levels of suffering, Vulkan endures and endures and endures and more importantly Vulkan Lives. Indeed I lost count of the amount of times that this titular mantra was repeated within the books pages becoming something of a rallying cry for the remaining members of the shattered Salamanders Legion. Whilst all this is going on a band of survivors from the massacre encounter John Grammaticus and a pursuing group of Word Bearers. Of course Erebus is pulling the strings but is very much in the background in this instance. Instead one of his many lackeys operates in his place, though he has an agenda of his own of course.

One of the great things about this book is the interplay between Curze and Vulkan, the two brothers psyches are laid bare as flashbacks provide grounding for their bitter enmity. Even as Curze does his best to destroy Vulkan the Salamanders primarch rallies against the Night Haunter. It makes for great reading in what is a very primarch heavy book (if not in numbers then at least in focus). Seriously, some of the great dialogues and character introspectives of the heresy happen in these pages. The hells that Vulkan goes through are extreme to, well the extreme. He is literally tested to destruction in a very real sense time and again.

And herein lies my main issue with Vulkan lives. SPOILER: 

Vulkan is immortal. Yup, you read that right, immortal. Like a perpetual. He is killed time and time again by Curze and each time reanimates/heals or whatever to frustrate him once again. Vulkan is also perfect, seriously, he must have beaten more primarchs in combat than anyone else so far and there’s just nothing wrong with him. He has no discernable flaws, and this makes him inherently difficult to identify with. Not unlikeable, just unfathomable.

It’s Ironic really, my main issue with the rebooted Star Trek movie was that Vulcan was destroyed. My consternation with the book arises from exactly the opposite. It’s just such a big thing, it seems silly and unreasonable and I struggled to get through the book at times as I felt it cheapened much of what happens in the book. I’m also getting a bit sick of the perpetual/cabal arc, though I feel that may be coming to a conclusion of sorts. Certainly more about Grammaticus’ motives/mission is becoming clear.

However there are also other things to enjoy about Vulkan Lives. Aside from the afore-mentioned gold that we get from the interaction between Curze and Vulkan, we get multiple flashbacks to the Isstvan Dropsite massacres, very welcome even if it has been done a few times now already. Be warned though, this book is largely filler. In fact it is the very definition of filler. Little of any import to the greater scheme of the Heresy happens here. Shoehorned in seemingly just to give Nick Kyme an excuse to write about is favourite subjects, you could imagine that this book exists purely to give justification to the Tome of Fire series.

So overall I really can’t work out how to rate Vulkan Lives, there are elements about it I very much like but I cannot overlook a few of the massive problems that I have with the book. Every now and again there is a section of the book that just totally throws you out of the moment as you struggle to overlook the improbability and silliness of what you are reading. I think overall it deserves an average score, it’s not a complete write off and there are things to like about it, but I’d be surprised if you loved it.