Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Horus Heresy Book Review: Vengeful Spirit, by Graham McNeil

It's weird having to wait for Horus Heresy books again, now while i wait for either the next limited edition novella to be mass released or the next entry in the series (Damnation of Pythos by David Annandale) i find myself even more looking forward to the continuation of the story even though i know 80% of what happens!
Still this means i get to get some other reading in, i am still wading through the molasses that is Malodrax and i have Thorpe's latest Dark Angels book to read, i also have the Tome of Fire omnibus sitting on my shelf so you could say there is plenty to keep me occupied but always my mind keeps coming back to the Heresy.

Much of this i put down to the high quality of the books of late, aside from a few noticeable exceptions the titles most recently released have been very good (Angel Exterminatus almost single handedly galvanized my interest in the series after it had been sapped by endless shorts and novellas. Of course that book was written by Graham McNeil, certainly one of the finest in the series it was the veteran author in top form and i loved every single second of it. Now McNeil returns, a scant 6 books later with Vengeful Spirit.

It has to be said that although there has been a cameo here or there, Horus has been somewhat absent from his own heresy. Of course this is understandable given that there are 18 legions to cover and even now some of them haven't really had their moment. Still it's nice to see the Warmaster take centre stage again even if he is not the only Primarch to be featured. Here it is Horuses attack on Molech that is under the spotlight as his legion return to the very world they bought to compliance so many years ago.

Now i will say that i don't really care for the reasoning behind the Warmaster's return to Molech, a hackneyed plot regarding seizing the power of the Emperor that He had for some reason left there. In general i feel far too much is being attempted with  the Emperor. I preferred the mystery, He is diminished and made to look like little more than an opportunistic trickster by events here. I can see on one hand why they are doing it this way i just don't think it is to the Heresy's benefit.

Horus himself is also starting to grate ever so slightly, although he is still well written and rounded he actually comes across as more humane and gregarious than many of the loyalist primarchs. Now i know that Horus is meant to be charismatic and likable but i am having a few problems reconciling the Horus we are seeing now with the monster that will assault Terra and destroy his father. Still there is still time for this transition i suppose, at the moment im just wondering when the real Horus will stand up. One thing that is very well portrayed is how Horus feels towards his fellows. In this book more than perhaps any other i really got a strong sense of brotherhood that has not always been prevalent in this series.

There was only one other thing that really bothered me about this novel and that was the blatant plug for Imperial Knights. Now i guess we will never know whether Graham just wanted to write about the Knights because they are awesome or he was instructed or pressured to do so in some way. But the way in which they are shoehorned in is pretty shameful and superfluous. Now in fairness Graham does do a pretty good job of integrating them into the plot (even if it is something we have seen MANY times before) it just feels a little forced on the whole.

So what DO i like about Vengeful Spirit? Well there is some great Nurgle stuff in here although on the whole Mortarion takes backseat for much of the book. Fans will cast a knowing nod as one of Grandfather Nurgles favoured scions makes a reappearance on these pages. Also pleasing was the reintroduction of some characters that we had not seen (i have not indulged in a great many of the Audiodramas yet) since the early days of the Heresy although their role in the book seems largely designed purely to have them in a set place at a set time and makes very little sense overall.

In fact there is a pervading sense of a return to the opening books of the series, be it returning adversaries, the Mournival, or just echoes of events of Istvaan III it is pleasing to see in a series which has arguably become too engrossed in breaking new ground. Ironically it is Vengeful Spirit's insistence on trying to do too much of both though, which really proves its undoing. There are far too many different plots and sub plots going on for this to be a coherent narrative. I've not even mentioned the plot thread about yet ANOTHER perpetual. Overall it means that things get a bit jumbled and this is why the addition of the Knights feels even more superfluous than it might have.

Of course the action is very well written as you would expect and there is a fair bit more carnage in this entry than there has been in many of the recent books in the series. It is also probably worth mentioning that this is by some way the most substantial book released of late. Giving BL an excuse to raise the price by a couple of quid notwithstanding this is a mighty tome indeed. Weighing in at over 500 pages there is a lot of story for your money here its just a shame its not more coherent. It's almost the opposite of Unremembered Empire. That felt like half a book, this feels like 2 books crammed into the space of one large novel with the narrative suffering as a result.

So that is Vengeful Spirit, thanks to Graham McNeil's talents it is still a pretty good read though by no means his best work. It certainly pales in comparison to Angel Exterminatus. It suffers from a bad case of bloat and far too many disparate nonsensical plot threads all going on at once. It does have some superb battle scenes and yet again finds a way to cram Ultramarines into the narrative as their profile in the Heresy is raised still further. It has a pleasing tendency to refer back to earlier books in the series and if you have not read at least the opening trilogy of the Heresy i would certainly advise doing so before picking this up. For all its failings it is by no means a disaster but one is left to wonder just how much better a more focused and coherent story would have been. At the end of the day i finished this book in less nights than there are knights in the book itself so i guess it cant be all that bad.


3.5 Knights out of 5

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