Thursday, 12 February 2015

Horus Heresy Novella Review: Tallarn: Executioner By John French

After the nonsense of reprinted anthology novellas as premium books we finally get to another proper slice of the Horus Heresy. Previously an Event Exclusive book released a few years back it is finally time for the common man to get his mitts on a copy of Tallarn: Executioner. I’ve been looking forward to this one, Tallarn is a fairly large event in the Heresy as the once verdant world is outright murdered by traitor forces, necessitating the transformation of the populous into hardened desert fighters. Obviously I’m not expecting a great deal of that to be covered in a book that spans barely 100 pages but it should serve as a tantalizing hors d'oeuvres for the main course to follow. It’s another book by John French and I have rather enjoyed his work thus far. He has a habit of peppering his tales with suckerpunches and writes a pretty bleak story so I am expecting a respectable body count and a few shocks by then end. It should be interesting to see what he does with this brand new Theatre of War…

Considering the scope of exactly what is going on in the narrative it is perhaps surprising then that John decides to write a small contained piece. There are no grand sweeping battles and the like here and this is about as far from Bolter Porn as you can get (actually i'm not sure a bolter is ever fired). Also considering it is the Iron Warriors laying siege to (actually just outright killing) Tallarn they are barely mentioned. All the elements of the book that deal with the invasion and the decimation of the planet are doled out in detached impersonal mini chapters of a couple of pages each, interspersed throughout the main narrative like an observers footnotes . Indeed the Iron Warriors arrival and subsequent assault is all dealt with in under two dozen pages, not even a quarter of the total page length. Now this is perfectly adequate, you will be fully aware of what is going on but it is a departure from the norm nonetheless. In lieu of the larger narrative the Author decides to focus on a subplot revolving around a battered tank squadron that forms part of the resistance for the survivors (all underground – the surface of Tallarn is rendered completely uninhabitable by virus bombs) as they venture back up to the surface in the only way they can, in large airtight vehicles and wearing radiation suits. Thus the Tanks of Tallarn: Executioner become more than just weapons, they are their occupants only hope for survival, the only way they can conduct themselves when they are not huddled underground. Not even knowing who has attacked them, the action in the book is told in a series of gripping tank battles fought in the fog (or at least dust) of war on the devastated surface. Against overwhelming odds the Tallarn strike back against the Iron Warriors fighting a guerrilla war
where they can in the name of vengeance.

Being a john French book its not all action and there is some strong characterization here as well although in all honesty the character templates have been seen before many a time and we aren't really getting anything new. There are a few nice touches though and although the dialogue can sometimes be a little stilted the actions and experiences of the people in the story hold our attention. You do genuinely feel for them even if some are not all that they seem as John seems to takes great delight in revealing later. (nothing like finding out you’ve been rooting for the wrong guy all along!) Astartes? Forget it, the Dramatis Personae includes NO Space Marines. Not one, nada. No named marine characters and I’m not even sure that one speaks in the book… There is a half glimpsed description of one and a brief scene where a squad of Iron Warrior terminators engages a tank after their Land Raider is immobilized but all elements including the Astartes are told from the perspective of mortal humans. This lends a grounding to proceedings that pulls in the reader, placing them more squarely in the action. Humans are much easier to characterize than marines and therefore there is a sense of gravitas when the character list starts to be cut down even if they are not doing anything particularly heroic. The book is stark and unflinching in its horrors with the virus bombing and subsequent calamity particularly graphic.

Overall Tallarn: Executioner is a story about survival and determination and redemption and also… well I cant really reveal that in a spoiler free review! Nothing presented is particularly original and there is barely anything tying this into the heresy apart from the setting. That said what is here is very well written and the introspective nature of the narrative and focus upon a small group of characters pays dividends with this size of book. It doesn't feel stretched or light. However, the author does throw one hell of a curveball towards the end, setting up the very bleak ending although that is something I expect from John French by now. In fact the ‘twist’ as it were does feel a little forced and doesn't sit easily with the rest of the story. It doesn't derail what has gone before, just overshadows it and it feels a bit superfluous. Certainly I felt enough good work had been done by that stage that I would have been just as happy if the twist had not been present. But I think Mr French has done a good job here, His refusal to allow the Astartes centre stage is to be commended and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the book and ploughed through it pretty quickly. Of course this is but a taste of the Battle of Tallarn and the next installment has just been announced in Tallarn: Ironclad as John French returns...

In the first Ltd Edition Full Length Horus Heresy Novel....



score: 4 Vanquisher Tanks out of 5


  1. Interesting...departure from the usual: check. Armour battles: check. Author that I'm fairly unfamiliar with: check.

    I'm quite a fan of the unusual Heresy books (Prospero Burns, very much, Nemesis...not so much though) so I'll be looking forward to getting my hands on this. Thanks dewd :D

  2. Good review - my thoughts exactly