The very beginnings of the fall of Horus
Philosophical and political topics about the position of humanity in the galaxy
Religion practiced in secret in the age of illumination
There are two types of readers. Those who know Warhammer 40K and those who will know. So, let’s start with the boring introduction. Warhammer 40K is a miniature hobby board game released a long time ago in the UK that has gained an international audience ever since. The game has an extensive lore and plenty of books, audio drama, and games (board games or video games) have been produced about its Universe. Soon, this year as of writing, Warhammer will delve into the video format and give us a streaming service and some animations movies, and someday in the future probably even a live-action movie.
Anyway, I have zero interest in the 40K video games (most of them are mediocre anyway) or in the board games or in collecting miniatures (though they look badass in the hand of a skilled painter). I’m also not interested in military SF books that describe battle scenes in excruciating detail. So what am I interested in?
I think Warhammer 40K lore is fascinating and so huge, blending together space marines, orcs, and elves in space, as well as old gods and demons and the zerg (from Starcraft) and other types of alien civilizations in a universe that is surprisingly coherent. They all fit. I know people say it’s all extremely silly but at the same time it’s also extremely grimdark, so I heard we have to thank Warhammer for inventing this term.
This series, called Horus Heresy, is the prequel to Warhammer 40k, and it’s set in the 30th millennium, which makes this Warhammer 30k, but you don’t need to know so many details. You need to know that this first book is brilliant in any way, but it becomes even more fascinating once you know some of the background information about the next 10,000 years. That is because Horus Heresy presents the details of a tragedy that lead to the creation of the grimdark universe. Right now in the 30K millennium, things are not so grimdark. Hell, we are going through a golden age actually. So how things could go so wrong that in the future, there is only war?
Well, if you want to know that, this book will not give you answers, but it will introduce you to Horus Lupercal, one of the key figures in future events. I have to mention here that I also don’t know the whole story, what exactly happens, and to whom, so I like to discover new things while reading.
The only thing I know is that the Emperor is some kind of human having god-like powers and he created 20 or so (I hope I’m not wrong) primarchs who are basically demigods and using their genetic material he also created legions of space marines, Adeptus Astartes, superhumans breed for combat. Shit happened after that and some legions became corrupted by Chaos (the place where demons come from) and they turned evil, so the whole universe is in a constant state of fighting because Chaos Space Marines are pretty powerful. This series details how Chaos Space Marines come to be.
In the 30th millennium, humanity had a great victory at Ullanor and then this all-powerful Emperor retreated to Terra to deal with political issues while entrusting his favorite primarch (son) to lead the exploratory fleet further into space in order to reunite the separated human civilizations. Apparently in the past humankind emigrated to the stars and then something caused disruption of space travel and communications and thus, civilizations became isolated. The book starts with Horus leading a few expeditions, while the main character Garviel Loken, a captain of a space marine company, discovers aspects about the political structures of the legion after he is welcome to join the close advisors of Horus, the so-called Mournival.
I will not say more except that there are many characters and the author manages to give all of them a little development while keeping the battle scenes short (yes!!!) and dialogues long. Each character has its own voice and the plot hints at religion and philosophical aspects that make us question the universe and act to foreshadowing (bad) things to come. I like how the mystery is gradually revealed, but not completely, so at the end you just want to go and pick up the next book.
I’ve read other Warhammer 40k books before and I don’t consider them good fiction. The very first one kept me going because there were so many new terms to learn that I didn’t mind the poor handling of character arcs. I was discovering the lore. But when the second book was the same and the third book was the same, I almost gave up on this universe. And then Horus Rising appeared, where the focus is not on battles. Instead, the battles act as climaxes that release the tension accumulated throughout the book. Now that’s how you write battle scenes, 2-3 paragraphs are enough, not 2-3 chapters of 2 armies fighting each other.
So now, reader, if you read Warhammer because you like to read action scenes (though to be honest, battles and sex are always boring in books, or maybe it’s just me?), this is not for you. On the contrary, if you look for a good book, this right here is a pretty good book, considering my past experiences with Warhammer 40k.
One word of warning if you’re not familiar with this universe. Lower your expectations. The publisher doesn’t want to finish the story in a trilogy or a short series so the details are revealed gradually and may feel anticlimactic. After all, there are 54 books in this series and the last one only makes way to a new series called Siege of Terra. Hopefully, after that series will we finally get the conclusion to what has started in this book.
As I heard, not all the books are essential and some of them either focus only on battles or on some character’s lives without moving the story forward. I will base my reading on this list and the author’s names.
If I try to ignore any knowledge of Warhammer, Horus Rising is still a perfect start for a series. You’ll probably think that the beginning is confusing and drags a little because you’ll not get the irony, but almost everything will be explained in the book’s second part. Also here, we get a glimpse at the political problems of the Imperium and the dangers of the galaxy. The mystery starts to deepen and we’re off to a third battle that will introduce new characters and different ways of thinking both for the humans and for the space marines. All in all, a good book that will open your appetite for more lore and stories in this weird mysterious, sometimes crazy galaxy.