Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

A Horus Heresy Novel
512 pages
Advance Reader Copy

Amidst the galaxy-wide war of the Great Crusade, the Emperor castigates the Word Bearers for their worship. Distraught at this judgement, Lorgar and his Legion seek another path while devastating world after world, venting their fury and fervour on the battlefield. Their search for a new purpose leads them to the edge of the material universe, where they meet ancient forces far more powerful than they could have imagined. Having set out to illuminate the Imperium, the corruption of Chaos takes hold and their path to damnation begins. Unbeknownst to the Word Bearers, their quest for truth contains the very roots of heresy

*Note. This review is pretty early as the novel doesn't hit the streets until November. However Pre-orders are important, and while I tend to review novels in order of street date, even I get hooked by my own excitement and have to jump ahead. Forgive the early peek at this wonderful novel. I'll be posting additional reviews/ excerpts all over the web as we get closer to the street date. Cheers! JP*

Take a look at the cover art by Neil Roberts: A red mutated Astartes about to open up a Custodes like a can of baked beans (or get opened up). Like the rest of the Horus Heresy…we can see where this hand basket is going. It’s a train wreck in slow motion. The Imperium of Man is going to Hell…almost literally.

A bit of back-story on the XVII Legion, the Word Bearers and the Great Crusade etc.:
The great crusade is an effort by the Emperor of Mankind to reclaim the lost worlds of humanity and bring it under one flag after a dark age of technology where humanity was spread to the corners of the galaxy then cut off from Terra. One of the core tenets of this crusade is to reclaim mankind from mysticism, religion, gods, heathenism and restore the primacy of logic.

The Emperor created 20 super-beings based on his own genes and through super-science (et cetera) made generals to lead his vast legions. These legions are made from the diluted genetic stock of these super-beings, The Primarchs. Being near demi-gods themselves these legionaries, these…Space Marines are bred to be superior in every way, stronger, faster, tougher, smarter, armed and armored the best.

Something went wrong, and through some warp-spawned mishap the 20 Primarchs were spread to the stars, slowly recovered by the Emperor and placed at the heads of their legions. Each Primarch was raised on a foreign planet and shaped by the environment and cultures they found. All the Primarchs are vastly different in look and outlook and subsequently so are their legions.

The XVII Legion is the Legion of Lorgar Aurelian. The Word Bearers. As all Legions are unique in some fashion, what makes the Word Bearers unique is that their home world is extremely…religious. The Word Bearers are devout, pious in extremis in their belief in the Emperor as well as The Emperor’s godhood: something he has always denied.

So. We have a crusade made to bring together all mankind and in the meantime purge the trappings of religion as they go. One of the largest and most loyal legions, practicing the very religiosity they are supposed to be stamping out. See the problem here?

So the Emperor of Mankind comes down on the XVII Legion and Lorgar. Hard.
Lorgar is castigated and Custodes sent to observe and report as the Legion returns to the Crusade.

That is all stage dressing for a really fantastic story delving in to the psyche of people (super-men or not) who are all extremely pre-disposed towards faith…and how a sort of conversion takes place.

The story is beautifully crafted. Mr. Dembski-Bowden really digs deep and crafts a remarkable tale of how important religion is to some people, and how something so important, so central to their character can be rebuked, deceived, and the response to having beliefs turned on their head.

Of course…central to this is how they discover what lurks on the other side of the veil. Chaos does a fine job in twisting and distorting the truth so that the only thing that remains is confusion.

I won’t spoil the story for you. ADB does a fine job really selling Lorgar, Argel Tal, Xaphen, even Kor Phaeron and the vile bastard everyone loves to hare…Erebus. I have to admit, I love it when an author can challenge my prejudices and get me thinking. That in a novel is a total win, and Aaron Dembski-Bowden does it.

The novel itself is not as fast paced as Cadian Blood or Soul Hunter (Soul Hunter is far closer in pace) but it is certainly a “Thinker” novel. Lots of moments of conversations, revelations (boy, there ARE some whoppers in there), contemplation, etc. Yes, there ARE battles. Violence DOES ensue. Actually, while I love ADB’s depictions of melee, he’s good about using violence as garnish instead of the whole entrĂ©e…which I greatly appreciate as a reader.

Like all of the Horus Heresy novels with traitors in the protagonist role, you know where the story ultimately goes and it’s akin to watching a train wreck in slow motion. You can’t help but feel for the characters, which are well developed, make poor decisions based on misinformation, lies, and emotion and want them to stop, turn around…”Don’t do it!” and hear the slo-mo “Nooooooooo” in the background.

Where Graham McNeill crafted a tale of dealing with the Emperyan from an attitude of hubris and arrogance from a false sense of control and security in The Thousand Sons, Aaron Dembski-Bowden deals with the Emperyan from the perspective of devout believers in a crisis of faith having recently been chastised by their very god, showing how fast love can turn to hate. Actually, I recommend readers of The Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill to read The First Heretic for a beautiful contrast.

In reading the novel I found it a little slow starting, but it got stronger and stronger as the pages turned. I have no complaints about characterization, plot, or pacing.

I would like to comment that there are some really smooth formatting tricks done to keep the ‘voice’ straight for the reader: there are several instances where the reader sees flashbacks, changes in POV, awkward lurches in time and voice that are deftly handled by use of italics/ parentheses, and bold text. I tend to get lost when the ‘voice’ changes but I had zero issues with it this time. I don’t know if this is the author or an editing choice but it worked. Very clear. Good job!

Also, there are all kinds of nuggets of info knocked loose from the pre-history of the Warhammer 40,000 Universe. We get a lot of nifty reveals in this novel.

Easily one of the best of the entire Horus Heresy series!

4 out of 5 Stars.

1 comment:

GDMNW said...

Thank you for your review. I thought it at least warranted a comment.