Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett

Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett
448 pages
Advance Review Copy

The Emperor is enraged. Primarch Magnus the Red of the Thousand Sons Legion has made a terrible mistake that endangers the very safety of Terra. With no other choice, the Emperor charges Leman Russ, Primarch of the Space Wolves, with the apprehension of his brother from the Thousand Sons home world of Prospero. This planet of sorcerers will not be easy to overcome, but Russ and his Space Wolves are not easily deterred. With wrath in his heart, Russ is determined to bring Magnus to justice and bring about the fall of Prospero...

First off, I'll explain my bias. I loathe Space Wolves. Always have. I've always felt they were oversimplified Space Vikings. Thick-necked killers one step away from being khornate bezerkers. The way they were portrayed seemed lame. Why? Because I spent a decade researching and studying Migration Period cultures of Western Europe and *MY* view of the Germanic and Norse cultures was that they were SO much more than simple killers, rapists and pillagers. Seen through the looking glass of their contemporaries they were fantastically deep cultures and I thought that Space Wolves, loosely based upon them, completely missed that point. In addition, I've always been a Thousand Sons fan and I found Graham McNeill's companion to this especially moving.

Add to this that Dan Abnett, like any other author does not hit a home run every time at bat. Don't get me wrong, I still think Dan Abnett is a rockstar of an author and one of the top 3 authors at Black Library, but I feel that some of the stories published have lost a bit of the Cold, Dark and Grimness of the 41st millennium and begun to take an almost superheroic bent (This is understandable in any long running series of course). What I mean is that while Mr. Abnett's Horus Heresy Novels have been stellar, I think the Gaunt's Ghosts and even Ravenor series seem almost four-color in comparison*. Heroes that are HEROES and do almost nothing wrong, make all the right decisions, moral compasses that always point true north and the mistakes they make are so minor that they are oversights instead of true flaws. My wonder was whether Prospero Burns would be along the lines of Gaunt's Ghosts/ Ravenor or the lines of Legion or Eisenhorn where the protagonists delved deeply in the realms of grey and moral ambiguity.

Let me start off by saying my worries were misplaced completely.

As soon as I started reading Prospero Burns I was witness to a scene that was told in a manner that could have been orally explained by a skald by a fire in a longhouse in ancient Jorvik. Dan Abnett's wording, pace and the way he describes the dialog is perfect. The reader has no choice but be transported to a different place, a different time. You're no longer just reading a book, but you are immersed in a way that I have never seen or experienced before.

There are many brilliant dialogues and as the protagonist awakens and explores, so does the reader. This is deftly handled, as usual. Each of the characters is brilliantly defined. They are all imperfect in a way that I think only Astartes can be. The verbal banter between characters, especially the Vlka Fenryka is so appropriate in comparison to the real-world Norse analog. Same with many of the simple beliefs, mannerisms, little bits of superstition. Aside from being a Warhammer 40,000 story of the Space Wolves, it would be an awesome sci-fi alternate history novel for folks in to that sort of thing. I can't believe how well Dan Abnett really nailed it. Mr. Abnett has absolutely NAILED the perfect vibe for Sixth Legion.

The novel follows the protagonist, aptly named Kasper Hawser who comes to Fenris to learn of the Wolves of Fenris. He is a unique man and interesting in many ways that is detailed over hundreds of pages. As he learns of the Vlka Fenryka so does the reader. As he gets pulled in to the does the reader. Most importantly you learn about why the Sixth Legion exists, and it is a grim purpose, exposed through direct witness to how they carry out their role in the Great Crusade.

The events of the Great Crusade unfold on through the Council of Nikea and soon after to the razing of Prospero. To be frank, Prospero is the end of the book and only takes maybe a hundred pages tops. We know what happens at Prospero. Dan Abnett is not one to dally over long on battle-porn. His battle scenes are poignant, direct, and have a point.

There are some brilliant plot twists and reveals that catch you sideways as well as characterizations that will surprise you. My initial fears and prejudice were GROSSLY off the mark.

The cover art by Neil Roberts is as always glorious.

In summary, it's a brilliant novel. A PERFECT counterpoint to Graham McNeill's  A Thousand Sons. The author is able to grab the reader, pull them IN to the story, drag them through the muck, and blood, burn their eyebrows off, then neatly tuck them in to bed at the end. It's really genius storytelling. Dan Abnett is truly a master at his craft.

5 out of 5 Stars.
*Don't get me wrong. While I feel that Gaunt's Ghosts and Ravenor (among others) may not have the same dirty, hopeless, grim feel, they are still fantastic novels. I don't think I've read a Dan Abnett book I didn't like. The above listed novels admittedly have some of the characters I love the most in them. I don't consider myself a "Fan" of any writer per se, but I certainly respect the skill of the authors to make me think, second-guess and outright change my prejudices as well as pull my emotional strings...and Mr. Abnett is a master at this, regardless of the "appropriate tone" (in my own opinion) or not.


Matthew James Stanham said...

Picked this up second-hand along with a couple of other Horus Heresy novels the other day; looking forward to giving it a whirl!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant review and agree with you wholeheartedly. This book really brings home the character and background of the so-called Space Wolves. We are currently running a Vampire: The Dark Ages campaign where one of the PCs is a Viking Einherjar, basically a Viking from the olden days. Prospero Burns is excellent, EXCELLENT background material that will really get you in the mood, which are testament to its depth and subtlety.

Anonymous said...

This book sucks!!! Only about 10% of the latter part was about “Prospero burns”. The title should change from Prospero Burn to The Wolves unleashed instead. Very very disappointed. You will find the first half of this book very boring. No one wants to know the dogmatic and narrow view of just one remembrancer!!!
Do not buy it!!!

Matthew James Stanham said...

I thought it was okay, as usual it is the techniques Abnett uses that elevates the book above its subject matter.

Anonymous said...

I love the horus heresy books and I have pretty much loved all of them. But this book was awful. The dialogue was like a cheap B movie script and little made sense. It seemed as though abnett just added stuff in that would never happen or that had no basis on anything that had happened in the previous books. For example, I've read fifteen horus heresy books and have not once heard of that name=power thing. Also why does anybody care about kas? Seriously? Fulgrim? Amon? The primordial annihilator? People like that are known to be apathetic towards the little people in these books. In summary: Nonsense plot, bad dialogue and the fact that it turned quality characters from the series into out of character garbage. Good series (horus heresy) bad book.

Anonymous said...

From Same guy who wrote comment: Sorry for spelling and grammar I wrote it from my phone.