'Battle for the Abyss' is book 8 in the Horus Heresy saga, based on the history of Games Workshops Science Fiction table-top game, Warhammer 40,000. Set in the 30th Millennium, the saga tells the tale of the Imperium of mankind's expansion across the galaxy, and it's crumble from within, as the largest civil war in history threatens to destroy humanity forever. The saga up to this point has been hit or miss. While it has been brilliant to see this well known story told in such detail from many points of view, some of the books fail to really grab the attention of the reader or have plots that frustrate and annoy. Author, Ben Counter, did a sterling job with his first book in the saga, that closed off the opening trilogy. 'Galaxy in Flames' weaved several story lines together and opened up new ones for other authors to continue. The first trilogy made us care as we were brought along with the story through the eyes of several characters, some loyal to the Imperium, some to the rebels. And indeed as the tale continued in the excellent 'Flight of the Eisenstein' and the fantastic 'Fulgrim' we were pulled through the myriad of tales to create a sublime experience. Alas, Battle for the Abyss' fails to impress on the most basic levels.
Without creating spoilers, the Abyss of the title is the Furious Abyss, a ship forged by the Mechanicum of Mars as a giant ship with one mission in mind: To destroy the Ultramarines legion. The setting takes place just as Horus is about to invade Istavaan, roughly around the same time as 'Galaxy in Flames' is set. The Word Bearers, now hostile to the Imperium, and integral in the tainitng of Horus, have been charged with this duty. They test their new weapons Systems on a lone Ultramarine cruiser, arousing the attention of a nearby Imperial station, where members of the Ultramarine legion, are joined by Space Wolves and loyal World Eaters, along with a single member of the Thousand Sons. They battle the odds in pursuing the massive ship with the aim of destroying it before it can damage their legion.
The story seriously lacks anything to make us care. Firstly it suffers from a repetition of structure throughout the book. The Word bearers destroy a ship, they are pursued through the warp. They emerge into real space, have another battle, jump through the warp, emerge, have another battle etc. Gone are the subtle webs of plot present in any of the opening trilogy, as are any characters we really care about. Led by an honor guard of Ultramarines, whose flawless perfection make them as dull as they are to play in the table top game, they lack character and depth. Whereas in other books, we've been drawn into the real life and mindset of a marine, here there is nothing but bland duty. The most interesting character is Mhotep, a lone Brother sergeant of the Thousand Sons Legion, and his arc throughout the story is one of the few reasons I kept reading. The plot suffers from lack of feasability too. The largest most advanced ship ever created, containing a whole chapter of the Word Bearers legion is being attacked by three small cruiser with a total of roughly fifty marines on board. Those are worse odds than assaulting the Death Star. While there is nice imagery about warp travel, and particularly of the entities that dwell there, as well as a deepening understanding of the Word Bearers legion, this alone does not suffice to make this a good read.
The main problem with Abyss, is it doesn't feel like its part of the rest of the saga; a problem that blighted the dire 'Descent of Angels'. It doesn't really connect you with what's happening in the rest of the emerging heresy. While one could say the same of Dan Abnetts excellent 'Legion' that at least pulled one through with its intricate plot and brilliant twist. Abyss feels like a stand alone book, and suffers, I feel, from bad writing.
So while we wait eagerly for this tale to unfold, leading to its final ulmtimate conclusion, Abyss is a sad let down. And its a few more months till 'Mechanicum' comes out. Im sure you will buy this book anyway, particularly if you have read the previous installments, but I've been slating my thirst for tales of heresy by reading the opening five books again.
How I wish Black Library had replaced this book with the tale of the raising of Prospero by the Space Wolves. Now thats a tale I really want to read.