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40K's "Enterprise", but worth reading if you like good sci-fi
on 16 December 2006
Horus Rising is a mixed blessing in my eyes. It's as well written as any of Abnett's lastest work and his skill with characterisation is still improving (I've always found his characters to be annoying but have never been able to define why).
However, there are some issues which I found serious enough to limit my enjoyment of the book, and to be honest I was quite disappointed with how Abnett botches the Black Library's best shot at living up to the mystery and majesty of the unknown 31st Millennium.
I doubt this book will be remembered as the best of the opening trilogy. It's a long and exciting enough story to be satisfying to someone who reads as quickly as I do, but in the 300+ pages, I have got to say hardly anything happens that made me think "Woah, the Heresy approaches". Lots of stuff DOES happen that is related to killing, it's just that it is no different from anything that's already been done in a 40K setting.
Rather than truly explore the mysteries of pre-Imperium (more on this in a bit) human society, the book tends to get bogged down by the ever-present remembrancers partying and talking to the captains of the Luna Wolves about their combat experience, which also painfully interrupts several battles for up to a chapter at a time.
It's fascinating to see the differences in attitude between these early Space Marines and the grim-faced fanatics we know from 40K, but to be honest the only difference in battle is their spilled blood doesn't immediately dry up, and I didn't want to read about the Ullanor Crusade (for example) while Marines are still fighting against spider-creatures straight from Starship Troopers.
People are already using the terms "xenos" and "Imperium" (I thought Imperium was the name the human empire took after the Heresy), they're making the sign of the aquila as in the Ghosts books and people are worshipping the Emperor as a God even though he's still alive, when I thought that happened after he "died" and went into the Golden Throne. I do not expect to be hearing people say "The Emperor protects" in a Warhammer 31K setting, and I didn't like that at all.
Finally, there are a few leaps in logic big enough to fly the NX-01 through (are you understanding why I am comparing this to Enterprise yet?), especially the way humans strictly do not believe in gods, daemons and "magic", even though they have apparently faced daemons from the warp before and the Emperor and Primarchs are supposed to be extremely psychic. In fact the characters at one point encounter what may be a Bloodthirster which rampages through the Luna Wolves but this is abruptly ended for yet more remembrancing (yawn) and the daemon is written off as a "wild beast", which is laughable when you read what actually happens when this "wild animal" appears on photo film.
I do, however, enjoy spotting well-known 40K characters who appear from time to time. We do get the impression that Abaddon can be quite ruthless and Lucius (the Eternal) is very well written; for some reason I got shudders just thinking what atrocities the petulant, bright young warrior will later commit, and I look forward to seeing him become a horrific murderer!
So I'd say this book is exciting and entertaining in places but it doesn't really sow the seeds of Heresy, nor does it fill in the massive blanks in the backstory of 40K. We don't even get to see Horus or Sanguinius in action as that is all washed over, yet of course there is some remembrancing afterwards. I wasn't sure if the main ship the Luna Wolves are travelling on is Horus' infamous "battle barge".
As with Enterprise it's a missed opportunity for a prequel that could have done so much for an established franchise. I await the other books with raised expectations.