Horus Rising was my first Warhammer novel, 40k or otherwise. After getting into the hobby in the middle of 2019, I wasn’t sure where to start with this immense and intimidating franchise. I’d picked some disgusting angry men to paint in the form of the Death Guard but want to understand the fervent love for the lore as well as the tiny plastic figures. So after a good deal of Googling, I was left with no clear place to start. When I came across the Horus Heresy as the prequel to the main Warhammer 40k timeline, I thought that sounded like as good a place as any to get a feel for the stories, the battles and the massive shoulder pads feature so prominently through all of Warhammer fiction. And now, after my second listen to Horus Rising nearly a year later and with plenty of other books under my belt I feel it was the right and wrong place to start. Let’s take a look at why.
Firstly, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about and only clicked this because you love me (yay!) or because you thought the cover art was cool, what is Warhammer 40,000 and the Horus Heresy? Not an easy question but the short answer is that Warhammer 40k, is a grimdark sci-fi Universe where the Imperium of Man has spread into the stars and is beset by various alien menaces. However, the humans are neither the heroes or villains but sit in a sort of xenophobic, theocratic and angry area. With all of this, you have the Space Marines, something that even if you know nothing of 40k you’ve probably come across. It draws a lot of comparisons with the fall of the Roman Empire and shares many of its motifs. The Horus Heresy is set 10,000 years before and follows the sons of the Emperor, the Primarchs as the battle in a civil war with Horus being the one who leads the rebels against his father. All of which is full of epic space battles, lots of “My Brother!” and “For the Primarch!”, larger (literally) than life characters, plenty of melodrama and some surprisingly heartfelt and engaging storytelling. And it all starts with Horus Rising by Dan Abnett.
So now you know roughly where we are, and for those of you who already know you just saw me butcher and overly simplified (or be outright wrong?) something you love. Anyway, Horus Rising focuses mostly on the Luna Wolf, Garviel Loken and his rise to the inner circle of the 16th Legion led by the titular Horus. When I first listened to this book (via my Audible addiction), I was so unbelievably confused. I didn’t understand most of the technical aspects of the technology being used, what a Primarch really was or why anything was happening. Or at least until towards the back end of the story once I started to get a grip on this unyielding franchise. For that reason, it was probably not the right book to start with. There are expectations that you’ll know what an Auspex is, you’ll understand the dramatic irony in certain events and you understand some of the wider implications. However, as a first book, it is also an amazing thrill ride that exemplifies the best aspects of 40k novels.
Action-packed gunfights are brilliantly wrought. They depict a world and style of conflict focused entirely on “getting the job done”. The only thing that matters is victory and while the Astartes (space marines) have rules, their way of war is brutal. The battles see deaths on all sides and you understand the danger of each conflict well enough by the sheer body count on either side. And then on the flip side of that, Horus Rising isn’t afraid to slow things down and take the focus away from the gargantuan Astartes and focus on characters such as the iterators and remembrancers (basically historians, poets and photographers). These characters help to flesh out the human aspect of Loken and the Empire as well as considering the price of bringing all human worlds under the banner of the Imperium.
Dan Abnett does a masterful job of entwining those key aspects and ensures that neither side drags on or feel cumbersome. Each bit of downtime evolves a character or explains a part of the Empire and that is one of the reasons why even though it was my first book, by the end I felt I understood the setting far better. I won’t spoil anything as even after my second listen I was still hooked and excited by the twists and turns it takes.
Finally, I’ll speak about foreshadowing. Horus Rising is the start of a space opera of galactic proportions. There are 56 books as of November 2019 and that number is only growing with the new Siege of Terra line that has started. Throughout the book, we are introduced to characters from other legions such as Saul Tarvis of the Emperor’s Children and Erebus of Word Bearers, and several others. Each of these gives us a small insight into their legion and Primarch and all have stories in other books.
For me, Horus Rising was the start of two epics. The first this enormous, staggering series detailing the Horus Heresy and second an obsession with the Warhammer 40,000 Universe. Since finishing Horus Rising I must have read or listened to a further 20 novels, some of which directly follow the stories set up in this novel. If you are thinking of getting into Warhammer and want to know where to start, I don’t know that I could wholly recommend Horus Rising. However, it is a fantastic sci-fi novel with two brilliant direct sequels. And you never know this book could be the start of your very own bank account draining, spare room-filling hobby or perhaps you might just want to read some great fiction. Either way, the Emperor protects.
Thank you for reading. We are going to have a regular Bookclubbing article every Wednesday (hopefully) from now on. With that in mind, why not check out some of our previous review on the Halo Novels or Pokemon Manga. Alternatively, check out our article on how we got into Warhammer in 2019.
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