This is it. The end of the beginning. The action-packed conclusion to the opening trilogy of The Horus Heresy and the start of the Warmaster’s march to Terra. And what an end it is. As somebody who started their Warhammer journey with these books, this is exactly what I wanted from all the build-up in Horus Rising and False Gods. Finally, we see an open conflict between the Astartes and the long-awaited clash of brothers. For a myriad of reasons, I loved this book. On my first pass, I found it to be an exhilarating thrill ride from start to finish, on my second while I thought it was great it also felt like it was missing something.
Galaxy in Flames is noticeably shorter than its predecessors. This means that it can maintain a fast pace throughout without it becoming exhausting. However, it also means that you don’t get as much time with these characters. Whereas in the first two books, the thrill came from the revelations outside of battle as much as they came from the gunfights, in Galaxy in Flames it is all about the conflict. And this isn’t bad so much as I wanted both.
In False Gods, we saw a Horus who was torn between what to do and was slowly being pushed towards his inevitable decline into chaos. However, in Galaxy in Flames Horus has gone from a warrior looking to reduce bloodshed to one who wants to see the Imperium burn. What you get is something that feels like a big jump in motivations from False Gods that isn’t fleshed out in Galaxy in Flames. Perhaps this will be further explored in a future book or story, but it was a shame that it couldn’t be woven into this novel. Having said that, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this book has the best action scenes of the trilogy and gives several side characters their moment to shine.
Our shining example of this is the two Emperor’s Children, Saul Tarvitz and Lucius. We’ve seen both of them in previous books and slowly gotten to understand them on a surface level. With Galaxy in Flames, they get dedicated page time and with their struggles and battles, and it means that we understand their motivations far clearer. This makes the inevitable twist that much more satisfying/horrific and means I want to further explore these characters in other books. This is also the first time we meet Nathaniel Garro of the Death Guard who players a bigger role in other books. And then there is the warrior-poet himself, Garviel Loken.
Once again, we spend the most time with Loken and see a lot of the conflict through his perspective. He’s being an interesting perspective to take as he isn’t just a man with a gun sent off to shoot people. He thinks about things, he considers the price of the wars he fights and lives by a code of honour, and then he takes his gun and shoots people. While I’m poking fun, Loken is a great start for a character your/my Warhammer 40k journey. He fights the fight but he also isn’t a frenzied killer, like I said before he is a warrior poet. In Galaxy in Flames, he has some great moments but due to the pace of the book, we see less of the poet than the warrior. Once again though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the action is great and well deserved considering where we are in the story. However, once again I miss the slower parts with Loken.
All I’ll say next is that the setup from this book leaves you to dive into wherever you want (pretty much) in the wider Horus Heresy series. You can go and follow the thread relating to the Thousand Sons or see what happened to Garo. Alternatively, you could follow the books in chronological order and see where Fulgrim was before arriving at Istvan. All of these are enticing stories and knit into the narrative web being spun by Games Workshop.
Taking the three books as a trilogy they were fantastic. On my first listen I thought they were good but didn’t get a lot of the references, foreshadowing or understanding all the technology. After a few more books under my belt and finishing the trilogy for a second time, I loved them. They set up an epic civil war for the Imperium and show us what happened to create the main 40k timeline. If you aren’t sure where to start, then there might be easier starts but sometimes it’s good to start at the deep end. You might miss some of the references but by the end of it, you are set up to explore any part of the Warhammer universe you like and you’ve got at least some of the context needed to understand these stories.
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