I think it was this book that showed me what The Horus Heresy, and Warhammer 40k in general, were truly about. Fulgrim by Graham McNeill is the space opera equivalent of a Greek tragedy. The fall of Fulgrim to Slaanesh is a story of brothers torn apart, decadence, hubris and epic confrontations. This book takes its time and shows you Fulgrim fighting against the inevitable, while at the same showing the futility in his efforts. Now without further ado, let’s step into the shoes of the Emperor’s Children and review their descent to madness in all of their horrific glory.
To give some context, Fulgrim (the book) covers a large time period. If you’ve read the opening trilogy of The Horus Heresy (Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames), you’ll have seen Fulgrim (the Primarch) appear several times. In this book, we get to see what he was doing between all those appearances and where he goes after reaching the Istvaan system. It further connects the dots in terms of what happened in that opening trilogy and acts to further strengthen the opening act of the heresy.
The Emperor’s Children are a legion obsessed with perfection and their Primarch is at the centre of everything. It is this obsession that is the crux of their downfall. And this doesn’t stop with the Primarch and the Astartes but extends to the host of Remembrancers that accompany the legion. Each is driven by a pursuit for perfection. And we spend a decent amount of time with each part to understand what was involved in their specific falls.
While we revisit characters from other books such as Saul Tarvitz and Lucius, our main Space Marine characters are Julius Kaesoron, Solomon Demeter and Marius Vairosean. They each embody the legion in their own way and we get to see them bounce off each other and vie for the Primarchs affections. A lot of the book is spent exploring the Emperor’s Children outside of battle and this gives weight to the legion’s steady fall to Slaanesh. While this makes the book a bit of a slow burn, it also elevates it above stories that are more blow by blow accounts of epic battles. Instead, we see the struggle and the pain involved in turning to chaos and see that it isn’t as cut and dry as good vs evil.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t some amazing fights in Fulgrim. Without spoiling too much, the climax of the book is amazing and feels earnt thanks to the steady pace of the rest of the book. Outside of this final clash, we also spend time fighting Eldar and other aliens, each of which contributes to the book’s conclusion in their own way. The part with the Eldar is especially interesting as it gives us our first real insight into this ancient alien race. And while we don’t spend a lot of time with them, it does sow the seeds for further development and intrigue as they have clearly fought the Imperium before. It is also a fantastic fight that showcases what Fulgrim and his warriors are capable of and why chaos is to be feared.
The book, Fulgrim, does an exquisite job in tying up loose ends from characters such as Eidolon or Fabius Bile that were left at the end of Galaxy in Flames or False Gods, and it does it naturally so that it never felt like disjoined from the wider story being told. The Emperor’s Children have some fascinating characters to explore beyond the Primarch and the time we spend with each only teases their future involvement in the Heresy and the main 40k timeline.
Fulgrim and the book are both excellent. They embody that perfect campy silliness that I love about this Universe but at the same time tell a tragic tale of brotherhood, temptation and sorrow. It manages to humanise a Primarch in a way not done before, which alone is a massive step forward. You feel like you know Fulgrim by the end and he’ll still manage to surprise you. Even though he is still this towering demi-god, he is also a son who just wants his father to love him, and it is that simple, human ideal that leads to so many tragic stories. If you’ve started The Horus Heresy and haven’t read Fulgrim, you should get on that right away. Alternatively, if you are looking for a place to start, then this is an excellent choice. Certain elements are improved through the context of the other books but I would almost recommend this to non-Warhammer fans as a brilliant example of a negative character arc.
Thank you for reading. If you haven’t already, check out our review of The Flight of the Eisenstein or for some Age of Sigmar read our Soul Wars review. If you want more Warhammer, then why not read our article on how we got into miniatures.
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