Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Zombicide - Heroes complete

Well, with Zombicide Season 3 coming out very soon (or now to some kickstarter backers), it's good to finally have Zombicide season 1 and 2 finished!

Now, i've never really used the Zombivor rules, and while they are cool models. I think I will pass on getting the Zombivor pack for season 3.

Well, at least until my "completion-ism" kicks in......

Now, it's actually a very interesting painting challenge to do 2 versions of the same model. You want them to be immediately recognizable as the same character, but you also want the differences between "human" and "zombie" versions to be pretty unsubtle. 

To this end, the normal models are painted in my normal "medium-level" standard. That is, no insane levels of highlighting or detail work, but tidy enough to look good on the table. Its also good to remember they are playing pieces, first and foremost, so going overboard on figures that may be treated roughly is not something i'm keen on.

The zombie versions are treated with a bit of corrosion on the skin, red eyes, less highlighting on the face, and liberal applications of "Blood for the Blood god".

Say what you will about GW, but "Blood for the Blood god" is one of the best painting tools i've ever come across. A really good example of how well it works is the model with the purple base, on the far right of the top picture. 

Now, I put liberal amounts of blood on his jeans from his gut wound. But it doesn't look like i've painted it red at all, it looks like blood does when it's on jeans, slick and dark. I can't really over-emphasize how much i like this stuff. 

Finally, I tried doing some odd detail work on these guys as well. A t-dshirt print, the racing lines on the model belows running gear, and tattoos on grimlock (with the chainsaw).

Now, when season 3 turns up, I won't feel completely behind the 8 ball on getting it painted up. 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Propsero Burns - Not the 13th Warrior - A Horus Heresy review


Spoilers abound in these posts, if you haven’t read the books and will get upset by finding out what happens just stop.

This is also not a recap, if you want a recap go to Lexicanium.

What The Black Library says about the book

The Emperor is enraged. Primarch Magnus the Red of the Thousand Sons Legion has made a terrible mistake that endangers the very safety of Terra. With no other choice, the Emperor charges Leman Russ, Primarch of the Space Wolves, with the apprehension of his brother from the Thousand Sons' home world of Prospero. This planet of sorcerers will not be easy to overcome, but Russ and his Space Wolves are not easily deterred. With wrath in his heart, Russ is determined to bring Magnus to justice and bring about the fall of Prospero

What the book is really about?

Wet Leopard Growls……

I like this book, but this phrase, and variations on this phrase are so overused I wanted to scream at Dan Abnett until my throat was a dry hyena squawk.

Oh, it’s also the 13th Warrior in SPACE!!!!!!!!!!!

Let me put this out there right now, but I think the Space Wolves are cheesy as all hell. While other chapters have interesting quirks and traits, the Space Wolves are, and have always been, a caricature of Vikings…….. IN SPACE!!!!!

Now, my pet hates out of the way, this is actually an exceptionally good book with some real highlights, great characters and a complicated plot that covers hundreds of years and some important events in the heresy.

Unfortunately, most of those events were covered incredibly well in “A Thousand Sons”, but backed into a corner of telling a story about events we’ve already seen, Abnett uses some excellent literary tools to turn what could have been a pile of Space Viking fan-fiction, into a compelling narrative.

We start off with the mystery of Kasper Hawser, an old man who has crashed in the lowlands of Fenris. Why did he get shot down, why try to visit Fenris, why attempt to chronical the Space Wolves without permission, who is Kasper Hawser and how does he know how to speak the languages of Fenris.

This book is an onion, with one layer of the mystery being pulled apart piece by piece: The mystery is complex and best of all, the conclusions are not obvious.

The start of the book alternates between flashbacks of Kaspers past and him being dragged around Fenris by a group of warriors from the village he crashed in, being chased down by their neighbours. On Fenris it seems, a crashed escape pod is a “bad star”, which is a terrible omen that must be murdered most viciously.

Kasper is revealed to be an old man, and a great antiquarian who has built a great department in charge of recovering and storing history and knowledge, an incredibly admirable goal. He claims to have come to Fenris as a last hurrah, one last voyage of discovery and research in his twilight years.

Just before Kasper and his warrior friends are murdered by angry locals, a Space Wolf, called “Bear”, turns up and murders them back, saving Kasper and the warriors. Kasper is taken to The Fang and put into deep sleep.

And here is where the first major changeover in the story happens. Kasper is rebuilt by the wolves, his body is reconditioned to be that of a 30 year old Olympian. Oh, and they keep him “on ice” for several decades while they do this and decide what to do with him.

Kasper discovers he can speak all of the Space Wolf languages, something that raises a bunch of big furry eyebrows. But his language skills have tells that show they are not innate, but programmed. For example, he can’t really tell what language he’s listening too easily, and he occasionally uses gothic standard words, especially for animal names……. Like “Bear”.

And here is where the book starts to really make the Space Wolves into interesting characters. By placing an outsider into the legion, and giving him the role of skald (A storyteller with unlimited access), Kasper can explore anything, and because he knows little, exposition is handled in a believable manner.

Kapser is told, in no uncertain terms, that they think he is a spy and that his motives might not be his own. But the Space Wolves have a philosophy, that if someone wants to spy on you, you tell the spy exactly how much you’re going to crush your enemies.

Over the next few campaigns we see the Space Wolves demonstrate a mix of professionalism and brutalism. And through Kasper’s eyes we see that the Wolves are feral, brutal warriors….. but also calculating and methodical. I really liked this juxtaposition of concept.

During this time, Kasper engages with the Rune-priest psykers of the Space Wolves, and they discover he has supressed memories and has had encounters with the Thousand Sons and a chaos cult in the past. The wolves come to the conclusion that the Thousand Sons programmed him and sent him to be a spy. Oh, and crazy warp stuff happens to one of the rune-priests who gets into Kasper’s mind.

This is reinforced at the council of Nikea when “Amon” from the thousand sons makes contact with them. What’s interesting here is that this encounter is what tips the Emperor’s hand into ruling against Magnus, as one of his own custodes gets mind whammied by “Amon” using name magic.

The council also has some great scenes with big names, and Kasper’s perspective of being in the presence of multiple Primarchs is quite hilarious: Poor guy.

The book concludes with arguable the best section of prose in the entire Horus Heresy series to date. Kasper tells the story of the invasion of Prospero in the form of a fireside retelling to the Space Wolves. It’s a fantastic use of the characters position of Skald to tell a story that had already been told in “A thousand sons” in a new and compelling way.

The final reveal is that the thing that programmed him was not the Thousand Sons, but a warp entity that wanted to set the wolves against the Thousand Sons. The rationale being that these two legions represented great threats, the Emperor’s sorcerers and the Emperor’s shock troops.
In the end, the Wolves prosecute a campaign of butchery on a false premise. It’s a good tragic story

The Hero-Protagonist – Kasper Hawser

The Original Kasper Hauser
Dan Abnett clearly enjoys writing humans more than he does Space Marines. Kapser is a very fleshed out character, with quirks aplenty. If anything, too much time is spent exploring his back story, and some of the tales about the good old days reclaiming artefacts in old terra do drag on a bit, especially as he likes to interject these flashbacks in the middle of other actions scenes.

This is especially true at the start of the book, and I felt that the constant flashbacks took me out of the action and didn’t let me settle into a good reading pace until a good way into the book. It seems a trait with Abnett, start slow and build to a great finish.

That said, Kapsers dawning revelation that he is a sock-puppet for a malevolent force is played out very well. And his interactions with the Space Wolves are priceless at times. It’s the classic tale of a “civilized” man dropped into a horde of barbarians and having no clue how to act, and finding out his “civilized” ways are looked on with heaps of scorn.

His loyalty to the Wolves also grows over time, and the finale fireside tale shows just how far he has come in becoming part of their culture.

Oh, and if you want some additional back story, go read the Wikipedia page on the real Kaspar Hauser.

Why are their humans in my book about super-powered Space Marines?

Not much to say here, the main character is a human.

But the strength of having human characters in a book about Space Marines is that you can identify with them easier. Humans have fears, frailty and mortality, whereas Space Marines tend towards heroic, tragic and epic portrayals more.

As I’ve mentioned before, the whole Horus Heresy is akin to the “war in heaven”, with Marines representing the angels. Angels and Astartes, by their nature, are inhuman, so we have more difficulty relating to them than we do a regular human being. A human also allows for believable exposition to occur on Legion rites and practices. It’s harder to tell a story about something everyone knows, than it is to have an unknowing observer being told about it.

Now this can be overcooked, and by no means do I suggest that all the books should have human as protagonists. But in this case, as an introduction to the legion, I thought it was the right choice to focus on a human lead.

MVP – The Rune-Priests

I really liked the exploration of the shamanic ways of the Space Wolves, and how each of the Shamans had a different character and style.

If I was to choose one character, it would be Longfang. The scene with him and Kasper, as Longfang is bleeding out was expertly told, and I loved the false frailty he shows to Kasper to keep him second guessing.

This book has no “weak characters” though, all the Wolves have some character.

Worst Character – Bear

Bear is the only character in the Horus Heresy that appears in the 40k universe from the Imperium side (except the Emperor…. Lol).

It was a nice piece of fan service to include him, and a reasonably clever ploy to hide his name for the book using Kasper’s inability to know animal names. But, in case you didn’t know, “bear” is Bjorn the fell-handed, and we get to see how his hand became so “fell”.

Unfortunately, after all his screen time, all I really know about Bjorn is that he’s a quiet, determined and devoted sort of guy. I feel I should know more about him after this book, but I feel he’s still quite a distant character.

He’s not a bad character by any means, but I feel that after this book where he featured prominently, I should know him better.  

Get to know your Legion – The Rout

The first redeeming feature of the Space Wolves in this book, is that they hate the name Space Wolves!
Cliche Vikings

This is good, because I’ve always found the name Space Wolves to be freaking stupid. Especially with the Luna Wolves out there as well, a name I find even sillier as they aren’t wolf like at all, unlike the Space Wolves.

I like that they call themselves “The Rout”, it’s a simple brutalist name that conjures up images of slaughter.

We also explore the nature of the Space Wolves as warriors bound to an ancient culture, but with incredibly modern goals and techniques. Abnett does this incredibly well, allowing us to see the Rout as being something more than just “norse beserkers”.

I also really like that the Rout get off on stories that scare them, old fire-side tales of witchcraft and maleficaria.

Get to know your Primarch – Leman Russ

Well played Dan Abnett, you successfully made a Primarch that could have been a caricature into something deep and complicated.

Russ isn't a Norse berserker, he just dresses that way :)

One of the highlights of the book is when one of the Custodes calls him out on it. He basically says “look, I know you Leman, you don’t have to play the act with me”.

It’s a great moment; you see that Russ is far from being a beserker, and that his whole persona is a calculated effort to make his opponents fearful.

Again, this is Abnett doing his best to create depth to a character that could have been a caricature in the hands of a lesser author.

I can only imagine what Ben Counter would have done with him.


Why the Emperor is a giant douche

This is a redemptive book for the Emperor, it explains the decision at Nikea a lot more, and also highlights just how long the conspiracy to bring Magnus and Russ into open conflict had gone on.

Some of the Emperor’s actions leave you scratching your head, but in this case, the reasons for the Nikea decision and the invasion of Prospero are put in terms that make the Emperor seem a lot less of a douche.

Moustache twirling evil-bastard award – The Evil thing.

I thought the reveal of the evil one was a little overcooked, and that it had been drawn out a bit too much. There are only so many times on can read the same recurring dream before shouting “get on with it”.

And while it’s final scene was a cool reveal, and it’s explanations for how it’s scheme worked were good, it did feel a little like a bond villain explaining his entire scheme right before being killed.

The exposition was too long I felt, too “Ahahahaha, now I will tell you the plan as your doomed”.

I would have preferred if he had said less, and that Kasper, the Rune Priests, and Russ had put it all together afterwards.

Quirky reveals and other coolness

The big reveals in this book are the long plan by Chaos to throw the Wolves and Thousands sons together. And while we knew that was the case from “A thousand sons” and other sources, the depth and detail of their plan is revealed here.

The other point that is raised that I’d like to discuss is the concept of each Legion having a role, and that when the Emperor designed the Primarchs, he made them fit specific designs.

The idea that Russ was built as his “executioner”, the dude that would always be there to do the dirty jobs is a fascinating one. And the reveal that Russ and the Wolves had been on the “lets go smash a legion” roundabout before was interesting as well.

It made me wonder what the other Primarchs roles were planned to be. Some are obvious, Dorn is a builder, Gulliaman a ruler, Horus a warleader and Magnus the psyker.

But some of the Primarchs, I wonder what their role was intended to be?

The writing – technical review and evaluation

Dan Abnett is a quality writer. And while his books are sometimes hard to get in to, the always finish strongly and the world building he does is excellent.

That said, I don’t think this is his best work. It’s better than most of the books in the series, but Wet Leopard growls, jerky pacing at times, the comparison to the 13th warrior and over-focus on the human protagonists backstory do hamper this book in my mind.

It’s still a good book, but I feel it’s not as good as Legion for example.

This book gets a “Read it, if you are reading the series, and consider reading it even if you don’t” rating.

 *disclaimer, borrowed art is borrowed. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Imperial Assault - Fully armed and operational (and painted)

Well, that's another boardgame knocked off in my unending quest to paint all my games...... it's an unending quest because if, by some miracle, i paint all my games, no doubt I will just buy some more. 

Imperial Assault still hasn't hit the table yet, but I can't wait to give it a spin now it's fully painted. 

There are some interesting bits about this game, it's probably a smidge over-priced (compared to Descent), but i put that down to the costlier licence and the higher quality figures. 

My painting mantra for this particular job was to do it with reasonable rapidity, as this game should see a lot of use, but make sure everything looks reasonable good. So no spending 6 hours on a single figure, just take enough time to make it look good. 

Special nod to the AT-ST at this time, the quickest paint job I have ever done on a model. The whole thing was airbrushed (with a ink applied liberally afterwards), and discounting the time to clean the airbrush, it took all of 5 minutes to do. 

I looked at all the AT-ST images online from the films, it is literally a monochromatic paint scheme. The guns are all grey, so i figured it would be best to airbrush to ensure that nice, even, military look. 

Next up are the Stormtroopers, in three groups of three. I borrowed the old 40k thing of having different should pads for different squads, it's not obtrusive, but allows you to pick out what stormy is from what squad.

If more stormtroopers come out for this game, i hope they have different poses or different armour types is all. A little bit of gloss on this figures helps 

I still don't know why the Scout-trooper is the one with the e-web, but hey, thats cool. I hope the Scout trooper comes back on a speeder bike in an expansion though. That would be cool (although the expansion would probably also contain ewoks..... which is less cool)

In a strange bit of marketing, FFG put two "expansions/boosters" in the core game book. 

You can't buy them separately, so i can only guess that the marketers intent was to introduce you to what will be in the booster packs..... which is to say , not a lot. 

One mission, a card or two, and a figure. As long as the price point stays cheap, this will still be ok. The Vader sculpt is pretty nice, but damn is painting black AWFUL. 

Again, some gloss here to show up the plastic armour bits and to break the figure up. 

Here are the Royal guard, probably my favourite paint-job of the lot. I like painting cloaks, and red is easy to work with, but the bit i'm immensely proud of is how the helmets stand out. While the helmet is exactly the same colour as the robe, the black lining and multiple coats of gloss really make them stand out, just like the originals.  

Imperial officers spawn in groups of one, so I wanted each officer to look distinctive and as though they were a part of a different service. Apparently, Black is for officers commanding Storm Troopers, the olive is a normal uniform, and the lighter one is a fleet uniform of some sort. Works for me!

There is only so much you can do with Probe Droids, they are cool looking figures, but also, monochromatic. (Must be an imperial thing).

The simplest thing was to mark them in different colours. My rationale for painting boardgames is always to remember that they are game pieces first, and that painting them too similar would lead to confusion on the board. 

A friend of mine, when asked about any Star Wars matter, will say that it "Needs Moar Bossk". Apparently, the designers at FFG have heard this sentiment and included a nice helping of BOSSK, right down to the flight suit. This particular person also played a Trandoshan in my SW RPG.... because that game needed moar Bossk. 

This is logic I have great difficulty refuting.

I painted them in bright colours, more like the Bossk toy i had as a kid than the actual original character. Again, these guys spawn in pairs, so each squad had to be immediately identifiable on the table. 

I went a little off-base with the Nexu. I painted the one on the right closer to the classic Nexu from Episode two, but i felt like doing something different for the other one. I really like the contrast between the bluish fur and the bright red maw and eyes though, so i'm pleased with them. 

And finally, the heroes! 

It was only after I packed up the camera and lighting that i noticed the back models are out of focus..... ah well.....

The characters in this game are quite characterful, which is good. 3 Aliens and 3 Humans, including a Bothan who doesn't look at all stupid. 

I'm particularly pleased with the old man officer model, it's one of those faces that just "comes to life" when you paint it. 

The bonus pack Luke Skywalker figure is at the back, but why they decided to do him in his farm boy/escape from the death star outfit is beyond me. It's pretty bizarre that your helping out Luke and he still has a Storm Trooper utility belt on.

One can only assume another Luke figure, with a light-sabre, will be coming further down the line. 

All in all, a good little project and a nice change from painting Cygnar blue everywhere. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The First Heretic - Book review


Spoilers abound in these posts, if you haven’t read the books and will get upset by finding out what happens just stop.

This is also not a recap, if you want a recap go to Lexicanium.

What The Black Library says about the book

Amidst the galaxy-wide war of the Great Crusade, the Emperor castigates the Word Bearers for their worship. Distraught at this judgement, Lorgar and his Legion seek another path while devastating world after world, venting their fury and fervour on the battlefield. Their search for a new purpose leads them to the edge of the material universe, where they meet ancient forces far more powerful than they could have imagined. Having set out to illuminate the Imperium, the corruption of Chaos takes hold and their path to damnation begins. Unbeknownst to the Word Bearers, their quest for truth contains the very roots of heresy…

What the book is really about?

I really would advise not reading the Black Library blurbs before reading a book. Talk about giving away most of the plot, it’s like one of those 3 minute trailers for a Comedy movie that include most of the good bits.

Anyway, what’s this book about? Simply put, it’s about rejection and love turned bad.

Right off the bat, let me say that this is a fantastic book. It covers a massive amount of ground, both in terms of time and in concepts. But the strengths of the book are how the protagonist is written in a way that you understand why he is doing what he does, and how Lorgar is portrayed. I’ll cover these bits later in the review though. Let’s talk about what happens in the story first.

Few books have a better opening than First Heretic, and I don’t mean few books in the Horus Heresy. The humbling of an entire legion in the dust of Monarchia is one of the best images in the whole heresy series. It’s told extremely well, with the Word Bearers feeling a mix of anger, disgust, embarrassment and rejection. The legion is basically told, “You suck, everything you have ever done sucks, and your entire purpose for being is wrong”.

For a bunch of Priest-warriors, that’s a mighty hard pill to swallow and it essentially breaks the legion and it’s Primarch. Lorgar, who had spent his entire life creating a faith based on the Emperor gets told that he’s a fool. After this morale and spirit crushing exercise in humiliation, the Emperor sends the Word Bearers back out into the galaxy with some babysitters and tells them “Don’t do what you’ve been doing dumbasses”.

Lorgar takes his humiliation poorly, as one would expect after a lifetime of devotion gets rejected. Think of it this way; imagine the Pope ruling away in the Vatican and Jesus returns. Jesus then forces all the Catholic Bishops to kneel and tells them they have been doing everything wrong forever. Not only that, he says the bible is rubbish and that the whole church needs to go.

That’s one big jagged horrible pill to swallow, so horrible and jagged Alanis Morrisette would write a song about it. Fortunately, the Word Bearers find Alanis Morrisette in the rubble and take her home with them. Cyrene, a young girl from the bombed out planet becomes a central part of the book, acting as confessor and inspiration for the Word Bearers after this event.

With Lorgar being totally bummed out by the Emperor, the evil stooge patrol sweep in to lure him to the darkside. Erebus and Kor Phareon, in matching evil twirling moustaches say “Yep, the emperor is a dick, you should have stayed with the old faith”. It’s like they had been planning this from day one…… oh wait, they were.

The convince Lorgar to look for signs of the old faith, which leads him to Cadia and the Eye of Terror. On Cadia he finds a people who speak the language of his home world, who worship a faith similar to the old faith of his home world, and more importantly, they have been waiting and calling for him.

Lorgar watches human sacrifices, a demon summoning, the murder of a custodes, and then sends his favourite squad of troops into the warp on a daemons orders to find “the truth”.

That’s a seriously desperate and demented act right there. Argel Tal and the boys take the daemon into the warp for a “tiki-tour” (NZ Slang, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it). Here they see the fall of the elder, the creation of the Primarchs, and a possible future where humanity is devoured. They return….. much worse for wear. The whole squad possessed by demons, well, the small number who survive that is.

Argel Tal and his crew become the Gal Vorbak, or favoured sons of Lorgar and get to wear shiny crimson armour, which honestly feels like being given a souvenir t-shirt in honour of the time you had a tape worm. Being Lorgars favoured sons seems like a really bad deal. But hey, Crimson armour is cool right?

These passages are told in a great way, starting off with Argel Tal dying and then working backwards as an account. It’s a stylistic way to hook you in to the story and keep you reading, ADB uses a lot of little artifices like this in his writing, and they all contribute to his books being real “page-turners”.

Zoom ahead 47 years and the Word Bearers have spread the word of chaos throughout the Legions and the Imperium. We then deal with the final transformation of the Gal Vorbak into monsters and the betrayal at Istvaan 5.

This view of the battle is pretty cool, watching the Iron warriors, Word Bearers and co line up and massacre the Raven Guard as they fall back. It also has a great scene where Lorgar fights Corax, a Primarch battle that not only serves as great action, but also a real insight into Lorgar the Primarch.

The final act is the execution of Cyrene by the Custodes assigned to the fleet, and their final battle with the Gal Vorbak. This final battle features the single best line of dialogue in the entire Horus heresy series, a line that literally made me cackle. (It’s the final line of the Chapter)

So in the end, this book is about misplaced love turned bad. It’s about that creepy obsessed kid that hero worships someone, and then goes mental when spurned…….. holy shit, it’s got the same plot as “the Incredibles”.

That’s a great story though, because you are talking about characters and motivations and not events. The Horus Heresy needs to be about epic, larger than life characters making humans and flawed decisions. It’s about hubris and nemesis, and should play out with the dramatis of a Greek tragedy. The First heretic does a far better job of showing a fall in a believable and human way than any of the books to date, a lot better than Horus’s fall and a wee bit better than Magnus’s.

In short, great book, great story and real characters. As the first entry in the Horus Heresy by ADB, this is a real exemplar to the other writers of how to do it.  

The Hero-Protagonist – Argel Tal

“Hero” protagonist doesn't really apply to Argel Tal as he’s not really a hero by any real definition. He’s a monster, through and through, but he’s a believable monster with real motivations and believable behaviour, which is why you can keep reading about him, and even identify with him.

A worse writer would have made Argel Tal into a caricature, a martinet priest who was inflexible and blind, so that’s how he fell. ADB leaves Argel Tal questioning his decisions, being indecisive, doubting the changes going on, but still pushing on with them. By doing this he explores the Word Bearers gene seed flaw of loyalty and devotion.

Argel Tal knows they are on the road to damnation, and really does not want to push on. But his loyalty to Lorgar makes him do it, and that devotion causes him to rationalize becoming possessed, slaughtering people in ritual sacrifices and wholesale murder of people loyal to the Emperor.

Let me just say that I’m so very very glad this book wasn't about Erebus. I don’t think I could handle 300+ pages of that guy. Introducing the Argel Tal character allowed ADB to humanize the inhuman acts of the Word Bearers, it really was a masterful choice.  

Why are their humans in my book about super-powered Space Marines?

Well, there are a few human characters in this book. A plethora of religious types on the Word Bearer home world, the crew of the damned ship the Gal Vorbek take into the warp, the people of Cadia and even a smart ass remembrancer who steals a few scenes in the latter 3rd of the book. They are all reasonably well written, but the main human character in this story is Cyrene.

Cyrene is a young woman found in the ruins of Monarchia, who witnessed the Ultramarines annihilate her city: an act that rendered her blind. She is one of a handful of survivors from that event, and being the only woman in the group, being blinded by it, and having a unique mix of vulnerability and determination, she becomes a symbol for the Word Bearers.

She becomes the “Blessed Lady” of the Word Bearers, a sort of “Virgin Mary” figure that acts as confessor and spiritual advisor for the Legion. She embraces the teachings of Erebus via Xaphen and helps to subtlety turn the heart of the Legion to chaos.

What makes her a compelling character is that mix of vulnerability and determination combined with the juxtaposition of having a frail little human woman advising hulking man-mountain Astartes on personal matters. Her death is also the final threshold for Argel Tal to totally give in to his inner monster and go totally ape-shit bonkers. But she is more than a “Woman in a refrigerator” trope character; she has agency and her own motivations.

MVP – Sythran

This book has a load of excellent characters, so picking out a MVP was always going to be difficult. I picked this, because an MVP doesn’t need to be judged by their volume of lines, or their contribution to the story. They just have to be a character that I like.

In this case, it’s Sythran, the Custodes who took a vow of silence for 50 years. For 50 years he’s been with the Word Bearers, and for 50 years he had been listening to Xaphen needle the other Custodes at every turn. The final scene in the book is the three remaining Custodes vs the Gal Vorbek in a final battle.

Sythran is the last man standing, massively outnumbered and in a hopeless position. So what does he do?

He throws his Spear at Xaphen and kills him out right, breaking his silence for 50 years of listening to Xaphens bullshit by saying “I always hated you, Xaphen”.

Class act!

Worst Character – The Gal Vorbak

Here is something I did find a little bit of a let-down. Argel Tal is a very engaging and interesting character, and Xaphen is a complete tool, but a well-written tool. But the rest of the Gal Vorbak are a bit bland to be honest. I don’t get what Dagotal’s character is asides from he rides a jet bike, and Torgal and Malnor are equally a bit bland.

I’m splitting hairs to be honest, but these guys were a little flat, a bit more interaction or conflict with Xpahen and Argel tal would have been good here. 

Get to know your Legion – The Word Bearers

These poor guys were doomed from the start really. Being the only religious legion in a secular world always meant they were going to run into trouble.

But the irony is that the Word Bearers are the template for all future Space Marines. They are warrior-priests, who build monuments of faith the God Emperor; they decorate their armour in oaths and relics and they pray, show penitence and have a thing for Martyrdom.

If an Space Marine from the 40k universe went back in time to the pre-heresy period, the Word Bearers would be closer to him that his own chapter, in thought and deed. I guess that is all part of the irony and tragedy of their fall.

We learn that the Word Bearers are a massive legion, second only to the Ultramarines in sheer number of marines under their banner. We also find out that before Monarchia they were the slowest legion to get a compliance done, because they would “convert” the world, building what they thought were perfect imperial worlds.

They also introduced the idea of Chaplains to the Space Marine Legions….. you know Chaplains, those staunch defenders of the Imperial Faith. Poor Word Bearers, born a thousand years too early.

The flaw of the Legion is two-fold, they have intense loyalty and devotion, especially to their Primarch. No we all know that it’s only one-step from intense loyalty into fanaticism, and that’s the eventual trajectory for the Word Bearers once they have their faith broken and their honour shattered.

The second part of their flaw is that their faith is in Lorgar.

Get to know your Primarch – Lorgar

At times in the book I really felt for Lorgar, he doesn’t actually seem like a bad guy as such, certainly not a moustache twirling type bad guy. Deep down, he’s just a guy who wants to build societies, to reflect on mysteries and debate the deeper meanings of the universe with other intellectuals. He just isn’t cut out for being a warrior-god like his brothers, and it eats away at him.

Lorgar could have been portrayed as the worst kind of single-minded dip-shit from our world, like a Taliban Iman, Fred-Phelps or the Amazing Atheist. But ADB decided to do a different take on him and portrayed him as a man with massive doubts and insecurities about his role in the natural order. Lorgar needed answers and certainty in his life, while he worshipped the Emperor he was content, as he believed he was on a righteous course.

When his faith is shattered, he becomes directionless and indecisive. And like many other Primarchs, he seems to have a terrible ability to judge the hearts of those closest to him. Kor Phaeron and Erebus do a number on him.

Lorgar’s best scene is his hopeless duel with Corax. Even though he has fallen from grace, he still throws himself into a hopeless fight against a warrior Primarch to save his Legionnaires from being slaughtered wholesale. He knows he will be beaten, but the sight of his sons being killed at whim drives him to a desperate act of self-sacrifice.

It’s a nice paradox of a scene, and shows that if Lorgar had been parented better, he could have been the Emperor’s staunchest son. In a time of peace, Lorgar may have excelled as a world builder and leader of men like Gulliman. Where some Primarchs would have been lost in a future without war, Lorgar would have thrived. It all adds to the tragedy value of his fall, which makes for good epic storytelling.

Because in the end, this is a story about love spurned and faith misplaced.

Why the Emperor is a giant douche

It really is a toss-up as to what child the Emperor parented worst, Lorgar or Magnus.

Monarchia was simply a brutal way to get a lesson across to a child. When the Emperor met Lorgar, he saw that he was raised on a religious world and had built a faith around him. He then let him continue on this path for a long long time before annihilating a planet to prove a point.

It’s the extended periods of neglect, followed by a harsh “rubbing you nose in it” incident that makes this so egregious. Lorgar clearly needed to be deprogrammed when he was initially met, but the Emperor does have a singular ability to ignore his own progeny and assume they will just do as they are told.

Also, the innocent people of Monarchia get punished for Lorgar’s mistake. It’s the equivalent of shooting a kids puppy in front of them as punishment for poor school work.

What a douche.

Mustache twirling evil-bastard award – Team Evil

Kor Phaeron and Erebus manipulate Lorgar into all of the terrible decisions he makes. They exploit his vulnerabilities and frailties and guide him to the exact places he needs to be to make terrible decisions.

The fact that these two are still worshipping the “Old Faith” and that they have been seeding “old faith” cults as they went through the Galaxy means they have been planning this for a long-long time.

But the really telling part is how patronizing and condescending they are about their own Primarch at times. Lorgar’s greatest flaw is that he trusted a pair of complete assholes.

Quirky reveals and other coolness

There are a load of interesting little reveals in this book, here are some highlights.

One, is the discovery of Cadia, a world that will become incredibly important to the Warhammer 40k universe as it sits in a channel to the Eye of terror.

Another is the reveal that Argel Tal is the one who smashes the Gellar field protecting the Primarchs in the past. This scene is shown from another angle in False Gods, and having the circle close on this story was cool.

A few tidbits are provided about the lost legions, and their fates. While no names or details are given, it is strongly hinted that many of the surviving Astartes from the fallen legions were absorbed by the Ultramarines.

The writing – technical review and evaluation

Aaron Demski-Bowden can write, and he can write well. This isn't a good Horus Heresy Book, it’s simply a good book. Engaging characters, epic story, complex motivations and interesting revelations combine with very solid writing to create a great read.

I really like Dan Abnett’s books, he does detail and world building better than anyone else on the crew, but for sheer “page-turner” value, I think ADB is the best writer on the crew.

This book gets a “Read it, even if you’re not into 40k at all” rating.

 *disclaimer, borrowed art is borrowed. 

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