Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mechanicum by Graham McNeill

Horus Heresy: Mechanicum by Graham McNeill is the tenth book in the Horus Heresy series and the first that doesn’t focus on the Space Marines. This, I assume, was an editorial risk by Black Library to broaden the scope of the Horus Heresy series. It was trying to reconcile the lack of Space Marines that lead me to write my previous article Warhammer 40K Universe - Black Library’s Challenge. By defining the Horus Heresy not in terms of the Space Marines and instead by a broader theme of a loss of innocence, then you can easily fit Mechanicum into the Horus Heresy canon. That fact is precisely what makes Mechanicum so successful.

Graham McNeill has continued the trend of being my favorite Horus Heresy writer. Graham writes memorable dialogue and thus far in the Horus Heresy has done an excellent job of creating dramatic irony through excellent foreshadowing. Not only does Graham capture the feel of the Space Marines, he is able to capture the unique flavor of each chapter. Graham brings these talents to Mechanicum. The Mechanicum has its own unique culture, and history alien to the rest of the Imperium. Capturing this is a unique challenge as they are so completely different from the Space Marines and Imperial Guard that dominate the majority of the Black Library’s catalog.

Mechanicum’s plot is its strongest feature. This is not to say that the dialog and world building are deficient, which they are not, but it is the plot that shines. Mechanicum’s plot is two fold. The primary plot charts the fall of the Mechanicum into heresy. The secondary plot concerns the secret origins of the Mechanicum. The secondary plot is interesting and full of fluff for the hardcore Warhammer 40K fans. But, beyond setting up an obvious sequel it has no direct bearing on the Horus Heresy’s overall plot. It is also impossible to discuss without major spoilers so I will simply avoid it.

The primary plot, the rise of the Dark Mechanicum, is incredibly well conceived because it captures the essence of the Horus Heresy so completely. The essence being betrayal and a loss of innocence on the eve of greatness. Parallelling the corruption of the Space Marines, the Mechanicum is slowly being corrupted from the inside as well. Drawn into heresy through petty jealousies and ego. Kelbor-Hal, the Fabricator General of Mars, resents the Emporer and his capricious edicts; specifically declaring some information verboten. This central fact is a recurring theme within the Horus Heresy; e.g. the Emperor’s mysterious retreat to Terra and interdiction on sorcery. Of course, this lack of faith in the Emperor leads Kelbor-Hal into heresy via his lust for knowledge.

The complement to Kelbor-Hal’s fall is the rise of Koriel Zeth, forge mistress of Magma City. Koriel works to throw off the superstitious shackles of the Machine Cult; risking being branded a heretic by her peers. Her greatest ambition is the creation of the All Knowledge Machine. A device which taps into the aether, aka Warp, to access the latent knowledge of all mankind.

That is the setup for the novel. As you can see it mirrors the fall of the Space Marine Legions. Kelbor-Hal is the greatest Fabricator General in the history of Mars. He takes the role of Horus. Koriel Zeth is about to lead the Mechanicum into a Golden Age, indeed lead all mankind into a new Golden Age. She takes the role of the Emperor.

Kelbor’s decent into heresy leads the Mechanicum into civil war. The outcome of which is the creation of the Dark Mechanicum. Additionally, a good part of the Mechanicum’s knowledge and history is also lost during the conflict The result of which sends the Mechanicum deeper into the arms of the Machine Cult, leading to future of stagnation and superstition. Again, this parallels the future of the Imperium as the ultimate outcome of the Horus Heresy.

As Graham develops this plot, he also brings his trademark skill to the novel. The Mechanicum is brought to life through its characters. Their unique drives and ambitions are explored. Of particular note is the detail into which the Legio are explored. Although they have little direct bearing on the plot, they do serve to bring a martial element to the novel so that it is not saturated with purely political machinations. Mixed in is a tremendous amount of fan service through delicious fluff, particularly the secondary plot.

But, the reason I enjoyed this novel so much is how it successfully broadened the scope of the Horus Heresy, showing the reader that the treachery of Horus was repeated many times throughout the Imperium. The sense of loss in Mechanicum is acute and painful. The grand battle at the end of the novel is heart wrenching. Mechanicum captures the heart of the Horus Heresy and provides a new perspective through which to view heresy; giving the reader a great appreciation of the scope of Horus’ treachery. I can only hope the rest of the Horus Heresy is as successful as this novel.

The Black Library: Mechanicum by Graham McNeill
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-1844166060

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