Sunday, June 24, 2012

False Gods by Graham McNeill

False Gods by Graham McNeill is the second book in the Horus Heresy series published by The Black Library, the publishing arm of Games Workshop. False Gods is a direct sequel to Horus Rising by Dan Abnett, picking up shortly after the events in that book. Read my review of Horus Rising. Graham picks up the same cast of characters, introduces a few more and in general, expands the universe and its characters. In doing so, False Gods takes on a decidedly more introspective tone than Horus Rising.

The tagline for Horus Rising is: “The seeds of heresy are sown.” As such, there is much innuendo and hints, but rarely anything direct. The result being that Horus Rising focused much more on the action of things and introduced the characters and generally sketched in the boundaries of the narrative. In particular, there is a lot more gun play, or “bolter porn” in Warhammer terms.

The tagline for False Gods is: “The heresy takes root.” The elements of heresy step more clearly into the open. The issues therein take center light in the narrative, not longer limited to innuendo and hints. The immediate impact is how scaled back the action is in this book. What action sequences that exist, although well done, are quickly resolved; shifting the spotlight back to the characters.

The story for False Gods opens at the close of the annihilation of the Interex. From here the narrative alters course, moving to the world of Davin a previously compliant world that has revolted. This is a shocking event, the very idea of revolt against the Emperor by once loyal subjects is anathema. It is here that the characters of the book have their first direct encounter with Chaos, although they do not understand it as such. It is also on Davin that the pivotal moment of the Horus Heresy takes place, Horus’ fall. After Davin, the book closes with the war on the Auretian Technocracy, revealing the opening moves of Horus’ rebellion.

The recurring them of False Gods is loyalty. Each of the characters, great and small, are tested. These tests are all in the context of the coming events, specifically Horus’ renunciation of his Father’s, the Emperor of Mankinds, legitimacy. The end result is a wonderfully layered book of parallel narratives. Whether it is Horus’ fall to Chaos, Ignace Karkasy's re-awakened muse or Horus Aximand’s doubt, every character is tested. Events conspire to force each character to make a choice between the Emperor or Horus. Within the struggle of this choice, the characters are explored.

Garviel Loken continues to be my favorite character, standing firm in the face of adversity. His loyalty to the Emperor standing above all else, including his Mournival oaths. His path is a purity of purpose, embodying the ideals of the Astartes. His path is guided and shaped by those he surrounds himself with, whether they be remembrancers or fellow Astartes. The schism of the Mournival presages coming Heresy. As the bonds of brotherhood shatter within the Mournival, so do the bounds of brotherhood shatter with in the Astartes. There are numerous poignant moments as you witness Loken attempts to rationalize what is happening to his Legion and in doing so, loses his innocence.

There were a few elements to False Gods that were not as successful as others. Horus himself was in the spotlight much more in this book. Yet, even with additional word count, he never really grows as a character, continuing to be rather flat. During one of his conversations with his documentarist, Petronella Vivar, he remarks that each of the Primarchs gained some element of their father, the Emperor. Horus was gifted with the Emperor’s ambition. In this way, Horus’ character suffers. Horus rarely grows beyond this single faceted ideal.

The second element that fell rather flat was Part Four of the novel encompassing the war on the Auretian Technocracy. This chapter seemed bolted on. Part Four picks up nearly a year later. Events have progressed that you as the reader are not privy to. You suddenly feel a bit lost in the narrative, struggling to quickly come to grasp with where things are.

This is not that it was written poorly, it contains some of the more important events in the book, rather the flow from Part Three to Part Four is jarring. Part Three culminated with the fall of Horus. The book could easily have ended there. But, as you continue to read, you realize that Part Four is simply a very long denouement. Ultimately closing with the fateful words: “‘A place not far from here,’ said Horus. ‘The Istvaan system.’”

I really enjoyed False Gods. I think it was a step up from the foundation laid by Dan Abnett in Horus Rising. I enjoyed the more introspective approach and the regression of action set pieces. The Heresy is more about the breaking of bonds and less about the breaking of bones. False Gods clearly steers the Horus Heresy series in this direction. I am excited to continue reading the Horus Heresy book and, in particular, the next book to see the opening trilogy brought to a close. I highly recommend this book.

The Black Library: False Gods by Graham McNeill
Image Source: Lexicanum
Review Copy: Self Purchased Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-1844163700

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