Wolves and Scorcerers

The Horus Heresy series from Black Library has been around for a good few years now. This series has delved into the history of the 40k universe and revealed details of events that have previously only been hinted at. I know that not all of it has gone down well with everyone. I know some people have complained that it contradicts existing canon, but existing cannon was ridden with contradictions anyway. And as with the Star Wars prequels I wonder how much of this because it contradicts canon or merely contradicts people’s interpretations of canon.

Two of the most interesting books in the series so far have been A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeil and Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett. These books were written in cooperation (though the release of Prospero Burns was delayed due to Dan Abnett’s unfortunate illness). Each is written from the point of view of one of the two sides of the Battle of Prospero, and delves into the motivations and mindset of those involved. They also cast an interesting new light on what led to the conflict.

The biggest thing to take away from A Thousand Sons is how Magnus and his legion were lead innocently into ever deeper extremes of psychic sorcery. The Emperors refusal to disclose knowledge of the Warp and Chaos to his Primarchs created the perfect environment for those same forces of Chaos to exploit the pride and naivety¬† of the Thousand Sons by leading them to study depths of warpcraft that the Imperium could never accept. It’s easy to understand the attitude of the Thousand Sons towards the suspicion they are held in, as they are being lulled into a false sense of security about their abilities and the potential consequences of employing them. Ultimately, it seems Legion is neither particularly traitorous or particularly corrupt until the machinations of Chaos are complete and they are confronted with the nature of what they have bound themselves to and forced over the moral event horizon.

In contrast Prospero Burns shows how the suspicion of Russ and the Space Wolves is in turn being stoked by Chaos in a series of complicated schemes and deceptions, helping ensure a final confrontation between the two legions. The most interesting revelation of the two books in how deep the machinations of Chaos run in paving the way to engineering the Horus Heresy and the destruction of the Imperium. It shouldn’t really be a surprise that beings living outside the normal rules of space and time should play the long game and it’s interesting to see the daemons of Chaos getting involved directly rather than the mortal followers of Chaos taking charge of masterminding the whole galactic conflagration.

I think it’s important to read both books, otherwise you might not appreciate the full effect and the extent to which a grand game of manipulation is being played out, aimed at having two of the Emperor’s Legions destroy each other. You need to read A Thousand Sons to understand the full tragedy of Magnus and his Legion and you need to read Prospero Burns to understand the Space Wolves and that they are more than savages and hypocrites.

A few commentators complained that the protagonist of Prospero Burns not being an Astartes, but I think that misses the whole point of the character, to provide an outsiders view point of the Space Wolves. Also the revelation of the extent that the character’s life has been manipulated by the ruinous powers for the purposes of in turn manipulating Russ simply wouldn’t work with an Astartes character.

There are some very powerful moments in both books. Magnus’ attempt to defy the trap he has fallen into and his willingness to sacrifice himself and his legion in penitence, which ultimately breaks down. Russ’ being deceived into thinking he had given Magnus every chance to surrender. The sequence in which Magnus inadvertently destroys the Emperor’s most secret project it also a gripping few pages. There are also the traditional cameos from characters familiar from mainstream 40k, in these cases Ahriman and Bjorn – a very rare case of a familiar character being a loyalist, rather than a traitor. There is also the unresolved mystery of the Thousand Sons’ fleet sent away by Magnus, the cryptic reference to a “raven of blood” and the open question of whether there are wolves on Fenris.

Overall, I would definitely recommend these two books, though as I said before, they should definitely be read together. The Thousand Sons ultimately do come across as tragic figures, but in a way, so do the Space Wolves.

If people like this brief review, I might take a look at some other books in the Horus Heresy series.

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