Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The First Heretic By Aaron Dembski-Bowden

The First Heretic is Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s first venture into the Black Library’s iconic Horus Heresy series. His previous books have been well received within Black Library circles, but can he step up to the crease and knock his first Horus Heresy book for six? Let’s find out!

Aaron’s main protagonist in The First Heretic is Argel Tal. A Word Bearer captain who rises through the ranks over the course of the book. Argel Tal is one of those characters written you instantly like, which is a change from other Horus Hersey books I’ve read where you either don’t relate to the main character at all, or by the time you feel any empathy for them the book is over. Through Argel Tal’s eyes, we bear witness to the Emperor chastising Lorgar and his legion of Word Bearer for worshipping the Emperor as a god. Lorgar is devastated by this and returns to his home world of Colchis for some serious soul searching. After a heated talk with his brother Magnus and some serious ear whispering by his twisted first captain Kor Pheron and Chaplin Erebus. Lorgar decides that if the Emperor is not worthy to be worshipped as a god, then there must be beings worthy of his devotion somewhere in the void. Lorgar then takes Argel Tal to the ends of the galaxy and back and ultimately finds exactly what he was looking for, unfortunately at the expense of Argel Tal and a large number of his Word Bearers. The story then fast tracks back to the Drop Site Massacre of Istvaan V and adds the Word Bearers perspective to this epic event featuring in many of the Horus Heresy books. If you’re after plenty of Space Marine action, Primarch’s fighting to the death and deamonic possession then Aaron has really catered to your needs.

As with Aaron’s other Space Marine book Soul Hunter. Aaron writes his Space Marine dialogue with plenty of witty banter. At first I was a bit unsure how this would play out, a funny Space Marine? Surely not! But as the chapters flow, you begin to enjoy the sometimes sarcastic and sadistic conversations the Word Bearers have. I think some will not appreciate the way Kor Phareon is portrayed in The First Heretic, Kor Phareon tended to be a bit snivelly at times, which was a bit of a distraction to his otherwise fearsome persona. Erebus is still the ever scheming playmaker and is written as he should be. This then brings me to Lorgar. Lorgar was an enigma to me. Aarons writes the Word Bearers Primarch like a lost child. He seems to spend a majority of the book confused and lost like an abandoned puppy dog. I felt that Kor Phareon and Erebus were able to twist his faith in the Emperor a little easily. Could a Primarch of the God Emperor be so easily swayed by his own men? I’ll let you be the judge of that, for now I’ll just sit on my fence. I did find Lorgar to be the most Human like of all the Primarchs written thus far. He feels emotions more intensely and is far from the most physically powerful of his brothers. While some will read him as the weakling of the Primarchs, Aaron does well to counter the negativity by showing Lorgar’s inner strength and conviction. Something many of his brothers lack.

As with all Horus Heresy books, the story is divided into three parts. It was the second part Pilgrimage which really blew me away. Instead of the usual A to B style of writing, Aaron begins pilgrimage with a bloody and brutal ending, and then begins to fill you in on everything in between. Within the first few pages of pilgrimage, Aaron had me hook line and sinker as I devoured the entire middle section of the book in a few hours. In my opinion, this is by far the most revealing and interesting part of the entire book. Without spoiling it all for you, events unfolded include The Great Crusade’s first contact with the Eye of Terror, how the Eye of Terror was created including the downfall of the Eldar, how the first Space Marines where touched by Chaos and how Lorgar was fully turned from the Emperor’s path. Now that’s a lot to mentally digest, I know, but Aaron does so with a pace perfectly set to allow you to ingest huge amounts of new 40k lore without it reading like a boring Codex. Each chapter ends leaving you scanning the start of the next and thinking to yourself... ‘Just one more chapter, I promise’. Next thing you know its 2am and you have to work the next day! Damn you Aaron!

One of my favourite parts of the book included the use of Ingethel the Ascended as the Bringer of Truth to the Word Bearers. For those of you playing at home, on page 263 of the Horus Heresy Collected Visions art book is a beautiful picture of all the main players in the Heresy. To the far right was a Daemon named Ingethel the Ascended who until now, was completely unknown. Suggestions were made in 40k circles that he may even be completely written out of the Heresy series. Not only did Aaron include him in The First Heretic, he did the original art work justice and based his description of Ingethel solely off this picture. Well done Aaron, a subtle nod to people more involved with 40k lore.

I think Aaron has pulled something amazing off with The First Heretic, it’s a well paced, one way ride into the depths of hell and back again. Finally the Word Bearers have their side of the heresy revealed and come out on the other side ultimately far cooler than they were before. Aaron ticks all the boxes with this one and asserts himself as the new Black Library heavy hitter who can stand confidently beside Abnett and McNeil and no longer in their shadows. A must read.

High Point: Daemon possessed Space Marines. Or more to the point, what it’s like to be one. I just loved everything about them. From the twisted gifts the warp allows, to the conversation the marines have in their heads with their individual daemons. Twisted...

Low Point: I was really searching for this one, but maybe Lorgar was a little too... human natured. At times he seemed a bit of a pushover for Kor Phaeron and Erebus. Surely a son of the Emperor of mankind would be harder to manipulate? Maybe? Maybe not? Food for thought.


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