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Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: Talon of Horus



It's rare that I finish a book soon enough after it is released to think it's worth posting a review. I generally have quite a reading backlog, so even if I buy a book upon release, I usually won't start reading it for months. I made an exception here because Aaron Dembski-Bowden is by far my favorite Black Library author, so I picked up Talon of Horus and started reading immediately.

This book wasn't anything like what I expected when I heard it would be about Abbadon forming the Black Legion. In the previous background (as I know it), Abbadon took command of the Sons of Horus after Horus' death and just commanded them to repaint their armor to start again, untainted by Horus' failure. Straightforward and not terribly interesting if you (like me) aren't a big fan of the Sons of Horus.


The book begins with a meeting between warbands of Sons of Horus, World Eaters, and Thousand Sons. The Sons of Horus are on the edge of extinction following a war with the other Legions, led by the Emperor's Children. To add insult to injury, the Emperor's Children have taken Horus' body with the intention to clone him. The surviving Sons of Horus wish to find Horus' flagship, the Vengeful Spirit, and use it launch a suicide mission to destroy Horus' body and prevent this heresy. It is at this point that we find out that Abbadon took the Vengeful Spirit and disappeared shortly after entering the Eye of Terror. Guided by a prophet of the Word Bearers and united by previous alliances, these allies search for the powerful battleship.

The search takes up the first half of the book. During this period, the Legion Wars within the Eye of Terror are fleshed out. We learn how the Primarchs abandoned their Legions to play the game of Chaos at a higher level, how the Legions shattered into warbands, and how they operate in their new roles. We also get a great peek into how a Thousand Sons Sorcerer interacts with his Rubric Marines. Rather than being just automatons, the Rubricae still show signs of their personalities at times, and the Sorcerer is very protective of his old comrades, desperate to find a means to restore their minds. While this is all tangential to the main story, it was one of my favorite parts. The Legion Wars are rarely described, and it's very interesting to find out what's going on in the Eye of Terror while the Imperium is rebuilding.

When they finally find the Vengeful Spirit, they discover that Abbadon is still aboard and has been wandering the Eye of Terror, studying the Chaos Legions and their new home. The angry, impulsive, and frankly unlikeable Abbadon from the Horus Heresy novels has grown into a much more interesting character. His extensive knowledge of the Eye of Terror and the status of all of the Legions is enough to make the other characters uncomfortable, but his charisma and sense of brotherhood slowly win them over.

In this iteration, the Black Legion is not the next iteration of the Sons of Horus. It is formed of warriors from all of the Traitor Legions, disgusted by the lack of loyalty, unity, and purpose displayed by their original Legions. Abbadon offers not only a purpose beyond raiding for survival, but also the opportunity to fight alongside trusted brothers. It is easy to see why Astartes from so many Legions throw in their lot with him.

In most books (not just Black Library books), leaders are described as charismatic but their actions and words fail to convey this trait. I've never liked Abbadon in the fluff or Horus Heresy novels. He is always portrayed as quick-tempered to the point of being petulant. He rarely seems to think through his actions, instead relying on brutality to defeat his enemies. During the Horus Heresy, this doesn't make him a very believable commander. Talon of Horus maintains the character's original personality while tempering him with age and experience. I could actually understand why the other characters chose to join him; his offer and his words convey his charisma and leadership very well.

Aaron Dembski-Bowden is at his best when making Chaos Marines relatable without watering down their vicious nature, and that talent is in full force here. The Thousand Sons are tragic without the obnoxious blind arrogance that permeated their appearance in Thousand Sons, yet their concern for the Rubricae make them very likeable. They are profoundly lonely, surrounded by brothers that they can never speak to, constant reminders of their Legion's fall.

If there is any complaint that could be leveled against this book, it's that it is extremely light on action for a novel about Space Marines. There are a few battle scenes, all of which are interesting due to the unique nature of the combatants (don't want to spoil anything), but the focus of the book is clearly on describing the state of the traitor Astartes during the Legion Wars through narration and dialogue between warriors of different Legions. I never really missed the battles; the shifting dynamics between the Legions are much more interesting than the vast majority of the Black Library battles.

Overall, Talon of Horus is a highly recommended read, fleshing out a period of 40K history that is rarely touched upon. It takes previously one-dimensional and uninteresting characters and turns them into much more well-rounded personalities, and I find myself greatly looking forward to finding out what's next for Abbadon and his new Legion brothers. 

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