Monday, March 24, 2014

Prospero Burns (Horus Heresy Book 15) Review

I took a bit of a break, but I'm back to the Horus Heresy review series with Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett. This was the one book I'd read before coming into the series. As with previous reviews, spoilers ahead.


This book is a good bit out of the mold for the Horus Heresy series. Part of that is that we never really get the viewpoint of anyone other than a human - as in no Space Marine viewpoints. The story is also fairly non-linear, with bits and pieces of the protagonist's past slowly building into a complete picture.

Because of the disjointed nature of the story, it's admittedly a little harder to read. My first encounter with the story was an Audiobook version, which of course forced the story along.

This reading, I think, didn't help from knowing the twists. In listening to the story I was much more surprised by the story. In print and having heard the twists, the major revelations of just who and what the narrator is and why he came to Fenris lack impact, and as a result, the story feels a bit drawn out.

The first time through the story, the twists and turns were rather mind bending as we uncovered layers of Kasper Hawser and how he had been manipulated over the course of nearly a century to be a spy on the Space Wolves. The story also benefits from a complete immersion into the alien culture of the Vlka Fenryka, which is interesting in that you get a much deeper understanding of who and what the Space Wolves are.

Language plays a big role in this novel, and as a result, I was hoping a rereading would reveal interesting themes and nuances I missed in listening to the book. But instead, it almost feels like some of the twists of language, such as Kasper thinking his guardian Space Wolf's name was Bear, was more of a gimmick.

That said, while I am being critical, I do think the book covers some important topics to understand for the Horus Heresy and the universe they are in. Firstly, the discussion of purpose is nice to help categorize the different legions and explain why they differ so widely.

Secondly, the manipulation of Kasper is a nice way of showing how inhuman and otherworldly the scheming of Chaos gods can be - extremely reminiscent of  the Joker in The Dark Knight. The sheer foresight and subtle variations of fate are astounding to mortal conceptions.

I think the first time through, I didn't catch that the "Thousand Son" who manipulates Kasper and fights Bear and a Custodes at Nikea is not actually a member of the Thousand Sons. It was not necessarily that the Thousand Sons were corrupt, as it appears from the viewpoint of Kasper and the Wolves. Instead, it is a daemon/chaos power that is manipulating all of them to turn on the Thousand Sons.

While the book concludes that the Wolves did their job and did it well to purge the Imperium of a growing cancer, instead we get a glimpse at the other side of A Thousand Sons. This gives us a sinister picture that the Wolves were manipulated more than they know. The forces of Chaos used the Wolves to call the practices of the Thousand Sons into practice and force the Council of Nikea, then showed the Wolves what they wanted to see - that the Thousand Sons were using maleficarum and needed to be purged.

Affirming the Wolves suspicions, combined with the manipulations in A Thousand Sons that lead Magnus to defy the edict show the lengths the Chaos forces went to in order to prevent Magnus from fulfilling the role the Emperor had planned; sitting on the Golden Throne and providing a psychic light to the entirety of the Imperium of Man.

This book, like many in the series, particularly those by Abnett and McNeill, hides some pretty subtle points of emphasis masked by the grand scale of both the 40k (30k) universe and the conflicts of the Horus Heresy.