Mr Dembski-Bowden has been mentioned a few times here at Random Words – once for his rather interesting, funny and profanity ridden (and fantastic) Blog, and the other a quick mention of his novel The First Heretic. Realising that I merely added a few lines on what has become a legendary addition to the Horus Heresy series, not to mention a New York Times bestseller, I decided to pick up another copy on my Kindle and reread it for a blog posting. Also, with the advent of The Age of Darkness changing the tone and progressing the story of the Heresy to a new stage, I thought it would be good to look at a seminal piece in the series that captured the fall to Chaos and heralded the dawn of the Heresy wars.
This novel charges forward with power armoured force from beginning to end, following the Space Marine Chapter that fell first to Chaos, the Word Bearers. If you’re a Loyalist you shudder at those words, and I had serious ‘Bearer Hate’ before reading this novel. They are clearly the scum of the universe, weak-minded Chaotic puppets, surely? Not so clear after reading.
The First Heretic does a great job of blurring the lines, especially through the main character Argel Tal. He grows within the pages of this book to become a brilliant symbol of the Heresy – that of faith, heroism, friendship, loyalty and tragedy. He is a multi-layered protagonist, torn between his love for his Primarch and the real human feelings he has for the choices he makes.
It’s the characters that make the story. Dembski-Bowden carves humanity into his prose, cutting chaos into his characters, who even as they become removed from their gene-birth, still hold true, albeit in a warped way, to their human roots as they walk into darkness.
An honourable mention goes to the human Cyrene Valantion, who becomes a Confessor of the Word for the Word Bearers (a great turn of event for the character who starts the story as, hmm, shall we say ‘less than holy’). She adds depth and helps the reader balance the bloody battles with some great character development for the Space Marines.
Lorgar. Primarch of the Word Bearers. A bold leader who loves his father so much that he is driven to worship him as a God. Of course, that is his flaw and this is the 31st Millennium, where there are consequences for such devotion. Lorgar’s dark path begins after his beloved Emperor orders the destruction of Monarchia, a shrine-city created for him. Emotionally scarred from the mass murder of his people, and after humiliation in the ruins of the city, Lorgar sets out to look for others to worship, taking his Legion with him.
A bold novel that offers a glimpse into the seductiveness of Chaos and shows how the basic flaws of humanity, and blind love, can cause destruction on a universal scale.
5 out of 5 Falls to Chaos.
Check out The Black Library for more on the Horus Heresy.