A Thousand Sons – Review

Cast your mind back. It’s 2002 and Games Workshop are preparing for the Eye of Terror campaign. A fledgling Black Library released Storm of Iron, a book by Graham McNeill, who at the time was perhaps best known for his work on the Games Workshop Design Team. It was good. Like, really good. The community’s reaction was pretty positive. Yet since then, it feels like that same community seems to have soured on him, if only for the crime of liking Ultramarines. [Fuckers! – Ed.]

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For my own part, I’ve not always enjoyed everything Graham has written, but he’s one of the few writers that seems to be experimenting and testing his limits with each new book he writes. His books often don’t quite work for me, but his ability to mix of 40k battles and more nuanced exploration of the universe wins me over more often than not.

My pre ramble is important, because if there was a way of describing my gut feeling of A Thousand Sons, it’s “Mostly works, if not quite as much as it should”. It’s going to take the rest of this review to explain why.

Now, how go best go about it? If you are familiar with the history of the 40k universe at all, you will know the Fall of Prospero is one of the defining moments of the Horus Heresy. A Thousand Sons starts sometime before that and allows us to get to know the legion, as it explores the galaxy trying to increase mankind’s knowledge, which they see as the real purpose of the Great Crusade.  Censured at the Council of Nikaea for treading a dangerous path, events soon spiral out of control and the Imperium will never be the same again.

The main drive and focus of the book is secrets. Everyone has them, from our humble Remembrancers, the human element of the book, to Magnus, Primarch of the Thousand Sons himself. Even the Space Wolves, usually portrayed as being as subtle as an axe to the face, are keeping back something, which suits a book about a Legion that one day will become the servants of the trickster god Tzeentch.

The novel is certainly very effective at allowing you to empathise with the 15th Legion, as by allowing you to see their triumphs through to their lows, you gain a real sense of the tragedy of the situation, as two Primarchs refuse to back down from one another until it’s too late. Getting to see the glorious paradise of Prospero and how the Space Wolves appear as alien invaders allows for a great contrast to A Thousand Sons sister book Prospero Burns. It really makes you root for a legion that could otherwise come off as more arrogant and monstrous than the Emperor’s Children.

McNeill is good at penning an action scene and the description of the fall of Prospero as one continuous piece in the latter half of the book manages to capture both a personal scale of Magnus’ folly and the larger more epic of the war around him, that an event like the Horus Heresy demands. The only real failing of the book is its human characters. Whilst fairly prominent at the start of the novel, the Remembrancers seem to be lost and forgotten by the second half, until suddenly they become prominent characters at a time that is disruptive to the more interesting narrative of Magnus and his son’s discovery of Horus’ plans. By the time of the invasion the characters have any further involvement cut off, in a sentence that seems to hint they make it back to Prospero, without any follow-up. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but it’s an odd ending to characters that have been written to make us care about them, only to have them dropped as any hint of a future absent once the big fighting scenes kick in. [I think the point was that fate can call upon even the lowliest soul to change the galaxy, but be just as quick to discard them. But that’s just me. -Ed.]

All in all, apart from the odd bit of clunky dialogue, I really have no actual complaints about the book. It flows well, and Graham manages his usual trick of making each battle about more than just cool explosions and bolter porn. A real blast from start to finish and a nice counterpart to Dan Annett’s  Prospero Burns. It’s probably the best work I’ve read of Graham’s yet and I look forward to reading his further contributions to both the 30k and 40k universe.

A Thousand Sons is available via The Black Library as an E-book or physical copy, or is available from all good high street booksellers. And Waterstones.

Forge World Open Day Snaps

No I didn’t go, these are shamelessly ripped off from Bell of Lost Souls. Oh and to all the nay sayers, all the information I’m hearing after the day is that there will be a plastic Thunderhawk. Boom.

Anyway, lots of shiny Horus Heresy stuff, including a completely awesome Thousand Sons dreadnought and the Fellglaive. Which I completely want…

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I want this!

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Apparently one of these two is Nathaniel Garro. In which case…ka-buy!

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Why is the plastic Landspeeder nowhere near this cool?

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The Tragedy of Leman Russ

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Continuing my series on the Primarchs, I thought I’d look next at the Wolf King, the Lord of Fenris and Primarch of the Space Wolves and inventor of a bad ass battle tank; Leman Russ.

I rather suspect that Leman Russ was at his happiest when he was on the ice fields of Fenris busting heads and uniting the clans under his rule. It was a simple existence that suited his martial prowess and his sense of courage and honour. It bore none of the burden that his true calling would entail.

Whereas all of Russ’ brothers possessed a facet of the Emperor’s magnificence to a greater or lesser extent; Lorgar possessing his father’s single-minded devotion, Vulkan his compassion. Russ was born apart on a genetic, physical and psychological level for the very simple reason that he was created to kill them. He was the Emperor’s executioner: held in reserve for the very worst foes faced by the Crusade fleets, capable of unleashing extraordinary amounts of violence but displaying a level of cold control that Angron’s bezerkers could never come close to. And when necessity demanded, that controlled savagery and channelled rage could be directed towards an entirely more familiar target.

Leman Russ was created to be fiercely, violently, loyal to the Emperor. He and his legion were the Emperor’s protectors just as much as the Custodian Guard. If not more so as the legion had to not only be ready to defend the Imperium from aliens but domestic threats as well. Although he was happy to wage war on Magnus and his Thousand Sons, because he above all other Primarchs loathed psykers, but because he was ordered to do so. The sheer scale and brutality demonstrated by the Space Wolves wasn’t killers gone mad, sociopaths unchained or even hate filled bezerkers slipped from the leash, it’s the understanding of the level of force required to stop a legion of Astartes. It’s also worth noting that it has been referenced that Space Wolves have a particular resistance to psychic influence which suggests the Emperor was very much covering all the bases.

Russ, I believe, was a pragmatic and philosophical soul, despite his outward appearance, and was very accepting of his role in the galaxy. He bore it with typical Fenrisian stoicism and understood more than any of his brothers that he was a product of a process rather than a son to a parent. And as such saw his relationship much more as master and servant forever separating him from his brothers but at the same time earning him no favour with his father which, despite everything, he still sought. And despite all that, Russ had a great fondness for his brothers despite their petty manoeuvring and imagined slights. However, his true calling prevented him from forging any strong bonds concealing it behind the borish and barbaric personae that all his brothers believed he possessed although that was as much a defence mechanism on their part as none could ignore the efficiency with which he and his legion broke the 2nd and 11th legions.

Had the Heresy not burned the galaxy from arm to arm Leman Russ knew that he and his legion had no place in a unified Imperium. Their method of waging war and their true purpose would become obsolete. They would be disbanded and cast amongst the galaxy as peacekeepers and enforcers being reduced to little more than tattle tailers and political heavies worse than an Imperial Commissar. The bitterest truth is that the destruction of the Thousand Sons was a manipulation by Horus and his cohorts to eliminate the two Legions that could truly oppose him. And in so doing Russ failed in his duty as both executioner and protector, unable to reach his master in time to prevent his demise or cut the head off the snake before it struck. And as the legion counted its dead above the burning remains of Prospero he knew it too. Russ would have been forced into impotency knowing that he would never reach his father in time, and caging an animal such as Russ is a cruel trick indeed.

The true tragedy of Leman Russ wasn’t that he was mistreated, delivered to a world in Chaos, given too much responsibility too soon or lacked the mental faculties to do what was asked of him. The true tragedy of Leman Russ was actually just as capable as Guilliman or Dorn and saw the patterns as the cogs of the Imperial Drama turned and is crushed his soul. So much so he chose to close his eyes to it lest he betray his orders and unleash his Wolves without orders. His own sense of honour and duty, and his genetically hard-wired obedience prevented him from acting as, for all the Space Wolves overt acts of rebellion, not a single one would ever defy the Emperor. Even in the 41st Millennium the Space Wolves are a law unto themselves but they would never defy an edict if they believed it in line with the Emperor’s wishes.

Leman Russ was arguably his greatest triumph – the pinnacle of what he was intended to be. But in reality, he was made too well, the yoke about his neck too tight and it choked him from giving the order he knew needed to be given.