Another week, another Horus Heresy book…
I really liked Dembski-Bowen’s The Black Legion because it had depth and nuance and smart characters and not just “raaah, we’re eeeevil!” idiots. I can blame that book for persuading me to read a lot of the other books in this series. So I came to The First Heretic with high expectations.
I was a bit disappointed. It’s not as awful as either some of the Dark Angels bilge in this series, or the low point that is the last book in the Grey Knights omnibus, but it’s a bit lacking. Ok, it is an efficent smuggler of existential philosophy into the minds of teenage boys (do we really need help with that, I might ask) and explains some of the long and ridiculous joke that the Horus Heresy only occurs because people get miffed when the Emperor refuses to admit he’s a god, and then the book that Lorgar, top boss of the miffed people, wrote to explain why the Emperor is divine, becomes the inspiration for everyone fighting Lorgar… Seriously, come on, people…
The biggest problem with The First Heretic is that it does have some Saturday morning cartoon villains – Lorgar’s two advisors, Erebus (a skinhead who’s tattooed his entire head) and Kor Phaeron (a grumpy old man in an enormous suit of power armour) are so transparently wrong-uns with their own agenda that it’s hard to see that Lorgar, who’s meant to be super clever and whatnot, doesn’t see this.
Well, I say the biggest problem. Then the Word Bearers, Lorgar’s legion, send a spaceship into the Warp, where they encounter horrendous forces of primal hatred and every negative emotion you can think of, and they come back out saying “well, they aren’t that nice, but they’re probably better than the Imperium”.
To be fair, the Imperium, the ‘good guys’ of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, have been written as a cross between the Nazis, the Russians of the 1930s and pretty much every other time in history when human beings showed they weren’t very nice, so I suppose it’s consistent, but Lorgar spends months wandering various hellscapes and seeing souls in torment and then pops back out of the Warp and tells his legion
Alright lads, they seem reasonable people. Let’s ally with them and not with the other humans. It’s not like they want to literally eat our souls or anything.
In the background, Erebus and Kor Phaeron are cackling away. Lorgar even interviews a person possessed by a daemon, and the daemon tells him it has nothing but contempt for humans, and he still blithely carries on with this “well, they’re not very nice, but what are you going to do, eh?” dumbassery. At least Horus was Very Angry at his father, rather than just what feels like a guy in middle-management slightly over his head.
There are some decent battles. The high point of most of Dembski-Bowen’s books is usually the part between battles, but the Word Bearers are such a bunch of annoying, contrary, fanatically religious types that you don’t want to spend time in their company. So that wasn’t a high point.
I’m not sure if this is an aberration on Dembski-Bowen’s form, or just because it was one of the first of his contributions to the series – does he get better later on? Let’s find out…