Thursday, July 19, 2007

REVIEW: Fulgrim, part two

Fulgrim is the fifth book of the Horus Heresy series and Graham McNeill's second book of the five. It's a monster, coming in at over 500 pages I reckon it is the single largest novel the Black Library have published. It is a meticulous account of the fall of Fulgrim and the Emperor's Children, but many readers will already know exactly what happens, so the key question regarding this book is does it successfully tell you why it happened?

There are so many different strands to the story that you have to feel for the author who has to draw them all together, trying to create a coherent whole from a myriad of different sources. He has to adhere to the facts of the Heresy as already described in numerous other publications including the encounter with the Laer, Lucius and Fabius' character arcs and the intersections with the action described in the other books. McNeill also has to cover the psychic scream which the Emperor's Children develop, their invention of sonic weaponry (which is very silly in the game, never mind a novel) and their desire for new sensations, sexual and otherwise. That's a whole lot of plot.

It only feels stretched towards the end of the book, when the events that McNeill is describing overlap with events told in the previous books. Necessarily he has compressed much of the story otherwise he would have to just reprint great chunks of the earlier novels and this means it would be an unsatisfying book to read on it's own. I also think that some events have been lightly sketched so that later authors can flesh out the plots of later books. If the reader comes to Fulgrim having read the rest of the series he will get much more out of it.

The influences on Fulgrim are clear; Caligula and the fall of the Roman Empire is an obvious one given that we are dealing with the god of pain and pleasure, but the Picture of Dorian Gray was a bit of a surprise.

McNeill describes the fall of Fulgrim himself exceedingly well. He piles on detail after detail of his gradual edging toward spiritual destruction. Some of the previous books have glossed over such details but in my opinion they are vital. As I said earlier, we need to know why he takes the actions he does.

The negatives are minor. I thought the portrayal of Ferrus Manus was problematic. If I were an Iron Hands fan I'd be upset at the fact that he seemed to be a bit of a doofus. For a Primarch he didn't half make some bad decisions, both in his handling of Fulgrim and his tactical choices. Sure, he was a stand up guy but he was as dull as dishwater.

The credibility of the Horus Heresey is really starting to be tested now. Although the fall of the Emperor's Children is well told in itself, when you examine it alongside the other events of the Heresy it all seems a little convenient. The legion was well along the road to damnation before Horus revealed his treachery and we are asked to believe that humanity, which has not encountered the forces of Chaos in it's entire history, discovers it in two different places and succumbs simultaneously.

These really are small niggles, though. Overall this is an excellent addition to the series and digs a lot deeper into the emotional backdrop of the Heresy. This might upset those who like to to read extended battle reports masquerading as novels, but I think it is encouraging for the forthcoming books.

I award Fulgrim an 8 out of 10.


All of my reviews end in a score out of ten for the product. The table below explains what that score means.

  • 10/10 Perfect, absolutely nothing better
  • 9/10 Excellent, highly recommended
  • 8/10 Very good, recommended
  • 7/10 Good
  • 6/10 Above average, some problems
  • 5/10 Average, some good points some bad points
  • 4/10 Below average, some redeeming features
  • 3/10 Poor, major flaws
  • 2/10 Very poor, avoid if possible
  • 1/10 Absolutely appalling

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