False Gods is the second in the Horus Heresy series from Black Library. The blurb from the back is as follows: The Great Crusade that has taken humanity into the stars continues. The Emperor of Mankind has handed the reins of command to his favoured son, the Warmaster Horus. Yet all is not well in the armies of the Imperium. Horus is still battling against the jealousy and resentment of his brother primarchs and, when he is injured in combat on the planet Davin, he must also battle his inner daemons. With all the temptations that Chaos has to offer, can the weakened Horus resist? The fate of the galaxy now rests in the simple choice of one man: loyalty or heresy?
The Horus Heresy sequence is extremely interesting in that each book is written by a different author - in the first book Dan Abnett laid out the foundation for the tale that Graham McNeill continues. Part of the fun in reading this book came from seeing how McNeill handled the characters introduced by Abnett, and how his writing style differed.
I would say that McNeill is definitely more utilitarian in his style - at times Abnett became almost poetic in his descriptions, whereas McNeill eschews that for a more militaristic and straightforward approach.
This book is also more introspective. There are less rampant battle scenes (although that is not to say there aren't moments of excitement and tension), and the action moves into a more political arena. Horus reaches the moment of his decision, and we see the actions of all the protagonists as they decide whether to stand with their Warmaster. Of course, anyone who has played the actual game of Warhammer 40K knows the way that this novel has to end, but McNeill does a very good job of keeping me interested on the journey.
There are faults though - and one of them is not of McNeill's making. The edition of this book that I read was riddled with errors and needed another scan by human eyes to pick up all those mistakes e.g. 'their' instead of 'there'; "...it was poor a vintage" rather than "it was a poor vintage". This might be considered nit-picking, but enough errors will jar you out of a novel. I didn't appreciate McNeill making up words either - 'spanging', I felt, was unnecessary. Bullets ricochet, they do not spang...
I also felt that the period in the latter half of the book when Horus is struggling from his wound caused the pacing to go all awry. Up until that point we had been proceeding forward at a brisk pace, but I became mired in the dream sequences and struggled to get through without skim reading. I suspect that Abnett might have handled these in a better fashion.
My favourite characters were Loken and Torgaddon, as in this first book. Their very human reactions - the doubt, the pain, the anger - lend gravity to events. It was an unremittingly dark book, very grim, and even Torgaddon (the joker of the bunch) couldn't come out with much comedy relief to lighten the tone.
It almost sounds as though I didn't enjoy it, but I did - very much so. I found it more thought-provoking than the first book, especially with the discussion on the nature of Gods and religion. I especially liked the quote from Karkasy: "No, my dear, ignorance and fear create the gods, enthusiasm and deceit adorn them, and human weakness worships them."
All in all, a strong addition to the Horus Heresy books, with a cliff hanger of an ending that guarantees I'll be heading out to get hold of the next!
Relics by Tim Lebbon
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