It is the 31st millenium, and humanity is at the peak of its powers. As the Great Crusade, led by Warmaster Horus, continues to conquer the galazy, Fulgrim, Primarch of the Emperor's Children, leads his warriors into battle against a vile alien foe. From the blood of this campaign are sown the seeds that will lead this proud Legion to treachery, taking them down the darkest paths of corruption. Leading up to the carnage of the Dropsite Massacre on Isstvan V, Graham McNeill tells the tale of Fulgrim's tragic fall from grace.
Well now... I enjoyed Graham McNeill's last outing in the Horus Heresy (False Gods), although found the pacing a little uneven at times. Fulgrim, for me, shows a writer with an enormous amount of confidence. McNeill has improved immeasurably on False Gods, and presents a novel that is truly epic in scope.
Fulgrim is structured brilliantly. We're shown the Emperor's Children before the fall - an exceptionally proud Legion searching for perfection in everything. There are strong characters showcased as they look for the approval of their Primarch during this period of conquest. Because we've seen the Emperor's Children before the bloody campaign on the Laer worlds, it is all the more heartbreaking to see the cracks appear. Of course, anyone who currently games in the 40K universe will know the future of the Emperor's Children, but McNeill manages to inject a real uncertainty so that new readers coming to the Horus Heresy who don't game will encounter a truly shocking revelation.
I also appreciated the pacing in this novel. McNeill keeps it at slowburn for much of the first half of the novel - there are some exciting set pieces, but truly we're learning about the characters and the nature of the Emperor's Children, set against the backdrop of uneasy rumours about the Warmaster and events already covered in the first three novels of the Horus Heresy. Gradually the action builds to a truly epic crescendo - this is a showpiece of the series so far, dark and powerful.
Still, the action would be nothing if there wasn't a strong heart to the novel; here we have the tale of Cain and Abel, in essence. Two brothers who have a seemingly unshakeable bond forced to face up to jealousy and betrayal. The relationship between Fulgrim and Ferrus Manus is tragic indeed, and leaves the reader really feeling the tearing up of the Astartes between loyalists and those who follow Horus.
I feel I say this way too often about the Horus Heresy novels, but I honestly think they are leading the way where military science fiction is concerned. Strong plotlines, a realism to the warfare presented (yes, even with the colossal virtually immortal killing machines that the Astartes represent!), and great characters make these irresistible. Ignore them because they are tie-in fiction at your peril! Fulgrim marks new heights in the Horus Heresy, and I can't wait to read more.