Tuesday 26 January 2010

Galaxy in Flames - Ben Counter

This is the final book in the opening trilogy of the Horus Heresy, following Horus Rising by Dan Abnett and False Gods by Graham McNeill. Galaxy in Flames picks up a year on from the events of False Gods. The Heresy moves on apace, as Horus plots to destroy all those who oppose his plans to usurp the Emperor. The rebel planet of Isstvan III will provide the arena as brother fights brother, and the full horror of Horus' intentions is realised.

I gave the previous two books very favourable reviews, and I wanted to like this one - I really did! At some points - where the events took on a momentum that managed to disguise the poor writing - it actually became readable, but I would say a good two-thirds of this book were fairly dull. This is disappointing when considering the wonderful job done by Dan Abnett in opening the series and then Graham McNeill in sowing the seeds of the betrayal.

I think part of the problem might have been because Counter was constrained by prior books. He had a start point (where McNeill left off) and a definite end point - and little choice in how he represented the events in between. This must be hard for an author, so I do sympathise; and yet McNeill managed with aplomb - taking Abnett's original template and adding in enough of his own voice to create a decent work of his own.

I found Counter's writing very pedestrian - a little too much of a 'this happened then this happened' approach.

I was also disappointed with the manner in which Counter treated the characters that have become beloved over two books. Loken was built up by Abnett and then McNeill to be a conflicted soul - tortured at the idea that his brothers are being taken over by the power of the warp; starting to hear 'the music of the spheres'; but here his character development was limited. A couple of the Primarchs suffered from bit parts - especially Angron. He is supposed to be an unbelievable killing machine, a juggernaut of devastation, and yet some of the Luna Wolves manage to drive him off - I would have liked to read about the way they achieved this against the most warlike of the Primarchs.

Conversely, some of the characters shone in this who had been overlooked in previous books. The Half-Heard steps up to the plate, and I look forward to reading more about him in future books, and Tarvitz ended up being my favourite and most memorable, because of his honour and ability to stand up to those who seek to betray him.

There are a few glaring inconsistencies that might have been picked up by editing, such as when the remaining citizens of Isstvan III were destroyed by the fire storm - despite the fact that virus bombs were supposed to completely decimate the planet.

I think the biggest issue with Counter's writing is also, bizarrely, one of his strengths - this is the fact that he flits from POV to POV without remaining more than a few pages with one character. It means that it is a struggle to immerse yourself with each of the characters, but that pages just flit past without you realising. I was over a hundred pages through before I knew it. It also makes it damnably hard to put the book down.

Despite all the issues with the writing and characterisation, the last third of the book really picks up its pace and the end of it - even though it is signposted - still comes as a shock. I was left feeling extremely sad, and I want to hurry on to the next book. I'm aware that the next books in the Horus Heresy series will now pick on small events and highlight specific Legions rather than covering the overall arc as these first three have done. I'm looking forward to being able to dwell with a limited cast list, rather than hurtling across planets and Legions in a breathless fashion!

My overall summary of this book is therefore: pedestrian writing explodes into life for the last third and leaves me still wanting to read the Horus Heresy. I wouldn't recommend for those who hadn't already read the first two; it's definitely not standalone.


  1. having read all of the HH books, this is probably one of the weaker ones in the series. Legion (by abnett) is absolutely amazing, as is Mechanicum by McNeill.
    Hope you keep enjoying the books, they're a great read :)

  2. Thanks for the comment! I'll definitely be reading the rest of them - I'm too invested in the characters now :-)

  3. I'd recommend reading a bit more of the background available in some codexes at some point before you get too far in the series. As an avid fan of the background info, some of the things in later books are brilliant, but some of my favourite parts might be lost on some who don't know some of the background info on Necrons, or the Alpha Legion.

    It's a fabulous series, enjoy :o)