Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Book Review: The Horus Heresy - Nemesis

Image property of Black Library and posted under Fair Usage

I looked back and realised with something of a shock the other day that the Horus Heresy series has now more a dozen titles to its name and the saga seems to be in no hurry to reach the duel between the Emperor and his errant son high above Terra. For me the series has been the usual mixed bag of fantastic highs and plodding lows I would expect from such a large undertaking by the Black Library and it's coterie of regulars. As usual Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill stand out head and shoulders above the rest, but some of the other titles in the series were worthy of praise in their own right as well. On the other hand titles such as Descent of Angels and Battle for the Abyss seemed like nothing more than throwaway titles to keep the series rolling along.

So where does Nemesis fall in that spread? Well, somewhere inbetween is the only answer that I can give to that one as it's as much a mixed bag as I just claimed the series was itself. My previous experience of James Swallow was the first omnibus of his pretty awful Blood Angels novels and that set me off worrying about Nemesis from the start. But after a few dozen pages I was pleasently suprised by the novel and found that the combination of the assembling of the Imperial team of assasins juxtaposed with the lawmen hunting their daemonic counterpart worked quite well.

Swallow appears able to give life far better to the human characters that he creates than the superhuman staples of the Heresy setting that I suppose he has no choice but to include in a title from this series. Here the characters of Malcador the Sigillite, Rogal Dorn, Constantin Valdor and others come across as little more than parts of the scenery that have lines in the script. But the assassins and the people they interact with are an interesting lot and more than make up for it.

The gathering of the assassins from across Terra introduces a disparate and interesting collection of killers and at the same time takes the reader to some nice locations on the homeworld. Each of the assassins has an interesting bundle of murderous personality and back story and the interaction between the supposedly professional killers is suitably catty and vindictive enough to add an air of reality to the whole thing.

Perhaps the one thing that lets the book down as a whole is the daemonic assassin known as "Spear" in whom Swallow creates something that comes close to the first "Mary Sue" characater to appear in the Heresy series. Staring out from a pretty tame few random kills, the complexity of these pretty much lost due to Swallow's inability to describe them, Spear soon becomes and all singing and all dancing killing machine that grows new powers and abilities as he needs them. By the end of the book the character is killing everything in his path and offs the assassins one by one in a way that makes his inevitable death seem very improbable.

All in all Nemesis is not the worst of the Heresy series, but not the best either.

Read as something to keep you going until Prospero Burns is released.