Tuesday, October 22, 2013

“The Unremembered Empire” by Dan Abnett (Black Library)

Abnett-HH-UnrememberedEmpireIsolation, Confusion and Consolidation during the Horus Heresy

Far out on the Eastern Fringe, the realm of Ultramar stands alone. Having weathered the Word Bearers’ attack on Calth and the subsequent Shadow Crusade against the Five Hundred Worlds, the Ultramarines primarch Roboute Guilliman now draws all loyalist forces to Macragge as he contemplates a new future for mankind. With the arrival of more and more fugitives from the war that has engulfed the rest of the galaxy, all distinction between friend and foe is lost – isolated from Terra by fearsome warp storms, is Guilliman making a bid for power to rival even the renegade Warmaster Horus?

In The Unremembered Empire, Dan Abnett is firing on all creative cylinders. It’s an epic novel, in many respects – action-packed, momentous, a type of bridging point in the overall Horus Heresy series. I blitzed through this, and was left desperately wanting more at the end. A very good addition to the series. Absolutely addictive.

Unlike the other Horus Heresy novel that I’ve reviewed (of which there have been many – see list at end), this one presents a bit of a conundrum. For one thing, while it can be read ‘on its own’ (though I wouldn’t recommend it), it is a type of pivot-point for the series. It draws together a lot of strands that have been left hanging over the previous 26 books – not through author-negligence, but just because of the epic scope of the Heresy, there’s really very little chance that any one novel will offer a complete story, consequences and all. In The Unremembered Empire, Abnett has attempted to bring together a lot of these threads, not necessarily to provide conclusions or closure, but rather to set up the next stage of the Heresy story. In particular, there were obvious continuations of the stories begun in Abnett’s other Heresy novels (Legion, Prospero Burns, Know Know Fear) and also a number of others (Mark of Calth, Betrayer, Vulkan Lives, and others).

It’s a lot of material that he’s working with. In his afterword, Abnett writes that this is one of the hardest novels he’s written thus-far (I do like that they’re starting to include these, as they offer very interesting insights into the author’s creative processes). Given the bredth of the story, not to mention all the actors that needed to be developed and incorporated, The Unremembered Earth did feel quite busy, to begin with. There are a lot of moving parts, one could say – and especially the more esoteric ones that have come to define Abnett’s contributions to the series (the Perpetuals and the Cabal, for example). He makes it work, though. Very well indeed.

As with many of the other novels in this time period of the Heresy, Abnett evokes the confusion, paranoia, and betrayals very well. This includes some increased attention to the mixed and broken loyalties, from Astartes who do not agree with their Legions’ new paths (be they loyal or traitor). It’s also fascinating to watch Primarchs wrong-footed, duped, and attacked by their fellow Primarchs. It is a particularly (grim) dark period in the History of the 30th millennium, and Abnett builds brilliantly on what has come before to create one of the most engrossing, addictive novels in the series yet.

There’s a furious pace in the second half. There is plenty of combat to balance out the mystery side, and it’s very well balanced – too often, I’ve felt that the action and combat sequences take over, whereas the variety of combat and combatants in The Unremembered Empire kept everything fresh and edge-of-my-seat addictive throughout. There are four Primarchs directly involved in this story, after all. There will be blood. Lots of it. Abnett’s writing is very clear and fluid, with nary a clunky passage or over-written scene. [Also, and this is a bit of an aside: Abnett stopped describing the Space Wolves’ “wet leopard growl”, which a lot of people unfairly made fun of with Prospero Burns. He varies the description, this time around.] He exhibits all of his best writing qualities in this novel.

I really could not put this down. Which is also why I ended up taking very few notes for the review (no quotes or passages). It was utterly addictive. Despite my tendency to wonder if Abnett is pushing the envelope a little too far, without a clear roadmap for some of his more unorthodox innovations, you can’t fault the man’s ability to write gripping military science fiction.

So, despite the shorter review, I loved this. Very, very highly recommended. I can’t wait to read more in the series! Because I believe there’s a bit of a gap until the next Horus Heresy novel, I think I’ll go back and read Mechanicum, which I shamefully overlooked for some reason when it first was published.

The Horus Heresy: Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Flight of the Eisenstein, Fulgrim, Descent of Angels, Legion, Battle for the Abyss, Mechanicum, Tales of Heresy, Fallen Angels, A Thousand Sons, Nemesis, The First Heretic, Prospero Burns, Age of Darkness, The Outcast Dead, Deliverance Lost, Know No Fear, The Primarchs, Fear to Tread, Shadows of Treachery, Angel Exterminatus, Betrayer, Mark of Calth, Promethean Sun, Scorched Earth, Vulkan Lives, Scars (I-III, IV-IX), The Unremembered Empire

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