Home > Book Review > Book Review- “Fulgrim” by Graham McNeill

Book Review- “Fulgrim” by Graham McNeill

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I’ve reviewed some of The Black Library’s “Warhammer 40,000” novels on this blog before. I’ve talked about how I’m addicted to them and they’re a fun mash up of elements from “Star Wars,” “Dune,” the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and Tolkein style fantasy that have a heavy metal visual aesthetic and often feature morally gray themes. If you like all that stuff do yourself a favor and check out some of those books. They take place in a fascinating and well constructed dystopian sci-fi fantasy universe.

What I have not discussed here before though is Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” line of books, which take place 10,000 years earlier and chronicle the galactic civil war that laid the foundation for the shape of the “Warhammer 40k” Universe. These books are just as fun and they have the added bonus of being a sort of epic history. If you’re coming to the “Horus Heresy” as a fan of “Warhammer 40,000” you’ll be delighted to get to know some of the big names of 40K history like the titular Space Marine Primarch who is just as fearsome as later history made him out to be, but is also fascinatingly more nuanced.

If the “Horus Heresy” books are your first trip to the “Warhammer” universe though there’s plenty to offer you too. You get to be surprised by some twists and turns and the characters you’ll meet are fascinating.

The essential set up is it’s the 30th millennium and mankind has united under the banner of the superhuman psychic know as the Emperor of Mankind. So the Emperor and his legions of genetically engineered super soldiers, the Space Marines, have left Earth and set out among the stars to reunite with or conquer the pockets of humanity who have set out colonize the galaxy ages ago. Each of the Space Marine legions is lead by a demigod like Primarch who are like sons to the Emperor. When the action in the Horus Heresy has picked up, the Emperor has returned to Earth to work on a secret project and the Primarch Horus has been put in charge of the Imperium of Man’s Great Crusade. There are sinister supernatural forces, the Gods of Chaos, at work though that seek to corrupt Horus and his fellow Primarchs and ignite a civil war among the Imperium.

The opening trilogy of the books details Horus’ corruption and the treachery he sets into motion to purge several Space MarineGraham McNeill legions of warriors still loyal to the Emperor. Those books are “Horus Rising” by Dan Abnett, “False Gods” by Graham McNeill, and “Galaxy in Flames” by Ben Counter and they’re all fantastic, especially “Galaxy in Flames.” In book four of the series “Flight of the Eisenstein” James Swallow chronicles the quest of a Space Marine who assumes control of the titular freighter and embarks upon an epic and inspiring voyage back to Earth in order to warn the Emperor that Horus, several of his other Primarchs, and their corresponding Legions have turned traitor.

For this review I’m going to be looking at the fifth book in the “Horus Heresy,” Fulgrim, by Graham McNeill. In the book McNeill examines the fall of the titular Primarch and his Space Marine Legion, a chapter known as the Emperor’s Children. Each of the Primarchs and their Space Marine legions have a distinct personality and character and for Fulgrim and the Emperor’s Children it’s a pursuit of perfection. That means a number of the Emperor’s Children can come off as snobs and prigs, but previous Horus Heresy books have shown that the Legion also has a number of selfless and morally upstanding heroes like Saul Tarvitz, who readers meet in the opening trilogy. He plays a role here and so does Solomon Demeter, a brave but charmingly rash Space Marine, who readers meet in “Fulgrim” for the first time.

It’s also important that readers empathize with Fulgrim since this is an ultimately a tragic story of his corruption and downfall, and I did. McNeill does that by showing the Primarch’s love for his legion and his brother Primarch, Ferrus Mannus who commands the Iron Hands Space Marine Legion. The scenes between the two of them, especially their final confrontation are awe inspiring and also heartbreakingly poignant. McNeill makes you feel the bond between the Primarchs and how much they mean to each other, especially Ferrus Mannus who has a rather cold demeanor most of the time.

Readers also empathize with Fulgrim’s love of art. That love for art is established early on through the introduction of several “Remembrancer” characters. The Remembrancers are an interesting device that are established in the first Horus Heresy book. Essentially they are the Imperium’s greatest artists and creative people and they’ve been tasked with documenting the Great Crusade. In the opening pages of “Fulgrim” we meet some of the Remembrancers who are traveling with the title character and the Emperor’s Children like sculptor Ostian Delafour and composer Bequa Kynska, who helps contribute to one of the book’s most chilling scenes.

Horror is very much a part of “Fulgrim” and McNeill plays those parts of the story expertly. The novel has a creeping sense of dread through out that only increases the more Fulgrim, the Emperor’s Children, and the Remembrancers fall under the corrupting sway of Chaos. They do so in a way that sees their behavior becoming more and more decadent until it climaxes in a concert of alien and supernatural evil influenced music that is both intense and pretty terrifying.

I thought the role perfection and art played in “Fulgrim” gave the book a unique haunting feel; a sort of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” meets “The Exorcist” vibe that was interesting to read and see brought to life. It also made the final scenes with the now fully corrupted Fulgrim standing upon a ruined stage tragic and terrifying.

“Fulgrim” wasn’t entirely about corruption and horror though. McNeill also treated readers to some intense battle scenes that featured some great action. I loved the opening battle of the book that found Solomon Demeter “going right down” the middle to help win the battle for an alien world. Plus the final chapters of “Fulgrim” chronicle one of the biggest and most infamous battles in the history of “Warhammer 40,000,” the battle of Istvaan V. The scale of those battle scenes are intense and fantastic and and part of the reason why I love “Warhammer 40,000” novels and “The Horus Heresy” series.

So “Fulgrim” is a worthy fifth entry in “The Horus Heresy” line. It’s got great characters, exciting, action, and features a horrific, tragic, and fascinating story that leaves you wanting more.

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