Tuesday, 14 February 2012

‘Know No Fear’ – Dan Abnett (Black Library)

Another year, another book in the ‘Horus Heresy’ series. Another one of many in fact, I think there are a few more due to be released over the next few months… There have been rumblings about the length of the series, that it’s far too long already and with no sight of an ending just yet. I can see where people are coming from with this as emptying your wallet for a never ending series is never good… I think that this approach is damaging to the structure of the series as a whole but I’m getting ahead of myself here; more on that later on in this review.
On the other hand though, so long as each novel delivers then do we really have anything to complain about? There has been one significant dip in quality, over the course of the series, but that’s been the only one as far as I can see. On the whole, the ‘Horus Heresy’ series has done an admirable job of showing the reader one of the most turbulent times of the human Imperium. So long as the quality is consistent then, maybe we should all just enjoy the series while it lasts?

This is a particularly easy thing to do when the next ‘Horus Heresy’ book to step up to the plate not only covers one of the key points in the Civil War but is written by one of the Black Library’s most popular authors. Dan Abnett literally cannot put a foot wrong, as far as writing ‘Warhammer 40K’ fiction goes, and I was looking forward to more of the same with ‘Know No Fear’. I got more of the same, ‘Know No Fear’ is a brilliant read.

The Heresy has erupted into full blown warfare spanning entire star systems but there are still regions of the Imperium that don’t yet know what is going on. The Ultramar system is about to find out in the worst way possible…
Primarch Roboute Guilliman is ordered to launch an offensive against Orks mustering in the nearby Veridian system. His Ultramarines will work with their brothers in the Word Bearer’s Legion not only to cleanse the Ork threat but also to repair a relationship damaged (almost beyond repair) over forty years previously. At least that’s what Guilliman thinks…
The Word Bearer Legion follows a different master now and he has ordered them to attack the Ultramarines when they least expect it, completely decimating their home planet of Calth. What will follow is all out war not only on Calth but across the whole Ultramar system, fought between super enhanced warriors looking to settle the bitterest of rivalries. Calth will burn but who will be left standing when the flames finally die down…?

I’ve been reading the ‘Horus Heresy’ books for a few years now but I’m still very much finding my way through the wider background of this setting. I heard that the battle for Calth was a very big deal and was looking forward to reading about what sounded like a pivotal event in the war, especially as Dan Abnett was the guy writing it.
The bottom line is that ‘Know No Fear’ is a superb read that should cater nicely for long time fans while being self contained enough for newcomers to be able to pick it up and dive straight in.

One thing about it though that bugged me in terms of the series as a whole… Because the setting is so vast, and the war is taking its time in spreading, it feels like the series takes two steps forwards and then has to take at least four steps back to cover an event that has happened earlier in the timeline. I get why this has to happen but I’m looking forward to the day when everything catches up with itself and we can all move forward together in a straight line. I mention it here because the rest of the series had moved past the battle for Calth (at least as far as I can see) and now we’re having to go back to make sure that it gets a mention.

There’s no doubt though that Abnett’s coverage of the event ensures that the battle of Calth is worth that mention. Not that it wasn’t worth it anyway, it was, but Abnett does what he does best and makes ‘Know No Fear’ almost essential reading.

Dan Abnett proves once again that he has an eye for what draws the reader into a battle sequence on paper and keeps them reading through. He has a keen eye for the big ‘showcase’ events, stuff that makes you almost feel like you’re watching things happen instead of reading about them. We’re talking about star cruisers crashing into orbital platforms (and everything else), planetary defence grids firing on the sun and battle ships crashing onto the surface of Calth itself. If that wasn’t enough, you have a Primarch so awesomely strong that he is able to punch a man’s head clean off his shoulders! That last example is particularly spectacular but the book is full of moments like these. Abnett not only knows what military sci-fi is all about but is more than able to present it on the page in all its explosive glory.

‘Know No Fear’ isn’t just about the spectacle though. Abnett also gives us a close up into just what the battle for Calth means for the people suddenly caught up in the middle of it. What the reader gets as a result is an event that is fully formed instead of a random collection of (admittedly) really cool space battles.
The rank and file, of the combatants, get their time but Abnett’s focus here falls on the Marines of the Ultramarines Legion and how they react to this sudden betrayal. For warriors genetically altered to be perfect killers, the Ultramarines are stymied by the one thing they never saw coming; betrayal by their brother Legionnaires. Abnett really lays it on the line how deeply this betrayal cuts with characters dying in their droves as they are unable to handle the enormity of what has just happened. Things are really on a knife edge here and even though I had a rough idea of how it had to end the real joy was in seeing how Abnett gets the reader to that ending.

The plot itself is framed beautifully by a clock counting down to the betrayal and then counting on from it, displaying not only how long the battle takes (adding emphasis to each event) but also showing how the battle impacts on the future…

‘While Word Bearers still live, in the madness of the Maelstrom or in the depths of the warp, the mark of Calth will continue to run.
It is running now.’

This stylistic approach worked for the most part. I was left wondering if it gave certain characters enough time to shine. Oll’s story line looks like it’s meant to conclude in future books but for all the build up that Telemechrus gets… you don’t see an awful lot of him. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was deliberate, if it was then it didn’t work for me I'm afraid. It felt like a bit of an anti-climax instead (although I could be missing something here...)

Small complaints though when set against a book as good as this. Dan Abnett sets himself high standards and maintains them with every book he writes, ‘Know No Fear’ is no exception.

Nine and a Half out of Ten


Blitzspear said...

Your not referring to my grumble when last you posted about the HH books:0 BTW i think Macragg is the smurfs homeworld, Calth is another planet in the ultramar system/sector iirc. And i agree one step forward two steps back. Im rereading the Ravenor omnibus atm cuz it's just that good :)

Anonymous said...

I was interested in these until I figured out that the Heresy isn't a story -- it's a setting, and one that is apparently going to go on indefinitely. If it had just been a 10 book story or so, I'd have been up for it, but not this, no matter how good the individual parts are.

Dukeleto said...

@Blitzspear - The Ultramarines don't have a particular homeworld, the entire Ultramar system is ruled & administered by them & they recruit from all its worlds (except Calth, of course)

Awesome name btw - Credo!

Anonymous said...

I can absolutely relate to the ongoing frustration of the die hard HH fans. However; Ive recently come to the realization that im in no rush for the series to end anytime soon. The background for the 40k universe is very well kept and put together. Even though things get watered down here and there McNeil or Abnett always have a way of stepping up and saving the day with a book that really throws you in the mix. I cant wait to read about the tragic events surrounding the honorable Ultramarines and Blood Angels!! Keep'um coming I say, as long as they add to the drama of the series and keep me anticipating the next release!

Jake said...

The Horus Heresy encompasses all that is good about the universe of 40k, it's depth. To try and end the series before all the characters have had their full part would be a waste. There are so many aspects still to be covered, and I think any real fan would be happy to wait and enjoy all the myriad aspects rather than want them to rush to the battle of Terra so we could save our 7.99 every couple of months. As long as this series goes on, I'll be happy.

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable review, thanks for taking the time to write it.