Friday, 30 March 2012

Books in Brief : The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

My first novel by ADB and oh my! What a way to start.

It is testament to the authors skill and rapid rise to high regard amongst other luminaries of the Black Library and it's readers, that his first Heresy assignment should be to chart the all important fall of the Word Bearers to the machination of Chaos.

As most will know, the XVII Legion are pivotal to the schemes of the Ruinous Powers; by turning them, the Chaos Gods create a lance to pierce the boil of jealousy, ambition and doubt that festers beneath the skin of the Imperial Truth, thus allowing the corruption to spread.

I'll confess to a bias for the Imperials that can be a hurdle for any author telling a story based around the traitor legions, I simply don't like Chaos. I think it coloured my view of Fulgrim by Graham McNeill, something he later overcame with the moving A Thousand Sons. In First Heretic ADB not only had to sell me a tale of a Primarch and his Astartes willingly turning from the Emperor, but one which included First Chaplain Erebus, probably the biggest villain of the Heresy and a character with no redeeming features.

And sell me it he did, with a gripping, well paced and deeply thought out novel, punctuated with visceral action (which I understand to be a signature of the author).

The protagonist, Word Bearer Captain Argel Tal, is a broadly developed, solid character almost on a par with Garviel Loken; despite walking a very different path. The potrayal of the Legions Primarch, Lorgar is surprisingly different from that of his siblings thus far and refreshing, despite the opinion I formed of him as a result.

The Legio Custodes are given their best outing since the Dan Abnett short story Blood Games, in Tales of Heresy and truly live up to their 'badass' reputation.

There are plenty of questions answered, although as with all the Heresy novels, this results in more being posed and there are the 'fanboy' tie ins to the wider 40k verse (which are always much appreciated by a fluff collector like me). I particularly enjoyed the passages devoted to a Conqueror Robot and it's Tech Adept handler from the Legio Cybernetica.

ADB delighted in further muddying the waters of good versus evil with both sides committing terrible, questionable acts. But he obviously revels in the portrayal of Chaos and its with these lurid descriptions he restored (perhaps unintentionally) my faith in whose side I was on. Whilst the Thousand Sons may be deserving of pity in their misguided quest for knowledge, the Word Bearers search for Faith is a warning that religious fanaticism of any stripe can lead to nought but ill.

A splendid read and I look forward to more from the man with the spelling challenge surname.


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