Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill. Book review

angelANGEL EXTERMINATUS by Graham McNeill

h/b, the Black Library, €25.00,

Reviewed by David Rudden

I don’t know how many Horus Heresy books the Black Library intend to release (and with the success of the series, I don’t dare to speculate) but as the series seems to move into a new phase of the narrative the plot is getting darker and more interesting. I had mentioned in a previous review that I felt that book after book dealing with the reactions of different characters to the series’ central conceit (gloried prince of galactic empire turns against his father) was getting a bit old and luckily the conflict seems to be evolving.

‘Angel Exterminatus’ (now holding the title for the most metal name of a book so far in the series) is the story of uneasy allies Perturarbo of the Iron Warriors and Fulgrim of the Emperor’s Children in their hunt for an ancient and terrible weapon. There’s a nice contrast in the leading characters and their legions, though I feel it’s hampered by McNeill’s constant need to reference himself every five pages. We get that all the books are connected and no-one is enjoying the in-jokes as much as you are.

The triumph of the book is the characterisation of Perturarbo. I’m a big fan of watching how the writers take the characters of the primarchs (monolithic as they stand in the mythology of the other Black Library books) and make them human. While there have been some missteps in this, revealing Perturarbo to be a quiet soul who simply wanted to be an architect and scholar is brilliant. I found myself really feeling for him by the end and could have dealt with a lot less of some of the other aspects of the book (the uncharacteristically jolly Iron Hands scientist for one) in order to focus in on this.

My only other problem with the novel is McNeill’s habit of dialling the nonsense up to eleven. Different BL writers deal with describing the mind-bending ways of Chaos and far-flung technologies in different ways but McNeill tends to just loose the hyperbole dogs until you’re honestly not sure what is going on. It’s that Lovecraftian trope of ‘distances to make a man go mad, dizzying infinities far too big for any human mind to contain’ which works in moderation, but after a while it just comes across as confusing.

That said, there are a lot of great little touches in the novel and there’s a twist that in retrospect I should have seen coming but didn’t (the best kind) and it’s worth a read. I’d just wait for the paperback.