The Horus Heresy Book Club: False Gods
It should go without saying that from this point on, there will be spoilers. If you haven't read False Gods, and are bothered by spoilers, then come back later after reading it.
False Gods is the second book in the Horus Heresy series, and the second in a trilogy of novels that revolve around the same cast of characters. It was written by Graham McNeill, and I first read it when it came out in 2006. This is my second read through.
This book continues the direct story line from Horus Rising. First, we are introduced to Petronella Vivar—a noblewoman from Terra—and her entourage, including the surgically-induced mute Maggard. She thinks very highly of herself, and is supremely confident in her task to become Horus' personal remembrancer. We then pivot to two crewmen of the imperator titan Dies Irae: moderati primus Cassar, and moderati pirmus Aruken. Afterwards we get a vignette of life on Davin, as lodge priestess Akshub watches the trails of light heralding the Warmaster's drop pods descend from the sky, and revels in the fate that will soon befall her and her masters. It's only at the end that Horus sets foot from the drop pod onto the surface of Davin, a world he conquered sixty years ago.
Davin is where his inevitable turn to Chaos happens. We know this, and have known this since Space Marine debuted in 1989. It's here that we see what turns Horus and where many a reader expressed disappointment at how it was depicted, myself included (though not as fervently as others). It's perhaps no slight on Graham McNeill, but instead on the fact that such a tale should have had more time to breathe. We should've been treated to a steady erosion of Horus' will, or (my preference) a reaction to changing material conditions of the Crusade and the Imperium.
What we are given as reasons for Horus' betrayal are his discontent at bureaucrats interrupting the Crusade—his Crusade—and demanding he institute taxes on conquered worlds. This, coupled with his failures to peaceably bring the Interex and the "False Imperium" into the Emperor's realm beginning to seed doubt in his mind regarding his ability as Warmaster. To add to this doubt, the betrayal of Eugen Temba on Davin brings to the fore his guilt at assigning him the position, one Temba begged Horus not to assign him for fear of not being able to live up to the responsibility. Sound familiar?
I don't have any trouble with that stuff, nor do I have trouble with Erebus' (boo!) plot to use the anathame stolen from the Hall of Devices on Xenobia to wound Horus, leading to his fever dream in the Davinites' fane to Chaos. In fact, that whole plot tells a lot about the astartes and their blind loyalty to their primarch. They love Horus so much that they would reject the secular edicts of the Emperor if only Horus could be healed. The Emperor's science has failed. The primarch's so-called perfect body can only be healed by the Emperor, and he's gone back to Terra to work on projects he couldn't even trust his sons with the knowledge of. The astartes that take Horus to the fane have already made their choice, no matter what happens to Horus.
My greatest issue is the dream in the warp that Horus has. I think it's cool that Horus is tricked by being shown a vision of a future he helped create with his betrayal (very like the Chaos gods to do that). My problem is that Magnus reveals it all as a ruse by Erebus and Horus still buys it? I found that to be a let down. Throughout this book we're given a little glimpse into Horus' psyche. He fears the responsibly he's given being the Warmaster, he's frustrated by the Emperor's absence and the bureaucrats appearance, and he fears what will become of him and his warriors at the Crusade's end. Magnus' appearance in this novel felt shoehorned in, his reveal feels inconsequential, and the dream felt like it should have been the beginning of Horus' betrayal, not the end.
I think it would have been more compelling if the story showed a Horus wracked with self-doubt throughout the rest of the Crusade. Let the nascent Imperial cult grate on him more. Perhaps show more jealousy displayed by his brother primarchs, and have the vices of Imperial bureaucracy get ever tighter.
Some further stray thoughts: The moderati primus' relationship to each other was cool. Maggard was also pretty cool, if not a little frightening. Petronella herself felt pointless; more like a Maggard delivery vehicle. The battle scenes in the swamps of Davin's moon against the horde of Nurgle zombies was one of the better battle scenes I've read so far in the series (considering the fact that I've read the first twelve books as they came out). I think if there were ever a show or movie made of the first two Horus Heresy novels, a good actor to play Ignace Karkasy would be Michael Gladis.
Well, I hope you liked this review. If not, let me know through email, or in the comments/replies wherever I post this (Instagram, Facebook, and Mastodon). Next time, I'll tackle Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter.