Review: "Angel Exterminatus" (Graham McNeill)

Last weekend I read the latest Horus Heresy novel from Graham McNeill and Black Library: Angel Exterminatus. What follows is a quick review. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so don’t go into much depth about the plot.

Angel Exterminatus focusses on the the Iron Warriors legion and their Primarch, Perturabo. Although they are the main protagonists, the plot is setup and driven by another Primarch, Fulgrim, and the Emperor’s Children legion. Also making an appearance are 2 Eldar, and a few battered “loyalist” Space Marines.

Fans of Warhammer 40,000 – and the Horus Heresy in particular – will be lured into Angel Exterminatus by the promise of finding out more about Perturabo and the Iron Warriors. Up to now they have been typecast as rather mundane, if somewhat psychotic bullies. They’re the go-to guys when you have to besiege some fortress in a crawl-through-the-mud, ground-pounding war of attrition – as opposed to the other legions who grab all the glory for daring strikes into the heart of enemy territory. Beyond this stereotype their background hasn’t really been filled in much, leaving us thinking they’re pretty boring, bitter, and only concerned with blowing things up with the biggest gun possible.

What we learn from Angel Exterminatus is a very different picture. The Iron Warriors and Perturabo become interesting, multi-faceted characters. Perturabo is an master craftsman and artisan who can (and does) design and build devices and architecture of dazzling skill and intricacy. He has an unparalleled grasp of physics, mathematics, and strategy. He also has a volatile, murderous personality, but we come to understand where it comes from, and that he is very much more than he appears. The Iron Warriors largely reflect their Primarch. They are straight-forward warriors who excel at far more than they get credit for. They are logisticians, strategists… even geologists and engineers. They just happen to apply those skills to warfare and in a manner which is blunt and brutal, but extremely effective – applying the maximum force with the least amount of effort.

The overall plot can be summarised as: Fulgrim, with the aid of a mysterious Eldar “historian” convinces Perturabo to take his legion on an expedition to the heart of the Eye of Terror, to an ancient, dead Eldar world which is home to a mythical super-weapon which could end the war quickly in favour of Horus. Some Loyalist survivors of the opening battle of the Heresy discover the plan, and are led by another Eldar in a bid to thwart this possibility. Along the way we get to find out just how far the Emperor’s Children and Fulgrim have descended into excess and the worship of Slaanesh, and also how much it sucks to be a loyalist Space Marine right now. Mid-way through the book there’s even a Iron Warriors version of a game of Warhammer 40,000.

Overall, the plot flows nicely, and works well. There a very few, minor snooze moments, but nothing which totally detracts from the rest of the story. The payoff at the end gives us several things which old-timer fans might have been wondering when they would appear in the series, leaping some plot threads considerably.

In summary I’d say Angel Exterminatus is a great addition to the Horus Heresy series. If you’re a fan then you definitely want to pick it up. Newcomers might find it a bit difficult as it refers to a lot of threads in previous books, but it’s not so bad as I would say you should avoid it. It’s still a great read… One that once I started I didn’t put down until I’d devoured the whole book.

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