Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: 'Fear to Tread' by James Swallow

Another great positive from going to GW events is the chance to pick up pre-release copies of Black Library titles. The period of the pre-release varies and, most of the time, I'm happy enough to wait until the titles are on Amazon, thus being able to afford almost twice as many books.

But I'm fairly addicted to the Horus Heresy series, particularly when a title features a chapter I collect and play with. So 'Fear to Tread' was a must-buy for me.

I finished it this afternoon and I can happily say its quite good. Not amazing, but a decent read overall.

For my money, Graham McNeill and Dan Abnett are the kings of the Heresy titles. Noone else seems to elevate their style and standard of writing quite so effortlessly when tackling the grand themes and great icons of the 30th millenium. But James Swallow comes close.

'Fear to Tread' is a Blood Angels novel as much as a HH title. It deals with a central theme of the army's codex and history - the Red Thirst/Black Rage, also sometimes known as 'the flaw'. A couple of brief flashbacks provide the setting - Horus is aware of the flaw, while few Blood Angels other than Sanguinius's inner circle are, and uses this knowledge to set a trap for the Angel and his sons. Part of this trap involves exposing the genetic weakness in the bloodiest of marines and using to destroy the chapter, or the Primarch, or perhaps both. Also lots of daemons. Gunplay ensues.

This is probably the maddest title in the series so far too. Glimpses of the real horror of the warp have been seen in 'Fulgrim' and 'The Mirror Crack'd', but 'Fear to Tread' leaves the reader in no doubt - allying with the warp is not just an alternate lifestyle choice for disaffected Astartes, its a deal with devils, with the emphasis on 'evil'. There's some pretty gruesome stuff in this book.

Sorry if this is a spoiler (it really shouldn't be), but Sanguinius at least does survive the trap set for him. But not without he and his chapter making some hard choices and some major sacrifices. While possibly beginning to answer one of the big questions that hangs over the Heresy series (clue: how does Nikaea tally with what we know of the 40k universe?), the end of 'Fear to Tread' leaves the reader desperate to know what happens next.

Some parts of the book did seem to drag a little bit - notably some of the exposition feels a little stilted and forced. But the action is well written and generally well paced.  There are a few incidental characters who don't seem to serve any real purpose, but then this occurs in quite a few HH books. Maybe the reasons for these characters inclusion will become clearer in future titles.

For fans of the Blood Angels then, this book is required reading. An unparallelled insight into the Primarch and the roots of the chapter we know and love today.

Its possibly less essential for general followers of the Heresy. I don't think there's much there that is truly pivotal in how the war turns out, although its quite revealing as to how Horus and Sanguinius feel about each other and does set the scene for that battle barge showdown nicely.

Next up on the pre-release pile: 'Path of the Outcast' by Gav Thorpe :)

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