Today I am going to write a short review on The First Heretic by Aaron Demski-Bowden. Previously I had read the entirety of the Gaunt’s Ghosts series as well as the Eisenhorn series. I have also listened to a smattering of short stories around the Horus Heresy that a friend bought me on CD (remember those!?). But other than this I haven’t done too much Black Library reading and none really around the Horus Heresy.
Obviously I am quite late to this game, but I enjoyed the First Heretic so much, that I thought I would pontificate over its virtues regardless. It was certainly interesting reading the narrative prose that connects the dots of my “factual” knowledge of this era, thus giving the story more life and feeling.
I warn you now that I will give away spoilers, though I will endeavour that these are not major ones, so read on at your own peril should you wish to have it all remain a surprise for your own reading pleasure...
The book begins with the destruction of Monarchia, an idyllic world created by the Word Bearers, centred on the worship of the Emperor as a God. The Word Bearers are informed by Guilliman and Malcador the Sigilite that this is due to worship in contravention of the Imperium of Mans purportedly secular society. Lorgar refuses this edict, going so far as to strike Malcador, it is only with the intervention of the Emperor himself who declares the Word Bearers his most failed Legion and Son for their worship that Lorgar slumps to acceptance. Though in his rage he also strikes Guilliman to the ground.
The story centres around two aspects. The first is Lorgar and his crisis of faith in the Emperor as a divine being along with his inherent tendency towards philosophical exploration over soldiering, wishing to cultivate society over waging war. The second is a Captain of one of his chapters The Serrated Sun, called Argel Tal. Argel Tal acts as an excellent foil to Lorgar’s crisis in the Emperor. His own struggle with the changes in Lorgar highlight the flaws in Lorgar’s reasoning but also highlight the hypocrisy within the imperium and lend credence to Lorgar’s complaints.
The book presents a wonderfully deep view of Lorgar and really made me feel for him on a raw emotionally wronged level. His eventual betrayal is not borne out of bitterness such as is seen with Perturabo or the grandiose aggression of Horus (though this has much to do with the word bearers, Erebus in particular) but a genuine sense of wronging and a desire to seek the truths of the world.
The betrayal lacks malice on the half of Lorgar or many of his loyal sons, but a feeling of necessity to present the truth no matter the cost. It is truly an interesting view into the errors of an Emperor often presented as benevolent and perfect in many ways.
Argel Tal is also an incredibly well written character, as mentioned he highlights many of the struggles that Lorgar is going through, by mirroring them in different ways. His friendship to the golden Custodes, who accompany the legion following the fall of monarchia to make certain the word bearers adherence to the imperial dogma, serves as a wonderful metaphor for Lorgar and his father as a great golden being. Both are reluctant to enter betrayal and both only do so from loyalty to a higher cause. Lorgar to the truth and Argel Tal to his Primarch.
I cannot recommend this book enough, it is excellently written and provides a great deal of human depth to otherwise an inhuman world of Astartes and Primarchs and Gods. I have been told that Aaron Demski-Bowden was a good author, but I was also told that Dan Abnett was a good author. Whilst I enjoyed Dan Abnett’s books greatly I would not describe him as a particularly good author, straying frequently into certain tropes and stereotypes types that are good fun to read in the context of 40k, but if it were not in such a rich IP as games workshop have I would probably have put his books down.
Demski-Bowden on the other hand is a considerably above average writer and I feel that even if he were to write a story on none Games Workshop material I would find it equally as engaging. His approach and cadence to story-telling was very refreshing compared to the Abnett work I have read.
As always these are my own opinions and I don’t wish to take away from Abnett’s work, as I said I enjoyed them thoroughly, whilst being aware of their flaws. But The First Heretic is a book that is good by any measure and if you haven’t read it and you are interested in this area of Lore I feel it is an absolute must read.
I plan to buy and read more books and review them as they come, any recommendations for what to read next, leave a comment below