A Thousand Sons

by Graham McNeill

Rating: ★★★

This second Black Library book (both were purchased at an airport to see me through two days away) fares somewhat better than the previous in my estimation. McNeill's tale of the Thousand Sons during the Horus Heresy doesn't strike me as particularly imaginitive or insightful, but manages its job well enough.

Magnus has always seemed a rather sympathetic figure to me, and unsurprisingly this book provides support for that angle. Magnus was loyal, and probably not corrupted, and generally just (rightfully) confused by the opposition people had to his 'sorcery'. The Thousand Sons' commitment to discovering knowledge of course aligns with my academic sensibilities.

Although for the most part the story doesn't disappoint, there are a couple of negative points I want to address, and one of them is Nikea. For an event which was so central to the Thousand Sons' story, this felt neglected. We see only four contributions to the debate/trial, and no real back-and-forth. I'd much rather have seen more of the speakers and had more time being spent with the Thousand Sons slowly losing in the face of popular resentment, and I'd happily sacrifice some of the tedious battle scenes (there were several which seemed needless) for that.

The conclusion of Nikea that was presented to us is... odd. Magnus wins popular support through a 'we're leading you into the future' speech which should've fostered suspicion rather than eased it, and then the Emperor just goes 'naw, sorcery's bad, don't do it'. If anything, that makes the Emperor look stupid. These are marines who can barely clean their guns without using magic, of course they're not going to stop without you giving them a good reason. In fact, a lot of this book points towards the Emperor being the cause of the whole problem with the Thousand Sons. If he had just told Magnus about the webway setup, the cockup which led to Prospero would never have happened.

The Emperor might be a special case, but this could be considered a broader issue with the characters of the novel. Wyrdmake (I think that was his name. The runepriest) in particular seems to develop along a pseudo-sympathetic line, then suddenly become really hostile for no observable reason. Similarly, Russ seems to fly off the handle at Magnus for no reason during the assault on the avian world (Oddly, he says something about blood being spilled, but the Thousand Sons had specifically avoided killing any of the Space Wolves, though Russ had killed some of their number). Maybe this is a characteristic of the Space Wolves, but it leaves you reading what's going on and going 'Well, why?'. Sometimes it seems like the author couldn't think of a good motivation for his characters' actions, so just wrote them without one.

These flaws aside, the writing wasn't that bad. There is care devoted to developing the Thousand Sons characters and their remembrancers, and we get to see the cults in action both in and out of battle, giving the Legion extra dimensions. While I wouldn't want to enthuse about it at length, it's certainly entertaining enough.