|This is, in my opinion, the finest piece of Heresy artwork ever designed alongside the image of Horus's Court.|
"Abnett masterfully brings together plot threads from stories all across the Heresy series and uses them to craft one of the best books of the series so far. Without a doubt, The Unremembered Empire is one of the finest of the Horus Heresy series." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming.
The Unremembered Empire is a novel that i've been dying to read for some time as much has been expected of it. The steadily growing Imperium Secundus plot that we've been seeing over the last one-to-two years of the series is finally brought to fruition and we see the start of one of the greatest moments of forgotten history in the entire 30k/40k universe. But Imperium Secundus isn't the only plot that picks up here, several other novels and short stories and novellas have plot threads that continue into TUE and either finish, potentially, or are explored further and then set up to continue in ways that I doubt anyone saw coming. I was very surprised during several parts of the novel, when I wasn't grinning ear to ear at it of course, and I think this novel will have a few surprises in store for even the most observant Heresy fan.
The Horus Heresy rages on, but while the Warmaster and his armies decimate the Imperium one planet stands untouched. Macragge, home of Roboute Guilliman and capital of the mighty realm of Ultramar. Macragge alone stands proud in the night imposed by the Ruinstorm, but Guilliman is not content to ride out this storm. Beginning a plan that could see him labelled as the father of a new Imperium or the greatest traitor since Horus Lupercal, he gathers to him the remnants of those who have been scattered across Ultramar and it's surrounding sectors, but not every visitor to Macragge comes with peace in mind, and soon Macragge Civitas will play host to Primarchs, loyalists, traitors, xenos and the agents of a vast conspiracy; all of which are prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure that their goals are achieved. Will Macragge be destroyed by this confluence of events? Or will a new empire arise from the storm? History does not remember but in this time, all know the story of the Unremembered Empire.
The story in TUE is nothing short of remarkable, firstly that Abnett was able to bring so many plot threads into the novel and not have it feel clunky or unwieldy and secondly that he manages to take each one in a surprising direction and giving each plot the attention it deserves while keeping the main story as the focus and having the other stories revolve around it and affect it at different times. The main plot is of course Guilliman's efforts to forge Imperium Secundus and how his efforts draw in survivors, renegades, spies, assassins and all sorts into Macragge and as different characters with different motivations arrive they end up being affected by Guilliman's efforts or affecting them through their own actions. Secondary plots include plot threads from Vulkan Lives, Prince of Crows, Fear to Tread, Betrayer, Rules of Engagement, Savage Weapons, The Iron Within, Crimson Fist, and a few more. Abnett doesn't hold back on the plot and for this reason TUE feels like a convergence, a nexus of plot threads that have come together to be advanced and to change how we thought others would advance, I did not expect certain characters or plots to end up here and they definitely did not proceed how I thought they would. The only downside to the large amount of plot threads is that some elements I expected to play a larger role in the novel did not, and one character in particular who I thought would be a major player in the entire affair barely appeared in the book, but I suppose that the reason for that is clear once you finish the book.
The character base for this novel is more numerous than any other Heresy novel. Four pages of Dramatis Personae which actually leaves off a few characters so that their appearances are a surprise, which was admirable of Abnett to do, and there is actually an impressive name in the Dramatis Personae that had me quite excited until I saw where it went, then I was just surprised as hell. Abnett writes strong characters and he was the author that changed my mind about Roboute Guilliman, once my least favourite Primarch and now one of my favourites of them all. But for this novel he handles multiple Primarchs and continues to establish each one as a unique character and with very hidden depths and sometimes attitudes that we wouldn't expect from them, based on what we've read about them or seen other characters say. Guilliman however is his standout Primarch and it was a few particular scenes that I think showed Guilliman at his best, whenever he interacted with Astartes outside his Legion. He spoke like a king would, never looking down upon those different but rather speaking as they would to him and matching their mannerisms and attitudes, making them feel more at ease and more willing to be honest with him. One other character that I particularly liked was Barthusa Narek, previously of Vulkan Lives, for being perhaps a truly unique character in the Heresy and for having a really really badass speech in one part. Abnett also continues his characterisation of the Ultramarines from Know No Fear, establishing them as a Legion whose uniqueness comes from their character rather than their battle formations, the Ultramarines are a Legion that uphold virtues of compassion and unity and I think that it's a nice change to see a Legion that actually cares. The only downside to Abnett's characters is that many of them didn't get to appear enough, there are some here that I really hope we see again since we can't be sure they will definitely appear again. Oh and one surprise cameo of a character I never thought we'd see again, but it is very very cool to know that this character is still involved and that perhaps he has quite a role to play yet.
The action in the novel is not very large in scale, there are plenty of action scenes but this novel doesn't feature armies clashing or large scale battles, as the novel focuses more on character development and plot thread development, both endings and continuances, but what action it does feature is written very well. Abnett does do one or two things in the fight scenes that some may question, may think it makes Guilliman look weak, but I think that Abnett is acknowledging that the Primarchs are not invincible and that there are things that can kill even them, and that just because they are a Primarch does not mean they cannot be defeated by well-trained and equipped foes. The scenes in the Fortress of Hera were fantastically done, fraught with tension and confusion as the Ultramarines fight a very tricky enemy, an enemy that it really did feel like they had never faced the like of before and I got the sense that they were out of their league which I felt was appropriate considering the circumstances, and one whom I think was portrayed excellently both in character and in the fight scenes that make it clear; this is one of the most dangerous characters in the series. The final fight was more like an epic duel, emphasis on the word epic, and has already become one of my favourite fights of the series, but again Abnett does some things that some readers may not appreciate but I think that in this series of scenes the thing to remember is that this particular character is not at his best, he is hurt badly both physically and mentally and his opponents take advantage of that; that's the way I see it and so I really did love the final battle of the novel as it was exciting, fast-paced and brutal which was just what I expected and hoped for in such a confrontation.
The pacing of the book is nicely done. Abnett makes some editorial changes from previous Horus Heresy books by giving each chapter it's own title and a quote, some very appropriate from historical sources and some from in-universe that are just awesome. The novel flows very nicely, each different set of characters and plots being given plenty of page space and events moving at a good pace, not slow but not break-neck speed either, just a good pace that slows down when it needs to and speeds up when it needs to. The structure and flow of the novel never bored me at any point, I never felt like I was wading through unimportant details or that the novel had slowed to a trickle, which along with all of the above sections is why I was able to finish this book in less than half a day. I think it's a sign of Abnett's skill as a writer that he achieved, in my opinion, what he mentions he wanted for this book in the Afterword, it didn't feel like this book was an arduous task but rather one that comes together very nicely.
Another thing that I would like to mention is the number of easter eggs, as Abnett calls them in the Afterword, that TUE features and I very much enjoyed all of them. Some were grim humoured omens of the future, some were brief moments that give you a hint of the origins of something we know well in 40k, some were nice call-backs to moments from previous novels, and one in particular stood out as I stopped for a moment when I read it and thought to myself, "Well that explains what that really was," after I read a moment that explains a moment waay back in the first Horus Heresy novel, Horus Rising, that I first thought was just an error but now I think might have been planted there as a hint towards this character's particular abilities, which if this is actually so then bravo to Dan Abnett. And I must compliment the artwork of Karl Richardson, he has really mad some great pieces for this book, two of which were nicely done but simple in what they depicted, but the final two depicted one well-known character and one that is not very well known, and both looked absolutely brilliant, especially the latter character who lookd 1000x more badass than I thought he did.
Now for my favourite quote, I actually can't decide between these two options, the first for it's sheer awesomeness and the second for the awesomeness that in the context of the quote rather than what it actually says, which is still pretty cool.
"I believe in the Word of our Primarch and I believe that Word makes us loyal to the Emperor. We are of the Word, and thus we are of the Emperor. It was ever thus. I despise the steps my Legion-kin have taken to embrace the Outer Dark. Too many steps, too far."
"We march for Macragge!"
The ending of the book does feel a little abrupt, I think mainly because something so big and important happens so quickly and because the ending of the novel was not what I expected to happen, but it became apparant during the novel that things were not going to be how I expected them. But I think that the purpose of this novel is not to tell just one story but a whole host of them and just because some of them do not end but are left to continue further, and because of that I think that while TUE's ending is somewhat abrupt, it doesn't detract from the story too much. I really did enjoy where some characters ended up, literally and metaphorically, and I think that things are far from done on Macragge or in Ultramar and that there could be the potential for quite a few short stories set in the backdrop of the Unremembered Empire.
For a great story that had many surprises and epic moments, characters that really endeared themselves to me and one or two surprise cameos, and battle scenes that made up for the lack of armies killing each other by being awesome for a completely different reason, I give The Unremembered Empire a score of 9.3/10. This is without a doubt one of the best Horus Heresy novels yet and one that should not be overlooked, skipped or missed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of the Horus Heresy, and I consider it to be one of Abnett's best works yet alongside Know No Fear and Pariah. However I would not advise reading this novel unless you have read the novels Know No Fear, Fear to Tread, Betrayer and Vulkan Lives as each of them has plots that are integral to the novel and without the knowledge of what happens in them will affect how much you enjoy The Unremembered Empire.
That's it for this review. Thanks for reading, until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!