"Both Horus and McNeill return to the Heresy in full fanfare and what a return it is! Vengeful Spirit starts off strong and doesn't let up on the powerful, emotional and visceral moments that the Horus Heresy series does so well, all the while building to a fantastic conclusion that promises bigger things to come." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
The Horus Heresy has always been, to this reviewer, a series that gets better with each installment, barring some exceptions. Vengeful Spirit is not one of those exceptions, rather it has definitely taken a spot among my favourite Heresy stories, after all it has everything; a story that takes you places you never guessed were coming, returning characters and brand new ones, brutal action scenes with all sorts of weapons and tanks that suck you in and don't let go, poignantly emotional moments that resonated with me when I read them, and a fair few of those truly awesome moments that make you want to punch the air when they happen.
The Sons of Horus return! Searching for a way to win the only battle of the war that actually matters, the confrontation between father and son that both know is coming, Warmaster Horus takes his Legion to the Knight World of Molech where a vast Imperial Army stands ready to repel the traitors. But why does such an out of the way world like Molech merit such an strong and impressive force protecting it? And what there could possibly aid Horus in his battle with the Emperor? With phantoms stalking the halls of the Vengeful Spirit, internal strife and discord threatening their fragile brotherhood and a garrison of Ultramarines arrayed against them the Sons of Horus take to the field, but on the killing fields of Molech they begin to realize that things are no longer as simple as they were in the Great Crusade, if things were ever simple to begin with that is.
The story in VS is a long-awaited, and much-needed in both my and apparantely McNeill's opinion, return for Horus and the Sons of Horus and it doesn't disappoint. McNeill takes Molech, a cool battle but ultimately one of little-importance and turns it into a great and critical stage in the Horus Heresy that on the surface seems like just another stepping-stone towards Terra, when in reality Molech may be the most important battle for the Sons of Horus since Istvaan V. McNeill also weaves in other stories, that of a returning character whose personal grievance with Horus and his Legion not only results in a tense and enjoyable adventure but one of the best scenes in the entire Heresy and one that has been a long time coming. The story of House Devine continues here as well and that one I admit surprised me quite a bit with how it was resolved, I really never saw any of that coming and it went against every expectation I had, but that is definitely a good thing as McNeill didn't go with the obvious answer. And there was one little story featuring a few characters, all new, that made me smile more than once and with regard to that one I can only say that I too hope everything will be okay. VS to me does feel a lot like The Unremembered Empire in that a lot of plot threads from other novels and short stories and such have congregated here, some are now resolved and some continue in unexpected ways, but I think that VS doesn't sacrifice a main story to the same degree as TUE did to do this.
The characters in VS are a mix group of familiar faces from previous books and brand new characters that we may not have seen the last of. Of course Horus and his sons are the focus and not only was it great to see Horus again but it was interesting to see that despite everything, he has not changed a great deal from the friendly and open man we last saw in False Gods. Of course there are some changes, but Horus still feels a long way from the dark lord we know he'll become when he reaches Terra. Returning characters Abaddon and 'Little' Horus Aximand were nice to see as well, though it was Aximand that provided more interesting character moments and plot advancement. And the new characters in House Devine made for some intriguing plot developments and rather surprising moments, McNeill shows that the characters are people and people can surprise you. One of the best parts though was a long-awaited returning character, and since his name appears in the Dramatis Personae and he first appears in the second chapter and it's not a secret that he is alive anymore, I don't consider this to be a spoiler. So yes the return of Garviel Loken to the Horus Heresy main series was great and quite a novelty as well, at first it was weird seeing his name again, but Loken and the Knights-Errant were a very fun group and Loken dealing with the betrayal of his brothers, the death of Torgaddon and finding his place in the universe made for a great character story alongside the main events. Many of the characters in the book have undergone quite a crucible and each one has emerged different from the start, and how this changes the dynamic in the Sons of Horus will make for entertaining reading down the line. The Traitors aren't the only strong characters in the book though, the Ultramarines and Blood Angels in the book were both interesting groups each with different motivations, and the new character Alivia Sureka whom I do hope we see again was a welcome new addition to a very special group of characters, and I think I already like her the best out of all of them.
The battles in the book are top-notch and some of them are definitely contenders for the best battles in the Heresy. The Sons of Horus are finally back in the fight and they do a good job of reminding the readers why their Primarch was named the Warmaster and why they were the ideal that so many Legions strove to emulate, and with Horus leading the charge it results in plenty of spear-tips smashing into enemy lines, hundreds of Terminators tearing through trenches and thousands of Legionnaires and superheavy tanks charging across a beach into the guns of the enemy. Titans dueling each other as armies die in their shadows, and for the first time since Mechanicum the Knights take to the field again and we get to see plenty of them in every stage of the battle, and we get to see that they are capable of a lot more than they look they would be. The Death Guard feature a bit in the novel as well and we get a disturbing glimpse of their future as they fight their own battle on Molech. The battles in VS feel visceral and are described in such detail that they absorb you into the book, you can almost hear the sounds of bolters firing and explosions as the Sons of Horus enter into a battle rivaling Istvaan and Calth for sheer destruction. And one important thing that McNeill makes sure to do is show the strengths of both sides, like how Aaron Demsbki-Bowden's Betrayer showed both the Ultramarines and World Eaters at their bests, so too does this book shows the Ultramarines and Sons of Horus at their bests, and even the Imperial Army and the Knights get to shine with great heroics and cheer-worthy moments on both sides of the conflict. We also get some very personal battles nearer to the end and while these aren't as big as the main campaign, they are still exciting for the new kind of warrior that the Sons of Horus introduce and the nature of the battles, that in order to understand you'll have to wait to read the book yourselves.
The pacing of the book is nicely done, McNeill starts off slowly but strongly and builds the story over time by giving hints and just enough knowledge to keep the reader going on. Once the Sons of Horus reach Molech though things start to move move quicker until the battle is in full swing and everything is at full speed. But then as things wind down we have the climactic final chapters of the book and while things do slow down a bit, that is simply the eye of the storm and with one final burst the plot races to the finish line for this stage of the Horus Heresy. At no point during the novel was I bored, the beginning though more subdued than the rest of the book kept my attention with character and plot advancement rather than battles, which kept my interest until the battle took off and there was plenty of fighting to go along with those plot twists and character development. There are two things specifically that I want to address about the novel as well; first the absolutely beautiful artwork by Tiernan Trevallion that graces the internal pages, four images done in pencil drawings that are detailed and much more lifelike than the comic-style artwork that has featured in previous volumes, I really liked each one of the images though I think the what the fourth one portrayed was underwhelming compared to what was depicted in the other three and considering what was actually happening in the novel at those pages, something more exciting could have been chosen. And the second is a few moments of self-awareness that McNeill puts into the book, moments that we as readers can appreciate and find funny for their pointedness towards events in the series, one in particular that shows McNeill is aware of what he's done and he's poking a bit of fun at it, which I think makes it all the better.
Now for my favourite quote, sadly I can't post my actual favourite quote because it took up about half a page, so i'll go with both my second and third favourites, the former is about a thousand times cooler in context, and the latter was a really heartwarming moment and made me smile,
"I already was. It was called the Great Crusade."
"Didn't I tell you it was going to be okay?"
The ending of the book is a great one, McNeill gives closure to a fair few characters and shows us how each of the main cast has been changed by the events of VS, some for the better and some for the worse. And he shows us just how much Horus has been changed by what has happened both on Molech and in other places, Horus still hasn't become the monster we know he is going to become, but he may very well have taken a big step towards that darkness. And in a story with so much death, misery and cruelty, McNeill manages to end the story on, in my opinion, one of the nicest moments in the entire series and a reminder that although the dream of the Great Crusade is over and nearly everything has gone to hell, there are still nice things going on in the galaxy and that not everything is darkness and betrayal. But of course there's mystery as well, and now that the mystery of Molech has been solved there is another one that we can only wonder at for now, because like the characters who see it at the end I sure as hell don't know what it means. The contained story of Molech in VS is finished here but other plot strands have developed and some are still continuing, and I can't wait to see where they'll go and especially if what a few characters were trying to do in their story could still happen, because that would make for an epic novel.
For a great story that had me guessing at many points and excited me the entire way, characters both old and new who were entertaining for the whole book and surprised me many times, and action scenes that were every bit as brutal as the front cover makes the battle look, I give Vengeful Spirit a score of 9.2/10. This is a great continuance of the Horus Heresy and I definitely believe that it is better than McNeill's last Heresy novel Angel Exterminatus, though whether it's better than his classic A Thousand Sons will take some thought. But this is a novel that I think fans of the Heresy will enjoy as, in my opinion, a return to top form for Graham McNeill, and of course the return of Horus who will hopefully be featuring a lot more in the series as he should be.
That's it for this review, thanks for reading. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!