The First Heretic is the most difficult thing I’ve ever written, for two reasons. Firstly, the storyline is ambitious, and likely to be at least slightly controversial given the fact they – crazily – let the New Guy decide how the greatest war in a massively popular 30-year-old license beloved of fans worldwide actually began. No pressure, then.
But that’s not really why it’s difficult. I just like to mention it once in a while because it’s a delicious conceit. Nope, the reason it’s difficult above anything else I’ve ever written is because it’s a Horus Heresy book, from the series that’s sold over a million copies so far, one of which was the 8th bestselling sci-fi book in the UK of its release year.
And that means it has primarchs in it.
For 20ish years, the primarchs have been these mythical beings to me – the shrouded saint figures that were impossible to ever learn about in detail. Now they’re in the HH books, and I’d be lying if I said every writer depicted them with the gravitas I’d been expecting. It’s easy to describe someone looking amazing. It’s less easy to show how they’re amazing, especially if they’re just standing there.
I could say it’s just as difficult (or even harder) to deal with the Emperor, and I’m sure I will say that here at some point soon. That update will involve a lot more use of the words “Graham” and “McNeill”. Also, maybe “Scottish”. I don’t know, we’ll play it by ear. But let’s deal with the primarchs for now. Like, they’re enough of an issue.
For The First Heretic, I’ve read all of the HH novels again, and in several cases twice (with a couple of exceptions I really just can’t stand – re-reading them again once was punishment enough). The way each novel reveals the primarchs is interesting, sometimes disappointing, and sometimes incredibly daunting in the sense I need to follow in those footsteps. I remember in Horus Rising when we first saw Horus himself. I went back to read the scene again, and then put the book down to make some coffee. I needed a breather after that. I needed to calm down. It was killer. Man, it was beyond killer. It left killer in the dust, and didn’t even look back to laugh.
A Thousand Sons and The Flight of the Eisenstein portrayed their primarchs beautifully, but nothing has quite matched Horus Rising yet. At least some of that has to be because it showed Horus for the first time ever, in his existence as a dutiful son and loyal primarch, rather than a Chaos-bloated [EXPLETIVE DELETED] who drools his way into an early grave because he doesn’t want to get [EXPLETIVE TOTALLY DELETED] by the Ultramarines. But naw, most of it – all credit to Dan – is the writing.
Those of you who came here before Marketing sank its putrescent, soulless claws into my handsomely-shaped skull may remember I dared to use rude words above. Look, Marketing. Look. Watch me jump through your hoops, dancing to your madman’s tune. Watch me sell out, so you can link this accursed post. Watch me think of the children.
We now return you to the Dan Abnett Lovefest, which is a daily ritual here in the Dembski-Bowden household. Don’t judge me. Don’t you dare.
After 20+ years of waiting and wondering what Horus was like, we got this:
— — —
Inchoate light, green and dazzling, sputtered into being on the platform in front of his clawing hands. The teleport flare became too bright to behold, and then died, revealing a god standing on the edge of the platform.
The god was a true giant, as large again to any Astartes warrior as an Astartes was to a normal man. His armour was white gold, like the sunlight at dawn, the work of master artificers. Many symbols covered its surfaces, the chief of which was the motif of a single, staring eye fashioned across the breastplate. Robes of white cloth fluttered out behind the terrible, haloed figure.
Aboive the breastplate, the face was bare, grimacing, perfect in every dimension and detail, suffused in radiance. So beautiful. So very beautiful.
For a moment, the god stood there, unflinching, beset by the gale of force, but unmoving, facing it down. Then he raised the storm bolter in his right hand and fired into the tumult.
The echo of detonation rolled around the tower. There was a choking scream, half lost in the uproar, and then the uproar itself stilled abruptly.
The wall of force died away. The hurricane faded. Splinters of glass tinkled as they rained back down onto the platform.
‘So will I deal with all tyrants and deceivers,’ rumbled a deep voice.
Loken looked up at the god standing over him. ‘Lupercal…’ he murmured.
The god smiled. ‘Not so formal, please, captain,’ whispered Horus.
— — —
I’d like to take a break from what I’m doing right now, which is writing a scene with two primarchs and the Emperor. Every line I write triggers my brainjunk into overdrive. Is this as good as Horus Rising… Is this as good as Horus Rising… Is this as good as Horus Rising…
I’d like to take that break, just to say these words:
“I hate you, Dan.”
That is all.