The Horus Heresy series grinds ever onwards with the release of the eleventh (!) limited-edition novella, The Seventh Serpent, the first such novella from Graham McNeill. Black Library kept this one nice and quiet and sprung it as a surprise for those attending the Black Library Weekender III event, prior to its general release. The typically brilliant Neil Roberts cover art appears to show Alpha Legion fighting each other, with a handful of Iron Hands thrown in for good measure, though as ever with the XXth Legion things are possibly not quite what they seem. Underneath the dust jacket the book’s cover shows an Iron Hands legion symbol, cracked and shattered, while the back cover sees a scrawled message of ‘For the Emperor’.
Picking up one of the strands that was left dangling after Angel Exterminatus we rejoin the crew of the Sisypheum, the Iron Hands vessel having fled the Crone World of Iydris in the wake of Fulgrim’s daemonic apotheosis. As the book opens we’re thrown straight into an Iron Hands assault upon an Alpha Legion ship and are swiftly reunited with Wayland and Sharrowkin, two of the most enjoyable characters within the ‘Shattered Legions’ story arc. Events progress quickly as the Iron Hands see an opportunity to strike a telling blow against the traitors, even though concerns are raised regarding the risk of doing so and the manner in which it needs to be done. As this is a novella, as opposed to a full-length novel, there isn’t a vast amount of in-depth character development going on, but instead there’s lots of vivid, exciting and at times even amusing action sequences as the scene is very much set for the next chapter in this particular story. There’s also plenty of intrigue, with the inclusion of the devious Alpha Legion as antagonists.
This is definitely a book which rewards a wider knowledge of the back story, referring as it does to not only Angel Exterminatus but also some of the previously-released shorts that involve some of these characters. Given that it also follows the trend for Alpha Legion-related tales to be light on explanation until right near the end, it’s an involved read that’s maybe slightly heavier than most of the Heresy books. That’s certainly not to say it’s slow or dense, but just that it’s worth taking some time over as you process what’s happening and what the implications are going to be for the ongoing war. Time will tell whether this is essential to the rest of the Heresy story, but in the meantime it raises some interesting questions and suggests that we may well see more from at least a few of these characters.