Please note, if you haven’t read The Unremembered Empire then this review will contain spoilers.
Mysteriously numbered as 34 in Black Library’s Horus Heresy series despite Deathfire coming in at number 32, Pharos by Guy Haley continues the wider Imperium Secundus arc, picking up plotlines from Dan Abnett’s The Unremembered Empire as well as Haley’s own short story A Safe and Shadowed Place (from Death and Defiance). While the new Emperor Sanguinius sits uneasily upon the throne, Guilliman continues to tend to the Imperium Secundus with the aid of the alien artefact discovered on distant Sotha, as directed by the unlikely pairing of Barabas Dantioch and Alexis Polux. Meanwhile the Night Lords have been watching from the shadows, and choose their moment to launch an attack on Sotha.
Slipping in just before the end of 2015 this makes it three full-length Horus Heresy releases for the year, even if it’s only available to start with as an ebook. It’s the sort of book that should make Heresy fans happy, marking a clear turning point in the Imperium Secundus arc as a result of the Night Lords’ perfectly timed spanner in the works, and setting things up interestingly for whatever’s to come next. Haley hasn’t tried to incorporate too many of the different story threads still hanging, instead focusing on the Pharos as the fulcrum around which Imperium Secundus revolves. It ticks all the right boxes for a Heresy novel, capturing the specific tone of the series along with the sense of scale that all the best Heresy stories have, and does a great job of bringing together some really well established characters, a few less familiar faces and some totally new names.
Haley has the knack of finding a way to make even the most appalling of villains still somehow relatable, and probably the greatest strength of the book is the sense of humanity, acknowledged or otherwise, that runs through the characters. It’s great to see more of Dantioch, perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the whole series, and there are some lovely scenes with Sanguinius, Guilliman et al, but it’s the Night Lords who steal the show for the most part. While their much-loathed leader Krukesh The Pale doesn’t really get much in the way of development, with conflicted birth-brothers Kellendvar and Kellenkir as well as the delightfully awful Gendor Skraivok Haley pulls off the much same trick Aaron Dembski-Bowden did to such success, making the Night Lords complete bastards but also somehow entertaining. Even more impressively, in places he also manages to capture a real sense of how utterly terrifying they can be.
As Haley’s first novel-length contribution to the Heresy series it’s been a long time coming, after an impressive string of short stories and audio dramas, and true to form it doesn’t disappoint. On top of the great characters and the well-paced plot, it’s the first Heresy book in a while to capture the sense of tragedy around the whole episode, and it’s got some really powerful moments, though to say any more would give too much away. Essentially it’s everything a Heresy book should be, and a really good addition to the series