The seventh Horus Heresy book of 2016, the thirty-ninth in the main numbered series, and John French’s first ‘full’ novel in the series, Praetorian of Dorn comes with high expectations. Not least because it’s set in the Solar system, where the Alpha Legion launch a coordinated attack on Terra’s outer defences, testing the resolve and skill of Rogal Dorn and his Imperial Fists. With legion operatives, both human and legionnaire, activating across the system, Dorn and Archamus – Master of the Huscarls – are pulled two ways as they attempt to maintain Terra’s defences and stop the Alpha Legion.
If you’re after a book focusing purely on the Imperial Fists, or with Dorn always at the centre, this is not the book you’re looking for. The clue’s in the title (Praetorian of Dorn) as to who the main viewpoint character’s going to be, but this is also a book that’s as much about the Alpha Legion as the Imperial Fists. French throws in ideas about the Alpha Legion that really make you sit up and think, posing questions that hark back to the revelations in Legion, but there’s plenty of good stuff for Imperial Fists fans too. Dorn is largely a cold, severe presence in the book, visible as much by his absence and deliberately keeping himself at a remove from his sons. Meanwhile we get an interesting look at Archamus and his backstory that cleverly plays on and subverts the ‘three Scouts rising through the ranks’ trope, gradually gathering importance and relevance as the book progresses.
In French’s hands both of these legions are as vivid and well-drawn as ever before. His style works perfectly for the convoluted, labyrinthine plans of the Alpha Legion, whose motivations here are tantalisingly hinted at but never fully explained – for various reasons, most of which are deeply spoilerific, this book throws up some massive questions! As for the Fists, French portrays them as capable, driven, and much more than the stoic, defensive stereotype. He takes a subtle approach to them, avoiding hyperbole in favour of an understated confidence – much like the legion itself.
It’s hard to talk about the plot itself without giving things away, but suffice to say it’s typical French fare – don’t expect a simple story! It’s the sort of book that warrants lengthy discussion after finishing, and will almost certainly merit multiple reads, not because it’s vague or unclear but because there’s so much depth and complexity to it. Questions posed here will resonate through books to come, but in the meantime there’s a huge amount here to enjoy digging into and speculating on. Imperial Fists fans hoping to see grand sweeps of the legion in battle might be disappointed here, but anyone looking for a mature and thought-provoking story will be in for a treat. After Legion there’s always a sense of a big revelation just around the corner – as for whether there’s one to look forward to here…I can’t say.