The Beheading – Guy Haley (The Beast Arises Book Twelve)

This is the final book in the series, so beware – if you haven’t read all of the other eleven books, there may be spoilers ahead…

Black Library’s The Beast Arises series comes to an end with book twelve, Guy Haley’s The Beheading. After the heroics of Shadow of Ullanor the Imperium is still reeling and in need of leadership, but the High Lords of Terra have proved themselves unequal to the task. Elsewhere First Captain Zerberyn and Warsmith Kalkator are still battling against the orks, while back on Terra, Inquisitors Wienand and Veritus are laying plans against the ambitions of Grand Master Vangorich. All the while, Chapter Master Thane of the reformed Imperial Fists seems the obvious candidate to lead the Imperium forward…

If you’ve read the back of the book or the synopsis online you’ll know the main plot of this novel, but if you haven’t, suffice to say Vangorich, Wienand, Thane et al. are not best pleased with the behaviour of some of the other High Lords. Without giving anything away, this details the inevitable next steps; for large chunks of the book it’s much less action-packed than most of the series – the orks are largely defeated, after all – instead taking a fascinating look at how the fractious masters of the Imperium revert to type. Unsurprisingly Vangorich gets his moment in the spotlight, but there are also some great (and unexpected) developments with other characters like Beast Krule, Zerberyn and Veritus.

While the shape of the series finale became increasingly obvious as the last few books progressed, it’s still a brave choice to end not with the defeat of The Beast but a bleak assessment of the Imperium and its inherent flaws. It’s absolutely in keeping with the 40k aesthetic though – you weren’t expecting a happy ending, were you? Haley does sterling work drawing together most of the dangling plot threads, especially given the usual constraints on book length, and we get answers (of a sort) to a lot of the lingering questions posed elsewhere in the series, along with a few surprise revelations that tie in cleverly with both the Heresy and 40k. For the most part it’s paced beautifully – although one particular section may divide opinion narratively, it’s an absolute page-turner.

After twelve books across twelve months it’s pleasing to see the series end on a powerful, if dark, note. As with many of the other books there’s no doubt that this particular part of the story could have benefited from a bit more room to breathe, but putting that aside it’s a fitting finale. It’s also another reminder, as if it was necessary, that 40k books don’t have to be all about big battles – the action scenes here are entertainingly varied, but it’s the way that the key characters reach the end (or at least an end) of their arcs that make it all work, and it’s a credit to Haley that he managed to fit everything together so well. Some questions still remain, and everyone will have their opinion on the length/structure/flow of the series, but this finishes things off with a bang. Great stuff.

4 comments

    1. Thanks, I hope they’ve been useful! I would definitely recommend this as a series – it’s not perfect, but it’s something genuinely fresh and exciting. There’s a load of really interesting (and sometimes jaw-dropping) revelations, hints and implications that tie it in nicely with both the Heresy and 40k. As long as you’re happy with (mostly) as much politics as action, it’s definitely worth it!

    1. Thanks, I hope they’ve been useful! I would definitely recommend this as a series – it’s not perfect, but it’s something genuinely fresh and exciting. There’s a load of really interesting (and sometimes jaw-dropping) revelations, hints and implications that tie it in nicely with both the Heresy and 40k. As long as you’re happy with (mostly) as much politics as action, it’s definitely worth it!

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