From the prolific pen of Josh Reynolds comes Fabius Bile: Primogenitor, the first in a new series from Black Library featuring the Chief Apothecary of the Emperor’s Children. Exiled from his Legion, loathed and feared in equal measure, his goal is nothing less than to ensure the future of humanity…in his image. Hidden away on the dead Crone World of Urum, surrounded by the horrifying results of his endless experiments, Fabius diligently works away while his body rots around him. It takes the most tempting of targets for him to leave his work behind and rouse himself to war once more.
Known variously as Manflayer, Pater Mutatis, Clonelord, Fabius is one of the most famous 40k bad guys – in the background he’s about as evil as they get, but here we get to see things from his perspective, which is…interesting! Reynolds has taken Heresy-era Fabius as his starting point and then extrapolated outwards from there, completely avoiding the moustache-twirling caricature in favour of a bonkers but fascinating mixture of (mad) scientist, stern tutor, weirdly caring father figure and driven, single-minded visionary. Sort of like Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty and Doctor Frankenstein scrambled together with added grimdark – terrifying, but strangely captivating.
We’ve had novels featuring Ahriman and Abaddon already; Reynolds takes a wildly different approach to French and Dembski-Bowden, but ends up at a similar outcome – taking a well-known character and redefining it. In possibly his best work yet, he leverages a deft touch with dark humour and a (perhaps worryingly) wild imagination to deliver a compelling and highly entertaining tale, full of appalling characters who barely even qualify as anti-heroes but somehow turn out if not sympathetic then at least engaging. Fabius is a delight, always ready with a sneering quip however bleak things get, while his coterie of bizarre accomplices are cleverly chosen and provide refreshingly different perspectives on proceedings.
This is one of those books that gets better the more you think about it. On the surface it’s essentially a batshit crazy romp following a hilariously mismatched gaggle of psychopaths (and remember – these are apothecaries!) as they leave a trail of carnage behind them in search of secrets/power/glory/brains (delete as applicable). Dig deeper and you realise how much effort Reynolds has expended to make this work, from tying it in beautifully with pre- and post-Heresy events (and also the Legion of the Damned, oddly enough) to teasing us with hints of what Fabius could achieve given sufficient time and inclination. As with all of his work, the key thing here is also that it’s fun – you get the sense that he had as much fun writing Fabius as we have reading about him. On the basis of this, an ongoing Fabius series will be an absolute joy. More please!
NOTE: if you can, get hold of the Limited Edition. No, seriously – buy it. It’s expensive, for sure, but it’s worth it – the creepy flayed-face cover, the daemonic skulls on the edge binding, the insane illuminated letters at the start of each chapter…it’s possibly the best Limited Edition yet. Go buy it!