Black Library’s Horus Heresy series reaches book forty-four with The Crimson King by Graham McNeill, the long-awaited follow up to 2010’s A Thousand Sons. With Prospero sundered by the Wolves, the Thousand Sons are adjusting to life on the Planet of the Sorcerers, and their new status as outcasts. Magnus mourns the loss of so much knowledge from Prospero, but his sons fear for his fractured soul – while Ahriman seeks out ways to help his father, Amon remains at Magnus’ side, ever the faithful son. Meanwhile Malcador sends his own warriors to deny Ahriman and the Thousand Sons their prizes.
The premise is simple – the Thousand Sons are desperate to restore their Primarch while the Imperium seeks to stop them – but it’s told in a grand, expansive way with all the mystery and drama you’d expect from a Thousand Sons story. The plot is deceptively complex, taking in a range of dark, warp-infused locations and putting the characters through the sort of semi-mythical, almost impossible situations that only a Heresy novel, and a Thousand Sons one at that, can offer. It’s great to return to some iconic characters from earlier in the series (not just Thousand Sons, either), as well as a few who will be familiar to John French fans, and continue to explore the genuinely unique way that this Legion operates…but under very different circumstances to last time.
Tonally it’s very dark as Magnus, Ahriman, Amon and co. wrestle with their Legion’s daemons (literally and figuratively), while even the Imperials and non-Astartes are bowed under the pressures of a galaxy becoming ever more bleak. Hints of the Thousand Sons’ original sense of hope for human development occasionally shine through, but they’re largely overshadowed by a growing sense of anger and bitterness. That darkness doesn’t translate into a doom-laden sense of heaviness to the story, though – enough hope remains for the Thousand Sons, even though we know how it’s all going to end, and the complex, bittersweet nature of these characters is just so compelling throughout.
In true McNeill style this is a HUGE book, as befits such an epic story. Thousand Sons fans are going to love it, as will anyone who likes their fiction on the grand scale – there’s a lot of continuity here, which means lots to enjoy if you’re fully up to date with the series, but it works beautifully as a story even without reading/remembering absolutely everything that’s happened or will happen. Some might perhaps find that the middle third’s warp-infused adventuring is a little too slow-burning [not me], but there’s more than enough psychic power-wielding, mind-boggling action to please pretty much everyone. Crucially, despite being almost entirely focused on a Legion who have arguably had their moment in the spotlight, this is absolutely not a side story – it addresses a couple of big questions and is going to have pretty huge repercussions for the final stages of the series.