Since the release in 2009 of his debut Black Library novel Cadian Blood, Aaron Dembski-Bowden has become both a fan favourite and a New York Times bestseller, and is now acknowledged as one of Black Library’s most accomplished authors. His latest book, The Talon of Horus, demonstrates just how much of a key player he is within Black Library by virtue of being the very first of their new First Editions – limited edition, premium hardbacks released to satisfy the die-hard collectors before the ‘standard’ hardback release. With a beautifully tactile embossed cover, internal artwork, author foreword and three additional short stories (including one you won’t find anywhere else) the dedicated (and deep-pocketed) reader is certainly rewarded, not least with the sheer size and weight of this mighty tome.
As with the Horus Heresy series, where the stories are told through the eyes of ‘ordinary’ Space Marines as opposed to the demigod Primarchs, here in the Talon of Horus Dembski-Bowden avoids telling the story from Abaddon’s perspective. Instead we are introduced to the Thousand Sons sorcerer Iskander Khayon, a potentially unreliable narrator telling the tale of the Black Legion’s genesis from the ashes of the Sons of Horus in the midst of the Legion Wars. He looks back over thousands of years, making excellent use of a Space Marine’s eidetic memory, and shows us what things were like for the nine Traitor Legions as they struggled amongst themselves to find purpose after the failure of Horus’ rebellion.
Since the Heresy series started to peel back a little of the mystery around Chaos, the warp and the motivations of the Traitor Legions, we as readers have begun to see a different side to the traditional black and white ideas of good and bad, the Imperium versus Chaos. Much like John French’s excellent Ahriman : Exile, The Talon of Horus continues that theme; the relationship between the Traitor Legions and the warp is shown in eye-opening, at times eye-watering detail, as is their attitude towards both themselves and the Imperium that they oppose. Not only that, but there is depth and detail to these characters’ motivations that goes far beyond the idea that they are simply evil, or villainous by nature. Here we see men who are struggling to regain their identities after loss, betrayal, abandonment, humiliation…sure, they are not necessarily nice people, and neither their motives nor actions are exactly noble. That’s the point though, that living with the consequences of some pretty tough decisions, and under the shadow of what has gone before, makes for fascinating characters. Khayon is a great example of this; on the one hand perfectly happy to kill and torture his way to what he wants, but on the other hand full of empathy for those he cares about. It’s a hallmark of Dembski-Bowden to write such conflicted characters; dark and yet honourable, cruel but honest.
This is quite simply a book which deserves to be relished, to be savoured and enjoyed. Dembski-Bowden fills it with such life and detail, with tantalising links to the past and future of these characters, and the events that play such vital parts in the wider history. In time this will surely be looked back on as a crucial, seminal book for the 40k setting. As a standalone book this is without a doubt up there with the best that Black Library has ever published. As the first part of a series, it’s a mouth-watering start to what promises to be an incredible story.