With the Horus Heresy series at 30+ books and counting the last thing anyone expected Black Library to do was to start a brand new headline series, but that’s exactly what they’ve done, with Dan Abnett’s I Am Slaughter providing the opening book in a 12-strong series entitled The Beast Arises. Set after the Heresy but thousands of years before the main 40K timeline, with an Imperium essentially at peace, it sees almost the entire chapter of Imperial Fists in action on Ardamantua against the xenos Chromes. With the Fists fully occupied and Terra left unguarded, Grand Master Vangorich of the Officio Assassinorum watches and analyses the Imperial Senatorum, concerned about the petty politics which he believes risk the safety of the Imperium.
It’s an intriguing premise, with the opportunity to look into a period in the 40K history that’s never really been seen before, and as such it’s a smart move to give Abnett the opening scenes in the series. He delivers with a story full of his usual trademarks – engaging and detailed world building with vivid locations from the halls of the Imperial Palace to the hive tunnels of the Chromes, along with unexpected, instantly-relatable characters. The post-Heresy Imperial Fists bear only loose resemblance to either their predecessors or successors, in organisation or mindset, which at first feels a little disorientating but soon seems totally appropriate and wonderfully vibrant, and while it won’t be to everyone’s liking it’s a supremely brave move. Vangorich and his fellows back on Terra feel more familiar, but there’s a distinct sense throughout that this is a very different Imperium as a whole to what we’ve seen before.
Right from the get go it’s clear that this is the start of something big, and is laying down the groundwork for all sorts of plot lines to come, so there’s a sense of anticipation, of knowing that something massive is coming. It’s an explosive start, the bloody and brutal action that the Fists find themselves embroiled in beautifully balanced by the growing intrigue and politicking taking place within the halls of Terra, and it lays open all sorts of possibilities for what might come next. There’s less than you might expect of the orks, clearly the antagonists of the series as a whole, but there’s more than enough to give a hint as to quite how scary the greenskins are going to be in the post-Heresy galaxy.
With one book scheduled for release each month for the next year, this is just the first step on what promises be a fascinating journey through a whole new period and an insight into what else the Warhammer 40,000 universe still has to offer. The only real criticism as a standalone book is its brevity, coming in as it does at the 230-or-so page mark in line with recent releases such as Skitarius or Kharn : Eater of Worlds. That’s not to say it really suffers for its length, only that it would have been great to have got even more depth and detail in what is a first-rate story and a genuinely new and exciting chapter for Black Library fans. If the remainder of the series is as good as this, we’re in for a treat.