Released to accompany the new Betrayal at Calth Horus Heresy board game, Rob Sanders’ The Honoured is one half of a pair of short novels that tell the story behind the game, set on Calth in the aftermath of the Word Bearers’ surprise assault on Roboute Guilliman and his Ultramarines. As the Veridia star dies, irradiating the planet’s surface and forcing the remaining combatants of both sides underground, Ultramarines Captain Aethon rallies his troops in defence of what remains of Calth, facing off against his old friend Kurtha Sedd of the Word Bearers.
Some might question the need for the Heresy series to return to Calth or tie in with a board game, but however you look at it this is another great opportunity to see both sides of a single Heresy story, in the way that only A Thousand Sons/Prospero Burns have done before. The Honoured tells the Ultramarines’ side of the story, following on closely from Dan Abnett’s phenomenal Know No Fear both chronologically and thematically, looking at the XIIIth Legion’s reaction to Lorgar’s betrayal and the damage that did both physically and psychologically. It opens explosively, as both forces race for the safety of the underground arcologies, and maintains a sense of danger and risk as Aethon and his men battle both their former brothers and the inhospitable elements.
Character-wise, Captain Aethon is an interestingly atypical Ultramarine, far more driven by rage than most, while his friendship with Kurtha Sedd provides a powerful thread that runs through the whole book and adds an extra level of pathos to the whole story. His fellow Ultramarines get much less attention, but there’s still plenty of interest to be found in the contrasting characters of the solid, driven Terminator Sergeant Urcus and the inexperienced Sergeant Dardanus. As a whole the Ultramarines feel damaged and vulnerable without losing any of their potency, while the Word Bearers come across as powerful and mysterious, and have just the right amount of villainy to balance out the honourable Ultramarines.
Perhaps the greatest risk here was that tying in so closely with Betrayal at Calth would lead to a stale, manufactured feel to the story. Happily Sanders avoids that completely with smart, tight storytelling, a rip-roaring pace, some genuinely brutal action scenes and a character in Aethon who is flawed, heroic and relatable. As a standalone book it’s a great, exciting story, while in context of the series it feels relevant, adding to the wider Calth storyline with the most detailed look yet at the Underworld War, and despite being considerably shorter than the usual Heresy novels it doesn’t feel rushed or too short. Sure it would be nice to get more detail, but in conjunction with The Unburdened it provides a thoroughly enjoyable addition to the Heresy series.
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