In the third of Black Library’s Horus Heresy Primarchs series, Graham McNeill’s Magnus The Red: Master of Prospero, we’re transported to a time not long after Magnus and his sons were first brought together on Prospero. On the doomed Imperial world of Morningstar, Magnus and his brother Perturabo lead their Legions in an attempt to rescue as many civilians as possible before the planet tears itself apart. While Perturabo and the Iron Warriors focus on the logistics of the mission, Magnus and his Thousand Sons are more concerned with searching for answers as to what’s happening on Morningstar, and why.
A similar short-novel length to the first two in the series, where it differs is in setting the story away from a traditional warzone. We’re not seeing a compliance action – the two Legions are cooperating on what is ostensibly a mission of peace, battling against the death throes of a planet. Of course things don’t quite work out that way, and there’s plenty of action as things heat up, but the core of the story is more about the relationships between Magnus and Perturabo, and between Magnus and his sons. There’s a nice range of characters from both Legions, especially Ahriman and Atharva of the XVth and Forrix of the IVth, and it’s a delight to see the clear affection between Magnus and Perturabo.
This is very much a book about Magnus though, and we see him both through his own actions and through the lens of his sons as they continue to learn more about their mysterious gene-father. At its core, this is McNeill exploring the conflicting aspects of Magnus – his self belief, his desire to do the right thing, his hubris…he’s a complicated guy with the best intentions, and there are so many great little hints here to the path that he’s already on. At this point, barely fifty years into the Great Crusade, the Primarchs and their Legions are still full of hope, and Magnus is no different. Even here, though, there are signs of the change in tone that will eventually happen.
It’s a perfect length of story, which works nicely within the constraints of a short novel. The action when it happens takes advantage of the Thousand Sons’ nature to deliver something different to the norm, but also plays upon their concerns about fully revealing their power at this point. There’s so much more than that though, with so many great little moments offering tantalising touches of detail to the Thousand Sons and their tragic future – especially in the burgeoning friendship between Ahriman and Forrix. As usual McNeill always steers clear in the end of revealing anything fully, which is at the same time infuriating and delightfully intriguing. Perfectly paced and full of character, this is another wonderful instalment in the series so far.