Guy Haley’s first contribution to Black Library’s The Horus Heresy Primarchs series is Perturabo: The Hammer of Olympia, appropriately the fourth book in the series for the IVth Legion. For the first time in the series we get an origin story, with the narrative split between Perturabo’s early years on Olympia and the ongoing difficulties his sons face during a campaign against the time-manipulating hrud. With the additional viewpoints of Warsmith Dantioch and Fortreidon, a newly-inducted legionary, it’s a layered depiction of Perturabo, the events which moulded his character and that of his legion, and their inevitable fate.
Let’s get this out of the way up-front – Perturabo is not a nice person. He’s not a likeable character. Despite this, Haley has crafted a story which helps us understand why he’s not likeable – we might not agree with him or condone what he does, but after reading this we can see a little more of what led him onto his path. Ultimately it’s a story about how Perturabo’s – and therefore the Iron Warriors’ – bitterness and…whisper it…self-pity took root. It feels like the key concept here is potential: Perturabo had the potential to be something incredible, but while he excelled at everything he turned his hand to, he never quite grasped that just because he was better at everything than everyone else…that didn’t make him fundamentally more worthy. Whether that’s a case of nurture over nature…is up to each of us to decide.
Start to finish this is a bleak and brutally honest book, written to Haley’s usual excellent standard, carefully and cleverly plotted to tease out the strands of Perturabo’s personality and the long-term impact on his legion. Where some previous Primarchs books have been filled with hope, this is dark through and through, even as we watch Perturabo grow into his talents. Whether amongst his adopted family on Olympia or his increasingly dour sons, he’s filled with frustrated, arguably misguided ambitions and a will to succeed so fierce that it’s as much a flaw as a strength. Dantioch’s inclusion is a nice touch, powerfully demonstrating the damage that the campaign against the hrud had on both the body and soul of the legion, while also neatly tying into his previous depictions in the series so far. Fortreidon is a very different character, young and impressionable (for a Space Marine), and the changes he undergoes are very different to Dantioch, but no less powerful.
That bleak tone is appropriate for Perturabo’s character – never satisfied or really able to relate to those around him – but it makes for a slightly less easy read than some other Black Library books. It’s perhaps the most complex of the Primarchs books so far, dealing with a remarkable number of ideas – Perturabo’s youth and upbringing, his burgeoning personality, Dantioch’s ailment, the changing nature of the Iron Warriors, the first real descriptions of the hrud…there’s a lot in here. The occasional reference is perhaps slightly too blunt – Perturabo’s Da Vinci-esque workshop, or his use of Plato to describe a priest’s close-mindedness, but overall Haley has done a fantastic job of pulling off a really ambitious book. Don’t expect to come away with additional sympathy for Perturabo and the Iron Warriors…but there’s a lot to enjoy here.