For the fifth instalment of the ongoing Horus Heresy-set The Primarchs series, Gav Thorpe takes a look at the primarch of the Word Bearers in Lorgar: Bearer of the Word. When disgraced preacher Kor Phaeron finds a strange infant – clearly touched by the gods – in the company of a band of ragged nomads travelling the arid lands of Colchis, he instantly recognises the potential for his own gain represented by Lorgar. We watch as he exerts his influence upon the impressionable Lorgar, and how their relationship develops as Lorgar himself changes.
Like Guy Haley’s Perturabo this is an origin story, in this case the tale of how Lorgar came to unite Colchis under a single faith. In showing Lorgar’s rapid growth – physically, at least – from infant to demigod, under the harsh gaze of the powerful, manipulative Kor Phaeron it poses questions about nature versus nurture, and sheds light on what drove him even from an early age. We see Lorgar through other characters’ eyes, those of Kor Phaeron and a slave, Nairo, so our view of him is based on external perspectives rather than his own, coloured by their own prejudices and how they each hope to turn him to their own ends. Throughout his involvement in the Heresy series Lorgar has been something of an atypical primarch, searching for his own path and finding it in a different place to most – here we get a glimpse of why.
As befits Lorgar and the Word Bearers, Gav structures the book in a sort of chapter-and-verse fashion, short ‘verse’ sections rapidly following one after the other to keep the story’s momentum going. Like the other Primarchs novels it’s a short book, but between that structure and a tight, concise plot it manages to fit a lot of story in a short space. This is a story about Colchis before the coming of the Emperor, so (barring a few post-Monarchia interludes) it swaps Space Marines and the usual Heresy stylings for a world that fits the story, but feels different to most Heresy or 40k settings. For perhaps two thirds of the book it focuses very much on the relationship between Lorgar and Kor Phaeron, largely reining in the action in favour of character development and world building. The final third ramps the pace up and widens the scope, slightly changing the style of the story as it does so – there’s a noticeable change, but the story benefits from this section and the context it provides.
This isn’t always an easy book to read, dealing as it does with what is essentially an abusive sort-of father and son relationship. That relationship is the core of the story, however, and provides a very personal sense to the book that we haven’t seen very much with this sort of character before. If you didn’t like Lorgar before then this might not necessarily sway you to his side, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fascinating anyway. It’s also worth remembering that this is as much about Kor Phaeron as it is Lorgar – it wasn’t just Erebus who had an influence on what you might consider the ‘start’ of the Heresy. It’s probably not the book for anyone wanting to see the Word Bearers in action, or really anything about the legion itself. Instead it’s for the reader who wants a tight, character-driven story, and who enjoys taking a step away from the battlefront, indeed away from what’s recognisable as the Heresy setting, and seeing a little of what happened before the action all kicked off.