Sixteen books and three years after The Damnation of Pythos, David Annandale’s second Horus Heresy novel is Ruinstorm, book forty-six in the series overall. Signalling the end of the Imperium Secundus arc (therefore NOT to be read before Angels of Caliban), it sees the Triumvirate of primarchs – Guilliman, Sanguinius and the Lion – setting out from Ultramar to defy the Ruinstorm and find their way to Terra. Each chooses an approach based on their own approach and inclination, but can they find a way through? Most 40k fans know the answer to that, but now we can find out just what happened and why.
The titular Ruinstorm has been a distant obstacle and a narrative device up to this point but now it’s front and centre, with an intelligence at play that means it’s not just a physical barrier but a very personal test for each primarch. The multiple narratives of Imperium Secundus are reduced (mostly) to the three loyal primarchs, although there are clear links to not just the previous Ultramar-based stories but also Signus Prime and the events of The Damnation of Pythos and Veritas Ferrum. The primarchs take centre stage, as Annadale highlights their strengths but mostly digs into their fears, and the varying degree of guilt they each carry over their involvement in recent events. Curze, meanwhile, is along for the ride as both a spanner in the works and a reminder of the primarchs’ mistakes – those they’ve made, and those they might make.
Annandale’s depiction of these primarchs will be familiar from recent Imperium Secundus novels, most notably Angels of Caliban, although as the Lion has rather less page time here he comes across somewhat less irritating! It’s not just page time though, he’s also changed by recent events – no less secretive perhaps, but a little more accommodating of his brothers. Each of the three get plenty of attention, but Sanguinius is the key focus of the book. Not that much time has passed for the Blood Angels since Signus Prime, and the events of Fear to Tread are reflected strongly in both Sanguinius’ (and his sons’) psyches and the scale of the challenges he faces within the Ruinstorm. Temptation is the key – whether to give in to fate or not; whether to put his own fate ahead of that of his sons. We’ve seen the comparison with Curze before, but it’s emphasised further here – this time with Curze not so much an antagonist but a bitter, tormented bystander.
If you’ve read Annandale’s 40k Blood Angels work you’ll be familiar with the manner in which he takes us deep into Sanguinius’ head, exploring those concepts of fate that are indelibly linked to the Blood Angels’ great flaws. For the most part it’s an interesting exploration, although it does occasionally spend a little too long on the strange planes of Sanguinius’ consciousness, slowing the overall narrative down a bit. Fear not, though, as however deep Annandale delves into the primarchs’ characters, he builds his set pieces to a corresponding size and scale. With three Legion fleets to play with, and the soul-shattering immensity of the Ruinstorm, things get crazy to an epic scale. Subtle this isn’t, but however daft some of the scenes are it’s all suitably entertaining. Annandale’s tendency to lean towards terse, short sentences works well during these bonkers action scenes, but grates a touch during the more open moments. For the most part, though, the pacing and overall plot are enough to easily maintain interest and keep the momentum going.
Whether you enjoyed the Imperium Secundus arc or not, this book signifies a clear increase in the pace of the series, with the prospect of returning to Terra looming large. Ultimately, it’s a book which deals with one question – how did the Triumvirate of primarchs cope with the Ruinstorm? There’s obviously more to that question, and more to the book than just that one concept, but while a certain amount is revealed, don’t expect answers to everything – there’s still more to come before these characters’ final Heresy-era fates are shown. Come for the forward momentum, but stay to enjoy a closer look at Sanguinius, including tantalising glimpses of what’s in store.