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Review of “False Gods” by Graham McNeill

Main Character(s):
Garviel Loken-10th company captain, Sons of Horus Legion.
Tarik Torgaddon-2nd company captain, Sons of Horus Legion.

Secondary Characters:
Horus Lupercal-Warmaster, Primarch of the Sons of Horus Legion (Parts 1 and 2 of the book)
Ignace Karkasy-Poet Remembrancer attached to the 63rd fleet.
Euphrati Keeler-Imagist Remembrancer attached to the 63rd fleet.
Petronella Vivar-Documentarist Remembrancer, attached to the 63rd fleet.

Background Characters:
Ezekyle Abaddon-1st company captain, Luna Wolves Legion.
“Little Horus” Aximand-5th company captain, Sons of Horus Legion
Fulgrim-Primarch of the Emperor’s Children Legion
Maloghurst “The Twisted”-Equerry to Horus
Magnus the Red-Primarch of the Thousand Sons Legion

Name Drops:
Lorgar-Primarch of the Word Bearers Legion
Angron-Primarch of the World Eaters Legion

Eugen Temba-Planetary Governor of Davin
Erebus-1st chaplain, Word Bearers Legion.
Horus Lupercal-Warmaster, Primarch of the Sons of Horus Legion (Parts 3 and 4 of the book)

Review Summary:
This book starts off with the addition of a new documentarist to the remembrancers, Pertronella Vivar of House Carpinus and immediately picks up where the last book left off. The Warmaster has come to the Davin system to personally crush Eugen Temba’s revolt. The book backtracks a little bit and covers the name change of the Legion from the Luna Wolves to the Sons of Horus and also we start to get more of an insight into the mind of Horus himself, how he feels as the warmaster, and his own pride (something we only saw a little of in the previous book).
After dealing with a little bit of background the characters assemble on Davin and the situation is laid out for them. Eugen Temba, once loyal to the Emperor and Horus has gone rogue. This news is delivered by Erebus and his method of delivery is calculated to fan the fires of anger and pride in Horus’ heart(s). Loken has asked Karkasy to watch this meeting and afterwards Karkasy tells him that he thinks Erebus is lying and manipulating the Warmaster for some unknown reason. That said Horus has already made up his mind to personally lead an attack on Temba. Loken and the rest of the Mournival accompany him along with a full “speartip” of astartes, Imperial Army regiments and Titans from the Legio Mortis. Overkill does not even begin to describe it.
The actual battle on the Davinite moon is not what everyone expects though. The landing is unopposed and no sign can be found of the troops that Temba had been left with. In addition there is yet another eerie voice on the voxnet reminiscent of Samus. As the landing proceeds and the space marines move further and further towards the crashed (or landed…) flagship of Temba’s they are best by what can only be described as zombies. Surprisingly these are quite resilient and only massive damage or a shot through the head successfully kills them. As this continues Horus enters the crashed ship to seek out and destroy Temba.
While the space marines hold off the unliving the warmaster fights his way through strange beasts that, while numerous, are completely outclassed by the primarch. Finally reaching the bridge he finds the traitor Temba but he has been horribly changed by some corrupting force. In his hands is the Anathema and with this powerful weapon he is almost a match for Horus. Though in the end the warmaster strikes him down he is wounded by the blade. After the death of Temba the zombies collapse for good and all seems well until Horus falls and has to be carried quickly back to the Vengeful Spirit. When he arrives the space marines brutally club their way through the assembled humans killing several.
The warmaster is treated in by the various apothecaries but none of them can either discover the exact cause of his illness nor can they heal him. Loken goes searching for the Anathema since he believes that perhaps finding the weapon will give the apothecaries a clue as to how to treat the warmaster. In the meantime the various Lodge members are called together and Erebus proposes that they take Horus to one of the Davintie houses of healing. He claims it could restore him to health. Despite Torgaddon’s objections the do and seal him inside the temple to either heal or die. When Loken returns he hears of this and immediately confronts the other Mournival members but the decision has already been made.
Horus, while in the temple, is shown visions of a potential future where the Emperor is revered as a god and his name appears nowhere in the history books or immortalized in statue. He is guided through this by Erebus who has taken the form of Hastur Sejanus to manipulate him. Erebus is trying to convince him that the Emperor aims at becoming a god and is merely using Horus and the rest of the Primarchs as stepping stones to that end. At the tipping point Magnus the Red appears and rips the illusion from Erebus exposing him. Both Magnus and Erebus try to convince the warmaster what he should do, either stay the course and remain loyal or turn away from the Emperor and make war upon him. Horus says he trusts neither of them and that he will make his own decision.
The next part follows the war with the Technocracy, an advanced human group that seems to have ancient STC (Standard Template Construct) technology that is greatly revered and sought after by the Mechanicum. This is the first instance we what Horus’ choice was. HE murders the Technocracy’s ambassador in cold blood merely to foment a war that will allow him to win support from the adepts of mars. His manner seems more aggressive and outright devious in some cases. He confers with the Newly arrived Fulgrim and there seems to be an agreement reached between them though the specifics are not spelled out. Meanwhile he orchestrates the death of death of the Imperial Army Commander Varvus, stages the suicide of Karkasy (in retaliation for Karkasy’s poems against the brutal murder of civilians by the Astartes when they were bringing Horus back from Davin), and personally murders Petronella with his own hands so that the valediction he gave her when he was close to death will never see the light of day. The book ends with Loken and Torgaddon vowing to do what they have to in order to restore their legion and with Horus outlaying the plans he has for the coming war.

Review Proper:
The second part of a trilogy is often the hardest to put together but when it is done right it can not only shine on its own but also elevate the works that precede and follow it. This book does that. The characters that were less defined in “Horus Rising” grow in leaps and bounds in this book to become strong forces moving the story. Loken is better than ever and Torgaddon is now a main character in his own right. The remembrancers and other humans are far better utilized and each seems important to the story and the deaths (or in Keeler’s case coma) that they suffer as a result of their actions makes the story a lot more engaging. Erebus is well written as a cunning antagonist as is Temba (though of a more tragic sort). Overall the book pushes the story forward quickly but very carefully.
That being said there are a few things that stood out as flaws. I will jump right in with the big one since the others are more nitpicks. I don’t really like how Horus turns evil. Oh I love the result of it and I understand that he is being manipulated but the whole thing just doesn’t work very well for me at a gut level. The problem is that for a book and a half we see only how good Horus is, how strong, how intelligent, and on and on. He is the most beloved of the Emperor and also his chosen successor. Honor and glory literally drip off of him. All it takes is a dreamstate and an imposter showing him fanciful visions to change his loyalty.
Before people start saying that the warp is a corrupting force and that he was already twisted and weaned by the wound he suffered think about that for a second. If he chooses to be evil (or at least to turn against the Emperor he does so really fast for having known him from 200+ years and been his most favored. If not then it isn’t really his choice in the first place, he is pushed into it by the Dark Gods. In the first option he seems too ready to cast aside loyalty for no real reason other than a fancy dream and appeals to his pride. In the second he is little better than a puppet and the whole dream is irrelevant in any case. This is the crux of the issue for the entire series and, in an otherwise amazing book, it was the one part I felt was lacking.
Granted I don’t expect the writers to do a slow six books as he is shown more and more reasons to turn but I feel that having him presented as so magnificent and transcendent makes it very hard to believe he throws it all away simply on a whim. Yes it is his pride that is pricked by the treatment he receives from the Terran bureaucrats and he doesn’t want his legacy to be forgotten but as Magnus tells him there are many possible futures, this is just one that is being shown to him to manipulate him. Frankly the fact that he ignores Magnus and doesn’t instakill Erebus once he discovers who he is doesn’t seem like the Horus I had been getting to know.
This aside (and I could go on) once he turns “evil” I like where he goes with it. He immediately starts courting followers and removing or isolating rivals. He tells Russ to go kill Magnus (or at least it is VERY heavily implied that he does so), starts a war just to win over the Mechanicum, silences the few human voices that were raised against him and at his war council basically outlines (and hindsight is nice when reading this) the entire Heresy up to “Fear to Tread”. The last line is chilling even if you don’t know about Istavaan. You get a sense of finality and that he is not going to do anything by half measures. If the first book set the stage this one is a perfect cliffhanger. You know that shit is going to go down but you have to wait, like the characters themselves, until the right moment.
In summation a great read and a perfect follow up to “Horus Rising” The few criticisms I had of that last book are mostly dealt with here and the new path introduced (if a bit rockily) is very strong and compelling.

Standalone Rating: 4/5
Rating for advancing the series 9.5/10 (I’d give it a 10 for outlining most of the rest of the series but that seemed excessive)
Total Rating: 8.75-9
Continuity-97/100 (The anathema is described as flinty and silvery in Horus Rising and golden in False Gods. Yes it is the same sword, Loken recognizes it on Fulgrim’s hip and it is described as golden when wielded by Temba. A minor but important detail)
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