“You don’t know the things I dream. No one does, no one ever cared enough to find out”
I’ve been an Iron Warrior fan ever since I first read their Index Astartes, so it should come as no surprise, then, that ever since the short blurb on Black Library’s site introduced it, Angel Exterminatus
was the Heresy book I’ve looked forward the most. Knowing that Perturabo and his Fourth legion were safely in Graham McNeill’s hands meant that I’ve slowly been building anticipation until that fateful pay day when my credit card enthusiastically coughed up the price of the audiobook and the hardback.
What happened to all my expectations, you ask? Well, they were met, surpassed and completely swept off their feet, with every chapter I drew nearer to the end of this exceptional story.
The plot, in so much as I can sum it up without giving anything away, is focused on Fulgrim’s scheme to attain further greatness and the favor of Slaanesh, a plan in which Perturabo has a vital role to play. In order to secure his brother’s aid and legion, Fulgrim entices him with a forgotten legend of ancient elder superweapons, crafted by the fabled Angel Exterminatus.
However, while the story might be focused on Fulgrim, and the efforts of a small loyalist force determined to stop him, Angel Exterminatus
is, without a shadow of a doubt, Perturabo’s book. This previously understated primarch steals the spotlight and completely dominates the scene for the entire book, revealing himself to be a surprisingly complex and relatable character, as we discover new layers to his personality with every turn of the page.
I’ll get back to Perturabo later on, though, because he is not the only character Graham manages to flesh out – just the undisputed lead star of this show.
Fulgrim, for instance, is slipping further and further down the path of Slaanesh, and is simply brilliant in his depravation. Lucius and Fabius were also given ample amount of time, and I enjoyed seeing they’re still up to their antics again. Some of the characters from Storm of Iron
and Dead Sky, Black Sun
are also present, and the triarchs – Forrix, Kroeger and Barban Falk all have their character development time as well. Reading the two aforementioned books is by no means required to understand the plot of Angel Exterminatus
, but it’s certainly rewarding to see how the two arcs connect, regardless of the order you read them in.
We get to see how Forrix – the incredibly capable and loyal First Captain – loses his faith and drive, becoming the jaded burn-out of the 41st millennium, and Kroeger – the new blood – takes his first steps as Warsmith, as well as feeling the call of the Blood god for the first time. As for Falk… well, let’s just say I’ll leave that up to you to find out what his deal is…
The final additions to the cast of the novel are the loyalists who struggle to thwart Fulgrim’s efforts ; Wayland and Sharrowkyn (both whom we’ve already been acquainted to in Kryptos
), Frater Thamatica and Atesh Tarsa are the first names that come to mind, although all the characters on board the Sisypheum are noteworthy mentions.
However, the book still revolves around Perturabo first and foremost. There are some immediately obvious traits – he’s a straight-to-the-point guy, a firm believer in the rational, and has a peachant for deadpan – but I think Forrix best describes his gene-sire as a being of contradictions, and it’s precisely because of this fact that he becomes the single best written, most compelling character in the Heresy series, surpassing Abnett’s Horus, ADB’s Lorgar and even McNeill’s own Magnus, among others.
Perturabo is a supremely skilled general and a master of destruction, as well as an architect, an engineer, a craftsman, a philosopher and a statesman. He is, even at the height of civil war on a galactic scale, driven as much by his bright, burning core of hopeless idealism engrained into him by the Emperor, as he is by unbreakable resolve and a cold pragmatism spawned by his unfailing logic and reinforced by centuries of disillusionment. He can be cold as dry ice under pressure, yet flare into brief bouts of devastating anger in moments of mild irritation. He respects his enemies and more than once, his honor compels him to offer them concessions, yet at the same time, he is still capable of lashing out mercilessly at even his closest associates. He’s a perceptive spirit, who reads his brothers like open books, and probably understands them better than anyone else, yet he is plagued by his impossibility to really connect with any of them – even his past interactions with Magnus and Vulkan probably being better described as close cooperation, rather than genuine connection. He is subtle in his direct methods, and blunt when it’s useful to mask his subtlety. His mistrust and paranoia conflict wildly with moments of sincere naïveté, and he relishes solitude, all the while longing for the kinship of his brothers. He longs to forge a better empire for mankind, to delight in the onerous aspects building cities and grand building, even while he willingly accepts the need to tear down the very things he admires.
If I were to pick out his most defining traits, though, I’d say my perception of him is of a man of principles and a man of doubt. Firstly, he questions himself, at times, but that is only a fleeting thing, as his stubborn, steadfast determination keeps him engaged on whatever path he chose, trying to see it through to the end, and making the most of any bad situation. But, most importantly, he doubts others and he doubts the way of things, always keeping an eye out for flaws he knows are inevitable. He’s a keen mind, asking himself the questions that matter, while knowing beforehand he will not like the answers, and I sort of like how this jades him slowly, and how this is accounts for his rumoured paranoia. Anyway, I could rant on and on about all the things that make him a great character, but I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, and I could hardly do him justice without referring to specific instances. I will, however say that, for all his obvious qualities, Perturabo remains widely underestimated by his contemporaries – a fact that he is quick to take advantage of, and use to great effect several times throughout the book.
The plot, as I said, follows Fulgrim mostly, and culminates in an event already established in the Heresy timeline. What’s interesting about it, though, is that it reaches that conclusion in an unexpected way, expanding the existing background by quite a fair degree. It also foreshadows a new grudge for Perturabo, and what I assume will be a decisive factor for his eventual decision to ascend to daemonhood, despite his intense hatred for all things Warp related.
Action scenes, for those interested in them, are on the better side of standard, but what’s really great about them is how fit quite well within the context, and are used as a framework for some really interesting character development scenes. Not only that, but they didn’t strike me as breaking the plot all too much, which is saying something…
As a fan of the Iron Warriors, I really liked Angel Exterminatus
. It’s not quite what I expected, but I can honestly say that as a good thing for once. Perturabo fits well with the way I had always imagined him, and then some… Fulgrim and the Emperor’s Children feel truly chaotic, and the loyalists are fun characters. They’re not completely stereotypical of their respective legions, but neither are they too detached from the established conventions as to feel out of place or forced.
Two things really sold me on this book but didn’t fit elsewhere in the review, so I’ll mention them here.
The dynamics of character interaction are the first of these things. Perturabo, for instance, goes from just playing along with his brother to utterly dominating him a few times along the way, culminating in a stunning finale in the final chapters of the book. Wayland and Sharrowkyn’s interactions with each other and the other loyalists were also a fun note, as was Fabius’ relation to.. well, pretty much everyone else.
The second thing that I really liked were the details, and how this book really fits in and references a host of other Black Library books. I’ve already mentioned the obvious Storm of Iron
and Dead Sky, Black Sun
, but the list goes on for a lot longer than that. A Thousand Sons
, Know No Fear
, Outcast Dead
, Iron Within
¸The Lightning Tower
are all referenced, either via subtle continuity nods, throwaway lines or even foreshadowing. A harmless but powerful example of this would be the bottle of wine that Perturabo opens at some point in the book, “fermented by a son of the Crimson King”, in reference to Ahriman running a winery on Prospero, as mentioned in A Thousand Sons
There are also a great many breadcrumbs that enrich the book, raiase additional questions, but bear no impact on the plot as a whole, but I'll leave them for you to find out, as they're part of the gravy... That, and the fact that most of them have already been covered in the spoilered thread
That’s not to say I don’t have some gripes about the book. I’ve already mentioned that Perturabo is a brilliant character by now, right? Well, here’s the thing. Despite his obvious flaws, he’s a genuinely likeable character and a general to follow into the jaws of hell. His depth of character is easily comparable to pre-corruption Lorgar or Horus NOW, after Istvaan V, and at the height of and on the wrong side of the most unspeakable betrayal in history. Horus, Lorgar, Magnus and even Fulgrim were all likeable characters too, but by this point most of them are turning into or already established as complete monsters by now. I'm really interested to see if Perturabo will gradually sink to their level, or if there's some greater tragedy to be played upon by him retaining his character traits well after the Herey, and into the Iron Cage...
Yet another thing, and I’m not sure if it’s just me, but he just seems surprisingly balanced, and able to match a great deal of other primarchs in their own fields. He’s at least the martial equal of Fulgrim, and his plans for a perfect Olympia rival anything Fulgrim or Magnus have accomplished on their own homeworlds. He’s as skilled a craftsman as Vulkan, and a strategist close to Guilliman. Somehow, I'm afraid he'll br regarded as the new Marneus Calgar or Kaldor Draigo, despite Graham's efforts to earn sympthy for him...
• Perturabo, playing simulations of the Siege of the Imperial palace against Kroeger
• “Brother Sharrowkyn. Is there something wrong with the floor?”
• Fulgrim, getting put back in his place, the first time around (yes, there’s more than one time)
• The Lucius vs Sharrowkyn duel
• Perturabo's recollection of his symbolic oath to the Emperor, before departing on the Great Crusade
• Perturabo's innermost sanctum, and the things found within
• Read the very last line of Feat of Iron
and think real hard about where the Eldar guides might take in this book...
• The fate of the wounded Iron Hands captain could have been touched upon before the conclusion of the book
• The outcome of the Lucius vs Sharrowkyn duel doesn’t sit all that well with Lucius’ established background
Angel Exterminatus gets a 10 from me. As a fan of the primarch and the legion, it was more than I would have ever expected, and as anyone who has ever had expectations from books about their favorites, it's quite an accomplishment by all standards to have them surpassed. To say it’s a solid book wouldn’t do it justice, but it deserves to be up there with the likes of The First Heretic
, A Thousand Sons
and Know No Fear
, regardless of what legion you’re rooting for, and what you thought about the protagonist legions before.