CotE Reviews: Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett. - Wargaming Forum and Wargamer Forums
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post #1 of 18 (permalink) Old 12-23-10, 07:15 PM Thread Starter
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Default CotE Reviews: Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett.

“The Emperor is enraged. Primarch Magnus the Red of the Thousand Sons Legion has made a terrible mistake that endangers the very safety of Terra. With no other choice, the Emperor charges Leman Russ, Primarch of the Space Wolves, with the apprehension of his brother from the Thousand Sons home world of Prospero. This planet of sorcerers will not be easy to overcome, but Russ and his Space Wolves are not easily deterred. With wrath in his heart, Russ is determined to bring Magnus to justice and bring about the fall of Prospero.”

-The Black Library.
“There are no wolves on Fenris? Well tell that to the big fucker chewing on my leg…”

Well here we have it, the long awaited ‘other half’ of the Prospero duology. Originally intended to be released back in April (the month after A Thousand Sons was released) it was postponed because Dan Abnett fell ill. But as priorities go, Mr. Abnett’s health was obviously more important. But regardless of life stories we finally have it, and the Prospero duology is complete. As expected Abnett delivers an interesting, in-depth, and enthralling take on the Vlka Fenryka (don’t call them Space Wolves, they don’t like that). We are immediately thrown into the feral deathworld of Fenris and the ruthless culture it harbours. The very first thing that comes across is the unique perspective, mind-set and outlook of the native Fenrisians. One could easily describe it as simple, but never be fooled by that assumption. They bear a fierce intelligence that one should not underestimate.

One thing that can especially be applauded is the amount of depth the Vlka Fenryka as a Legion are given. I would actually argue they are given more depth than the Dark Angels are in the entire Descent of Angels novel despite that actually being the focus of that book, which only speaks in favour of Abnett’s skill in Prospero Burns. The majority of the novel seems to have been used to establish the Vlka Fenryka as a unique Legion (in terms of purpose, mindset, perspective, traditions, Et cetera) through the eyes of the Upplander (Kasper Hawser), eventually throwing us into the established scenes of Nikaea and Prospero. Abnett throws us mass amounts of unique terminology that also help to give an unprecedented amount of depth to one of the Legio Astartes. In that regard perhaps we are finally seeing a diversion away from the cheesy (albeit classic) terminology such as ‘Space Marines’ (the official term ‘Astartes’ is appearing more often, with ADB for one now basically never using the term ‘Space Marines’) and ‘Space Wolves’ now being revealed as merely an outsider term labelled on the VI Legion, but I digress. Consistently throughout the early stages of the novel the ideological, and in several ways the philosophical opposition of the Vlka Fenryka to the Thousand Sons is established, often subtly. Abnett does a good job of establishing and putting into context the differences and eventual conflict that is present between the two Legions.

Fenris itself is featured early on. But inevitably, as with everything mythical when it is described and elaborated upon in detail, it does suffer a shortcoming. Fenris has always been described as one of the most harsh and desolate worlds in the entire Imperium, often to the extent where it is described in a mythical and legendary sense. Whilst Abnett obviously does attempt to mirror such a description, not even he could make it sufficient enough to compare with the myths. One thing that also seems strange is the general lack of wolves throughout the novel. Let me explain, wolves have always been a central part of the VI Legion, hence ‘Space Wolves. Apart from the sporadic and vague mention of wolves, they don’t really appear at all. Not even when the culture or traditions of the Vlka Fenryka are elaborated upon. Freki and Geri (Russ’ loyal companions) aren’t even mentioned, let alone featured. And on that topic the Wolf King himself doesn’t really make any sort of prolonged appearance. He probably features as much in A Thousand Sons as he does in Prospero Burns.

The novel itself initially (for around half of it) revolves around alternate scenes between the Upplander’s current exploits in relation to the wolves, and previous memories/flashbacks of when he was part of the Imperial Conservatory which all bear relevance to his current whereabouts, mindset and adventures. Whilst this is an effective way in which an author can tie in different aspects of the overall plot it does at times become tiresome and stretched to a point almost of irrelevance. Although having said that it is used highly effectively in certain situations/chapters, and does generally speaking have an overall relevance towards the end of the novel.

Very minor spoilers in relation to the Upplander/Kasper Hawser:

One thing that the series as a whole has failed to do in the relevant novels (Descent of Angels and now Prospero Burns) is explore the transition of the homeworlds (Caliban and Fenris in this instance) from technological (and arguably cultural/social) wildernesses into the technologically (and ideologically) advanced fold of the Imperium. It touched upon it in Descent but not to the extent one would have hoped for. As for Prospero Burns, although the primary feature of the novel is the build up to and the Burning of Prospero, not the exploration of the Vlka Fenryka itself, it would still be an interesting feature to have had explored and defined such things. Especially as large swathes of the book were used to establish other things. It would have been interesting to know the relationship between the Vlka Fenryka and the native tribes of Fenris for example.
Minor spoilers involving the opening scenes of the novel:

One of the best descriptive additions in the book was the Imperial siege of the Quietude, with the wolves perched and watching the proceedings from a distance. It was quite a powerful image which reminded me of the film Troy. When the Greeks first assault the walls of Troy with Achilles and the Myrmidon witnessing the almost-apocalyptic scenes from the sidelines. I must say I have to agree with SFX’s opinion on Abnett in this regard: 'Abnett's prose grabs you by the throat and forces you to witness the carnage!' - one thing that can be said of Dan Abnett is that his prose is often masterfully worked and does really engross you in the scene. Hawser’s account of the Burning of Prospero itself is also very powerful in the descriptive sense. It is a shame then that the Burning of Prospero is only told from Hawser’s perspective, and therefore strictly limited to his experiences of it. I thought the account of the Burning in A Thousand Sons was short and arguably underdone, well the account in Prospero Burns is even shorter and very limited. It’s disappointing that the pinnacle event of this duology is painstakingly established throughout both novels, but is only portrayed in a very limited and minor way, Prospero Burns seems anti-climactic in this regard. The main account of the Burning appears in A Thousand Sons, but this isn’t a review of that ‘other half’.

Overall I think the novel suffers because we know what is going to occur later in the plot. I found myself willing the plot to come to Russ and the Burning of Prospero, but instead we are fed with the exploits of Hawser (the Upplander) and the Conservatory, which although is not uninteresting it does pale in comparison to the plot which we know occurs later on. I didn’t truly get into the novel until the siege of the Quietude around ~170 pages in. Although the initial brief exploration of Fenrisian culture was enthralling, it didn’t last long. Although there is a justifiable reason for why the plot takes so long to reach the Prospero saga. The Vlka Fenryka needed to be explored and their actions and behaviour (as seen in A Thousand Sons) justified before we are catapulted headlong into the Burning of Prospero. But when it finally did reach that peak, I felt it was underdone and I was left slightly disappointed. But regardless Abnett’s prose binds together a great story, coupled with the unexpected twists and revelations towards the end and the sheer amount of character and depth the Vlka Fenryka are given makes it a good novel and a very welcome addition to the Heresy series. Ultimately Prospero Burns is at its best when portrayed next to its partner A Thousand Sons. However I do think that Prospero Burns should be read the way it was intended; after it’s counterpart. A Thousand Sons reiterating the wolves’ stereotypical nature and then Prospero Burns shattering it to an extent. Because after all, the whole point of the duology is to portray vastly differing perspectives of a single event.

Favourite Quotes.

Primary Revelations (Major Spoilers).

High Points.
  • The very fact that it was part of a duology. Prospero Burns works very well alongside A Thousand Sons. Describing the same events from different perspectives is always interesting.
  • The sheer amount of depth the Vlka Fenryka as a Legion are given. Everyone's perception of the Wolves will have changed after reading this novel, it really is fantastic in this regard.
  • The very fact that Abnett was the author resulted in a great tale and enthralling prose.
  • Major spoiler regarding Bear:
  • The twist involving Hawser I thought was beautifully handled (building up to it throughout all the alternate scenes). Hawser’s dreams also keep you enticed right until the end.

Low Points.
  • The anti-climax of the Burning itself was disappointing, it was established to a great extent yet failed to ultimately deliver sufficiently.
  • It did take a while to get started, and personally took me a fair amount of time to get fully engrossed in the novel. Although that having been said the initial scenes on Fenris were very interesting.
  • It’s also a shame that the exploration of Fenrisian culture or their incorporation into the Imperium wasn’t established more. There was a stark contrast between the initial Fenrisian scenes (with the natives) and those involving the actual Vlka Fenryka, there wasn’t any form of connection between the two that was explored.
  • Whilst it’s connection with A Thousand Sons also worked as an advantage, I personally feel it wasn’t capitalised enough upon to a certain extent. There weren’t actually that many direct overlaps, the only ones being Nikaea and the fact that we knew Magnus had some form of spy or agent among the Vlka Fenryka from A Thousand Sons. Beyond that they barely portrayed the same events (apart from Prospero briefly, but even then they were not directly linked to one another). For example Horus contacting Russ was not mentioned, nor were the ‘the sinister urgings’ of Constantin Valdor. The remembrancers from A Thousand Sons weren't mentioned aside from the fact that they were present when the Wolves translated in system, nor is the dispersion of the Thousand Sons' fleet. Another issue with the duology aspect of Prospero Burns was that the Thousand Sons weren't portrayed in any light at all (They didn't even feature in the novel - gawd knows why Magnus was listed in the dramatis personae). I expected them to be portrayed as arrogant sorcerers, dabbling in powers that could easily ruin the Imperium (as validated by Magnus' destruction of the Imperial webway), just as the Vlka Fenrkya were established as reckless barbarians in A Thousand Sons. Instead though the Thousand Sons and Magnus are not featured at all. Although I can understand this may have been to emphasis the Rout's utter sense of loyalty to the Emperor - it didn't matter who they were ordered to eliminate and why, only that they were. But I thought that it could have only benefited from even a small amount of inclusion from the Thousand Sons
  • The Silent Sisterhood and the Adeptus Custodes in particular barely got any screentime at all. Which I felt they should have done considering they were a major factor in the Burning. The Sisterhood in regards to combating the magicks of the XV, and the Custodes as a symbol that the mission of the Vlka Fenryka was personally sanctioned by the Emperor.
  • Also how many bloody times does Abnett want to use the term ‘wet leopard-growl’?! Surely he could have come up with an alternate term. I'm sure there must have been an intention behind the constant use of the word, but i'm struggling to uncover it.

My personal table of ratings can be found here:

Prospero Burns scores a clear 7/10. An enjoyable read and a landmark publication for Black Library. Prospero Burns gives an amount of depth to the Vlka Fenryka not before seen, and that can only be applauded. But it is by no means flawless. On reflection the primary issue that most people seem to have with this addition to the Heresy series is it's title, synopsis, and cover-art. All portraying or implying a lot of Prospero-based action, involving Russ. But instead what we got was pretty much solely just the fleshing out of a Legion's background. But if we look past the poor marketing and take the novel at face-value, it really is a good book. Full of intrigue and excitement, and the most comprehensive insight into the Vlka Fenryka ever published. It also adds a significant amount of depth to the Heresy series as a whole, and reveals the extent that Chaos touched every Legion...

Originally Posted by cegorach View Post
I do love how we don't even need CotE to comment anymore, chances are he has already said something intelligent before that can be re-applied to the current situation.
Heresy's Background FAQ. (Fluff Project)
CotE Reviews: Prospero Burns (HH Review), Age of Darkness (HH Review).

Last edited by Child-of-the-Emperor; 05-26-11 at 12:18 PM.
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post #2 of 18 (permalink) Old 12-23-10, 07:48 PM
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Nice review CotE. I just finished it today, and I pretty much agree with everything you've said. I got very tired of having to read the same passage regarding Hawser's recurring dream oer and over again, and while his flashbacks to Terra were quite interesting in their own right, there were just too many of them.

I was a little put off by the whole book being told from an outsiders view point, but on reflection it worked well as a device to slowly reveal the true nature of the Rout as supreme warriors who plan meticulously and gather vast amounts of intelligence, as opposed to the stereotype built up in ATS, and even in other GW material regarding them.

Having an outsider, or Upplander, discover that while they are at times feral killers bent on annihalating the enemies of the Allfather, they are also aware of this reputation and cultivate it to a degree (see Russ's habit of letting his enemies know everything of his plans so that they can stew in their own fear), they are also capable of controlling and channelling that ferocity into a scalpel blade instead of the blunt instrument they are taken for by everyone else.

Their complete acceptance and embracing of what they are, what they were created to do, was actually quite refreshing. The old Millwall fans song "Everybody hates us but we don't care!" kept coming to mind.

As you said though, the climax was far too short. All of a sudden we're on Prospero, then we're done. I think Abnett was more focussed on developing the Vlka Fenryka than the actual battle with the TS, and in fairness, considering the job McNeill already did of the battle, I don't mind, because as a long time SW fanboy, I love the darker, deeper look into them than we have previously seen. I think the exploration of what went on behind the scenes at Nikaea made up for it.

Pros for me: The huge development in SW fluff; the deepest look so far into what Terra was like at the time of the Great Crusade.

Cons: Despite the brief appearance of Russ and even briefer of Fulgrim, and cameos from Typhon, Valdor and Raldoron, the serious lack of Primarch action. Considering every other novel about the Legions revolved around their Primarchs, this was a disappointing development; the too brief climax.

Favourite quote: Russ to Valdor "You know what?" said the Wolf King. "The last time anyone insisted anything to me, I twisted their arms off and stuck them up their arse."

EDIT: Also nice to see what I always knew finally confirmed, that SWs man for man are superiour to Astartes from any other legion.

Last edited by Khorne's Fist; 12-23-10 at 08:31 PM.
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post #3 of 18 (permalink) Old 12-23-10, 08:08 PM
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Very good review Child-of-the-Emperor, awesome to see something with actual substance and a relative lack of bias to it. (Rather than spoilers and gushing with 20% 'review' if that.)

Haven't gotten the book myself, and refrained from checking out those spoilers, but I definitely want to get my hands on it in the near future.

I think my favorite part of all this would be your going back and forth with the good and the bad, and including quotes to the novel (that I did not read lest I come across some sort of spoiler and ruin a surprise in some way.)

Damnation is paved on good intentions; subtle and sugar coated or blunt and honest
A hero is someone who steps up when everyone else backs down.
Popularity is what people strive for when they lack the strength to be themselves.

Seriously, is it really that hard to write reviews without spoilers?

Reporting Posts - read this
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post #4 of 18 (permalink) Old 12-24-10, 01:54 AM
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Excellent review, might be best review i read this site so far. You made some very good points on why this isnt among the top HH novels so far. Anyways im looking forwards very much to read book myself.
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post #5 of 18 (permalink) Old 12-24-10, 02:44 AM
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hahaha! i am so glad i snatched you to write for TFF as well mate. Wonderful, wonderful job. Looking forward to more reviews like this. This review has also successfully been posted on The Founding Fields, minus the spoilers of course, thanks for editing those out. If any of you lot care to stop by, you can find it here:


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post #6 of 18 (permalink) Old 12-24-10, 11:44 AM
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I loved it and though i agree with you on the downpoints i would still probably give it a 9/10. But the distinct lack of wolves throughout the novel was odd, although im certain more than likely a deliberate choice by Abnett.
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post #7 of 18 (permalink) Old 12-24-10, 01:01 PM
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Great review CotE, and I agree with you on several points but there are a few I disagree.

The initial scenes on Fenris were quite enthralling for me, mainly because we were seeing a brand new culture and because of another reason, and Descent of Angels didn't do it this way and thats why it wasn't as interesting. We saw Fenris through the eyes of an outsider, someone who had a unique perspective on their culture, who saw what they did and thought it was strange rather than something they saw every day. And the attitude that Fenrisians took to off-worlders, the Bad Stars, and the Ascommani's fate was a look into the harsh ways of Fenris, a way of life that tolerates no weakness. And of course Hawser's views into the Fenryka reveal their true abilities of reasoning and self-control, it would have been dull to read from an Astartes who says, "After all we are better then they think we are", but instead we have seen it from someone who views them as primitives, and is shown just how wrong he is. The surprise and revelation of the Vlka Fenryka's intelligence and tactical mindset was quite impressive, and would have lost impact had an Astartes revealed it in his own thoughts.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the title Vlka Fenryka, because after all every Legion had names before they became the Blood Angels, the Space Wolves or the Ultramarines, and some even maintain their names such as the Vlka Fenryka over the Space Wolves, preferring to keep their culture to themselves and maintain it, rather then flout it and have people complain that they aren't conforming to Imperial ways of life. Let everyone call them Space Wolves, they are the Vlka Fenryka and they know it, and that is what matters.

As for the Burning of Prospero lacking in the book, I see that it does and it would be nice to have seen some more perspectives on the battle and the Thousand Sons. I would have loved to see them run across Phosis T'kar and describe how he had mutated, or Auramagma immolating and dying in front of everyone. But by doing this Abnett would risk basically running across the same events that happened in A Thousand Sons, but from the other side of the firefight. Therefore I think it better that he showed us a different area of the battle, a place where it was all new and we could be surprised by what was taking place, and still show us the Vlka Fenryka perspective on the battle and the Thousand Sons.

This is without a doubt the best Abnett novel ive read, its made me respect the Vlka Fenryka, ill never like them as much as I like the Thousand Sons and to me the Fenryka will always be the jerks who sacked Prospero and destroyed a culture of learning and enlightenment. Personally the lessons that Prospero Burns gives on the pursuit of knowledge, I disagree with. I think the Thousand Sons are right in that knowledge must be pursued and that we must preserve the knowledge we have, rather then destroy it brutally just because the Emperor says so.

I also really enjoyed the dream sequences. They were right out of a movie for me, I could imagine Kasper staring into the mirror and turning around, only to see nothing. And the scenes continue, each time we come closer to seeing the man in the mirror. And at the end when he turns and we finally see who has been hidden for the entire novel and the history of Kasper's life, and the words he speaks. Its frelling epic.

I myself gave Prospero Burns a 9.5/10, I think I enjoyed the opening scenes on Fenris more than others did because I enjoy reading about things like that, the new culture, their people and how they are viewed by an outsider. I can understand that others would have a hard time getting into that though, I think the book deserves more than a 7 though, an 8 or 9 is the correct score in my view. - The Kabal of Shattered Souls Project Log - Check out Talk Wargaming for reviews by Lord of the Night.
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post #8 of 18 (permalink) Old 12-27-10, 07:09 PM
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Bsed on PB (And other publications) it would have been impossible for Horus to order the destruction of a legion as he saw not corrupted at the time of prospero

The discussion with the changling was the most enlightening of the whole book
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post #9 of 18 (permalink) Old 12-27-10, 07:29 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the comments guys.

On further reflection I have adjusted my final rating slightly, just a heads up.

Originally Posted by cegorach View Post
I do love how we don't even need CotE to comment anymore, chances are he has already said something intelligent before that can be re-applied to the current situation.
Heresy's Background FAQ. (Fluff Project)
CotE Reviews: Prospero Burns (HH Review), Age of Darkness (HH Review).
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post #10 of 18 (permalink) Old 12-30-10, 05:06 PM
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I felt that this book should have been renamed ''Wolves of Fenris'' instead of ''Prospero Burns'' it's much more accurate really.

I found it to be well written, but it has it's flaws, as you said. The first half was very slow for me. And Russ was sadly underused.

Originally Posted by Khorne's Fist View Post
EDIT: Also nice to see what I always knew finally confirmed, that SWs man for man are superiour to Astartes from any other legion.
No, that's not confirmed. The entire novel is from the point of view of a skald attatched to the VI Legion. He is going to be biased.
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