CotE Reviews: Age of Darkness edited by Christian Dunn. - Wargaming Forum and Wargamer Forums
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Default CotE Reviews: Age of Darkness edited by Christian Dunn.



Quote:
“After the betrayal at Isstvan, Horus begins his campaign against the Emperor, a galaxy-wide war that can lead only to Terra. But the road to the final confrontation between father and son is a long one – seven years filled with secrecy and silence, plans and foundations being formed across distant stars. An unknown history is about to be unveiled as light is shed on the darkest years of the Horus Heresy, and revelations will surface that will shake the Imperium to its very foundation…”

- The Black Library
“The most enjoyable short stories benefit from the magnitude of their revelations, subtle implications or general badass plots.”

The next Horus Heresy anthology is here at last. With tales from some of the most prominent and upcoming Black Library authors, this is not one to miss.

And to kick us off, Graham Mcneill:

Rules of Engagement.
Graham Mcneill.

“Dawn of the Imperium Secundus.”

And what a way to kick us off it was. Rules of Engagement seemingly throws us straight into the post-Calth Siege of Ultramar, with multiple Legions besieging several worlds of the Ultramar Empire. The opening scene really is fantastic, and even in just four pages we get a thought provoking insight into Roboute Guilliman’s psyche. Most prominent amongst such things is the idea that he is consciously betraying the Imperium in an attempt to save it…

This short focuses around the Codex Astartes, which has started to be compiled by the Lord of the XIII. The tale is split into four separate engagements, each on a different world throughout Ultramar, but each revolving around our protagonist - Remus Ventanus 4th Company (Troublesome Fourth) Captain - who struggles to adapt both himself and his Astartes to the new teachings laid down in the codex. I have not heard great things about Mcneill’s Ultramarines series (although I have not read it myself) but I see no obvious reason to dislike or criticise his portrayal of the XIII in this brief short.

Each engagement tells a different saga of the Siege of Ultramar, pitching the Ultramarines against four separate Legions. And Mcneill - as expected - handles the action scenes well, engrossing us in the short, yet sharp battles of the separate engagements, epitomising the traits of the five Legions involved well. The major lack in this regard were the actual tactics employed by the Ultramarines via the codex, I feel it would have benefited more from some in-depth tactical research that would have really justified the workings of the Codex rather than seemingly obvious and basic tactical acumen being presented as intricate and complex strategies. I know Mcneill is an author rather than a military historian or tactician, but it still seemed just a bit basic for my liking. The portrayal of the Codex Astartes on the other hand was interesting, yet another example of some object destined for greatness in 30k that has become stagnated and misinterpreted by 40k. Overall then, Mcneill delivers a clear and focused page turner which seemed to be over all too quickly.

A solid 6/10 from me. A good start to the compilation, and one that presents new perspectives on established characters and events.

Extras (spoilers):

The tale also revels that Guilliman has a ‘plan’. What this we don’t know, but my personal interpretation:


Liar’s Due.
James Swallow.

“Know this. The war is over. Horus has the throne.”

Many people on these Black Library forums may be aware of my general distaste for some of Swallow’s work. But this short really has put him back in my good books. It really was a great tale, exploring the effect the Heresy had on the common man and the methods Horus was willing to use to secure ultimate victory. The short is set on the world of Virger-Mos II, a far-flung agricultural colony where the whole populace is bent to producing food for the nascent Imperium. For countless generations the same families had lived and died on Virger-Mos II, living out a dull existence. There were even whispers that their existence was completely and utterly pointless. Yet this all changes when word of the Emperor’s death reaches the world, around the same time as a stranger from Terra arrives claiming to be a remembrancer, and who bears a strange tattoo…

Swallow’s characters were interesting and in the relatively short amount of pages we really got a feel for their contrasting personalities and relationships. It was also an interesting insight into a remote and outlying Imperial colony. A feel for the entirely isolated villages and towns of the colony, who have met next to no one outside of their small communities. All of this in the context of the galaxy-spanning civil war, which adds another interesting twist (especially in regards to the notion of man’s self-importance). A nice touch was an interesting comparison of father/son relationships between that of the main character Leon Kyyter and his father Ames and that of the Emperor and Horus.

Similarly to The Last Remembrancer, certain underlying themes were explored. Although this time more in regards to human nature. And that is something which truly makes this short shine.

The tale was also filled with a great deal of suspense, just what was going to happen to the far-flung colony? Would it really matter if they stayed true to the Emperor or flew the flag of Lupercal? Did it matter who sat on the Throne of Earth? Would Horus unleash his Legions to secure their loyalty? Through all this the short explores a very telling aspect of the human psyche; fear. But when the invasion comes, it is not wholly as expected…

An 8/10 from me. A truly fascinating short, with thought-provoking themes and compelling characters. The main twist was certainly welcome and again proved the ingenuity and cunning of a certain Primarch. Well done Mr. Swallow, well done.

Forgotten Sons.
Nick Kyme.

“An Ultramarine and a Salamander sitting in a tree…”

The planet Bastion must decide whether to remain loyal to the Emperor, or just the rebel Warmaster. Horus has sent an iterator to present his case, whilst the Imperium has sent two Forgotten Sons. These Imperial Astartes must adapt to the diplomatic nature of their mission or lose the world to Horus. However what soon becomes clear is that Horus has set a separate plan in motion, one that will cause untold destruction…

Nick Kyme has weaved together an interesting tale here, one that seemingly explores a different nature of the Heresy, only to return to the deceitful and devious truth that was the underlying trend of the civil war. Our two protagonists Heka’tan (a Salamander) and Arcadese (an Ultramarine) are the two Forgotten Sons, the former part of the remnant of a shattered Legion, and the latter a confused Astartes having been in a coma since the Ullanor Crusade and having missed the opening stages of the Heresy and his Legions muster at Calth. The Salamander especially is very much so a stereotypical member of the XVIII Legion, protecting the weak and all that. Whilst the Ultramarine is an understandably frustrated and blunt individual, the Heresy having shaken his psyche.

The tale is a generally average one, nothing particularly amazing especially in comparison to some of the others of the compilation. But it is one that was a welcome addition.

A 6/10 from me.

The Last Remembrancer.
John French.

“It is not Horus that will destroy the future of the Imperium. It is you…”

There has been a few authors in this compilation whose work I have not read before. John French being one of them. And what a way to get introduced to an author. We are thrown into the Heresy-era Sol System as a traitor aligned warship emerges which bears an important message for the Imperium… After an exciting and fast-paced opening we join Rogal Dorn and a mysterious grey warrior headed to the dark side of Titan to heed this message.

This really is a fantastic short story, it brings together many elements that make up a great story. A good prose, compounded with enthralling themes and well written characters; you really get a feel for the reluctance of Dorn, the new-found purpose of Qruze (the grey warrior), and the conviction of the last remembrancer. This is not a story that throws you into the far-flung battlefields or wars of the Horus Heresy, it is one that deals with the philosophy and premise of what the Heresy has done and what it will cause. And despite it being the shortest story in the compilation at only (33) pages, it was thoroughly enjoyable and probably my favourite overall. By far the most thought-provoking of the compilation, riddled with suspense and contemplation.

I actually think one of the main reasons why this tale was so captivating was actually because of the lack of action, now bear with me. Just like The Last Church in Tales of Heresy, this short is almost a constant dialogue dealing with the all important themes that ran throughout the Imperium and Heresy as a whole - something all together more important than the various battles and wars. Without much action at all, it can focus on such themes and have nothing taken away from the ideas and concepts it is trying to portray. It also very briefly captures the corruption and changes that had occurred within the XVI Legion - something which Little Horus failed to truly achieve - but something that was altogether welcome.

The short reveals why the Imperium would never rise from the ashes of the Heresy, what would come after would be something entirely different. The Imperium Secundus as Guilliman put it. And you are truly reminded of the tragedy of the Heresy, and of the reality of the age. An example of the brilliance of Horus (from one perspective) is also achieved, his efforts at psychological warfare and underhand ploys to weaken the loyalist resistance were something so effective that it shattered the mind of a Primarch…

In the small amount I have read of French’s work, I know it is something I can really get on board with. An 8.5/10 from me. A very enjoyable short with captivating themes, brilliant prose and a great plot. I look forward to more of French’s work.

The Face of Treachery.
Gav Thorpe.

“I wonder where these guys aren’t…”

Having generally enjoyed Thorpe’s previous work for the Black Library I was eager to know how he would tackle the Horus Heresy, especially in light of the knowledge he has a full Heresy novel being released later this year. Essentially this short tells the other half of the tale told in Raven’s Flight. Just how did Branne and Valerius manage to extract Corax and the remnants of the Raven Guard from the surface of Isstvan V and then escape from orbit? All is revealed. I really would recommend listening to Raven’s Flight before reading this short though, if you don’t you won’t really know whats going on!

Generally speaking I don’t think this short was anything to shout about, but nor was it terrible. A fairly average tale then, bringing together elements of a decent prose and remotely interesting characters with a sort of back and forth plot. It also gives us a taste of what is to come - Thorpe’s two contributions to the Heresy series have both revolved around the Raven Guard, it is no surprise then that his first full novel will also be about the Raven Guard with Deliverance Lost - and there was a small element of The Face of Treachery which seemed to give a small hint at what was to come; Corax’s intention to travel to Terra for example.

Another positive was that it was also interesting to get an insight (albeit a very small one) into the effects of the World Eaters implants. Finally, The final twist was interesting and it did present an appealing conclusion:


5.5/10 from me. Whilst it was interesting and revealing to know just how some elements of Raven’s Flight have been justified, it was a short that just didn’t seem to flow that steadily. Although the final twist was interesting and did give the tale a strong positive.

Rebirth.
Chris Wraight.

“If Thomas Cook offers you a holiday to Prospero, don’t take it. That place is fucking grim.”

Not having read any of Chris Wraight’s work before I was eagerly awaiting how he would tackle the Thousand Sons in the wake of Graham Mcneill’s half of the Prospero duology. And I must say I was generally not disappointed. I don’t think he captured the sheer amount of essence of the XV Legion as Mcneill did in A Thousand Sons, but then Mcneill had an entire novel whilst Wraight only had a few dozen pages, so that would not be a fair judgment.

Rebirth takes us all the way back to Prospero - or at least what remains of Prospero - as we learn what happened to the XV Legion fleet that Magnus dispersed immediately prior to the Burning. Having been separated from the remainder of the fleet, the Geometric returns to Prospero in an attempt to discover just what the hell happened. We generally follow two main characters; Brother-Captain Menes Kalliston of the Fourth Fellowship (Athanaean cult) and Brother-Sergeant Revuel Arvida (Corvidae cult). And whilst on the topic, Wraight continues with the unique themes and terminology established in A Thousand Sons, which is a nice touch but no less than what was expected.

The structure of the story revolves between the now and build up to the now. Kalliston has been captured and is being interrogated by an unknown individual, and such scenes alternate with the protagonists ventures onto the surface of Prospero and how Kalliston came to be in the situation he found himself in. The action scenes were a bit dry, although I enjoyed the inclusion of the Corvidae cult practises throughout them, the ‘twisting paths of the future’ and all that! Whilst this tale is not one of great magic or sorcerous covens that is so often linked with the Thousand Sons, it is an enjoyable read with several wholly unexpected twists, implications and revelations. Rebirth is also entirely dependent on one having read A Thousand Sons first, not only for the plot, but also for the themes and terminology established in Mcneill’s book.

After a significant (and wholly unexpected) twist during the short, we end up getting a very interesting and thought-provoking insight into the psyche of a well known character. Also there is a fairly obvious hint contained within this short in regards to the Blood Ravens, so keep your eyes out for both of those!

If I am right in saying that this is Wraight’s first venture into the 40k universe then I am confident he will find his feet very soon (and going off what I’ve heard about his upcoming Astartes Battles novel - Battle of the Fang it seems that he already has). Well done Chris, keep it coming.

A 7/10 from me.
And to leave this one on a cliff-hanger for those that can’t wait to get hold of this, whilst also not minding a fairly significant spoiler:


Little Horus.
Dan Abnett.

“Little Horus remains a mysterious and destined character, one that seems assured of a turbulent future in the Heresy Series. ”

After a very long (and at times strenuous) wait, we have briefly returned to (some of) the original cast of the opening trilogy. Notably (and obviously) Little Horus Aximand, but also others such as Ezekyle Abaddon and Falkus Kibre. We are thrown into the post-Isstvan world of the XVI Legion, where the Legion is in the middle its campaign against the Emperor’s forces. The concept of the Mournival is explored a bit further, which is interesting especially since its collapse. But Little Horus has the intention or reforming it, or more accurately continuing it.

It wasn’t a particularly memorable short, although as usual Abnett delivered a good prose weaved around a decent enough plot and characters. Horus Aximand as a character was explored further - with his mindset struggling to deal with the discontinuation of the Mournival (with the death of Loken and Torgaddon) and the dilemma of Isstvan III (from Galaxy in Flames) - he struggles with issues of doubt and suffers from strange visions as a result. Ultimately this tale has convinced me that Little Horus will have a major role to play as the series progresses, and his character certainly has a lot of potential to fulfil.

The initial action scenes I felt seemed to generally have little purpose and seemed to act as a page-filler (despite being well written). Although they can obviously be expected in a Black Library publication, part of them just didn’t seem relevant. Having said that, the introduction of a White Scars kill-team and a few Iron Hands was welcome and was certainly interesting, especially their own personal intentions. But the main gripe I had with this short was its failure to address the issue of corruption within the Sons of Horus.
The corruption of the Legion which we know occurs throughout the turbulent years of the Age of Darkness seems almost completely absent. You could have almost forgotten everything that had happened (Davin, Isstvan etc.), the Sons of Horus seemed as ever as they had been Pre-Heresy. And for a compilation focussing on the dark years between Isstvan and Terra - where corruption truly takes hold - this was a real shame. Perhaps it could have been presented as a further catalyst for Aximand’s doubt, but instead any form of portrayal of the Legion’s corruption was absent.

A 6.5/10 from me. Abnett seems incapable of delivering any poor material, but this one doesn’t shine - especially in comparison to some of his own previous novels/shorts and the others in this compilation. But it was nice to return to the Sons of Horus after a very long wait, and Little Horus in particular who struggles to deal with his self-doubt.

The Iron Within.
Rob Sanders.

“The Iron Warriors finally burst onto the Heresy stage.”

Already having been published in issue 5 of Hammer and Bolter back in February, some of you may have already read this short before getting your hands on Age of Darkness. But that would not deter me from reading it again. The Iron Warriors, now traitors, return to a world they conquered long ago.

With Rob Sanders making his debut in the Horus Heresy series, The Iron Within tells the tale of the Siege of Lesser Damantyne, one of many IV Legion strongholds scattered throughout the galaxy. The primary difference being however, this one remains loyal to the Emperor. Warsmith Barabas Dantioch is lord of the Iron Warriors garrison on Lesser Damantyne, and architect of the Schadenhold, a fortress of epic architecture and design that is testament to the skill and mind of Dantioch. When the Legion returns to its world, the crippled Warsmith Dantioch is forced to choose between loyalty to his Legion and Primarch or to his Emperor…

Rob’s short is a good one, an interesting take on a Legion never before featured in the Heresy series. Interesting characters, a good plot and vivid descriptions that generate a good mental image.

But what did vex me, was how this small fortress outpost on a backwater rock was able to delay Horus’ onslaught for near a year. Unless of course these were just the wild claims of a deluded Warsmith. What also is strange is:


Dantioch’s philosophy, that no fortress would hold forever is the key to his genius, and the reasoning behind his ultimate plan.

A 7/10 from me.

Savage Weapons.
Aaron Dembski-Bowden.

“Is the issue of the Lion’s loyalty now solved?”

Already being a big fan of Aarons, and having enjoyed all of his work for the Black Library I had no doubt that Savage Weapons would continue his streak of awesomeness. We are immediately thrown into the “civil war” between the I and VIII Legions (Dark Angels and Night Lords respectively) in the Aegis Subsector (Heraldor and Thramas). The Night Lords having been despatched to the eastern fringes by the Warmaster to protect the flanks of the traitor’s advance towards Terra, and the Dark Angels - isolated by turbulent warp routes - have declared a crusade to defend the vital Subsector in an attempt to “piece together the shards of a shattered empire.”

Straight away Aaron seems to achieve a unique perception of the First Legion, that of a knighthood. Little things like using the term “liege” and individuals kneeling with their swords, raising their weapons to issue challenge, and even just by having unique organisational structures (“ninth order”) gives the Legion that distinct feeling of a knighthood, something which Descent of Angels and Fallen Angels failed to do - but something the Dark Angels are worthy of. Now, I am not exactly saying that Aaron has achieved more (in this regard) in this short than both Mitchel Scanlon and Mike Lee did in their Heresy novels focussed on the Dark Angels. But Aaron really does seem to get across a uniqueness that Scanlon and Lee did not. Several Legions now have a very unique and individual identity. The Vlka Fenryka with Prospero Burns, the Thousand Sons with A Thousand Sons, the Word Bearers with The First Heretic, the Alpha Legion with Legion and so on. Rather than just being portrayed as a typical/normal Legion with different characters, Aaron gives the First Legion a unique sense of nobility that they have always deserved.

But what really shines through is the portrayal of the Primarchs. The Lion’s nobility and calm aloofness (often mistaken for a cold miscomprehension) and Curze’s ghoul-like and cadaverous nature. Curze’s depiction in particular was absolutely fantastic, just as it was in The First Heretic. The portrayal of Curze (“A cadaverous god, in midnight clad… Black hair at the mercy of the world’s winds streamed back from a corpse’s face.”) was full of visual stimulus, and stands as one of the best depictions of a Primarch in the entire series in my eyes. In fact the entire exchange between the two Primarchs was utterly fascinating, especially how it ultimately reduced both to screaming wrecks…

As expected, Aaron’s action scenes were fluid and captivating, really getting down to the grit and true nature of the combat. The Savage Weapons extract from The Verbatim, Lutherian Amendments slots in perfectly to the plot, and was a very interesting and thought-provoking take on the Astartes in general. And as well as both Primarchs, the character of Sevatar was enthralling.

The tale also ends on a very interesting note, and perfectly sums up one of the underlying trends running through several shorts in this compilation, and that is in regards to Roboute Guilliman…

A 8.5/10 from me. A very good short story from ADB, bringing together all the various elements required for a great tale.

Is the issue of the Lion’s loyalty now solved?


Age of Darkness.
Edited by Christian Dunn.

Overall this was a very enjoying compilation. The most enjoyable short stories benefit from the magnitude of their revelations, subtle implications or general badass plots. My favourite shorts were Liar’s Due, The Last Remembrancer and Savage Weapons. The first two exploring highly thought-provoking themes and trends that truly brought the Age of Darkness alive, whilst the latter was written with such class that it simply stands out as fantastic. Actually I think that both Abnett and McNeill, the usual champions of the Black Library were clearly outshone by the likes of French and Dembski-Bowden among others.

One of the great things about this compilation is the several underlying trends that run throughout the different tales, I really do love it when different stories and plots link and weave together, it really adds a certain charm to the separate stories. One such underlying trend was a distinct portrayal of Guilliman. Across several of the stories, we get a very distinct image of Guilliman. Especially if you read the shorts in order, in which case the last line of the last story (Savage Weapons) sums up the trend perfectly. From Guilliman having a mysterious “plan” that will result in the Ultramarines being labelled as traitors, through to Ultramarine envoys being present with loyalist garrisons throughout the galaxy, and finally to the Lion’s view on Guilliman and his intentions.

One thing that I don’t think was picked up very successfully though was the changing nature of the traitor Legions as they slowly became the Chaos Legions. Little Horus in particular, which should have showed this shift but didn’t. This was the main issue I had with the compilation, but that doesn’t stop many of the shorts being fantastic reads.

It seems to pick up the slack on several cliff hangers or implications from the series as a whole. With events from almost every other Heresy novel to date mentioned or referred to at the very least in passing throughout this anthology. It also introduces characters that will no doubt crop up again throughout the Heresy series. Ultimately Age of Darkness brings more questions than it answers, but that is one reason why the Heresy remains such an interesting series, even after 16 novels we are still craving more.

Rating
My personal table of ratings can be found here: https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...0&postcount=19

Age of Darkness scores a clear 7.5/10 from me.

I’ve included a fair few spoilers within tags, so feel free to discuss them within this thread.



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CotE Reviews: Prospero Burns (HH Review), Age of Darkness (HH Review).

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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 04-23-11, 07:02 PM
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Another fantastic review CotE. If you want to read more of John French's works, you can check out Hunted by John French in Hammer and Bolter 4.
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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 04-24-11, 10:37 AM
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Nice review, its refreshing to see a review that is brave enough to give low grades
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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 04-26-11, 02:54 PM
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I am curious about what Horus told Cruze to tell the Lion during their talk. Maybe it was something about Guilliman's intentions. In regards to the Lion's loyalty, his comments to Cruze in the 2nd paragraph of Pg. 390 tells the reader where his loyalty lies IMO.
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 04-26-11, 05:50 PM
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Fantastic review, I agree with a lot of what you have written, especially re the Dark Angles.
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 04-27-11, 01:46 AM
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So far on Face of Treachery and the collection has been underwhelming. McNeil's normal brilliance just isn’t in Rules of Engagement, and I though the part were the ultra's are fighting a certain legion to be completely baffling. I didn’t much care of swallow’s story either. It was good, but I really saw it coming, he gave away the twist much too early for me.

Kyme I don’t even want to speak of. The marines ruined the whole story with their "IM ANGRY GRRRRRRRR, IM A ANGRY MARINE!!!" attitude that Kyme seems not to be able to break. The Last Remebercar has been my favorite so far, I was rather surprised by French. He gave a great look at Dorn's feelings about the Imperuim and it was very well written.

Great job with the review, glad to see you at it again

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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 04-29-11, 03:46 PM
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It only really just occured to me about the Alpha Legionaires final words in The Face of Treachery. "In times such as these, even the most trusted face can conceal an enemy."

Now, whilst quite easily just telling the World Eater that spies can be anywhere, what is the point in telling him? It's almost a 'no shit Sherlock' style statement to make to a dying World Eater, but more meaning to us perhaps. Now possiibly and probably a long shot and a leap, but Valerius spent a good deal of time trying to gain Branne and the Raven Gauards complete trust as is finally rewarded with it. And then only in the next scene we are shown what trust can lead to. Again, bit of a leap, but interesting to me nonetheless
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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 04-29-11, 03:57 PM
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Good review. There were certainly some new elements that (at least to me) question what was really going on with Guilliman during the Heresy.
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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 04-30-11, 06:34 PM
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Just finished it last night:

The way I read it, it didn't seem to me like Guilliman wanted the IW to reinforce the Imperial Palace, but the Fortress of Hera.

Throughout the whole book, I got the feeling that RG believed that the Emperor would ultimately lose, and thus spent his time preparing for this so he could carry on the "cause" of the Imperium.

I personally don't like where this is going.

After years and years of "was the Lion loyal?!" it seems like we're getting ready to start spending more and more time saying "What about Guilliman!" I don't like the idea that something as... "large??" as RG knowing about the Heresy, and choosing to stay in Ultramar to prepare for the ultimate defeat of the Emperor, was put forth in a 60 page short story.

Ultimately with this new look they appear to be giving to the Ultramarines, I feel a retcon, or two, or three for the future.

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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 04-30-11, 08:22 PM
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My own personal opinion on Guilleman, is that he thinks the loyalists wont be able to stop horus taking the palace. I think he thinks that the Imperium is more important than the Emperor and is willing to let him die to preserve the Imperium. So he is waiting for horus to take the palace and then use the loyalist iron warrior to help him retake the palace and defeat Horus. I.E the end of Iron Within the iron warrior says show me the palace and ill show u its weakness. In numerous ocasions throught a few of the stories it talks about Guillemans plan and some may consider him traitor for it. Maybe a shot in the dark.

Any opinions?

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