The Horus Heresy is a peculiar beast in many ways – not least its longevity. When the series first started, it was thought that there was maybe a trilogy of novels in there, somewhere (‘Horus, yes. That’s the chap who rebelled against the Emperor ten thousand years ago, right?’) It then became a trilogy of trilogies, except two of the books broke out into extra stories, anthologies, audio dramas...
And then the first books started to hit the New York Times bestseller list. That was when everything changed. This series was huge, and the fans were always going to be ravenous for new content.
With that success came complications. The Horus Heresy draws upon nearly three decades of rich Warhammer 40,000 lore and background. There have been countless references, mentions and name-drops throughout the Codexes, novels, timelines, army lists and quotations over the years, and a lot of hobbyists have invested a lot of time and love into their own reading of it. With such a singular, monumental story arc as this, there are certain expectations among the fans as to what will be covered – important characters, nifty little nods to obscure references in other books, and even some eye-opening new events. However, no two people ever seem to agree on what those vital things might be. It’s a very subjective, and ultimately very personal, experience.
Also, when you’re still in the early stages of exploring a new part of the setting, a lot of the embryonic ideas aren’t yet fully formed. This can be an issue when you have several authors working on multiple stories, simultaneously. Inevitably, discrepancies and contradictions can crop up, but the joy often comes in how you come to reconcile those points in the context of the wider arc.
Battle for the Abyss was a book very much of its time. Veteran author Ben Counter’s second foray into the 31st millennium, it was the first outing for the Ultramarines and the Word Bearers in the series, as well as the Space Wolves and the Thousand Sons – two notorious rivalries that would demand a lot more coverage later on. As the Horus Heresy was growing and evolving through the novels, the time scale for everything was in flux, and when Ben started writing there were no plans for anyone to write novels specifically dealing with the battles of Calth or Prospero. Although these were known events in the history of the war, it was not something that appeared to lend itself to the style of the earlier books, and in the case of the conflict between Russ and Magnus it was deemed to be a little bit odd to consider jumping back in time to retell those events out of sequence. Much of Ben’s reference came exclusively from the old Collected Visions art book and Alan Merrett’s original text therein. There was no reading list, no expanded editorial notes on Macragge, Kor Phaeron, the attack on Calth or the Edict of Nikaea. Ben was forging new ground, like unto a pen-wielding pioneer of the Word himself.
Many of those early books have that exciting feel to them. In the first ten volumes of the Horus Heresy, there were no stars to steer by, no maps to follow. Dan Abnett created the entire war against the megarachnids on Murder simply because it was exciting. Graham McNeill introduced a daemon weapon into Fulgrim’s armoury because it made the primarch a darker and more complex character. James Swallow reanimated Ignatius Grulgor’s diseased corpse because it foreshadowed so much of the warp-tainted horror that was still to come for the sons of Mortarion. Mitchel Scanlon took us to a Caliban that even the Lion himself might no longer recognise, before the coming of the Imperium.
Only once we began to have authors referencing other extant plotlines within the series did the links between the many books start to become apparent. This wasn’t just a setting – it was a single and incredibly complex story, the full extent of which no one contributor could see until their own work was finished. You think you were confused by whose side the Alpha Legion are on, or whether each of their twin primarchs actually knows what the other is doing? Try being the series editor...
As I’ve said elsewhere, I came to Black Library in 2011 and was soon given stewardship of continuity in the Horus Heresy, including the crossovers with the Forge World and Games Workshop studios. It was my job to ensure that, where two different and apparently inconsistent facts are given, they could both be seen as ‘true’. One of the first projects I got moving was the Calth storyline – we had touched on it in Battle for the Abyss but, as always, the fans demanded more.
Dan began with Know No Fear, picking up so many of the dangling threads from Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Word Bearers novel The First Heretic along the way (which in turn had borrowed from Anthony Reynolds’ short story ‘Scions of the Storm’ and the old Index Astartes articles from White Dwarf). That’s not to say that these stories are derivative; rather, they represent the collaboration that is so critical to a series like this.
Some of what Ben had written in isolation, several years earlier, setting the scene for the defining battle between the XIII and XVII Legions was now being scrutinised for continuity links going forwards. In his later novel Betrayer, Aaron seized upon the awesome power of what would become known as the Abyss-class vessels (‘Oh, no,’ says Lorgar, ‘I built three...’) and the wreckage of the Furious Abyss itself was a feature of the events at Macragge in Dan’s Imperium Secundus plot. For a book that, at the time, was not intended to link to anything else, Battle for the Abyss showed how the hubris or heroism of a few relatively unknown characters could affect the future of the galaxy, for better or worse.
Certainly, if you are re-reading the novel in this hardback edition, you may notice that a few continuity details have been editorially tweaked – just a little – to account for subsequent events in the series.
Historical revision. I reckon it will be all the rage in 35,000 years or so...
So a fine chap found this afterword written by Laurie Goulding in Battle of Abyss
Hardback. Does this mean that they are going over the older novels and fixing them up to date with the most recent background lore? Has anyone read any of the newer hardbacks and noticed a significant change of details? I'm quite curious what kind of changes they have done.
BftA does get a lot of shit, and I agree with another member on this site when I say that the novel was written long before it should have, a product before its time as it could have learned a lot from the novels like THF, ATS, PB and KNF.