Bane of Empires
“There are no wolves on Fenris? Well tell that to the big fucker chewing on my leg…”“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.
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.
Primary Revelations (Major Spoilers).
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.
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: http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/showpost.php?p=827230&postcount=19
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...