Friday, April 27, 2012

Audiobook Review – False Gods by Graham McNeill

I have a long drive into work on the days in which I have to be in the office, and I’ve often relied on audio books to help get me through. I’ve especially loved the audio dramas from The Black Library, but my one experience with their regular audio books (the first disc of Horus Rising was offered as a free MP3 download sometime last year) didn’t do much for me. I’ve since received a number of other audio books (note: not dramas) from them, but haven’t paid them much mind.

And then I came to really enjoy Graham McNeil’s Eve of Vengeance, and noticed that I had the abridged audio book of his False Gods – the second novel in the Horus Heresy series. So I bit the bullet and gave it another try – and I absolutely loved it.

My first thought upon finishing the final disc was, this is the scifi version of A Game of Thrones. Now let’s be clear, you’re not getting the familial interplay or the drama of who’s going to marry whom or the son of whom, but political machinations are a major plot point in both of these series.

Warmaster Horus is leading a crusade of Earth’s finest warriors (the Astartes) across the stars in order to bring disparate human colonies under the one banner of the Imperium (and it’s leader, the Emperor) and to destroy any aliens who might stand in the way of human expansion. When he receives word that one of the colonies he formerly brought into line has gone rogue again, he brings his Legion (formerly the Luna Wolves, now the Sons of Horus) to Davin to force their submission.

On a moon of the planet, his army will face their undead brothers, corrupted by some unknown force which has infected the people Horus left behind. They have laid a trap in a derelict spaceship, one which will result in a mortal wound for Horus – and a desperate gamble by his most loyal soldiers to save his life by entrusting him to the superstitious magic within a temple on the planet of Davin.

Inside the temple, Horus receives a vision of the future of mankind, and he must decide what role he will have in the fate of the galaxy. Meanwhile, his Astartes’ brother Lokan is uneasy about the decision his brothers have made for their leader – it goes against every rule they hold dear. He is also beginning to suspect that Erebus – leader of the Word Bearers – is in fact responsible for leading Horus into this trap. But before his accusations can come to light, Horus recovers from his wounds and directs his crusade to their next destination – a system where humans have been corrupted by technology. The campaign here will be hard-fought, lasting months and resulting in high casualties – and possibly just being used as a cover for the murder of specific individuals who have been known trouble-makers in the past.

While not an audio drama, Martyn Ellis does his best to give each character a distinct voice in his reading of the book, and his Horus in particular is very memorable, sounding much like Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII in his later years of The Tudors TV series. There are also a number of notable moments when music has been added into the production, which really adds a nice touch to what is already great dramatic material.

I've focused above on Horus, and while he is one of the main characters, he is mostly viewed through the eyes of his subordinates - giving glimpses of his personality as well as a closer look at how deeply his warriors care for him and how he has instilled such fervor in them. There are at least half a dozen "main" characters focused on in the story, as well as at least a dozen secondary characters who are also well developed. There is the historian/Librarian friend of Lokan who sees that the great crusade has begun to be corrupted from the inside, or the Astartes who rises to fill the rank of his fallen brother who dies in the trap on the moon of Davin. There is the human investigator who wants to ensure the Astartes are brought up on charges due to the murder of other humans at the landing pad when the warriors callously swept aside anyone standing in the way of their delivering the wounded Horus to the medical staff. Towards the end of the book other Primarchs and their legions are also brought into play, setting up additional conflicts between established characters and ones who will likely have a role in the events to come.

The book is light on female characters, a pilot or ship’s captain here or there, but the sheer variety of characters and depth to which we learn about them more than makes up for this. This is a story taking place in a far future, these people need to be seen almost as no longer being human, and not subject to many of the social standards we are accustomed to today. But they do have codes, often different even among the various battle groups, and they struggle against them and forge unlikely friendships and harbor the seeds of treachery, all while engaging in colossal battles.

I wasn’t sure I would be all that interested in The Horus Heresy series, now I know I’ll be listening to as many of them as I can, and reading the series as well. I can’t wait to find out what happens next, and I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to start a new series. If you’re on the lookout for a scifi equivalent to A Game of Thrones, this seems like an excellent place to start.

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