Saturday, 15 December 2012

Fear to Tread Reviews



Hi guys, i've just ordered "fear to tread" one of the latest Horus Heresy series novels by the black library, i might review it myself later but here's a few reviews i've dug up from the net in case you were considering getting it yourself.

first up, a review by Bell of lost souls

The Blood Angels walk into a daemonic trap set by the Warmaster.  Their darkest hour is upon them...




Fear to Tread is the latest Horus Heresy novel, and is penned by James Swallow of Nemesis and Flight of the Eisenstein.  Readers have been waiting for the Blood Angels to get their their Heresy novel and after 21 books, here it is.

Plotwise, the book goes according to the canon laid out in the  Horus Heresy: Collected Visions.  Broadly and with no spoilers, Sanguinious and his Legion finds themselves suddenly reassigned en masse to the distant Signus system by his most trusted brother - Horus on a mission that could be the salvation of the Legion.

Alone, and with pride and vengeance in their hearts the Blood Angels embark on what may be the most trying, dark campaign of their existence. They walk into a grand trap and betrayal on such a scale they will be hard pressed to merely survive, much less triumph.

So with that plot sketch out of the way, lets talk about the novel itself, its style, the details - all of that.  It really pains me to say it, but this one isn't going to be one of the greats.  Swallow produces a novel that does the story good service, in a stately expected manner.  While the overall pacing and details are superior to his early Flight of the Eisenstein, it doesn't match his superb Nemesis.

There are some great moments, about ten pages of wonderful reveals, and a whole lot of Sanguinius.  That's the good.  The bad, is a plot that feels like you've been here a dozen times, and some appallingly bad major villians who share behavior and dialogue more at home with squabbling toddlers in a daycare, than undying dark masters of the Ruinous Powers.

While the novel never drops off the rails into the keystone cops idiocy of Battle for the Abyss, neither does it achieve the emotional and awe inspiring heights of  Nemesis, Know No Fear, or Prospero Burns.

I think at long last the Horus Heresy series is showing its age and not all of its authors know how to avoid the pitfalls.  Heresy era concepts like the Loyalists and even the primarchs knowing little to nothing of the warp means authors can have them blunder into traps and ambushes dealing with the warp. Any 40k reader fully knows the danger and is dragged along for the full suspenseful ride all the way down the rabbit hole.  The problem occurs when authors use this plot device for the seventh or tenth time on a Horus Heresy novel - it ceases to be a mechanism for suspense and becomes a tired trope.

Quite simply, after 22 novels, Horus Heresy authors are going to have to give the readers more than the standard 100 pages of dialogue, 100 pages of battles, 200 pages of general plot movement, and 5 pages of reveals.   Know No Fear gave me not only a deep emotional attachment to the Ultramarines, but a new found respect for the Word Bearers, because they were such POTENT VILLIANS. A force for ultimate evil, cold, methodical and with the powers and resources of the Astartes.  Nemesis made me connect emotionally with a EVERSOR ASSASSIN - that is some impressive writing. Simply put, its the Horus Heresy - we all know how it ends.  The authors have to instead make us care about the characters.

In the end I can't fault Swallow too much for Fear to Tread.  The novel is by no means bad - not even close.  It just feels a bit *fatigued*, a sense of tiredness and going through the motions.  When I finished Legion, I wanted to go build an Alpha Legion army. When I finished  Know No Fear I toyed with expanding my Ultramarines.  When I finished Nemesis, I wanted to use Assassins in every game I could.  When I finished Fear to Tread I thought, - "Oh, that's where Blood Lance came from..."

3 Stars (out of 5)


 Next up a review by Chris mcleod

Foreword

If it wasn’t plainly apparent, I’m a big fan of the Warhammer 40,000 game and the surrounding universe. Warhammer 40K has some of the best “fluff” in science fiction. It is vast, covering everything from inter-personal conflict within the massive cities of the future, to vast inter-planetary war never-ending. To me, it’s not “just another” dystopian future, it’s the dystopian future. Mankind stands on the brink of an abyss; the only thing stopping it from plunging head-first into oblivion are the vast armies of the Imperium of Man, where death-in-service isn’t so much an occupational hazard, as expected. You will die for the Imperium, and you’ll bloody well be happy about it.
Life wasn’t always this bad for humanity though. 10,000 years earlier, the human race was at its peak, conquering vast numbers of worlds, rediscovering forgotten technologies, and generally unifying the galaxy under the banner of the Emperor. Religion is stamped-out, cast out by secular belief in science and reason (and large amounts of military force, if required). There are no Gods. Technology is a tool largely viewed with distrust and suspicion. Leading the charge of expansion throughout the galaxy are the genetically engineered legions of the Space Marines, led by their demigod-like Primarchs – the “sons” of the Emperor, created using arcane science to lead humanity into a better future.
Chief among the Primarchs is Horus, and the Horus Heresy series of novels from Black Library tell the story of what happened when he fell to corruption and turned against the Imperium1.
WARNING Mild spoilers from now on.

Fear to Tread.

It’s against this background we have Fear to Tread.
Fear to Tread, by James Swallow, is the 18th(!) novel in the series, and the first to exclusively focus on the Space Marines of the Blood Angels legion. Other legions show up, but mostly just as plot devices. I’ll talk a bit more about that later. James Swallow has written most of Black Library’s other Blood Angels books, which try as I might, I just could not get in to. This left me a little unsettled coming in to Fear to Tread. The Blood Angels are one of – if not my most – favourite Space Marine “Chapters”2. How much? This is my forearm. So yeah… big fan. If I couldn’t finish any of the other Blood Angels novels by the same author, was I be disappointed by Fear to Tread? Find out at the end of this review.

Plot Summary

The basic plot of Fear to Tread is: Sanguinius, the angelic Primarch (no, seriously; he has wings, and he glows) of the Blood Angels, undertakes a mission given to him by his most-trusted and beloved brother Horus – not knowing that Horus has turned traitor. The mission is – of course – a trap to destroy the Blood Angels. Remember I said there were no Gods? Unfortunately that was a lie, and a secret the Emperor has kept from everybody. There are four malevolent Gods who are behind Horus’ corruption, and they’re pissed at humanity. When the Blood Angels reach the planets they’ve been sent to they don’t meet the aliens they were expecting, but the previously unknown, supernatural horror of daemons. Along the way we discover the dark secret about the Blood Angels which Sanguinius has hidden from his legion and everybody else. This secret threatens to destroy the Blood Angels and turn them into a parody of all they stand for.

Context within the Series

One of the first things to strike me about Fear to Tread was how much it references other books in the series, and even a limited edition novella which released a couple of years ago. I found this a mixed blessing.
On the one hand, it was great to see how the events in the other books are having an effect in the wider story arc. On the other, it makes Fear to Tread harder for a new-comer to just dive right in. The best example of this is the important character of Apothecary Meros. If you haven’t read The Book of Blood novella you’ll have no idea what it means to when the story mentions his time in a sarcophagus, the visions he had, or the warnings he received about Horus and the future. It’s glossed over very quickly, and is quite confusing out of context. At least with the Space Wolves we get an explanation for their presence which makes sense even if you haven’t read A Thousand Sons or Prospero Burns. Overall though, I’d say this is a relatively minor nitpick.

The Players, and Characterisation

Horus Heresy books have a lot of characters in them, including several recurring characters. If you thought the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin was character heavy, you haven’t seen anything yet. Partly this is due to vast scope of the universe WH40K, and partly because of the scale of the armies and worlds involved. Fear to Tread is probably one of the “lighter” books in this regard, with only a handful main characters to keep track of.
By and large, these characters work very well, each fulfilling a purpose, and each depicting a facet of the Blood Angels “persona” fans have come to know over the years. If anything, the Blood Angels of Fear to Tread are a little more “fun” than those we see in later stories (later in the 40K timeline, that is). These Blood Angels aren’t so much the “emo vampires in space” stereotype I’ve seen other reviewers mention when introducing Fear to Tread. They’re a brotherhood who will bend the rules sometimes for each other, when they feel it is the right thing to do; they’re noble and heroic, willing to risk their lives for just a handful of trapped survivors; on the flip-side, they are absolutely Angels of Wrath, capable of such extreme violence it even makes the “barbarian” Space Wolves take pause3.
Sanguinius would be a hard, complicated character for any writer to handle well (and still made likeable), yet James Swallow manages to make him relatable; flawed, but not overly so, and I found myself sympathising with the choices forced upon him during the course of the story. Not easy when the character is a 12-foot tall angel-winged super-human!
While I feel the “Good Guys” are well-rounded and relatable characters, I wasn’t so much of a fan of the villains of the story, apart from the daemon Ka’Bandha. For being a being of pure hate and violence, Ka’Bandha is actually pretty well laid out, and not the one-dimensional caricature he could have been. His scenes with Sanguinius are key moments of the book. The remaining villains are generally a bit uninteresting unfortunately.
Horus’ depiction  (in the few times we see him – I don’t count him in the villains group because he’s only seen a few times) in Fear to Tread was somewhat new. Up to now, Horus has retained a bit of “tortured nobility” in his character, like he regrets the path he has started down. Here we get to see just how much of an inferiority complex he has comparing himself to Sanguinius, and more and more of the cruel, evil, twisted creature he will become. In contrast to this, the flashback scenes to times before the Heresy are quite poignant, particularly the scene after Horus is given control over all the crusading expedition fleets.

What I Liked

The building sense of dread as the Blood Angels fleet moves further into the planetary system, and encountering more and more things which just do not make any sense to them works well. You really get the feeling this is nothing they have ever faced before, and for the first time they are unsure how to meet their foe. They are uncomfortable and out of their element. Nerves begin to fray, and distrust starts to seep in. The tension does genuinely mount as you wonder just what horror will they come across next?
Swallow seems to have a knack for scene building. Every place and character within gets described in just enough detail as to allow us to picture it vividly, but not so much the story drags, weighed down by too much information.
Character interactions feel natural, and their personalities play off each other in a way I could believe in. No part of the dialog felt forced, or overwrought – not something I could say about some of the other books in the series.
It wouldn’t be a Warhammer 40,000 book without big climactic battles, and Fear to Tread does not disappoint. From the prologue to the conclusion, every battle is well written, with a good blend of pace, scale, drama, and grit. Even the smaller fire-fights – perhaps especially the smaller ones – are quite gripping to read. There were times I genuinely didn’t expect some characters to make it out alive. The confrontation between Ka’Bandha and Sanguinius (as depicted in the cover art) is particularly enjoyable, and lived up to expectations.

What I Didn’t Like/Understand

The big thing which did not sit well with me was the end of the book, when the Blood Angels end up in the Ultima Segmentum instead of at Earth, meeting Roboute Guilliman and the Ultramarines legion. I can understand how it happened from a in-world mechanics viewpoint, but I don’t get why it happened, knowing how the wider story plays out. The Blood Angels end up at Earth in time for the last battle with Horus (with Sanguinius playing a very, very, important role in that), but the Ultramarines do not. They get trapped in their far corner of the Imperium, as Warp travel becomes almost impossible. As a result the Ultramarines largely escape the Horus Heresy intact (aside from the events in Know No Fear) and lead the rebuilding after the war. So it made no sense to me to have the Blood Angels end up where they did. I can only surmise there is another book imminent which will directly follow on from the end of Fear to Tread. Unless it has a very good explanation or way to resolve this, then it just doesn’t make sense.
The Word Bearers Space Marines were pretty much unnecessary to the plot. Apart from acting as messengers, they didn’t do anything of note. We get to see one of them pining to “ascend” by joining with a daemon, but otherwise they were replaceable with some sort of “macguffin” which could have fulfilled their messenger role, and cut down the character count. In the end they come off as unnecessary and incompetent evil henchmen with delusions of grandeur.
The Space Wolves are slightly better used than the Word Bearers in that they are able to relay important information of what’s been happening outside the confines of this novel. Beyond that though, again, they don’t do much. Their plot is ”hang around Sanguinius ‘suspiciously’, later give him some important information, then get butchered in a horrible fashion unbefitting their character.”
A few too many loose ends are left dangling for my liking. I’m avoiding being too spoilery, so I’m not going to say more, but (along with the above quibble with the ending) it feels like this is a “part one-of-two” story within the series.

Conclusion

It might seem from the above I have more negative things overall to say about Fear to Tread than positive. That’s absolutely not the case. Fear to Tread continues the recent trend of the Horus Heresy series getting back on track after a few fairly lacklustre books. As part of the series it is excellent instalment, and as a fan I thoroughly enjoyed the Blood Angels portrayal. The characterisation is largely top-notch, and the pacing pretty good. The bread-and-butter of Warhammer 40,000 fiction are the battles and conflicts, and Fear to Tread handles these very well, highlighting the unique ways the Blood Angels fight compared to the other Space Marine legions. There are a couple of key battles which had me gripped, frantically reading the pages to see what happened next.
Where I think Fear to Tread falls down, is reliance of other books to fill in the gaps. Compared against Know No Fear – the other recent high-watermark in the series – Fear to Tread is harder to understand out of context. This could be off-putting to the casual reader who has no earlier exposure to the series. I shan’t too hard on Fear to Tread because of this… it’s always a fine line between advancing the overall plot and making it accessible to newcomers, within such a long-running series.
If I must give Fear to Tread a rating, I’d give it a solid 4 out of 5. But more importantly for me it’s good enough it’s given me a determination to finish the other Blood Angel books Swallow has written.
And maybe start a new Blood Angels army. Again.
  1. As a personal side note: before this series, the Heresy was an unexplored but important part of the background of the Warhammer 40,000 setting, so it’s great to we’re finally getting to read about it. 
  2. After the events of the Horus Heresy, the vast Space Marine legions get split into much, much, smaller organisational units, called “Chapters”. So Legion = Pre-Heresy Space Marines, Chapter = Post-Heresy Space Marines. 
  3. The scene where the Space Wolves realise the levels of violence the Blood Angels have in their nature, buried underneath such a calm and noble exterior, is one of may favourite passages in the book.
  
 And lastly a review by someone on Heresy online

Hey folks. Today i finished reading Fear To Tread, our very own shiny Horus Heresy novel.

Most of you know that it's written by James Swallow and for a lot of you that isn't necessarily the greatest endorsement as his 40k Blood Angels series is far from his best work.
I'll Start off by nipping this in the bud right away- Forget about the Blood Angels series. Remember when you read Flight of the Eisenstein and thought it was awesome? This is the James Swallow we're talking about here. It's a fantastic book.

I'm going to delve into some of the details so from this point on, we are going to be entering spoiler country, so for the love of god if you dont want details of the book ruining for you then stop here.

SPOILERS



I believe that this was already revealed in an extract in Hammer and Bolter but ill chuck it on here anyway: The Red thirst exists in the time of the crusade, though in extremely limited numbers (Sanguinius mentions it affecting maybe a hundred brothers over a similar space of time.)

The book opens with a section detailing the Luna Wolves and Blood Angels in battle against an alien race called the Nephilim. In the wake of the battle, Captain Raldoron informs Sanguinius that a brother has become "lost". Sangy follows and finds a Blood Angel crouched in the ruins of a chapel, sipping blood from a cupped hand. The Primarch tries to reason with him but the Bloodie is too far gone and attacks Sanguinius who has no choice but to kill him by breaking his neck.
In the aftermath, it turns out Horus had followed his brother and witnessed the whole thing, Sangunius admits that there is a flaw hidden in his Legion's geneseed. When Horus asks why he never told the Emperor, Sanguinius alludes to the lost legions, suggesting the Blood Angels would be put down, so to speak.

This revelation is used in the main meat of the book, Horus sending the legion to the Signus Cluster, first under the pretense that the Nephilim have emerged, but also informing Sanguinius that the xenos have some technology that could provide a cure.

Obviously this is all part of Horus' plan to ensnare the Blood Angels. Interestingly, there is a difference of interests amongst the chaos forces. It seems the Powers that be (represented by Kyriss the keeper of secrets and Kabandha, Ol Big axe himself), want to corrupt the Legion and Sanguinius, using the flaw to lure them onto the path of Khornate worship. Horus on the other hand refuses to even try to influence his brother, demanding that he be killed and offering his skull up to Kabandha. Kyriss senses that Horus is afraid that Sanguinius under the sway of chaos would rise to be a greater star than him and therefore he would rather corrupt Sangunius' legion and break the Angel's heart.

Sanguinius is handled brilliantly as a character, exuding the right mix of nobility and humanity that you would expect, but also counter balanced by his more fearsome war aspect. There is a scene following Ullanor where Horus retires to his quarters, his mind filled with doubts about taking on the mantle of Warmaster. Sanguinius turns up and with a few easy words, lifts the weight from his brothers shoulders. It was nice to see that sort of interaction, just to emphasise the fact that Sangunius was the one primarch that made an effort to connect with his brothers on each of their own levels.

The Action in the Signus cluster is well handled, with planets turning erratically on their axis and then collapsing in on themselves, millions of corpses arranged into a space borne eight pointed star. There's a simple sequence where a veil falls across the sector, blotting out the stars. It's relatively small in the scheme of the book, but Jim Swallow turns into a very haunting moment.

The Red Angel! Early on in the book, we see Erebus coerce Fabius bile into relinquishing one of the legionnaire corpses he has in storage. It seems Fabius has been acquiring bodies from all sides, using them to further his experiments. Erebus promises not to tell Horus if he is allowed to take one of the Blood Angel ones.
This turns out to be Captain Tagas of the 11th Company who died on Murder (Metal spider xenos from Horus Rising anyone?) Tagas' Soul/warp essence/insert metaphysical term here is then used to empower a vast amount of warp energy that is shackled upon Signus Prime. This energy is harnessed by Kabandha and channeled into a monstrous blow that slays five hundred Blood Angels at once. The psychic backlash overwhelms Sanguinius and the energy exacerbates the flaw within the blood angels geneseed.

We are led to believe Tagas to be the Red Angel throughout, however it turns out that it is in fact a legion Apothecary by the name of Meros. With the red thirst raging unchecked, Sanguinius is faced with a choice- Take the corrupting rage energy unto himself, becoming damned, or watch as his legion degenerates into savages. Meros kinda Alexanders the whole knot and sacrifices himself up, becoming the Red Angel.

Hmmm what else.... Raldoron is of typical "Hardcore first captain" template. He was passable to me but he comes across as just another Ventanus.

Azkaellon is an absolute starch arse. Not in a detrimental way however, it's a very deliberate choice. His manner is borne out of being solely responsible for the well being of a demi god.

Amit....oh Amit. If you like Flesh Tearers, you'll love Amit. He's known as the Flesh Tearer within the legion and his company all carry flaying knives. He's fantastically blunt and Sanguinius confides in him that he considers Raldoron and Amit to be his closest sons, particularly Amit because his forthright manner keeps him honest. When things turn south at Signus, He is first to voice the idea that Horus has betrayed them, earning an almighty clout from Sanguinius but standing his ground never the less. I liked him a lot.

The Bloodies are joined by a small space wolves contingent. It seems they were dispatched to keep an eye on the Legion following the cleansing of prospero, just in case they go a bit wiggy too. I'm afraid they don't meet a good end, being mauled by Amit and co whilst in the grip of the red thirst.




I've not covered everything, if there are questions you want asking then feel free to fire away, just please keep them spoiler tagged to avoid ruining things for others.

 Thats it!

Hopefully i should have my own review up soon!


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