A Book Review of Fulgrim by Graham McNeill

With the recent release of Forge World’s Fulgrim miniature, it seemed like a good time to get back into the Horus Heresy series and pick up the next book after The Flight of the Eisenstein.

That book, of course, is Graham McNeill’s Fulgrim.

Fulgrim is an odd book. The story has a few problems if you look for them. For all its flaws however, it was an entertaining read that kept me turning pages and – especially in the epic (perhaps too epic) climax – felt like it moved the overall Horus Heresy tale a step forward.

Fulgrim by Graham McNeill:
3.5 / 5 stars      

Under the command of the newly appointed Warmaster Horus, the Great Crusade continues. Fulgrim, Primarch of the Emperor’s Children, leads his warriors into battle against a vile alien foe, unaware of the darker forces that have already set their sights upon the Imperium of Man.

Loyalties are tested and every murderous whim indulged as the Emperor’s Children take their first steps down the road to true corruption – a road that will ultimately lead them to the killing fields of Isstvan V…

The following review will inevitably contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.

#1 – The Format

Warhammer 40K Horus Heresy Fulgrim by Graham McNeill

My version of Fulgrim is the £20,- hard-cover collector’s edition from Black Library. For twenty quid, you get ~400 pages of story, a few pages of black-and-white art, which feels oddly “not-Warhammer-40K” in its graphic novel style (Fabius Bile above) and a dust-jacket. There is also a 2013 author afterword in the back, with Graham McNeill reflecting back on writing Fulgrim in 2007.

Overall, I like the Black Library “quality” hard-covers for the larger “full” novels.

#2 – The Story – Starts Weak, Ends Strong

The story-line in Fulgrim is a bit odd.

To be honest, I was rather disheartened for the first 50 to 70 pages. At the start, it strongly seemed like another re-hash of  the stories already told.

  • First, the book jumps back to a time before the events of Horus Rising and False Gods.
  • Second, it starts with a battle pitching the Emperor’s Children against the Chaos corrupted, war-screaming Laer aliens, which culminates in the storming of an elevated temple. Though the Laer foreshadow the Noise Marines and Slaanesh-devotees the Emperor’s Children would become, the set-up was uncomfortably similar to the battle with the Warsingers (and their elevated temple) from the opening trilogy and The Flight of the Eisenstein.
  • Third, we’re introduced to Solomon Demeter, yet another straight-as-an-arrow, military brilliant Captain, who misses out on the corruption engulfing his Legion and quickly falls out of favour simply by doing “the honourable thing” all the time. Essentially the same character – again – as Loken, Garro and even Saul Tarvitz.

I thought I was in for another “clone-book”. Luckily, Fulgrim didn’t take that route.

The battle with the Laer concludes at about page 70 with Fulgrim picking up the Daemon sword, and large parts of his Legion (and the rememberancers that accompany the Emperor’s Children) exposed to the corrupting influence of the Laerean homeworld. Solomon Demeter largely drops from the story the next ~200 pages, re-appearing mainly for his ungracious death.

Instead, the book focuses on those that fall to the corruption seeded at opening-scene battle:

  • The rememberancers, who start delving into all sorts of Slaanesh-inspired excess.
  • The various Emperor’s Children, who embrace the influence of Chaos (including Chief Apothecary Fabius Bile, as well as a host of soon-to-be Noise Marines).
  • Most of all, Fulgrim. Where all previous Horus Heresy books have used the Primarchs sparsely, the focus of Fulgrim (hence the title…) is squarely on the Primarch of the Emperor’s Children and his personal fall from grace.

Fulgrim (the book) covers a long time-period: from before the events of Horus Rising all the way to the battle of Isstvan V.

Most of the book has a sort of “fast-forward” quality to it. A space-battle fought by the Emperor’s Children side-by-side with the Iron Hands. A discovery of Eldar maiden worlds and fight with the Eldar. A meeting with Horus and the Emperor’s Children, etc…

Scene follows scene. Weeks or months always pass between the individual scenes, and every time the story skips forward, we find Fulgrim (and his Legion) further down the path of corruption.

And, of course, the book closes with the epic battle of Isstvan V, which clearly is “proper”, all-out Horus-Heresy-scale warfare: Titans, Primarchs, thousands upon thousands of Space Marines, everything knee-deep in blood.

If you’re reading this series for the BIG fights, Fulgrim delivers!

#3 – The Verdict

The episodic nature of the book makes it easy to nitpick. Some of the scenes the book runs through were pretty good, others less so. Most of it may come down to personal taste.

One of the best scenes – in my opinion – was Fulgrim purposely annoying the Warmaster Horus and grinding his gear, just for the fun of it. Some of the worst – in my opinion – were the scenes involving both Fulgrim and Ferrus Manus, which tried far far too hard to be full of grim portents, foreshadowing and gravitas. I am sure some will see it just the other way around.

Overall, the high-speed fast-forward through the early stages of the Heresy and Fulgrims decent into corruption made for an entertaining read. I also thought Graham McNeill found a good balance for the tricky task of telling about a Slaanesh-cult taking root on a fleet of Space Marines and mortals, and all the depravities that come with it, while keeping the book fun and readable.

Fulgrim isn’t the best-told story in the Horus Heresy series. Several times it feels like things happen simply because they need to happen that way in the Horus Heresy, and not events unfolding “naturally” from the story itself.

Graham McNeill doesn’t waste time telling the story of Fulgrim’s fall however, and keeps the action moving along nicely. The focus on the “bad guys” over the honourable “Loken-style” captains was a welcome change (I really like Loken’s story, but once is enough!).

The closing battle of Isstvan V certainly whets the appetite for more.

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I am Zweischneid. Wargame Addict. Hopeless painter and founder of Pins of War. I hope you enjoyed this article. Don't forget to share your favourite miniature pictures and wargaming videos at www.pinsofwar.net.
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  • belverker

    I really enjoyed this book but I really didn’t like how it came across as Fulgrim not falling but it was the Daemon who did the bad stuff…(this gets fixed in the Novella in the Primarchs, where it shows that it is Fulgrim now but in this book it never felt like it was him)

    • http://pinsofwar.net/ Zweischneid

      True. It’s kinda a short cut to have it all be the Daemon (or the influence of the Laer more broadly).

      What would’ve happened if not the Emperor’s Children had fought on that planet/temple, but another Legion? Imperial Fist? Dark Angels? Would things have gone done the same way or differently?

      It’s a short-cut to having the Emperor’s Children turn to Chaos (and Slaanesh).

      I sort-of had the same problem with the original trilogy, where a lot of it is set-up by Erebus, rather than Horus falling (only) through his own pride, though it is a bit more subtle there.

      I guess I don’t expect them to have an in-depth psychological profile for everyone that falls (and everyone that doesn’t fall) and just enjoyed it for what it was.. a soft-of “montage-style” novel of a Primarch (and his Legion) going from A to B.

      • belverker

        Oh I get that, it just felt like a bit of a cop out as it seems like it was how Horus fell as well, and these were the first 2 shown in the Heresy novels it is very similar to the “Loken” character that always seemed to be there early on. At least it didn’t contain a Garro….

  • Heretic

    This book was great it made fulgrim such a Narc and an Egotist read Age of Darkness and then Angel Exterminatus ( I don’t wanna say why) :p

    • http://pinsofwar.net/ Zweischneid

      I did read Age of Darkness…. ages ago. I don’t actually remember much EC stuff. Iron Within and Savage Weapons are, mostly, what comes to mind.

      Angel Exterminatus is kinda long ways off if I’d were to read them (more or less) in order.