Wednesday, 12 October 2011
'The Outcast Dead' - Graham McNeill
When it comes to world building The Outcast Dead excels. Everything is done on a grand scale, with just the right sense of gothic doom and gloom you expect. The lore of the Warhammer 40k universe is absolutely stunning. I can't even imagine how intimidating it must be to write a novel, when you know what you have to live up to. Graham McNeill takes the bull by the horns, but then he is not exactly a spring chicken. He has around twenty books under his belt for Warhammer 40k and Warhammer.
The Outcast Dead is part of the Horus Herasy series, which aims to shed light on the events which was the pivot point for the empire. Horus, one of the Primarchs, has betrayed the Emperor, and started a civil-war. News of the betrayal has just spread, and we are back on Terra awaiting news from the fleet dispatched to crush Horus and his fellow conspirers.
Kai Zulane was an astropath on a ship, which suffered a terrible accident while navigating through the warp. The shields were breached and the creatures from the warp entered the ship and turned lose on the crew. Tens of thousands died in torment, while Kai Zulane was safe in a secure compartment. Safe from the creatures, but forced to listen to the mental screams of his friends as they died. Since then he is unable to send messages and is sent back to the City of Sight for therapy.
I really like the chapters where Kai Zulane is treated. We get a lot of insight into how psykers work, and their role within the empire, but also a lot of facts about The City of Sight itself. As with anything in the empire there is a surprising amount of politics involved. Due to their constant contact with the warp psykers need to be guarded in case they become possessed or let something out. This role falls to the Black Sentinels, elite soldiers with helmets protecting them from psychic attacks.
During such an incident Kai Zulane is the unfortunate recipient of a terrible gift. The gift of truth. The truth of the outcome of the betrayal, which is implanted deep within Kai Zulane's mind. Not even Kai Zulane himself knows what it is, or he would have told his superiors. He is instead sent to the highest security risk prison on Terra to have the information forcefully extracted. He is not expected to survive.
It's a complex plot with a lot of characters involved, and Graham McNeill allows all of them at least 15 minutes of fame each. Even the characters who don't get much time in the limelight feel convincing. It's far from certain to whom the characters will give their allegiance to. This makes The Outcast Dead different from other books, as Space Mariones are normally fanatics. This was a very different time, and full of uncertainty. Graham McNeill juggles both plot and characters with great skill, and it all comes together in the end.
The stakes are very high, and it is very much a story about choosing sides, loyalty and dedication. This not only applies to Kai Zulane, but also his fellows prisoners. The other prisoners have not themselves done anything wrong. Their Primarchs betrayed the Emperor, while they were on the other side of the galaxy. The Outcast Dead, and other Horus Herasy books, paints every event in shades of grey instead of black and white.
It's a very intense read, packed with action, but also with difficult choices. One minute people are being torn limb from limb, and the next scene is a wise and insightful conversation. Every battle is a fluid chain of moves, almost like a dance, and always gripping. The awe you expect from such a momentous event is delivered by Graham McNeill. If you only ever read one Warhammer 40k novel, it might as well be The Outcast Dead.
The Outcast Dead weighs in at 416 pages and is published by The Black Library. It is scheduled for release on the 10th of November 2011.
Recommendation: must read