Title: Galaxy in Flames
Author: Ben Counter
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 10 October 2006
Genre: Science Fiction/War
Source: Personal Collection
“Having recovered from his grievous injuries, Warmaster Horus leads the triumphant Imperial forces against the rebel world of Isstvan III where Horus’s treachery is finally revealed … “ – Black Library’s synopsis of Galaxy in Flames.
Galaxy in Flames is the final book in the opening Trilogy for the Horus Heresy. Horus has recovered from the life-threatening wounds he sustained on Davin and is ready to stage his final gambit on Isstvan III.
As with the previous two Horus Heresy books, I have read Galaxy in Flames before and previously, I really enjoyed it; in a fashion. During my first read I was so captivated by the characters of the book – set up in the previous installments – I kept turning the pages just to find out what happened to them. That feeling of utter dread and quashed hope will never leave me. As a second read through that, desperation and impact is lacking and with the thirst to find out what happens gone the book doesn’t stand up too well, unfortunately – as I wanted to retain a love for this book during my second read.
Overall the book feels different, gone are the praises I had for the previous two offerings for this series; the balance between humanity and the Astartes is gone. The Remembrancers barely get a mention in Galaxy in Flames and there are scant scenes involving them that are the only offerings – the only breaks in the rest of the war story are fleeting glimpses of the dark paths that the Emperors Children are walking – there is a fabulous scene involving Saul Tarvitz and Fabius Bile where they’re talking genetic modification and the ethics there-of – but these gems are sadly few and far between. Sandwiched in plodding scenes of warfare that feel vapid and uninspiring.
I realized that the beloved characters that were written so well in Horus Rising and False Gods really failed to stand up on their own in Galaxy in Flames and felt really flat. I don’t recall Torgaddon telling a single joke or making an honest quip in this book and when such a fundamental part of a character is stripped it feels a mockery to the good work set out by the previous authors. Loken, the pivotal main character in the previous two books gets side-lined for Saul Tarvitz, the Emperors Children Captain that we met on the planet Murder in Horus Rising who becomes hero of the hour in Lokens stead, which feels unjust and rather than rooting for Saul Tarvitz and the rest of the Loyalists, I just felt resentful of him stealing the lime-light.
Galaxy in Flames as a book carefully echoes the traits of the traitor version of Horus. In Horus Rising and False Gods, Horus is seen as a charismatic fellow and the best of the Primarchs at what they do. Galaxy in Flames strips him of all this and turns him into a giraffe shaped jelly-mold – it doesn’t work! There are too many questions about Horus’ motives – why does he all of a sudden believe Erebus’ every word and have him as his chief adviser despite knowing that Erebus was trying to manipulate him in False Gods? Why did Horus suddenly think it was a good idea to make a pack with daemonic entities of the Warp through human sacrifice? Was he so blinded to this idea, that was planted in his head, about the Emperor wanting to become a God? Galaxy in Flames has left a lot to be answered for in respects to this and I have my doubts that the rest of the Horus Heresy will fill in the gaps. With the Mournival gone, there’s no intrigue, no politics and nothing to give Horus any notion of substance. All that remains is his obsession with bringing down and replacing the Emperor. I guess that is now his driving motivation – seeing what he did on Davin during False Gods and all that – but to strip him of all his fundamental character elements feels as unjust as side-lining Loken!
I think, other than the overall events on Isstvan III – which are great the first time around – the biggest ‘up yours’ to the reader is that Angron (Angriest Primarch of them all) disobeys Horus’ commands and assaults the remaining Loyalists planet-side, but we don’t get to read about how the few (100?) loyalists manage to fight off such a behemoth of battle as it all happens off page and is vaguely talked about.
I can’t complain too much about the action in Galaxy in Flame, as this is meant to be the show-down that kicks it all off. This book has action in bucket-loads and it’s was generally well received. It’s not an over complication of body-parts doing intricate dances and it’s easy enough to follow without getting lost. Lucius, also of the Emperors Children, is a wonderful character to get to watch fighting and his personality in itself during the combat scenes certainly makes up for what is lacking in the rest of the book.
The shining star in the book is when the Mournival finally does come together again in their final moment and how that plays out, but even this isn’t presented as one continuous scene. The paragraphs of their final conflict are interlocked with the final conflicts taking place within the book; a montage that would work decently on camera, but feel jarring on paper.
Galaxy in Flames is a very knee-jerk reaction book, as I remember exactly how I felt the first time I read it. I was a mess for weeks after this book ran it’s course, but that impact sadly didn’t work the second time around and a reader with a keener eye for the intricate details of literature then I would have picked that up the first time around. Galaxy in Flames is a jump-scare. It works the first time, but the second time you know what to look for.
For an alternative opinion please read this review on Wordaholic Anonymous.