Title: Battle for the Abyss
Author: Ben Counter
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 4 Aug. 2008
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Private Collection
As Horus deploys his forces, a small band of loyal Space Marines from disparate Legions learn that a massive enemy armada is heading to Ultramar, home of the Ultramarines, headed by the most destructive starship ever constructed.
The next book in the Horus Heresy series. I am reading these as a part of a paired read with Wordaholic Anonymous. It’s at this point, because of this book, that I gave up on reading the Horus Heresy series previously. So I am over the moon that I had Dave on my side to get me through a previous ‘did not finish’ book – a lot of kicking and screaming was involved, I assure you. I shall link back to Daves review when it’s published.
Battle for the Abyss takes a bit of a jump and furthers the story of the general Heresy plot-arch in a round about sort of way. The Legions aligned with Horus are suddenly becoming a bit bolder in their actions against the loyalist factions; a jump that I found somewhat jarring after the relative secrecy of it all up until now.
If I could sum up Battle for the Abyss as a ‘cheesy joke’ it would start; “An Ultramarine, Space Wolf and a Word Bearer enter a space station…” for this is exactly how the main characters of the novel come together for the plot – which just plods along at an alarmingly dire pace. One of the most interesting points in a book, for me personally, has to be the characters that drive it. I am still annoyed with most of the characters in Battle for the Abyss as they are bland cliches of their assigned Chapter. Cestus, the Ultramarine lead, is flat and lifeless. The Space Wolf, Brynngar, is a raging drunk that beats up his subordinates for no reason other than its fun and sulks like a child when he doesn’t get his own way. Mhotep, the Thousand Son is aloof with an air of superiority. The Word Bearers are completely un-relateable in their religious fanaticism to the Word of their Primarch. These are all traits that make up the entirety of their Chapter, no doubt about that, but in Battle for the Abyss the characters go no deeper than the sweeping generalisations that are applied to the Chapters as a whole. It doesn’t make for good, interesting reading and considering the plot for the book doesn’t offer much to hold up the pitfalls in character development, Battle for the Abyss makes for some dull reading.
At the very least, it’s how the individual characters interact with one another that brings a novel up to standard. Battle for the Abyss didn’t win any awards in this department either. The dialogue feels wooden and forced. Especially in scenes where the protagonists and antagonists confront one another. For a chapter that praises the Word main antagonist, Zadkiel, comes across prolixity. There is little to get excited about about the Word Bearers in Battle for the Abyss, they come across as ‘evil for the sake of it’ and offer very little in the ways of development for the impending treachery for the rest of the Horus Heresy series, let alone for the Chapter that they represent. Why did they want to destroy the Ultramarines home world? Because they had been told too. Everything about them was as flat and hollow as Cestus’ personality!
As touched upon already the story behind Battle for the Abyss doesn’t hold it’s own. It’s has a very slow start and I didn’t feel like the book really ‘got going’ until the mid-way point. The build up to the real action isn’t fulfilling, it’s ponderous and tiresome. We’re ‘treated’ to a fleet to ship space battle of epic proportions that comes across as monotone. Something like this should be an action-packed thrill, but it’s the hardest part of the book to get through and takes up most of the first half. Part of the issue is the over-description of every, minute, detail. It makes even the more fast-paced scenes a chore to read. Beyond that, the extension of the plot follows the; Good Guys need to stop Bad Guys at all costs, trope. It’s not a terrible plot, but it’s executed poorly and what quality could remain is enveloped in the previously mentioned sub-par characters.
It’s not quite all bad. While the plot was somewhat ponderous and the characters themselves had writing issues there was one place where the over description shined. During the book some warp shenanigans happen; more than once, and it’s during these hellish, nightmare scenes that Ben Counter can really paint a picture. These messed-up, horrific scenes are, at times, stomach churning, and I found myself really enjoying the scenes of abject horror that they portrayed. Although they are a high point of Battle for the Abyss, they aren’t quite enough to bring the novel up to the same standard as the rest of the Horus Heresy so far.
What I found a little difficult to cope with, and this is a more minor nit-pick compared to the rest, was that characters when killed or hurt were somehow bleeding out in a pool of blood despite being wounded with a weapon that could cut through blast doors. The Space Marines in Battle for the Abyss also come across as weaklings, I don’t think I have read a Warhammer Novel (HH or 40k) in which Space Marines have complained about being hurt or passed out quite as much as they did in this story, considering that these are meant to be futuristic super-soldiers they came across as pretty pathetic!
Battle for the Abyss is the book that made me stop reading the Horus Heresy series the first time around. It’s really dire and I hated it. It’s a slow, ponderous chore of a book! If you’re reading through the Horus Heresy series, do yourself a favour and skip this one as it has little to no impact on the overall plot. The characters are paper thin and lifeless beyond boring stereotypes. A book only just saved from a second dreaded ‘did not finish’ status purely because it was a paired read with Dave from Wordaholic Anonymous who got me through it.