Fear to Tread – James Swallow

Title: Fear to Tread
Author: James Swallow
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 15th Nov 2016
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 508
Format: Paperback
Source: Private Collection
Series: Horus Heresy

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Since the earliest days of the Great Crusade, Sanguinius – angelic primarch of the IXth Legion – was ever among the closest and most loyal of Horus’s brothers. But the Blood Angels have long kept their true nature hidden from the rest of the Imperium, and when the Warmaster hints that the key to their salvation may lie in the ruins of a conquered world, the sons of Sanguinius race to claim it. Now, as the revelation of their betrayal dawns and the traitors’ hand is revealed, the Blood Angels must face all the warp-spawned armies of Chaos, as well their own personal daemons, upon the blasted plains of Signus Prime…


Rating: 4 out of 5.

I picked up Fear to Tread alongside Dave at WordaholicAnonymous as a part of our Horus Heresy buddy read. I fully admit I feel guilty about powering ahead so quickly with this one, but I got my reading groove back and couldn’t stop myself!

Fear to Tread is book number 21 on the long-running Horus Heresy series and gives a more detailed introduction to yet another strand of story in the series; featuring Sanguinius and the Blood Angels Chapter. It gives a much more detailed insight into the unique quirks of the Legion, their secrets and what defines them compared to their brethren. It also gives a good introduction to some of the more dastardly foes that lurk in the darker regions of the Warhammer 30k setting, Fear to Tread brings a whole new meaning to the Angels vs Daemons trope in terms of rivalry between the Blood Angels and the lure of Chaos.

As always, getting to grips with the vast character list in the Horus Heresy book was a bit of an ordeal; these books seem to pack in a great number of characters and it can be easy to lose track of who is who, what a particular character is doing and why they are important. As ever, I am grateful for the Dramtis Personae being included in the front of the novel.

Some of the characters, I can’t recall immediately after reading, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some that stood out. Obviously, Sanguinius himself is a stand-apart character. He is the Primarch of the Blood Angels and the one that should stand out above all the others. Fear to Tread introduced a new level to the pivotal character, showing him to have more about him than the assumed arrogance and angelic beauty. There is a complexity to the Primarch that hasn’t previously been spoken of and a revealing of secrets that most die-hard Warhammer 40k fans will already know, however, seeing the details of these well-known facts, hearing what they are all about is enlightening.

Inter-character relationships are always at the heart of my enjoyment of a reading experience and therefore I was particularly enamoured with Adjutant Mkani Kano and the kinship he shared with Apothecary Meros. Their chemistry was akin to characters earlier in the series (Not quite there as nothing can come close to the Mournival) and a pleasant change from the usual one-dimensional Space Marine. But, honestly, there was a lot of characters in this book. 48, according to the log at the beginning of the book. Many of these characters were in the book simply to add to the body count, they’re barely worth the space they take up in the Dramatis Personae and it’s very difficult telling some of them from one another. Other pivotal characters that stand out are First Captain Raldoron and Sanguinary Guard Commander Azkellion; who feel like they have more to offer and a larger part to play in the future of the series; I just hope that they remain memorable through the gaps between Blood Angel stories that the Horus Heresy will no doubt leave.

The re-occurance of some familiar faces make for pleasant encounters; having Warmaster Horus telling Sanguinius what to do and attempting to convert him to turn from the Emperor was an interaction of note; especially the methods in which he decides to communicate. Is it me, or does Horus’ actions get dodgier and dodgier!? Also thrown into the fray are a couple of Space Wolves, who are yet to grow on me as a Legion and some Word Bearers who only really seem to be present so that they can twirl their moustaches in a dastardly fashion.

The plot of Fear to Tread follows Sanguinius and his sons as they search the stars for answers to their afflictions. A cure for the flaw in their Gene-Seed. And, because Sanguinius believes the word of his Brother, Horus, the Blood Angels are sent to a remote corner of the Universe where they become trapped and encounter the physical manifestation of some of the larger Chaos entities we have been introduced to in the series thus far; in various disguises. It makes for a compelling read, even if some of these encounters lasted for far longer than it feels they should have.

As the Blood Angels encounter the planets in their target system, it becomes apparent that something is vastly wrong and while the encounters hint at the tensions to come, I found this section of the novel a bit dreary. Going from planet to planet encountering different incarnations of evil, discovering that the world is dead or under the thrall of something wicked and that billions are dread came a bit lacklustre. Also, never before have I encountered a planet whose cities come alive and start attacking people as if they are living entities before in a Warhammer novel and never again do I want to. I adore James Swallows imagination when it comes to describing the Chaos Gods and what they do – I find him particularly talented when it comes to describing Nurgle based atrocities – but this hit very far from the mark to me and made the whole thing feel rediclous. I felt it made a mockery of all his hard work with writing chaos.

When the Blood Agels finally arrive at their destination and the reveals are shown, the book really ramps up. It makes all the plodding along to get to this point worth it. The action is intense; well-written and superbly described. The fate of some of the aforementioned characters is heart-breaking and heart-warming all in the same instance.

Fear to Tread is well worth reading, above some of the other books in the Horus Heresy series. It helps give a deeper understanding of the Blood Angels, but in terms of context to the Horus Heresy it highlights just how far Horus has fallen and brings his treachery into full focus. While Fear to Tread is adding yet another thread to an already complicated series, it also brings the focus back around from some of the outlying strands, rendering them moot in regards to the larger-picture. It also adds a level of understanding to the fleeting manner of the Warp, especially in the later half of the book. Fear to Tread, also touches on the ‘Librarian Issue’ that came about during the Edict of Nikea detailed in A Thousand Sons, helping it feel like a piece in a much larger body or work – which it is.


A solid entry in the Horus Heresy series. Giving a lot more detail into the Blood Angels and the part they play in the Heresy. Some strong characters interdesperced amongst a lot of unmemorable and forgettable names that only seem important as canon-fodder. A solid elaboration on some key-elements to the world-setting; namely in terms of the Warp.

4 responses to “Fear to Tread – James Swallow”

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