[Book Review] Mortarion: The Pale King – David Annandale

Title: Mortarion: The Pale King
Author: David Annandale
Published byBlack Library
Publication date: 
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 192
Format: Hardback
Source: Private Collection
Series: Horus Heresy: Primarchs

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Once, the Galaspar System suffered under the cruel regime of the Order. Billions of people toiled endlessly to enrich their masters, enduring short lives of poverty, squalor and fear. But Galaspar’s sins did not go unnoticed by the Imperium, and so Death itself sentenced the Order to annihilation.

Mortarion, newly uplifted to commander of the Death Guard, descended upon the world, and with him came a slaughter of untold proportions. The sheer brutality of Mortarion’s campaign left the Imperium appalled. Seeking to understand its horrors, two noble primarchs have come to Galaspar, summoning their brother to account for his actions. But the Pale King brooks no challenge to his methods, for when the scythe falls, it reaps a gruesome toll.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

One of the Horus Heresy: Primarchs series that gives details to a particular event of a campaign of its titular character. Picked this one up as it’s a fairly new book in the series and I really wanted to try and keep up with the series rather than let it languish in the reading pile – like the rest of them have.

While Mortation: The Pale King is the 15th novel in the Horus Heresy Primarchs series, these books can all be read as standalone novels by anyone with enough basic background knowledge of the Warhammer Horus Heresy setting; they can also be a good introduction to the series, but I wouldn’t recommend starting with this particular one.

The whole story is a bit of a tragedy, Mortarion is called back to Galaspar after his compliance to face the judgement by two of his fellow Primarchs; Horus and Sanguinius. What follows is the detailed account of the events of the compliance and what follows is the point of the novel. It’s a decent enough tale, but it doesn’t really hammer home the makings of the Primarch as many of the other books in the series does. Its not a bad read, but more standard-affair than anything remarkable.

Each of the Primarchs books is meant to leave the reader with a greater understanding of the Primarch the book is detailing. Mortarion certainly did that for me, but I am not very well-versed in the character; other than him being the aspect of death cause he has a scythe. I also know about the fate of the character, but not the intimate details of how he ends up that way. As such, I was looking forward to reading about the Death Guard Primarch and learning more about him. Achievement met. But, I didn’t really enjoy my time with this book. It’s not a bad addiction to the Primarchs series, but it’s not a mind-blowing experience like some fo the other books have been; Lorgar, Angron, Alpharius. Each of these written by different authors, so, where did things go wrong?

Firstly, this is a very standard affair Warhammer novel. It details Mortarions first compliance campaign in the Galaspar sector against a rather powerful human enemy known as The Order. See The Order as pretty much any bog-standard overlord system that rules its citizens with tyranny and oppression and you’re not far wrong, there was a lack of real imagination into the evil dictatorship that made the pages of prose and dialogue between them difficult to connect with. There was a lot of page-time spent with fleshing out The Order which ultimately felt fruitless. They weren’t ever going to be characters you felt anything for, because they are presented as the ultimate evil; only the hypcritical nature of the war between them and the Imperium is a bit of a talking point in the novel, but as a bit of escapism, it wasn’t the best read – just another notch into the ‘Imperium is just as evil as everyone else in the Warhammer setting’ which any avid reader of the ‘verse already knows.

As for the aim of the novel; getting a better understanding of the Primarch. I do now understand Mortarion a bit more. He likes to hit things hard and fast so that he can dispense Phosphex over them before they get a chance to react. I didn’t get any sense of Mortarion’s personality and the whole novel felt a little bit dry. Considering that Nathaniel Garro is one of my favourite Horus Heresy/Warhammer characters, even his appearance didn’t bolster my mood for the story; which ultimately boiled down to a long, drawn out compliance with little sense of individuality in the characters that drove the plot.

I am still left feeling like I want and need to know more about Mortarion and his ways. Maybe, he will feature in one fo the Horus Heresy novels in the near future? Because this series is so hit and miss with it’s content, I’ll still be getting the rest of the novels and reading them as their stand-alone intent. They’re generally good books even if they don’t quite hit the mark as I was hoping to see scenes of either childhood or his inner thoughts at the very least. In this book he just seems to be another character, while other supposed side characters come to the fore.


Not a bad book but not the knock-out read I was hoping for. I understand Mortarion a little better now but would have liked him to feature more strongly in his titular book. A good novella for fans of the Death Guard as it details their first compliance. Features cameos by other well-known Death Guard characters, but they aren’t apparent enough to lift the book to more than three stars.

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