[Review] The Unremembered Empire – Dan Abnett

imagesWith a saga as large and far reaching at the Horus Heresy, a tale stretching over 30 books & novellas and countless more short stories, there will inevitably come a point when the galaxy stretching stories must finally intertwine and come to a head, where narrative threads will cross over one another and perhaps even conclude.  In a series that large, with so many capable authors, it really comes as no surprise that Dan Abnett was tasked with that duty in the new addition to the Black Library’s space opera, The Unremembered Empire.

In The Unremembered Empire, Abnett has created many things: a political tale about a future kingdom; a thrilling game of cat and mouse; the story of lost brotherhood.  But most importantly, The Unremembered Empire serves as a nexus for all the Black Library has accomplished thusfar with the Horus Heresy, a place to breathe, gather our thoughts, and prepare for that inevitable conclusion on Terra.

Primarily a story of Macragge and Ultramarines sire Roboute Guilliman, Abnett’s narrative focuses on the aftermath of Calth and the Avenging Son’s desire not only for retribution, but also for preservation:  preservation not only for his subjects in Ultramarr, but also the preservation of the Imperium at large.  With so much uncertainty following the atrocities of Calth, and with the Ruinstorm severing all ties to the galaxy at large, Guilliman struggles to devise a way to maintain all that his gene-father has accomplished with the Great Crusade without wearing the same usurper crown as his erstwhile brother, the Warmaster Horus.  Unwilling to make the decision alone, the unexpected arrival of his enigmatic brother Lion el’Jonson, driven by a mysterious beacon shining solely on Macragge, gives Guilliman another voice to confide in.  Unbeknownst to Guilliman however, a Dark Angels secret, ferreted away in the bowels of Jonson’s flagship, will change the fate of Macragge forever.

Like nearly all of Abnett’s Horus Heresy work, The Unremembered Empire is a purposefully paced novel.  Somewhere in between the pacing of Prospero Burns and Know No Fear, the narrative drives itself along at, seemingly, the perfect pace.   Tense scenes, like those found in Know No Fear, abound and are taut, nerve wracking affairs.   Likewise, narrative portions serving to enrich the background of Ultramarr or her occupants find themselves slower, more methodical, but no less compelling.  The marriage of those two pacing styles creates an overall flow of the story that may be some of the best work Abnett has done in the series.  I never felt that the story was dragging and, evidenced by the fact that I finished the book in just two sittings, the pacing drives the story forward at all times. It is by no means the breakneck speed of Know No Fear, but like I intimated previously, finds a really happy balance between that and the decidedly more methodical Prospero Burns.

As the plot itself goes, Abnett has somehow found a way to not only include bits and pieces from every Horus Heresy book he’s written since Legion; he’s also successfully taken characters nearly every other Horus Heresy author and seamlessly assimilated them into this novel.  The Word Bearer Narek is a great example.  A character introduced by Nick Kyme in Vulkan Lives, Kyme had created a very likable villain, but had only really scratched the surface of his motivations.  Abnett brings him into The Unremembered Empire fold brilliantly, the transition from Vulkan Lives to here without fault.  Part of that skill obviously goes to Abnett, but it’s really a testament to how well the Horus Heresy “brain trust” has mapped out these characters and their futures, as well as the trust they clearly have in each other to have these characters flow so well from one pen to the next.

Guilliman is, of course, the star of the novel and through Abnett’s narration we learn more about Roboute than perhaps any of the Emperor’s Sons save Horus.  For a primarch whose legion prides itself so heavily on preparedness and practicum, it’s amazing to see Guilliman painted as perhaps the most vulnerable Primarch we’ve yet seen.  In the novel, his emotional range is vast, and we see the clear kinship he holds both for his sons and his subjects, but what really strikes the narrative is the relationship he has with Tarasha Euten, his trusted chamberlain.  Euten is, for all intents and purposes, a motherly figure for Roboute, one he takes counsel from above all others; her authority is unquestioned by even his tetrarchs.  It’s really the first time in a Horus Heresy book that we’ve seen a female character hold any sway over a Primarch, and Abnett, unsurprisingly, handles it extremely well.  Their relationship is comfortable, easy, and it makes the dialogues they have both endearing and impactful.  That relationship, coupled with Abnett’s overall handling of Guilliman in this book and in Know No Fear, makes him easily one of the more likable characters in the entire saga.  Even Guilliman’s interactions with the Space Wolves watch-pack just seem “right.”   As Games Workshop’s flagship chapter, it’s been easy in the past to dislike the Ultramarines; now, I have trouble wondering how anyone could dislike a character like Guilliman. 

And it isn’t just Guilliman that is likable in The Unremembered Empire; all the characters are just, simply put, well done.  Faffnr Bludbroder and his pack feel like Space Wolves.  Alexis Polux feels like an Imperial Fist.  The Lion and his pride feel like the secretive Dark Angels they are.  I hate using blanket statements, but the characterization of the novel is nearly perfect.  All the pieces, the players, just fit into place. 

The Unremembered Empire is a very, very good novel.  It stands on its own less successfully than some of his previous work, but in this novel Dan Abnett has created a nexus where all Horus Heresy roads lead.  Surprisingly, unlike most Horus Heresy offerings by Abnett, The Unremembered Empire actually answers more questions than it leaves the reader with.  Sure, there’s the expected tease of things to come, the purposefully unfinished plot thread, but the novel doesn’t leave you wondering too much.   It does, however, set the table– much like Guilliman’s table with 21 chairs–for the drama yet to unfold before us.

9/10 – An important, must read for any Horus Heresy fan.