Wednesday, March 11, 2015

REVIEW: The Damnation of Pythos

The Damnation of Pythos by David Annandale is the 30th book in the Horus Heresy series, which is quite the benchmark. Does it live up to its prestigious spot in the chronology of the series? Let's find out.

This book is somewhat unique in that it is the first full length novel to focus solely on the shattered legions. The shattered legions are the ones who were broken on Isstvan V which are the Iron Hands, Raven Guard, and Salamanders. There have been a few books focusing on the Raven Guard and Salamanders which have featured elements of the scattered legions, mainly Vulcan Lives, but their main focus was always on the Primarchs. This novel only has regular Space Marines as the central focus, and Space Marines cut off from their parent legions at that. This more accurately depicts the state of these legions after the Dropsite Massacre, scattered across the galaxy with little to no communication with the other remnants of their legions.

The bulk of our Space Marines in this are Iron Hands, with a few Salamanders and Raven Guard that were rescued alongside them. They have one Strike Cruiser to their name and have decided to make as much of a nuisance of themselves to the traitors as they can. They know that with their depleted strength there's not much they would be able to do in a pitched battle, so instead are relying on raids and ambushes before pulling away to strike again. Our main hero, if I had to pick one, is an Iron Hands' Sargent named Galba. He is our connection into the cold, mathematical world of the Iron Hands. They generally see stuff as a machine would, with little regard for human life. Galba though, is still mostly human when compared to the level of bionics his brother's have. So while he still thinks in their mindset, he is more capable to empathize with other's. This makes him the primary contact with the Salamander and Raven Guard elements of the ship. Atticus, the Iron Hands Captain, is almost completely machine at this point and driven purely by a need for vengeance for his Primarch's death. He views the other two legions as being culpable for that death since they did not support Ferrus Manus' headlong charge into the enemy.

A good chunk of the book is spent on exploring what the Iron Hands are becoming after the Massacre. This is my favorite aspect of it since it really delves into what separates them form the traitors, besides the powers of Chaos of course. The Iron Hands have started to become more and more ruthless, using the logic that the ends justify the means. They figure they have to do whatever it take to defeat the enemy, whatever that entails. It takes Khi'dem of the Salamanders, Ptero of the Raven Guard, their legion serfs, and some pretty dire circumstances for them to realize that compassions is one of the few things that separates them from Horus' lot. They are fighting for the Imperium and all it's people, not just victory.

There is also of course, Pythos, the planet whose damnation is mentioned in the title. This planet is a vicious Death World within the Pandorax system. Yes, it is that same planet from that 40k campaign campaign and novel. There's nothing here that really ties it into it's 40k counterpart though besides the taint of Chaos. The Space Marines spend a good portion of the novel fighting the planet itself and the gigantic dinosaurs that call it home. There is also the taint of Chaos that lingers over the planet and has turned everything into a predator. We get some cool scary moments out of this, but not as much as I would like. The Marines are barely effected by it besides them experiencing a feeling of wrongness about the place and a few episodes of Galba hearing voices and freaking out. Instead the legion serfs act as our victims for the horror portion of this.

This was another one of my favorite parts, as some moments were genuinely scary and unsettling. Galba's serf, Kanshell, is our main point of contact here. Every night the regular humans suffer horrible nightmares and one or two of them usually end up killing themselves in some horrible way as they scream and rave about the demons. It's pretty great stuff, but like I said before, is over to soon. We also get to see the Leticio Divinatatus spread throughout the humans as a natural counter to the demonic nature of the planet.

A few other great moments is a ambush and boarding action against some Emperor's Children, which is the only inter-legionary conflict we see, some mysterious colonists who appear at Pythos with links to the start of the Heresy series, and some mysterious structures they discover on the planet. The climax of the book is a bit of a let down for me, mostly because it just becomes bolter-porn and I don't really know what the ending holds for the future of the series. It's hinted that there will be some big ramifications for what happened on Pythos, but I don't really care. The "main" bad guy came in so late in the book and felt so flat and stereotypical that I really don't care what happens to him. In fact I would prefer to never see him again. The novel was much more interesting when it was the Space Marines versus the planet and the unseen threat. Once Chaos fully manifests itself it tends to come across as cartoony unless handled properly. I think it would have been much cooler to keep the horror vibe going throughout the whole thing and keep the threat as something abstract. At one point there is a character riding a wave of skulls. Yeah.

If you skipped this book you wouldn't really miss anything. It doesn't bring anything new to the Heresy series or advance any plot points. It's a fun read for the most part though and no where near the level of horribleness that was The Battle for the Abyss, which I would consider the last Heresy book to not contribute anything. The Damnation of Pythos could just as easily been a 40k book as opposed to a Heresy one. While that's not a horrible thing, I just don't think the Heresy needs filler like this when it has so many interesting things to explore that cannot be done in 40k.

If you're a Horus Heresy completionist like myself, or just enjoy a decent Space Marine book give it a read. if you skip it though you won't be missing anything as far as Heresy plot lines go.

Final Score - 3/5

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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