Sunday, January 2, 2011

Prospero Burns Review (The Bad, The Good, and The Meh)

Not my favorite Horus Heresy novel.  Bam!  Goodnight.

Nah, seriously, I wasn't a huge fan.

The Bad:
Judging it simply as a literary work, its not bad.  Its a very competent execution.  Still, not Abnett's best.  His battle run downs are almost off handed.  Like he's gotten bored with describing dismemberment in all its glorious forms.  Death on a massive scale is so blase after all...

"Soandso had his head chopped off.  Soandso2 was decapitated and his arms torn off.  Soandso3 was torn in half and by the way...had his head chopped off."  Really Dan?  I'm not making this up.  This is a paraphrase of an actual part of the novel that takes place during the fall of Prospero. Which, by the way, takes place in the absolute last section of the book and is incredibly short.  I read it in an hour.  The novel is called, Prospero Burns, and the battle itself is barely a footnote.

My biggest issue with his prose is his fall back to repetition throughout the story.  There are entire paragraphs devoted to saying one thing three different ways.  This is significant considering the book is pretty short when compared to the other HH novels.

This is barely a Space Wolves novel.  They are supporting characters!  I repeat, Dan Abnett made the Space Wolves supporting characters in their own novel.  See more about this in the Meh section.

The Good:
Its gives us a peek at the tribals of Fenris...a section that easily equals the amount of pages spent on Prospero.

It gives us a decent look at the "The Rout" themselves.  Pre-Heresy Space Wolves don't call themselves Space Wolves.  They're "The Rout" or Vlka Fenryka.  The Fang, the most famous fortress in all of WH40K, is not The Fang.  Its "The Aett."  These little things, whether you approve of the execution or not, are nice bits of world building.  I love world building.

There are a ton of little things that I enjoyed about this book.

The depiction of Long Fang.  He's a Terran born Space Wolf Rune Priest.

"Bear"  I put the name in quotations because there's a funny story surrounding the name.  Bear is just a cool character.  An utter bad ass, a stoic pragmatist, and a good friend.  That IS what a Space Wolf should be.

SPOILERS!!!!!!(Highlight the space below to reveal)
"Bear" spends the entire novel as "Bear."  At the end, its revealed that the narrator mistranslated his name and its actually...drumroll please...BJORN!!  Bjorn the Fell Handed least thats what I think.  He ends up losing his arm in a fight with a Daemon and later makes a remark upon seeing a couple of his Dreadnought brothers.  He was happy he lost only an arm because surely being a Dreadnought would be worse.  *wink wink*

All in all, Abnett's depiction of the Wolves is well done.  They are savages.  They are murderers.  They'd be the first to tell you this themselves.  They are also cunning.  They are practical.  They are loyal and steadfast.

Chained beasts, but the chains are there for the guests' assurances.  Their master knows that he need only raise his voice and they are his will personified.

This is a nice second side to the story depicted in, A Thousand Sons.  In A Thousand Sons Russ is shown to have no hesitation in the prosecution of his brother, Magnus.  In Prospero Burns he's shown to have given Magnus many warnings.  Even going so far as to attempt to speak through a proxy to Magnus to get him to surrender peacefully to spare his life and the lives of his Legion.  The Wolf King makes only three or four appearances in the novel, but his presence is felt.  He is shown to be a wise leader with a decent heart, but a firm hand.

The Meh:
The Narrator!  Ugh.  I understand what Abnett was trying to do.  I understand that it would have been very hard to have a Space Wolf narrate this story.  An outsider was needed to tell the story of Prospero.  Unfortunately, this is a crutch that many Horus Heresy novelists have fallen back on.  Telling stories through Remembrancer characters or Legion proxies so that questions that a member of the Legion would never ask can be asked for the benefit of the reader.  We get the point.  Astartes are demigods.  Who better to marvel and impart marvel for the Astartes than a mortal, but it getting a bit old.

This is a minor issue so it didn't make it into the bad.  Hell, it might have even made it into the Good section if not for SO MUCH of the book being devoted to this one character.  So many pages were spent trying to get the reader to care about The Man of Many Names that it makes the Space Wolves themselves supporting characters in the ONLY  HH novel devoted to the VIth Legion.  Let me reiterate.  The Narrator is not a bad character.  His motivations are fleshed out, the subplot surrounding him is woven into the Heresy as a whole, and he serves a purpose to the Legion.  Unfortunately, the subplot is dumb in my opinion.  I'm not going to spoil it. Not even in blocked out letters.  The subplot's resolution is over inflated and it felt like Abnett wrote himself into a corner and decided, "well I've spent over half the book on this bullshit I might as well give it delusions of grandeur that affect every aspect of the Heresy now."

Stupid as it is, its not "bad" per se.  Its just not a great decision in my opinion.  It works as far as it could.  I'm not anywhere near as competent a writer as Abnett is so what do I know?  Maybe he felt this was the ONLY way this story could be told with a sense of power.  I just wish it hadn't completely overshadowed the Space Wolves themselves.

A Thousand Sons was the stronger of these two novels.  If you read A Thousand Sons you got the gist of the Fall of Prospero.  Read Prospero Burns if you're a Space Wolves fan.  Otherwise, save yourself the cash and hope it shows up in your local library.  Its not a bad book.  Its a decent one, but it falls short of expectations.  Health problems or not this did not read like a piece of work that was YEARS in development.

Personal Note:
This was all very hard for me to say.  I'm not a fan of McNeill.  Storm of Iron and Thousand Sons are the only books of his that I enjoy.  On the other hand, I love Abnett.  He and Aaron Dembski-Bowden are my two favorite Black Library authors.

Off Topic:  Now that I've finally put this baby to rest.(I was waiting so very long for this book to come out)  I can go back to reading Lord of Night with the second Ciaphas Cain Omnibus soon to follow that.


  1. I have the book and I have yet to read it, however. I still need to read "A Thousand Sons". It is very important to realize the following - TH and Prospero Burns were supposed to be released at the same time and were supposed to be read as a whole. Abnett actually wanted to do TH because he thought the Space Wolves to be too close to their original source of inspiration and he felt like he couldn't create new and exciting fluff about them.

  2. Yeah, I followed the whole thing as it unfolded because I was always fascinated by the TH/SW rivalry. To be honest, and this is just my opinion, it doesn't work as one book. A Thousand Sons just overshadows Prospero Burns as a work of fiction. The lion's share of the narrative takes place in ATS while PB sort of meanders on its own until the last minute. The actual battle for Prospero is covered in the most general terms in PBs. Its barely fifty pages maybe? Might be less than that. Just by rote phone it in style from Abnett. "Space Wolves kick some ass. Thousand Sons die. Thousand Sons use their powers. Space Wolves die. Sisters of Silence come in. Thousand Sons die." THATS IT! Then it immediately shrinks in scope to give the reader a resolution on the Narrator's subplot...which I really shouldn't even call a WAS the plot.

    You really can tell that Abnett never became comfortable with the Space Wolves. He tries to make them his own, but fails and then latches onto the Narrator's character completely. It makes for an uneven narrative in my opinion and its a bit of a disservice to the reader. If he couldn't write the book he shouldn't have tried. Especially, since this is the only Space Wolves novel we'll see in the Horus Heresy series. They basically ride the bench for the rest of the War until Horus is dead. It was a completely missed opportunity.

    Read A Thousand Sons first. Prospero Burns is completely unnecessary if you're reading these books to get an impression of the Fall of Prospero and the Fifteenth Legion. ATS even manages to do Space Wolves better than PB.

    Like I said, PB isn't a BAD book. Its just not all that great either.

  3. Our points of view are similiar, but I disagree on several issues. First is with Long Fang. For a Terran Space Wolf he is hardly any different from the Fenrisians, besides being the only one? I was expecting to see some conflict between Terran and Fenrisian Space Wolves, alas no such tension was added - it would have add much more flavour to the book.I also think Russ should have been much more prominent in the book. Abnett nailed his character but only scratched the surface.

  4. Well, your points are perfectly reasonable, but I accepted his treatment of Long Fang based his confession that he didn't even remember Terra or his time before Fenris. I saw a parallel between the common theme of an outsider being absorbed into a "primitive" culture and letting said culture override their former sense of self.

    As for Russ being omitted from much the book I did have a problem with that, but shrugged it off. Abnett doesn't like writing Astartes. It stands to reason that he'd have an even harder time writing a Primarch. In the end, I reasoned that having too little of Russ was better than too much if the author couldn't confidently portray him in a larger role.

  5. Agreed i was very dissapointed. Thousand Sons was miles better!

  6. For a book I was eager awaiting since it was announced, I can't believe how hard a time I had getting into the book. At first I just didn't care about this narrator and him hearing frickin claivers. I started to like him a bit more when he became a Skald, but I felt sometimes like he was the first one they had and then other times like it was a tradition in the Space Wolves, but we never saw another... I still fail to see how the Rune Priests can stand in such opposition to the Sorcerous Thousand Suns and still use pyschic powers. If the Librarians have been banned, how come the rune priests and current Space Marines have Libraians?

  7. @Spyrle: Well the loophole they use to get around Nikea for RPs and Librarians is that they use their natural abilities while the Thousand Sons and sorcerers in general gather power from outside forces or practices to increase their own abilities. Thereby opening themselves to the Warp without control.

    Prospero Burns is actually one of the only sources I've seen that attempts to make this distinction.

  8. I'm about halfway through Propero burns, and...its getting better. The first third of the book really was a disappointment though, and i don't see it getting too much better. Hawser's character is a good & enjoyable one, but as stated repeatedly above, its not supposed to be about Hawser.

    The T-Sons novel was excellent (as is the First heretic which I'm also reading) however PB is a great disappointment from BL's best author(IMO), especially after both the hype & wait.

  9. I hate to say this but I am still reading the book. I actually find myself skimming sections that Hawser talks about myselfand his past.

    I truly expected to finish the book in a day and its been a week and only half way through it.

    I wanted to learn more about Russ, how he thought and why he makes certain choices. So far I am reading about Hawser and his development into a skald.

    I am not digging the leather masks Dan put on the space wolves.

    I truly feel like I am reading a techinical journal .

    I do like how he talks about how the legion see themselves as the executioners of the emperor. I just wish there was more about the VI legion.

    Not a bad book if I was not expecting a space wolves novel.

    My 2 cents

  10. I kept skipping the repeated dream sequence but other than that I loved the portrayal of the Wolves themselves and the extra questions it puts out there, like how much the primarchs shape the planets they land on rather than the other way round ( which is how i always believed it to be ). Also how much did the Emp know about the future paths his sons were going to take, seems to me that he could have made them all as loyal as Russ but instead some were "flawed" enough to turn on him.

    A good read once the story picked up a little and the Wolves were eventually in it, and did love the Bjorn bit, instantly made me smile and think how cool a Bjorn based book would be as hes been around a long time and not even he kows why