Angel Exterminatus – a review. Or, more accurately, a mounting disbelief in why Graham McNeill gets published.

Let me begin this by making something very clear – I don’t rate McNeill as a writer. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about if I’m honest. Storm of Iron read like an extended White Dwarf battle report and the subsequent Iron Warrior/Ultramarine novels are basically two Mary-Sues clanging their respective power-armoured groins together. I dunno, maybe I’m biased by my love for all things Abnett and Dembski-Bowden, maybe I just appreciate a well-written book that doesn’t contain a billion self-referencing little nods like the writer is feverishly writing his own fan-fic wank-piece. Either way, there’s something about McNeill’s writing that just irritates me immensely and sadly, because Black Library seems to love him, there’s no escaping the fucker.

Anyways, onto Angel Exterminatus. I won’t go into full plot details because a) chances are you’ve read it and b) if you haven’t, the plot will make fuck-all sense to you. In a nutshell, it’s all about how Perturabo was shooting some hoops till Fulgrim got in one little fight and the Emperor packed them off to Bel-Air. Or something. Now there were actually some things that were pretty decent, so I’ll go through those first:

The Good

  • Perturabo himself. Aside from being a moody prick who just needs to man up and stop whining about how the Emperor uses him and his Legion of awesome builders and siege-masters to make buildings and lay sieges (honestly, who the fuck else is he gonna ask? The White Scars? Good plan Perturabo, hope you like your cow-hide castle), there were some nice touches about his hobbies and actual skill in making things. It certainly added some character and depth to the Primarch, though considering how little attention GW has given him in the past, that’s not hard.
  • Perturabo’s bodyguard of robots. Nice idea, though they were a little too tough and strong and gunned up for my liking.
  • Fulgrim using billions of Eldar soul-stones to ascend into Daemon-prince awesomeness. Nicely done, good to finally see some chaotic shit going down in the Horus Heresy.
  • The idea of a rag-tag band of Iron Hands, Salamanders and Raven Guard zooming about on a battered Strike Cruiser after Istvaan making themselves a nuisance is a cool idea – the execution…well, we shall get onto that.
  • Iron Warriors shooting bare-headed Imperial Fists in the head and laughing about it. Probably the high point of the book for me, as I’ve never understood why a Marine would expose his weak and vulnerable head while boasting about his awesome power armour.

Aaaand that’s about it.

Now, onto my issues with this book. Buckle up chaps, it’s about to get nasty.

The Bad

  • Fulgrim wants to tell a story. Perturabo says ok; let’s use this seemingly modular yet impenetrable personal Iron-cave of mine. Seriously, it’s called the Cavea Ferrum, literally the Iron Cave. Perturabo no doubt also has an Iron-car, Iron-boat and Iron-utility belt. God forbid that naming tropes should include something that doesn’t fucking refer to the actual name of the Legion every single time.
  • And in fact, Perturabo doesn’t say that, he says cool I’ll get my entire Legion to make you this awesome theatre, cause it’s not like we are war or anything and there’s anything better my legion could be doing, like killing loyalists. Nope, let’s build a theatre. It’ll be the most perfect theatre ever. And we will make it in two days.
  • In fact, McNeill’s sense of scale is just fucking awful. Barely a hundred Fists hold out against at least 2/3rds of the Iron Warriors legion for months on end? I don’t care how awesome your castle is, that’s just fucking dumb. As is the most awesome theatre ever being built from scratch in two days flat. With all its shiny decoration. Case in point, his grasp of Legion numbers is so shaky that during the big climax, large portions of the Iron Warriors do nothing but stand around holding their own dicks. Oh, and bombarding their own mates because none of them can use a vox, or think that dropping a load of shells on the base they just watched being built isn’t a little odd. Still, they seem to get away with it, so who gives a fuck right?
  • An Iron Warrior almost falls to Slaanesh through the equivalent of Frat-boy peer pressure from Eidolon (who despite being beheaded by Fulgrim is just peachy).
  • Fabius Bile. Sigh. Right, Graham, the whole Chirugeon thing? He’s not supposed to have that until after the end of the Heresy and he’s spent a few years backpacking through the Eye of Terror. It’s been part of his background since the character appeared in the 2nd ed codex. Try a little research man.
  • And on the subject of research, Lucius the Eternal is eternal because whoever manages to kill him slowly turns into him. Yeah it’s a little silly as an idea, but again, it’s been his thing since he first appeared as a special character – I’m pretty sure even the shiny new Chaos Codex mentions it. He’s not called the Eternal because he wakes up in hospital after he’s been killed.
  • The rag-tag Loyalists and their rag-tag ship. Which can get shot right through a bigger ship by exploding its own engines and come out the other side fine. While destroying the other, bigger ship. Let me put it this way. Try driving your banged-up Mini through a small lorry by setting fire to your engine and petrol tank and tell me how well your car comes out of it.
  • On the subject of the Loyalists, so many issues. They have Doc Brown the Iron Father, who thinks sitting in the middle of the Eye of Terror, surrounded by Iron Warrior ships is the perfect time to fuck about with the ships engines. And a Salamander Apothecary, whose red eyes are suddenly magical and let him see everything.
  • There’s also a magic Raven Guard, who has a brand new special ability called wraith-slipping to explain how he’s all sneaky and shit. It’s a ridiculous idea, with no grounding in the background or fluff. Oh and he’s a master sniper and swordsman, cause those two diametrically opposed combat skills go hand in hand don’t they?
  • The magic Raven and his Iron Hand best buddy manage to escape the Iron Warriors clutches despite being outnumbered about 300,000 to 2, on a shiny teleporting Storm Eagle that no one thinks to blow out of the sky. Honestly Perturabo, for a master of siegecraft and fortifications, a lack of basic anti-aircraft is a bit of a schoolboy error. Bet Dorn would have remembered.

There’s probably more, but my rage is so intense now that I can’t remember them. What I do remember though, is Graham’s new favourite thing. Internet memes. An Imperial Fist Captain shouts ‘Come at me bro’ shortly before Perturabo comes at him, bro. A Dreadnought bursts through a wall like the fucking Kool-Aid man.

Bombastus – Iron Hand Dreadnought

An Iron Warrior asks ‘Gothic? Do you speak it?’ in the style of Pulp Fiction. It’s all a bit fucking silly.

But my favourite of all is the Iron Warriors playing Warhammer, while being in a Warhammer book. That’s, like, Warhammer-ception man. I kept expecting Xzibit to pop up and shout “Yo, Perturabo dawg, we heard you like warhammer, so we gave you a warhammer, so you can warhammer while you play warhammer, in your warhammer story. Dawg.”

The silliest part of that section? Perturabo proves he could lay siege to the Palace of Terra and win. Easily. So why the fuck doesn’t he go do that, instead of tarting about in the Eye of Terror with Fulgrim?

Anyone? Graham? No, didn’t think you had a fucking clue.

Honestly, I want to enjoy the Horus Heresy series, I really do, but the recent offerings from BL are making it hard. And I still cannot fathom why McNeill gets the rave reviews he does. And before you cry ‘Well if you think he’s bad, why don’t you try and do better?’ – I am. This year, I will be making a few submissions to Black Library. In a perfect world, it all goes well and I can get to meet Dan Abnett and Aaron Dembski-Bowden and shake them by the hand. I will also get to meet Graham McNeill and kick him square in the balls.

So, that’s my two cents on Angel Exterminatus. It’s a solid C in my eyes, nothing special and wouldn’t be a bad book if McNeill didn’t have such fucking stupid ideas. If you have read it, let me know what you thought, even if you disagree with me – this is just my personal opinion, I’d love to know how and why things worked for you that I thought were dumb.

  • Jeff Scarisbrick-Wri

    Seems fair, I also really want to like the heresy. The first three books were an example of fleshing a human face onto dry histories and getting Abnett to go first raised everyone’s game. The original plan called for three trilogies. Essentially: The Fall of Horus; the battles beyond earth and the Siege of Terra. This would have been a huge undertaking but would have given us a nice, taut storyline. Then LATER the other bits could have been fleshed in.

    Sadly, this isn’t happening. The story is wandering and increasingly microcosmic. Do we give a stuff about half of what is happening? Battle for the Abyss is one of my least favourite. It is about a ship pootling through the ether with three marines from different chapters inexplicably present in its path to try and stop it. Why does this rate an ENTIRE BOOK? Its a sodding paragraph or two AT BEST. Grrr. Anyway, yeah, I agree. Oh and the scale thing winds me up too. Remember the “hundreds of thousands” dying on a bridge in mechanicum? That is one big ass bridge. Here in Cardiff, bigish city. We got 300,000. Hmm.

  • King Mike

    I haven’t read this, but I expect I will, despite knowing McNeill’s shortcomings. As a writer, he hasn’t produced anything good since the Ambassador & Ursun’s Teeth ten years ago.

    I agree with the post above re Battle for Abyss, and Nemesis would probably be better in short story form. I also agree that the series tends to meander. What the HH range really needs is good chief editor.

    That said, the series came back on-form with a bang with the creepy First Heretic and epic Prospero Burns. Dembski-Bowden is my new favourite, while Abnett is showing the breadth of vision that made Inquisitor brilliant.

  • King Mike

    Dave, I’d be more than happy to proof read and offer constructive criticism on anything you wrote.

  • cnaeus


  • cnaeus

    The silliest part I think was the ending… Fulgrim drags Perturabo (and and his whole legion) into the Eye of Terror just to help him navigate in a labyrinth oh not really cuz he needs his powers which he captures in some kind of a crystal. The he’s having a big speech on how much he needs to make a big sacrifice to achieve his ascension to demonhood by killing Perturabo, and using the stone in which he captured all his power. Only that when it comes to the sacrificing Perturabo doesn’t die, instead the two primarchs are having an afternoon tea and talk about how poor Perturabo cannot live for his dreams (which is building fancy buildings. On a side note Perturabo had a very busy life never having the spare time to build the fancy things he dreamed of – even though he had just built the greatest theatre of all times in just 2 days for Fulgrim as a random act of kindness…) Meanwhile the climax happens: the Stone gets destroyed, Perturabo gets back his strength – but Fulgrim ascends anyway (just like that), then with his whole legion teleports out of the scene. There are a bunch of loyalist iron hands around, but then why would Perturabo spoil this nice happy ending just by killing them? He says a good bye and leaves… He laments a little bit on how you cannot trust even your crazy traitor primach brothers these days, then after gaining absolutely nothing by the whole adventure, he leads his fleet into a black hole… Seriously now. Wtf was this ending??