BOOK REVIEW: Avenging Son, by Guy Haley

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  • Book One of the Dawn of Fire series
  • Published by Black Library in 2020
  • A Grimdark Space Opera
  • 512 pages, plus a glossary
  • ⭐⭐⭐

The return of Roboute Guilliman brings the light of hope to a beleaguered Imperium. Now the returned Primarch reveals his vision of the future: a grand crusade to reclaim all that humanity has lost in his absence . . .

If there’s one part of the Warhammer 40,000 continuity that will forever be a mystery to me, it’s the Horus Heresy. It’s a series likely to top out at around seventy books, with a timeline that hops around, and dozens of storylines woven through all those many books. When I got into Warhammer, I decided early on that I was never going to tackle it. Too big, too sprawling, and too Space Marine heavy. But the Horus Heresy wraps up soon, and it’s clear Black Library are looking for something to replicate that staggering success story. They experimented with another epic multi-author series with The Beast Arises, and having taken lessons from that, now arrive with the future of Warhammer 40,000. Dawn of Fire is the big shiny new thing, as evidenced by quotes on the back cover from Black Library alumni including Dan Abnett himself. The marketing is clear. This is going to be something truly epic.

This is a big book by Black Library standards, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Avenging Son has a lot of work to do. There are more threads going on in these five hundred pages than I could keep track of. The Primarch’s return to Terra (and indeed his return to life) is covered elsewhere, and I still don’t fully understand a lot of it. In particular this book builds off Haley’s prior novel Belisarius Cawl: The Great Work, featuring the new Primaris Space Marines. I feel like this is a book that rewards a deeper understanding, of and a deeper investment in, the wider lore of Warhammer 40,000. If you’ve committed to learning everything you can about the hobby, you’ll get more out of this than I did.

Like a lot of first books, Avenging Son largely concerns itself with setting the seen. This is the opening salvo in the Era Indomitus storyline, and in that regard it does a good job. To the accompaniment of bolter fire, the rules of this new age are set out with gusto. These are the new Space Marines. This is the state of the galaxy. These are the major players. This is the way forwards. Personally, I’m more interested in the grim, dark future as a setting than as a story. This series will shake up the status quo, that’s for sure. But if like me you like the status quo, you might walk away less than satisfied.

Amid all the usual Warhammer action, gore, and grit, Avenging Son does bring something new to the table. That sense of change I mentioned above is driven by something that’s vanishingly rare in the grim darkness of the far future. Yes, there is still war. Yes, heroes are going to die like the rest of us. But now there is a glimmer of hope. It’s not the bright flame some would have you believe, and there is still plenty of misery to go around, but Guilliman’s return has changed things. Whether these hopes will be fulfilled or undercut by tragedy remains to be seen. This being Warhammer, I’m hoping for the latter. But this is a new age, and there are sure to be surprises.

I don’t think I’m going to continue with the Dawn of Fire series. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s not what I come to Warhammer for. But if you want Space Marine action and big, sweeping storylines, this is definitely the place to be.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you may also like:
Horus Rising, by Dan Abnett
The Serpent & The Saint, by Matthew Farrer
Forges of Mars, by Graham McNeill

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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