- A Standalone Novel
- Focuses on the Alpha Legion
- Published by Black Library in 2021
- Grimdark SF
- 282 pages
The Alpha Legion’s motivations are inscrutable, unknown even to the Legion itself. So when a power vacuum emerges in the heart of the Legion, who can say which faction will prevail . . ?
Sometimes, the best books come as a surprise. Those books you pick up on a whim, expecting only to be entertained, and which end up knocking your socks off. This is one of those books.
I’m a fan of Mike Brooks. His Warhammer 40,000 novels have been universally excellent. His non-Black Library Keiko trilogy is a whole lot of fun. Though I know I’ll never have the time for it, I’ve even been tempted by his latest fantasy epic. All that considered, there’s one book of his I’ve always walked past. Alpharius, part of the Horus Heresy: Primarchs series. Being interested in neither the Heresy nor Chaos Space Marines, I was happy to discount it as an option. So when Harrowmaster, a successor of sorts, was announced, I shrugged and moved on.
But then came December. Thanks to a convenience of location, and the presence of a woman with far more patience than I deserve, I ended up at Warhammer World, the Nottingham-based flagship store of all things Games Workshop. Naturally, I was drawn to the Black Library section (where I determinedly walked past the limited editions) and found that I was largely up to date on releases. I wasn’t about to leave empty-handed, however, and the reliability of Brooks as an author (accompanied by the man’s signature scrawled in the book) was enough to put Harrowmaster in my bag. And thank the Dark Lords of Chaos for that!
Not only is Harrowmaster my favourite book of the year so far, it’s also my first five-star read. It’s a book that has made me re-evaluate my ambivalence towards Chaos, and Space Marines in general. It helps that these are not the big, stompy murderers who bore me so much. The Alpha Legion are insidious, and I have a lot of time for backstabbing shenanigans. Throw in some shady factional politics and weird personalities, and it’s a winning combination.
The factions herein are especially well-drawn out. Even though they’re all part of the same Legion, Brooks does a great job of making all the potential leaders pop off the page. Even though we follow one aspirant’s journey to power, the others feel like a genuine threat, both to life and position. Overall, there’s just an impressive amount of depth to everything, even though the book itself is on the shorter side.
A word must also be said about the other side of the coin. While Alpha Legionnaires are feuding, the Imperial forces racing to stop them are equally beset by infighting. Even discounting the traitors, there’s a delicious irony in divisions and rivalry preventing the defeat of the Alpha Legion. On a purely structural level, the cutaways to Inquisitorial antics also prevent the Space Marine sections from growing repetitive. It’s a perfect B-plot to accompany and enhance the A-plot, which is hard to pull of in any medium, let alone a sub-three hundred page novel.
Looking back, this is one of those books I’m glad I took a chance on. Not only was it a fundamentally enjoyable book, it’s also opened my eyes to the possibilities of Space Marine fiction.
More by Mike Brooks
Warhammer 40,000: Rites of Passage
Warhammer 40,000: Huron Blackheart: Master of the Maelstrom
Keiko Series#1: Dark Run
Deeper Dive: Wheels Within Wheels
“Everything you think you know is a lie.” That sentence, and variations on it, marks one of my most hated tropes in fiction. If it’s all made up, why bother telling me any of it. By all means, hide information from your characters. But to actively lie to your audience, for me that crosses a line. A line that I have drawn in blood after fantasy author Brent Weeks decided, four books into a series, to reveal that one of his characters was a figment of another’s imagination. Yes, I am still bitter about the wasted time and financial investment of reading the Lightbringer series. How did you guess?
The Alpha Legion contain more than a trace of this trope. After all, not even the legion itself knows if they are loyalists or traitors. I don’t know exactly what it is about Brooks’ Harrowmaster that executes this ludicrous idea so well, but it does. It has all the thrill of a deep cover operation spiralling out of control. On a serious level, you have to wonder if the overthrow of a corrupt and divided Imperium might actually be in the Emperor’s best interests.
But Brooks is unafraid to ridicule some of the more outlandish aspects of such inscrutability. When Marine after Marine declares, ‘I am Alpharius,’ other Legionnaires roll their eyes and sigh. Yes, there is a value in secrecy, but even the Legion admits they can go to far. It’s this delicate balance between pathos and whimsy that turns a hated trope into a genuinely interesting set of protagonists. You don’t always get this sort of philosophical comedy, but Warhammer is turning into a pretty good place for it.
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