Posted on July 20, 2010 by teampreston
Available at Amazon.com
Nemesis by James Swallow
Black Library, 2010
After the horrors of Istvaan V, Horus declares outright war against the Imperium. In the shadows of the Emperor’s Palace, powerful figures convene. Their plan is to send a team of assassins to execute the arch-traitor Horus and end the war for the galaxy of mankind before it has even begun. But what they cannot know is that another assassin is abroad already, with his sights firmly set on killing the Emperor.
The Officio Assassinorum: we’ve been waiting on something like this for decades, and James Swallow delivers it. As expected it involves scheming at the top levels of the Imperium in order to end this civil war as quickly and painlessly as possible – anything to save The Emperor and his Imperium.
The main plot is simple: send a team of top-shelf assassins to kill Horus, Warmaster, Primarch, son of the living Emperor of Mankind. Simple, right? Well if we know anything about Primarchs in this setting, it’s that they are demigods. Demigods surrounded by legions of genetically engineered super-men packing state of the art hardware. Assassins have tried and failed in the past. We get to see each of the major enclaves (or Clades as they are called here) of assassins at work. I have to admit, it’s awe inspiring.
Usually, having a super-powered team go on a mission is a pretty weak premise. I mean…they are all pretty uber. They represent the best of the best of the best, sir! With honours sir! The saving grace of the main plot is that they are also up against a foe which is for all intents and purposes…untouchable.
There is a secondary plot as well, which is a kind of cop story – a murder scene investigation gone wrong. It’s actually well thought-out and feels like a bit of CSI ala 40k at first (which is cool I think). Something is murdering citizens of Iesta Veracruz in a particularly horrific way and they can’t figure it out. Add to this cults like the Theoge etc. and you have a pretty nifty murder mystery going on.
I don’t want to give away too much or spoil it, but it’s very interesting the way Mr. Swallow tied it all together. He also nicely tied in elements of the period such as the growing Cult of the Emperor, true believers, elements of the Imperium that pull the strings and what makes them tick as well as plotters within Horus’ coterie. There are moments where you have to re-read sections but this is to be expected: this is a spymaster kind of novel, not really a battlefield novel. The plots are deep and you can’t expect to see it all coming. There is a fine line between keeping the story tight and deep and dumbing it down so it becomes trite and pointless. James Swallow does a fine job in treading carefully and weaves a fine spy thriller steeped in 40k (30k?) lore.
I have to admit that occasionally I got confused on who was who: I think the “Dramatis Personae” section should be almost mandatory in novels with large casts. I’m so thankful for the Horus Heresy series using them every time. Black Library, please take note!
It was really interesting to get in to the heads of the characters. James Swallow did a fine job in delving in to the minds of the main characters (for the most part). What makes a man (or woman) become an assassin? How do they cope with it all? How do they become so indoctrinated and loyal? Can they really be trusted? At what point do they lose their humanity? We get a glimpse inside the noggin of seasoned operators from each of the Clades we all know and love (and some minor ones I hadn’t heard of). I have to admit that the names of the Clades get confusing after a while. In 40k lore, it all makes perfect sense, but after reading and seeing the names so often, it starts to blur.¹ Vindicare is easy, but Venenum and Vanus…ummm, which is which? Even after it is straight in my head I second guess myself.
Kell the Vindicare is the protagonist and he’s a pretty rich character. I really liked him even though he’s pretty messed up. Koyne the Callidus and Iota the Culexus were very cool as well. Iota in particular was really interesting; I wish we had more of her.
For those into roleplaying games, this novel will certainly have an appeal. It certainly shows how a team of skilled operators tackle a tough obstacle. Granted, these operators are at the very top of their fields. Fans of Rogue Trader and Dark Heresy will dig this one a lot. Fans of murder mysteries will dig it as well. I think your general fan of the Warhammer 40k ‘verse won’t get as much from it and the subtlety may be a bit lost on them — not having lots of big battles, and lots of bolter-blasting and slashy death.
Overall I enjoyed the novel. It didn’t catch me by the horns and drag me through a long night of hell, depositing me spent at 4am… but it was a fine read and a worthy addition to the Horus Heresy series.
3.5 out of 5 Stars.
¹None of this has to do with the author; it’s just 40k lore and similar names causing confusion.
Review by Jeff Preston