Fear to Tread by James Swallow. Book review

FEAR TO TREAD by James Swallow, The Black Library, p/b, €11.50, http://www.blacklibrary.com/horus-heresy/fear-to-tread.html

Reviewed by David Rudden

One of the strengths of the Horus Heresy BL series is that they can take battles and characters that previously only existed as bullet points in codex timelines and flesh them out into proper stories. There’s a lot of material here, and potentially dozens of different viewpoints, aside from also (eventually) depicting the single most important event in the whole canon.

And it’s that ‘eventually’ that’s forming the problem.

I’ve written before that the HH series does a nice job of setting aside the typical grim nature of the 40K universe and focusing on the early days, back when most of human civilisation wasn’t on fire. Knowing how things are going to turn out, it’s gut-wrenching to watch characters blindly walk into mistakes, to see all the missteps and betrayals play out in front of you. However, there is a limit on this, and ‘Fear to Tread’ is teetering on the brink of it.

The book focuses on the Blood Angels Legion and their primarch Sanguinius, who are in safe hands with author James Swallow, who has been almost exclusively dealing with the Angels for the last few years. This is probably the best Angels novel Swallow has written to date; there are some excellent characters (my favourite being two of the main antagonists and their endless bickering) and some quite sinister moments, even if Sanguinius is a bit lacking in character. It’s said roughly every two paragraphs that he is special, and angelic, and wonderful, but he’s not half as well characterised as some of the other HH characters.

My other main problem with this novel is that we’ve dealt with the idea of a loyalist primarch being exploited – walking into a trap – managing to escape/is severely inconvenienced before, and it’s getting slightly old. It can be ignored when the story is especially essential to the Heresy or if it’s very well-written (see ‘Prospero Burns’) but the series as a whole made a misstep when they rushed through Horus’s fall and then took a step backwards to tell everyone else’s story. ‘Fear to Tread’ is a serviceable novel that at times is very entertaining, but in the wider scheme of things it comes across as filler. Yes, a couple of important plot points are nailed in place for later, and this is the only real canon early Heresy event for the Angels that’s been previously mentioned, but the basic plot of ‘Of course we trust Horus, he definitely isn’t evil, hang on, BETRAYAL’ is getting old, especially combined with the basic Blood Angels plotline of ‘must control blood-thirst.’ (Part of me wonders whether including the mad desire to drink blood in a legion of ubermensch was really a good call on the Emperor’s part.)

If you’re a particular fan/collector of the Blood Angels or you’re looking for something to tide you over until the next HH release, then you’ll enjoy this. Just don’t expect it to soar.