Review: Know No Fear

Posted: February 10, 2012 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Dan Abnett, Military SF, Science Fiction

KNOW NO FEAR (Amazon) marks the 19th book of the Horus Heresy series. For those of you who are unaware, Warhammer 40,000 is a table top game set in the 41st millennia: in the grim darkness of the future there is only war. Anyway Warhammer 40,000 is epic in the truest sense of the word, a science fiction universe with a slathering of dark fantasy thrown in for good measure. For a table top game it has a surprisingly rich and detailed history due to contributions from some great fiction authors. The greatest of those authors is without a doubt, Dan Abnett and the greatest event in the history of the game’s whole shared-world fiction is the Horus Heresy.

All the above was written for the benefit of those unfortunate enough never to have heard of WH40K. That said, KNOW NO FEAR is NOT a good starting place for the uninitiated. If you have an interest in genetically enhanced superhuman warriors battling against all manner of vicious foes then I suggest you start with HORUS RISING (Amazon), the first book in the Horus Heresy and a wonderful way to test the waters and see if this is a series for you.

KNOW NO FEAR takes place shortly after the initial hostilities of the Heresy have kicked off. The XIII space marine legion, the Ultramarines, are caught unaware by a supposed ally-turned- traitor during muster for a campaign against the orks in another sector. The betrayal is so complete that within hours a majority of the loyalist fleet has been destroyed and the planet of Calth is wreathed in flames with casualties accumulating at an alarming rate. KNOW NO FEAR is all about one of the greatest battles of the Horus Heresy, a fight to the death between the stalwart Ultramarines and the fanatical Word Bearers.

To date the Horus Heresy books have fallen into three categories. There are the plot and character development pieces, sparse with action and focused primarily on displaying the character of the players of this galaxy spanning high speed chess match. Then of course there are the novels that bask in hyper violence as only space marines can deliver. These books are so affectionately described as bolter-porn. Last there are the truly great pieces of fiction that transcend the “shared-world” stigma, novels with deep characters, engaging plots, and furious action sequences. Unfortunately KNOW NO FEAR does not fall into this final category, rather it would probably best be described as bolter-porn.

Don’t get me wrong though, this does not have to be a bad thing, especially if you’ve been keeping up with the series. The last few Horus Heresy novels have been lackluster character pieces. I love the new focus on storytelling inherent in the series but it seems as though great action has taken a backseat to overbearing attempts at “literary” writing. KNOW NO FEAR is a much needed change of pace, delivering on the action with one of the highest body counts since the earliest days of the series as the two largest space marine legions duke it out. Abnett writes battle scenes with real talent, showing all the levels of a military engagement from high command strategy to small unit tactical. There is a little something for every adrenaline junkie, from cold void boarding action to siege warfare and even some space marine on daemon melee.

The reason why this is a good book instead of a great one is simple. It lacks character depth. The book starts out great, Abnett’s prose is beautiful and striking from the get go and his unique approach to writing this specific novel was awesome. The pacing is brutal and chapters fly by. The POV is split up amongst a rather large cast of characters whose perspectives start just before the tragedy and tie up just after. This method is highly successful in portraying the awful series of events that take place and while I was reading I got a disaster movie vibe. Readers get a unique view of these superhuman warrior elite as spectators, victims of an insidious plot…at least until they get their bearings and fight back.

The problem with this, as successful as it is, is the lack of characterization. Unless you’ve been following the series very closely you are unlikely to be able to tell who most of these characters are or why they matter. There is no clear main protagonist because the cast is spread so far to get a wide glimpse of the carnage. Readers will be hard pressed to maintain tabs on each of the Ultramarines and as excited as I was to see Ventanus, Captain of the Troublesome Fourth he never shined as brightly as I’d hoped for.

KNOW NO FEAR is a fun read, a must have for WH40K fans. There are some great cameos and even a little foreshadowing to the future of the series.

One final complaint. Because of the analytical nature of the Ultramarines they use the terms “practical” and “theoretical” in conversation quite heavily. At first this seems like a neat quirk that can be attributed to their combat effective minds. Eventually though the dialogue does get a little grating. This is nowhere near as bad as Abnett’s use of the phrase “wet-leopard-growl” in PROSPERO BURNS (Amazon), but it can be irritating.

KNOW NO FEAR is a fun read, a must have for WH40K fans. There are some great cameos and even a little foreshadowing to the future of the series. Anyone interested can order the book now at Amazon.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: Some, including fictional curse words
  • Violence: To the extreme. These are superhuman warriors created solely for the purpose of winning wars against the most despicable foes imaginable. And now they're having a go at each other.
  • Sex: None

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  • koshr says:

    So this warhammer stuff consist of more than “just” the horus heresy right? but its all good and fine by starting with horus rising because i might want to try it.

  • Red Thunder says:

    Hey Nick,
    It's Stan from Amazon.

    Just burned throught Know No Fear and I must say, as the Ultramarines are my favorite chapter, major letdown.

    I don't know what's more disappointing, the mischaraterization of perhaps the greatest of the Primarchs, in Gulliman, or the ridiculous last battle sequence, that took maybe four chapters, after a series of unimaginable defeats.

    As we've previously talked about I feel the rush on these books is getting very old very quick. This battle in my estimation was top 5 of the entire Heresy. Prospero being destroyed was in the top 5, along with the siege of Terra, and Istavan III and IV. But man, talk about rushing through.

    Also since when did a high captain of a legion have to power to almost kill a Primarch?

    Abnett's disdain for the second best (perhaps best) Primarch shows that if anyone should have written this book it was McNeil who at least knows something of the Ultramarines.

    Another bothersome topic is that in that there is a sergeant who gets censured. What was his crime you ask? Well this marine posited that marines may have to fight one another! Shocking! For this he's brought back to meet the Primarch? And Gulliman forgets about him? The man is literally a dozen super computers at once, yet he forgets about someone he specifically asked about?

    Yet if you read one of the compilation books, there is a story by McNeil about Gulliman acting as Horus and fighting Captain Venatus. They were perfecting the codex astartes. How the hell does a marine get in trouble for doing only what the Primarch was teaching them.

    Overall poor effort from Abnett. I was left wondering where the closure came, a two page epilouge about the Ultramarines razing Colchis to the ground? Pathetic.

    Finally, Gulliman and his ilk couldn't beat a space marine captain and his retinue? Sad days indeed during the Heresy…

    • KUBS says:

      WOW hyper critical … you were never told about Guilliman's opinion of Thiel and at that time his thoughts were near heretical but I imagine Guilliman was going to be open to discuss with him. Guilliman forgetting about Thiel is a gross over-statement … he was occupied by the destruction of Calth

      Kor Phaeron was able to take on a Primarch because of his Chaos gifts he no longer was a normal Space Marine

      You are being negative for the sake of being negative.

  • KUBS says:

    Know No Fear was a blast to read but did end of too quickly for my liking.

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