Continuing my Horus Heresy binge I have another review for you! This time we have PHAROS by Guy Haley (Amazon), Book 34 in Black Library’s massively successful tie-in series. It’s a bit of a leap from my last review given that ANGEL EXTERMINATUS (EBR Review) is Book 23, is set in an entirely different theatre of the galaxy spanning civil war, features a completely different cast of characters, and even delves into different themes. There exists some Horus Heresy novels that can be read out of their numerical publishing order but if you haven’t been following along with the series I would not recommend starting with PHAROS. It’s essentially a sequel within a sequel within a series. It’s sequel-ception! That said, I’ll try not to reveal too much about the book in case you’re intrigued by the Horus Heresy but uncertain about jumping into a series that is currently 38 books long.
Here’s Amazon’s synopsis of PHAROS…
With the noble Emperor Sanguinius ruling from Macragge, Imperium Secundus stands as a lone beacon of hope even as the Warmaster’s forces continue to ravage the rest of the galaxy. Rouboute Guilliman, still Master of Ultramar, has convinced his brother that Terra has fallen and that the mysterious Mount Pharos on Sotha now holds the key to mankind’s future. But the Night Lords, those cruel and pitiless sons of Konrad Curze, have been watching from the shadows, and make ready to lauc=nch their long-planned attack on Pharos itself.
I was extremely excited to read this novel for two reasons. The first being that PHAROS is part of the large series plot arc but it also continues the subplot of Imperium Secundus as a more direct sequel to one of my favorite entries in the Horus Heresy to date—Dan Abnett’s THE UNREMEMBERED EMPIRE (Amazon), Book 27. The second is that PHAROS is also the first entry in the series by the talented Guy Haley. So what did I think of PHAROS?
It wasn’t bad or even mediocre in any case, but it failed to wow me in the way that I’ve been wowed lately by ANGEL EXTERMINATUS, THE UNREMEMBERED EMPIRE, SCARS (Amazon), and THE PATH OF HEAVEN (Amazon). It’s possible I’m just spoiled for choice with all these titles that have been published since I took my hiatus and it’s worth noting I’m in the minority here because the other Horus Heresy fans are largely in agreement that PHAROS is one of the best entries in the series in a long time.
PHAROS follows multiple POVs and one of the biggest issues was my utter lack of attachment to any of the characters. What little of Rouboute Guilliman we get is a pale imitation of his portrayal in THE UNREMEMBERED EMPIRE, a book that gave a nuanced examination of a primarch I’ve had little love for in the past. The lower tier Ultramarines had a cookie-cutter feel to them. Early on it appeared that Ultramarine neophyte Scout Oberdeii would have a satisfying character arc but it never really comes to fruition. That’s how it seems to go with most of the characters—starting out strong and then failing to develop. I wasn’t impressed with Haley’s depiction of Warsmith Dantioch (a favorite character of mine) or Alexis Polux.
There are Horus Heresy novels that can be read out of publishing order, but if you haven’t been following the series I wouldn't recommend starting here
I consider Haley’s characterization of Kellendvar, a space marine of the traitorous Night Lords legion, a high point of the story. Kellendvar is one of the bad guys but his internal conflicts, memories from his youth on his home planet Nostramo, and the relationship with his increasingly unhinged brother Kellenkir, make Kellendvar significantly more interesting than any of the other characters.
One of the low points of the story is Haley’s portrayal of Konrad Curze, the Night Lords prodigal primarch. This is another area of disagreement between myself and the bulk of the Horus Heresy fans, but Curze nearly ruined PHAROS for me. It seems to be a special trait of Curze’s because he was by far my least favorite part of THE UNREMEMBERED EMPIRE. In THE UNREMEMBERED EMPIRE Curze was the Horus Heresy equivalent of the fanboy interpretation of Batman—you know, the overpowered version of Batman that can defeat anyone in the DC universe. I almost prefer the Curze of THE UNREMEMBERED EMPIRE to the whacky, ridiculous, and annoying caricature of Curze featured in PHAROS. The highlight of the Horus Heresy as a series has been giving human motivations to otherwise over-the-top villains, allowing readers to empathize with the likes of Horus, Fulgrim, Angron, Lorgar, and Perturabo. There is no empathizing with the likes of Curze—he’s a mustache twirling cartoon of a villain and his encounter with Emperor Sanguinius is cringe-worthy. But that’s just my opinion and it’s not a popular one.
There are a number of redeeming qualities to PHAROS. The later battles are underwhelming but I found the furious zero-gravity space station combat earlier in the novel compelling. It was particularly interesting to view the contrast in the way the Ultramarines and Night Lords go to war. The Ultramarines are highly organized and ordered whereas the Night Lords make up for their lack of unit cohesion with terror tactics and brutality. I don’t think I’ve ever read about so many space marines taken captive as the Night Lords capture in PHAROS.
I truly appreciate how relatively self-contained PHAROS compared to some of the other Horus Heresy books. There are references to a couple of tie-in short stories or maybe novellas but as someone who hasn’t bothered to read most of the shorts it was nice not to feel like I was missing significant portions of the plot. THE UNREMEMBERED EMPIRE felt like the intersection of a ton of disparate threads and right now I’m reading ANGELS OF CALIBAN, Book 38, and while I’m loving the story it’s becoming apparent I need to go back and read the short stories leading up to it. That’s not an issue with PHAROS, as long as you read THE UNREMEMBERED EMPIRE first you should be fine, and I commend Haley for that.
As a continuation of the Imperium Secundus subplot PHAROS does well enough. I’ve come to love the premise of Guilliman’s minor heresy in the wake of the greater galactic civil war and the interactions between Guilliman, the Lion, and the regent Emperor Sanguinius. It’s an arc that has given me respect for Guilliman and reminded me how cool Lion his Dark Angels legion are. And then there’s the mystery surrounding Mount Pharos…It’s a fun subplot that adds value to the Horus Heresy as a whole and is helping to build momentum toward the long awaited series finale (which is still probably another 10 years away).
As I mentioned earlier I’m currently reading ANGELS OF CALIBAN by Gav Thorpe (EBR Review), Book 38 of the Horus Heresy and Book 3 of Imperium Secundus, and it continues to build on the foundation that Abnett and Haley have laid. I’ll have that review for you before too long.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: Nothing too severe
- Violence: PHAROS feels oddly restrained for a novel about space marines but there’s still plenty of violence
- Sex: None