Saturday, 11 August 2012
‘Fear to Tread’ – James Swallow (Black Library)
It’s no surprise then that I jumped ahead one ‘Horus Heresy’ book to the forthcoming ‘Fear to Tread’ from James Swallow. The ‘Horus Heresy’ series has been a lot of fun to read, apart from a couple of rough moments here and there, and James Swallow hasn’t let me down with his entries. Go on, have a look at my reviews for ‘Nemesis’, ‘Oath of Moment’ and ‘Legion of One’; they’re all worth a look.
It was a real no-brainer then to pick up ‘Fear to Tread’ and get stuck in then. Having finished it though, I’m really in two minds about the whole thing. Here is a book that quickly moves from one end of the scale to the other, never really settling down and giving us something that is consistent from start to finish. I finished it though and that has to say something about the book overall. Fans of the setting will more than likely get a lot out of it.
Blurb copied and pasted because… yes, it was that time of day when I was writing this.
Since the earliest days of the Great Crusade, Sanguinius - angelic Primarch of the IXth Legion - was ever among the closest and most loyal of Horus's brothers. But the Blood Angels have long kept their true nature hidden from the rest of the Imperium, and when the Warmaster hints that the key to their salvation may lie in the ruins of a conquered world, the sons of Sanguinius race to claim it. Now, as the revelation of their betrayal dawns and the traitors' hand is revealed, the Blood Angels must face all the warp-spawned armies of Chaos, as well their own personal daemons, upon the blasted plains of Signus Prime...
This could well be a shorter review than normal and not just because the sun is out. I really got into ‘Fear to Tread’, total immersion in fact. There was a lot to enjoy about this book but, once I came out the other side, I found that there wasn’t actually much to say about it. That’s not so good when you have a book that makes big promises with its cover featuring an all out scrap between a monstrous demon and a winged man with a big sword.
It’s not that ‘Fear to Tread’ is a bad book though, far from it. Things are sign posted far too early, in the book, for the climactic scenes to be truly effective but (up to a point) you can’t blame ‘Fear to Tread’ for that. We’re looking at the twenty first book in a series that has already been proven to jump backwards and forwards along its own timeline and certain events here have already been alluded to. Having said that though, Swallow isn’t averse to jumping backwards and forwards himself and this can rob the book of a little surprise as well as a little pace.
Swallow makes up for this though by writing with a power and urgency that effortlessly carries the reader along in its wake. System spanning wars happen and any of these could prove pivotal to the galactic conflict. We’re talking high stakes here and Swallow leaves us in no doubt as to how high they are (even though fans already know how it all turns out). We may know where the story is headed but the Blood Angels don’t and Swallow has us really feeling their tension as they slowly move towards a monstrous confrontation.
Swallows depiction of the Blood Angels Legion, and its Primarch Sanguinius, is also well worth the price of entry. If you didn’t already know that Swallow had written several Blood Angels novels (which he has) you’d be left wondering if he had. The basic ‘Space Marine’ trope is overwritten with a heraldic splendour and barely contained savagery that make the Blood Angels really stand out as an entity in their own right. And when Swallow lets them loose on the fields of battle, wow…You know those moments when you read a passage and think it would really work on the big screen? The last chapters of ‘Fear to Tread’ are full of those.
The big problem I had, with this book though, is that all of this good stuff didn’t seem to contribute much to the plot if anything at all (the plot itself is incredibly simple). It’s basically just a lot of (admittedly well done) scene setting, like Swallow thought ‘it’s not as if fans don’t know the story already, I’ll just dress it up real good and then hit them with a big fight right at the end.’ As an approach to a novel this works but only up to a point; like I said, I really got into ‘Fear to Tread’ but when I’d finished it there was a real hollow feeling about it. There are good bits but the lead up to these didn’t sit well with me.
‘Fear to Tread’ is rich in detail but lacking when it comes to the real meat of the plot; I’m guessing Swallow didn’t have an awful to work with here? I had fun reading it but I don’t think it’s a book that I’ll return to.
Seven and a Half out of Ten