I waited far too long to read this. As much as I love the stories of the Horus Heresy, I need time to relax my mind, write my own stuff and read other, often classical or historical, literature. Maybe I’m not a good fan for that reason. Or maybe in doing so, I get a perspective or a view that is somewhat different than most.
Prospero Burns was the counter story to A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill. Such two authored tales run the risk of creating contradicting stories, and I admit a growing desire to re-read A Thousand Sons to ensure that my recollection of it was accurate.
Still, I’m not writing to talk about McNeill’s piece, but Abnett’s. The story is great. On so many levels, it’s entirely different than the tone set by the rest of the Horus Heresy series.
The story revolves around Kasper Hawser, a gentleman who volunteers to record the stories and events of the Space Wolves. The sons of Russ, of course, do not play by the same rules of the rest of the legions. Never have, never will.
And as you might imagine, this gives rise to all kinds of new terms and phrases that go into what I personally refer to as the Abnettionary.
The most important of these phrases, to this book anyway, is skjald (which I believe is pronounced like sk-yahld). You see, the Space Wolves do not seem to have bothered with Remembrancers like the rest of the legions. But they do have a role for story tellers. They desire individuals who are willing to memorize and tell their tales. They refuse to have them recorded in writing or cameras.
And that is the role for Kasper Hawser, aka Ahmad Ibn Rustah. Hmm, if that name sounds a touch familiar, it might have been inspired by the actual Persian explorer. I also wonder if the story draws some from Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, or the better known movie The 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas.
Other ideas to be borrowed may be in the form of Ursula L. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, in that names give power over individuals and things. But such an idea was long in the Daemonhunter’s codex, mentioned in a wargear item called the ‘Grimoire of True Names.’
Finally, there are the anthropological questions about the marks of aversion. This one stumps me. My knowledge of ancient and primitive cultures is limited. While I’m reasonably confident that this idea may have come from another, more historic source, I can’t guess what. Well, as they say in the book, ‘I recognize my failing and will be sure to correct it.’
So as you see here, an awful lot of study and brain work seemed to have gone into creating this book. And it shows. But as much as I’d like to mention the plot and story details, I cannot do so without risking giving away some serious twists and turns. Kasper Hawser is something of an unreliable narrator.
But Prospero Burns is a proud piece, one that satisfies yet leaves us hungry. It is both intelligent and detail oriented, and yet full of action and intrigue. I started the book with an unimpressed vision of what the Space Wolves were like, and finished it with my opinion changed. The ending is a mixture of curiosity and wonder, and while one can never call a Warhammer story a truly ‘happy ending’, there is an uplifting aspect that will make Prospero Burns stay with you.
P.S. My buddy, Rob P, mentioned something called the ‘Eye of Horus’ or ‘Wedjat.’ You can check out its Wikipedia article, but basically it’s one strong example of those marks of aversion. It’s meaning very firmly connects the fictional source to the historical one.