Black Library Card: Prospero Burns by Inquisitor Hardback

17 Feb


Hello children, my name is Inquisitor Hardback. Over the coming weeks (thanks to the trans-dimensional aural resonance of my psychic choir), we will be peering into several volumes from inside the Black Library, prior to your mandatory Meme wipe and purity seal-realignment. This time, we will be looking at Prospero Burns, another installment in the Horus Heresy series of books. Are you sitting comfortably in your restraints? Well then, I shall begin…

Prospero Burns


In the hands of a lesser purveyor of fantastical fiction within the Warhammer 40,000 (40k) extended universe, Prospero Burns could have been a real mess. The story flits between an overarching depiction of one of the Heresy’s seminal moments while retaining its focus on a single character, the Skjald, but Abnett’s deft hand and precise ability at interweaving initially disparate threads ties it together neatly, if not perfectly.


The approach to Prospero Burns is certainly interesting, and it gives us an overview of the more primal aspects of the Space Wolves’ existence. From their testing on the plains of Fenris, through to the cold dark of the Fang, and their confused perception, this is very much the story of the many told by the individual. In terms of the overall macroverse, it’s important for many self-evident reasons, but the humanity it imbues in the struggle is quintessential to the story itself.

This is, of course, something that Abnett has specialised in for many years with his Gaunt’s Ghosts series. Echoes of this flash through to his representations of Bear, Longfang and the great Leman Russ, with shadows of those character archetypes that Abnett seems to be aching to demonstrate and develop, but can’t due to the constraints of the Astartes make up.


It’s this bizarre dichotomy between a fiercely individualistic tale and the hive-like nature of the Astartes that is one of the book’s primary flaws. Abnett is clearly attempting to compare and contrast mentality and approach between the Skjald and the warrior-brothers of the Rout, or, Space Wolves. The primary enemy for the first half of the book – a half-human, half-machine race of collective neural cognition, is another blatant attempt to affect and emphasise the scant individual flair of the mighty warriors, but it ends up being overt and slightly clumsy.


Problems lie, too, with the narrative pacing. The book spends the first two thirds exploring the Space Wolves and a particular episode in the Great Crusade, then suddenly cranks up a gear to the purging of the Thousand Suns and the titular conflagration of their homeworld. It’s quick, lacks build up, and the resolution feels hollow. Granted, the novel is from the perspective of the Skjald, but the consistent crossover with high-profile figures such as the Primarchs, the Custodes, Russ, the Silent Sisters and even the Emperor (from a distance) leads you to believe that a grander overview will coagulate with the individual story, particularly as the tale’s ultimate twist is revealed. The fact that it doesn’t really leaves Prospero Burns feeling half-formed, as if the author realised that he was running out of time or pagination to finish and had to tie everything up, rather than carry on writing in a multiple-volume story.


That being said, despite its flaws, Prospero Burns is particularly enjoyable. It has the airs of a good, old-fashioned science fiction mystery, with heavy fantasy elements and a conspiratorial sensibility to it. Abnett is clearly the foremost writer in the 40k field at present, and he shines in this book. It’s just a shame that it seems so abridged, when more detail and a lengthier passage would have elevated it to one of the very best in the pantheon of 40k fiction, let alone the Heresy series.




One Response to “Black Library Card: Prospero Burns by Inquisitor Hardback”

  1. JT February 17, 2012 at 18:31 #

    Interesting take, I agree the book was very enjoyable (especially when paired with the thousand sons book). I was expecting opposite sides of the same coin with these two novels, and I’m glad I was wrong.

    I do disagree with your take on the pacing. To me the change felt like no matter what your place in the 40K universe may be, the universe continues and does not notice or care. The “smallness” of the the story at the beginning if you will plays against the speed of events in the last half/third of the book; no matter what happens the bigger events overshadow the small, and only serve to reinforce the bleakness of the grim dark future. Whereas the skjald had a role to play,and arguably an important one, ultimately it was overshadowed by the sheer scale of events occuring, ie the fall of the Roman, er, Human empire.

    Good review Inquisitor, I am now prepared for my meme wipe.

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