A Thousand Sons – Graham McNeill

Books Cover of A Thousand Sons

Title: A Thousand Sons
Author: Graham McNeill
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: March 2010
Genre: Science-Fiction/War
Pages: 558
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal Collection

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Blurb/Synopsis

Censured at the Council of Nikea for his flagrant use of sorcery, Magnus the Red and his Thousand Sons Legion retreat to their homeworld of Prospero to continue their use of the arcane arts in secret. But when the ill-fated primarch foresees the treachery of Warmaster Horus and warns the Emperor with the very powers he was forbidden to use, the Master of Mankind dispatches fellow primarch Leman Russ to attack Prospero itself. But Magnus has seen more than the betrayal of Horus and the witnessed revelations will change the fate of his fallen Legion, and its primarch, forever.

Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I am reading A Thousand Sons alongside Dave at Wordaholic Anonymous as a part of our buddy-read through the Horus Heresy. A Thousand Sons is the 12th book in the long-running series. You can find Daves thoughts on A Thousand Sons here.


There is a lot of ground covered in A Thousand Sons when it comes to the over-arching story of the Horus Heresy. At the moment it feels very much a case of ‘Two-steps forwards, one step backwards,’ as the story here takes the reader back to before Horus Lupercal has become Warmaster of the Great Crusade and the inevitable betrayal. Magnus the Red, Primarch of the Thousand Sons, is dallying in joining his brother Leman Russ on the compliant world of Aghoru seeking to further his knowledge of the unknown.

A Thousand Sons follows events as they progress, more or less chronologically; aside from a few background flash-backs. Including an additional insight into well-known events of the Horus Heresy, including the gathering at Ullanor, and takes the reader on such a rollercoaster ride of emotions throughout the entire read!

Essentially, A Thousand Sons, is tragic. Magnus the Red is steadfast in his loyalty to the Emperor of Mankind and the story herein is one of bitter betrayal. Magnus is shown as a flawed character, arrogant, prideful and honestly a bit of a ‘know it all,’ the tragedy is that he doesn’t know nearly as much as he thinks he does and ends up ‘getting it wrong.’ As a character, Magnus is partially enjoyable and wholly frustrating. His arrogance is well portrayed but like his subordinates, there is something the reader can relate to. All he desires, beyond knowledge, is to do right by his father and look out for his sons, like most of the Primarchs.

After reading Ahriman: Exile, I wasn’t sure what I would think about the characters in this book. I really struggled with the John French characterisation of Ahriman and knew he was a central character in A Thousand Sons. I am more than happy to report that the offering of him in this book was much more to my liking. There was an earnestness about him that was more appealing and made him a lot easier to digest. I was somewhat disarmed with my preconceptions about the Thousand Sons themselves – I assumed them to be aloof, stuffy, scholars that assumed themselves better than those beneath them – I was surprised to see that this wasn’t always the case. The Thousand Sons were personable, relatable characters. Certainly as deadly as any Astartes, but they were a pleasure to read about and the relationships they held with one another and the mortals surrounding them was a welcome surprise. The relationships they form with others was not only vital to understanding them but also endearing.

As with many Horus Heresy books, there is focus beyond that of the Space Marines in the form of the Remembrancers that accompany them. Early on in the novel, I was reminded of how well the author writes characters with depth. One of the Remembrancers, Camille, is out at an archaeological dig with her camera. There is a lovely description of the heritage of the camera that she is using, and while this depth behind the object plays into the character’s story, it just made me appreciate the richness that this attention to detail brought to the characters as a whole.

This attention to detail is carried over into other aspects of the novel also; the plot of flawless in its execution and rolls along nicely. There is a fair amount of set-up in the early pages where the groundwork is being established, but a lot of information is imparted over to the reader – the intricate details of how the Legion differs to their kinsmen, the ranks and hierarchies they have within their own order and the different cults for different classes of their skills.

I couldn’t help but feel relieved about the Space Wolves in A Thousand Sons, prior to this novel in the Horus Heresy series we’ve only been introduced to one other member of the Space Wolves Legion; Brynngar Sturmdreng, in Battle for the Abyss. I detested this particular character so please imagine my relief to find out that Space Wolves aren’t just drunken, brawling idiots! There’s much more to them than has previously been written and I am eager to learn more about them when we next see them. They are a savage bunch in, not only the way they make war but also their convictions. Their hypocrisy runs rife and I felt for Ahriman as his connection with Space Wolf Librarian Ohthere Wydrmake turned for the worse.

There are a lot of masterfully written events within A Thousand Sons. The Triumph of Ullanor where the Emperor passes the mantle over to Horus, the Council of Nikea as well as the Desolation of Prospero which contributes to the page-length of the book, but not a moment of it feels rushed. The combat scenes are well-paced and certainly enjoyable but where I found A Thousand Sons shone brightest was in the descriptions of the powers of the Thousand Son Legion. Previous Black Library publications that I have read relied on contradictions in order to describe the warp, but A Thousand Sons employs a different take on the immaterium. One that I found to be much more agreeable as a reader, the descriptions, based on seafaring and navigation, felt easier to grasp but still had an air of mystery about them. It is a strange, unknowable place that is wrapped in an enigma, but McNeill’s handling of it left vivid imagery rather than vague fripperies that leaves the reader confused.

One aspect of A Thousand Sons that I found of particular interest was the lack of The Emperor himself. Considering there are three pivotal moments in the history of the Imperium of Man covered in the novel, there is a distinct lack of solidity surrounding the Emperor – I assume this has been done purposefully considering his God-Like status. I’m still trying to figure out if this is something that works for me or not. If the Emperor is meant to by this all-seeing, mystery figure, then why have stories that revolve around him as per The Last Church? And, how will he remain so ‘behind-the-scenes’ during other pivotal moments further down the line?

As tragic as A Thousand Sons is. The very last sentence of the book promises that the worst is yet to come for the Thousand Sons Legion.

Inquisitor Jenn is Happy with A Thousand Sons

Summary

A wonderful study into the Thousand Son Legion and the pivotal characters within. Fantastic characterisations that hold vivid and personal depths. Masterfully written lore-elements to the world-building of the Warhammer Universe that help to support critical elements to the over-arching plot of the Horus Heresy.
Probably not the best place to start reading the Horus Heresy!

  1. I remember loving this when I read it when it first came out. Glad to see you give it top marks.

    I’ve pushed HH up my reading list and am already a third through Horus Rising. Forgot how much I enjoyed the setting.

    I look forward to getting to Thousand Sons again.

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    1. I think it’s great that you’re re-reading the series. Are you going to do new reviews of them too?

      A Thousand Sons was a great book and one of the best in the series so far. It’s really helped to renew my faith for the remainder of the books too.

      All the best with your read-through.

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    2. I never actually reviewed them when I first read them, so yes 🙂 every one I finish will get reviewed. Really enjoying Horus Rising. I can’ recall, but I feel like Thousand Sons was about where I stopped

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  2. Lovely review. I went into this despising all the Chaos Legions, firstly from my time playing 40K, but then from the betrayal borne out in the Heresy. And then- This Book. Wow. From the descriptions of their amazing mastery of warp power, to the interactions with the Spire Guard, this Legion is truly unique. Magnus-that-Is is not yet. We meet a flawed, yet honorable man. determined to learn all he can to serve his father and protect his sons, who are already too few in number. The depth of the characters and rich descriptions show why Graham has only one peer in writing fiction of the 40K universe.

    This book and Prospero Burns are a perfect One-Two if you want to dip into the Heresy and mourn for all that was lost.

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    1. Thank you very much.

      I’m in that camp at the moment with hating the Chaos Legions.
      But you’re right, A Thousand Sons does certainly make you view that particular legion with a sympathetic eye. I am worried how it’ll paint the rest of the Chaos Legions!

      I am looking forward to reading Prospero Burns and seeing how it all ties in.

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  3. This is a great book and as the other have said so is the burning of prospero. I’ve found the HH series to be a bit of a rollercoaster, with some truly excellent books and others that are not very good. Quite often the highs and lows are very much tied to the authors. Maybe I just like the writing style of some over others (I’m also only up to book 30 in the series..)

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    1. I’ve discovered the same thing as well. I know we all have factions that we prefer reading about but there is a bit of a jump in regards to quality with the series – at least it keeps us on our toes in the reviews department!

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