Legends abound of the glorious – or infamous – deeds of the Emperor’s sons. Yet almost nothing is known of Alpharius, the most mysterious of them all, for the Lord of the Alpha Legion is unparalleled in the art of obfuscation. Such are his gifts of secrecy and deceit that even his rediscovery has remained an enigma – until now. But when the tale comes from the serpent’s mouth, where does the deception end and the truth begin?
Alpharius: Head of the Hydra is one of the books in the Primarchs series, released by Black Library. It reads well as a stand-alone part of the series that focuses on individual stories that feature the titular Primarchs. For me, the rest of this series has been a bit hit and miss, but I am thrilled to report that Alpharius: Head of the Hydra goes above and beyond my expectations.
The novel is told from the first person perspective of the secretive Primarch and follows his journey through the stars to find something he feels is missing from his existence. From the very start of the book, any reader of the Warhammer series, knows they are in for a treat with this book. Key points previously thought known about the Horus Heresy are shattered and rebuilt we fresh knowledge. I found that Alpharius: Head of the Hydra has done more to expand knowledge of the Horus Heresy series in its pages than the last few novels of the series itself. There are references made to previously hidden knowledge as well as new foundings to pre-established lore.
I initially had some reservations about Alpharius being the narrator of his book. What right do we, as readers, have to be inside the mind of something trans-human. But, for a character that holds knowledge of such vast secrets – some of which are revealed within – I don’t think there would be any other way to read his story. Alpharius himself comes across as much more relatable than first thought. Assumptions on him being an aloof, secretive character in himself are unfounded as within Alpharius: Head of the Hydra he speaks with a much more personable voice. His words are spoken with a feeling of humanity – despite his trans-human origins – that come across with relative ease; the approachable, almost relaxed manner, in which he comes across instills a new perspective to the mysterious Alpha Legion and I can see this book converting more to the secretive Chapters ranks!
Within Alpharius: Head of the Hydra the reader is shown a good glimpse of how the Imperium of Man was before the events of the Horus Heresy, during the early days of the Emperors reign. This book really took me back to the early days of the Horus Heresy setting and how everything felt new to explore – and while I am not far into the Heresy series itself compared to others – I found this feeling of exploration refreshing. It’s unstilted and an absolute pleasure to read about something new within the setting. To feel like I was learning about the lore all over again and uncovering new ground.
The novel successfully employs themes of deception and subterfuge and explains the uses of Alpharius and his Legion within the Imperium as a whole. All the while keeping within the realms of the character and the answers that he seeks. Prior to reading Alpharius: Head of the Hydra all I knew of Alpharius was the infamous ‘I am Alpharius’ meme and the events within Legion, so it was wonderful to read a book that explained the mystery of the Alpha Legion so well – without leaning too heavily on overused tropes.
The thought behind this book felt more about learning who Alpharius is and how he compares to the other Primarchs, which leads me to say that this book wouldn’t be good as a stand-alone or for outsiders of the Warhammer series; too much prior knowledge about the Primarchs would be needed for it to make any real sense. The book leans heavily on what has come before; the foundations of the setting and expands upon that established knowledge.
The character building and advancement of the Alpha Legion is where this book shines the brightest, as the crux of the plot doesn’t really initiate until part way through. The premise of the book starts with Alpharius teaching the Custodes how to play their ‘Blood Games’ which comes around full circle towards the ending and remains thematically throughout the book in the form of subterfuge.
There are enough scenes of standard Warhammer warfare to keep the average Black Library reader entertained also; dealing with xenos in the form of the Rangdan War and the Slaugth, these enemies of the Imperium were well described and suitably alien, giving the protagonists of the story something to fight against and a reason to root for them. The inclusion of them help to drive the plot towards its overall conclusion while giving Alpharius something to fight against so that his goals weren’t just another easy victory.
I feel like Alpharius: Head of the Hydra, is what the Primarchs series should be about – the unknown origin stories of the Primarchs. This book has been, by far, the most enjoyable of the series yet and I can only hope that there are more of it’s like to discover throughout the rest of the series.
An in-depth character study of Alpharius and his place within the Imperium and the most successful entry into the Primarch series for its brilliantly captured portrayal of one of the Emperors sons. A rather lose plot that focuses more on the titular character and his place within the Imperium of Man. An enlightening read that sheds more light on the Horus Heresy than a lot of the Horus Heresy series!