Audiobook Review: A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeil – Warhammer: The Horus Heresy Book 12


Nephrite’s Month Of Heresies

“All is dust.”

NephriteSo here we are at our final destination within the Warp. For the present at least. We have arrived on Prospero the home planet of the 15th Legion – The Thousand Sons – and their Primarch Magnus The Red otherwise known as The Crimson King.

We shall end this series of visits to the time of the greatest heresy of all with a discussion of the fall of the legion of sorcerers. Shall we begin my companion?

SgathaichAh yes, let us watch the greatest tragedy of the heresy. How the bright future of mankind through knowledge was brought down by savagery and hypocrisy. Behold the name of mankind’s ultimate doom. Leman Russ.

I wouldn’t quite go that far. Even Leman did what he did for what he saw as good reasons. Malcador and quite a few others shared his views. And quite a few more didn’t want…what occurred…to happen the way it did.

A Thousand Sons audiobook

Available from Black Library

The plot of A Thousand Sons in simple terms is as follows: The Thousand Sons and their assigned cadre of remembrancers are currently stationed on the planet of Aghoru where they are tasked with rendering the population compliant to the Imperium. This has taken an unexpectedly long stretch of time partially due to the actions of Magnus The Red and partially due to unforeseen complications. Just as things are approaching their end, a representative of the 6th Legion – The Space Wolves – arrives and demands that Magnus and his Astartes join Leman Russ the leader of the Space Wolves and Lorgarand his legion – the 17th Legion Word Bearers from The First Heretic – for a group assault on another world.

Magnus declines due to the complications on Aghoru and eventually The Thousand Sons and The Space Wolves work together begrudgingly to deal with these issues. This results in the Space Wolves and The Thousand Sons – two very psychically gifted albeit somewhat ‘cursed’ legions –developing very negative views of the other. A council or tribunal known as the Council Of Nikaea is gathered due to these events and this council shall have great consequences up to and including the current Imperium of the 42nd Millennium.

Much like The First Heretic A Thousand Sons is also a book which takes place primarily before the events of The Horus Heresy. I can’t judge how much prior to the Heresy but certainly a good number of years.

However Magnus is not the only main character in the book. This particular novel actually contains quite the number of prominent characters. First of all we have a very young Ahzek Ahriman who readers of my reviews may remember from my review of The First Prince some time ago. Ahriman has the good fortune to be considered Magnus’s protégé and something of a surrogate son among sons. He is also one of a very few characters to openly question Magnus from within his own legion as well as the ‘in-universe’ writer of the text which is only really relevant at the very beginning and very end. It would not surprise me if my Chaotic companion here had something to say regarding Ahriman?

Indeed we know this name very well. Remember he was the one you talked about when we first met? But here we see him long before that point. Here we see the bright spark. A warrior who fought faithfully alongside the Emperor himself on Terra. And the first seeds of doubt between himself and his Primarch which would lead to his greatest achievement and greatest failure.

As well as numerous figures from within the Thousand Sons, the other main point of view characters are a trio of friendly remembrancers. We have Kallista Eris an historian of some renown, Camille Shivani an archaeologist and Lemuel Gaumon a Social Behaviourist. These three individuals are our way to see The Thousand Sons from the perspective of non-Astartes. Your average everyday member of the Imperium. All three of them have different views regarding the 15th Legion and The Crimson King and it is interesting to watch them become both closer and further apart as the story progresses.

Regarding characterisation this story is beautifully told. Magnus himself is a Primarch who is truly loyal to the Emperor just as his legion is loyal to him but despite his noble goals – the road to hell is paved with good intentions after all – Magnus does suffer from the sin of hubris. Prospero the home world of the Thousand Sons is a truly wonderful place…and yet how many lines must be crossed?

Ahriman is very intelligent as well as interesting. Regardless of the reader’s opinion of him in modern 40K be it positive or negative in the period of the Horus Heresy he is still an eager and enthusiastic student. Namely of the Thousand Sons’s psychic abilities and is attempting to learn all he can whilst also teaching others in the legion not to rely too heavily on their powers and to avoid certain dangers.

I won’t discuss all three of the remembrancer characters I mentioned previously because if I do I’d be here until the end of May although I will state in passing that they are all extremely likeable and to a degree quite relatable. Their closeness makes it easier to feel both the positive and negative emotions of the characters and in certain ways you end up rooting for them just like you root for the 15th.

The writing by Mr Graham McNeil of False Gods and The Last Church is utterly glorious. There is so much coming to Prospero. So much seen and yet not acted upon. So much unseen and yet foretold. And so much more that comes from Nikaea. I won’t go into specifics regarding Nikaea – be it Council, Tribunal, Betrayal, Retribution – although I will say that upon my first experience of the book I had to drop it for quite an extended period of time. Several months in fact. Chiefly due to the incredibly intense emotions Nikaea gathered in me as a listener. You know the book is doing something right when you are actively furious because of the actions or inactions of characters who don’t actually exist! Although to be fair another book I may discuss one day shows the…opposite side to the coin. If I WAS to discuss Nikaea in more detail or perhaps its impact on the future…I think I would leave that to my Warpspawn travelling companion. Do you have anything to say?

If I recall, upon first finding out about it…or experiencing it…you were so disgusted you refused to look on it for quite some time? It must be difficult seeing the sheer ignorance and hypocrisy the Imperium is built upon. Brought down by those so deluded they fail to understand they too are practitioners of it. And thus continued to use what they themselves forbid…or perhaps it is those who did know what they banned and still used it? We already know that the Emperor and Malcador are both powerful psychers. I laughed when I heard that even Gulliman acknowledged that Magnus was right about the knowledge of psychic powers. Those fools with their flawed plans to destroy us, built upon lies and ignorance, and to perpetuate that plan they doomed not only themselves but so many others. How much of the heresy could have been stopped if not for the council? How much could have been prevented if not for Russ?

 You are accurate in that I had quite the strong reaction initially. But I still wouldn’t put the blame solely at Leman’s feet. The Sons can’t be absolved fully. Magnus was rather over-endowed with hubris. There is always someone better after all. He had some chances to prevent what occurred. Not to mention that there were quite a few figures moving the chess pieces. Including your masters.

On the other hand I can’t become too distracted. I am an audiobook reviewer after all. The audio version of A Thousand Sons is narrated by someone whose work I haven’t mentioned previously. A Mr Martyn Ellis who has done narration work for several Black Library audio dramas. Personally I am somewhat torn on his narration as I feel that he is an excellent narrator when it comes to performing certain characters whilst his performances for others I find rather grating to listen to.

My favourite performances of his are for Ahzek Ahriman and Lemuel Gaumon. His voice for Ahriman makes his nature as a truly intelligent and respectful student who has the bravery to question their teacher and teachings when required apparent along with displaying his emotions well be it adoration, fear, patience or curiosity among others. When it comes to Lemuel he is also excellent at portraying Lemuel’s comedian personality – be it genuine or staged – and his feelings for others along with his fascination regarding the Sons.

He is also rather good when it comes to his voices for the Space Wolves and the narration for battles but whenever there are scenes with several Thousand Sons characters together outside of battle…unfortunately for myself his voice often has the ability to make me as a listener tune him out on a few occasions. This can result in problems regarding the narrative. Such as the last scene I remember being the three Remembrancers together in a restaurant and now suddenly a small group of Thousand Sons are complaining about the Space Wolves with the Remembrancers clearly not being in the scene. I freely admit this problem is more of a personal issue on my end but as a result although I LOVE A Thousand Sons and consider it one of my favourite Black Library books I highly recommend listening to the audio sample provided. Although I certainly wouldn’t call Mr Ellis a bad narrator he is definitely not one of my personal favourites. If you think he’s a great narrator? Buy the audiobook. The story is amazing! If you are simply curious what happened in the Heresy to the Thousand Sons? Buy the audiobook! But if you think you’d find it easier? Buy either the physical edition or the digital ebook for preference. (All physical book orders are currently on hold because of…the situation. Although audio and ebook sales are still ongoing.)

I can safely say that my visit to Prospero has been…enlightening. I hope myself and my Tzeentchian herald may persuade you to take a visit to the Imperium as it once was. As it could have been. If it weren’t for the best of intentions. So…I assume you shall be leaving me shortly? After all your masters have many interests and many intentions do they not?

Indeed the time of this meeting is at an end. But I would be lying if I didn’t enjoy the unveiling of these pieces of knowledge, all the lies, all the deceits, the heresies and hypocrisies of the Imperium. How this man they worship as a god is in many ways more flawed and foolish than they are. Who knows when we shall next meet, perhaps it shall be something more ‘recent’ or maybe it will not be until next year. And who knows what it shall be, there are those ‘other’ creatures in the galaxy as well. I personally look at Mars with curiosity. But I am a very busy being until then. 

I shall see you when I see you then. Goodbye for now. But what should I cover next? Perhaps my return from the Warp is the perfect chance to discuss Ibn Fadlan? Or the Eaters Of The Dead?


Nephrite & Sgathaich

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