Anthony Reynolds has been writing for Black Library for quite a good while now. I first came across him with his Word Bearers novels, which proved to be a most fascinating and weird read, and then continued on with some of his other work as he branched out of writing Word Bearers for 40K and delivered some occasional Horus Heresy stuff as well. I haven’t checked out his Warhammer Fantasy stuff however outside of a novella he did a few years back, The Questing Knight, which proved to be a good decent read. But, he hasn’t had a full novel published in a while, I don’t think, which was slightly disappointing as I consider him to be one of the better writers writing for Black Library.
And then came Khârn: Eater of Worlds, a post-Horus Heresy novel that looks at how the XIIth Legiones Astartes, the World Eaters, are degrading down into warbands, how the Legion has changed in the aftermath of the failed Siege of Terra, and the other changes affecting it now that Angron has gone and become a mighty Daemon Prince of Khorne, leaving them all behind to do whatever it is they will. Anthony writes a pretty typical World Eaters novel, with all the gory violence you’d expect from it, and it also presents some intriguing characters, especially Khârn himself, the most infamous World Eater character ever, and also a major lore character. Suffice to say, I loved this novel.
The Horus Heresy introduced Khârn to us as a simple officer, Captain of the Eighth Assault Company and equerry to Primarch Angron, being the only one who could head off his gene-father’s darker moods. It was an interesting look at a character who for years has borne the title of Betrayer, Khârn the Betrayer, most famous for annihilating a force of fellow World Eaters and Emperor’s Children single-handedly on the world of Skalathrax soon after the Horus Heresy. He is a mainstay of Khornate lore in M41, and has been so for years, but for a long time, we didn’t get a chance to see how he became that crazed berserker who was the most exalted of Khorne’s mortal-ish followers.
When Khârn: Eater of Worlds starts off, we meet a stricken World Eaters legion that is being hounded across the void by Imperial Space Marines. Angron is gone off on his own, leaving the Legion behind, and the World Eaters are bereft of any strong leadership since Khârn fell on Terra and though his body lives, he is in a coma out of which the few remaining Legion apothecaries have not been able to rouse him. The Legion needs supplies, it needs some fresh blood to replace its decimate ranks. And so it is that that the Legion fleet arrives on a world near the Eye of Terror, a world that can serve as the base for it to grow again, only to find that the remnants of the Emperor’s Children have already laid claim to it.
Goes without saying that there’s going to be a batter here, one of the most brutal such battles in the Scouring era, and that though the novel might start off with Khârn in a coma, by the end he is most definitely going to be alive and kicking and hungering for some Emperor’s Children blood.
Anthony Reynolds established quite a few elements of the Word Bearers’ culture in his Word Bearers trilogy. He gave them an identity that was unique among all of the other Chaos Space Marine Legions, building on existing background and creating new one. In Khârn: Eater of Worlds, he doesn’t quite go the same route, but he shows very well how the Legion is changing from that of Nails-crazed berserkers with a tenuous grip on their lucidity to a Legion of blood-crazed warriors. Many among the Legion have already fallen to the service of Khorne, Lord of Blood and Skulls, but a few still cling to the old ways. Many have given up the white and blue of the Legion and have taken to dabbing their armour completely with blood to signify their new allegiance. Many among the fractured Legion want to leave the unity of the fleet behind and go their own way since there is no one at the top to restore order, no Angron and no Khârn.
A sad state of affairs indeed and also a great setting for Anthony Reynolds to leave his mark. The novel is a bit short for my liking, but amazingly enough Anthony packs in a lot of things here. Through Captains Angus Brond and Dreagher, Legion-serfs like Maven and Skoral, and other various characters, he paints a detailed picture of the Legion’s current state of affairs, of how it is like a train-wreck about to happen. The Legion needs someone, something to unite it and restore its lost glory, and that’s what the novel is all about.
Readers familiar with Khârn’s history know well how things are going to turn out here. The signs and portents are all there. But at the same time, there’s this incredible sense of fascination as the inevitable happens. You keep looking out for any and all misdirection, because you can’t really process that Anthony is really going to write about this one particular infamous event in the history of the World Eaters. The path is paved with the corpses of all the different characters who die over the course of the story. This is a bloody and violent story, make no mistake. The Legion is on the tipping point of self-destruction and resurrection equally.
And it is all brilliant. The points of view are split between the World Eaters and their serfs, but it is a cohesive whole nonetheless. The fact that you never get anything from Khârn’s own perspective is for the best too since it creates a very intriguing mystery for how Khârn himself feels about the Legion’s recent history and its present. In many ways, the novel feels like it is just the introduction to something larger. Anthony deals with some pretty big things here, and since the novel is as short it is, some of them don’t get the breathing room that they deserve, such as the things already mentioned.
But at the same time, this is still pretty good. Without spoiling anything for the end of the Horus Heresy series, he still writes a great novel that builds on that grand period of Warhammer 40,000 history. We are given the barest details necessary from the Siege of Terra, but that is all there is to it. This is a novel of the Scouring era, and it stays focused on that point in time, when the Imperial Legions rebuilt the Imperium and ran the Traitor Legions out of its boundaries (as much as possible at any rate).
If we get more such novels from Anthony and Black Library, then I’ll be only too happy. Where the Horus Heresy series seems to have stagnated of late, becoming a hotch-potch of many concurrent stories that don’t always relate to each other, novels like Khârn: Eater of Worlds and Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s The Talon of Horus are moving the story forward. I have yet to read that other novel, but it is on the reading list for this year, and I’m indeed looking forward to it since I’m curious about this period of Abaddon’s history, as he takes up the mantle of Warmaster of the Chaos Legions from the dead Horus.
Anyway, if you want a great piece of World Eater and Khârn action, then this novel is an absolute must-read.