Review: Pharos by Guy Haley

Posted by DarkChaplain at 3/08/2016
Just as Guilliman’s dream of Imperium Secundus seems finally to be realised, the Night Lords launch a full invasion of distant Sotha. Their target? The mysterious Mount Pharos…

With the noble Emperor Sanguinius ruling from Macragge, Imperium Secundus stands as a lone beacon of hope even as the Warmaster’s forces continue to ravage the rest of the galaxy. Roboute Guilliman, still Master of Ultramar, has convinced his brother that Terra has fallen and that the mysterious Mount Pharos on Sotha now holds the key to mankind’s future. But the Night Lords, those cruel and pitiless sons of Konrad Curze, have been watching from the shadows, and make ready to launch their long-planned attack on the Pharos itself…
It was about time for Guy Haley to get his debut novel in the Horus Heresy series. Being the 34th book in the series, expectations are high, and I am thrilled to say that they have been met. Pharos is a clear high point in the series.
Here's why.
The Story:
"Just as Guilliman’s dream of Imperium Secundus seems finally to be realised, the Night Lords launch a full invasion of distant Sotha. Their target? The mysterious Mount Pharos…

With the noble Emperor Sanguinius ruling from Macragge, Imperium Secundus stands as a lone beacon of hope even as the Warmaster’s forces continue to ravage the rest of the galaxy. Roboute Guilliman, still Master of Ultramar, has convinced his brother that Terra has fallen and that the mysterious Mount Pharos on Sotha now holds the key to mankind’s future. But the Night Lords, those cruel and pitiless sons of Konrad Curze, have been watching from the shadows, and make ready to launch their long-planned attack on the Pharos itself…"

The Review
Oh boy, what a ride. To me, Pharos is the Horus Heresy in top form. It covered all the bases: Primarch drama, action, massive Legion-scale battles, revelations, big repercussions for 40k as we know it, very likeable characters...

Pharos continues on from various plotlines within the Imperium Secundus story arc. Set after The Unremembered Empire and Deathfire in the mainline series, but also A Safe and Shadowed Place, The Long Night and The Dark Between the Stars as well as The Laurel of Defiance (found in War Without End), it has many details, characters and situations to draw on. It feels like the novel that Imperium Secundus needed, and heralds the beginning of the end for that particular arc.

We have seen the Pharos before, of course. The mysterious beacon of hope for Roboute Guilliman's second empire featured in The Unremembered Empire (and even prior to that), guiding many loyalist elements to Ultramar and Macragge specifically. Barabas Dantioch, loyalist Warsmith of the Iron Warriors, is still hard at work decoding the secrets of the ancient machine. He was joined by Alexis Polux of the Imperial Fists, and the two provide some very endearing moments throughout the book.

Dantioch isn't doing so well. He was a wreck when he first appearend in Age of Darkness, but since then, things have only gotten worse. Alexis, meanwhile, is in peek condition, a giant next to his bowed friend. And friends they are, despite their many differences and the feud between their original Legions. They have grown into brothers, friends beyond all doubt, and their relationship was one of my favorite things about Pharos.

On the other hand, we have two actual siblings in the Night Lords Kellendvar and Kellenkir. While Kellendvar is wary of his brother's changes since the dropsite massacre, he still supports and defends him against their superiors. He is determined to save him from his apparent madness, while Kellenkir considers him weak and would love to keep torturing mortals to unwrap the secrets of death and suffering. They are very polarising in a sense, and their kinship seems quite one-sided. There are some great scenes elaborating on their past growing up on Nostramo and the changes they went through, however. Their plotlines were resolved admirably, in my opinion.

And then there is another pair of brothers: Roboute Guilliman and Sanguinius. The latter is still highly uncomfortable with his position as emperor of Imperium Secundus, and his growing distaste for the charade is palpable. For the first time I felt that Sanguinius made sense and felt natural in this whole arc. Abnett barely looked at him in TUE, after all.
And then there is another surprise guest who faces off in a debate against Sanguinius. I loved the whole chapter dealing with that! It held so many implications for the series, and the Emperor, as a whole, that I just breezed through it, twice.

But aside from the themes of brotherhood on various levels, there is still the war for Sotha, home planet of the Pharos, where the majority of the book takes place. Invasion by the Night Lords under Krukesh the Pale leaves the world torn and bloody, with its defenders rallying around the beacon at Mount Pharos. There are plenty of great tunnel fight scenes, and it is clear that the two siegemasters Dantioch and Polux are exceptional at their jobs, stopping the Night Lords outnumbering them 20 to 1 from overrunning them within hours.

Outside of the mountain, we follow a group of Space Marine neophytes in the last stages before full ascension, and a rag-tag band of irregulars in the sothan military.

Led by Mericus Giraldus, sergeant of the Sothan First Auxilia, the enlisted farmers and were a highlight for me. Mericus especially had a very insolent tone that made him enjoyable to read about from start to finish, whether it was him fooling around with his troops or telling off Captain Lucretius Corvo of the Ultramarines. He was just an all around relateable, interesting character who lightened up the mood in an otherwise grim war.

Scout Oberdeii, the point of view character of the neophytes, meanwhile, added a layer of desperation to the conflict. Being the literal future of their company, the recruits are confronted with their first real battles and have to weigh their responsibilities to the Legion, meaning survival to replenish the ranks, with their desire to strike back at the Night Lords. For Oberdeii, another problem arises with close proximity to the Pharos: He has been having strong visions of impending doom ever since being deployed for training on Sotha. He isn't the only one there, but his experiences were rather more extreme, as The Dark Between the Stars attests to.
Oberdeii's insecurities about his performance and continued training, especially when confronted with possible taint via the Pharos, made him interesting to follow, and relatable despite his already transformed form and mind. He is stuck between humanity and experiences of fear, and the exalted status of the Legiones Astartes. This gives us the first good look at scouts in the Heresy, and I appreciate it very much.

Captain Lucretius Corvo, in contrast, is a space marine in his prime. He has recently come to greater glory, as detailed in Laurel of Defiance (which I thought excellent), and much trust is placed upon his shoulders by Guilliman. He is to relieve the Ultramarines and the defenders of the Pharos, buying them time until the bulk of the Legion forces arrive in system.
Despite some stiffness, Corvo still comes across well and strong, even when facing strange odds and daemonic influences. His encounter with Mericus and Oberdeii resulted in some great material to read through.
I honestly hope Haley can come back to Corvo and Company in the near future, and maybe expand on the Chapter founded by the Captain after the Heresy: The Novamarines. He has previously written about them in Death of Integrity, which is among my favorite Space Marine Battles novels to date for its mature and elevated rendition of Space Marines and the Genestealer threat. Seeing more of their cultural origins via the Heresy would be a boon.

On the traitor side, the cutthroat Night Lords are as despicable and twisted as ever. Treachery within their ranks is a given at this point, and it is clear why their Primarch abandoned them as hopeless. Power plays are being made, even while they unleash true horror on the natives of Sotha and the defenders of the Pharos. These aren't the somehow sympathetic figures of Dembski-Bowden's Prince of Crows that win you over with over the top badassery, but actual villain figures that possibly never had a realistic chance to turn out any other way.

So is Pharos any good? Yes. It is bloody excellent and one of my favorites in the series. It propels the series plot forward, both in obvious and subtle ways. It delivers amazing Primarch scenes, touching encounters between friends, honest sacrifices and strong action scenes on top of a layer of horror and desperation. It subverts the theme of hope for Imperium Secundus that the lighthouse represents by turning it into a cause for disaster, both immediate and in the far future.

Pharos is not only an incredible addition to the series, but also a stellar full length HH debut for Guy Haley, who has earned his place among the top authors working on the Horus Heresy already, as far as I am concerned. Here's to many more contributions of this caliber.

Pharos on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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