Review: The Beheading by Guy Haley

Posted by DarkChaplain at 11/21/2016
The war is over and mankind is saved. But when war ends, politics takes over, and one man realises that the High Lords who nearly doomed the entire Imperium must be culled. It is time for the Beheading to begin…

Across the length and breadth of the galaxy, humankind celebrates its salvation, and relishes the prospect of a return to peace. But the war against the orks has riven the political bedrock of the Imperium, exposing its rotten core. One man, one powerful man, decides he has the solution, and launches a campaign of destruction so terrible that thousands of years later his actions will still be viewed with horror.
It has been a tumultuous year for the galaxy. Over the last 12 months, Black Library has been unleashing the The Beast Arises series unto the world, releasing a new installment every month. With The Beheading, this era of sequential short novels has come to an end. Let's have a look at how Guy Haley handled the finale.

The Story:
"The war is over and mankind is saved. But when war ends, politics takes over, and one man realises that the High Lords who nearly doomed the entire Imperium must be culled. It is time for the Beheading to begin…

Across the length and breadth of the galaxy, humankind celebrates its salvation, and relishes the prospect of a return to peace. But the war against the orks has riven the political bedrock of the Imperium, exposing its rotten core. One man, one powerful man, decides he has the solution, and launches a campaign of destruction so terrible that thousands of years later his actions will still be viewed with horror."

The Review:
All things must come to an end, and as far as endings to novel series go, The Beheading is a great, if flawed one. The big issue I take with it doesn't even have anything to do with what it says, but with what it doesn't say. Beyond that, everything that's in here felt exceptionally satisfying to me. Haley most certainly was the right person for the job of seeing this series to a close.

With the ork threat of the Beast done and dealt with in Shadow of Ullanor, this final installment had the chance to fully focus on the terran politics, culminating in the Beheading itself. Drakan Vangorich, Grand Master of the Assassinorum, finally makes his move. Characters die in droves. Everything the series' most interesting aspects have been building up to come to a climax.

For the first time in the series, the action and orks take a backseat to intrigue, intricate schemes and tragedies caused by good intentions. For the first time in TBA, I actually felt sympathy for the High Lords of Terra, and saw them as more than lying bags of incompetence, and instead as flawed people. In hindsight, I wish there had been more of this kind of attention paid to Juskina Tull, Abdulias Anwar, Helad Gibran and the rest throughout the series. Even just the short scenes they received here, when Vangorich's grand plan is set into motion, gave a lot of character to the High Lords that went beyond petty squabbling and self-service. Well, in most cases, at least.

Most importantly, the chapters dealing with the High Lords showed the degree of ruthlessness and preparedness that Drakan Vangorich has going for himself. While he only takes the life of one High Lord in person, orchestrating so much misery in such an efficient way shows him as fully deserving of his title as Grand Master of the assassins. An assassin should always know and utilize the right tool for a task if possible, and Vangorich does so magnificently.
The role of Beast Krule, Esad Wire, felt very neat to me as well. My complaint in regards to his opposition to Vangorich's plans comes down to how invested he appeared in the last couple of books; I can fully buy the seeds of doubt Haley put into his head here, and applaud them, but it came as a bit of a surprise this late in the game. But then, the results were a hugely compelling turnout for the novel that I wouldn't want to miss out on.

Maximus Thane, victorious Chapter Master of the Imperial Fists, has some very impressive scenes as well, as should be expected. However, the meat of the book occurs in his absence from Terra, reclaiming what the orks had taken from mankind. After setting Terra supposedly in order, he departs, leaving tasks for all the High Lords, and establishing Vangorich as his Lord Protector to reign in his stead. Thane gives the High Lords a big verbal thrashing aboard the Phalanx, which, at last, gets some explanations as to its whereabouts. Those notes I felt were a bit shoehorned, late justifications for a big editorial oversight, but needed either way. The way the Phalanx is described here, however, was exciting and intimidating.
Thane's decrees also include plans for Ullanor, the fate of which fans will definitely appreciate. In many ways, Thane's actions here steer the way for the future we all are aware of.
There are even more big revelations made in regards to the Inquisition, and even the Grey Knights, and the effects of it all ripple back to the Horus Heresy itself. Plenty of connective tissue here, some of which will boggle the reader's mind. I certainly didn't see it coming, but it explains a few complaints I had about earlier books away.

The Fists Exemplar / Iron Warriors plotline involving Zerberyn and Kalkator also finally gets a big payoff, and justifies further secrecy about the Imperial Fists' fate. While I am saddened at the fate of another great character who has seen little love since The Last Son of Dorn, the whole plotline gave birth to some magnificent tragedy and fall from grace. Lots of emotion here, satisfyingly presented. The dynamism presented here really puts the poor showing in the previous book when it came to this plotline into even stronger contrast.

But now to my big complaint for the book: Timeskips kinda suck.
It was inevitably going to happen here, with pre-established lore making it clear that certain events were going on for a while before being ended. However, the way it happened here felt jarring to me. That's not something Guy Haley could have changed much, however - not with a Great Crusade occuring amidst the 100 year gap. No, I blame the editorial team and series planning for it.
Up until the timeskip, everything felt like it flowed naturally, logically and satisfyingly. After the jump, things took a bit of a dive. After some readjusting the final chapters still panned out well, but were quite abrupt. Seeing that this novel is a tad longer than the average novel in the series, it seems obvious that the author managed to squeeze out as much space as he could, but the series's direction definitely backed him in a corner here, giving too much to wrap up in one volume and in the end squandering potential for a greater scope and a more definitive end.

There wasn't even room here for a short epilogue detailing the rebuilding of the High Lords after Chapter Master Agnathio of the Ultramarines and co travel to Terra to crush the prevailing anarchy on the Throneworld. There wasn't room to let the dust settle, or to show Vangorich's transition from hypocritical mastermind to dishevelled, self-serving yet somehow tragic dictator. There wasn't room for Wienand to formally establish the Ordos, nor for the rebuilding of the Imperium after the Beast's death to take place.
I cannot imagine just how much content, how many ideas and concepts, Guy Haley had to disperse of during the writing of the novel. Not because of any failings of his own, but because this book should have been two instead. He was given an impossible task to fulfill yet still excelled at showing what he did, and getting the whole thing across as a grand finale. It has got to have been a frustrating process getting there, though...

I loved the book. It was a great finale, if short in certain areas. It did more than I expected and hoped for as it stands. It took up all the pieces and lined them up in a compelling way, while adding many easter eggs for fans of the franchise. The highlight of the assassinations were exceptionally cool, especially for their believability. The Beheading was the end the series needed, and I am thankful that it is Guy Haley's name on the cover. His great attention to detail and subtlety benefitted this one greatly.

The Beheading 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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