Review: Lorgar: Bearer of the Word by Gav Thorpe
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Long before he brought Chaos and war to the Imperium, the primarch Lorgar was raised on the world of Colchis, used as a weapon by the zealot Kor Phaeron in his bid to control the whole world. But Lorgar's destiny was far greater…

On the world of Colchis, mighty religions rule a decaying society in the name of absent gods – until the arrival of Lorgar. Primarch, prophet, leader of destiny, the Golden One is raised by Kor Phaeron, priest of the Covenant, to be his weapon in a quest for power. As religious war spreads across the planet, spearheaded by the Brotherhood of Lorgar, the primarch is plagued by visions of the future and the coming of the Emperor. To find his place in this new order, he must reach balance between the teachings of his adopted father Kor Phaeron, and the fate that he knows awaits him among the stars.
After a bit of a hiatus, I'm hopefully back in action for the foreseeable future. There are a bunch of reviews half-written on my desk, truth be told, but I figured you may be interested in the next Primarchs novel. It was recently released to the wider public who don't want to shell out a premium for limited editions, and as per usual, that means I got to read it now as well. It really is quite something!

The Story:
"Long before he brought Chaos and war to the Imperium, the primarch Lorgar was raised on the world of Colchis, used as a weapon by the zealot Kor Phaeron in his bid to control the whole world. But Lorgar's destiny was far greater…

On the world of Colchis, mighty religions rule a decaying society in the name of absent gods – until the arrival of Lorgar. Primarch, prophet, leader of destiny, the Golden One is raised by Kor Phaeron, priest of the Covenant, to be his weapon in a quest for power. As religious war spreads across the planet, spearheaded by the Brotherhood of Lorgar, the primarch is plagued by visions of the future and the coming of the Emperor. To find his place in this new order, he must reach balance between the teachings of his adopted father Kor Phaeron, and the fate that he knows awaits him among the stars."

The Review:
Lorgar: Bearer of the Word is a highly unconventional Horus Heresy/Primarchs novel. It features few boltshells fired at all and is relatively light on "present-day" Great Crusade/Horus Heresy content. Instead of showcasing the Word Bearers Legion's conquests, it showcases them only brielfy in interlude sections.
The bulk of the book? Lorgar's childhood and upbringing on Colchis. Almost the entirety of the novel is told not through the Primarch's eyes, but his "father" Kor Phaeron, probably the main architect of the entire Heresy. Besides Lorgar, the second viewpoint comes in the form of Nairo, one of Kor Phaeron's slaves at the time of Lorgar's arrival, whose views are juxtaposed against those of the ever-ambitious and corrupt archpriest of "the Powers" of Chaos.

Indeed, Lorgar: Bearer of the Word is taking the reader back to a time when the Primarchs were figures of myth and incredible awe, rather than the glorified action heroes of the later Horus Heresy series (looking at you, The Unremembered Empire...). While the big focus of the novel, as he well should be, Lorgar is kept reasonably ambiguous in certain respects, while the interpretations of his character through Kor Phaeron and Nairo tell us a lot more about themselves.

Kor Phaeron, true to form, is a bastard of the highest order. This novel does little to really humanize him. He's corrupted by the Powers-that-be from the moment we first meet him here, preaching while raising himself up above others - despite being exiled from the Holy City of Vharadesh. He is abusive, quick to anger, arrogant, an egomaniac for all his worship and sermonizing on the glories of the Pantheon. If you think you've felt disgusted by this man before, you might find that you have underestimated his spite greatly.

Growing up as the acolyte of Kor Phaeron, Lorgar actually did pretty well for himself. Despite brutal punishments even just for daring to raise questions, it seems strange that the Urizen would stay with his father-figure for so long, to the point of defending him and saving his life, obedient to a fault and despite the urgings of Nairo. The final section of the book manage to leave the reader with a new perspective on this, however - and I felt a little chilled thinking about the nature of the Aurelian's own ambition and calculations. If you've ever wondered why Lorgar may be inclined to throw his First Captain into the meat grinder of Calth and expecting him to lay down his life there, this story may give you plenty of reasons for it.

On the other hand, Nairo is a more tragic figure. Being an older slave, he is lucky to still be alive in his lord's service (or not, depending on how you look at it). He has dreams of his own, a different moral compass to all other highlighted characters and could be described as the angel in Lorgar's ear, opposed to Kor Phaeron's status as the devil. He wishes for equality and the abolishment of slavery, urges caution against his master's ambition and develops a deep friendship with the new messiah. His relationship with Lorgar highlights the best of the Primarch and gives us a look at what he might have become, had he not been stuck with the Dark Heart as his adoptive father...
The polarity between the two point of view characters does a solid job showcasing the various aspects that the young Primarch might represent for the preacher, the slave, and Colchis as a whole. Threat? Opportunity? Freedom? Conquest? Religious Truths? Maybe even a son?

Despite this being a Black Library novel, action is for the most part glossed over unless necessary to further Lorgar's (or Nairo & Kor Phaeron's) development. Late in the book, cities fall one after the other with no more than a name drop, for example, whereas the first and final compliances are showcased with a little more detail to characterize Lorgar's twin approaches: The Word, or the Mace. I applaud Gav for not making this a Primarch action flick - it is with in-depth characterizations that this Primarchs series scores, not "Bolterporn". The strongest parts of all previous books were when the Primarchs were left to talk and interact with their environments, or butt heads in the case of Russ, and the weakest when the Emperor's sons were reduced to the gods of war that they are. We've seen plenty of the latter throughout the galactic civil war already, and Primarchs should instead focus on giving the reader a greater understanding of its protagonists instead.

Lorgar: Bearer of the Word does that swimmingly. While hardly a bad word can be said about Aaron Dembski-Bowden's foundation for the Urizen via The First Heretic, Betrayer and connective tissue stories throughout, it only briefly looked at where the Aurelian came from, his very humble beginnings in the deserts of Colchis, beaten by his master and all too impressionable. Where Dembski-Bowden's Heresy work gives us a Lorgar that falls from the Emperor's Grace, and vice versa, turning from naive worship and making him a force to be reckoned with and the architect behind the Heresy itself, this prequel hands us the idealistic Lorgar, the ecclesiarch, the one to turn Colchis from the Powers to the Emperor's light, making the eventual reversal all the more tragic.

Stylistically, Gav Thorpe is also playing to his strengths. His origins in writing lore material are evident in a lot of his work, down to his narrative approach. With Lorgar being delivered in a more historically-inspired fashion and married to mythological, spiritual metaphor and accounts by what may be described as the messiah-Primarch's apostles, with a strong focus on dialogue over frantic action, the novel benefits greatly from his fairly unique style.
Thorpe even goes so far as to reinvent Colchis's whole calendar system, turning the world's days into trials in their own right, further reinforcing the hold religious tradition may have on a civilization that experiences as much as seven whole days during one full rotation of their world. While the impacts of the "Translator's Note on Time" included at the start of the novel are rarely make a massive impact on the unfolding story, they do explain much and give everything an interesting vibe. Colchisian culture is just as much a factor in Lorgar's relative childhood as his master and confidant are.

One thing that did disappoint me about the novel was the relatively abrupt end to it. Don't get me wrong, I liked the end, and it ended on an important event for Lorgar. However, I would have really liked to see a little epilogue about the Emperor and Magnus coming to meet Lorgar on Colchis, as it felt like the natural end point to Lorgar's ongoing visions about "The One". That this didn't happen confused me, as it'd have held great opportunity for Thorpe to pitch Lorgar's faith against the insidious nature of Kor Phaeron one final time and giving the reader an understanding of the Emperor's opinions on the zealotry rampant on his son's homeworld.

Another small nitpick would be that Erebus got only token mentions throughout the interlude chapters, but I guess including him in greater capacity would have diluted the exploration of Lorgar's relationship with Kor Phaeron, which I'd consider the highlight of the book.

One final note on the Dark Heart before I wrap this up, though. I saw some comments about Kor Phaeron still being depicted as a meanspirited, vile being with little redeeming qualities and that making it hard to empathize with the character. While I can see the hiccup for some people, I feel that this is exactly as it should be. Kor Phaeron was ruined by the Powers long before Lorgar appeared on Colchis. His exile made him even more bitter and wrathful, the effects of which we see here. We don't need to turn villains into victims of circumstance every time. Kor Phaeron is an utterly ambitious, zealous, calculating madman whose ambition, zealotry and madness needed a little more depth, as did his relation to Lorgar. He needed to be a fleshed-out villain, not a misunderstood tragic anti-hero. He'll never be that, and for that I am thankful. In my eyes, Lorgar: Bearer of the Word did a great job turning Kor Phaeron from an oftentimes shallow, mustache-twirling Bond-villain into a believable antagonist full of spite but also with his own insecurities and doubts, his own burdens and faults. He has become relatable, if not exactly somebody to empathize or even sympathize with.

Be that as it may, I quite enjoyed this book. I'd say it ties with Perturabo: The Hammer of Olympia for my favorite in the series so far. It lends credence to Kor Phaeron, makes subtle comments on Lorgar Aurelian, shows the immediate effects of Monarchia in its brief interludes and connects a lot of dots in a creative and engaging way. The new perspective on well-established characters has also made me enthusiastic about the Word Bearers again and I am sorely tempted to re-read The First Heretic sometime soon.
Lorgar: Bearer of the Word manages to uphold the high standard of the Primarchs series with little trouble and is essential reading for any fan of the Word Bearers or devoted acolyte of the Pantheon, if you ask me.

Lorgar: Bearer of the Word on Goodreads
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