The Horus Heresy series is the jewel in the crown of Black Library’s fiction – an epic of staggering proportions that even nearly twenty novels in, shows no signs of slowing. And Know No Fear; an Ultramarines vs. Word Bearers tour de force, sets itself up as one of the best books of the series.
With Dan Abnett in the driving seat – arguably the best Warhammer 40k author around – Know No Fear strides the delicate balance between all-out action blockbuster and richly detailed sci-fi escapade. While all the Horus Heresy novels are of a high quality, Abnett brings an unmatched level of literary skill to his instalments and the pace at which Know No Fear rips by with is remarkable, a literal page turner in every sense of the word. Flipping effortlessly between an immense cast-list of characters, Know No Fear depicts the moment the loyalist Ultramarine forces are betrayed by the chaos-tainted Word Bearers legion – and it’s testament to Abnett’s skill that we feel that treachery strike right at our hearts as surely as it does any of the Ultramarine characters in the novel.
While Know No Fear is certainly one of the more action orientated Horus Heresy novels (as opposed to something like A Thousand Sons or Fulgrim), the glimpses of insight it provides into Primarch Guilliman’s mind and tactics are fascinating, really fleshing the character out as one of the more relatable Primarchs within the series. Not just a towering leader of men, Guilliman becomes a genuine persona and presence beating right at the centre of the book.
While it helps to have read previous novels from the series (in particular The First Heretic, which sets up many of the Word Bearers characters who also feature in this instalment), Know No Fear could just as easily be taken as an entry point to the series – it’s that accessible. With a plot that moves like quick-spun electricity, and some mindblowing set pieces, Know No Fear marks a real high water mark for the Horus Heresy series and bodes extremely well for its continuing machinations.
Particular highlights include the ‘practical/theoretical’ Ultramarine combat philosophy, the count-down clock that marks out each chapter, the almost stop-motion break-down of the initial decimation of the Ultramarine fleet and one of the largest of said ships (seven kilometres long) falling breathtakingly backwards into the Calth atmosphere. Oh, and the cover sequence where Guilliman himself wades through the void of space to smash apart a few Word Bearers, punching heads clean off shoulders and such like.
As The Guardian quote on the front of the book touts, no one does sci-fi combat as well as Abnett, and in Space Marine on Space Marine action, that skill for crafting a combustuous, blood-splashed page-turner reaches its apotheosis.