After finally completing Nemesis last year and then quickly following that up with Age of Darkness, I really thought I was back on the Horus Heresy roll, reading at least one HH book a month and everything. Then Outcast Dead by Graham McNeill popped up as number 17 in the series. It’s over 400 pages long, and wow, that’s a lot to read with everything else going on.
In addition, after reading a couple of chapters, I became quite nervous that this book was going to be like Battle for the Abyss and Nemesis. You know, kind of pointless? Unfortunately, I was right, but at least it was more like Nemesis than Battle for the Abyss. You know, enjoyable?
Outcast Dead really did have a good story buried in all of the whining, but it didn’t affect anything in the grand scheme of the Horus Heresy. Like both HH books mentioned above, there was a grand plot that amounted to nothing because now all of the major players are dead.
Am I glad I read it? I guess. Would I recommend it? Well, that’s a more complicated answer.
Why Outcast Dead was good.
Outcast Dead brought to the forefront what happens to Space Marines who are part of the Traitor Legions yet aren’t aware their Legions are traitorous. That in of itself is a fascinating concept. We had one example in Age of Darkness with Warsmith Dantioch, as he had no idea what transpired on Istvaan V, yet remained loyal to the Imperium when he found out. However, in Dantioch’s case, an Ultramarine informed him of what was going on before making a judgment. In Outcast Dead, a group of Space Marines who hadn’t spoken with their Legions in decades never had that chance. As soon as Magnus appeared in the Emperor’s throne room and told the Emperor what he already knew, the Custodes rounded up every member of the Crusader Host they deemed as traitors without telling them why.
It makes sense to round them up and arrest them (a little), but then you never tell them why they’ve been prematurely arrested? That’s no way to keep them on your side if they are loyal. The only reason why the group knows at all what is going on is because the Thousand Son, Atharva, read a few minds while in prison. Would it have killed the Custodes to at least interrogate them after imprisoning them? There may be bigger things going on, but the Imperium needs more friends than created enemies. I’d be shocked if this wasn’t a thinly veiled reference to the Japanese camps in the US during WWII.
The whole dynamic with this group was the highlight of the book. They had lost their Legion brothers and definitely weren’t sure how to feel about them now. They made up for that loss by forming their own brotherhood. A few of them had fought together during the Crusade before the reunion with the primarchs, and those bonds were deep.
Although my absolute favorite scene with this group of outcasts was when Tagore, a World Eater, had to converse with a small boy. Tagore has no idea how to communicate with humans at all, much less a small boy who admires him. It was adorable.
Why it’s hard to recommend.
Despite this truly interesting perspective to the Horus Heresy, none of what happens in this book matters. Every major player dies. The all important message that Kai Zulane, the lead protagonist has, is something the Emperor already knows. He never needed it at all. It was there as a reason for the outcasts to break out of prison and have the Custodes and Black Sentinels hunt them down.
It was also an excuse to show how far the Imperium was willing to go with sacrificing its own people in the name of protecting the Emperor. These people spoke with those-we’ve-deemed-as-traitors. Kill everyone in the building whether they talked to the traitors or not. This medicae provided medical aid to the traitors against his will. At gunpoint. Welp, he should have died then, because we’re going to kill him anyway. It’s both disgusting and not surprising at the same time.
But when everyone important in the book dies, does any of this matter to the Horus Heresy story over all?
Possible loose end?
Graham McNeill appeared to tie down every loose end, and he made sure that every character mentioned had a role in the story. There were no throwaway characters, which I greatly appreciated.
That said, though, the book closed on an odd cliffhanger. One of the outcasts escaped the showdown with the Custodes and Black Sentinels hunting them down. Somehow, random Thunder Warriors completely escaped the Black Sentinels’ notice, even though they were there chatting with the outcasts when the Sentinels attacked. Even more strangely, the last chapter suggests they were able to harvest geneseed to enhance their physiology, but how? Is that what happened to the missing Lunar Wolf? Did he go willingly or was he simply taken? He did disappear when the fighting started, after all.
But the bigger question is, are these Thunder Warriors going to mean something down the line? I kind of hope they do, and yet at the same time, I don’t want them to. I really really dislike it when a book is virtually meaningless in the main story except for this one throwaway thing that happened. Comic books do that all the time and it drives me nuts.
That possibility aside, The Outcast Dead is definitely not a must-read in the Horus Heresy line. I’m starting to wonder how many more of these “pointless” books are in this series. Please don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.
Seventeen books down, 37 to go.
Horus Hearsay is dedicated to Keri’s journey through the Horus Heresy saga. The chronicling of the Horus Heresy began over ten years ago, with currently 54 books in total, not counting The Primarchs series or the various short stories. Horus Hearsay will only cover the main novels.