You remember that one Horus Heresy story that you really liked? Yes, that one. And that one. And that one too. Did you wonder to yourself “Self, what happened after that story?” Well I have great news: The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett answers that question. For all of the stories. No, I’m neither kidding nor exaggerating. Dan Abnett (he’s bold, he’s beautiful, he’s crazy) manages to pick up all the loose threads from countless Horus Heresy stories and weave them into one narrative that’s not only compelling, it’s the best fan service Black Library has ever served.
Theoretical: We Need a Contingency Plan
In the broadest of terms, The Unremembered Empire is a very straight-forward story: with Ultrarmar plunged into a warp-created darkness, there is no way for Guilliman to know the state of Terra. With Horus and the other traitor legions marching their way home, it is entirely possible that Terra could fall. If Terra falls, the Imperium is doomed, and Guilliman will die before he lets that happen. So in the most practical of terms, a fallback is necessary, and Ultramar is a damn fine place to rule an empire.
Of course, one cannot decry Horus’s attempts at usurping their father’s throne, and then attempt to create their own throne. Guilliman knows that he cannot declare himself Emperor pt. 2, and so he needs another loyal brother to return to the planet to take up that mantle.
When you break the story down to it simplest terms, it doesn’t sound very exciting, and in truth the main story isn’t. Guilliman needs a practical to support his theoretical, and we as readers know this is all for naught because Big E still lives and breaths on Terra. This plot is merely the driver for everything else going on in this book.
Practical: This Shit is Bonkers
Where do I even start with this book? How about my personal favorite, Warsmith Dantioch. Oh yes! He’s back and he’s working for Guilliman because BY THE GODS THEY DON’T BELIEVE IN, one Iron Warrior is loyal and he’s going to do his part. He’s lighting alien beacons that they don’t understand, making friends with Imperial Fists, and discovering new technology. But that’s not even the important part of the story because…
The Lion is here! The Dark Angels have landed and Lion and Roboute are having the heart-to-heart talks they should have had decades ago. We get to see a side of the Lion that we never see: vulnerable, honest, and ashamed. We get to see two brothers who desperately want to trust one another but just can’t get past this whole Horus Lupercal thing. It doesn’t help matters that…
Konrad is here! HOLY SHIT Y’ALL. Konrad sneaked on board the Lion’s ship and he’s been murdering Dark Angels left and %$#@-ing right. He launches Lion’s secret assault squad, tries to kill Guilliman’s maternal figure, and is just a delightfully, unabashedly evil douchebag. At this point he’s basically a vampire lord AND THAT’S AWESOME especially given that…
The Space Wolves are here to sanction someone! Is it Guilliman? Is the Lion? Konrad? As you might expect, the majority of the humor in the book comes directly from the presence of Russ’s feral kill team, and that’s perfectly fine. They’re gonna sanction someone, maybe even…
Sanguinus shows up! Just when Lion and Roboute think they’re doomed to having to trust each other, the Emperor’s Perfect Son(™) shows up, and all hope is restored! Oh, did I mention crazy-ass Vulkan is here too? And some Iron Hands? And some Imperials Fists? And Salamanders? And that one guy that you liked in that one story? No, seriously, I promise you he is somewhere in this novel. Yes, even that guy.
Theoretical: The Cabal is the Shadow Council* of Warhammer
Look, it’s not all shiny. We all like to joke that Erebus is the literal worst, and as a character within the world of the Warhammer universe he is. But from a narrative structure, the Cabal (specifically John Grammaticus) is just the worst. On one hand, it’s fair to wonder “what is ol’ John up to,” but on the other, I couldn’t care less. If you removed John’s and Damon’s chapters from the book it would be a perfect book.
I hate that John and Damon just keep regenerating and coming back to life to throw wrenches in plans like some sort of immortal Moriarty**. I hate that they are Mary Sue characters with all the cool toys and powers. Shadowy organizations bent on the destruction of our heroes belong in Marvel and DC. Get that shit out of my Warhammer, please.
Practical: The Infinity War for Horus Heresy
It’s not hyperbolic to say the sheer number of stories, characters, and plot threads that Dan Abnett weaves together for this narrative is stunning. If you thought Infinity War had its work cut out for it, The Unremembered Empire was equally ambitious. And somehow it all works. Even with the glaring exception of the Cabal plot lines, everything comes together in one story that while not possessed of the most riveting central story, is a roller coaster ride from start to finish. I don’t think I’ve laughed, gasped, cheered, and teared up as much as I did in The Unremembered Empire. It’s fan service done right, and as such, deserves all the praise and awards.
*Editor’s note: See Secret Avengers #1! (Or don’t, because ain’t nobody got time for this nonsense)
** Editor’s note: