My response to the Primarchs book series has thus been “cool story, bro.” I haven’t disliked any of the books, but I haven’t necessarily loved them yet either. Perturabo’s story was a much-needed critique of the once-sympathetic Iron Warrior patriarch, but I stand by my assessment that the more I read about the Primarchs, the less I wish I read. Guy Haley’s Konrad Kurze: The Night Haunter is the first book in the series that redeems some of the damage done* by 50+ books in the Horus Heresy.
Darkness breeds darkness
Nostramo has always sounded like a hell hole. Both Guy Haley and Aaron Dembski-Bowden go to great lengths to portray the planet as a nightmare come to life. Eternal darkness, crime-ridden streets, an oppressive ruling class? Hard pass. It’s no wonder then that Konrad Curze would A) prefer the sobriquet “Night Haunter” and B) have a decidedly dim view on humanity.
We’ve seen how Konrad’s visions of the future affect him in previous stories. Not just that they physically overwhelm him, but that they can also be unreliable on occasion. The Unremembered Empire taught us he could manipulate them slightly to determine the best course of action. Konrad Curze: The Night Haunter provides an even more interesting glimpse into the visions; that the visions could tell two tales.
Similar to the criminally underrated Minority Report, Konrad is struck by a vision early on that details a young man’s future. In one vision the Night Haunter shows him mercy and he grows up to help other violent boys find a non-violent path. He’s heralded as a hero and proof that the Night Haunter can be benevolent. In the other vision, he tries to grab a knife and kill the Night Haunter. Naturally our boy Konrad decides the only true vision is the one that ends in violence because Konrad is a glass-half-empty type of dude. It’s heartbreaking to watch him turn from any positivity.
With friends like these…
Of course, as we watch the inevitable progress of his legion, it’s hard to blame the guy. Konrad was never great at delegation or actually helping the citizens of Nostromo figure out how to govern. So things go ploin-shaped as soon as he leaves. Which means instead of getting semi-decent warriors and uppercrust recruits, he gets criminals and assholes. Who then intentionally recruit more criminals and assholes.
As his legion starts to descend into madness and cruelty, Konrad again refuses to see any hope or potential and instead falls to despair. Despite this all feeling somewhat familiar, it’s heart-breaking to see Konrad just brood and give over to the inevitability of his legion’s fall. Were he a stronger father-figure he probably could have stopped this. Had he laid better foundations on Nostramo he might not be in this mess.
Flesh-side chats with Dad
Once again, similar to Perturabo, the meat of this story comes in the last 40 pages. Retreating to his palace of flesh and insanity, Konrad relays his story to an effigy of the Emperor. The entire story is told very conversationally, and shows how Konrad has not only come to terms with his madness, he sees it justified. But guess what, y’all? THE EMPEROR TALKS BACK AND OMG IF I THOUGHT I HAD KONRAD FEELS BEFORE THE FEELERS WERE OFF THE CHARTS IN THIS SCENE. OK, OK, I’m calm.
Did you ever wonder why the Emperor stomached Konrad’s BS? Well he pretty much lays it out for Konrad, and explains that Konrad was everything he was made to be. He just lacked guidance. Had the Emperor raised him, he could have helped Konrad suss through his visions better. Maybe even see the good in people. But that was not how fate (LORGAR YOU ASSHOLE) willed it.
Needless to say, Konrad Curze doesn’t love this conversation. Mostly because Konrad has spent several years trying to break every rule and debase everything he touches to teach his father a lesson. And here Dad is speaking in understanding tones. Calm, regretful, maybe even slightly caring? Not exactly what Konrad was hoping for. Even when the Emperor condemns Konrad Curze to death, it is with regret.
Death is nothing compared to vindication
Konrad Curze set out to force his father’s hand and in that he was successful. In fact, you could argue it’s the only thing that actually went his way. Somehow that’s even more awful than watching him lose his mind. Not that he was ever truly sane, but the Night Haunter at least understood his purpose and his surroundings. Maybe it’s because I’m such a Night Lords fan, or because I love the tragedy but this book conjured strong Old Yeller vibes for me. This particular hound had been left to languish for too long, but I still hated to see him go, especially after the Master of Mankind finally took the time to speak to him as father-to-son. (You’ll never convince me it’s NOT him)
* I have so many thoughts on the whole Vulkan-labyrinth thing. Don’t even get me started.