The Horus Heresy: Galaxy In Flames
The third book in the Horus Heresy series, Galaxy in Flames sees us move beyond simple conspiracies and covert plans and into cold blooded, overt rebellion. Horus, corrupted by the forces of the warp, finally enacts his devious plot against the unreceptive members of his army and the crews of his fleet. As the conclusion to many of the character arcs presented so far, Galaxy in Flames has quite a bit to live up to, especially when considering just how excellent the previous entries were. Does it meet these lofty standards?
There are only two major storylines in this book, both of which revolve around the rebelling marines and their efforts to advance their plans. The first features the remaining remembrancers and civilian personnel in the fleet. Through their eyes we see the increasingly authoritarian commands of the Chaos marines juxtaposed against this new religious faith in the Emperor of Mankind that has found its way into the hearts of many of the ordinary humans onboard the ships. We learn quite a bit about the way that the Emperor moves from worldly leader of humanity to a divine figure based on what characters do here, and the subterfuge and clandestine meetings make a nice contrast to the bombastic action of the main story. This sub-plot also sows the seeds for future storylines, ending with a very juicy hook for the next book.
The other plot is the more entertaining and expansive. In this one we see the Chaos marines try to wipe out their comrades and brothers in arms, the soldiers who they believe will stay loyal to the Emperor no matter what. To that end, Warmaster Horus concocts an invasion of yet another new world, this time one where primal "music of creation" spurs on the defending soldiers and forms the weaponry of this armies' most formidable soldiers. After the invasion is successful, an offensive that utilized only those with a loyalist streak, Horus turns on his allies and throws all manner of evils at his longtime subordinates and friends. Watching these besieged warriors, including protagonist Gavriel Loken, weather the storm and desperately try to turn the tables on the traitors is the main drawing point in this novel. Their struggle is basically the Alamo on a futuristic, planet wide scale, and it has the added bonus of utilizing all the drama of a civil war to add an extra layer of emotional impact. There is a personal revenge story for Gavriel and Torgaddon, his closest ally, and they dedicate their last mission to destroying their former allies in the secret brotherhood of the Mournival. This desperate tale of survival against all odds is a great way to end the story of Gavriel and so many of the tertiary characters we have come to know, all of whom get an honorable sendoff here, but it is unfortunately marred by yet another questionable portrayal of the series' antagonist.
Horus is a major disappointment in this book. The villain poised to become the series' overarching, uber-antagonist is in this book a very stock character with poorly thought out plans and even worse execution. As the loyalist marines stand against his clumsy efforts to wipe them out, Horus doesn't take charge of the situation. Instead, he throws temper tantrums and sends other people to do the work. It isn't like Horus is a character accustomed to being the strategic brains far behind the fighting- he is widely renowned as an incredible warrior, but for whatever reason, he continues to let people he views as incompetent handle the elimination of the loyalist element. It makes his character look like all manner of things, but none of which are helpful to someone being set up to be the driving force for the conflict in this series. There isn't even much character development, he seems to have completed his transformation from flawed by brilliant hero to utterly and stereotypically evil villain in a matter of months and with no more setup than that he was tricked by the Chaos gods. Indecisive, useless, and unsympathetic are all words that describe his appearance in Galaxy in Flames.
Though it is once again a step down from the previous novel in the series in terms of quality of writing, Galaxy in Flames once again manages to capture its subject matter brilliantly while setting a tone perfectly suited for the story. The heroic actions of the loyalists are brought to life through several great action scenes, which show us the glory and horror of war in typical 40k style. We get to see the loyalists as they are: incredible fighters staring back into the face of death and surviving things like virulent toxins, a planet-wide firebombing, and massive assault waves from their own brothers. Each fight is more desperate than the last, and all are told in an epic style that really plays up the significance of what is going on. The dialogue gets a little bit cheesy and trite in places, and in fact just about everything Horus says is incredibly obnoxious, but for the most part the word choices and phrasing only augment the rest of the book.
This book isn't something you'll want to jump into if you haven't read the previous two books in the series, because it requires you to know where the characters started in order to feel the maximum impact of where they end up being. Horus remains an unconvincing villain, but the heroic stand taken by Loken and friends is one well worth reading about, and the conclusion to this opening story arc is a worthy one that should satisfy anyone who has read through False Gods and Horus Rising.