Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Horus Heresy Collected Visions (Book Review)

If you were to ask every gamer what the biggest turning point in Warhammer was, you’d get the same answer: the extermination of the Squats.
But at they never existed according to Games Workshop, it’s probably the Horus Heresy. It involved the rise of Chaos, the turning of the traitor legions, the fall of the Emperor and his Primarchs; it’s certainly a major contributing factor as to why everything has gone wrong.  Most people would suggest looking into this through the ongoing novel series, there’s already a full record of events available in shops: The Collected Visions.



The book covers the events of the death of humanity’s hope. It begins the end of the Great Crusade and the primarch Horus being declared Warmaster of the Emperor’s armies.
Returning to earth, the Emperor begins work on some great project, but unbeknownst to him dark forces are already putting events in motion for his death. Soon Horus falls to Chaos and humanity faces possible extermination at the hands of is greatest champions. The story is a tragedy. If you want a happy ending or any victory for the forces of good, look elsewhere.

The book is another omnibus, containing the quadrilogy of books which plotted out the whole Heresy: Visions of War, Visions of Darkness, Visions of Treachery and Visions of Death.
There are also a couple of side stories where Graham McNeill adds in depth descriptions of major events such as the Battle of Prospero and the rise of the Dark Mechanicum. 

Style and storytelling

The series is written from no specific perspective and is fittingly covered like a series of records. Each page has a small title like it’s an individual article covering small meetings and events which contribute to the whole of the Heresy. This helps to give the impression that this is an actual historic archive.

The language used throughout the book is functional but it falls short of the high quality writing usually seen in the Black Library. More than once articles within the book suffered from repetition of certain sentences and some very questionable choices of words. For example, on the ninth page the book opens up with a grand, if somewhat cheesy, synopsis of the early events of the heresy. It’s fairly good save for describing the primarchs as “superheroes”. In all fairness if a man dressed as a bat and a vengeful ex-marine count as superheroes then the primarchs certainly do as well, but the term feels incredibly out of place in Warhammer.

40K is a setting where everything is grim, dark, gothic and grimdark; not a place where a man in red underwear fights a cake stealing Machiavellian evil businessman. It feels jarring to throw the term in there rather than “demi-god” “titan” “paragon” or much better terminology. It’s a major problem is this sort of thing keeps happening and it constantly detracts from the immersion of reading the book.

Another problem with the writing style is the author, Alan Merrett, didn’t quite seem to know what he wanted to do. A good number of the articles are written in the same grand style as the introductory pages while others are listed like documentary articles. It makes the book feel like Merrett couldn’t decide if he wanted it to be a pseudo-Shakespearean tale or Wikipedia 40,000. It’s not overtly bad, but his sections pale in comparison to McNeill’s sections.
It’s mostly for this reason I can’t comment upon things like how he portrays characters or events. Half the time they feel like they’re just been scripted by someone who has only read about them and the rest like it was supposed to take place in the Globe Theatre. Some events come across as utterly moronic, though mostly due to previously written canon, and the conversations between people come across as simplistic or wooden.

I will say that Merrett does choose the right style for when it is needed the most. Articles such as the early ones which describe the creation of the space marines, the astronomicon and the Warp aren’t written like some grand speech, instead giving the necessary details.  Similarly the major events such as the last moments of Saul Tarvitz’s life and the Siege of Terra are fittingly described in a suitably epic manner. The former of the two works extremely well as it contains no dialogue and is just the last thoughts and considerations of a hero who will go unremembered and, if at all, as a member of a traitor legion.


... And now.

The actual story itself, if you’ve not already gathered, is documenting the fall of Warmaster Horus and the ensuing Heresy conflict. That’s the core of the tale and the Collected Visions describes it in considerable detail, not as much as the novels but enough to understand some of the minor aspects behind the characters.
It goes into the fall of Horus very quickly but is shown from multiple perspectives and occasionally goes back to earlier events. Two major examples of this are the pages detailing the fall of Lorgar and the build up to Magnus’ “betrayal”.

Probably the highlight of the whole book, at least in terms of writing, is The Kaban Project. It’s a short story which gives the most in depth detail for any part of the treachery and is shown through the perspective of a single person, witnessing the Cult Mechanicus betraying its own laws.
There’s not much more which can be said about this besides that without going into spoilers. I will say this about the story though: Lots and lots of people die.

Flaws and strengths

The main strength of the book above all things is actually not the writing itself. No, it is in fact the artists which worked upon it. All but a handful of pages in the book featured incredibly detailed paintings of the legions during the heresy, depicting the vehicles used and the different equipment of that time.

What is especially effective is that the artists didn’t only create new equipment for the legions, but also looked at the older designs for second edition models. Shoulder mounted autocannons, landspeeders which resemble flying boxes, even imperial war robots all make appearances at various points.
There was also a great deal of work put into displaying the appearances of the traitor legions prior to turning against the Emperor. Aside from a few images in the Index Astartes series there was no official artwork displaying how the legions had looked prior to the Heresy, most notably with the Emperor’s Children.

The only real flaw with this is that by focusing upon a specific few legions, many have essentially cameo appearences, especially those who took only small roles in the war. Only a handful of images depict what the Iron Hands, Raven Guard, Salamanders, White Scars, Iron Warriors, Night Lords, Dark Angels and Alpha Legion looked like.
The real shame of it is that there’s also only a moderate number of images for the Imperial Fists who looked the most aesthetically unique out of all the legions.

The flaws of the writing itself have already been commented upon so i’ll instead focus upon more obvious ones. The first of these is the canonicity of events during the Heresy and the detail in which it is covered. While the book does cover all of the major aspects of the Heresy well, it is also missing a lot of factual information.
This is mostly a result of the novels which are expanding upon the old fluff of the events, detailing new battles and motivations which have been added since this book was published. For example there’s no mention of the Furious Abyss, Horus’ doubts are somewhat simplistic and do not cover his thoughts from Horus Rising, and the surprise motivations behind the Alpha Legion’s fall is not mentioned at all. By comparison with the books it feels like a bare basics timeline of events and is missing a great deal of important information.

This aforementioned lack of detail means that the Heresy starts very quickly within the book. That might sound like a strange criticism but the novels spent an entire trilogy depicting the downfall of Horus and the start of the Heresy. Not to mention separate novels for several traitor legions individually detailing their fall to Chaos. In the Collected Visions Horus is conviced to turn within the first sixty pages, and the rest are manipulated into turning in about one paragraph. Without any build up or seeing them fall from grace, their betrayal feels far less meaningful.

The book’s most obvious flaw is definitely its design. This isn’t the sort of thing which would usually comment upon, but the pages of the copy used for this review seemed to be falling to bits. Its central pages were hanging loosely from its bindings and entire sections were at risk of falling out.
It’s not a good sign when you’re consciously worried about the new book you’re reading is visibly coming apart.


The Collected Visions is worth getting if you want the bare facts about the Heresy. It’s cheaper than the novels but it’s definitely a worse written and less detailed version of events. The main strength of the book is the images and artwork it contains, which cover almost every page of it, but without them it’s just not very good.

Hobbywise, I’d suggest it to anyone wanting to build a pre heresy legion as a visual reference. Bookwise, I’d suggest getting it for the great art, but if it’s good storytelling you want then go with the Horus Heresy novels.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.

The artwork of the Thousand Sons Dreadnought and Imperial War Robots are owned by karichristensen, and has been used with the artist's permission.

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