Mechanicum (The Horus Heresy, Book 9) by Graham McNeill

The Horus Heresy series continues in Graham McNeill’s epic Mechanicum.  Graham McNeill is one of the Black Library’s “dream team” writers.  The other members of the trio include the hyper-prolific Dan Abnett and Ben Counter.  The trio wrote the first three novels of the Horus Heresy series.

The first three novels functioned like a self-contained trilogy, chronicling the Warmaster Horus and his descent into heresy and madness.  James Swallow’s Flight of the Eisenstein (Book 4) was a taut thriller with crisp writing and wonderfully orchestrated space battles.  Since then, the Horus Heresy has had its ups (Legion by Dan Abnett) and downs (Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon).  This reviewer happily reports that Mechanicum brings the series back up to fighting trim.

In the novel, the readers encounter the adepts and forge masters of Mars.  Centuries ago, the Emperor and the Fabricator-General created a union between Terra and Mars.  The Mechanicum is one of the pillars of the Imperium of Man.  The novels functions as an institutional history, similar to earlier volumes that chronicled the origins of a specific Space Marine legion.  Only Graham McNeill could pen a compelling narrative based on supply chain logistics and portraits of the mechanically modified denizens of Mars that humanize them.

The novel includes many competing plots (and competing plotters).  Adept Koriel Zeth wants to build the Akashic Reader, a device capable of giving someone unlimited knowledge.  Fabricator-Generator Kelbor-Hal wants to open the Moravec caverns, sealed by the Emperor’s command.  Finally, Dalia Cythera, a lowly transcriber drafted by Adept Zeth to construct the Akashic Reader, deals with her visions of a dragon and a secret long buried in legend and deception.  During this historical period of the Imperium, there is no single interpretation of the Omnissiah, the so-called Machine-God worshipped by the Mechanicum.  To use more familiar figures, Adept Zeth, a champion of scientific exploration and eternal skeptic, could be seen as Dr. Richard Dawkins.  She does not believe that the Machine-God actually exists.  Fabricator-General Kelbor-Hal, a cold-blooded figure of monumental avarice and ambition, could be seen as Reverend Pat Robertson.  Kelbor-Hal, a servant of the traitorous Warmaster Horus, will use every means at his disposal, including unleashing the demonic forces sealed away by the Emperor.  And like Pat Robertson, he is not moved by the death of millions, but only uses it as a means to acquire more power in the name of the Machine-God.

While these machinations and theological debates occur, the Mechanicum suffers catastrophe after catastrophe.  The atrocities lead to the inevitable split, with those loyal to the Emperor arrayed against those loyal to the Warmaster.  The novel also includes great battle scenes with rival Titans, Reavers, and Knights fighting each other.

The novel is a wonderful continuation of the Horus Heresy, bringing a mix of space battles, ideological debates, and gothic imagery.

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