Saturnine (Siege of Terra #4) by Dan Abnett - Book Review

Write on: Sat, 23 Jan 2021 by  in Gary's Reviews Read 2340

Saturnine is Warhammer at its finest. What Dan Abnett has achieved here is simply brilliant. 

The Horus Heresy holds a special place in my heart. I picked up the first book, Horus Rising by Dan Abnett, way back in 2008 and have been following the story ever since, reading most of the books and anthologies and listening to a fair share of the audio dramas. For the last decade, I have been looking forward to the Siege of Terra arc. Unfortunately, the first three books, although quite good, just did not live up to expectations for me. They left me feeling disappointed. Then Dan Abnett comes along with the fourth book, Saturnine, and blew my socks off. 

Saturnine is epic, I mean seriously epic, both in scale and ambition. The story unfolds through multiple viewpoints across four different theatres of war around the Imperial Palace. The traitor legions have surrounded the loyalists and, under the military genius of the Lord of Iron, Perturabo, are systematically tightening the noose. In response, Rogal Dorn devises a plan to sacrifice one of the four theatres in order to deliver a significant blow to the traitor forces and buy more time while they wait for reinforcements. 

'There is a bond stronger than steel to be found in the calamity of combat.'

We learn early on which theatre of war will be sacrificed and Abnett plays with readers' heartstrings for the remainder of the novel as this is where we witness a convergence of characters, both familiar and new. Not only does Abnett form emotional connections between these characters but also makes them endearing in different ways. Knowing what their ultimate fate will be is heartbreaking. But by the Emperor do they go out with a bang. 

'War is a scream in capital letters. It was a noise. It wasn't even words. It had no syntax, no adjectives, no subtext, no context. It communicated itself as suddenly, simply and unequivocally as a punch in the face. It was a thing, not a story.'

War is Warhammer's blood and soul and Saturnine is perhaps the Sci-F- franchise's most monumental achievement when it comes to this. Its pages are overflowing with action and Abnett's style of writing vividly captures the brutality and scale. Too much of the same thing can be extremely repetitive, but Abnett manages to make each theatre feel unique with its own share of epic moments, including 'cavalry' charges, titan showdowns and last stands. Not only that, but he also delivers the action in a variety of wats from wide-angled cinematic moments of armies clashing (Gorgon's Bar) to intense tightly-focused one-to-one duels (Saturnine). Abnett keeps the action fresh and engaging throughout, switching it up before it gets repetitive and even giving readers moments of respite between each fight. 

'"And the Emperor?" Erda grimaced. "You know, I loathe that term. It speaks to every part of His arrogance."'

In contrast to the chaos of the siege, there is another plot thread that follows the perpetual John Grammmaticus as he arrives on Terra and searches for a way to reach the Emperor. It is here that we learn a lot more about the Master of Mankind, and meet a very important character who readers that read Chris Wraight's Valdor: Birth of the Imperium (which I highly recommend) will be familiar with. It turns out the Emperor isn't the perfect ruler that so many loyalists believe...huh...imagine that. It does not exactly justify the traitor forces in their actions but it does reinforce the idea that the Emperor isn't exactly good. 

'Let them worship their false gods and giggling abominations. This was what he wanted. The chance to fight, like a man, not a demon.'

Speaking of traitors, Abbadon continues to be a main point of view. I have loved his character growth throughout the siege so far. Considering that he is one of the main villains in the 40k setting, it is great to see so much investment in him here. In Saturnine, we get to see him at his highest and lowest and both make for compelling reading. Most of the traitor primarchs also get page time, including Magnus who is the focus of the next siege novella, The Fury of Magnus by Graham MacNeill. 

'He watched the warriors approach, side by side, a slow and steady pace. Each one was in full battleplate, unhelmed. Their faces were solemn and determined.'

As for the loyalists, Jaghatai, Sanguinius and Dorn continue to play pivotal roles in the defence of the Imperial Palace, and each gets at least one badass moment. Loken and a few other familiar faces also make a return with one particular scene that had me cheering. One of my favourite aspects of this book were the first person chapters from the perspective of the Sister of Silence, Jenetia Krole, who was last seen way back during Master of Mankind by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Each of her chapters are more like lengthy monologues which contain some of the finest prose I have read in Warhammer and indeed Sci-Fi. 

There is so much more I could say about this book but I have already written what feels like an essay. In short, this is Warhammer at its finest. Saturnine has pushed aside Master of Mankind (#41) and The First Heretic (#13), which is also by Dembski-Bowden, to become my favourite Horus Heresy book to date. What Abnett has achieved here is simply brilliant. For those unhappy with the first three books, Saturnine will blow your socks off. The siege has now truly begun. 

Last modified on Saturday, 23 January 2021 23:09

Gary is a small town Irishman with a love for all things historical and fantastical. He works as an English and History teacher at post-primary where he endeavours to instil and nurture a love for reading and writing in students. Tea is his weakness. Reading is his passion. His one goal in life is to buy a castle when he retires.