Lessons from Reading: Horus Rising

A long while ago, alongside reviewing books I also composed a post about what notable lessons I learned reading the piece. Whether it was strengths to emulate or mistakes to avoid for myself I tried to make sure whatever I read I gained from as a writer.

For whatever reason that practice faded out, most likely due to procrastination and/or poor motivation as a whole (i.e. the things that usually hold back my projects)

Since 2017 has, if anything, at least been a year when I’ve managed to maintain some consistency blogging so I thought I’d resurrect the practice.

So my first book is Horus Rising:


(Brief Summary) Horus Rising is set in the Warhammer 40K universe, a D&D type sci-fi world where humanity has sprawled among the stars for millennia and at the time this book is set, wars against both human and alien worlds to (re)unite mankind over the galaxy.

There kind of a massive universe to explain which I won’t here.

The main character is Garviel Loken a high ranked Astartes Marine who quickly rises in authority within the ranks of the Luna Wolves a military chapter ruled by Horus (of the title)

Strengths to learn from.

Horus Rising was surprisingly well written, I hope that doesn’t sound too judgy, but I did expect guns blazing and mass amounts of world-building exposition. While there was a little of this the book was quite well grounded in it’s characters.

So as a first good lesson for big ‘world’ sci-fi and fantasy is to always build the word through the lens of the characters and contrive the action of the story to show what the world is like.

The book also provided great examples of how to handle over-powered main characters. In the 40K universe Astartes are basically giant Captain Americas combined with giant Iron Man’s. When they go to war very little can stand in their way. Now often fiction with powerful MC’s will opt for story lines outside of their superpower, like romance, maintaining secret identities and so forth.

What the author of Horus Rising did well is still focus on the purpose of Astartes (to shoot stuff to smithereens) but found useful ways of building tension nonetheless. For example the three parts to the book contained three central tensions:

  1. An Astartes turning on his own – this put the MC Loken is a tense spot as the space marine are sworn not to fight each other, so even though he is a super-powered/armoured dude Loken still has to make a tricky decision around what to do with the situation
  2. Conflict within the Astartes, while not directly aggressive the second act deals with disagreements between the ‘good-guys’ while I don’t think the second part of Horus Rising was particularly powerful, the story reminds us writers that not all conflict is between goodies and badies
  3. Finally the last act has a well executed sequence where the Astartes attempt to interact with a recently found alien race peacefully. It’s well executed because it turns the strength of the main characters on it’s head, in fact becoming a weakness as the very power of the good-guys makes the alien’s nervy and unlikely to make peace.

What about some Weaknesses or mistakes to learn from?

I think firstly Horus Rising presents some cautions for sprawling world building:

  • Don’t overwhelm reader with multiple characters or concepts. The beginning pages of this book are packed with these. I know I said Horus Rising did world building good, there were moment of over-exposition
  • Be cautious with leaping between locations and character. I think in epic story lines writers want to show-case the variety of settings and concepts they have in story, but the strongest parts of Horus Rising contained characters familiar to the reader. When part II began in the book the narration jumped to a new planet with new characters and new problems, it was all a bit much and severely slowed the pacing and enjoyment.

Secondly Horus Rising presents a good example of how tending to the series can weaken an individual story. While I enjoyed the book immensely the majority of the climax was more of a ‘next time on the Horus Heresy’ type ending, numerous tensions  were developed but reading the end didn’t feel particularly satisfying on it’s own. I guess the nature of running series is a post for another day, but I firmly believe that books need some power on their own.

So those were the main lessons I learned from the book Horus Rising, appreciate you coming along for the ride.

Original Review

Are there any other pointers that other readers may have picked up from the book?

Any feedback on the nature of the post? I hope to do more alongside my reviews in the future so any advice or points on what would make them more useful for others would be awesome.

Next up (probably) IQ84



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