Recently finished the most recent release for the Horus Heresy series, so decided I'd write a review of it.
The First Heretic is the 14th book in the series, and is written by Aaron Dembski-Bowden ('easily the coolest name' according to a clip from the DLT podcasts). He's written a few other books for Black Library, but I don't believe I've read any of them yet.
The novel covers Lorgar and his legion, the Word Bearers. There are three phases to the book, which are actually divided to help the reader out:
Grey, the Word Bearers fall from grace, and their punishment by the Emperor.
Pilgrimage, their voyage to discover Gods worthy of their worship and go to the place where 'gods and man meet' or some such, and
Crimson, their first steps as a legion of Chaos.
I'll highlight the good/bad things about the book, and what I think of it overall- I don't think there is much in the way of spoilers, since the basic story (the Word Bearers turn to Chaos) is not surprising to fans of the universe.
First, the overall progression of the story is fantastic. Covering some 43 years of Word Bearers history is pretty significant given the end result of the period. As you read, you get to see how a very very loyal (and faithful legion) gets on the Emperor's 'bad side', and how it is hinted to be very close to receiving the same treatment two of the other legions (the expunged legions). You also get the whole story as to the journey of discovery the legion undertook to search for the gods of the Old Faith- who they are convinced exist, since so many different worlds in very different parts of the galaxy have stories related to them. Upon finding the gods, we get to experience the legion's transformation into the new Word Bearers, as well as read about the first Possessed. The story moved along pretty well throughout. There was plenty of dialogue, which is important for fleshing out the background of the Horus Heresy, but there was no shortage of action (including another perspective of Isstvan V) to help break up the 'slower' parts.
To me, the focus of the Horus Heresy series is (or largely should be) on the Primarchs, and this book does a great job of that. Lorgar features heavily and there are interactions with Guilliman, Magnus, and Corax (briefly), as well as appearances by Perturabo, Konrad Curze, and Alpharius. Corax, Guilliman, and Perturabo really haven't been in the series thus far, so their inclusion was a nice bonus (at least for me). Curze has only been in the Audiobooks, so again, I loved the fact he was in it. Of course, the focus of the book is on Lorgar, and the book does a fantastic job filling in details of his personality and skills (largely as an orator). It also makes a point to show that he is VERY different than his brothers when it comes to combat skills. Lorgar laments several times throughout the book on this, early on saying "I will never understand tactics and logistics with the effortless ease of Guilliman or the Lion. I will never possess the skill with a blade shown by Fulgrim or the Khan," as he struggles with his role in the galaxy. As the book progresses, he struggles with his role and beliefs, finally deciding to worship gods that WANT to be worshipped, and provide gifts to those that do.
This book, like the first few in the series, I think does a GREAT job of really giving the reader a view into the mind of a genetically engineered superhuman- something I think makes these books the best in the series. You get to know Lorgar, his goals, his feelings on faith and the universe (and his place in it), and also you sympathize somewhat with the reasons for his turning traitor. Dembski-Bowden does a fantastic job of getting you inside Lorgar's head, as well as any of the authors in the series have done so far.
I love the new perspective on the battle of Isstvan V. Sure, we read about the battle somewhat in Fulgrim, but here we read about the roles of some of the various traitor legions who came towards the end of the fight, as well as how the massacre at the end unfolded. Lorgar's role in the battle was an interesting read, as well as the interactions between him and two of his brothers.
Overall, I'd say this is a great addition to the series- indeed I think it's one of the stronger books in the series, and although it hasn't moved the story on past Isstvan, knowing the background behind another legion's fall and the brief lead-up to the battle on Calth (where the Word Bearers fight the Ultramarines, delaying their movement to defend Terra) is fascinating. If you love the series, you'll read it anyway. If you have interest in the Word Bearers, there are plenty of background bits to warrant reading it on its own.
**** SPOILERS? ****
You know, there's a point where Ingethel is showing 'truths' to members of the Word Bearers legion, including Argel Tal, and implies/states flat out that the Emperor only learned of the science needed to create the Primarchs (and the Adeptus Astartes and Custodes) by interaction with the Chaos gods. I wonder how true that is. It could be a trick of the Chaos gods, but if it's true... that really throws the Imperium in a new light, and especially changes how I'd view the Emperor. That's just a crazy insinuation. That whole scene is just filled with a lot of revelations about the universe, assuming they are all true.
I LOVE the references to the missing legions. To me, one of the more interesting parts is a member of the Word Bearers implying that they may have had to fight one of those legions at one point, that it was indeed a heartbreaking moment in history, and that the loss of one (or both) of the legions is what gave the Ultramarines their recruiting numbers, helping them to become the most populous of the legions. We may never know what the truth behind those legions were (story-wise, I understand their role from Games Workshop's standpoint), but it is fun to read hints about them.