The First Heretic – Aaron Dembski-Bowden

First Heretic
Published: 26 October 2010
Publisher: Black Library
Pages: 502
Series: Horus Heresy Book 14
Format Read: Physical Copy


Amidst the galaxy-wide war of the Great Crusade, the Emperor castigates the Word Bearers for their worship. Distraught at this judgement, Lorgar and his Legion seek another path while devastating world after world, venting their fury and fervour on the battlefield. Their search for a new purpose leads them to the edge of the material universe, where they meet ancient forces far more powerful than they could have imagined. Having set out to illuminate the Imperium, the corruption of Chaos takes hold and their path to damnation begins. Unbeknownst to the Word Bearers, their quest for truth contains the very roots of heresy…


First Heretic continues the buddy read that I am taking part in with Jenn . Her review is a lot older than mine already as I ran into a few snags while reading through this monumental tome. As with some of my previous reviews, I have this issue in the Hatchette Part works collection, aptly named Warhammer 40K Legends, I have some artwork to share with you all again. It is the first book I received when I started my subscription over three years ago and then had to cancel as I immigrated to The Netherlands. It is also book one in this collection and I now understand why they started with it. First Heretic could have easily also been a candidate to start the Horus Heresy of, the fact that it was not done is also easily seen as one would have to have some idea as to what exactly happened before hand, which is what books 1 through to 3 dealt with.

I love how there are these extra bits of info with the collection’s books…

While I do not want to give spoilers away, as I know another fellow blogger I follow has also recently started with a read or re-read of this series, I’ll try tread lightly around what happened throughout this novel while at the same time try highlight some of my favorite parts of this book. After the somewhat disappointment that gave both me and Jenn a bad aftertaste. First Heretic shot through the roof with how amazingly it was put together. 

A neat breakdown of when this novel takes place.

First Heretic gave me a glimpse of what it was to be a Word Bearer. Where I have been unapologetic-ally hateful towards an individual of their chapter, First Heretic actually pulled of a stunt that has left me feeling sympathetic towards the Chapter as a whole. The Word Bearers are known to be religious zealots and that they worshiped the Emperor as a god. After the Emperor set all his Primarch sons on a mission spanning galaxies in stamping out all religion and bringing any humans they find on new planets into the fold of the Imperium. No servitude to any gods, just fealty to the Imperium. This at least is as much as I can explain the events up until now. Word Bearers being zealots not only brought worlds into compliance, but also left making the worlds they brought into compliance serve the Imperium with the same fervor they have. The Emperor, not wanting to be revered as a god, yet does godly things, decides to make an example for the Bearers of the Word so they can see the error in their ways. Bombing the shit out of one of the first worlds they brought into compliance might not be the best example in my opinion, but this event is where the monumental shift and the trigger towards The Word Bearers becoming servants to Chaos.


The scene on the bombed out planet where Lorgar, the Primarch of the Word Bearers dishes out snot slaps to both Guiliman of the Ultramarines as well as Malcador the Siglillite and I was eager to see him strike the Emperor himself with that show of anger after he still was in the dark at why it was all done. I even remember shouting out “jooooooooh” as it happened in front of my eyes. After hard words between the Emperor and Lorgar, everyone leaves and Lorgar is left to wrestle with himself over how to go forward. Not an easy thing to do when the being you believed to be a god tells you not to be an idiot… The Ultramarines written in the opening chapters of FH were written in such a way to look like the bad guys, but they were just following orders, like the good boys they always are. This was the second time I read about the Emperor actually speaking directly to one of his sons. The other instance was in 1000 Sons, but there it was only to put emphasis on the Nikea Counsel having the last say. Here it was a full conversation. 

I have no Idea what bearing this picture had on the novel itself, I am thinking this might be something to do with a book that took a deeper look into some of the events taking place in the book. By Jenn’s recommendation I might be picking up Aurelian some time soon. Aurelian being the other name for Lorgar. Lorgar did not have too much page time in FH, but still more than some of the other Primarchs in other novels. I did like the reading of all the theological and internal struggles each of the Word Bearers was dealing with. This being my first Aaron Dembski novel I now know for sure that I will not shy away from other books by him. He is a great author. 

Some of the characters that I liked in this novel was a bit of an odd mix. Of the Word Bearers it was most notable Argal Tal. He had a lot of depth added to him. While I was initially thinking FH was going to deal with the issue of how Erebus turned the way he did it was a big surprise to learn the things around his character that I did know all that much about. Erebus is still fairly good in this novel, but Argal Tal stole the show. Through him we see the way the WB Chapter changes, while in subtle ways, the end reveal was a profound sad, yet exiting read. Argal also goes on a whole theatrical rollercoaster and sees each of the Primarchs being created or where they ended up as babies still, I loved that part of lore reading. Also Argal Tal’s relationship with one of the Custodes, the guys the Emperor deploys to babysit the WB after the telling of, was a great read. The Rivalry that originates after certain events as well as the unraveling of comradely of said events set up some of the best battles I have read so far. The parts where the Blessed Lady featured also was kinda nice as there was not a lot of talk of Remembrancers in this novel as to the other ones where other Chapters were involved. There were a few but they did not take centre stage as many have before them. Big plus for me was the fact that I could see the Heresy finally through the eyes of an individual I could actually grow to care about. This was a great feature. 

If there was one thing that confused me a bit it was the numerous time jumps back and forth that left me a bit confused at times. Yes, it is all done with a greater scheme in the end and the pay off was a real “oh shit” moment for me, but at the time it was happening I was a bit, “wtf am I reading” at times. While it did take me out of the story at times, looking back and seeing the bigger picture now it was very well done. An extra cool thing for me personally is the part where Lorgar actually names a solar system the “Scarus Sector” that small little info dump made my rating of the book go up another star. It was around this part that the book in general kicked into overdrive and never looked back again. Conversations with Deamons, Warp Travel, planning and scheming the events I have already read about in Galaxy in Flames as well as answering some questions I have been hoarding since the first few books in this series, the origins of one of the names on the map I own and got along with my subscription to the 40K Legends Collection:
Scarus Sector is on the left top corner…

Talking about Scarus Sector. This was also where Cadia was situated. For many that do not know too much about the history of Cadia. In many books Cadians are some of the toughest, loyal to the throne soldiers one can pray for having amongst your troops while in the thick of things. In FH things that was so far from the Cadia I have learned about before this book, now I am hoping other books are going to expand on how Cadia became what we know today, apart from being blown to shit in the not so recent Cadia Stands series I reviewed not so long ago. It feels kinda wrong to even mention that series on this review, but I had no way of not mentioning it. 


To close of this review I will have to surmise that it was a great read. I did not finish it as quick as Jenn did, but Jenn was there in the times I struggled through some of the parts. Where some WH novels end up giving me more quistions in the end, by the end of this one I had some answers I have been asking since the opening books, but there are some new questions I have nagging at the back of my mind. Like how Lorgar was turned, how was Erebus and Lorgar’s adoptive father turned to chaos, not that I think Lorgar’s dad was as innocent as he lead Lorgar to believe. There are a lot of things I am yet to read surrounding the WB Chapter. While this novel did turn me to be more sympathetic towards the Chapter, I still do not like them as much as others I have learned about in my reads. First Heretic was a great addition to the series and it actually did move the plot of the overall story along even with all the time jumps and gap filling of other novels. First Heretic is a solid entry in the series and it makes me exited for other installments yet to come. I gave FH a 4 out of 5 with the possibility of being a 5 out of five if it was not for my lack  of understanding of some parts within the book. If you lean towards the Chaos side of things or want to make some one understand the Chapter a little better then pick this novel up. There was a cool thing that happened on my notification feeds a few days ago that also shed a lot of light on this subject so I thought I would include it. For those interested have a read of a thorough explanation of things that I will never be able to do thank you Damien

FH banner
Inquisitor Jenn and Savataruis Highly Approves!

By my word, till next time.

17 thoughts on “The First Heretic – Aaron Dembski-Bowden

  1. See, this seems like a better starting place for the HH than what they used. Oh well.

    Sounds like you had a cracking good time with this and those pictures of the art in the book were nice.

    The link at the end just goes to Damien’s site in general. Was there a specific post you were referring to?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yay! I was looking forward to reading your review of this one! It’s one of my favourites in the series, for all that it’s basically a prequel, but one that I really enjoyed all the same. If you’re looking for other books by ADB, I can highly recommend his Black Legion series, only two books so far, but they’re both excellent 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Does black legion start with talon of horus? Have had it on my shelf for a while but thought id hang on to that because i have not read where abbadon becomes the despoiler yet… thank you for the comment. Got prospero burns yesterday in this same format.😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, Talon of Horus, then Black Legion. I loved them, and in fact decided to paint my Chaos Marines as BL because of those very books!! I don’t think he becomes The Despoiler until we’ll after the end of the Heresy – I don’t think it’s currently dealt with in novel form. But Talon of Horus does show the start of how Abaddon forms the Black Legion out of the final remnants of Sons of Horus etc.

        Remember when I left a comment on your review of Nemesis, saying how I hadn’t read Fallen Angels, but promptly went back and read it? Well… I’ve not read Prospero Burns either! Mainly because I dislike the Space Wolves so much, but I thought it’d be a difficult read following A Thousand Sons. But I might just go back and fill in another blank before I continue!! 😃

        Liked by 1 person

      2. As soon as i start i could give you a heads up? Ill link your review to mine afterwards. Love how ive managed to get you and Swords and specteres to join up in reading along. Let me know if you want to team up wit prospero🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah, that sounds like a plan! I’m gonna chip away at another Star Wars novel for the next few days, but then I’ll make a start on it 😃 I’ll get round to all these Heresy blanks thanks to you, sir!!

        Liked by 1 person

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