Review: A Thousand Sons: All is Dust

A Thousand Sons: All is Dust by Graham McNeill shows the fall of Magnus the Red,  Ahzek Ahriman and The Thousand Sons during the Horus Heresy. Fighting to protect the Emperor of Mankind while acting as the unwitting pawns of Tzeentch, Magnus and The Thousand Sons rage futily against fate and only manage to damn themselves while trying to save the galaxy. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but the manipulations of the God of Lies and their dogged determination to remain loyal, in spite of the lies and betrayals, make The Thousand Sons the most sympathetic astartes of all Chaos Marine legions. 

The conflict spirals around the animosity between Magnus the Red and Leman Russ. These are two very different primarchs. Magnus shows an introverted intelligence while Leman Russ struts around like the predator his legion took its name from. At first, they show a more friendly rivalry, their jokes of fighting disturbing Ahriman for the very idea of two primarchs fighting each other. Two brothers, both sons of the closest thing they had to a God. 

Their differences set them apart early on in the novel. As the Thousand Sons, Space Wolves and Word Bearers conquered a planet which refused to submit to the Imperial Truth, Magnus and his Thousand Sons grieved at the wanton destruction of libraries, scientific discoveries and art. These things counted as priceless treasures to the Thousand Sons, astartes who valued knowledge above all things, and they couldn’t stand watching the Space Wolves and Word Bearers burn the books and cities like garbage. Though the primarchs came to an understanding, plans often change in the chaos of a battlefield and Leman Russ vowed there would be a price to pay for the blood of his astartes.

The campaigns with the Space Wolves escalated a conflict that would drive Magnus and his legion away from The Emperor. The Thousand Sons attempted to hide their use of warp sorcery from their brother legions, who feared and distrusted these abilities because of admonishments from The Emperor himself. Though repeatedly warned by The Emperor not to delve too deeply into the mysteries of the warp, Magnus and the Thousand Sons never seemed to understand the concept of restraint. Because other legions used psychers, and because every ship required psychic astropaths to navigate the warp, why should they be forbidden from going farthest?  The Thousand Sons saw no difference between astro paths and the warp magic that could strike their enemies down. 

To the Thousand Sons and Magnus, there was no such thing as sorcery. Magic and warlock were words that savages like Leman Russ and the Space Wolves used to describe things that they did not understand. The warp, according to the Thousand Sons, was only a tool: neither good nor evil, but depending entirely on the person who wielded it. 

And without that tool, Magnus never could have saved the legion from its other great secret: the flesh change. 

Throughout the book, Ahriman played a role of audience surrogate, reacting to events in very much the same way the readers likely would. Through Ahriman, Graham McNeill humanized this chaos legion to the reader, because Ahriman, acting in ways readers understand so well, showed the readers how easily anyone could make the same mistakes as himself and the Thousand Sons. None were blameless: the Thousand Sons sinned in pride, but they were puppets to the manipulation of Tzeentch all the same. With the God of Lies pulling exactly the right strings, tricking them into backing themselves into these corners, how could even a primarch or an astartes know the right thing to do?

The moral ambiguity of the entire conflict only made the situation even more gray. In hindsight, it’s obvious what Magnus could have done differently, but what could The Emperor have done differently? Magnus acted out of ignorance to the consequences of his actions. If The Emperor hadn’t been so secretive, Magnus might have understood what a disaster his actions would cause. Add to that the accusations of hypocrisy the Thousand Sons sling at the Space Wolves and other legions. How could the Thousand Sons accept a death sentence from a legion that employed psychers and mutants in battle?

In spite of all of this, Magnus and the Thousand Sons steadfastly insisted they were not traitors. Their desire to help The Emperor directly led to their fall in the first place. 

Well-written, well-plotted and with engaging, sympathetic characters. A Thousand Sons: All is Dust will make Thousand Sons fans of the most loyal of Imperial readers.

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