I should say that it is hard to impress me when it comes to pseudo-Viking sagas. I am very familiar with the Old Icelandic literary tradition and Iron Age Scandinavia, which obviously the Space Wolves' culture is modeled upon. I have sat by the fire, huddled up under my heavy fur-lined cloak, and listened to the sounds of the night. I have felt the chill of the ocean, and held the coarse wooden oar between my hands as the waves crashed against the mighty ship. Don't come to me with half-assed accounts of comical, barbarian Vikings because I'll see right through it. Am I being presumptuous? A bit arrogant perhaps? Hell yeah. But you better believe it's true.
With that said... Prospero Burns, the latest addition to the Horus Heresy series, has truly gotten my blood pumping and put some fire in my heart! I often find myself speed reading when a book doesn't completely manage to grip me and I just want to get it over with. Dan Abnett's Prospero Burns, on the other hand, took unusually long for me to get through. I wanted to taste every sentence, every word of this epic contribution to the 40k universe. It almost felt wrong to simply read it. I wanted to say it out loud, and hear the words, feel the words. They are brutal and honest, just like the Wolves themselves, and completely knocked me out.
Already after a few pages, I was happily cast back into the coarse, short-spoken and very clever style echoing the language of the Icelandic sagas. I couldn't help smiling at terms like "Upplander" (born and raised in Uppland I am, wee!) and shudder at chilling descriptions of finger's scattered on the snow. Defensive wounds. Yeah, that's nasty. And very true to life, so don't even think about trying to stop the blow of an axe with your hands.
If you are the least squeamish, and faint at the sight of blood, you really shouldn't read this book. The violence is almost too... violent... It is so very direct, carnal and feels way too real. The descriptions poke at your insides in an almost disturbing manner. Bodies fall from the sky like "human hail" and hit the ground "with a noise like smashing eggs and snapping celery". Yet the Wolves of the 6th legion remain true to the chosen heroic ideal, never even flinching. When Heoroth Longfang falls to the ground, mortally wounded, his brother remarks that it's "a fine day for sitting on your arse." Longfang casually replies that he likes the weather here! Unrealistic? Yes definitely, but that's the beauty of it! When characters in the Icelandic saga's present such comments it is accepted as an unrealistic yet charming cultural trait, which probably had very little to do with reality. But the warriors of the 6th legion are not human, they play by a different set of rules and they become more true to the ancient ideal than regular humans ever could.
Now of course, Prospero Burns is not only about the 6th legion. With unexpected ease one is suddenly thrown back into "regular" imperial culture, and regards the Wolves as a part of imperial mankind while at the same time being utterly separated from it. Dan Abnett is a master of transitions! From ancient to modern, from dream to reality, from bestiality to great humanity, from the physical to the transcendental; the crossing of these intangible borders is a recurring theme throughout the novel. In a way the theme runs through the entire Horus Heresy, but it is never as forcefully and exquisitely expressed as in Prospero Burns.
If I could only recommend one of the Horus Heresy books, it would surely be this one. You don't even have to be a fan of 40k literature, or even familiar with Warhammer 40k in general! Dan Abnett has created a masterpiece and I look forward to going back into his world, tasting the bloody words again, once more hearing the wolves howl and smelling the fear of enemies as they are torn to pieces. As Prospero burns, so do I. And I love it!