Title: The Beheading (The Beast Arises, Book 12)
Author: Guy Haley
Publisher: The Black Library
Date of Publication: November, 2016
Approximate Pages: 242
Review by: Anthony
And so, here we are. A year and a half after the series started, and about two months after I finished reading this installment, we arrive at the last book in The Beast Arises series. I’ve been trying to formulate how to approach this last review for a while; I had hoped to do an entire new entry just on observations about this series. In the end, I can’t be bothered. Those who have been following my reviews on this series will know that pretty much each entry has been awarded a fairly high mark. However, I am beyond frustrated and disappointed with this series. How does this add up? Simple. The Black Library threw some of their best authors at these books, and each one is pretty well written.
But as for all that hype surrounding the series? What was it they said? “The most ambitious series since The Horus Heresy”? Methinks not.
The problem, in the end, with this series is that they built up lofty ideas that they simply had either no intention or foresight/ability to follow through on it.
And, sadly, perhaps no book in the series epitomizes this disappointment as thoroughly as the final installment, The Beheading.
When I had heard a while back that Haley would be penning the final book in this series, I was thrilled. BL was building the Beast up to be a villain for the ages, and, knowing his expertise in writing for greenskins, who better to write the final battle than Haley himself? Then, it became evident that the Beast would be dead by Book 12; and, while that was a disappointment, hopes were high that Haley, a fantastic all-around science fiction writer, would still give this decently written, yet inherently silly series a proper sendoff.
Then, I started seeing some reviews and observations on The Beheading. The consensus was that it starts off fantastically, and the just comes apart at the end. There were grumblings about a ‘time skip’. I hoped that that did not mean a jump to ‘modern’ 40K times. That would be disastrously incongruous to the overall narrative, if it were true.
Luckily, it wasn’t true. Well, sort of. There is a time skip. It is a necessary one. But no, it doesn’t go to ‘present’ time.
Before we start the review, I’ll just give you the short take: The Beheading is a rousing, exciting, beautifully written finale….for the first 2/3’s. After that, it goes completely off the rails.
Again, as a disclaimer – I finished this book almost two months ago, so some of my recollection might be a bit fuzzy. Also, I might go off on tangents with observations and complaints about events in the series, and the series as a whole. Please just bear with me.
The Beast is dead. The greenskin threat is no more. At the culmination of Rob Sanders’ criminally short Shadow of Ullanor, the titular Beast was beaten by Thane and his re-formed Imperial Fists. Using the pent-up psychic power of the captured Weirdboyz, all of the collective green heads on Ullanor burst like watermelons under Gallagher’s mighty hammer. And, in a true display of narrative convenience. the remaining orks aligned to the Beast’s banner (you know, orks that had been showing unnatural levels of cunning, strategy, mastery of logistics, and excellent grasp of Gothic) all reverted to snarling, in-fighting morons. Praise the Emperor!
Back to Terra. Thane is being lauded as the hero that he has proven to be. There is, to quote Monty Python, “much rejoicing”. And, everything seems to be back in order. All’s well that ends well. Yes, there will be a lot of rebuilding, but the menace is over.
However, in the aftermath of the threat of the Great Beast, and the gross displays of ineptitude that constituted the responses of the High Lords of Terra, there needs to be a definitive accounting.
Said accounting is a plan that has been germinating in the mind of Grand Master Vangorich for the past few books. Knowing who his most dependable allies are (who he will also need in the transitional period); Wienand and Thane, he sets out to punish the remaining High Lords for their scheming, conniving actions, and overall behavior detrimental to Terra and its holdings. It’s time for the beheading.
The Beheading can be broken down into three parts; this is in both content and quality. The first portion sees Haley doing what Haley does best; grand, lush world-building and descriptions. His pen creates beautiful, immersive scenes in the mind of the reader.
As good as the opening is, it is the middle portion of the book; the actual “beheading” sequence, that goes above and beyond. Look, it is no secret whatsoever at this point that Vangorich proceeds to kill the remaining High Lords. And so, we are treated to a series of assassination sequences. All are wonderfully written, but some define superb. Top among these is the assassination of Juskina Tull, whom most readers had probably begun to sympathize with to an extent, especially given her mental degradation in the wake of the utter failure that was the Proletarian Crusade. This scene is poignant, perfectly executed, and completely heartbreaking, even if it is reminiscent of a scene from Legends of the Fall.
By the time all the High Lords lay fallen, and Vangorich stood ascendant, I found it hard to believe that that final installment was anything but bulletproof. Sadly, I was wrong. It seems that with the villains that were the Beast, as well as the High Lords, all being addressed, either Haley or the Black Library at large had no idea how to tie things up. Almost as if they found themselves without a star to carry the ball into the end zone. Thane was consigned to the background for the bulk of the series. Wienand was too busy playing defense the whole time to assert herself fully. It seems the time came for the Grand Master of Assassins to step out of the shadows and carry proceedings.
Unfortunately, as both a protagonist, as well as the leader of Terra, Vangorich fails spectacularly.
Why exactly is this? Well, nobody really knows… After Thane heads out to the stars to rebuild the Legions, and Wienand heads off to Titan to see what Veritus was cooking up there (hint: it’s the Grey Knights), we fast forward a hundred-odd years. Now, Vangorich is a shriveled, somewhat loony despot. Why? We never find out for sure. There are hints that it is because Wienand continually rebuffed his advances (don’t understand why he didn’t simply order a Callidus assassin to simply imitate her, if he was that desperate). And so, it falls to Thane to make things right.
Now, at this point, you’d have reason to be excited. Before the details of the story began to emerge, there were hints on Lexicanum about the brutal, protracted battle that the Space Marines would face in trying to take out Vangorich. Entire temples of Vindicares and Eversors, plus the legendary Grand Master himself, on his own terms. Even the title of that portion of the story – Fury of the Space Marines – holds a ton of promise.
And then it just doesn’t deliver. For all the excitement, you can’t help but notice how few pages are left at this point. How could Haley possibly cram in all the information necessary to detail a battle like this? Simply, he couldn’t. And he didn’t.
The battle with the Vindcares takes place in one section of town within the continent-sized Palace on Terra. There is a lot of *pew*pew*, many Marines fall, and the Vindicares are killed. Then, Thane goes into a tower, and has a literal “Mario Moment” in which Wienand tells him “Thank you Thane, but the Grand Master is in another tower”. We then switch over to the Eversor tower, we another truncated scuffle takes place. Really, a battle with 100 Eversor assassins deserves a book of its own. There is just too much fertile ground there for gripping action. But here, it’s all wrapped up nice and quick, and Vangorich disappears from the annals of Imperium lore with one of the worst farewell lines ever.
That’s it. Sorry if it got a bit snippy there, but I cannot make heads or tails of why the series ended like this. There is so much wasted potential throughout the series; and then, in this final installment, it starts off so well, only to come crashing down.
I really wonder what happened to throw off the third act so drastically. I get the feeling that there had to be some kind of editor intervention – it has to be, because Haley is too polished a writer to let things get that sloppy. I’ll be honest; not all of his stuff grabs me by the throat, but at least all of it is cohesively written. The fact that all of this other stuff got shoehorned in – mention the Grey Knights, mention Horus, mention Curze, etc., makes me feel like the powers that be needed some compensation for a flawed project.
I mean, think of this. Between Veritus’ and Wienand’s conversation (which climaxes with a cornball, attention-seeking “big reveal”), and Wienand’s trip to Titan (which adds absolutely nothing to the narrative) we see the passing of 16 pages. 16 pages. That’s a lot of page space that Haley could’ve dedicated to either a) describing Vangorich’s downfall, or b) giving the climactic battle more of the, for lack of a better term, “umph” that it deserved.
I’m actually surprised that The Black Library missed out on the chance at an additional cash grab here. The whole conversation between the Inquisitorial higher-ups and the resultant journey to Titan could’ve been released as a companion short story. This way it would’ve gotten out there without interrupting the flow of the original storyline.
Well, that’s enough of that. It’s time to close the review, and personal observations on the series can go below. So, there you have it. The Beheading, the last book in The Beast Arises, is, at turns, good, amazing, and wretched.
I am not going to say that they “saved the best for last”, but this a darn nice cover to cap out the series with. A truly powerful image of Thane, accurately reflection the culmination of his character maturity. Thanks again to Victor Manuel Leza for outstanding covers throughout this series. Here’s hoping you’ll do many more BL covers in the future!
Observations and rants on the series in general:
In retrospect, I have to ask, what went wrong here? Before TBA came out, it was billed as the “most ambitious series since the Horus Heresy”. Now, we all knew that was more an act of piggybacking on the goodwill invested by readers in that series than an actual gauge of the quality of the books to come.
As the series was introduced, all the pieces were in place for a good storyline. To make the orks ‘fresh’, they were made bigger, meaner, and smarter. There was a godlike figure, the Beast, placed as an insurmountable foe. We had a hobbled Imperium, hamstrung by bickering, politicking, and in-fighting.
However, as the series progressed, it seems that the creators had either no idea how to bring this to a solid close, or never had a clear endgame in sight. There were too many loose ends, and logical lapses that it boggles the mind. For example, what was the point of sending ork envoys to Terra to demand surrender? What was the point of parking the ork attack moon above Terra? Just to terrify people? To what end? In all the times the Imperium gets its forces to Ullanor, we still never find out what the motives were. You know the old joke about bad guys talking too much in movies and ending up shooting themselves in the foot? This is a series where you wish the bad guys would talk as much as you’ve been led to believe that they will, just to justify the actual goings-on.
Even though (for the most part) the individual books were well-written, there was never a seamless transition between books by different authors. There are a few ways this could’ve been fixed; in one option, less books, edited better. Trim the authors down to simply Annandale/Guymer/ and Haley. Actually, Annandale best had his finger on the pulse of this whole series. You could’ve let him punch out six books in a year, and have other authors contribute on supplemental short stories and other material.
Or, instead of contracting the number of authors, give more authors a chance, and limit it to one each. I was hoping C.L. Werner would get a shot at one of these books; he writes orks really well. Also, it’s a shame that Steve Parker isn’t writing for the BL anymore, since a novel about the formation of the Deathwatch should’ve gone to him.
Next, the ‘Prime-Orks’. I hate the term, but I like the concept. What were their names? Where were they from? What makes each of them distinct? BL could’ve cobbled together a whole companion book, chock full of illustrations and such, detailing them, their specifics, the specifics of their troops, etc. Again, since when does Black Library turn their noses up at cash grabs?
In the end, there were just too many poor portrayals and missed opportunities. The chance to make the Beast into a villain for the ages devolved into making him just another snarling, feral monster. Space Marines are portrayed as being logically and tactically inept. High Lords of Terra, conniving as they are, are shown as utter nincompoops. I know that it was for narrative convenience, but it was kind of insulting at times.
Again, because I can’t stress this enough. If you pick up these books, you’ll most likely enjoy them. There are some fine books in there. But, afterwards, start asking yourself some really critical questions, and you’ll find answers in short supply. Then, ask yourself, “what was the point?”, and see if you can find one.