The Dark Fortress

Review: Mechanicum by Graham McNeill

2 March 2014 | 6th Edition

Mechanicus' front cover

A brilliant tragedy!

Although not directly linked with the Unforgiven in any way, I thought I'd put my thoughts on this Graham McNeill penned edition of the Horus Heresy series. I have a secret hankering for the unfathomable workings of the Cult of Mars — seeing many resemblances to them with their 'dark' past and to the Unforgiven with theirs.

Mechanicum is a great tragedy in the best Shakespearean mould played out over some 400 pages. Perhaps in this more than in any other single Horus Heresy book so far with the exception of Fulgrim, do we see such a total fall from glory to infamy. In this instance wrought by the corrupting lure of power and knowledge that then opens the Pandora's box of total Chaos infiltration.

The opening third of the book paints a fantastic picture of Mars and the workings of the Mechanicus. From unbelievable vistas of continent-sized foundries to equally unbelievable Adepts more machine than human. We get an insight into the various Legios of engines on Mars, their rivalry, something I was never aware of, and the already divergent work/research undertaken by the various Adepts forges each run essentially as a separate kingdom if you like, playing merely loose allegiance to the Fabricator General and the ideals of the Omnissiah.

The main five or six characters are fairly differentiated though some are a bit flat — my only criticism being that the Adepts augmentations seems more an important feature than their 'humanity', perhaps not surprising on Mars. Those that come over best and most empathetic are the Princeps of the various war engines we encounter and these are the real heroes in the story, battling each other as well as incredible odds in warfare of colossal total destructive power.

As to plot well it's intriguing how the thirst for new knowledge — 'Knowledge is power, guard it well' as the Mechanicum says — drives the organisation to schism and civil war. Maybe, maybe it's the first time the draw of Chaos is understandable as a cathartic gateway — but it's a human failing after all that the Fabricator General seems so blind and nieve as to not understand the price he might have to pay for that when he ultimately opens the Vault of Moravec to obtain that knowledge that he knows is Warp-powered, 'the power of the power of the warp and the power of the Mechanicum alloyed together in glorious fushion'.

But that is the true nature of the tragedy here — a fall wrought by one man's greed. Horus' tempting of Kelbor-Hal seems reasonable, Horus knew exactly what levers to use to get the Mars on side. It was just a matter of time before someone in the Mechanicum took the bait.

The final third of the story plays out the unfolding tragedy — it's like watching some disaster in slow motion as once everything's in place you know the outcome before it happens. And this is why it's so Shakespearean, you just revel in the ensuing plot as it unravels.

For once I actually felt a loss for the Imperium at the point the elements of Chaos were released. OK so I wasn't weeping tears, but I can now understand why the Adeptus Mechanicus of the 41st millennium seems so hamstrung in its quest to either mend or replicate existing or develop new technologies. Such a huge and tangible loss hasn't come across in previous Heresy stories even where Space Marines have fought each other in bloody mass battles or individuals have gone a bit mad. The destruction of collective and gathered knowledge, of manufacturing and research facilities not to mention possibly billions of Mechanicum personnel somehow struck home. The sympathy factor is high.

The manifestation of Chaos as scrapcode infecting machinery and systems in a viral epidemic was an excellent metaphor for its insidious emergence and its destructive power. It does seem slightly unrealistic though that so many would have been seduced and overcome by Chaos' effects so soon — but it makes for a great story.

Then there is the issue of the Emperor and the Dragon (with a nice mythical reference I shan't give away) that is a nod towards much older creative powers in the universe. We are told the Dragon was imprisoned on Mars by the Emperor for a specific purpose — that of feeding the future organisation that was to be known as the Mechanicum. Through this we see the Emperor's great foresight over the millennia and his selfless quest to steer humanity down a safe but very narrow path — an almost unbelievable paternal insight towards humanity not alluded to in any other Horus Heresy novel.

So in the end Mars' 'grand lie' hangs like a shadow but asks more questions than it answers: who stole the book and why; and how does that dragon/book scenario link with the current 40K universe? There are hints in the Necron Codex, but that is out of this reviews scope.


An engaging story and hard to put down. It opens up vistas of background information that many followers of 40K may not be familiar with. Mechanicum is up there with the best of the HH series in my eyes: Horus Rising, Fulgrim, and Legion.

One other item that makes this book more compelling that I need to highlight. It's a simple thing right at the front… a map. Yes I love a book with a map and I found myself constantly flipping from the narrative to the map to the dramatis personae so be warned you'll be doing the same.

Overall Rating

Rating score 4.5 out of 5


UK PRICE: £6.99 (paperback, when first published)
ISBN-10: 1-84416-664-3
ISBN-13: 978-1-84416-664-0
PRODUCT CODE: 6010 0181 080


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