REVIEW: Echoes of Eternity by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Echoes of Eternity is the penultimate edition in Black Library’s expansive Horus Heresy and Siege of Terra series that dig into the story of Warhammer 40k’s foundational mythos. From Horus Rising to Warhawk this has been an epic story of a great endeavour brought low, of high ideals betrayed and a family in desperate need of counselling. Now Aaron Dembski-Bowden gets his chance to add to the myth before handing off to Dan Abnett for the final instalments.

Echoes of EternityThe key plot arc of Echoes of Eternity sees the angelic Primarch Sanguinius and his heroic Blood Angels defending the approaches to the Eternity gate, the last truly defensible point before the Sanctum Imperialis. Leading the charge to bring them all down is the newly ascended Daemon Primarch Angron and his bestial World Eaters.

Echoes of Eternity’s most important points of view come from these Legions, with Zephon and Amit for the Blood Angels and Kargos for the World Eaters giving the view from the eyes of the combating Space Marines. A more human perspective comes from the crew of a traitor Titan, a captain of the World Eater’s fleet and the ageing techno-archaeologist Arkhan Land and some Blood Angels servants.

This range of viewpoints is necessary to cover the scope of the engagement but compared to other Siege of Terra books Echoes of Eternity is far more tightly tied to the one battle and it feels tighter for it and as the reader you can feel the pressure of a closing noose in that narrowed focus.

The one real departure from this arena in Echoes of Eternity is another confrontation between two other Primarchs, Vulkan and Magnus who had faced off earlier in the series. This conflict is thematically very different, being conducted in the ethereal landscape of the webway and offers a degree of contrast to the more visceral blood and guts in the bulk of the book.

In a series that has added layers of grime to the quintessential grimdark myth, Echoes of Eternity is probably the most grimdark of them all as Dembski-Bowden leans into his well established skill in describing the effects of Chaos in this universe. He merges cosmic and body horror into a series of genuinely distressing pictures of what primordial entropy looks and feels like. The mental image of crew all but sealed into their war machines with their own filth, dessicated comrades animated by something unnatural and outer Gods manifesting out of the sky as numberless hordes swarm over defenders bodies will stay with me for some time.

For long-standing fans of the Warhammer 40k lore, the most anticipated parts of Echoes of Eternity were always going to be the back to back duels Sanguinius fights against the Daemon Prince Ka’Banda, the nemesis of he and his Legion, and then against his former
brother, Angron. Some of us have been waiting for a detailed account of these fights for thirty years.

I’ll be honest and say that I felt a little disappointed, but that’s partly down to building them up too far in my head and also probably because they’re relatively short compared to the length of the whole book. That’s likely necessary, as to be truly effective the story has to show more than just Hero Beats Up Bad Guy in Epic Encounter and give context and meaning to that.

Which leads me to the emotional and thematic core of Echoes of Eternity, the contrast and similarities between Sanguinius and the Blood Angels and Angron and his World Eaters.

The Blood Angels and their Primarch are beautiful, noble warriors, almost to the point of being noblebright, but they are so in spite and in constant conflict with their inner brutality and bloodlust. By contrast, Angron and the World Eaters are ravening bloodthirsty maniacs whose entire fall was ultimately caused by their own sense of honour (and, to be fair the implants known as the Butcher’s Nails.)

So we have angels striving not to be vampires versus mindless berserks that should have been noble warriors. As with everything in 40k, it’s a tragedy but it takes the points of view from the marines such as Amit and Kargos to really push that through in a way that a longer fight between the Primarchs wouldn’t have achieved.

Strangely, one of the most compelling moments in the whole book comes from Arkhan Land, who has often appeared in these stories as a sort of light relief, with his pompous, cowardly manner. Nonetheless, in extremis he finds comradeship and courage and it’s a beautiful, touching moment.

All in all, Echoes of Eternity was everything I expected it to be and more. Dembski-Bowden has a great talent for describing some of the most viscerally horrible and enigmatically otherworldly stuff, and also for making both nailed-on villains and potential Mary Sue heroes both relatable and compelling. Echoes of Eternity shocked me at times, had me whooping with glee at others and will probably take several re-reads to fully process.

Most of all, I’m awaiting the two-part finale, recently announced as being titled The End & the Death with bated breath.

5/5

Read Echoes of Eternity by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

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Chris Napier

Chris Napier

Chris Napier lives in Glasgow, Scotland with his wife, two young sons and a head full of utter nonsense. An ecumenical geek, he especially delights in stories of hope in dark places and finding beauty in desolation. In between writing his own stories and posting to his Chaotic Good Story Club, he attends the Glasgow SF Writers Circle and contributes to Big Comic Page and Grimdark Magazine.