The second book of the Horus Heresy series, this time penned by Graham McNeill, is a ripping adventure tale that continues the story of Horus' inevitable fall. Garviel Lorken, the Company Captain of the Sons of Horus Legion and main protagonist from the first novel, now shares the stage with Horus himself in roughly equal measure. The supporting cast is too numerous to list here, but suffice to say, it includes many other canonical characters from Games Workshop's Warhammer 40K universe: Horus, Angron, Fulgrim, Magnus, Kharn, Abaddon, Fabius, and others.
M. McNeill does an excellent job capturing the feel of the 40K background, excels at action scenes, and captures the epic scope of the Crusade and subsequent Heresy. You really feel the ground tremor as titans stride into battle, and quail before Angron's savagery as he charges into the fray. The enemies of the Imperium fight intelligent campaigns that reflect well thought out strategy, making them worthy foes.
Gone, however, is the subtlety and delicate moral quandary of M. Abnett. Lorken's character growth, and that of some of the other characters, takes a back seat to Horus' tale and larger-scale conflict. This brings me to the two weaker points of the novel:
1 - M. McNeill uses some clumsy plot devices at key points in the work. The Mournival (Horus' council of Captains) and some of the senior Sons of Horus act stupidly or ignorantly from time to time, even though it's been firmly established that they are neither. There are a few other instances where Marines "regress" from extremely wily to easily misled.
2 - The biggest difficulty, however, is in the representation of the change in Horus. There are no slippery moral slopes filled with the excuses of expediency or necessity. There is no gradual or subtle descent, such as those displayed by M. Abnett's Inquisitor Eisenhorn. Instead, Horus takes the Warp induced visions of a man he admittedly doesn't even trust, and makes a decision without even checking the veracity of these mirages. As it's really one of the pivotal moments of the entire epic, it's disappointing that it doesn't receive the attention it deserves.
These - although fairly significant - detractors aside, the book is a very engaging read, and M. McNeill's writing style holds the reader's attention throughout. The plot flows well, and one can't wait to begin the next chapter after finishing the previous.
In short: a generally solid work with a few troubles for more discerning readers. However, any fan of 40K will easily get his money's worth on this ride.