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Posted on Apr 21, 2011 in Stuff We Like

Prospero Burns – Book Review

By Jim Zabek

Prospero Burns.  Book  Review.  Publisher: Black Library.  Author: Dan Abnett.  $8.99

Passed Inspection: Great depth and insight into the Space Wolves. Gripping action. Continues to detail the history of the Horus Heresy.

Failed Basic: Highly fragmented. Can be confusing to follow because of the jarring shifts from one scene to another.

Prospero Burns is a work of fan fiction based upon the Warhammer 40,000 gaming universe. Readers familiar with the series will recognize it as a “historical” book covering the period of the Horus Heresy, which is set some 10,000 years prior to the contemporary Warhammer 40,000 novels.


Readers unfamiliar with Warhammer 40,000 fan fiction will not find Prospero Burns a good introduction to the series. There are many fine entry level novels, for instance the Ultramarines Omnibus or the Space Wolves Omnibus. But Prospero Burns is the 15th novel written in the Horus Heresy series, and while a few novels in that series can be read as one-offs, Prospero Burns is not one of them. It is set at the height of the conflagration when the forces of Chaos are tearing tooth and claw into the heart of the Imperium in a massive civil war. Brother literally turns against brother as Primarchs choose sides in the rapidly expanding cataclysm. The Space Wolves can simplistically be viewed as Vikings set in a Gothic space opera tens of thousands of years in  the future. In other novels it has been revealed that the 6th Chapter of Space Marines, the Space Wolves, have had a 10,000 year grudge against Magnus the Red and his chapter of Space Marines, the Thousand Sons. Prospero Burns reveals to the reader exactly how and why that vendetta unfolded.

It is told through the eyes of a man, Kasper Hawser, destined to become a Skjald, or storyteller for the Space Wolves. Exactly how he arrives at that point in time is a long, complex, and highly fragmented story that only comes together in the last 50 or so pages of the novel. Dan Abnett is a stellar writer for the Black Library, and his writing is legendary for its ability to tell a grand story through the minutia of real and “human” characters. He is also known for the size of his cast; there can be dozens of well-developed characters in each book, and every individual Abnett turns his attention to becomes interesting through masterful storytelling and character development. Prospero Burns is no exception – the character development is top notch. However, the transitions between settings is abrupt. The reason for this is clear: the reader is participating in flashbacks and finding fragments of Hawser’s memory. The reasoning for this does ultimately make sense and is tied up in a literary flourish that only a master like Abnett can accomplish. Nevertheless, it takes a fair amount a patience to get through these transitions and I often found myself distracted by the meta question – how is this all going to be tied together?

The whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. One of my favorite aspects of Abnett’s writing is his playfulness with the language. The Warhammer 40,000 universe is set tens of thousands of years in the future. Abnett is a master at creating new words and phrases that make the future seem far away, and yet mirror experiences we might face today. Sometimes I think I enjoy watching him craft the language as much as I enjoy the plot and the characters. Abnett manages to tell the story of the Space Wolves in a way that brings great depth to them. Questions such as what can Space Wolves possibly fear, when they have been genetically altered to experience no fear are asked and answered.

Prospero Burns may be one of Abnett’s greatest works. Its highly fragmented story is distracting, but ultimately the story overcomes this flaw. There are many authors who have written about the Space Wolves and all of them have written enjoyable novels. As good as all the writers have been who have crafted stories of the Space Wolves, Prospero Burns takes the Space Wolves to a new high. Please, Dan: more Space Wolves!

About the Author

Jim Zabek is the Gaming Editor for Armchair General. When he’s not editing or writing he can be found commanding the 13th Company of Space Wolves, rolling oddly shaped dice in an RPG, or ordering pixels around a screen.


  1. just want to say i’m a long time 40k fan (been into the 40k universe since the mid 90’s) and i love abnett’s writing, i do recommend starting with his work for anyone looking to take a step into the 40k universe. my recomendations would be the eisenhorn omnibus, or the gaunt’s ghosts series.

  2. This book sucks!!! Only about 10% of the latter part was about “Prospero burns”. The title should change from Prospero Burn to The Wolves unleashed instead. Very very disappointed. You will find the first half of this book very boring. No one wants to know the dogmatic and narrow view of just one remembrancer!!!
    Do not buy it!!!