The Lord of Iron

Today we have Black Library author and regular Warhammer Community contributor Guy Haley here to talk about his latest novel, Perturabo, and what it’s like to write about some of the most popular characters in the Warhammer 40,000 background. There are fewer than 250 copies of the impressive Limited Edition remaining, so get your hands on one now before they’re gone.

Guy: So, we’re doing these primarchs books at the Black Library (in case you’ve been hiding under a rock on the moon) and I was extremely pleased to be commissioned to write for the series. Whoop! Go team goblin.

I’m often asked if I choose books to write or if am assigned them. In my case, they’re mostly assigned. Perturabo was given to me, partly because one of the aims of the series was to have authors create stories about primarchs they hadn’t written about before. That’s great for us, as it means we’re not always doing the same thing.

Not all the primarchs books are origin stories, but this one most assuredly is. I’m a fan of novels with two timelines; it’s a trick I’ve used in Dante and Baneblade, and now also Perturabo. Half the story tells of his youth on Olympia and the other half follows his hopeless campaign against the Hrud in the Sak’Trada deeps, followed by his home world’s betrayal and its subsequent devastation at his hand.

The primarchs have grown organically from simple descriptions in games into living, breathing people. Having a lot of authors on a series leads to different takes on characters, which, when consolidated in later books, gives them a depth they would not otherwise have. All characters in stories are ultimately aspects of their creators, so a character with many creators is consequently richer and more nuanced.

Because of this, Perturabo is one of the most complex of them all. In various stories, he’s been depicted as surly, thoughtful, resentful, noble, skilful and murderously tempered. In Fulgrim, he’s intriguingly shown to be possessed of some curse or very weak psychic power that manifests itself as an ability to see the Eye of Terror.

These traits may seem mutually exclusive, but real people are easily that complicated. The interesting question is: why?

I won’t spoil the story. Let’s just say that by looking at Perturabo’s childhood, the book builds up a portrait of the Lord of Iron. The cultural peculiarities of the Olympians interact with his own failings and the trauma of his creation to make him the way he is.

To me, Perturabo is one of the primarchs that could easily have ended up on the other side. If things had worked out a little differently, he would have remained loyal. Horus has to go to extreme lengths of manipulation to get him to betray the Emperor. Perturabo is no Angron or Mortarion.

How Horus gets Perturabo to turn is hinted at in the Forge World book, Extermination. By falsifying orders from Terra commanding him to pursue a thankless, grinding campaign with little point against the Hrud, Horus breaks his brother’s spirit.

The inclusion of the Hrud presented me with another opportunity, or problem, depending on your point of view: how to depict these time-shifting creatures.

We write a very refined form of tie-in fiction. The shape of our stories and worlds are dictated by the models and games that we all love. However, though the Hrud have been lurking in the background for some time, they have never been given an army or had models made for them. They have been mysterious creatures since their first mention, and I suspect they will remain that way. I, therefore, had to depict them in a manner that honoured that mysteriousness without being too obfuscatory for the purposes of a story. Trawling through old publications and roleplaying supplements gave me some more information on them. To be honest, there wasn’t much, and I had to make sure I didn’t go overboard in filling in the blanks.

I have defined the Hrud and their technology a little more in this story, but not so much that it will spoil their enigma or preempt any attempt at some future point to make a wargames army for them, should that day ever come. It’s a difficult line to tread.

There is, though, one small secret about the Hrud that I do reveal. Years ago, Andy Chambers – then Warhammer 40,000 Overfiend – and I had a conversation about the various minor aliens in the rulebooks, and he told me what he thought the Hrud actually were. This idea is present in the book as a theory advanced to Perturabo by one of his magi. Who knows if it is true? You’ll have to read the novel to see what it is.

I’ve said before that tying together various bits of lore from numerous publications is one of the most satisfying aspects of writing Black Library fiction. Perturabo offered ample opportunity for that, with Fulgrim and Extermination proving especially rich sources.

There is plenty in here to please Iron Warriors and Horus Heresy fans. Or maybe not; this is after all only my interpretation of who Perturabo is, adding further layers to be built upon by the next writer who approaches him.

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