Alpharius: Head of the Hydra – Mike Brooks
In the beginning, there was Konrad Curze: The Night Haunter. And it was mediocre – a collection of barely connected vignettes that, while entertaining, only really served to undermine the book’s namesake. Then there was Luther: First of the Fallen, and it was better. While still too impressed with its own knowledge of lore, it semi-coherently elevated a character in dire need of such development; if only it had a better grasp of how to balance all that character with the filler. But now we have Alpharius: Head of the Hydra, and it is great, for it succeeds in all the ways its predecessors have failed.
(Just use your imagination to fit Vulkan Lives in there too because this is a book written in the first person that doesn’t inadvertently :cuss all over the subject matter.)
Seriously, this book is great.
In some ways it’s the lore-bible style book I’m not huge on, but it’s not at the expense of an actual story being told. The book is (allegedly) about the years from Alpharius’ discovery up to the meeting of his brother, Omegon (this may be a lie.) This works because, from the book’s very beginning, Alpharius is looking for his ultimate equal - first in Valdor, then his brother primarchs, but he’s never satisfied until he’s face to face with his soul-twin. It is a story first. The reason Luther and Curze fail in this regard is because those books, in an attempt not to enter narrative territories already covered, skip the impetus for why those characters’ arcs were happening in the first place. Head of the Hydra is nearly all fresh ground, and thus doesn’t end up hollowed out narratively like those two were. The important parts of the story are actually in the book, instead of being danced around.
The lore bible stuff is still fun, btw. It’s all generally pretty cheeky, very in keeping with the title character.
Alpharius himself, ostensibly telling this story, is handled superbly. It’s written very much as “from his mouth” rather than “in his head,” which is an important distinction; it reads as if he’s talking to one of his followers, a behavior he demonstrates in the narrative itself more than once. We get all the benefits of his perspective without noticing that non-superhuman writers tend to struggle when tackling the thoughts of superhuman characters.
Alpharius is pragmatic, intelligent, and obsessively reasonable. He’s also obviously arrogant, and that shines through in myriad subtle ways, my favourite of which being the absolute confidence he exudes while mis-reading nearly all of his brothers. Alpharius, for all his smarts, borders on shallow and can’t help but attribute that same flaw to his kin. The book is genius in advertising Alpharius’ complexity addiction as a virtue, all the while poking little holes in his entire schtick.
But, and this is the best part, it’s just ambiguous enough that this isn’t some concrete thing. There’s an entire other reading (and beyond!) of what I just described as Alpharius cutting through the bull:cuss and seeing the core of who they really are as people. And Alpharius’ observations are like this through the whole thing – it’s left to the reader whether or not to take him at face value.
As a writer, I think I’d describe Brooks as “Thorpe +1.” The book is full of neat tidbits and fascinating conversations, as are Thorpe’s strengths, with the difference being everything in between isn’t dull as dishwater. Combine that with his deft delivery of “book of primarch trivia” and “book about the Great Crusade” all in one and he really flexes his plotting muscles as well.
Oh, and this book has
in it. That makes it a 10/10
no matter what. (That was a lie.)
I wouldn’t hesitate to call this the best in The Primarchs series. Go read it.
(My favourites under the lable are all written by Heresy irregulars, curious.)
Why, it’s almost good enough to make me forgive them for relegating the Guilliman incident to a short story.