Book Review: The Horusian Wars: Divination, by John French

Always keen to recycle whenever I can, this review originally appeared on my old blog. Divination was my introduction to John French, and this unbiased review was provided with gratitude for the free electronic copy of the book which I received from the publisher, Black Library.

This review contains an affiliate link to, which will earn me a small commission if used, and will earn independent bookshops a whole lot more.

Since its launch in 2001, Games Workshop’s Inquisitor tabletop miniatures game has managed to establish itself firmly in the imaginations of countless readers and plenty of writers. Indeed, Inquisitor as a narrative jumping off point has far outlasted Inquisitor as a game – perhaps unsurprisingly, given the complexity of the rules, as well as a few other issues that made it trickier to get to grips with than some of the company’s other products. Set in the same universe as that of the immensely popular Warhammer 40,000, Inquisitor does survive as a playable game to this day, often combined with other rulesets to make it more easily workable.

Whilst the game in its originally published format might not have had the commercial success of many of GW’s other properties, the sheer amount of background information and lore created for and around the game, as well as the tone the rulebook set, have proven to have a lasting effect. The universe it details is one where shadowy agents of the Emperor of mankind, each one distinct and terrifying, are empowered to battle the forces of darkness besieging his empire, enlisting varied and motley crews of retainers and operatives to aid them in their fight. Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to discussing where Divination fits into all this.

Photograph of the rulebook for Games Workshop's Inquisitor tabletop narrative game.
My copy of the rather ambitious but inspiring rulebook

Consisting of eleven short stories, four of which are new for this anthology (I believe), Divination serves to give a little more background to the allies and colleagues of Inquisitor Covenant. Covenant is a puritanical member of the Ordo Malleus, that branch of the Inquisition tasked with tracking down and eradicating daemons. As you can imagine, this places him and his team in all kinds of disturbing and dangerous situations. It might surprise you to learn that I have not read the two other books in French’s Horusian Wars series, considering how much of a fan I am of the Inquisitor lore. This does mean that I can’t comment too much on exactly how much more information this offers on Covenant’s allies than the full novels in the series, Resurrection or Incarnation, did already. Perhaps this is helpful, as it allows me to go into this completely fresh, as well as assessing whether or not reading the two novels is necessary for understanding everything on offer here. So, on to my initial thoughts…

Oh my god, why have I not read anything by John French before?

I’m sorry, that’s perhaps not that helpful. But I really didn’t want to beat around the bush any more than I already had. I shall be making it my mission to read not just the full novels in this series, but also his Ahriman trilogy, which I had heard of but, like the fool that I am, had not picked up already. French brings Covenant’s diverse team to vivid life, ably demonstrating his prowess as a storyteller in doing so. Every character feels unique and nuanced, with several from the original game present and correct. The way they interact with one another, as well as how they function as a team, is also relentlessly entertaining, whether it be through their conversations or their combat operations. Reading about their exploits as they infiltrate a location or search for a target is as exciting as one could possibly hope for.

However, French goes much deeper than how they function as a team, concerning himself with the big questions they ask of themselves and each other – why they do what they do, how they find the strength to do it, and so on. He really digs deep into the psychology of his characters, laying bare the moral and ethical dilemmas that they face, the grey areas that they operate in, the stresses they’re under, everything. There are plenty of moments of reflection amongst the action here, indeed some stories contain very little actual action as such. The chilling, gothic horror of The Spirit of Cogs and the introspective and thoughtful The Father of Faith are two such examples, no less enjoyable for their lack of blasting bolt pistols or whirring chainswords.

This variety of the types of stories being told is another extremely strong point in this anthology’s favour. French is not only capable of writing from the first-person perspective of completely different kinds of characters, but also of presenting narratives in radically different ways. One story is even told largely in epistolary form, allowing us to see the plot thicken before our very eyes; an impressive feat in a story that will probably only take around half an hour to read. It’s impossible for me to pick a favourite story out of this anthology, although I am perhaps particularly partial to The Son of Sorrows, which centres on the emotionless and ruthlessly efficient Koleg. In addition to his characterisation skills, French is also adept at realising endlessly varied settings, be they worlds, buildings, dreamscapes and more besides. It’s almost as if he’s got a holodeck in his brain.

As I’m sure is obvious by this point, I was a big fan of this anthology. Not only is each story well-paced within itself, the change of pace offered by the different approaches to storytelling makes this a varied and engaging reading experience. I am also happy to report that having no knowledge of the two novels in this series made no difference to my enjoyment of this anthology, and at no point did I feel I lacked any essential information. This could even serve as a good starting point for anyone interested in the world of Warhammer 40,000, just like Into the Maelstrom did for me all those years ago. Highly recommended.

You can order a copy of The Horusian Wars: Divination through this affiliate link.


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