Alpharius: Head of the Hydra, by Mike Brooks
Legends abound of the glorious or infamous deeds of the Emperors sons. Yet almost nothing is known of Alpharius, the most mysterious of them all, for the Lord of the Alpha Legion is unparalleled in the art of obfuscation. Such are his gifts of secrecy and deceit that even his rediscovery has remained an enigma until now. But when the tale comes from the serpent’s mouth, where does the deception end and the truth begin?
It’s felt like it’s been ages since I’ve read a Black Library book that I just can’t put down and end up finishing in a single sitting. Alpharius: Head of the Hydra turned out to be just that sort of book. Without giving away any spoilers: secrets and origins are revealed, and there are insights into one of the sneakiest and most enigmatic characters in the Warhammer 40,000 mythos are given.
Or are they? Alpharius is at his core a master of subterfuge, and Games Workshop make heavy use (personally I’d say overuse) of the “unreliable narrator” trope in their world building. So there is definitely scope to discount everything in this book as nothing but a gripping yarn woven by the narrator to distract from what really happened. But based on how the story is framed, I choose to believe that the events of the book are canonical fact.
Mike Brooks takes a character which is supposed to be largely unknowable and deceitful, and manages to make them a well rounded - and often sympathetic - protagonist. It’s not easy to do when the subject matter is a giant, genetically-engineered trans-human intended to be a demi-god for all intents and purposes. The biggest problem with a character like Alpharius is that they often come across as knowing everything and are fully in control, right up until the plot-point where they conveniently aren’t. There’s a popular meme - “just as planned” - where even in apparent defeat certain characters “win”. That meme could be tailormade for Alpharius under most circumstances, and while there are a few moments of that in this book, they’re minor and don’t get in the way of the rest of the characterisation.