Sunday, 9 September 2012

Books in Brief : The Primarchs (Anthology)

The third anthology of the Heresy series with Black Library appearing to be turning up the frequency of these short story outings; Shadows of Treachery is due out next month (although that will mostly contain tales previously released only as limited editions or audio books).

These novellas increasingly tend towards tying into the plot lines of the main novels rather than being stand alone works, although I'm finding it to be a double edged sword. On the plus side I enjoy the increased relevance of a story as each acts to fill in a piece of the Heresy puzzle, bringing clarity and continuity to the overall picture; but on the minus side, if these stories cross over with limited edition novels (as two in this book do) then there's a good chance of the reader, myself included, not having read those novels and thus missing the adjoining puzzle piece.

This book contains far fewer stories than the previous two anthologies, just four, giving the authors a bit more room to breathe, which would seem wise, after all we are talking Primarchs here and these guys only play stadium gigs!

The Reflection Crack'd by Graham McNeill

The opening tale of the anthology reunites McNeill with the debauched Emperors Children and as such I approached with caution, having had harsh words (with hindsight possibly too harsh) to say in my review about his previous work on the Legion in the book Fulgrim.

I've realised over time that it wasn't so much his writing as the subject matter itself I didn't like; being a Loyalist I'm not a fan of any of the four Chaos powers (ya boo sucks to all of them), but Slaanesh is in my opinion out and out the worst of the nefarious bunch.

And boy does McNeill get them! Returning here with all the sick, twisted, sensation seeking zeal that defines these most debased Space Marines. I'd go so far as to say this story could/should carry a parental advisory; I know the Warhammer universe is grim dark, the Heresy series more so and much of it probably isn't suitable for Snotlings, but some scenes in this make for a particularly graphic, disturbing and uncomfortable reading.

Linking strands from the novels Fulgrim plus (I believe) Aurelian and leading towards the upcoming Angel Exterminatus, the story underlines the Legions utter surrender to and embracing of the Slaaneshi cult; it focuses on the Lucius as he assesses his relationship with his hedonistic Primarch and uncovers Fulgrim's Dorian Grey like fate.

Much as I couldn't say I enjoyed this story (I really don't like what these guys are about), it was very well written, it's revelations serving to up my revulsion of the Emperors Children and dispelling any last vestige of pity I held for Fulgrim, he is a very, very bad boy!

Feat of Iron by Nick Kyme

Stepping away from his usual 'go to' Space Marines, the Salamanders (though not that far, as this tale is set on the planet of One-Five-Four-Four and runs parallel to the novel Promethean Sun) Nick Kyme tells a tale involving the ill fated Ferrus Manus and his Iron Hands Legion prior to the Heresy.

It appears an odd choice at first as the Heresy stories of late have actually been moving onward from the events of Isstvan (thank the maker); but it seems only fair that the first casualty of the war should get a little bit more time devoted to him, it's also fitting that this tale follows on in the book from the one about Fulgrim and there are clues that events here will have further meaning in Angel Exterminatus.

The tale has two focal points, one details the Iron Hands in exciting and brutal engagements with the Eldar defenders of One-Five-Four-Four, with the author doing a steady job of fleshing or should that be ironing out the Legions machine like philosophy and their disdain for human weakness, throwing in a great counterpoint to that belief as only the Father of the humanist Salamanders could.

The second is a personal ordeal for Manus, through which we learn much more about the Primarch's background, motivation and personality as he wrestles with daemons both real or imagined and seeks to defy his destiny.

A sad but solid read and nice to see something other than Salamanders from Nick.

The Lion by Gav Thorpe

The Dark Angels are a tale of suffering, two books with two authors (Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon 'poor' Fallen Angels by Mike Lee 'fair') resulted in lost time and confused motivation; Gav Thorpe first had a crack at them in the Heresy era with his short story Call of the Lion in Tales of Heresy but surprisingly for someone so versed in their lore it didn't amount to much.

Here he has a bit more space to manoeuvre, to make use of the lifeline thrown to the 1st Legion by Aaron Dembski-Bowden with his short story Savage Weapons in Age of Darkness.

Does he succeed? Well sort of, this follows directly on from ADB's Savage Weapons and as such strikes out along the clearest path yet set for the Dark Angels. The explosive revelation from Weapons is strongly expanded upon and really catapults the 1st forward with the promise of them playing a pivotal and unexpected role in the unfolding Heresy.

But it is only this that saves the story from being standard fare, although Gav quite clearly sets about 'cleaning house' of much of the jumble, one death being particularly notable both for being unexpected and underlining the break with the past; there are still too many fingerprints on the Dark Angels robes, most notably so their Primarch Lion El'Jonson who gets up to some really conflicting and odd behaviour in this story.

A workman like job, building on solid foundations but this is a restoration project still under construction.

The Serpent Beneath by Rob Sanders

He came close to stealing the show in Age of Darkness with The Iron Within, here Rob Sanders aces it; this tale of the clandestine Alpha Legion has more duplicity and mind games than 'Where Eagles Dare'.

Focusing more on the Primarch Omegon rather than his twin Alpharius, although who can really tell where they're are concerned? This gripping story follows the planning, resourcing and execution of a covert mission (which has links to the previous Dark Angel story and I think the upcoming White Scars Novel, Brotherhood of the Storm) by Alpha Legionnaires; both they and their Primarch are depicted as hard nosed, expertly lethal, down right deceptive but still remarkably likable.

The skills of these ruthlessly efficient operatives are highlighted in style, much of it akin to the Bourne films and I was swept along through every twist and turn by the action packed pace.

Rob once again includes mention of a Xenos race from the annals of 40k history, this time with a bit more than just a name drop and I so hope that it is a hint of things to come.

The story is immensely satisfying on all levels right up to the very last twist, which I defy you to see coming...much like the Serpent Beneath.

The best of the bunch, more of this please Mr Sanders, much, much more.


AsymmetricalXeno said...

What Xenos race is it that is mentioned?

Bix said...

Hi AsymmetricalXeno, I kept it out of the review as I didn't want to spoil for anyone what I thought was a pleasant surprise in the story.

So if you'll forgive this rather round about method of letting you know. Click on the spoiler link below and it'll lead you to the Lexicanum entry for the race mentioned.


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