38 000 years in the future and the greatest, most terrible war humanity has ever faced rages across the galaxy as the forces of chaos look to spread terror to every corner and man fights fellow man. On the home world of the human race preparations have begun to defend the Imperial Palace and get ready for the final day of reckoning between the Traitor Horus and the Emperor.
The Horus Heresy series is really progressing well, thanks to the talented vision of the Black Library authors and here we have another anthology of short stories that feature the Heresy of Horus. I like these anthologies, they do a great job of breaking up the series and providing a stage to read more about specific characters and alternative viewpoints. They also often provide a nice setting to a scene that may be later expanded upon in a novel.
I do also have a fondness for 40k short stories in general and we are treated within this volume by two novella length tales, including one by the inestimably talented Aaron Dembski-Bowden - in fact the whole book is filled by tales from the real heavy-weights of Warhammer including Graham McNeill, Gav Thorpe,and the king of Warhammer 40000 himself Dan Abnett.
The Crimson Fist by John French
Under the command of Captain Alexis Polux the Imperial Fist relief fleet that was originally destined for Isstvan III has been stuck in the backwater Phall system for months, waiting for the fierce warp storms to pass. Hoping to once more get underway, complete their mission and return to their Primarch Rogal Doen, these Emperors finest may get much more than they bargained for as those heretic Iron Warriors raise their chaos scarred heads.
It's great to read about the Imperial Fists once more and John French does the Chapter proud with a rewarding tale that puts the Fists right at the heart of it all (although they are treated a little roughly). With two main threads, the first following the Primarch and the other the lost fleet this short captures brilliantly the moment that the Horus betrayal is finally revealed. A great start to the anthology. At it's heart it is a tale of heroes and how they overcome failure, how they continue to fight against the darkness of the long night and carry on even when all hope is lost.
The Dark King by Graham McNeill
Keeping with Rogal Dorn this next story see's the Primarch of the Night Lords Chapter, Konrad Curze set against that Primarch of the Imperial Fists. An act that sets the Night Lords on an inevitable road to hell (or at least chaos), this little gem is all the more rewarding for being set from the perspective of Curze and it catalogues the Night Lords split from the Imperium magnificently. Once again though the poor Imperial Fists bear the brunt of their ire.
This story is a great example of the Primarch's power and feels very much like two great demi-gods fighting it out against one another, real clash of the titans stuff.
The Lightning Tower by Dan Abnett
With the Army of Horus drawing closer to Terra, Rogal Dorn faces the agonising decision to rip apart one of the most important buildings in the Imperium, that of the Emperors Palace and convert it into a Fortress that can stand the might of the Heretic Legion.
The Imperial Fists once again take centre stage, this time at the hands of one of the finest science fiction writers alive today, Dan Abnett. Told with the authors usual talent we really get to see more of the character of Dorn. In my opinion the best story in this collection, a character driven story told with consummate style and grace.
The Kaban Project by Graham McNeill
Still at the beginning of the Heresy, the "Kaban Project" see's Ravechol, an Adept of the Adeptus Mechanicus discover an artificial intelligence hidden on Mars. As the Emperor has outlawed machine sentience he must try and destroy this killing machine before it endangers the entire Imperium.
This is the first time I've read about A.I. within the 40k Universe and the short story has a real elegance to it, along with a "literary" science fiction feel that reminded me of those stories back in the "golden age" of scifi. It's also great to read about characters other than Space Marines and it breaks up the book perfectly. I'd love to see this expanded into a novel length story - Graham Mcneill at his absolute finest.
Raven’s Flight by Gav Thorpe
The Raven Guard are stranded in the caves of Isstvan V after the infamous "Dropsite Massacre" that saw the treachery of Horus revealed for the very first time. As Chaos Legions roam the land, The Guard remain trapped and their plight seems desperate, can they survive long enough for help to arrive (presuming it is even on the way).
Full of mystery, paranoia and a raging Primarch, Raven's Flight shows Gav Thorpe's ability to create the type of story that is impossible to escape from, an incredibly well written story.
Death of a Silversmith by Graham McNeill
Back to Mcneill and this time he's (briefly) writing about a Silversmith as he reflects back on his service in the Imperium, a lifetime spent toiling away for the Emperor.
McNeill is again on fine form and this quite short story is highly entertaining, a mood piece that breaks up the action quite effectively.
Prince of Crows by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
We are once again re-united with the Night Lords, this time it's Aaron Dembski-Bowden at the helm, who delivers a spectacular end to a hugely rewarding anthology. The story begins not long after Konrad Curze is defeated in a fight against Lion el Johnson, an action which leaves Curze incapacitated with some pretty severe wounds and a forced convalescence within the Night Lords apothecarium.
The Primarch's absence within the chapter leaves a gap in leadership resulting in a fierce squabble between the Night Lords Leadership Council until the First Captain Sevatar appoints himself acting leader. The author does a brilliant job of bringing this acerbic, grouchy captain to life and it's a real pleasure to read. The writing is absolutely brilliant, on a par with Abnett and it isn't just the characterisation which shines but the whole narrative, including a completely engrossing plot. Simply magical.
And there you have it, seven tales from some of the finest authors to ever dream of life in the far future, one of the most engaging anthologies I have read in some time.
Written by Antony, 08 October 2012.