Review: DEATH AND DEFIANCE by Various (Black Library)

Various-Death&Defiance(HH)A collection of Horus Heresy novellas

Words alone can no longer convey the horrors of the war that now grips the Imperium. In what should have been an age of enlightenment and glorious triumph, instead warriors on both sides reel from the twin agonies of betrayal and bloodshed. The hatred of a sworn foe, the ire of a primarch, or the unholy wrath of a daemon-lord – none but the mighty Space Marines can hope to weather such torments unscathed…

Death and Defiance is the latest anthology from Black Library – originally, it was only available as a hardcover (possibly at the Black Library Weekender?). The short stories it contained were recently made available through the publisher’s website as individual eBooks. Naturally, given my addiction to Horus Heresy fiction, I snapped them up right away. On the whole, it’s a very good collection. Surprisingly, though, my favourite author featured did not deliver the best story (in fact, it was by far the weakest).

The first story, Virtues of the Sons by Andy Smillie, is very good. It follows on directly from the events of the excellent Quick Read Sins of the Father, which I read just before this. The two stories take a look at two of the finest warriors of the Blood Angels Legion – Primarch Sanguinius’s most trusted lieutenants, really. What makes them interesting is that each of them personifies the two extremes of the Blood Angels’ nature: Amit, future Chapter Master of the Flesh Tearers (his nickname is the “Flesh Tearer”), is a brutal, relentless warrior, always on the attack; Azkaellon, captain of the Sanguinary Guard, the primarch’s bodyguard, fights primarily in a defensive style. The first story sets up the bouts between Amit and Khârn of the World Eaters, and Azkaellon against Lucius of the Emperor’s Children, which form the heart of the longer, second story. The fights are brutal, expertly written. The examination of the Blood Angels’ nature is well-presented and nicely nuanced. Smillie really does just get better and better. (I have recently purchased his latest three Flesh Tearer novellas, which I hope to read in one go).

In Nick Kyme‘s Imperfect, a simple game of Regicide between Fulgrim and Ferrus Manus proves to be far more than it seems. This is a pretty interesting story, continuing the series’s look at the brotherhood between the two Primarchs, as well as Fulgrim’s eventual betrayal of Ferrus. Fulgrim, the now-ascended Primarch of the Emperor’s Children is trying to figure out why he was unable to turn his brother to Horus’s cause. We see just how far Fulgrim will go to achieve this understanding (if, indeed, he ever truly can), and also just how far he and his Legion have fallen. As always, Kyme has written an excellent story, and this one adds a great extra component to our understanding of the primarch.

A Safe and Shadowed Place by Guy Haley was an interesting story. It focuses on the surviving Night Lords members on a damaged ship near Imperium Secundus. Things are not going well for the diminished force, as certain members start splitting off, believing their Primarch, Konrad Curze to be dead. Some members of the Legion have given in to their psychopathic tendencies, while others hold on to their sanity (such as it is) by a thread. Rivalries come to the fore, and schisms emerge within the Legion. There’s posturing, threats, and also the mystery of what exactly the Ultramarines are doing… It’s a good story, and I enjoyed reading it, but it was missing something. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was missing, but I didn’t find it quite as gripping as I’ve found much of Haley’s other fiction, or as much as the other stories in this anthology.

The Howl of the Hearthworld, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, was sadly the weakest story in the collection. It follows the Space Wolves pack who have been tasked with shadowing Rogal Dorn, Primarch of the Imperial Fists and custodian of Terra (currently in the process of fortifying the planet in expectation of Horus’s eventual attack). To say that the pack is irked by this mission is putting it mildly. The story ends with their arrival on@ Terra, and a rather amusing interaction with the bureaucrat Quilym (who I hope appears in future fiction). Unfortunately, the author’s usually praiseworthy and successful inclination to experiment fails here: he has given the Space Wolves a peculiar style of speaking, something that is completely at odds with the way they have been portrayed by every other author to write about them. It felt clunky, awkward, and ultimately slightly irritating. I can’t guess what made him decide to do this, but sad to say it really didn’t work.

In the final, much longer story in the anthology, Gunsight by James Swallow, we are reunited with an assassin from Swallow’s Nemesis – an excellent, if not as widely-popular Heresy novel that focused on a group of assassins tasked with taking Horus out before the rebellion can gain much speed or traction. The main character (I’m not going to name him, to avoid spoiling Nemesis) is alone on the Vengeful Spirit, Horus’s flagship. He is continuing his mission. However, there’s something about the ship, not to mention the critters he’s faced with, that seem to be messing with his mind. It’s a slow-burn story, with a very interesting ending (which will hopefully be continued in the future). Swallow writes very well, and I enjoyed this story very much.

Overall, then, this is another very good addition to the series, with just the one weaker inclusion. Roll on the next in the series, Graham McNeill’s Sons of Lupercal!

Death and Defiance is out now, available in hardcover and as a collection of eBooks.

The Horus Heresy: Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Flight of the EisensteinFulgrim, Descent of Angels, Legion, Battle for the Abyss, MechanicumTales of Heresy, Fallen Angels, A Thousand Sons, Nemesis, The First Heretic, Prospero Burns, Age of Darkness, The Outcast Dead, Deliverance Lost, Know No Fear, The Primarchs, Fear to TreadShadows of Treachery, Angel Exterminatus, Betrayer, Mark of Calth, Promethean SunScorched EarthVulkan Lives, Scars (I-III, IV-IX), The Unremembered Empire, Vengeful SpiritThe Damnation of Pythos, Legacies of Betrayal

Below are the individual eBook covers, followed by the full collection artwork.



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