It’s been a while since I read anything set in Black Library’s ongoing Horus Heresy series — even longer when you just consider novels (I’m now two behind). I’m also having a rather long, frustrating bout of reader’s block. Over the past week or so, BL released a handful of new eBooks, and I thought the familiarity of the series and the slim length of the stories might help knock me back into a reading rhythm. Some of these stories were published before in other formats (as audio-dramas, for example).
Featuring: John French, Graham McNeill, James Swallow, Gav Thorpe, Chris Wraight
Reviewed in order of original publication…
John French, GREY ANGEL (2012)
On a distant world of the Imperium, an agent of Rogal Dorn finds himself the prisoner of a Legion whose loyalties may be divided. Shackled and bound, the former Luna Wolf must fight a battle of wits with his captor, lest the course of the Horus Heresy take an unexpected turn. Will his very presence drive his erstwhile allies into the arms of the Warmaster or will maintaining the status quo prevent another Legion from turning traitor? And just who is the mysterious Space Marine aiding him from the shadows?
This was an interesting story, although one that suffers from the too-popular vagueness that characterizes a fair amount of the Heresy series. This far in, I think we can scale back some of the cryptic allusions (in this story, it’s the place of Cypher of the Dark Angels), and start providing details so that readers who aren’t able/willing to read every piece of Horus Heresy lore can still build a substantial, appropriate picture of the main or significant characters. Cypher is an interesting character, one I only know a little bit about, and one that has thus far been a tantalizing enigma. But, I think it’s time we get a bit more on his role in the Heresy and the Dark Angels’ shame. (Some of it is covered in Dark Angels fiction set in the 41st millennium, but it would be nice to get more in the Heresy series.)
The two Astartes in this story, Loken and Qruze, have featured quite often, now, and they have become firm fan favourites. It’s not hard to see why — both are former Death Guard, they are founding recruits of Malcador’s special task force. In Grey Angel, they’ve been dispatched to Caliban to ascertain the Dark Angels’ loyalty. Depending on what they discover, Loken has a message to deliver. French does a great job of further fleshing out Loken and Qruze, capturing just one of their missions for the Sigillite and the internal struggles they are still engaged in, adapting to their new roles.
A good story, worth checking out if you’re a fan of the growing Silent War storyline.
Graham McNeill, WOLF HUNT (2013)
A fugitive stalks the shadows of the Petitioner’s City. Though his fellow Outcast Dead are no more, the lone wolf Severian still intends to escape from Terra by any means possible — but the enigmatic hunter Yasu Nagasena is in pursuit. As news of the massacre on Isstvan V continues to spread and Severian’s trail doubles back to the place where it all began, both he and Nagasena must face some uncomfortable truths, and an even more uncertain future.
This is… not McNeill’s best work.
I enjoyed The Outcast Dead, which Wolf Hunt is meant to build on. This short story, however, felt messy and half-baked. I didn’t care for either of the main characters, and it was filled with strange inconsistencies. For example, the Horus Heresy has been characterized by slow communication lines — events at the front take a long while to disseminate and filter back to Terra. And yet, Severian stumbles across a handful of workers in a shanty city who are peculiarly well-informed of larger events of the growing Heresy? I really don’t have anything else to say about this short story, that’s pretty much the only thing that stood out and stayed with me.
One to skip, I think. Disappointing.
Chris Wraight, THE SIGILLITE (2013)
The galaxy is divided, but while his armies prepare for battle the Emperor himself remains curiously absent. In his place stands Malcador — legendary Sigillite, First Lord of Terra and regent to the throne — now arguably the single most powerful man in the Imperium. Army officer Khalid Hassan reports back to the Palace after a disastrous secret mission into the wastelands of Gyptus, but soon learns an awful truth about the destiny of mankind. Where do Malcador’s true loyalties lie?
Another good story, well-written. It’s not essential to the overall story, I don’t think, but it is nevertheless an interesting look at Malcador the Sigillite’s character, and perhaps the first time that we get a proper, close look. We also get to hear of some of his personal motivations. In The Sigillite, Malcador takes a new recruit into his confidence, and takes him on a short outing to see what he and the Emperor have been collecting and storing below the Palace for safekeeping.
I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a little bit more about what is happening on the edges of the main conflict, and back on Terra. I enjoyed the lack of Space Marines in the story, and the evidence that Malcador is recruiting ‘mere’ humans for his Silent War, too. It’s not essential reading, but it is very good.
Graham McNeill, LUNA MENDAX (2013)
Returning from a secretive mission to Caliban at the command of Malcador the Sigillite, the Knight Errant Garviel Loken finds sanctuary in one of the abandoned bio-domes of Luna. Scarred by betrayal and bewildered by the changing face of the galaxy, the weary warrior is almost unsurprised when he is visited by the long-dead Tarik Torgaddon — is this a sign of a fractured and exhausted mind playing tricks on itself, or truly the spirit of a departed friend?
An introspective story, as Loken plays gardener. Yes, really. On the moon, no less. It’s not bad, though, and certainly better written than Wolf Hunt. A short vignette, really, showing readers how Loken is managing his sense of loss and disconnect. He’s adrift, trying to carve out not only a new place for himself in the Sigillite’s service, but also trying to change the way he thinks about himself and the universe. Most of the Loken-related stories are about his continuing struggle to find himself and figure out what he’s supposed to be doing. I assume he will eventually snap out of it, and start kicking ass again. (Perhaps he does in the recently-released, limited edition novella Garrow: Vow of Faith — I’ll read this in the not-too-distant future, I hope)
James Swallow, GHOSTS SPEAK NOT and PATIENCE (2016)
When Nathaniel Garro carried word of the Warmaster’s treachery to Terra, he also brought with him seventy loyal sons of the XIV Legion. Distrusted by their kinsmen, they languished in seclusion on Luna… until now. Amendera Kendel, once a Sister of Silence but more recently in service to the Sigillite, gives Helig Gallor of the Death Guard a new purpose, and a new duty — one that will ultimately see him reunited with his former battle captain on the field of war.
Two short stories, the first much more substantial than the second. Ghosts Speak Not is superb. It takes the form of a ‘traditional’ 40k inquisition story, I suppose: it follows a handful of the Sigillite’s agents, dispatched to a planet not far from Terra to investigate the extent of possible treachery. There’s action and subterfuge aplenty, and each of the main characters is pretty well rounded for a relatively short story. The Death Guard in particular are interesting — like Loken, they are struggling with their limbo-like status (they are survivors of the Flight of the Eisenstein, and the Terran leadership question their loyalty), and are forced to play roles that are at odds with their Legion’s traditional posture (put simply: attack, relentless attrition, bludgeon, repeat until victory achieved).
The second story, Patience, brings Gallor and Loken together, for a very short story set on a ruined world. It’s an interesting vignette, but doesn’t really have enough time to do anything substantial.
Gav Thorpe, INHERITOR (2016)
On the world of Kronus, deep within the grand realm of Ultramar, Torquill Eliphas of the Word Bearers brings his grand designs to fruition. As part of Lorgar’s Shadow Crusade, the Ark of Testimony Chapter has fought alongside their berserker allies from the World Eaters for many months. But the slaughter of Ultramarines is not their only goal — Eliphas seeks to harness the power of the warp, in the construction of the mighty Templum Daemonarchia…
Unlike the other stories reviewed today, Inheritor is not connected to Malcador’s growing cadre of agents, nor does it take place in the Silent War. Instead, this focuses on the continued devolution of the Word Bearers, and their ever-greater corruption. Specifically, two captains who have expended a great amount of time, effort and slaves to build a contraption to contact their primarch. In attendance is a World Eaters captain, who is a bit bemused by all the effort his cousins have gone through.
It’s a strange story, and I’m not really sure what to think of it. The characters didn’t feel quite right — the Word Bearers came across as rather weak, almost simpering, which is not the way they have been portrayed by anyone else over the course of the Heresy series. The World Eaters, too, were remarkably well-spoken for a Legion characterized by brutal rage and frothy psychopathy… After a few lines of reading an exchange between Eres and his second, I found them to seem Frightfully British, which didn’t quite work for me.
An odd story. For completists only, perhaps. Not Thorpe’s best, by any stretch.