Quick Review: MALEDICTIONS (Black Library)

BlackLibrary-MaledictionsThe first Horror collection from Black Library

Horror is no stranger to the dark worlds of Warhammer. Its very fabric is infested with the arcane, the strange and the downright terrifying. From the cold vastness of the 41st Millennium to the creeping evil at large in the Mortal Realms, this anthology of short stories explores the sinister side of Warhammer in a way it never has been before. Psychological torment, visceral horrors, harrowing tales of the supernatural and the nightmares buried within, this collection brings together a grim host of tales to chill the very blood…

CONTENTS
Nepenthe by Cassandra Khaw
The Widow Tide by Richard Strachan
No Good Deed by Graham McNeill
Crimson Snow by Lora Gray
Last of the Blood by C L Werner
Predation of the Eagle by Peter McLean
The Last Ascension of Dominic Seroff by David Annandale
Triggers by Paul Kane
A Darksome Place by Josh Reynolds
The Marauder Lives by J.C. Stearns
The Nothings by Alec Worley

The first collection of horror stories from Black Library’s recently-launched new imprint. It’s a great collection of dark WH40k and Age of Sigmar stories, each of which brings something new and distinct to the settings. While there are some stand-out stories, the collection as a whole is really good. I enjoyed it.

It may be unfair, but I wanted to focus on the three stories that really stood out for me. The others, as I have already mentioned, were also very good, but the ones discussed at greater length below were just my favourite.

When I started reading C L Werner‘s “Last of the Blood”, I wasn’t sure in which of the Black Library universes it was set. Indeed, I wasn’t even sure how it fit into either of those settings at all, until some of the familiar terminology crept in. This is, I think, largely because Werner’s choice to use Japanese-esque names for his characters highlights just how Western-focused many of BL’s stories are. Although, it did also allow him to have a name with “Nagash-” in it without it being obvious, although I really should have spotted that earlier than I did. It’s a very good story, very well-written, and an interesting curse-breaking story with a cool twist at the end. Werner continues to be one of my favourite authors writing in Black Library’s IPs.

In Peter McLean‘s “Predation of the Eagle”, the author once again gives us a grunt-level view of the Suck. The story follows a regiment of Imperial Guard, engaged in a long-running campaign on a jungle planet (or, at least, in a jungle on a planet). McLean shows us how the strain of extended campaigns can wear on a soldier, and in this brutal far-future, grimdark setting things are even worse. But what is picking off the soldiers? There’s a nice tension and a bit of mystery, while at the same time the author gives us good portraits of the different kinds of soldier that make up the Imperial Guard. If you’ve enjoyed McLean’s previous short stories for Black Library, then I think you’ll like these, too.

“The Last Ascension of Dominic Seroff” by David Annandale offers long-time fans a little extra, as it brings back some characters he’s written about in the past, with nods to his work on the Yarrick series and also another that I won’t mention because it’s a spoiler. I really enjoyed this one, because it focuses on two washed-up, grizzled and disgraced Imperial agents, stuck on a backwater planet, brooding over their misfortune. After something crashes into the planet, they investigate only to be caught up in a bizarre contagion. It’s very well done and written, and I liked how he ended it, too.

Of the other stories, there is a lot on offer. To take a look at just the first two: Cassandra Khaw‘s opener offered a darker look at the body horror inherent in everything surrounding the Mechanicus (let’s be honest — they are extremely creepy), as they investigate a space hulk. Richard Strachan‘s story looks at small-town racism and prejudice. Each of the eleven stories is a good take on the authors’ chosen settings, offering a mixture of action and sinister goings-on.

Given the setting — the most grimdarkiest of far futures and fantasy worlds — I was interested to see how “horror” stories might be differentiated from “regular” stories in the WH40k and Age of Sigmar. After finishing Maledictions, I remain unsure. None of these stories has a happy ending, which I guess differentiates them from some BL stories in the past — even victories in the 40k universe and AoS realms tend not to be glorious, often pyrrhic, or merely staving off yet-more battles and wars to come.

Regardless, Maledictions is a very good collection of darker WH40k and AoS stories. Definitely recommended for fans of the settings.

*

Maledictions is out now, published by Black Library.

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