Review: THE BURIED DAGGER by James Swallow (Black Library)

SwallowJ-HH54-TheBuriedDaggerIn the last novel in the Horus Heresy series, Mortarion finally falls to Chaos…

The skies darken over Terra as the final battle for the Throne looms ever closer… As the Traitor primarchs muster to the Warmaster’s banner, it is Mortarion who is sent ahead as the vanguard of the Traitor forces. But as he and his warriors make way, they become lost in the warp and stricken by a terrible plague. Once thought of as the unbreakable, the legendary Death Guard are brought to their knees. To save his Legion, Mortarion must strike a most terrible bargain that will damn his sons for eternity. Meanwhile, in the cloisters of Holy Terra, a plot is afoot to create sedition and carnage in advance of the Horus’s armies. Taking matters into his own hands, Malcador the Sigillite seeks to put a stop to any insurrection but discovers a plot that he will need all of his cunning and battle-craft to overcome.

It feels like I have been waiting for this novel for a very long time. I first came across the story of Mortarion’s fall to Chaos in Codex: Chaos, way back in 1996 (a book I read many, many times in my early teenage years). Then, in 2007, Swallow’s The Flight of the Eisenstein told the beginning of the Death Guard’s story in the Horus Heresy. Needless to say, my expectations were very high for this novel. I’m very happy to report, then, that The Buried Dagger is a great addition to the series, and exceeded my expectations. Continue reading

Review: THE PATH OF HEAVEN by Chris Wraight (Black Library)

WraightC-HH-PathOfHeavenThe White Scars decide their part in the Heresy

For too long had the Vth Legion ranged out beyond the sight of the wider Imperium, remaining ignorant of the Warmaster’s rebellion and the war that inevitably followed. Only once their primarch, Jaghatai Khan, had satisfied himself that the path before them was just and true did the White Scars choose a side, taking the fight to the traitors on every front. But, four years later, the Legion’s unfettered spirit has been broken by relentless attritional warfare against the Death Guard and the Emperor’s Children – the Khan’s Stormseers must find a clear route to Terra if they are to take part in the final, apocalyptic battle.

This novel follows on from Wraight’s Scars, finally bringing the White Scars back front-and-centre. There’s a lot going on in the story, on both sides of the Heresy, and, true to the White Scars’ nature, it’s fast-paced. I enjoyed this a great deal, and it may be Wraight’s best novel to date. Continue reading

Short Fiction Reviews: CHILD OF NIGHT and DAEMONOLOGY (Black Library)

Two great new Horus Heresy short stories

French-HH-ChildOfNightCHILD OF NIGHT by John French

In the dark hive sumps beneath Terra, Chief Librarian Fel Zharost of the Night Lords Legion is being hunted. Having abandoned his insane primarch and brothers many years ago, he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong, but he’s sure he doesn’t want to be captured. What will happen when he discovers that his Legion has fallen into heresy? And where will his loyalties lie?

Learn the fate of the Chief Librarian of the VIII Legion, former servant of Konrad Curze. The first Horus Heresy Night Lords story from John French is both an insight into changes that have taken place within the VIII Legion over the course of the Great Crusade, and a fascinating glimpse into the underworld slums of ancient Terra itself.

Ever since I read Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords trilogy, I have developed a fascination with this traitor legion: designed very much to be the Imperium’s terror-troops, even during the Horus Heresy their tactics were considered extreme and horrific. In this story, John French tells us the story of a Terran-born Night Lords psyker. Exiled by the Legion, he has been eking out an existence back on Terra, in the perpetually dark underhive. Tracked down by a hunter, he shares some of his story. French does a great job of realising a number of different scenarios from Zharost’s life before and after his induction into the Legion. It’s very well written. The atmospherics are well-done and by no means over-written (it being the Night Lords, this is an essential element to get right). The ending opens up some interesting possibilities, too. As with many Heresy titles, I do wish it had been a bit longer. (More on this, below.)

*

Wraight-HH-DaemonologyDAEMONOLOGY by Chris Wraight

Chagrined by his defeat at the hands of Jaghatai Khan, Mortarion abandons the pursuit of the White Scars and instead leads the Death Guard in a spiteful, punitive rampage across the systems of the Prosperine empire. World after world has fallen to this horrific onslaught, and yet the insular and secretive primarch seems preoccupied by some other, unspoken goal. Finally, on Terathalion, the truth of Mortarion’s sinister heritage will be exposed, and the future of the XIV Legion will be written…

The Death Guard have already embraced treachery, but this story follows their Primarch as he continues upon the road that will eventually doom his Legion to a plague-wracked damnation.

Wraight’s short stories have been superb, of late. Always one of BL’s best writers, he’s really upped his game. Best of all, this short story focuses on Mortarion, the Primarch of the Death Guard. He featured somewhat prominently in Graham McNeill’s latest Heresy novel, Vengeful Spirit, but has remained rather enigmatic. In Daemonology, we learn of the primarch’s quest for greater understanding of what is happening around him: as vehemently anti-psyker and distrustful of anything that whiffs of sorcery, he is struggling with many of his fellow primarchs’ embrace of Chaos and daemons. His research has been somewhat rudimentary, and after tracking down a daemonhost, he realises just how much he doesn’t understand. Will he adopt the tools he distrusts in order to achieve his goals?

I really enjoyed this story. Mortarion is realised well on the page, and we get some great hints of things to come. The Death Guard’s fall to Nurgle remains somewhat vague and incomplete in the fiction series, so anything that adds to our understanding of the legion’s fall is welcome. Wraight proves very much up to the challenge, and I wish this had been much longer.

Both of these stories are very highly recommended.

***

On BL’s Heresy short stories: I wish there were more novella-length stories, rather than just short stories. There have been some, true, but mostly they are limited editions. For me the greatest value of writing even-just-a-bit-longer stories would have one immediate, welcome benefit: there’d be more story. Rather simple, really. The short stories are fantastic, and not every event or development needs to be presented in full-length novel form. I welcome every new nugget of Heresy story that comes out. But, you know, maybe a few that are a bit longer? Mix it up a bit?

Review: VENGEFUL SPIRIT by Graham McNeill (Black Library)

McNeill-HH-VengefulSpiritThe Traitor Horus returns…

Once the brightest star in the Imperium and always first among his primarch brothers, Horus has dragged the Space Marine Legions into the bloodiest conflict that the galaxy has ever seen. While their allies wage war on a thousand different fronts, the XVIth Legion descend upon the Knight world of Molech – home to the ruling House Devine, and a principal stronghold of the Imperial Army. The forces loyal to the Emperor stand ready to defy the Warmaster, but just what could have drawn Horus to attack such a well defended planet, and what might he be willing to sacrifice to fulfill his own dark destiny?

With its 29th instalment, the Horus Heresy series continues to entertain and impress. McNeill is probably the most skilled of the ‘old hands’ still working on the series, and with Vengeful Spirit he brings Horus himself back into the spotlight. It’s an epic, engaging novel, with just a couple of minor niggles, but also a few welcome surprises. Continue reading

“Scars”, Ep.X-XII by Chris Wraight (Black Library)

Wraight-Scars(HH)The final serial episodes of this Horus Heresy novel

Of all the Legiones Astartes, the White Scars of Jaghatai Khan remain the most enigmatic and elusive. Born of a civilisation that prizes honour, speed and fearsome loyalty, their allegiance has yet remained unclear even as the galaxy is torn apart by Horus’s treachery, and both sides have apparently counted them among their potential allies in the war to come. But when the Alpha Legion launch an unexplained and simultaneous attack against the White Scars and Space Wolves, the Khan must decide once and for all whether he will stand with the Emperor or the Warmaster… or neither.

I’m going to keep this very brief, as this review covers the final quarter of a novel. Why ruin it for everyone? The synopsis above is that for the novel as a whole. I must say it is possibly Wraight’s best so far. Everything I’ve reported on from the first nine episodes is just as evident and well-written as in the chapters that have come before. We learn more about the White Scars, and their strange place alongside the other Legiones Astartes, and the Imperium at large. Wraight sets up a lasting conflict and antagonism that (I assume) continues into the “present” Warhammer 40,000 timeline. Two Primarchs face off against each other, and the result of that exchange dictates the fate of the White Scars going forward. These three episodes pack in a lot of action, and the battle-scenes are very well-written (better, even, than Wraight’s Battle of the Fang). I particularly liked the attention paid to the Scars’ as a Legion split in two – mainly because it’s not been particularly well-addressed in other novels. Wraight’s writing is excellent throughout – clear, crisply composed, and briskly paced.

To be honest, a good amount of the story’s impact was lost as a result of the serialisation – hitting cliffhanger moments works for TV series, but not so much for a Horus Heresy novel. Even though I read them in chunks or multiple episodes, I’m used to read a novel in no more than five days (when they’re really long) and as little as one or two days. Stretching one out over a couple of months just didn’t work for me. An interesting experiment, though.

Nevertheless, with the whole novel now available, I would certainly recommend this as a must-read for all fans of the Heresy series. Wraight’s first full-length foray into the era is a triumph of military sci-fi. I certainly look forward to his next offering.

The Horus Heresy: Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Flight of the Eisenstein, Fulgrim, Descent of Angels, Legion, Battle for the Abyss, Mechanicum, Tales 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 Tread, Shadows of Treachery, Angel Exterminatus, Betrayer, Mark of Calth, Promethean Sun, Scorched Earth, Vulkan Lives, Scars (I-III, IV-IX), The Unremembered Empire

[I’m going to work at filling in those review-blanks – some I’ve already read, but there are a couple of oversights that need addressing. As I am always thirsty for more Heresy fiction, I think I may have to catch up pretty soon. Starting with Graham McNeill’s Mechanicum. Fallen Angels is the only other I’ve never read.]

Four HORUS HERESY Short Stories by Graham McNeill, Rob Sanders, James Swallow & Gav Thorpe (Black Library)

HorusHeresy-Logo

Near the end of July, Black Library released four Horus Heresy short story eBooks through their website. Naturally, as a real Heresy junky, I gobbled these up ASAP. All four are pretty different, offering alternative perspectives on different events and times during the galaxy-spanning civil war that dictates much of how mankind operates in the 41st Millennium (the ‘present’ for the game and system). So, here are four mini-reviews of these excellent stories… Continue reading