Quick Review: SHATTERED LEGIONS, ed. Laurie Goulding (Black Library)

Post-Isstvan, the Shattered Legions fight back…

Driven almost to the brink of self-destruction at Isstvan V, the Iron Hands now seek vengeance for the murder of their primarch Ferrus Manus. Gathering survivors from the Raven Guard and the Salamanders aboard any vessels capable of warp travel, these Shattered Legions wage a new campaign of annihilation against the traitor forces across the galaxy – a campaign masterminded by legendary warleader Shadrak Meduson. This Horus Heresy anthology contains ten short stories by authors including Dan Abnett, Chris Wraight, John French and many more. Also, in the novella The Seventh Serpent, Graham McNeill revisits the ragtag crew of the starship Sisypheum as they are drawn into a war of subterfuge against the Alpha Legion.

Warmaster Horus’s push towards Terra has been disrupted. Following the brutal slaughter at Isstvan V, Horus and the other Traitors believed they had neutered the Raven Guard, Salamanders and Iron Hands. They were wrong. Shattered Legion is a collection of eleven stories of varying length, each chronicling actions by members of the three broken legions, as they wage their own war of vengeance on their traitorous former brothers. If you’re a Horus Heresy fan, then this is a must read.

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“Legion of the Damned” Digital Anthology (Black Library)

Various-BL-LegionOfTheDamnedCollection

A collection of short stories all focused on that enigmatic Space Marines legion, the Legion of the Damned, from some of Black Library’s best up-and-comers and a couple of not-quite-old-hands. The Legion are a peculiar addition to the WH40k lore. I remember when they first made models for them (they were a custom job by one of their professional modellers, if I remember correctly). Since then, there’s no doubt that they’ve fleshed out the background and the story of who and what the Legion is. Sadly, I haven’t been keeping up-to-date with more than the fiction set in Games Workshop’s science fiction and fantasy systems for well over a decade. As a result, these six stories contained some interesting new detail. I still don’t have a full picture of how the Legion ‘works’, but by no means does this bother me. These authors have done a great job of writing tales that tap into the horror and menace of the Legion of the Damned, and their mysterious appearances on the battlefields of the 41st millennium. I’ll deal with each of the stories individually, below…

I read the stories as individual short stories on my Kindle, so I have no idea if I read them in the order that the collection is compiled. I’ve listed them in the order I read them.

David Annandale, THE DARK HOLLOWS OF MEMORY

The sinister limbo of winter is falling on the Imperial archive world of Mnemosyne. A great fog rolls in, one that will not dissipate for months. With it comes unimaginable hell for the planet’s citizens as the Chaos Space Marines of the Company of Misery stage a brutal invasion. But as the defenders of Mnemosyne fall before the Traitors, something moves in the mist. There are phantoms abroad, warriors of darkness and flame. The Company of Misery is now confronted by the Legion of the Damned, and the terrified scribes of the Librarium find themselves caught in a war between the armies of horror and terror.

This was a really good story. It’s peculiar, atmospheric, well-paced and very well-written. I also liked the battle in the library-feel to it. Just right for a short story, I think. A tricky story to write about without ruining the ending. Needless to say, the Legion of the Damned and their aesthetic and tactics are perfectly suited to Annandale’s skills and style of writing – he does a great job of evoking the sinister-spookiness of the Legion. The author continues to impress, with each new piece of fiction. I’ll have to bump his latest Space Marine Battles novella, Stormseer, up the TBR (e-)mountain.

*

Josh Reynolds, REMORSELESS

After a gruelling siege, the Iron Warriors scent victory over their eternal enemies the Imperial Fists. Alongside their grand battalions is a host of Traitor Guardsmen – Skaranx is unique amongst their number, a killer of Angels. As he stalks his singular prey, he encounters Space Marines the likes of which he has never seen before. Remorseless, these warriors are beyond life and death. They are damned and so, he realises chillingly, is he…

This story didn’t start as slickly as I’ve come to expect from Reynolds. It certainly improved tremendously and quickly as the story unfolded, though. The antagonist, who is also the narrator, is sufficiently brutal and twisted. The near-claustrophobic urban battlefield setting is well-written and presented, and adds to the frantic combat and atmosphere of chaos. I imagined this could be filmed with close-focus handicam, all shaky and intense (like a baroque, military sci-fi version of the Jason Bourne movies). By the end of the story, this has turned into a very good, engaging cat-and-mouse battle. If the mouse was a genhanced killing machine, and the cat was just a creepier, more efficient killing machine…

*

L.J. Goulding, ANIMUS MALORUM

Fighting against ork invasion, Fourth Captain Erices and his few surviving warriors are prepared to sell their own lives dearly in the name of the Imperium. However, when dark legionnaires led by the mysterious Brother-Sergeant Centurius emerge from the catacombs to aid in the defence of the city, it becomes worryingly unclear what exactly they might expect in return…

This story takes on a very interesting aspect of the Legion of the Damned’s presence in the WH40k universe. Specifically, what happens after the battle? It’s a nice alternative approach to the Legion: after all, they are only usually presented on the field of battle. I had never read any fiction or background text that discussed what happens next. Animus Malorum is a well-written tale, with a superb, sinister twist at the very end. I didn’t see that coming. Very cool indeed.

*

Graeme Lyons, FROM THE FLAMES

Battle-brother Seoc of the Invaders is alone. With his brothers dead around him, killed by the avatar of an alien war god, he prepares to sell his life dearly and join the Emperor in eternity. Until something emerges from the flames… Spectral Space Marines, their black armour adorned with symbols of fire and death, move to engage the enemy, but can Seoc survive the battle between the bloody-handed horror and the terrible revenants?

This was more a micro-story, really, but it is nevertheless a pretty good one. It’s a very quickly-paced battle scene, which offers an interesting and inspired way to deal with a burning enemy (Eldar Avatar) and what that means for burning saviours (the Legion of the Damned squad that does the battlefield equivalent of a drive-by). It was a very good decision to keep this short, as it gave the story more punch.

*

C.Z. Dunn, SHIP OF THE DAMNED

Far from home, Sister Agentha travels aboard an ancient pilgrim vessel, providing a sacred light in the vast darkness of the void. However, on answering a mysterious distress signal, she soon finds herself with far more to contend with than the ignorance of children as plague zombies flood the decks and wreak bloody havoc on the faithful. Trapped in the belly of the ship with death on all sides, Agentha’s only hope is a mysterious black object taken from a group of refugees… but will it send help, and what will be left of them when it does?

I really liked that this story was focused on a female non-combatant: Sister Agentha, who is effectively a teacher (although, one with considerable faculty for violence, seeing as everyone from her order is still trained to battle the foes of the Emperor). She confiscated a shiny metallic ball from one of her students, something he picked up after the shuttle he was originally on was left adrift, dropped by space marines in black armour. The pilgrim vessel the characters inhabit answers a distress signal that proves to contain… plague zombies! It’s been a while since I read anything about those gribbly beasties. The story is atmospheric and tense. Good stuff.

*

Nick Kyme, VOTUM INFERNUS

Fleeing in the aftermath of a terrible defeat, troopers of the Vostroyan Firstborn are being hunted by dark eldar. A pair of wyches, a brother and sister, plan to make brutal sport of the mon’keigh. But as the mists thicken a strange figure appears on the battlefield, one clad in armour of blackest night. Who are “the Damned” and what do they want with this world and the souls upon it…?

What happens when warriors who employ and embody fear are faced with an enemy more terrifying? This is a pretty interesting story. Sometimes, the description went a bit further than necessary, creating tautologies, but it’s still a solid addition to the collection. It’s perhaps not Kyme’s best, but does the trick. In addition, the twist at the end was unexpected and pretty cool.

*

General Thoughts…

There is a slight feeling of repetition, if you read all of these stories together. This is neither the fault of the authors, nor me saying that the stories are all the same (just see what I’ve written, above). Rather, the nature of the Legion of the Damned and how they “work” in the WH40k setting means there are only a limited number of ways to describe (particulars aside) their appearance on a battlefield and also their physical aspect (for example, from Lyons’s piece, “Hulking black shadows wreathed in witchfire, they are of sinister aspect, ebon armour decorated with arcane sigils made of what looks like bone” – this tells you everything you need to know, and is a variation on what’s to be found in all these stories – and probably the Space Marine Battles: Legion of the Damned novel, too…). Overall, though, I enjoyed reading these stories. If you’re looking for short stories set in the WH40k universe, with a slightly more dark, horror-feel to them, then this collection should suit perfectly.

Upcoming: “The Unremembered Empire” by Dan Abnett (Black Library)

Some more information about Black Library’s ongoing, excellent Horus Heresy series. This is looking further ahead, so there’s even less information available. But, as a Heresy junkie (I have a review of four short stories coming up, as well as the next full-length novel ready to be devoured), here is the cover art for Dan Abnett’s next novel in the series:

Abnett-HH-UnrememberedEmpire

Also, on an interview over on The Bolthole, Dan Abnett had the following mini-snippet to say about the novel:

“Next for me is The Unremembered Empire, which is a direct sequel to Know No Fear and takes the Ultramarines (the survivors) back to Macragge. Then again, Aaron’s (Dembski-Bowden) Betrayer is also a direct sequel to KNF, so KNF is a bit of a branching book. The interweaving is getting more complex and the pace is picking up.”

Here is the full art…

Abnett-HH-UnrememberedEmpire-Art

Dan Abnett is the author that kicked the series off with the truly amazing Horus Rising. The 26th novel in the series, Vulkan Lives (by Nick Kyme) will be published very soon.

UPDATE (Aug.21): Here’s the synopsis:

Believing Terra has already fallen to the Warmaster, Primarch Roboute Guilliman founds the Imperium Secundus.The unthinkable has happened – Terra has fallen to the traitor forces of Warmaster Horus! Nothing else could explain the sudden disappearance of the Astronomican’s guiding light at the heart of the Imperium, or so Roboute Guilliman would believe. Ever the pragmatist, he has drawn all his forces to Ultramar and begun construction of the new empire known as Imperium Secundus. Even with many of his primarch brothers at his side, he still faces war from without and intrigue from within – with the best of intentions, were the full truth to be known it would likely damn them all as traitors for all eternity.

… END UPDATE…

In other Horus Heresy news, I’ve dug up a little bit more for the series’s future. Major hat-tip to First Expedition for this information about other upcoming Horus Heresy fiction, which I found while searching for a synopsis of The Unremembered Empire (which still eludes me…). Here is some of what is still to come in the near future…

MACRAGGE’S HONOUR – Dan Abnett/Neil Roberts

Due for publication in November 2013

“Full colour, 100-page graphic novel, hardback to match the rest of the HH series perfectly. This will NOT be available in partwork, nor split into comics, and is being produced SOLELY by Black Library. It follows the naval duel mentioned in ‘Know No Fear’, between Marius Gage and Kor Phaeron. This will be available in time-limited edition with extra content, as well as non-limited edition later.”

VENGEFUL SPIRIT – Graham McNeill

No publication date as yet.

This is pithily described as, simply, “Novel”. Who ever said the art of brevity was dead on the internet…?

CYBERNETICA – Rob Sanders

No publication date as yet.

“Limited edition novella, which shows what is currently happening on Mars. Techno-heretics are released from imprisonment by loyalist forces fighting a rebellion war on the surface against Kelbor Hal.”

Unnamed CORAX Novella – Gav Thorpe

No publication date as yet.

“Literally, what Corax did after Deliverance Lost: attacking a forge world which had begun producing daemon engines. Also described is a ‘battle’ between two floating cities which ‘broadside’ each other for weeks while assault troops jump back and forth between them.”

In addition, two more anthologies have been announced (though, I have no idea where), titled SHATTERED LEGIONS and THE SILENT WAR. Laurie Goulding will apparently be editing both of these books.

I’ll update this information, or write new posts as-and-when more information is unveiled. Watch this space!

Review: MARK OF CALTH ed. Laurie Goulding (Black Library)

Goulding-MarkOfCalthThe latest Horus Heresy Anthology

In this all-new collection of Horus Heresy stories, witness the untold tales of the Underworld War.The Heresy reached Calth without warning. In just a few hours of betrayal and bloodshed, the proud warriors of the XIIIth Legion – Guilliman’s own Ultramarines – were laid low by the treachery of their erstwhile brothers of the XVIIth. Now, as the planet is scoured by solar flares from the wounded Veridian star, the survivors must take the fight to the remaining Word Bearers and their foul allies, or face damnation in the gloomy shelters beneath the planet’s surface.The battle for Calth is far from over

I’ve enjoyed all of the Horus Heresy anthologies that Black Library has produced. So I was very happy when I received this as a gift from a friend. I’ve liked some anthologies more than others, it’s true. But in each one, I think the authors have done a great job of advancing the overall story of the larger Galactic Civil War, as well as fleshing out the mythology of the event that has dictated much of the development of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Mark of Calth takes a slightly different approach, focussing on the after-effects of the Word Bearers’ assault on Calth (as portrayed in Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear). It’s a good selection of stories, certainly, but I definitely think it’s time to move the HH story beyond Calth… (I have high hopes for Vulkan Lives, the next novel in the series, by Nick Kyme; and the soon-to-be-more-widely-released Promethean Sun novella, also by Kyme). So, one after the other, here are some short thoughts on the stories herein… Continue reading

Upcoming: “Gotrek & Felix: The Lost Tales” (Black Library)

Goulding-Gotrek&Felix-LostTalesIt should be no secret to long-time readers of the blog that I am a fan of the Gotrek & Felix fantasy series from Black Library. First conceived of and written by William King, then ably continued by Nathan Long, the series continues to grow – now with a growing roster of authors writing about the two heroes and the ever-extending cast of companions, enemies and peripheral characters.

Gotrek and Felix: unsung heroes of the Empire, or nothing more than common thieves and murderers? The truth perhaps lies somewhere in between, and depends entirely upon whom you ask…

A collection of timeless tales featuring the Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his human companion Felix Jaeger. From the undead-ridden marshes of Hel Fenn, where an ancient evil lurks, to the court of a skaven lord in the depths of a dwarf hold, the duo face excitement, danger and intrigue at every turn.

Gotrek & Felix: The Lost Tales will be published by Black Library in August 2013. It features novellas written by Josh Reynolds, David Guymer, Jordan Ellinger,* and Frank Cavallo. The book is edited by Laurie Goulding.

* Hopefully not the one I just bought today… Don’t like doubling-up…