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?

“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.]