Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“Kill Hill” by Dan Abnett (Black Library)

BlackLibrary15-01-KillHill (Abnett)

A Warhammer 40,000 Micro-story

A brand new Iron Snakes short story: Priad of Damocles, of the Iron Snakes of Ithaka, reaches the end of a long and gruelling campaign against orks. All he has to do is survive to reach Kill Hill…

To celebrate their 15th birthday, Black Library have lined up fifteen short story eBooks to go on sale from today until April 2nd. Priced at £0.79/€1/$1.25, they could be great introductions to Black Library authors’ work, both new and old. And I think Kill Hill will do a great job of introducing new readers to this character.

This story is set fifteen years after the end of Brothers of the Snake, which I’ve not actually read. As a result, Priad was an entirely new character for me, and I was looking forward to getting a taste. In this short, sharp jolt of WH40k action, our hero is stuck on a planet awaiting pick-up, and he’s been here for fifteen years. He fights a lot of orks. To write any more would absolutely be giving the whole game away.

At just five pages (or, more accurately, five page-turns on my Kindle), Kill Hill is not really long enough to do much more than introduce us to the character. And he’s pretty interesting. I must admit that I came to this story with a fair amount of scepticism, especially after figuring out how short it is. How much can one say in just 1,000 words or so? Would it not feel like a writing exercise? Well, as it turns out, Abnett can cram in quite a bit and make it rather good. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was “gripping”, as it’s not really long enough to sink its claws into us before it’s all over. Abnett nevertheless manages to give us a pretty good sense of what Priad is like, as well as the mentality of the Iron Snakes.

Abnett’s writing is extremely tight (it has to be, really, to succeed at this length), and exhibits the flourishes that have started to seep into his novels and short stories more and more – for the most part, they’re excellent and really enhance the story, but on occasion they come across a bit too florid. Thankfully, in Kill Hill he manages to avoid this pitfall.

As a quick injection of Astartes combat, as well as an indication of how psychologically inhuman they can be, this is pretty good. Fans of the full-length novel will love to revisit the character, and Abnett-BrothersOfTheSnakenewcomers will likely want to read Brothers of the Snake (as I now do). This, I imagine, is the intended purpose of these micro-stories.

Long-time readers of the blog will know that I’m a big fan of Black Library fiction – and Abnett’s is among the best of what they publish. I’ve really enjoyed their push into digital, and have gobbled up plenty of their eBook exclusives and sometimes buy and always enjoy Hammer & Bolter, their monthly digital “magazine”. That being said, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this initiative. If I were to buy all fifteen of these micro-stories, it would cost £11.85, for roughly 15,000 words of story (effectively the length of three short stories). This seems just a little too expensive for me.

I’m sure these will, in the near future, be collected into a single edition in one format or another, and I think more people are likely to wait until the collected edition than return every day. I’ll probably end up buying a couple more – but it will depend on the author and also the premise of the story.


  1. I knew they are short stories but didn't know they're that short. I'm going to wait a while and buy them all in one go.

  2. Review almost as long as the story? ;-)

    Personally I'll wait until the cost matches the product, and anthology priced at £6.50 would still be on the high side for less than 100 pages of text.

  3. Priad rocks. It's quite "bleak" type of atmosphere but nevertheless, the story itself (as well as Priad's duty) is pretty much monotonous. Ironically, it rocks in my book. :) Imagine doing that for 15 years... oh my goodness. That's a very long long long LONG time. Also, Simon Holland pretty much nailed iton the head. :)