Thursday, August 30, 2012

“Shadows of Treachery” ed. by Christian Dunn & Nick Kyme (Black Library)


A Horus Heresy Anthology

From the battlefields of Phall and Isstvan, to the haunted shadows of Terra itself – the greatest war in the history of mankind rages on. While the traitor Legions continue their campaign of terror across the galaxy, preparations are made for the defence of the Imperial Palace and the final, inevitable reckoning that must yet come between Horus and the Emperor...

I know a few readers who really don’t like the Horus Heresy anthologies of short stories, but I rather like them. They offer some great gap-filling fiction for specific events (noteworthy or just interesting), and are great for marking time between the full-length novels. It’s just a pity that some of these stories couldn’t be longer still – there are two novella length stories (one by the great Aaron Dembski-Bowden), but the rest of the stories within are pretty short. I think it’s a good collection, but some people may be disappointed with the fact that three of the stories are just prose versions of audio-books. As someone who prefers prose to audio, though, I thought this was a great read and addition to the series.

“The Crimson Fist” by John French

Becalmed in the backwater Phall system, the Imperial Fists’ relief fleet originally headed for Isstvan III has been waiting out the warp storms that waylaid them so many months ago. Under the assumed command of Captain Alexis Polux and seemingly forgotten by the rest of the Imperium, they hope yet to complete their mission and report back to their primarch Rogal Dorn, so that they might return to the greater conflict. But destiny calls as old rivalries are rekindled, and the treacherous Iron Warriors await their moment to strike – the feud between Dorn and his wayward brother Perturabo promises now to erupt into open war.

It was nice to see the Imperial Fists a little more central to the story, rather than just acting as peripheral characters. They’re an interesting Legion, and I’d certainly like to read a full-length novel about their experiences in the lead up to and Heresy itself. Given their role in reinforcing the Imperial Palace on Terra, though, I imagine they will feature more prominently in at least one more novel in the series before it ends.

The story is split between a task force trapped in the depths of space, and defence preparations on Terra led by Primarch Rogal Dorn and First Captain Sigismund. It is a dark time at the beginning of the Heresy, as the truth of Horus’s betrayal is unveiled, and the stoic Imperial Fists must deal with a new, uncertain reality.

“War amongst the Legions. Horus a traitor. The ground under our feet becomes the sky. Can we be sure that we know anything for certain?”

This was a pretty good opener, although I didn’t find the characters as well drawn as in other Heresy fiction, nor as much as I would have liked. The first person-narrator seemed a little weak, which was surprising given his role as fleet commander of the trapped force. The other characters were mostly fine. French writes good prose, too, which made up for the slightly disappointing characterisation.

I couldn’t help but get the feeling that French isn’t a big fan of the Imperial Fists – they are given an absolute beating in this story!

[This story is already available as an eBook exclusive on Black Library’s website.]


“The Dark King” by Graham McNeill

The acts of terror and warmongering by Konrad Curze, Primarch of the Night Lords Legion, have earned the ire of his brother primarch, Rogal Dorn. Wracked by terrible visions of the future, Curze is driven insane and attacks Dorn, setting the Night Lord on an inexorable course towards eternal damnation.

This story takes us back a bit in time, offering up some more information about the root of Curze and Dorn’s antagonism (as mentioned in the anthology’s first story). It’s very well written, though there are some rather purple prose and word/phrase choices (oh-so-common in Black Library fiction).

It offers a fantastic, short story from Primarch Konrad Curze’s perspective; the moment when he breaks with the Imperium, as Dorn attempts to censure him for his brutal tactics. It does not go well for the Imperial Fists and Emperor’s Children custodians.


“The Dark King” and “The Lightning Tower” were originally audio-dramas, packaged together with the above artwork (depicting Horus).

“The Lightning Tower” by Dan Abnett

Rogal Dorn, Primarch of the Imperial Fists Legion, faces a stark reality – he must tear down the magnificence of the Emperor’s Palace, a shining beacon in a galaxy of darkness, and turn it into a fortress. With the army of Horus drawing ever closer, as he blights the Palace with gunports and defence towers, Dorn must face a difficult question, “What are you afraid of?”

Another story that has the Imperial Fists at the centre of events. Dorn is working at turning the Imperial Palace on Terra into the mightiest fortress in the galaxy, but his doubts and fears are troubling him. He receives some unexpected council from Malcador the Sigilite. The story offers a couple more nuggets of information about Dorn’s background (not particularly detailed, but it’s good), which was certainly welcome. The story is a good look into Dorn’s mind, thought-processes, and fears during the Heresy. Overall, I thought this was an exceptional, short piece of story-telling. Really well built. It’s a pity it wasn’t longer, and I wonder if Abnett’s going to be penning a Fists novel in the near future?


“The Kaban Project” by Graham McNeill

Set on Mars and focuses on the actions of an Adeptus Mechanicus Adept during the initial stages of the Horus Heresy.

This is a really interesting, thoughtful story. It is also, in a rather strange way, quite touching. It has an Asimov-quality to it, as a tech-adept comes to terms with the secret artificial intelligence that has been created and hidden on Mars. After the Emperor decreed machine sentience a crime and absolutely forbidden, Ravachol decides he must do something, for the implications of a sentient killing machine bodes ill for the future of the Mechanicum and also, perhaps, the Imperium. Little does he know, the loyalties of his masters does not lie where he once thought.

I would have liked some more discussion of the impact and import of A.I. creation in the time of the Heresy, and also maybe some more interaction between Ravachol and the Kaban project. It’s nicely done, what we are given, and the story ends on a superb, bittersweet moment, but I thought it could have done with some expansion.

The story also works as a good introduction to Mars and the Mechanicum of this era, for anyone who hasn’t read McNeill’s Mechanicum, yet – this includes me, sadly. I will rectify this at some point in the near future, before I also get around to reading Priests of Mars (the author’s latest Mechanicum-focused novel).


“Raven’s Flight” by Gav Thorpe

After the horrors of the Dropsite Massacre, the Raven Guard are trying to survive in the caves and mountains of Isstvan V. Their plight is desperate, and escape from the roaming Chaos Legions seems impossible. Can they hold out against the forces of the World Eaters long enough to reach an unlikely salvation?

In this story, we see the awesome might of a pissed off Primarch unleashed. Corax is an unstoppable killing machine, venting his anger and thirst for vengeance on the Iron Warriors in the jungles of Isstvan V. It was great to revisit the Raven Guard after Thorpe’s superb Deliverance Lost (whose events are set just before and after this story). It’s a superb account of the devastated Legion’s grim and desperate fight for survival after the Dropsite Massacre, the moment when Horus’s treachery was wholly revealed. Readers also get another part of the story – the events that brought the relief force to them from Deliverance, how close Corax and his remaining forces came to being wiped out.

Another example of Thorpe’s growth as a story-teller, and a must-read for all fans of the Raven Guard. Thoroughly enjoyed this, and I really hope Thorpe writes some more Heresy tales featuring the Raven Guard.

“Raven’s Flight” was originally an audio-book (artwork below, depicting Emperor).



“Death of a Silversmith” by Graham McNeill

A Remembrancer remembers... As he lies dying on the deck of the Warmaster’s flagship, a silversmith reflects on his life, his art and his time in the Emperor’s service.

This was a pretty good, if very short, story. The significance of the events told, however, I can’t quite pinpoint – it probably refers to something from the original three Horus Heresy books (Horus Rising, False Gods, or Galaxy in Flames), but I read those so long ago that I can’t quite remember them as well as I perhaps should. It was frustrating to not know, but it was a good, very-well-written story nonetheless.

[Death of a Silversmith was originally included in the Games Day 2011 Anthology.]


“Prince of Crows” by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Night Lords! During the Horus Heresy! Written by Aaron Dembski-Bowden! There was really very little chance I wasn’t going to thoroughly enjoy this story, and thankfully the author does not disappoint.

“Prince of Crows” is set shortly after his previous Heresy short story – Lion el Johnson has just beaten Curze in single combat, inflicting horrific wounds on his brother, leaving the Night Haunter stuck in the apothecarium on board a Night Lords’ ship, their doctors and specialists at a loss for how to fix their Primarch. As their Primarch slowly (oh-so slowly) recovers from his wounds, the power/leadership vacuum leads the remaining members of the Kyroptera (the Night Lords’ leadership council) to squabble over the Legion’s next moves. Sevatar, the insouciant First Captain, puts his foot down and basically appoints himself head of the Legion until Curze recovers, dealing with dissent in a very… final manner. He’s condescending and infuriating towards his fellow captains, as well as his Primarch, which makes him very fun to read about and one of the most engaging characters in the whole series. He spouts plenty of quips throughout the story that made me chuckle. Despite the fact that he is an absolute sociopath – Dembski-Bowden actually uses the character’s inability to relate to others very well, creating an almost-outside-observer perspective.

As the traitor Legion least wedded to Horus’s cause, Sevatar isn’t remotely concerned about voicing his dissent and distaste for the Warmaster’s plans and the overall rebellion to begin with. The Night Lords will do what is necessary, and no more.

“Do I look like I care what the Warmaster wants of me?” Sevatar’s skullish faceplate stared with its red eye-lenses. “We never cared what the Emperor wanted of us. Why should we waste our lives out here in the back end of the galaxy, dancing to the Warmaster’s tune? ... He has leashed us for three years. I am done with obedience. To the abyss with Horus and his arrogant whims. He is no better than the Emperor.”

The story also contains some more background on Konrad Curze, through his memories of his arrival and bloody rise to power on Nostramo. Sevatar is, however, absolutely the central focus of the story, and the author really pulls out all the stops for the story finale, which has some almost Avengers-esque action, and a brilliant (if also potentially stupid) gambit from our protagonist – all of which builds to a ferocious, awe-inspiring climax. And then a bit of a cliff-hanging end, which suggests there should be more to come.

And I really do hope we get some more Night Lords Heresy fiction, and especially stories written by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. No author has done a better job of fleshing out and realising any of the original Legions than this author, and that he’s done it with two traitor Legions (the Night Lords and Word Bearers) that could so easily have just been caricatures of Chaotic madness and excess... It’s pure genius.

I was a little confused by the inclusion of one character who was, as far as I’m aware, wholly new and sticks out a bit like a sore thumb: Alastor Rushel, the Raven? Who is he, and where did he come from? I have no memory of reading about him in any other Heresy fiction. Anybody else know? His presence offers up a whole host of questions, some of which could form the basis of really interesting fiction in the future.

The writing is superb, the characterisation the best in the book. The pacing is fluid, and the story expertly executed. A brilliant chapter to close this anthology.


The Horus Heresy Series: 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 (01/2013), Betrayer (04/2013)


  1. Man, I really need to catch up on the Black Library stuff. I've only read the first three Abnett Gaunt's Ghosts books...I have THE SAINT ready to go...

    1. Bear in mind, the Horus Heresy is set thousands of years before WH40k (somewhere in the 30k, I believe), so you don't have to read the others before reading the HH novels. In fact, I'd recommend you just read this first, then Aaron Dembski-Bowden's Night Lords trilogy, then catch up with Abnett (who's Ghosts novels I do love, but BL really stepped up their game with the Heresy series and Aaron DB's just a genius).