This anthology from Black Library has been out for a while, but I didn’t get around to reading it until a few months ago; and I haven’t had a chance to review it because, well, I didn’t have a blog until a month ago.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this book – I was never much for short story collections, but in the last few years I’ve really begun to appreciate the short form a lot more. Maybe it’s because my life has become more hectic, and “bite-sized” chunks of fiction can be more appealing when I don’t have a lot of free time to “digest” a lengthy novel (are ya’all appreciating these eating metaphors?)
At any rate, this particular short-story collection has as its focus the Chaos Space Marines (one of the cooler elements of the Warhammer 40K mythos in my opinion), those members of the Adeptus Astartes who have forsaken the Imperium of Man and the Emperor they serve – sometimes for service in the employ of the Chaos gods, sometimes for independent rebellion.
Each story in the collection has its own strengths and weaknesses, but on the whole the anthology is a roaring success.
The highlights for me were the stories written by Aaron Dembski-Bowden and Anthony Reynolds:
‘Throne of Lies’ by ADB (as he is sometimes known) was easily the most elegiac story I’ve read in a while – it starts off as a straight-up action story, but at the end reveals itself to be an almost-touching (can’t believe I’m saying that in relation to Chaos Space Marines) account of (attempted) redemption. It’s a haunting tale, which is appropriate considering it concerns itself with the Night Lords and their primarch, the original ‘Night Haunter’ Konrad Curze.
‘Vox Dominus’ by Anthony Reynolds is a horror story from start to finish, and one of the best I’ve read in a while. The Word Bearers (including Reynolds’ signature-character, Dark Apostle Marduk) end up on the wrong side of the Death Guard and discover the true nature of the Garden of Nurgle. It’s a vivid, visceral story with genuinely horrifying twists that almost makes you feel sorry for the hateful Word Bearers…almost.
I think that’s what separates these two stories from the rest: you can tell that the authors have thought long and hard about the nature of their subjects, and have taken pains to make them sympathetic, which is amazing considering how inherently unsympathetic they should be.
It turns out there really are grey areas in the Warhammer 40000 universe.
Honourable mentions go to ‘The Carrion Anthem’ by David Annandale, ‘Liberator’ by Jonathon Green (a clever account of corruption done in reverse-chronology) and ‘Torturer’s Thirst’ by Andy Smillie (always good to see the unapologetically-vicious Flesh Tearers make an appearance).
The rest – ‘The Masters, Bidding’ by Matthew Farrer, ‘The Long War’ by Andy Hoare, ‘Bitter End’ by Sarah Cawkwell and ‘We are One’ by John French – are all solid too.
I would recommend this book for anybody interested in good Warhammer 40K fiction (or military sci-fi fiction in general), and especially anybody who favours the Chaos Space Marines.
Verdict: 4 stars (out of 5)
It’s actually the fourth title in a series of anthologies about the Space Marines, the previous three being Heroes of the Space Marines, Legends of the Space Marines, and Victories of the Space Marines. I’m afraid I still haven’t managed to get my hands on these yet to see how they compare, but the good news is that Black Library are releasing a ‘super-anthology’ featuring all three of the above-mentioned titles in August 2013.
It’s called Space Marines: The Omnibus, and I’m looking forward to it. Hell, I might even preorder, and I never preorder.