Tyler M. here with a review of the latest 40k anthology focusing on the Chaos Space Marines.
This book came out just in time for the new Chaos Space Marine codex, and I have to admit is half of the reason why I bought it. Lately Black Library has gotten very good at portraying our favorite villains in a realistic and thoughtful manner, as opposed to a Saturday morning cartoon caricature. This allows us to see the motivations for these traitors and some times even empathize with them. At the very least it makes us believe that these guys actually exist beyond the table top.
Since this is a collection of short stories I am going to break the review down story by story with a 1 to 5 rating, 5 being the best. This is even more helpful considering how Black Library now sells each story separately online. So lets get started going in the order they appear in the book.
The Masters, Bidding by Matthew Farrer
They kick things off right with their first story. It focuses on an Iron Warrior warsmith who has gained possession of a very valuable prize. Seeing no need for it himself he invites representatives from every legion and war band to come to his fortress and make bids on the item.
Only 4 legions respond and we get to see members of the Thousand Sons, Night Lords, Emperor’s Children and Word Bearers. The warsmith is not content with just bids of material wealth though and decides he must hear a story of a particularly worthy battle or feat from each ambassador so he can decide who is most worthy, starting things off with his own tale so they know what they must top.
Let me just say that Matthew Farrer is one of Black Library’s best writers and often gets over looked. His most notable contribution is the Enforcer series (which you should read) and he doesn’t disappoint here. Each of the warriors has a very unique and believable personalty that encapsulates their Legions eccentricities very well. The warsmith struck me as odd at first but it fits his role as the grumpy old man of the group and my personal favorites are the Night Lord and Word Bearer. Often times the Chaos-y side of Chaos gets watered down to a PG-13 safe zone for kids but I was actually slightly disturbed by the Emperor’s Children’s pets/slaves and struck me as something a sick, perverted, deranged psychopath would actually do.
I highly recommend checking this story out. – 5/5
The Carrion Anthem by David Annandale
This story follows a plot by Typhus to corrupt a world to Nurgle for, apparently, no particular reason. This has to be my least favorite one in the bunch. The prose is clunky, not horrible, but clunky and the whole thing seems rushed and somewhat forced. The “plague” does not fit Nurgle at all and I didn’t even realize it was a Nurgle story until Typhus showed up. It seemed like something more fitting to Slaanesh or Undivided.
Speaking of Typhus, he is about the equivalent of Skeletor in this story. He is completely flat and nothing about him says Nurgle to me. He speaks like a bad James Bond villain and like I said before, I don’t really get what the point of his plan was. It does not feel like something the Typhus we have read about would do. This story is also very short, clocking in at only 20 pages.
Only read this one if you bought the physical book and want to be a completionist. – 1/5
Liberator by Johnathon Green
Liberator is an interesting story in that it expands upon a bit of fluff about a Son of Guilliman named Constantinus who went rogue and declared himself ruler of a planet. The prose is average, a bit clunky in parts, but for the most part good. The story line follows a Memento type pattern, starting with the end and going backwards to show how we arrived there before wrapping back up at the end again. By doing this we get to see Constantinus as a tyrannical Chaos lord before following the story points that brought him from Loyal Space Marine to traitor.
This non-linear story telling is what kept me going as I wanted to know what happened that caused this downfall. Ultimately it is a good story but does feel a bit forced at times. There is no real conviction from our lead character and we don’t get to see any of the psychological choices that made him go rogue, and from going rogue to following Chaos. It kind of implies that all rogue Space Marines must turn to Chaos. If I remember correctly in the original fluff it never really stated that he went full traitor, just more of a megalomanical tyrant who defected from the Imperium.
Liberator is a good story with an interesting plot device, well worth a read. – 3/5
The Long War by Andy Hoare
Get ready for the Chaos Space Marine Codex commercial. They made sure to throw in as many new units as made sense in the story, I’m surprised they didn’t include the Heldrake. This is my largest problem with it, it felt like they wrote it purely to promote their new toys and didn’t really have any other value. The prose is good and the battle scenes are what you would expect but I just couldn’t get past the commercial-ness of it.
The Long War follows an Iron Warrior warsmith who is assaulting a random Imperial fortress. We never really find out why, which is okay because it is not important to the story. During the course of the battle the warsmith has continuous flash backs to the battle of Tallarn which is the most interesting part. It shows how the Chaos Marines who were present during the heresy are all really still fighting the same war, the long war. It is an interesting concept to explore but Matthew Farrer did a better job with it in The Masters, Bidding. This is by no means a bad bolter-porn story and if you like Iron Warriors it will probably be even better for you. Think of it as a Micheal Bay movie and you’ll be fine.
If you can stomach the advertising it’s a good read – 2/5
Throne of Lies by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
In midnight clad. If you are a fan of ADB’s Night Lord’s trilogy and his work with them in the Heresy series then this is right up your alley. For everyone else, it is still an amazing story. Throne of Lies takes place between Soul Hunter and Blood Reaver and doesn’t really impact the overall story arc. It deals with the assassination of Curze and Talos’ personal connection to that event where he gained his name, soul hunter.
Its wonderful in that like all of the Night Lords stories it deals with 40k lore as well as connecting it back to the Heresy in meaningful ways. The prose is top notch as always and everything really feels natural and realistic. This was originally released as an audio drama and was written for that format. While it is not a bad read on paper it is enhanced so much by all of the sound effects included in the audio drama and I highly recommend listening to it. The ending is particularly haunting and loses just a little bit of that effect on paper. If you are highly opposed to the audio dramas (as I know some people are) then you need to at least give the story a read.
This one is a must read, but try giving the audio drama a go first. – 5/5
Bitter End by Sarah Cawkwell
Bitter End deals with Huron Blackheart and his corsairs and sees him in what I would consider a little side quest. I have not read The Gildar Rift, which features the same characters so I can’t relate it to that at all. Its an interesting story and sees Huron looking for a way to extend the power of his Hamadrya (the little creature that follows him around) outside of the Maelstrom. This forces him to make a pact with a powerful Chaos Sorcerer (legion unknown) and attack a Sisters of Battle monastery.
The battle is okay but the Sisters come off a little flat. The story is a short one and I look forward to reading more about the Tyrant of Badab in the future. It was nice to see the inclusion of a few characters from the Forge World Badab War books. I’m really digging this Forge World/Black Library synergy we’ve seen going on lately.
A little short and simple but a good read that explores the Tyrant a bit more. – 3/5
We Are One by Alpharius, I mean John French
We finally get to see the Alpha Legion be the sneaky bastards in the 40k universe that they are always being described as in the 30k universe! I may be a little biased but I love the direction the Alpha Legion have been going in lately and it was really nice to see this included in the “present” time line. We Are One follows an Inquisitor who early on in career has a run in with some Alpha Legion operatives who royally mess up an Imperial muster and divulge only one secret, the name of their leader, Phocron.
The story skips through major events in the Inquisitors life as the Legion’s actions within the quadrant of space ramp up. The Inquisitor becomes obsessed with defeating the mysterious Phocron who always stays one step ahead of him. You start to see the paranoia have a noticeable affect on the poor Inquisitor and you are constantly left guessing what was his own free will and what was manipulated by Phocron.
The story is almost a spy thriller set in the 40k verse (as anything involving the Inquisition and the Alpha Legion should be) and the twists and turns of it will make you wish this was longer. I really hope they make a full length novel featuring these two secretive forces and how closely they mirror each other.
An amazing story that leaves you wanting more. – 5/5
Torturer’s Thrist by Andy Smillie
This story was a bit of a let down for me. It is well written and there is nothing technically wrong with it, but its not a Chaos story, it is a Flesh Tearer story. The chaos part of it barely figures into it and it spends most of its time focusing on a Death Company Chaplain. The Chaplain is captured by the Chaos forces along with a few of his Death Company buddies and thoroughly interrogated The idea that he was going for is interesting but I don’t know if it deserved its own story. It seems more like something that belongs in a larger novel.
While its nice to see the Flesh Tearers get more “screen time” I wish they would have stuck to the Chaos theme of the book more.
More Marine then Chaos. – 2/5
Vox Dominus by Anthony Reynolds
While I guess I have to go back and read the whole Word Bearers trilogy. This story floored me with how good it was. It follows Dark Apostle Marduk and his Host as they meet up with another Dark Apostle, Nahren, and his Host in a nebula for devious purposes that don’t really matter. Why doesn’t it matter you ask? Because within minutes of Nahren boarding Marduk’s vessel a warp rift opens dragging Nahren’s ship and his entire host into oblivion. Oh and then a mere minute later it is spat back out, seemingly aged thousands of years being dragged along by the equivalent of a tug boat belonging to the Death Guard who now claim the ship as salvage.
The story then involves the Word Bearers and Death Guard boarding the derelict ship to discover what happened to it in the warp. Tensions are high between the two legions and seeds of betrayal are being planted. The descriptions of the Nurgle infested ship are perfect as are the Death Guard. Too often the Death Guard are portrayed as one dimensional bad guys but here we really get to see the different aspects of them including the jolly old Grandfather Nurgle aspect that is often overlooked. They are also described as more then just zombie marines and he really emphasizes the fact that they used to be regular Marines who have been “gifted” by Nurgle. We also get to see a pitch perfect description of The Garden of Nurgle.
The Word Bearers are done perfectly as are the Death Guard and the ending leaves you on the edge of your seat just hoping that he is going to write a follow up to this.
This one is the reason to get the book, read it, ’nuff said. – 6/5
What are your thoughts on how Chaos Space Marines are portrayed in fiction, does the Black Library do them justice? Which are your favorite stories.