|It may be a re-used piece of artwork, but looking at it I must say there's nothing wrong with that.|
"A panoply of short stories featuring the Angels of Death that is not only a great introduction to the 41st Millennium but also a set of brand new stories that will appeal to all fans of the indomitable Space Marines." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
Bastions by Rob Sanders
The next story is a very nice return to Rob Sanders Excoriators as last seen in his Space Marines Battles novel Legion of the Damned. Rob carrys on the unique characterisation of the fanatical and somber chapter by showing how they deal with an enemy that cannot be fought without sacrifice. The atmosphere of the story was handled very well, the dank and dark corridors of Semper Vigilare felt like a place where horrors come to life, and where evil is only a few steps away.
The enemy in the story could have been a bit more threatening by themselves but I think the real scare factor of this story is that the enemy we see is not the real enemy of this story, it is what made them and that is an enemy that the Excoriators cannot fight in the way they are accustomed, and there is only one way to defeat such a foe. Deny it what it needs. One scene in particular about a third of the way in was really well written and it really made the events feel like a horror story. I give Bastions a score of 4.5/5.
Death Speakers by Andy Smillie
Now we go to a chapter that hasn't been depicted in Black Library before with the Executioners from Andy Smillie, who has written a fair few short stories but has yet to give us a full novel. I haven't cared much for his Flesh Tearers but I very much liked his Executioners even in this short format. The Death Speakers themselves were an interesting twist on the regular Chaplains, and the Executioners themselves felt like brutal and fierce warriors whose battlecry they amply lived up to in the story.
I also liked the setting of the story in the Sargassion Reach, a battlezone featured in every work of the author George Mann thus far and the references to his stories, and the choice of enemy for this story was quite cool especially considering what it is implied the enemy was, he wore one badge but I strongly suspect it wasn't the first one he wore. Plus he puked acid... which is pretty cool. After reading this story I would definitely like to see more of the Executioners from Andy Smillie, this being the first of his stories I have actually liked. I give Death Speakers a score of 4/5.
Setting the Stage by C.L Werner
C.L Werner doesn't write much 40k, which is a true shame as he's excellent at it, but when he does it's always good and this story is no exception though it's not as good as his previous offerings. The Emperor's Warbringers made their debut in Black Dawn and instantly showed they are not a Chapter one wishes to face, and this story continued that theme by showing the lengths they will go to for victory.
I particularly liked the characters in this short as both of them were Space Marines yet not Space Marines, both tried but failed because of their genetics, and the idea that each of them could serve in some way, even if they only do it once, and the unlikely bond that formed between these two characters who were alike in ways and unalike in others was quite nice. And the method by which the Warbringers planned to finish the campaign was an interesting subversion of how Astartes normally wage war, adding further character to this chapter. I would dearly like to see Werner write more with this chapter, or anything in 40k really. I give Setting the Stage a score of 3.5/5.
The Fury by James Swallow
James Swallows Blood Angels are a series that I am quite fond of, even though I can recognise why others are not, and this story was a straightforward one but laced with deep meaning. This story looks at the twin curses of the Blood Angels, the Black Rage and the Red Thirst, and the patrician mask of nobility that hides both of them from outside eyes. A nameless Blood Angel sees the curses from both inside and outside, and the story shows how the battle inside constantly wages and always will.
I very much liked the idea of the curses being an eternal battle, one that only takes a single mis-step on the part of the Blood Angels to be overcome and lost to the rage and thirst, and how easy that mis-step can be in the heat of battle. This is mostly a story about the idea of the curses rather than any characters and it's a more interesting story for it. I also liked the acknowledgement that the nobility of the Blood Angels is a mask for their deeper flaw, but that is what makes them who they are. Rage and thirst, hidden by nobility. I give The Fury a score of 3/5.
Blood Calm by Guy Haley
A return to Guy Haley's Blood Drinkers from his Space Marines Battles novel The Death of Integrity was definitely something I was hoping for, and while this story didn't answer the burning question I had it did show how the chapter deals with the aftermath of the novel and who will be leading them into their uncertain and unknowable future. Haley continues his striking and memorable characterisation of this chapter, a chapter mired in both dark and light in equal measure and one whose beauty is marred by their savage nature.
I quite liked the idea of duels to settle leadership, but the true purpose of the duel turned this from a cut-out idea into something unique to the Blood Drinkers and which made the story more interesting, seeing which of the contestants could achieve the real purpose behind the duel and test to become the new Chapter Master, and it was anyone's guess as to which one of them it would be which made the plot engaging as I really did want to know who would succeed. Haley's Blood Drinkers are one of the more memorable chapters in Black Library and I hope this isn't the last we've seen of them. I give Blood Calm a score of 3/5.
That's it for this part of the review. Thanks for reading. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!