Thursday, 19 February 2015

Horus Heresy Novella Review: Death and Defiance.

Another Heresy Novella review for you here from the Conclave of Har. This time it is Death and Defiance, a collection of the E-books that The Black Library have become so enamoured with lately. So while this is not necessarily new material if you are an avid reader of these bite size stories ill not have read them before, and whilst I would obviously much prefer to see them in a normal anthology format if memory serves this was originally an event exclusive so i'm pleased to finally get my hands on it.

Black Library sure do love their E-books/shorts, and why not? Infinitely cheaper to produce and distribute, selling them at a couple of quid a pop to content starved Heresy fans is probably a pretty good way to fill the coffers. Its not like they take ages for the authors to produce either. Plus they have the advantage of being able to request them adhoc, theming content and releasing appropriate stories alongside model releases having them serve as a literary advert (a problem I perceived with Vengeful Spirit).

Of course this can make it very hard for the average reader to stay on top of the Heresy, missing tidbits that can be referred to in later novels. Seriously, if you have a look at the Black Library website it’s a mess, they even have a reading order list of the heresy with novellas and audio books there to try to make sense of it all. And the E-books aren't even featured there! Look at any given title and you’ll often see a multitude of ways to purchase it, Hardback, paperback, premium paperback MP3, E-book and so on. It’s madness (Madness? THIS IS THE HERESY!)

Anyway I digress, lets look at the stories within Death and Defiance. 

Imperfect by Nick Kyme:

Nice little story here, subtle with a few clues thrown in as to its true nature. We get a nice bit of development between Ferrus Mannus and Fulgrim as they play games both tactical, psychological, metaphorical and literal. Not a great deal happens in all honesty but it is an intriguing tale nonetheless. Its difficult to say much more without spoilers but more dedicated readers might spot the twist before casual ones. The story covers past, present and throws a few tantalizing glimpses into the future. I will say that this one short story is also the most I have ever cared about the Iron Hands Primarch, Kyme managing to somehow render him less unlikable than previous iterations. That in itself is impressive if not somewhat ironic (read the story and you’ll find out why). Apart from the game of Regicide between the two Primarchs there is also a little bit of Fabius Bile thrown in and its nice to see Kyme's talents put to something other than Salamanders. A strong start to the collection with some good work on characterization on the two lead players.

Howl of the Hearthworld By Aaron Dembski-Bowden:

Possibly one of the shortest entries in the book, none the less sweet for it. This story has ADB tackle the Space Wolves which if memory serves he hasn't done in the Heresy so far, multi talented bloke that he is. Carrying on with Dan Abnett's take upon the Legion, again very little happens in this extremely short story. Heavy on character and dialogue it tells of a unit of the Fenris Vylkra being tasked to spy on Rogal Dorn back on Terra, Malcador has decreed that the Primarchs are watched following the Emperors edict at the Council of Nikea and has chosen Russes legion to do it. (it's not mentioned who will be watching the Watchers) Obviously the Wolf Pack this duty falls to are none too happy about doing so and at the start of the story are actually preparing to be killed by Russ for their disobedience. Stubborn is always a trait you could ascribe to the Wolves and here that is bought to the fore. The fact that the rest of the legion are off to Prospero in order to chastise Magnus doesn't really help matters. It’s a great character piece and so much is done for the wolves within the half dozen or so pages. Insights into their nature and hierarchy rituals and customs, total fluff stuff. Self contained and short but very sweet. Not much else to say, should Dan be unable to continue the story of the VI legion for any reason they would be safe in ADBs hands.

A Safe and Shadowed Place By Guy Haley:

What is this? Share your Legions day or something? Guy picks up Aaron’s beloved Nightlords (though he is smart enough to stay away from Sevatar) in a tale set parallel to events in Unremembered Empire. A trio of Night Lord vessels skulk high above Sotha licking their wounds after their ill fated battle and subsequent flight from the Lion and his Dark Angels detailed in Shadows of Treachery. Problem is in the meantime a few of the Traitor Marines on board have gone stir crazy. With emphasis on the crazy. Bat Sht crazy if you will! Anyway, a great deal of the narrative is given over to just how nasty this bunch of traitors is but sadly it does nothing except make them seem a little bit cartoony. Evil and sadistic they might be but I can come across a little tongue in cheek such is the lack of finesse used in their portrayal. Still there is a little good characterization, shallow as it might be, here and there and the concept is quite interesting if half finished. There is some half decent combat too as one particularly insane Astartes has to be subdued by one of his Brothers. Overall not bad but not a patch on the previous work done with this legion. This said the end of the short makes one believe that Guy has more plans in his head and this is but a prequel. Though as I have said previously I cannot see anyone but ADB doing the first Night Lord heresy novel. Competently written but just a bit lacking in areas, something seems a bit off about it.

Virtues of the Sons by Andy Smille:

This is a Blood Angel tale so who do you think wrote it? Well its not the person who did the Blood Angels Horus Heresy novel! (though his is the last entry in Death and Defiance) Instead the sons of Sanguinius are handed over to Andy Simile, another author who’s work I am not overly familiar with but that I believe I have enjoyed what little I have sampled. Certainly Virtue of the Sons is a well crafted piece, dealing with the dual (and indeed duel) nature of the Blood Angels. As Sanguinius anguishes over the flaws that are becoming apparent in his sons we are treated to a couple of Duels. Basically Sanguinius decides that outside influence is required and thus favoured sons Zakaellon and Amit are sent to other chapters where they engage in duels with their respective champions (sometimes I don’t think the Legiones Astartes have any other way to integrate). Zakaellon, the Sangiunary guard, draws Lucius of the Emperors Children who is as arrogant and loathsome as you may expect. Meanwhile Amit, The Flesh Tearer is pitted against Kharn of the World Eaters, each a perfect foil for the others savagery. Its another great story and Andy really gets to grips with all the characters, delightfully bringing certain facets to the fore and fleshing out the characters nicely. A pretty good story with some visceral action and combat, this was a fun read and I look forward to more from Andy soon.

Gunsight By James Swallow:

Hang on, there must be some mistake! An author tackling the same subject and characters as before? Not borrowing someone else’s Legion? Surely not? (though there is no Legion in this story)

But no that is the case as we get what is essentially either a sequel to Swallow’s previous book Nemesis or at least a bridge to something new. I rather enjoyed Nemesis for what it was, although it was almost certainly filler and little else, the idea of a group of Assassins trying to murder Horus was pulled off pretty well and it is definitely one of James Swallows better books. (I cared not for his Blood Angel 40k stuff and Fear to Tread was just silly) It picks up the Story of Kell the Vindicare assassin that tried to kill Horus. He has managed to make it onto the Vengeful Spirit and is basically lining up for another crack at the Warmaster. Unfortunately he’s been bitten by some fairly nasty critters, and the venom is coursing through his system making him a bit incoherent and disorientated. Part of the narrative is told through fevered dreams and it can be difficult for the reader to actually establish what is real and what is a product of the demented fantasies he is engaging in. Some pretty good characterization ensures and we really get into the depths of Kell's mind as we see the extent that the failure to complete his mission drives him. He is weakened and operating at far from his best but he is a Vindicare Assassin and he will keep going till the job is done.

The story only features one other character and that is a cowardly Loyalist left on the Vengeful Spirit, skulking in the shadows. We get a fascinating insight from this character of just how the great ship has been perverted since the fall of Horus, although admittedly he does seem somewhat well versed in the activities of the Warmaster for a lowly sub deck hand. His place in the story is to provide exposition and a focal point for Kell's journey. As to whether or not he even exists, that is something that is left up to the reader. Is he real or just a product of Kell's deranged and drugged psyche? It’s never clarified one hundred percent and in all honesty you have to wonder how much of it is real in general, especially given the ending, which I wont spoil here. The narrative also makes reference to several other books and seems to be taking place at the same point as the Novel Vengeful Spirit.

I really enjoyed this story, Kell’s plight is well conveyed and you are placed within his head quite adeptly. You get a good idea of what is going on from the perspective of the normal man, with no marines to skew or distort the narrative. Overall Swallow has done a great job here, descriptive, insightful and well crafted. It is also grounded (for the most part) and thankfully this has stopped his writing getting a bit silly and bombastic in the past. With the promise that this particular arc may not be over quite yet, I look forward to seeing where this might go. This is also the only entry in Death and Defiance that feels like a suitable length, more than a bitesize sample. A strong end to the book. 

So that’s Death and Defiance; on the whole a rather strong slice of what is going on in the Heresy, nicely balanced and varied with a reasonable consistency of quality if not length. You do feel it is over a little quickly, it by no means sates the appetite, but you will enjoy it while it lasts even if you wish there were a little more of it. If nothing else it shows the versatility of the Authors as they work with legions that are not their usual poison and often bring a fresh perspective to matters. Recommended but bear in mind this is an expensive way of obtaining these Horusey snippets compared to the next proper Horus Heresy Anthology book Legacies of Betrayal which I should be reviewing in a month or two. Next up though i continue with Gav Thorpes Legacy of Caliban series with Master Of Sanctity.



No comments:

Post a Comment