Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Horus Heresy Novella double Review: The Crimson Fist and Prince Of Crows

I wondered for a long time what the straw that broke the camel’s back would be regarding the Horus Heresy and Black Library. In this age of exclusive short stories, Event exclusive books, Ltd edition Novellas, countless audio stories and a noticeably reduced volume of actual novel releases that actually deal with the main thrust of the story, I have been patient, I have been quiet. I have continued as a loyal reader since the days of Horus Rising, I have even adopted the large format paperbacks with a sigh of resignation as I gave up waiting 6 months to get my latest fix. But this? No, just no. This is not on, and I am about to tell you why.

As time has gone on, one of the main points of contention has been somewhat negated. The Ltd Edition Novellas have, after an age, been rereleased in a still premium but more accessible format. I have reviewed a fair few of these now and for the most part they have been pretty good, offering an insight into a few of the background machinations of the Heresy and its Characters that cannot always be gleaned elsewhere. So when I saw that Crimson Fist was to be released I was a bit taken aback. I was sure I had already read that story somewhere before. A quick perusal of the Shadows of Treachery revealed I had, it had just been reprinted as a standalone premium novella and released. not cool BL. Not. Cool. So, this was one Horus Heresy Novella I would not be picking up. Good excuse to reread the story in Shadows of Treachery again for the review though!

The Crimson Fist is actually the first story in Shadows of Treachery, it’s a pretty fine story too. Rogal Dorn has sent a rather large chunk of his Legion to go give Horus a smack for daring to turn against the Emperor, not knowing the full extent of the Heresy. Unfortunately the Fleet lead by Captain Pollux has been somewhat waylaid by a warp storm and is cut off and stranded. Awaiting an attack that they know must be coming we get good insight into the Fists discipline and martial attitude as they do what they do best, prepare for war. Back on Terra, Dorn finds out the reason his chosen son Sigismund elected to return to Terra with him rather than commanding the fleet as he was instructed. The action, when it arrives is punchy with some of the Horusey’s most memorable void battles and the reader is invested in the fate of the beleaguered Imperial Fists as they battle to overcome their attackers. The Crimson Fist is a story about battling against impossible odds, about duty and honour and fealty and perceived betrayal.

 Though it will never be regarded in the same circles as the classics it is a strong straightforward punchy story written by John French full of grit, blood and shattered ceramite. Not at one point does the prose descend into wanton Bolter Porn, the focus kept firmly upon the fight against the odds that Dorn’s legion find themselves embroiled in a battle against. French is also not afraid to leave a REALLY bitter taste in the mouth of the reader as Duty and Honour war with each other with crushing and injust consequences. The only weak part of the story is that which is away from the action, that which deals with Dorn and Sigismund on Terra. The nature of Sigismunds secret feels somewhat underwhelming and a bit rote, though I can certainly understand what John is trying to convey. It feels overwrought and a bit bombastic for what it is, taking the focus away from what is really going on, though it certainly serves a purpose and there are some insights into the mind of the Imperial Fists Primarch which we haven’t really got elsewhere. Rogal Dorn does some across as a bit unlikeable but I suppose a Demigod of War is not going to be the most gregarious of individuals after all.

So overall a decent story. Worth reading. And if not for the fact it was released ages ago in a normal priced normal sized novel probably worth the buy. Right, what’s next? ‘Prince of Crows’ hang on………….


Prince of Crows is the final story in Shadows of Treachery. I’m not even kidding, that is a full half of a book that has been released separately in a premium format afterwards. I mean come ON. I have no problems with these books making it to anthology format later. I even had no problem with Heresy content featuring in generic compliations like Hammer and Bolter (as short and sweet as that was) I DO have a problem with books that have previously been released in a cheap and convenient format THEN being released as a premium novella. People may not be aware of this option, especially if they dip in and out of the Horusey and only pick up the major books. I can handle books like The Imperial Truth being Event only in the knowledge that EVENTUALLY they will be rereleased to us normal folk who don’t wish to pay obscene amounts on Ebay. But this? This just seems cynical and greedy. Sigh, lets take a look at Prince of Crows.

I’m not sure if half the reason this was released was the Author you know, Aaron Dembski Bowden is a very bankable name for the Black Library. The First Edition of Talon of Horus sold like hotcakes and he is more proficient than Dan Abnett these days with Dan lured to Hollywood (and why not) pushing The Warmaster back again and again and again. Now we need to get one thing straight. Aaron IS the Lord of the Night Lords. His 40k Trilogy (featuring many of the same characters) is very highly regarded and when we do eventually get a full Night Lords Horusey novel (im sure its coming) it will be Mr Dembski Bowden who writes it.

So it should come as no surprise that Prince of Crows is also rather good. Set after the Night Lords are attacked and forced into retreat by the Dark Angels, Konrad Curze lies in a critical state after having the snot beaten out of him by Lion el Johnson. Sevatar, firm fan favourite, takes it upon himself to lead the Night Lords in his absence, something that doesn’t go down so well with others. As Sevetar wrestles with his detractors we get a fascinating insight into the early years or Curze as he develops on Nostromo. This is something we haven’t really seen elsewhere and whilst other Authors seem content to have Curze be something of a boogeyman in the Heresy, Aaron at least lends him some gravitas and substance with some poigniant writing that will allow you to empathise with the Night Lords primarch even if you still detest him. Other than Curze though the real star of this story is Sevatar. The pages positively sizzle with his presence and he is at once witty cruel and devious. As a character he has got a bit of a divided reception amongst readers but there is no denying that this is actually his story and HE is the Prince of Crows (wait till you find out why) As Sevetar and his Kyroptera (yes ADB Knows the scientific term for bats! ) struggle to retain control of a legion threatening to tear itself apart whilst still strike back at the Dark Angels the machinations within this Traitor Legion are laid bare. The book also ends promising that full length night lords novel (come on ADB we know it’s coming!)

Thus Prince of Crows is also a very good read. I therefore find myself in something of a quandary. The quality of what is on offer here is very good, Prince of Crows probably just about comes out on top as the characterization is so very strong, but they are both fine reads. Were these novellas the only way you can obtain the stories within then I would likely have little issue in recommending them even at the premium price point. Unfortunately you can pick up Shadows of Treachery which also includes a handful of printed audio stories which tie into the theme of the book for a quarter of the price of these two so just buy that instead. Hopefully this will be the end of this kind of release and I am greatly looking forward to the next few novellas (both previous event only exclusives) time will tell. 

Do yourself a favour and buy this instead....
In short don’t buy these two novellas and justify this bizarre strategy from Black Library. DO pick up Shadows of Treachery and enjoy two finely written stories that way instead, anything else would be Heresy.


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