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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: Age of Darkness

Book Review: Age of Darkness (Horus Heresy)

This book is the second anthology of the excellent Horus Heresy series. The previous anthology, Tales of Heresy was truly a mixed bag- some stories were excellent, others were truly awful. I am pleased to say that Age of Darkness was a much bigger improvement. Even the weakest here was still pretty good. I also enjoyed how each book contributed to the notion that the Emperor's dream is already dead. The moment the heresy began, the hopes of enlightenment and prosperity were vanquished by Horus, the rebellion, the Dark Gods, and humanity itself (ultimately). Each story contributes to that theme, and it is a nice way to ling the short stories. Normally, I do Good/Bad analysis, but since these are short stories, I will highlight each one:

Rules of Engagement: When I first read this one, I thought it was lackluster- wait! Huh? McNeill (Storm of Iron and Fulgrim) can't let me down like that! A story about how Guilliman comes up with the Codex is not good? That can't be! Ahhh! On its own, the story of how Guilliman is refining his Codex and having Remus "practice" these doctrines was OK- as I said, lackluster. However, after reading the anthology, the story becomes much stronger. What IS Guilliman's plan? What are his motives? After reading the rest, this story is actually a lot murkier than it first appears. Good job! I knew McNeill wouldn't let me down!

Liar's Due: Ah! This is a fun little tale, with nary a Space Marine or Custodes in sight to boot. It is about small backwater world fearing the ramifications of the Heresy on their own lives. They ask great questions like "should we choose a side" and "who cares who is at the top". Then, a stranger blows into town, and neighbor turns against neighbor in fear and terror. The dark side of humanity, unleashed by the heresy- even if Horus or the Dark Gods ain't around. James Swallow is usually solid (disliked his short story in Tales of Heresy, loved his Eisenstein and Nemesis books), and  he presents a Twilight Zone parable here. A nice change from the usual 40K fare, and it gives you a sense of scope that even the smallest peon is impacted by the Heresy.

Forgotten Sons: Not one of the strongest, but it is still an entertaining story. Two wounded marines (an Ultramarine and a Salamander) are sent to negotiate on Bastion to convince the planet's elders to stay loyal, meanwhile Horus has sent emissaries to convince them to break away. Now, to me, the Imperium would have simply invaded, not took the time to talk. I understand that the rebels have ulterior motives, so that makes sense. There is a twist, with the secret activities of a hidden traitor legion, but it only raises more questions than it answers. A decent story, but not as good as the others here.

The Last Remembrancer: This is another small scale, "intimate" story that really begins to drive the theme home that no matter who wins, everyone loses. It involves Rogal Dorn, former Sons of Horus fav Qruze and one of the original Remembracers, Solomon Voss. Dorn begeins to question if the Emperor's dream of an enlightened humanity will survive the war, or if the Imperium will have to give up on soft notions of learning, arts, and self-discovery in order to win, thus becoming "a cruel machine of iron, and blood" in the process. Dorn is particularly real here, and he is upset about how victory will "have its price". A sad, foreboding story, setting the tone for the rest of the tales to come.

Rebirth- well, now I'll have to read Battle of the Fang, as Chris Wraight does a great job here with a tale about some Thousand Sons who had been sent away from Prospero just before the Space Wolves razed it. The story alternates between a "first person" account of being interrogated, while flashing back to how the Thousand Sons got to this point. I don't want to give anything away, but its a fun tale with a few twists and turns. Suffice to say, I want to see how he handles Wolves vs. 1K Sons round two in his new book.

The Face of Treachery: This is the other lackluster showing, by Gav Thorpe. Again, its not bad, just not the best in this anthology. This story tells the tale of how Corax and the Raven Guard escaped the chain axes of the World Eaters on Istvaan. A tale of two battleships, Delerax's WE, and Branne's RG ships. Delerax wants to stick around and aid Angron, but the Warmaster's emmisary orders his ship away. Meanwhile, Branne has to come up with a way to break though to Istvaan, rescue the remnants of his legion, and get out of dodge. It's a decent story, but I wish I had gotten a better feel for the two antagonists. It ends with the Alpha Legion pulling a fast one, leaving me to wonder- just what side are they on? Abnett's Legion has magnificently set that up- what is their true agenda? And having them pop up here only reinforces that. It is this twist that saves this one.

Little Horus: From the other side of the Heresy, Dan Abnett focuses on Little Horus Aximand. As someone who loved the original 3 Heresy books, it was nice to see Abnett expand (just a little bit) on some of his creations, such as Aximand and Loken. Aximand has his doubts about the future himself, though they are expressed only in dreams. Abnett shows quite clearly that AximandAximand (and the legion) for following Horus into treason IF they are designed to be the "spitting image" of Horus in all respects? Aximand's subconscious is "screaming" at him that something is wrong, that the legion will be "haunted" by their actions, but how can he heed it if every factor makes him just like Horus? A great little tale, with great questions to be asked.

The Iron Within: Much has been written about how Horus used the Iron Warriors both to siege AND garrison worlds. Some have postulated that this strained the legion, adding to Perturabo's paranoia, and bring them to damnation. But, on all those garrisoned worlds, one Iron Warrior Warsmith didn't get the Heresy memo- Warsmith Dantioch is steadfastly loyal to the Emperor (Peturabo be damned). The traitorous Iron Warriors are forced to lay siege to Dantioch's fortifications. A bloody battle ensues (with Dantioch aided by his own warriors and an Ultramarine); it is not Peturabo's finest hour, let's put it that way. The story starts off slow, and at first I thought it was weak. But by the end, it was a page turner, I was hooked. As for the lead character, Dantioch is great. Old, cantankerous, and wise, he's a good hero in this story. I am hoping to see him again; the end promises that we may see him in a bigger battle to come (hehe!).

Savage Weapons: I am a big fan of Aaron Dembski-Bowden. I have enjoyed his work on the Night Lords (I'll be reading Blood Reavers next), thought First Heretic was excellent, and Cadian Blood was a great read (Nurgle zombies? I'm down with that!). In this story, the Dark Angels have been fighting a sector wide conflict against the Night Lords. I have never been a fan of Dark Angels, but ADB handles them with great skill, and I have come to like Lion El'Johnson. He wants to break the Night Lords quickly, and has been bothered by the lack of help (where's the damn Ultramarines?). He gets a chance, if he agrees to meet with Konrad Curze for a parley. What ensues is a great tale of The Lion meeting (and then battling) his wayward brother. Again, ADB has a flair for the Night Lords, and it's great to see Sevetar here again. Curze tries to turn his brother (utilizing his doubts about Guilliman), but it is to no avail. The talks turns into a bloody brawl, and it ends as you know it would- stalemate. However, The Lion's doubts are only increased, and he is left unsettled by the encounter. Great story to end with.

Overall, a great anthology. Only a few clunkers keep it from being excellent though. I do like the theme linking the stories. I'd also love to see the Battle of Calth at some point- now I'm not sure what to make of Guilliman, after reading these. I'd give it 3 1/2 Marks of Chaos out of 4. Until next time...

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