Bane of Kings reviews Age of Darkness, a Horus Heresy short story collection containing works from Graham McNeill, James Swallow, Nick Kyme, John French, Chris Wraight, Gav Thorpe, Dan Abnett, Rob Sanders and Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Published by Black Library. It is also the Sixteenth novel in the bestselling multi-author Horus Heresy series.
“There’s no better way to kick start a new arc of the Horus Heresy series with an anthology, especially when it’s an exceptionally good one.” ~The Founding Fields
Having turned my attention away from Blood Reaver at last, I have recently finished Age of Darkness, the sixteenth novel in the Horus Heresy Series, and an anthology, combining tales related to a period during the Horus Heresy that we don’t know much about.
This is the second anthology collection in the Horus Heresy series, the first being Tales of Heresy. This was a good addition to the series in my book, as it contained shorts on the Wolves, the World Eaters, the Word Bearers and more.
However, Age of Darkness is set to take things to a whole new level, as we enter a new story arc in the New-York Times bestselling series, so without further ado, let’s start the review.
Rules of Engagement by Graham McNeill
Now, as you’re probably all aware by now, Graham McNeill is the author of the Ultramarines Series, and also of the New-York Times best-selling A Thousand Sons. This time, we’re thrown back into the action with Ultramarines, and again with the fourth company. Only this time, it’s a much different fourth company than any fan of The Ultramarines Series recognise. First of all, it’s run by Captain Ventanus, and they bear the nickname “The Troublesome Fourth”, for their previous encounters.
In this short, Ventanus and his company must test the teachings of the newly created Codex Astartes against something that even the almighty tactician Roboute Guilliman never expected, other Space Marines.
Although this short story is not Graham McNeill’s best work, I found it to be immensely enjoyable, not only as the Ultramarines are one of my favourite chapters, but also because it’s written by one of my favourite authors. Also, to separate a scene, McNeill used a nice idea where each ‘new’ encounter was headed with ‘Engagement [Insert Appropriate Number Here]’, which I found to be a nice touch to the short.
The short story kick-starts this anthology in a promising way, as we are given some pretty decent stuff here.
Liar’s Due by James Swallow
Liar’s Due is the second short story to grace this anthology, and focuses on an often unexplored aspect of the Heresy by Nemesis and Flight of the Eisenstein author James Swallow, and takes place on a world that is currently aligned with Terra, and the Emperor, but after a stranger brings word to the world of the death of the Emperor and the victory of Horus Lupercal, that alliance is swiftly doubted as chaos and anarchy start to reign. However, one boy is about to discover the true motives of the newcomer, and he is not all he appears to be.
I found this short to be another enjoyable addition to the anthology, and although there’s next to no action, we’re given the viewpoint of what someone would think during the Horus Heresy who is not in the front line and fighting with the adeptus astartes themselves, as what the majority of the Horus Heresy novels up until know have been based around.
If you’re looking for some hardcore astartes versus astartes action, then you might want to look elsewhere, but this short gives you a refreshing break from the action that filtered through the pages of Rules of Engagement, and allows you to see someone other than adeptus astartes take the main role in these dark times.
Forgotten Sons by Nick Kyme
Right, this short is Nick Kyme’s first entry into the Horus Heresy, and it isn’t really surprising when you notice that he’s picked Salamanders to star as one of the main legions. After all, this is the guy who’s wrote the acclaimed Tome of Fire Trilogy about them, and the upcoming Promethean Sun novella, also featuring the Scions of Vulkan.
But the Salamander present in this short is not the only astartes to have ‘page-time’, for he has been abandoned by his legion and left on a world called Bastion, alongside, surprise, surprise, a lone Ultramarine, whose Legion Nick Kyme has also written about them in Assault on Black Reach and Fall of Damnos.
The synopsis of this short story is simple, the planet Bastion must decide whether to remain loyal or not to the Emperor, and while Horus has dispatched an Iteriator, the Imperium two space marines.
There are several twists given to us in this short, as Nick Kyme delivers another solid entry to this anthology as well as giving us a view on the political side of things. It’s not just brutal warfare in the Heresy, folks!
However, as much as I enjoyed Forgotten Sons, I felt one thing that let it down was the portrayal of the characters, as the only ones that I really enjoyed reading about were Heka’tan (the Salamander) and Arcadese (The Ultramarine), as they helped keep the story alive, right up until its tragic, shocking and eventful conclusion.
The Last Rembrancer by John French
Okay, here’s author John French, the second newcomer to the Horus Heresy series who has previously written the short story Hunted, which appeared in the fourth Issue of Hammer and Bolter, and focuses on a ship aligned with the traitors appearing in the Sol system containing a man who calls himself “The Last Rembrancer,” and bears an important message for the loyalist forces still in the system.
Taken to the dark side of Titan, we see the reappearance of Iacton Qruze (Last seen in Flight of the Eisenstein, by James Swallow), and the Primarch of the Imperial Fists himself, Rogal Dorn as they interview the man who reveals himself to be Solomon Voss, and informs the loyalists of an epic tale.
But, can he be trusted, and even if he can, will he be allowed to live?
That’s basically what we’re given as the plot for this addition, and the story as a whole focuses on Dorn and Qruze interrogating Voss, who gives an account as to how the Sons of Horus fell from the light of the emperor, and also adds another short that doesn’t focus on the Imperium at war.
It’s nice to see Qruze return, especially as the Garro audiobooks left us with no idea as to what happened to him, and I felt that this was another good entry to this anthology, despite this being French’s only second Black Library short story.
Rebirth by Chris Wraight
Yet another newcomer to the Horus Heresy series is Sword of Vengeance author Chris Wraight, delivering a story focusing on the Thousand Sons, or more specifically what happened to the fleet that Magnus the Red sent away from Prospero before the Wolves struck.
Captain Kalliston of the Thousand Sons is thrust into the spotlight as upon landing on the ruined Prospero, he finds himself taken hostage by an unknown foe. Tortured and interrogated, the Thousand Son plays a dangerous game with his captor as he intends to find out his identity.
In this short, Wraight gives us an enjoyable addition to the accounts of the Burning of Prospero, and delivers an shocking twist at the end that brings up not only a surprise for the reader, but also a surprise for the character.
Although the pace was somewhat slow, Rebirth was still a good read, and possibly one of the better additions to Age of Darkness, and gives readers an early taste as to what Chris Wraight’s forthcoming Battle of the Fang will be like. (However, being the lucky person that I am, I’ve already read it).
The Face of Treachery by Gav Thorpe
Alright, we’re well into the anthology now and this time, we’re focusing on The Face of Treachery, a short story by Path of the Warrior and Purging of Kadillus author Gav Thorpe, with his first entry to the tales in the 31st Millennium, and after a break from epic clashes, we’re given one here as Thorpe explores the events of Isstvan V.
This short focuses on a space battle above Isstvan V as the Raven Guard come to their aid of their Primarch Corax, who is currently fighting for his life against outnumbering renegade legions on the world below. However, the enemy is waiting and all their fates rest upon a single astartes on board one rebel ship.
Despite the fact that time passed quickly, there was a lot of description in this short as Thorpe uses this to set the scene for his upcoming Horus Heresy Novel, Deliverance Lost.
Although we already know the outcome, which lowered the suspense a little, the action in this short is good, and is defiantly one of Thorpe’s better works.
Little Horus by Dan Abnett
At last, we arrive at Dan Abnett’s addition to the Horus Heresy, as the bestseller responsible for Prospero Burns, Horus Rising and Legion returns to a character whom was explored in the first three novels in this series, “Little” Horus Aximad, who if I am being honest, was one of my favourite characters in the first three, fitting in just behind Loken and Torgaddon.
This short focuses on action on the planet Dwell after a simple pacification goes wrong, leaving Aximad fighting not just other space marines (from the Iron Hands, in case you’re interested in that sort of thing), but also his own doubts.
Although the use of repetition is perhaps wrongly used, Abnett still manages to deliver a solid entry to the Horus Heresy as he focuses on a character whom we were left with little information about when Galaxy in Flames (Not written by Abnett, mind you, but by Ben Counter) came to a conclusion.
As well as focusing on the battle scenes, Abnett also gives us an insight of Aximad’s view of the betrayal, as well as a glance into how the political side of things changed in the Sons of Horus Legion.
In conclusion, Little Horus, despite not being one of Abnett’s best works, is yet another good addition to Age of Darkness, and I’m pleased to say that we haven’t had a bad one yet.
The Iron Within by Rob Sanders
Another newcomer to the Horus Heresy series, the author of Redemption Corps, Rob Sanders informs us that not all Iron Warriors sided with their Primarch, and sees the traitors return to a world they conquered long ago.
However, one of the Iron Warriors on the conquered world remains loyal to the Emperor, and the fortress-world sees Iron Warriors clash in an excellent addition to this anthology.
The battle scenes are fantastically described, showing us the tactics that the fourth legion, the siege experts used in this encounter, that ends with a fantastic climax.
Despite not being a huge fan of the Iron Warriors, this flushes out the background of the legions that we aren’t given much insight into during the heresy, and in all honesty, this made me like the sons of Perturabo (The loyalist ones at least) even more.
Also, as well as describing the battle scenes brilliantly, Sanders has also done well with the character description, and has also increased character tension by throwing a loyalist Ultramarine into the mix.
If you’re interested and want an early preview of the anthology, check out the e-book Hammer and Bolter 5.
Savage Weapons by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Now then, we’ve finally reached the last instalment in this anthology, and this time it’s Aaron Dembski-Bowden, the author responsible for the popular Night Lords series (Which I don’t think I’ve seen a negative review about, and I’ve read a lot of them), and The First Heretic, which I also enjoyed.
Savage Weapons however does not continue to explore the Word Bearers, but focuses on the Dark Angels, the sons of the Lion, pitting them against the Night Lords in an epic clash in the worlds of the Aegis Sector.
At long last however, the Dark Angels Primarch finally has a chance to strike at his twisted brother, Konrad Cruze, when the Night Haunter offers a challenge to the Lion on an abandoned world.
I don’t think I’ve ever read (or listened to) a bad novel/audio/short story by ADB, and Savage Weapons is no expectation, for not only we’re given a fight between two Primarchs, we’re also shown as to finally where the Dark Angels loyalties lie.
This short also has a few fantastic moments which I enjoyed, particularly the conversations between the Honour Guard of the respective Primarchs.
Favourite Story: I’m afraid I can’t choose between The Iron Within and Savage Weapons. Both are great additions, and some awesome work.
Overall Verdict: 4/5