Black Library Games Day Anthology 2011/12 – Review [Shadowhawk]

Games-Day-Mega-Chapbook-2011

Shadowhawk reviews the first ever Black Library Games Day Anthology for 2011/12. The anthology collects together six different short stories from some of Black Library’s finest authors, covering everything from Warhammer 40,000 to Warhammer Fantasy, the Horus Heresy to the Time of Legends.

“A collection of delightful and unusual tales, the anthology only leaves you wanting more.” ~ The Founding Fields

Limited to only 3,000 copies worldwide, the first Black Library Games Day Anthology (2011/12) is rather unusual in that it collects together a massive six short stories of varying lengths, themes, motifs, plots, characters, factions and more. Given the anthology’s limited status, I will be providing a short synopsis of each story (in other words, spoilers abound!) as I also mix in my review of them.

First up is the Horus Heresy story, Death of a Silversmith, by Graham McNeill. This is one of the stories that I am rather on the fence about. It is nicely written, the plot itself spanning several long years of the Great Crusade and contains a rather surprising twist, but, and that is a big but, I am not sure if I really like it. It is one of those stories that really makes you reevaluate the author in terms of what they really want to convey and the finished product.

The story is about a silversmith who has been left to die in his own forge, which itself is located aboard the Vengeful Spirit, the flagship of the most prominent Primarch of the Great Crusade, Horus Lupercal, the Emperor’s most favoured and most glorious son. That he has been left in his sorry state by an Astartes is quite clear and I must commend Graham on putting us in the mind of the dying man directly. The imagery is very vivid and we are treated to a roller coaster ride of the dying man’s fleeting thoughts as he seeks to make sense of what has brought him to such an ignoble fate: to die alone in his own workshop, suffering a torturous slow death.

However, I am not really sure if this story has a place in the larger Horus Heresy narrative, particularly with respect to the very first chapter of the first book of the entire series, Horus Rising. The story deals in part with Hastur Sejanus, Captain of the Fourth Company of the Luna Wolves Legiones Astartes. And I believe that is where my trepidation comes in. We get a very tantalizing, yet very unsatisfactory glimpse of this warrior, a man who once moved in the highest echelons of his legion before his untimely death in Horus Rising. As important as the dying silversmith’s POV was, in fact we don’t even learn his name, the story seems to be more about Sejanus himself. And that is where I think it is unrealised. I am only left with a hunger to know more about the Astartes that Garviel Loken once described as the most handsome Astartes in Mk IV battle-plate.

While the pacing of the story was good, it is one which suffers from its medium as a mini-story barely 12-pages long. However, given the slight insight into Hastur Sejanus’s character and the surprising twist in the story towards the end, I am inclined to give it a rating of 7.5/10. The story clearly struggles in its medium confinement and it shows.

Next up we have a Warhammer Fantasy story, The March of Doom, by Chris Wraight. Coming off after the previous story, this one totally ups the game for the rest of the anthology and one I will admit gives me a very satisfactory feeling at having read a cracking story that just oozes its awesomeness.

The plot is fairly straightforward: bands of Beastmen are running rampant in one of the Empire’s many turbulent regions, the Drakwald, and Luthor Huss, devout warrior-priest of Sigmar, has stepped forth to destroy this unclean stain. Complicating matters is a reluctant local lord who prefers to sit behind the comfort of his walls, an erroneous judgement as it turns out for which he is suitably chastised and forced to suffer penance by Huss. From the start there is ample action in the story as Huss’s band of flagellants and zealots take the fight to the beastmen, their minds so focused upon dealing death to the enemies of Sigmar that they care little for their own lives.

Luthor Huss, as the severe yet reserved warrior-priest is a joy to read. Chris writes him and his band of zealots with a passion that is evident in every single scene. The charm of the story is in its very simplicity, which is quite apparent from the get go. Huss and his companions do not beat around the bush, they are simple and direct in their actions, which is matched only by their zeal to the word of Sigmar and their loyalty to his people.

I really don’t know what more I can say about this story, other than I eagerly look forward to getting myself a copy of Luthor Huss when it is released. If I compare the Chris’s style in this story to that of Battle of the Fang, his Space Marines Battles novel, there is much that is similar: vivid descriptions, simplicity in the scenes with the characters driving the story from start to end, a beautiful and coldly emotional finish and more. I really cannot find any fault with it. This is a story which really makes me want to delve deep into Warhammer Fantasy, something I have only dabbled in so far.

For the entertainment value this story provides, I give it a solid 10/10, because it deserves it. The March of Doom really has set the bar really high for the rest of the stories in the anthology.

Third is a Warhammer 40,000 story, The Curse of Shaa-Dom, by Gav Thorpe. Unlike the previous two stories, this is one that totally leaves me cold and is most definitely not one of my favourites by any stretch. By the end I am left with a rather “WTF happened” feel and that was quite enough to turn me off.

The story is from the POV of several different Eldar as they make a supposedly routine journey from a world recently conquered by the armies of the Biel-Tan craftworld to the mysterious realm of Biel-Tanigh in order to return a chaos-tainted artifact recovered from the self-same world. This one is most definitely the most confusing of the bunch. It introduces a new faction of Eldar, the white seers, who are supposedly highly capable Farseer-type Eldar who are solely focused on containing the powers of the Warp. In effect, they are guardians of such power rather than mere users. The story, short as it is, does not do them justice and I am forced to ask if they are really necessary to the story at all. Couldn’t the same task have been accomplished by a strong-willed Farseer who must return said artifact to the Black Library instead?

The pacing is fine I suppose but the plot really has me scratching my head. Its not that it is a complicated one at all, its more that I just could not get into the head of any of the characters at all. Given that this story is from the perspective of the Eldar, an alien race, that is perhaps fitting, but I should be able to relate to the characters surely? And that is not what I got from this story. I just wanted to get through the story as fast as possible. Truthfully, I only read it for completeness’ sake.

I give this story a rather dismal 3/10 because while it had a few interesting parts like treachery among the Eldar as they return the artifact and the aftermath, it was a sore reading effort. I just wanted to rush through the story. And that is never a good sign.

The fourth story is The Treasures of Biel-Tanigh by Andy Chambers. As you may have guessed from the title, this is related to Gav’s story. This time, the POV is similar yet different for we are told the story through the eyes of an ambition Dark Eldar Archon and his vat-born assassins who must break into the shadowy Webway realm of Biel-Tanigh to retrieve an artifact of great value, an artifact that was at the core of the treachery that shattered the group of Eldar from Gav’s story towards the end, leading them all into an ignoble death.

This story is a little better than the previous one, but I still have the same sentiments towards this one that I do with Gav’s story. I just could not relate to or care for the characters at all. Taking place partly in one of the many sub-regions of Commorragh and within Biel-Tanigh itself, I expected to be shown more of the capital of the Dark Eldar but that never happened. We get only passing references to sub of the areas of the Dark City and Biel-Tanigh itself is one confusing place.

I won’t belabour the point, suffice to say that I did not enjoy this story at all. That is honestly all I can say about it, without having to force you all to read 300 words that are basically saying just that.

I give this story a 3/10 as well.  However, I must point out that while this story itself is rather weak in its characterization and its locations, Archon Yllithian is one of those characters that just make you want to read more. Therefore, I very much look forward to Andy’s next, Path of the Renegade, a Dark Eldar novel that will be released in March of next year.

The fifth story in the anthology is C. L. Werner’s Time of Legends story, Plague Priest. As you can guess from the title and the brand it is a part of, this story is part of Werner’s upcoming Time of Legends trilogy about the Black Death, a plague of massive proportions that spreads throughout the Empire during the reign of Emperor Boris, courtesy of the Skaven Under-Empire, and particularly the plague monks of Clan Pestilens.

Just like Chris’s Luthor Huss story, this one is also a delightful read. Skritsch is a great character to read about, the sort who you invariably end up rooting for by the end of a story knowing full well that he is the bad guy. Starting from a clandestine but failed poisoning of the grain shipments to a rather small Empire village to the plots and counter-plots in the caverns of the up-and-coming Clan Filch, the story simply goes from strength to strength. Skaven are always one of the most interesting races in Warhammer Fantasy to read about, because of their inherent treacherous nature and their plots designed to counter plots which are designed to counter more plots which are further designed to counter yet more plots and more —

You get the picture hopefully. Having come across Grey Seer Thanquol before in the Gotrek & Felix novels and more Skaven in the Blackhearts Omnibus, this smaller outing of the Skaven was perfect in showing the nature of the Skaven and their fearfully scheming ways. Skritch, the agent of Clan Filch who performs the poisoning of the grain shipments, drives the story from start to finish without fail. He is a typical Skaven and Werner handles him perfectly.

The pacing is good, the characterization is good, the locations are good, the factions involved are suitably devious and together they all deliver a cracking read. In its medium as a mini-story, Plague Priest, is perfect and there is no feeling throughout that the story could be bigger. I wouldn’t have minded a ‘full-length’ short story, but as it is, the story is perfectly fine. I wouldn’t ask for any changes to it.

I give this story a solid 10/10 as well because it is so entertaining and because Skaven characters are the most hilarious and fun to read about.

The last story in the anthology is Nick Kyme’s Warhammer 40,000 mini-story Emperor’s Deliverance. Quite different from the other two mini-stories set within the same setting, this one is about Space Marines and the mad conflict of the Third War of Armageddon when Ork Warlord Ghazghkull Thraka returned to the world to claim a victory denied to him previously.

The story is about the conflict between the Salamanders under Chapter Master Tu’shan and the Marines Malevolent under Captain Vinyar, and it begins with the latter shelling a refugee camp that is being overrun by Orks. The camp in question, Emperor’s Deliverance, is being run by Sister Hospitaller Athena who is forced to realize over the course of the story that not all the defenders of Armageddon believe are concerned with the lives of those under her care: the refugees and casualties of the war. She confronts the Marines Malevolent several times, only to be rebuffed each time and has to watch as the people close to her such as her fellow Sisters, the wounded and the refugees are mercilessly slaughtered in order to eliminate the Ork threat.

Having read almost all of Nick’s previous Warhammer 40,000 work, particularly the Tome of Fire series, I was rather excited about this short story as it deals with the Salamanders themselves and brings back Captain Vinyar from the self-same series. Nick’s pacing is great, the characterization is similarly great, and the plot itself is quite tight, moving along at an action-packed speed that only leaves you wanting more.

Just like the Warhammer Fantasy stories that I have already praised so highly, at no time does this story suffer from its short medium and it is as much of a cracking, solid read as the other two.

The ending of the story is I think as good as the others as well, if not stronger, because it leaves you with a taste of things to come, ends as it does with an explosive showdown between Tu’shan and Vinyar as the Chapter Master prepares to teach Vinyar in a rather physical manner that the lives of the Emperor’s subjects are not to be carelessly discarded at all and that each and every one of them are valuable.

I gave this story a 9.5/10. It loses that half-mark only because the story ends as it does: I want to know about the fight between the two Space Marines dammit, and that scene can be a mini-story all on its own!

In the end, I would recommend the anthology purely because of its three highly-rated stories and the Horus Heresy story which, although not quite up to that mark, is still a decent enough read. If you can get a hold of the anthology, hopefully by borrowing from an understanding friend, do read it because overall it is not quite as bad as I make it out to be. What I liked others possibly dislike, with the reverse being true as well. The two related Eldar stories weren’t my cup of tea and sadly, I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as I enjoyed the others.

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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