Architect of Fate edited by Christian Dunn Review [EJ Davies]

Architect-of-Fate

EJ Davies reviews the Architect of Fate anthology and the most recent release in the Space Marine Battles series (number 10 if you’re counting) containing four original stories: Accursed Entity by Sarah Cawkwell, Fateweaver by John French, Sanctus by Darius Hinks, and Endeavour of Will by Ben Counter.

“A great collection of original and eye opening stories that really do take the 40K Universe into a dark and scary place.” ~ The Founding Fields.

Released earlier this month, Architect of Fate is presented by Black Library with the following information:

“The Space Marines stand against the darkness, and yet on countless battlefields they play unwitting roles in the schemes of Fateweaver. From the doomed world of Ilissus, through the embattled corridors of the Endeavour of Will, to the borders of the Eye of Terror itself – friend and foe alike follow the great plan that he set in motion many thousands of years ago. But not even the Architect of Fate himself can foresee the destiny that lies in wait for him…

Collected for the first time, all four parts of the Architect of Fate novella series are presented in a single printed volume. The infamous Kairos Fateweaver, greater daemon of Tzeentch and master of manipulation, has discovered the limits of his power – even one so prescient as he cannot divine beyond the event horizon at the end of the 41st Millennium.”

Accursed Entity – Sarah Cawkwell.

Space Marines from the Star Dragons and Blood Swords chapters, under command of the Holy Inquisition, investigate the appearance of the fated ghost ship Accused Entity as it reappears drifting through the void, and in its wake the denizens of the Imperium turn to Chaos.

What we’re presented with in this story is two chapters who are on the wain, both of them having suffered heavy losses and struggling to recruit fresh initiates.  In and of itself this isn’t surprising as this picture is replicated across the Imperium in the latter stages of the 41st Millennium.  Ordo Malleus in the guise of Inquisitor Remegius command the combined forces of the Star Dragons and Blood Swords, both of whom share some common traits, and histories – Captain Tanek of the Star Dragons repaying a debt owed to Remegius.

The Accursed Entity itself is a ghost ship, in both senses of the word.  Familiar horror tropes are in evidence as the two chapters board the ship and investigate, but what follows is an exploration of the nature of the changer-of-ways and what that might look like.  Knowing the nature of Tzeentch, all bets are off with relation to gravity, reality, and time; and the story does follow and explore those territories.

The only criticism I would level at the piece is that ‘bleeding ears’ occurs quite often throughout – particularly the odious Remegius – and I’m surprised the Inquisitor could hear anything after the first instance.

The characters are well drawn, nicely fleshed out, and brilliantly conceived.  Sergeant Korydon – effective commander of the boarding party – supported by Chaplain Iakados – taking an advisory, scholarly role – is quickly isolated, leaving Iakados, Sergeant Evander, and Blood Sword sergeant Ardashir to work their way throughout the ship and work out what’s going on.  Each of them share similar personalities, but there are subtle differences between them.

The climax is interesting and surprising.

So, a great story with some excellent features.

Fateweaver – John French.

 The White Consuls chapter are summoned by a distress call to an astropathic relay station – Claros – from their most recent mission on Kataris which resulted in exterminatus.  Our central character – Epistolary Cyrus – experiences visions that he cannot see the end of.  On boarding the station the White Consuls meet the commander of the Helicon Guard – Imperial Guard now too old, too wounded to serve, or those without a regiment who serve as the garrison – Rihat; Hekate, Primaris Psyker, and Colophon, Astropath.  Only there was no distress call.
What follows is a great ‘whodunnit’ style mystery – albeit without a murder – combined with great action sequences.  Just as with Accursed Entity John explores the nature of Tzeentch and how that might feel to our characters.  The incomplete vision device works very nicely when the vision actually comes to fruition in the last act of the piece.  In addition, we get to see through the eyes of a lesser Tzeentch daemon – Changeling – as he aids in bringing about the lowering of Claros’ Gellar field, and instigating a full on daemon attack on the station.
Sergeant Phobos, a grim fist of a marine, counterpoints Epistolary Cyrus well – Cyrus almost lost in his own head and his own inability to divine his vision.
I’ve been very impressed with John French’s output thus far, and Fateweaver is no exception.  It’s dark, well told, descriptive, atmospheric, and well conceived with great characters and a wonderful denouement, although not wholly unexpected, it was certainly well told.  What was most surprising was just how much team work there was between Sarah and John as Fateweaver and Accursed Entity tie in to one another.
All in all an excellent story with some great features.
Sanctus – Darius Hinks.
The Relictors chapter is offered a chance to redeem their reputations by investigating a temporal disturbance on Ilissus IV which threatens to swallow the sector.  The Black Legion are in evidence, although resistance from them is very light, but as the story evolves things are not as simple as it may first have appeared.
Darius writing style was something of a surprise, expecting a rather journeyman approach to writing but getting something all together more accomplished.  The Warhammer Fantasy novel Sigvald was brilliant, but this – his second outing in Warhammer 40K – was something else entirely.
We start with an opening which describes the latter stages of the Relictors action on Ilissus IV and the ending of the piece – which is repeated once the story is told; and is crafted in such a way that after reading the story your outlook of the repeated section alters completely, but still leaves it open to interpretation.
Told in the present tense most of the action takes place through the eyes of the rage-filled Sergeant Haber leading his squad to investigate the temporal disturbance, while Brother-Librarian Comus – handling a piece of xenos technology which is slowly killing him – leads them through the cloud.  The story is very grim, and very dark, gritty, edgy, grimy, and compelling.  We have sub-narratives surrounding Inquisitor Mortmain – a lowborn citizen having risen to great heights; his retinue of Grey Knights under Justicar Lyctus; arrogant and superior Baron Cornelius von Tol of the Navis Nobilite, and his son Palchus from whom the intelligence came, but from the get-go you wonder what they’re hiding; and the bound daemon Cerbalus.
Each of the characters are clear in their motivations, and their histories; it is clear what is happening with them and why events unfold as they do; and the world of Ilissus IV is well crafted – and the idea of the temporal disturbance, the central creation of it – is a great device.  But its the Relictors, for me, that are the stars with more light being thrown on them and on the wider 40K Universe from their perspective – thought of as heretics by their fellow chapters for their willingness to learn, to evolve, and to use xenos technology as a means to destroy the enemy.
Darius has crafted a wonderfully grimdark story, so this for me was an excellent story.
Endeavour of Will – Ben Counter.
The Bastion Inviolate, gatekeeper to the Eye of Terror is destroyed by the invasion of a daemon-virus to its machine spirit, it’s sister station the Endeavour of Will, is saved by the intervention of Techmarine Hestion.  Hero of the Imperial Fists chapter – Captain Darnath Lysander – leads his command squad, and the garrisoned Imperial Fists in the defence against the Iron Warriors from Malodrax led by Warsmith Shon’tu.
So the story is a great idea.  A space station under constant attack by their most ardent opponents.  Lysander, having a personal stake in the battle, is seen through the eyes of Sergeant Rigalto – a fresh faced sergeant who begins to question Lysander’s motives.  We also get to see the story from the perspective of Warsmith Shon’tu and his enslaved daemon Velthinar Silverspine, both seemingly at odds but brought together under a pact signed with the Ruinous Powers of the changer-of-ways.
There are some really nice parts of the book – the idea of Lysander’s tactical genius, and his iron hard resolve forming the backbone of this novella, but also the Obliterator cult, the possessed Space Marines, that Shon’tu’s emotions rule him despite being mostly machine and no longer human; whereas Lysander is more detached and emotionless.  I really loved the section between Lysander and the Endeavour of Will’s astropatch Vaynce – it was a really great scene.
That said, there were some parts that I didn’t get on with so well.  The term datamedium was used a great deal, and while a good idea I’m not a great fan of over-repetition, and we do see it a lot.  The idea of machine spirits communicating with Astartes verbally didn’t sit well with me at all.  While the story was good, I think the telling suffered a little.  Graham McNeill’s Iron Warrior Hon’sou is referenced in the fact our antagonist’s name doesn’t just sound like it but looks almost like an anagram of it.  I get what Ben was going for, but I think breaking completely from Graham’s take would have been better so one didn’t have the spectre of it hanging over the piece.  The novella also doesn’t directly reference, or even hint at, Kairos Fateweaver, where the others do, so it is a bit of a let down in that respect.  Finally, I wasn’t keen on the prayers being verbalised in print – I think it’s better to not write them down, you run the risk of undermining what you’re trying to achieve.
The final battle was brilliant, I really liked it, but the ending was a little Deus Ex Machina for my liking which left me a little deflated.
In the end the story was good with some great features, and I would have preferred to see a story like Sanctus of Fateweaver closing out the anthology.
Overall.
This method of publishing novellas is a good one.  The Primarchs was a great addition to the Horus Heresy and certainly I wouldn’t have paid out £160 for owning the limited edition novella that Black Library produce (that’s £30 each for the book and £10 for delivery.)  In addition, having the novellas tied together by a common theme is a great idea, and even having two or more of the novella stories tying together adds yet another dimension to it.  But, the order of the pieces really needs to be looked at.  Like any great album or gig the opening and closing tracks should be stand-out.  In The Primarchs we had that, here’s we don’t.  Sarah’s start was great, but the closing was only good.
This is still well worth the money and having a closer look at some of the less written about chapters, especially in the way it is done here, is always a good thing.  There isn’t really a dodgy story to be had, and so you’re likely to find an entertaining collection of novels.  Standouts for me are Darius’ and John’s writing which really gets my blood pumping.  Once again, I think Sarah’s writing is adapted well to a novella length, but is best suited to a novel.
In all – Architect of Fate is a great anthology with some excellent features.  It is available now as an eBook downloaded from BlackLibrary.com or in print from all good retailers.

EJ Davies

EJ Davies: reader, reviewer, writer; and an avid lover of Black LIbrary products since the release of the seminal Horus Rising. EJ is currently working through the massive back catalogue of Black Library titles, and plugging away at his own fiction-based efforts in the vain hope of cracking his way into the author pool.

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  • http://twitter.com/abhinavjain87 Abhinav Jain

    Don’t have the codex to hand but IIRC, Shon’tu is mentioned in the 5th ed SM Codex in the boxout with the galactic map. All the stories for Architect of Fate are taken from that boxout.

    • EJ Davies

      That doesn’t change that how I felt about it.