Treacheries of the Space Marines edited by Christian Dunn – Advance Review Part One [Lord of the Night]

H. Fowler's work always delights, I especially love his use of "shadowed background characters." Characters are always more menacing when you can only see their eyes, even more so if they are glowing.

Lord of the Night reviews the first half of the Chaos Space Marine anthology Treacheries of the Space Marines featuring the authors Matthew Farrer, Sarah Cawkwell, David Annandale, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Anthony Reynolds, Andy Smillie, Jonathan Green, Andy Hoare and John French.

“A darkly entertaining anthology that has its lows but many more highs. A must-have for any fan of the Chaos Space Marines!” – The Founding Fields

This is my first anthology review using my new format, so I will briefly explain how this will work. For each part of the review I will review half of the short stories arrayed, and I will not be reviewing Throne of Lies as I have already reviewed it in the past. This half will contain the stories The Masters, Bidding by Matthew Farrer, The Carrion Anthemn by David Annandale, Liberator by Jon Green and The Long War by Andy Hoare. So without further rambling, lets begin.

The Masters, Bidding by Matthew Farrer

A call has been sent, a call to the great Legions of the Eye to come and behold the great prize of Master Chengrel of the Iron Warriors Legion. His prize is great, but what he desires is greater and so an auction has been promised. Four of the Traitor Legions have come to bid on the prize, but Chengrel has another kind of payment in mind. Each must tell a tale, a tale of glory and bloodshed, a tale that will prove themselves to be their host’s equal and to sweeten their bids. Stories shall be told, but will these stories be what Chengrel seeks to hear?

The story of The Masters, Bidding is a rather imaginative and delightful one, the pun of the title is also amusing to boot. As each Traitor emmissary spins a yarn about their greatest achievements it lends the story a much larger feeling, this did not feel like a short story but rather a shorter novella that told four different stories of conquest and glory, but of a certain type of both of those things. This story also very admirably explored a divide between the Traitor Legions and gave a point of view I have always wanted to know, how do a certain type of Traitor Marines view another type. To find out what types though you’ll have to read the story.

I found the use of differing characters to be very entertaining. Farer chose these Legions specifically because of how they differ from one another I am sure. Word Bearers, Night Lords, Emperor’s Children and Thousand Sons are all represented by an emmissary and each of these characters, despite their vast differences, has one particular aspect that binds them together and separates them from Chengrel, whom is also an interesting character who exudes faded glories of the past. Each character was also a stunning representation of their Legions and it was fascinating to see how each of these Legions interacts with each other and their opinions on the stories that each character tells.

Farrer relies on storytelling and not battles to carry this story, but no 40k story could be complete without somebody killing something. The battle scenes in the stories told are all delightfully diverse and all are fun to imagine as each, as with the characters, reflects their Legions attitudes and battle strategies. Night Lords using terror as a weapon, Word Bearers using conversion and cultists, Emperor’s Children in all their decadence and Thousand Sons with magic and craftiness. Farer does them all well and it feels like each of these Legions is truly distinct from the others, their strategies clever to them yet baffling to the others.

The pacing of the story is nicely done. Each story is told in character and once finished is broken up by behind the scenes segments, the bidders conspiring and conversing or showing more of Chengrel’s fortress and his thoughts on the stories and bids. I found the story very easy to read and enjoy, Farrer’s imaginative mind is on display here but unlike some of his other short stories like Faceless it was not too hard to understand and I did not have to really strain my mind to picture the landscape and characters.

Now for my favourite quote, I enjoyed this one the most for summing up one of the theme’s of this story.

“What true heirs to the Primarchs would wish to lower themselves to equality with such as you!”

The ending is amusing, and illuminating. It provided a very interesting opinion on certain Traitor Marines by other Traitor Marines and is something that i’d always wondered about, the prize was won but not by whom I thought it was or was hoping would get it, what that person intends to do with it is just something we’ll have to imagine I suppose.

For a very enjoyable story of five different Legion’s tales of conquest and glory, and some rather amusing moments, I give The Masters, Bidding a grand score of 8.2/10. Farrer has done a great job with this story, which i’ll admit I was slightly wary of as my last experience with Farrer was Faceless which I found overly descriptive and tough to understand, The Masters, Bidding does not suffer from this and is a story that any fan of Chaos can enjoy.

The Carrion Anthem by David Annandale

The world of Ligeta is considered both a joke and a queer thing in the Imperium, a world dedicated to music and the song. General Corvus Parthamen hates his birthworld, hates that he is trapped here on this world that produces hymns and anthems that he cannot comprehend. But now a new anthem has been brought to Ligeta, a song that will reveal the truth about this world and its people, a song that has been inspired from by a servant of one of the universe’s darkest forces. A song known only as The Carrion Anthem.

The story of The Carrion Anthem is interesting but truthfully it was not as exciting as it could have been. While I did want to see what happened next I was not riveted by the story or felt a burning desire to turn to the next page. That said while it was not a thrill-ride it was definitely entertaining. I enjoyed the concept of the story, the anthem itself being a weapon I would have expected from Slaanesh but from Nurgle? A song of decay and disease? Now that is a fun concept and its produced a good if not great story.

Only two actual characters are present in the story. Typhus the Traveller is cool but did not feel explored, apart from his obvious love of disease and death it felt more like he could have any Nurglite Chaos Lord and the story would not have changed much. Personally I feel this is because the story is so short that it doesn’t give a lot of room for a character like Typhus to be explored, with more word count Typhus could have been delved into more and it would have made the story quite a bit better. Corvus Parthamen, an Imperial General, is the only other character of note and his tought-as-granite personality was amusing if only because of his futile his situation was. I did enjoy his train of thoughts that could only come from realising that you are doomed and only a last stand remains to you.

There is only one actual battle scene in the story and it is described as a past event rather than actually taking place, but its imagery is dark enough that its fun to imagine the Guard being slaughtered by Plague Marines and Rhinos with Dirge Casters blasting the battlefield with the corrupting hymn. Once again I think this is because of the story’s length, it could have used perhaps a skirmish with the Plague Marines in more detail to make the story tenser.

The pacing is nice, though the story was not as great as it could have been it was an easy read and I didn’t feel bored at any point which is what allowed me to keep going with the story to its conclusion. At only 30 pages worth of story sadly The Carrion Anthem is just too short in my opinion, expanded to 50 or 70 pages it could have expanded into a tale of desperate heroism and the futility of fighting against disease, an opponent that can never truly be beaten.

Now for my favourite quote, there was one shining gem in this story, a quote that just sums up dread and could break the will of the staunchest defender in just seven words.

“Greetings Imperials, this is the Terminus Est.”

The ending was expected, amusing to a Chaos worshipper like me, but in the end it was not surprising to see who won. My enjoyment of the ending came from the crushingness of the Imperial defeat and how Typhus chose to make his final victory in this short battle. That and the idea that one line from General Corvus turned out to be prophetic, but definitely not in the way he’d like.

For an interesting concept and enjoyable story that was let down by its length I give The Carrion Anthem a grand score of 6.8/10. I did enjoy David Annandale’s writing and I do know he is writing a Space Marines Battles book for release early next year, titled The Death of Antagonis, and while I do agonize over what the hell its about, I also look forward to seeing what he can do with a full novel.

Liberator by Jonathan Green

Heresy is insidious, sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle. And nobody is immune to its siren song, least of all the Adeptus Astartes. Though brother does not turn on brother commonly, it is not unheard of for a loyal servant of the Emperor to abandon his oaths of fealty to Chapter and Imperium and to embrace the Ruinous Powers, indeed many Traitor Marines are born this way. This is the story of one of these traitors, one whose legacy endures even today, one who will forever be a black stain on his proud Chapter’s history. This is the tale of Constantinus the Liberator.

H. Fowler’s work always delights, I especially love his use of “shadowed background characters.” Characters are always more menacing when you can only see their eyes, even more so if they are glowing.

Jon Green has chosen to write up a Codex story here, and he made a good choice because Constantinus is a great story about how a loyal marine can fall to Chaos and become a monster, and Jon elaborates on that even further in the story, explaining the motives of Constantinus and his actions in conquering Nova Terra and becoming a Chaos Space Marine. Heresy starts with small steps and very few actually embrace evil for the sake of evil, Jon clearly understands that as the story tells of both Constantinus’s rise and fall. One enjoyable aspect was that the story started backwards, with Constantinus as  a tyrant and then moved backwards, showing how he made each step towards heresy before moving to the end and showing the results of his actions.

The only actual character in the story is Constantinus himself, the others are all secondary or background. Jon does a good job of making Constantinus a clear tyrant and a brutal monster, and yet he is shown to have been a noble marine who inspired fierce loyalty in his men. His motives are understandable and can even be empathized with if you look at it from a soldier’s point of view, its these details that make Constantinus an interesting character rather than just a marine who one day decided he wanted more in life than just praising the Emperor, and these details really add to the story and make it a much better read.

Liberator does not utilize action scenes in any real number or detail, only one short battle against some xenos and the final few pages detailing the Imperial retaliation are the only actual battles that appear. Two scenes that could have been very attention-grabbing and powerful battles unfortunately cut away before violence has a chance to occur. Fortunately the story is good enough that it can hold its own without any real battle scenes in it.

The pacing of the story is surprising in that for a story that moves backwards it is still an easy read, Liberator should not confuse anyone who is quick enough to see that the story is telling itself in a reverse order. I do think that perhaps it could have been a few pages longer, mainly to add in those two battle scenes I mentioned earlier, but the story is fine as it stands.

Now my favourite quote has got to be this one,

“For I shall not rest until this world has been liberated from the traitor’s tyrannical rule. This I swear!”

Now the ending is of course not surprising as I knew how this would end because I have read the Chaos Space Marines 4th Edition Codex, but had I not read that I would have been wondering if Constantinus could win and it would have had me a bit more desirous to see the ending. But Jon does good work and he has chosen a cool format to end the story in, but to find out what you’ll have to read the story.

For a good story about an event that I was interested in since I read the CSM Codex I give Liberator a grand score of 7.2/10. This is my first real sample of Jon Green and I like what I have read, I look forward to reading more of him in the future and I hope he has some full-length novels in his plans.

The Long War by Andy Hoare

The Long War has been waged since the time of Horus and it is still being waged today, the world of Bellum Colonia has become its latest target. Warsmith Ferrous Ironclaw plans to bring down the Bastion Primus, to destroy this enemy and to win yet another victory for the Dark Gods. But the Imperials have not given up yet and will fight for every inch of ground and make the Iron Warriors pay dearly for each step they take. And yet Ironclaw does not consider these wretches to be the true enemy that he desires, but whom does he desire to fight above all else?

The Long War had an interesting theme running throughout it, one that I felt was squandered completely. Really I didn’t feel there was a story in this short story, rather the entire adventure felt like one long action scene with the Iron Warriors and the Imperial Guard, which I admit was entertaining, but battle scenes should never be the focus of a story. I do like Andy Hoare’s work, I liked Hunt for Voldorius, but I must be honest. I feel that The Long War was bolter porn, the definition of the term. A story that uses battles rather than characters and plot to carry it.

The only character in this story is Warsmith Ferrous Ironclaw who I found enjoyable but only for his brutal battle scenes, he actually had mechatendrils with claws and weapons and kicked ass with them. But alas as a character he was rather one-dimensional, another Chaos Lord who hungers to fight the Long War and no other war, who despises mortals and demands fear and respect from his troops. His vivid recollections of Tallarn and often immersive hallucinations were promising but in the end they amounted to nothing.

The action is good, that is this story’s only redeeming feature in this reviewer’s opinion. The Iron Warriors siegecraft is impeccable as ever and the murder-science they bring to battle is impressive as always, some more detail is given to the art of siegecraft such as bringing a wall down in such a fashion to make natural ramps out of it and how to properly use missiles to overload a shield which added to the fights nicely as you can understand why they are doing this. And of course there’s plenty of bloodshed and Iron Warriors tearing apart Guardsman like rag-dolls, including one memorable part where Ironclaw literally tears a Guardsman in half with his mechatendrils.

The pacing is a bit slow, the story being one long action scene it started to drag as the Iron Warriors got bogged down in the fighting and slowly made their way towards the enemy city. Fortunately the story is short enough that its still readable despite the lack of any real plot.

My favourite quote is most likely this one, even in a lacklustre story this is still 40k and nearly everything people say is awesome,

“I have won…”

The story’s ending was disappointing. I had a theory about what was happening and if I had been right this would have been a much better story for it, it would have explained the frequent and deep memory-lapses of Ironclaw and made the entire story have a point beyond Traitor Marines killing Guardsmen. Instead it ends rather abruptly and with a resolution that was not foreshadowed, explained and did not add to the story in any way except to remove the possibility of a more interesting conclusion.

Sadly The Long War failed to meet my expectations, so I must give it a score of 5.4, its action scenes are enjoyable and if your ok with the occasional “bolter porn” I would say you could enjoy this story a bit. But if you want more than just action this is something I would recommend skipping and moving onto the next part of the anthology.

That is it for this half of the review. The next part will contain the stories Bitter End, We are One, Torturer’s Thirst and Vox Dominus. As Throne of Lies has already been in an audio-format I will skip it, as I own the audio and as with all media I prefer things in their original format. Until next time,

AVE DOMINUS NOX!

Lord of the Night

Lord of the Night is one of TFF’s original reviewers. He’s done quite a few for TFF and that number keeps expanding. You’ll enjoy his diverse mix of book reviews. Always a treat.