Treacheries of the Space Marines edited by Christian Dunn – Advance Review Part Two [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the second 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
Welcome to the second part of my review for Treacheries of the Space Marines. I have already covered the first half so now onto the second. This part will feature the stories Bitter End by Sarah Cawkwell, We are One by John French, Torturer’s Thirst by Andy Smillie and Vox Dominus by Anthony Reynolds. So lets be about it.
Bitter End by Sarah Cawkwell
Huron Blackheart is a warrior who can have anything he wants. Soldiers, weapons, ships or even worlds. All he must do is reach out and take them with his own might and his legion of Red Corsairs. But every once in a while he must make bargains to get what he wants, he must recruit allies, make deals and promises in blood. Few are fool enough to trust the Tyrant and many are those who keep well away from any offer he might make, wary of betrayal when it is least expected. But sometimes even the Tyrant can keep his word.
Bitter End was a story I very much enjoyed, being both a fan of Sarah Cawkwell and the Red Corsairs, particular her Red Corsairs as both Sarah’s Huron Blackheart and Corsairs as a group are very distinctive and have a very mercenary/pirate feel to them. The story of Bitter End doubles as both a story of a Corsairs raiding mission and a character study of Blackheart, and I relished both aspects of the story. I was eagerly anticipating to see what Blackheart was after in the story, why he wanted his prize and whether or not he truly intended to keep his word to his allies. All three questions were answered admirably.
The story utilizes three characters. Huron Blackheart, Dengesha of the Heterodox and Sister Brigitta of the Iron Rose. Each character felt unique in their own way, Blackheart’s madness and towering avarice gives him a very mercenary appeal to readers, this is a character who not only wants to kill but wants to loot and pillage as well and its refreshing to see Chaos Marines who care more about slaughter in the Dark Gods’ names. Dengesha was an interesting Sorcerer, his eschewing of titles immediately gave me the impression of somebody who likes action rather than talk, and I was right. And finally Sister Brigitta’s iron core of faith was inspiring, it was clear from the outset how this story would end for her and her sisters, but she was impressive throughout.
The action scenes are clear sailing throughout, each fight the Corsairs partake in is savage and unrelenting as they tear through Guardsmen and the Sisters of Battle. Sarah captures their wildness as well, the Corsairs breaking down into hordes and packs as they hunt and kill rather than the orderly squads and companies that we recognize. This adds to their character as a renegade group and makes the fighting much more chaotic as the Corsairs become a wild force of chainblades and bolters.
The pacing is nicely done, the story has just the right amount of length and it was an easy read from start to finish during which I never felt the desire to put it down. Cawkwell does a good job of keeping the reader interested while not bogging them down in meaningless details, but also making the story’s imagery vivid and a joy to imagine.
Now for my favourite quote, from Blackheart himself,
“No. It is not. And it never was.”
The ending was surprising, and the final segment provided the promise of future stories with Blackheart and his renegades which I would welcome. Cawkwell’s Corsairs are as delightful as her Silver Skulls though more so for a rabid Chaos fan like myself. I know that she has some more Red Corsairs storys that have yet to be print published, and I definitely anticipate reading them for myself.
For a thrilling story and yet more from Huron Blackheart, who destroys Abaddon in my opinion, I give Bitter End a grand score of 7.8/10. This is another fine short story that any fan of Chaos can enjoy, and should definitely read for themselves, and more proof that Sarah Cawkwell is an up-and-coming star in Black Library’s ranks.
We are One by John French
Across the length of the Ephisian Gulf two souls are playing a game, a game of the hunter and the hunted. Phocron of the Alpha Legion has brought devastation to dozens of worlds, seeding cults and heresy deep within and striking at the most critical moments. The Imperium is bleeding, and only a single Inquisitor knows the truth that Phocron is behind all of it. He must hunt the Hydra, the beast with many heads, that weaves lies and subterfuge like lesser men wield a sword. The Inquisitor is adamant that he will end the Hydra’s final head, but does the Hydra even have a final head?
The story in We are One is written in a first-person point of view which is very enjoyable, it makes the story more personal for the reader. The unnamed Inquisitor’s thoughts and feelings are much clearer and his hunt felt more personal as he tracked Phocron across the Ephisian sector and was witness to his atrocities. The story portrays the hunt for a traitor master like Phocron very well, by keeping the Inquisitor wondering who is on his side and who is not, Phocron having his own servants within the Imperium makes the hunt even harder as the Inquisitor faces betrayal and surprise attack at each step.
The only two characters in We are One are Phocron and the Unnamed Inquisitor Lord who hunts him. The Inquisitor’s character is stubborn and an unwillingness to give up his hunt of Phocron, yet understanding that if he should succeed he would become something lesser as he and Phocron have become so intertwined. Phocron doesn’t have any lines and yet his character is shown by his actions, he is a master of deception and I feel you start to see him as the Inquisitor sees him, a dangerous warrior who is capable of destabilizing entire sectors and the object of his obsession, yet there are subtle hints as to Phocron’s character dashed throughout the book and a true Alpha Legion fan will have their own suspcisions about him.
We are One does not feature any real battle scenes, rather the few fights that do occur are Phocron attacking his would-be-executioners. Phocron’s fights are described in almost scientific detail, and he fights like he conducts warfare, with deception, feints and unexpected moves that leave his opponents stumbling or dead. I enjoyed this aspect of his character because it meant I couldn’t predict what move Phocron would make next in combat, and that is always a good reason to keep reading.
The story’s pacing is an easy one, the story is told starting at the end and then going back to the beginning until reaching the end again. The use of the end as a start keeps the reader fascinated and hooks them right from the start, making the reader want to know how things have ended up at this point. I was entertained throughout and never once felt bored.
Now for my favourite quote, this one is quite good,
“Phocron will die this day.”
The ending was suprising as was the fate of both characters, I had my suspicions but I did not think that it would turn out this way. John French has told a very enjoyable tale about a hunter and his prey, though its often blurred as to which is which, and about the nature of the Alpha Legion and their warfare of secrets and lies.
For an engaging story about two players in a game of lies I give We are One a grand score of 8.1/10. Any fan of the Alpha Legion will love this story, and regular Chaos fans can enjoy it as well as its a great story about the secretive side of Chaos, conversion and infiltration and just how deadly those things are to the Imperium of Man.
Torturer’s Thirst by Andy Smillie
Torture is a complicated art, one must be careful with the subject of the excruciation to make sure that while they suffer they cannot die. Chaplain Appollus of the Flesh Tearers is all too familiar with the art of interrogation, he has presided over hundreds of heretics put to the question before suffering the wages of their heresy. But now under the lash of the Brotherhood of Change he is about to understand what it is like to be on the other side of the question, to be asked for his secrets. But there is one secret that he cannot share, for the answer is as dangerous to others as it is to him.
Now while this is interesting subject matter I felt the story was a bit lacking. There didn’t seem to be a reason for Appollus’s abduction beyond Abasi Amun’s simple curiosity, and there only seemed to be 10 Flesh Tearers in the entire campaign that is shown briefly at the start. I enjoyed what followed the question but in the end it just seemed like it was there for the action and not the story, which there was some but it felt disconnected from what was actually happening to Appollus and his Flesh Tearers.
The only two characters in this story are Chaplain Appollus and Abasi Amun of the Brotherhood of Change. Appollus was an interesting depiction of a Flesh Tearer, a warrior who always desires to spill blood and cause havoc on the battlefield but this it at odds with his duty to warden the Death Company and see them to honorable deaths in combat, and a constant reminder of what will happen to him if he gives in. Abasi Amun however was not as good, his motivations felt like just simple curiosity and I did not see a reason for him to bother abducting Appollus or interrogate him, true there was finding out intel about enemy movements but that doesn’t feel like a solid motivation.
The battles are powerful as befits the Flesh Tearers, and were really the best part of the story, and I did enjoy the fight scene between Appollus and Abasi, especially with the circumstances of the fight and the rather amusing yet confusing addition that was made prior to the fight, those who read the story will see what I mean. I did enjoy Appollus’s battle scenes but it was a shame that in a short story about the Death Company we did not get to see the Death Company tearing through cultists with their bare hands, snarling about Sanguinius and Horus, or even any of the strength they are supposedly famous for.
The pacing was good, despite the disconnected feeling to the story it did move along easily and I was able to enjoy myself while I read Torturer’s Thirst, albeit not as much as I would have if the story had been a bit more connected and grounded. Smillie has a good writing style that lends itself to powerful combat scenes and good dialogue, but I do wish the story had been a bit better.
Now my favourite quote, Appollus gets some very good lines in the story,
“Kill until killed. Leave none alive.”
The ending was… well like the story it felt somewhat disconnected. I did not understand Appollus’s motivations in doing what he did, and because of that I felt the story suffered as I was left wondering why did he do that? It made no sense to me, even trying to think it from a Space Marine’s mindset it still made little sense.
For a good concept and some very enjoyable action scenes that were let down by a disconnected story I give Torturer’s Thirst a grand score of 6.6/10. While the story is disconnected there is a story here, one that was acceptable though could have been better with some more word count and some more revealing of the characters’ motivations and the background of the story.
Vox Dominus by Anthony Reynolds
The Word Bearers follow the will of all the Gods of Chaos, no God can be held above another. But when a simple meeting between the 3rd Host and the 34th Host goes awry Dark Apostle Marduk must discover why the hallowed battleship Vox Dominus has disappeared into the Warp, and why only moments later has it come back escorted by the Death Guard. Why have the Sons of Mortarion come to this edge of the Eye, what has happened to the Vox Dominus that it looks so ancient, and what significance do the dreams that Marduk has been having hold?
First off its an absolute delight to see Marduk and Kol Badar again, and Post-Boros so its good to see how they’ve been doing after the third book. Vox Dominus’s story is very engaging, the mystery of the Death Guard presence and the disappearance and reappearance of the Vox Dominus create a sense of mystery that keeps the reader hooked, while Marduk’s own plans further add to it by providing two mysteries for the reader. What has happened to the Vox Dominus? And what does Marduk want from the Death’s Head. My one fault with this story is that it ends on a cliffhangar and I ABSOLUTELY MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!!
The characters are as fun as always. Marduk and Kol Badar are as we remember them from the Dark Word trilogy, and some new characters enter the field. First Apostle Enusat whose dogged loyalty is a nice change of pace from Ashkanez, and his use of an autocannon makes him feel unique amongst the other characters, which is helped by his sense of brotherhood and unity with the 34th. Nargalex, captain of the XIV Legion is another interesting chracter, his presence is a mystery and he follows the rather jovial stance of Nurgle’s followers, and yet he has the capacity for cold and brutal violence. Nahren, the Apostle of the Third Host, is the last new character and one whose station is rather amusing, once Marduk’s teacher and now his subordinate, and with his Host MIA his burning desire to find them really drives this character through the story.
The action scenes take some time to kick off but when they do they are wildly imaginative in imagery and bloody as hell in violence. Reynolds takes some time to get to the violence but once he does its all worth it as the Word Bearers are fighting for their lives and the Plague Marines are showing just how deadly they are, I really enjoyed the latter in fact as Reynolds really did a good job on depicting their toughness and ability to shrug off damage that even regular Astartes can’t handle. Enusat was also enjoyable with his autocannon, the slow rate of fire balanced by the power of the shots, and the methods he uses the cannon for make his scenes very fun.
The pacing is a bit slow at first, mainly because the mystery and story are being built up slowly as the mysteries of the Vox Dominus and the Death’s Head are investigated further, until the story reaches 2/3rds of the way and then the fighting starts, this is when the pace really increases and you can feel the Word Bearers tension as they start fighting and trying to survive the horrors that come down upon them all.
Now for my favourite quote, there are plenty of awesome ones in the story but this one is one of the best,
“Killed you all.”
The ending is gripping and tense, and a complete cliffhangar. The story does not end here, at least I really really hope it doesn’t because so much is left to tell. Marduk and the others are in danger, a lot of it, but they’ve been in situations that were worse than this and they’ve gotten out. How will the 34th Host survive this new calamity? We’ll have to wait and see, this could be the prelude to a new series of Word Bearers novels with Marduk and his Host, or it could be the first half of a story that will be continued, or it could be the end of Marduk and his Word Bearers. Only time will tell. Please Mr Reynolds! Don’t let it be the third option!!
For a great and gripping story, the return of beloved characters like Marduk and Kol Badar, and for a cliffhangar that will have me agonizing over it until we see them again, I give Vox Dominus a grand score of 8.5/10. This is definitely my favourite story of the lot and it was a great choice to end the anthology.
That’s it for the review of the anthology. Treacheries is a damn fine anthology that has some flaws but many more highs that make this a must-have for any CSM fan. For its great collection of short stories I give Treacheries of the Space Marines a grand score of 7.5/10. Its been a great anthology to read and i’ve enjoyed it immensely, though one or two stories were lacklustre to me the rest were great and it was fun to read each one and review each one.
Best Story: Vox Dominus
Favourite Story: Vox Dominus
Worst Story: The Long War
Should you buy this book? Any fan of Chaos should definitely buy this anthology. Its filled to the brim with stories about Chaos and the Traitor Legions, and each story uses a wide range of those Traitors. Over half of the Legions appear in this book in some way, and the best stories of this anthology are ones that nobody should miss. Imperials will find little to like here as this is an anthology for Chaos followers like me.
That’s it for this mega-review. Next is the original novel God Save the Queen by Kate Locke, and then Shadows of Treachery which I might review but only the new novellas. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!