Eroldren reviews the WH40K anthology, Dark Imperium, edited by Marc Gascoigne and Andy Jones, collecting shot stories from Simon Jowett, Ben Counter, Gav Thorpe, Barrington J. Bayley, Neil Rutledge, Robert Earl, William King, Andy Chambers and Matthew Farrer.
“All strangers interested in Warhammer 40,000 will find themselves enthralled by the grim darkness somewhere within these pages .” – The Founding Fields
In the war-torn 41st millennium humanity stands on the shores of damnation. Its only savior is the immortal God Emperor and the massed armies of the Imperium, in this searing anthology of Warhammer 40,000 stories torn from the pages of Inferno! magazine.
“Apothecary’s Honour” by Simon Jowett
With a simple premise we’re introduced to Apothecary Korpus, brother of the Avenging Sons’ 2nd Company faced with a troubling burden: leave behind the battle, a dead company and save what already extracted gene-seed glades he still yet carries. The pacing and action overall flows smoothly without too much hindrance here and there by the midway point through “Apothecary’s Honour.” The dialogue though present all the way through, I did found it bit somehow lacking in substance compare to the stories nowadays, more but the end offers a substitute. There are fleeting moments of slight questioning that can be read over quickly, there’s one jarring scene that twitches a nerve that makes myself question the torn loyalty of duty that Korpus bears as a apothecary between ensuring his chapter’s gene-seed survival and ties of brotherhood amidst the war lost against to Chaos.
In the closing pages where the twist enters into play, our protagonist thrust into grim territory and meets a monster infamous to his specialized calling. The end one the best highlight moments I regard in reminiscence out of the story, if not the entire book. Apart from a few bumps in the road and a good twist Jowett’s story one I still enjoy to this day makes it a average but fitting start for Dark Imperium.
“Daemonblood” by Ben Counter
A world has found itself quickly falling to the diseased touch of Nurgle two battered survivors find themselves together – an Ultramarine and Sister of Battle – at the edge of corruption, and encounter the mastermind behind the unfolding events. Faith and duty doesn’t hold out so well for either party and now one resolves to bring down the other: the fallen one. To learn that one faction has its burden of shame whenever one embraces Chaos, by willingness or force, to hear such heretical matters from another group may sound preposterous to today’s modern readers. But there’s always room for exceptions.
The early surprise and interesting plot settings (lore fans may like the appearance of a certain capital hive world) yet the main protagonist came across to some extent hollow during the story’s development. Additionally, though the writing was not unreadable, but in the course of reading both the pacing and action skulks, failing to keep ahold my undivided attention, leaving me to scan over the pages to pick out the main points. That aside, the last issue I had with was “Daemonblood’s” ending which left me uncertain by the downer. Primarily it was between the conflict of accepted lore and the creative flexibility authors can play out. Otherwise we got ourselves an average read.
“Nightmare” by Gav Thorpe
Third in line is following the involuntary dream adventure of the outcast youth Joshua, set up by his spiteful yet unseen companion, the Voice. During the course of the induced fantasy undertaking and daemon slaying Joshua made uneasy and wishes to sever his ties with the Voice. Once you pick up the scraps of the background events you can appreciate how Gav’s contribution broadens up the scale of the universe from the great battles we typically treated. Danger lurks far and wide; from the ravages of great wars to the common people. The action written brisk and the reading is fast paced. “Nightmare” actually finds itself a niche were its fits reasonably well in the confines of 40k fiction.
“The Lives of Ferag Lion-Wolf” by Barrington J. Bayley
The first of three short stories from Barrington Bayley we’re introduced to Ferag Lion-Wolf – a Tzeentchian space marine champion and master of five worlds – readies himself to receive a potential ally. Taking for what it’s worth the general concept interesting, however its but there’s hardly any sense of grimdark conveyed in the host’s recollection of his ascendance from boyhood to becoming a chaos champion and the exchanges between the daemon lords themselves. As a follower of Chaos the absence of a darker narrative left me disappointed.
Out of the three of Bayley’s stories found in the Dark Imperium this is the one I find it difficult to wrap my head around by the concept of jovial daemonlords verses my perspective of the violent nature of the warp. Similar to “Nightmare” beforehand the ending is cruel and raises a eyebrow, renewing my spirits from the early grimdark letdown. Its a tolerable read with shares of disappointment.
“Small Cogs” by Neil Rutledge
For me this next one was complete drag. In ceremonial garb and equipment the guardsmen stationed to protect a vital site from the eldar are caught off guard and are forced to make do what they have. Past this point “Small Cogs” ceases to keep ahold my attention and the remainder suffers for it. Action, pacing, protagonist and dialogue – everything is unmemorable, thus regrettable lost in a haze. One which I bear no desire to glace back again. The Imperial Guardsmen have been a subject of interest growing onto me since recently putting down engaging titles such as The Saint (Gaunt’s Ghost) and Cadian Blood, but here it such a dreary grind to reach the final page no matter how much I tried to get something out of it. Therefore, I cannot recommend this one. Do pass it over if you don’t want to go through the struggle.
“Angels” by Robert Earl
Out of twelve stories this is most down-to-earth account (as far 40k fiction allows) we got in the whole set. Earl’s premise is a man recalls when as a child the grim events that led up to town’s attack by nameless monsters and the arrival of liberating angels: space marines.
Like “Nightmare” in regards of 40k fiction regularity Earl instead went down the path for the common person; covering aspects what a simple man can experience and image out in the far future of mankind. On a minor note, as a lore nerd (I dislike that bizarre term ‘fluff’) I like to try to know about all subject matters that appear wherever. And much to my agony I cannot scrounge up any names to identify the invaders’ given portrayal. Decent characterizations it was a good pace to keep you in. If anything, “Angels” makes me now want to see more of Imperial citizenry point-of-views.
“Hellbreak” by Ben Counter
At the anthology’s halfway mark is von Klas, a commissar imprisoned by the Dark Eldar in the webway city of Commorragh and is now commodity intended for easy slaughter in the gladiatorial coliseum. Fate however surprises all the onlookers much to their voiced displeasure and the slave revolt trope ensues. And with it, bringing about their own share of consequences.
Ben’s previous story was slightly a letdown but here in the Dark City he restores here my downcast expectations with a striking tale. In the callous portrayal of the archon and his court I found the tense discussions of the internal power struggle discerning. Nothing breaks the immersion of the action or pacing. My only complaint to say is I wanted more out of the story! Additional development from the slaves own perspective of things, therefore engross myself deeper into the unforgiving world of the Dark City and its denizens. Out of my choice of favorites from the entirety of Dark Imperium, “Hellbreak” is ranked at the top. Cheers and two thumbs up for Ben’s work!
“Battle of the Archaeosaurs” by Barrington J. Bayley
In Barrington Bayley’s second story for Dark Imperium, “Battle of the Archaeosaurs”, its right to think that it suggesting that there are indeed saurians thriving in the far grim future. Even with the vast dominance that the Imperium holds over the stars, prevailing against the many enemies of Mankind there are still obstacles unanticipated: some can and will resist subjugation, and those that can rival the dreaded might of Titans.
In a certain light, if “Battle of the Archaeosaurs” weren’t branded a 40k story one may have thought the dilemma faced in claiming the backwater for the Imperium been mistaken it for one of the Imperial Army struggles during the Great Crusade.
Anyway, here the author made improvement since then and makes stronger hits on the delivery. With his cast (a Warlord Titan’s command staff and hostages from a previous Imperial expedition) the conflict told on both sides in a worthy style, upholding a decent pace and action, and redeems in my eyes further by touching on little grimdark traits contrasting beforehand. Like Bayley’s previous story he leaves us off with a gruesome scene that deserves bitter admiration. Being one the few stories on the strange side of things I’ve so far read in 40k some probably will find it somewhat irregular from the 40k norm seen today. Still nevertheless, it’s enjoyable enough.
“Know Thine Enemy” by Gav Thorpe
Here comes the Salamander Chapter. Elements of Fourth Company, with Chaplain Ramesis and their captain at the head are sent to prevent eldar invaders from claiming an unearthed alien relic. Told from Ramesis’ POV I’d found the general plot grew irksome but the story’s progression kept it at tolerable limits to move past. Even if Ramesis’ zeal may twitch a couple of your nerves, good or bad, his role as chaplain came across rather dead. The single complaint I hold toward the story was nearing the end the story took a sudden turn and a just explanation was called upon but the details were largely withhold.
There are many, many Space Marine heroes, whether they are minor or legendary, everybody heard of them here and there from codex background lore or honored in Black Library. There’s one in here but it’s a disappointing tease: he’s a side character, seen inadequately in brush over scenes to what the novice battle-brother would later become. And for a general notice: do remember at the time these stories were published the various lore aspects we accept as canon weren’t quite so defined as they are now represented in the recent material. (e.g. Tome of Fire series)
Overall this is a average story from Gav, but there’s far more greater titles under his belt since then to read instead. For the avid followers of the Promethean Cult, “Know Thine Enemy” might not be you douse of fire and hammer action.
“The Wrath of Khârn” by William King
Champion of Khorne, former Equerry of Angron and Captain of the XII Legion’s 8th Company William King delivers us unique story from the eyes of Khârn the Betrayer. Here, the Betrayer and berzerkers wage battle against cultists of Slaanesh and slay the daemon they worship for the sake of carnage. However even a great champion can be faced with troubles…
For a simple and self-contained nearly all the story aspects – action (blood and skull offerings), dialogue, character, expanded-universe lore (the kill-counter gift), pacing, writing – were all covered in the satisfactory zone. The only downside of King’s story I’ve found was that of the limited dialogue from a reserved Khârn – primarily made of khornate one-liners. While understandable issue in the case of the Betrayer, I was nevertheless longing for more substantial lines. Maybe Black Library’s stance in telling a 40k Khârn have changed since then with the recent stories that appear in this past year. I can’t say. But the world described through the mindset of Khârn suffices enough on its own.
Only just recently William King has return to the halls of Black Library and resumed writing novels for both Warhammer franchise, and the Macharian Crusade. Barring from reading Space Wolf years ago and skimmed book extracts, I had no strong familiarity in William King’s style, however, “The Wrath of Khârn” displayed the writing capabilities of William King proves can he deliver a fleshed out piece. It’s one the good offerings you’ll read in Dark Imperium, for both newcomers and the seasoned. I’ll be delighted to see again if King will pursue any more future takes on Chaos Space Marines. Perhaps he grace again Black Library’s readership by meeting the challenge of writing 40k World Eaters.
“Ancient History” by Andy Chambers
Next up we got my second downright favorite out of the book that will hook you from start to finish. Andy Chambers writes an intriguing page-turner about Nathan, a cargo deliverer/smuggler finds himself press-ganged and made a gunner abroad a cruiser stationed in the war-torn Gothic Sector. The setting is a refreshing break from the battles of astartes and traitors, instead Nathan’s story in “Ancient History” returns focus on the common man who makes up the greater whole of the Imperium. In progression of the story Nathan through his come to terms with his new role, showing us a rough viewpoint into the unseen workings in maintaining an Imperial warship..
Filled with tidbits of bygone lore, fast-paced action scenes and some teasing mysteries – secrets what normally regular men and women are unaware of lurking in the darkness. Some are explained, others not quite so much. Once you’ll reach the end there’s a question that seems to never resolve itself, no doubt leaving many of the readers bothered that they should had been able to solve a questionable matter. I’ll leave it off that my suspicions saying what is said is exactly what he claims to be…
Nowhere was did I myself found bored with the small character cast, writing style or slip into a dull reading pace. Any dedicated reader of BL shouldn’t pass up a chance reading Andy’s terrific “Ancient History”. It’s definitely worth the time.
“Snares & Delusions” by Matthew Farrer
Second to last is more Chaos Space Marines: Word Bearers. Lorgar’s sons are led by the guidance of hatred under a dark apostle, ‘Revered Chaplain’ De Hann, standby for the brink of engaging with his long sought adversaries whom thwart several Chaos operations: Craftworld Varantha. “You will set your eyes on the heart of Varantha, and all will come to an end.” Though armed with of this prophecy, all is not so seemingly clear.
The story’s and characters starts off good and holds up during the intermediate parts leading to the finale. However, By the time we hit the defining moment for De Hann’s cause the pacing hurries the dialogue and combat, losing some that built interest amidst the ongoing battle in order to reach the story’s resolution. Compared with his only other work I’ve so far read, “After Desh’ea” in Tales of Heresy, I certainly see the improvement Farrer creates. A average Chaos entry, with decent 40k grimdark here and there but I reckon you can expect better-quality work in his later contributions.
“Hive Fleet Horror” by Barrington J. Bayley
Lastly is the third and final tale from Barrington Bayley to close Dark Imperium is the horrific arrival of the universe’s most dreaded foe thought repelled now returning once more to scour for our galaxy’s entire organic bounty: Tyranids. Working with a patient, Jako Jaxabarm, a wanted fugitive of the Adeptus Mechanicum get caught up the developing events and his past. Near the end the revelation gleamed by the central character is something I find utmost captivating.
On other matters, it’s immediately in the early pages it’s apparent that liberties were taken unintentionally by the author to help convey the alien terror. The noted lore errors and oddities would be completely a considerable outdated canon material or inaccurate behavior today to my knowledge. And for those far more familiar with tyranids than I will probably may find it a discontenting experience. But for benefit of the doubt time being when “Hive Fleet Horror” was written back in 2001, I did found it a decently portrayed alien invasion, despite minor nitpicking and the hit and misses. For the general part, Barrington has done a reasonable job.
Dark Imperium is a decent batch of accounts of a wide variety, serving as justifiable purchase that gives insight into a handful of the many facets throughout the 40K universe: the Angels of Death, the assailed men and women of the Imperium, together with their myriad adversaries steadfast to Chaos or the alien terror invoked by the cruel Dark Eldar and Tyranids. This is one those older novels with its share of peculiar and upright favorable titles, but one I find still even gratifying alongside in today’s line of Black Library fiction. Do keep out an eye for if you’d like to introduce yourself Warhammer 40,000 or out to nab some their short story anthologies, I certainly didn’t regret it.
Overall Verdict: 7.5/10