The Dark Hollows of Memory by David Annadale – eBook Review [Bellarius]

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Bellarius continues with a look at the Legion of the Damned short stories, moving onto David Annadale’s The Dark Hollows of Memory.

“A strong short tale, with enough bolterfire to keep any reader interested until the final page.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

The second in the series of short stories focusing upon the revenant astartes of the Legion, The Dark Hollows of Memory proves to be a major step up from its predecessor. Being both much more direct in its approach and focused in its content, the plot is well handled for the short page count the books is given.

Descending upon the world of Mnemosyne, the traitor warband of the Company of Misery enforce their twisted will upon the world’s populace. Seeking to free them from the bitter illusion of hope, they spread throughout the populace with the intention of burning the archives in the capital’s centre. However, even as resistance before them is crushed something born of the Warp stirs within the vaults beneath the city…

Being a much more straightforward story, The Dark Hallows of Memory feels much more focused and is given more room to explore certain elements. Unlike the unmentioned chapter the space marines from the previous story originated from, or even the Swords of Epiphany from the last story by this author we looked at, the Company of Misery feels much more solid in terms of its basic concept. There’s an obvious motive to their madness and brutality which gives them an edge here. As individuals they do not stand out all that much beyond their leader Akror, but the concept and basic delivery is enough to make them hold up as a compelling force in a story as short as this. Bombastic, furious and driven by the rage of betrayal, they prove to be a good foil for the Legion of the Damned while maintaining an identity of their own. Especially in terms of the parallels that can be drawn between the two, with both having suffered unimaginable strife yet whereas one was driven to treachery another remained loyal.

The Legion itself is also remarkably well handled, both in their placement and character. Emerging at the right time, their silent relentless advance captures what made them effective in Rob Sanders novels and the mistake of giving them a voice is not repeated. While certain characteristics are still there, they are detailed far more by body language and gestures all the while still maintaining the sense of being drive, perhaps even sustained, by a sense of duty. Their sudden emergence and disappearance invokes a good sense of mystery around the undead space marines, with those who see them conveying all that needs to be known. Well, that’s not entirely true. Brief seemingly disconnected paragraphs do give some insight into their minds, but these are well implemented enough to oddly work but far more is told through character’s eyes. Utilising the Company for the combat abilities of the Legion and human populace for the quieter moments, the force is built up and explored through a surprisingly short battle.

The humans especially are understandably unnerved by the Legion’s presence leading to a memorable introduction when they emerge from the shadows. That said, even the viewpoint humans themselves are not especially memorable. They feel like more a means to an end than true characters, and while that might be due to the story’s length, and a few points feel like strange choices. Especially the use of deafness involving the introductory character. Not so much the fact he is deaf but many of his statements involving being aware of silence around him, which does have a point but suffers from an extremely strange delivery.

This is the story’s core weakness. While Annadale can handle pacing, general structure and larger ideas here, individual characterisations and descriptions are not its strong point. Much of what makes Akror interesting ultimately stems from his Company’s ideology and thoughts, not individual characterises. This would be fine on its own, but there are few points to really distract from this. Take Ben Counter’s works for example, while his protagonists tend to have a similar flaw, the rich descriptions of environments and actions help distract from that fact, especially when Chaos is involved. Such an addition helps to build up atmosphere, but here there similarly isn’t anything like that here.

Take for example this section:

“The cabinets to his right blew outward, smashed by the combined force of a frag grenade and the battering ram rush of the loyalist. He burst through with bolter firing. Xoren took the brunt of the blast, shells and blow. He fell. The phantom stood over him, firing point-blank into his helmet until it and his head were destroyed.”

It states what is happening rather than truly conveying it with descriptive imagery, when all the scene needed was a few more emotive or descriptive points to help punch up things. So rather than the above instead that last sentence might be “The phantom stood over him, firing point-blank into his helmet until it was reduced to a bloody ruin of meat and charred ceramite.” Not much but it gives more of an image than before. There are points which do convey actions well, but it just feels that areas of the combat and environments could have been much better delivered if they were detailed rather than told.

In spite of that though, the strong elements persevere over the tale’s flaws and an ending with some strangely Lovecraftian vibes makes it worth the asking price. It’s definitely a stronger introduction to the Legion short stories than Animus Malorum and individually it definitely conveys the Legion well without going too far in characterising them.

Verdict: 6/10

Bellarius

Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
Find more of his reviews and occasional rants here:
http://thegoodthebadtheinsulting.blogspot.co.uk/