Commissar Ploss reviews the thrilling, new anthology from the Black Library, Sabbat Worlds, edited by Dan Abnett.
“‘Abnett’s Aces’ have assembled to deliver an Anthology for the ages. A real masterpiece of 40k Fiction.”
-The Founding Fields
Hello again everyone. Commissar Ploss here to bring you another wonderful book review. This time it’s an advance review of the short story anthology Sabbat Worlds, from the Black Library and edited by Dan Abnett.
Abnett has assembled an elite corp of writers for this Anthology. Graham McNeill, Matthew Farrer, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Nik Vincent, Nick Kyme, and Sandy Mitchell all feature with stories in this antho. As well as the two shorts by Mr. Abnett himself. We really should be calling this group “Abnett’s Aces.” They are a hell of a task-force.
My review comes a little later than i had wanted, to be honest. I’ve unfortunately been almost bedridden with the flu this past week, so i’ve been pushed off schedule a bit. Let’s begin shall we? I’ll break the book down to it’s individual parts so you can get a little taste of each story, and the absolute mastery of literature you’ll be reading.
by: Dan Abnett
The book is headed off with a wonderful introduction written by Dan. He chats with us, the reader, a little about his history in writing as well as the fun he’s had in writing for 40k, delving even into the topic of ‘world building’ and how the Sabbat Worlds, as he’s created them, have really been accepted as basic vernacular amongst players and writers of the 40k universe, along with such terms as feth and gak, my personal favorites.
As well as the opening introduction, Dan also introduces each story with a short blurb about the work and author. It’s a very nice touch.
by Graham McNeill
The first story in this exuberant anthology starts off strong. Graham McNeill kicks things off with a wonderfully rousing air combat story. Using Dan’s previous novel, Double Eagle as a springboard, Graham focuses in on, like the title of this short suggests, a formerly ambiguous fighter group of the Imperial Navy. The “Apostles” are the Aces of Aces, they are the best of the best. A nigh autonomous unit of select Thunderbolt fighter pilots from across the Imperial Navy.
The Main Character in this short; Flight Lieutenant Larice Asche, was chosen to join the Apostles from her prior squadron, the Phantine XX, an already highly decorated and prestigious unit of Imperial pilots. The story takes place on the Imperial held world of Amedeo, where the Archenemy is attempting a flanking maneuver on the stretched Imperial forces of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. It is here the Apostles have been stationed to proved the air superiority necessary for the defense of the planet.
Graham kicks things off right from the get-go with fast paced air combat that puts you right in the cockpit. He gets your adrenaline pumping with high-g turns, stunning dives, and stomach-churning rolls. Yet even through all of this, character development is strong. The isolation of the Apostles, in both skill and attitude is very straight-forward. It can be hard to develop strong characters in such a short word count, but Graham does it with ease.
There was only one gramatical error in the whole short. A missing word right in the middle of a breath-holding action scene. I actually found myself verbally expressing my disappointment with a long drawn out “Awwwwww….damn.” I was holding out, hoping there wasn’t going to be one but, it happens…
Overall, i was very pleased with this story and it’s characters and plot. Graham McNeill did a fantastic job.
The Headstone and the Hammerstone Kings
by Matthew Farrer
I’m going to be honest. Matt’s story confused me. The Headstone and the Hammerstone Kings centers around the Adeptus Mechanicus and its association with destroyed relics of war machines. Especially those of the enemy. I’ve read Matt’s other works, i.e. the Shira Caplurnia Omnibus, and i’ve noticed that his use of point-of-view is very sketchy, and jumpy. It doesn’t transition well. I’ve regularly found myself flipping back to reread sections to figure out who i was reading about. And such was the case with this story. It wasn’t bad mind you. Although it does beg expansion. As the ending wasn’t that clear. It was finite, as in the words stopped, but the story would probably have done better with longer word count.
There are three factions at play here, if i understood the story correctly. The Adeptus Mechanicus, who over see the “graveyard” of busted war machines, a bunch of scheming dealers who’ve worked their way into the Mechanicus structure, and those still loyal to the Archenemy. The Heritor’s “Woe Machines” (which notably saw action during the siege of Vervunhive), a assaulted by forces still loyal to the archenemy. There is something stirring within the Hammerstone Kings and it isn’t good.
There were a fair few characters that really presented nothing to the plot… or at least it seemed nothing but filler and places to interject small-talk. However, i was very confused during this whole ordeal, so i may have misinterpreted things. I think this story deserves a reread from my side, and perhaps another read after that…
I have to give credit to Farrer though, he really has a knack for choosing topics that are a bit off the wall. Showing the sort of “behinds the scenes” look at things us fluff lovers take for granted. I never really wondered where the broken war machines of the Archenemy went after being battered and beaten. So it was nice to have that insight. Farrer even goes off on tangents about other things like the spoken dialect of certain individuals and what the different inflections mean when spoken. It was interesting, but not that helpful to the plot.
in summary, i was highly confused by Farrer’s story, and will have to try it again…
by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
I have to start this off, as Dan does in the introduction, with the phrase, “HI DAN ABNETT!” for those who get the reference.
We head back into the past with Aaron’s story. This story, when i read the intro from Dan, really made me fanboyishly happy. The story centers around Warmaster Slaydo and his personal bodyguard regiment the Argentum (another of Aaron’s cleverly concieved names), “also known as the Silver Kindred, the Warmaster’s Own, and on Munitorum rosters – the Khulan 2nd Huscarls.”
As a fan of Imperial Guard fiction and a noted Slaydo fan-boy, there is nothing in 40k fluff and lore that has occupied more of my think space than the life of Warmaster Slaydo and his final moments on Balhaut. It’s something i’ve wanted to write about sooo badly and i’ve digested all i can of currently available fiction surrounding the subject. So you can imagine my delight when i found out that Aaron would be writing about it.
The characters are absolutely life-like. Senior Sergeant Commodus Ryland recounts the tail of what happened on the eighteenth hour of the tenth day, with vivid detail. Culminating in the scene which Warmaster Slaydo dueled with Archon Nadzybar.
The story is absolutely riveting. A wonderful account of Slaydo and his mannerisms and jovial nature, as much as his tactical brilliance and martial skill. Clearly a person to emulate and idolize. The pacing is quick and the tone pure. There were, to my delight, no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. I do believe that only Dan and Aaron’s stories were clean in that sense.
The Iron Star
by Dan Abnett
This is classic Abnett. Wonderfully told and starkly brilliant. This story is a continuance of the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, and is set more recently within its arc. It falls directly between the novels Only in Death, and Blood Pact, and is an account of the aftermath of the battle of Hinzerhaus.
Without giving too much away. The story is actually a metaphorical look into Gaunt’s own mind during this time. Dan reveals this slowly throughout the story. It’s very well done. Little discrepancies sneak in and you find yourself stopping and going, for example…”wait, those characters has been dead for a while, why are they here? ooooohhhh! i see!” and other such instances. The term “iron star” is a metaphor as well. I don’t feel comfortable divulging however, as it really ruins the mystery and magic of the whole story. You’ll have to read more about it when the anthology comes out!
However, suffice it to say, we see the return of a few characters in this story, and i believe the cover illustration is a direct nod to this story as well. Some notable characters are on there, although i won’t tell you, you’ll have to discover them for yourself. 😉
by Nik Vincent
Nik’s story takes place on a chaos held world of Reredos. Where a small cell (see there’s the title) of resistance forces are trying to hold together some semblance of Imerpial society and customs. An Ayatani priest by the name of Perdu plays host to band of six workers who come to pray with him every so often in different hideouts amongst worker habs on the agri-world.
It’s a wonderful story of how resistance fighters don’t trust anyone, not even their comrades too heavily. The characters are well developed, and the pacing is tight and crisp. I liked it a lot.
There isn’t much else to say other than, the story really dives into themes that aren’t as prevalent as the ‘bolter-porn’ we see in other Black Library novels. It is an interesting insight into an occupied world and the struggle to survive within. Another notable title with this theme is Traitor General by Dan Abnett.
by Nick Kyme
The Royal Volpone 50th “Bluebloods”. Those who are familiar with the name are aware of the run-ins they’ve had with Gaunt and the Tanith First. Not all of their encounters have been friendly. In fact, the Volpone command structure was thrown into upheaval during the siege of Vervunhive. General Noches Sturm deserted his post and was court-martialed and nearly shot by Gaunt. But that is far done with.
Nick Kyme has written a story surrounding a full battalion of the Volpone 50th that have been recycled to a reserve position. Stationed at Sagorrah Depot, the Bluebloods find the condition of morale and discipline they’re landing into deplorable, and downright undignified. The Volpone commander Major Regara, notes the incapable nature of the acting Commissar for this garrison and decides to take the matters of discipline in his own hands. On a scouting and surveillance mission into the slums surrounding the depot, Major Regara and his squads of men come under fire from Archenemy troopers, and are saved by a regiment called the “Longstriders.” A regiment who remind Regara waaaay too much of the Tanith. Suffice it to say this doesn’t aid his judgment, nor his thanks towards the Longstriders for saving the Bluebloods collective arses.
As the story progresses we see the urgency and the dire circumstances that are at play here. The garrison is going crazy, and it’s getting worse every hour, fights are breaking out and troopers are killing each other. Major Regara notices that the only place where things are completely peaceful, is the section of camp where the Longstriders billet is located. When the Longstriders tell Regara they’ve discovered the reason for the growing hostility. Major Regara and the Volpone’s joins them on a hunt through the slums. And they quickly realize that things are worse than they feared.
This story was quite good. It was nice to see them gain a bit of the limelight instead of the supporting roles they’ve played in the past. The characterization was very strong, and Kyme nailed the pacing. Starting out a bit slower, and then increasing steadily as the story and plot progressed. Yet another great story in this antho.
A Good Man
by Sandy Mitchell
This short is set just after the fighting that took place at Vervunhive. It’s a story about an Imperial scribe that arrives shortly after the fighting has ended, to help with the reconstruction efforts.
Sandy is a master at this type of writing. Just as his Ciaphas Cain novels are full of humorous bits, so too is this story. I found myself chuckling at quite a few points during the short. In a way, i found myself thinking that it read just like an old film noir picture. Like a great black and white movie that get narrated by one of the main characters.
It provided a nice peak into the life of an Imperial Bureaucrat. Showing that it’s not as easy as it seems. The story is “narrated” by Adeptus Arbite Wil Feris, as he hunts for another scribe that has “falsified documents.” An accusation equal to treason. It’s a great story and the elements of humor that Sandy expertly weaves into his prose made it all the more enjoyable.
Of Their Lives in the Ruins of Their City
by Dan Abnett
Like Dan states in his introduction for this story, there isn’t much i can tell you that wouldn’t ruin it. And i really hate spoilers… i really do. Suffice it to say that it is a Gaunt’s Ghosts story. It’s a newly written story just for this anthology, but it doesn’t take place very recently, like The Iron Star does.
I will tell you that it is a newly written continuance piece set smack-dab in the middle of Ghostmaker. Which in itself was an anthology of shorts, along with First and Only, from Inferno! magazine back in the day. Of Their Lives in the Ruins of Their City is set between the actions of Voltis City, on Voltemond, and the action on Caligula.
A clear theme in this story is the strain placed upon Gaunt at this time. He is fighting to gain the trust of the Tanith as well as trying to establish his leadership amongst them. It’s a tough job, especially for a man who is held in the highest hatred by the men who follow him. He stole their glory from them, and he knows it.
But, that’s all you’ll get out of me on this story. You’ll have to wait until it comes out to get the full effect. You won’t be disappointed. Not in the slightest.
Overall, this anthology was a real treat to get to read and review for you all. I’m pleased to say it is the best short story antho i’ve ever read from the Black Library, bar none. “Abnett’s Aces” have assembled to present an anthology for the ages. A real masterpiece of 40k fiction.
I’m also thrilled to say that i have no reservations giving this antho a healthy 9/10.
Although there were a few editorial/grammatical mistakes that normally plague even the most highly edited works, it was vastly overshadowed by the wonderfully skilled prose that are present. The caliber of writing is second to none for this anthology. I’ve recommended this work to many people, and if you’re a veteran of the Gaunt series you’ll appreciate this work even more as it really shows the vast spectrum of existence throughout the entire Sabbat Worlds, the good, bad, and ugly.
Should you buy this book? YES
Thanks for stopping by for a read. It’s a bit longer review than one for a singular novel, but i appreciate your time just the same. I hope you enjoy this book as much as i did. It’s release is scheduled for October 2010.
[Next Review: The First Heretic]