Shadowhawk reviews the jam-packed Warhammer 40,000 anthology released as a tie-in to the now-defunct CCG Dark Millennium by Sabretooth Games.
“Some good, some not so good, the anthology’s collection of quirky, unusual and rare short stories offer something for everybody.“ ~ The Founding Fields
Tales From The Dark Millennium is quite an interesting anthology for several reasons. For one, unlike most other anthologies from Black Library, this one is set in a very specific time and place, with the stories contained therein forming a subset of a larger whole. And second, it is based on Sabretooth Games’ now out-of-print collectible card game Dark Millennium. The best thing about the anthology is that it contains several stories the likes of which are sorely missing in Black Library fiction of today, and the likes of which really flesh out the Imperium at large. I would love for more writers tackling these sorts of themes and concepts and characters and locations in future anthologies or novels because for me, these are the types of the stories that define the Imperium just as much as the “regular” stories about Space Marines and Imperial Guard.
First off in the anthology is Steve Parker’s The Falls of Marakross which tells the story of a Dark Angels strike force arriving on the world of Cordassa on a top-secret mission. As with most Dark Angels stories (really just all of them actually) this deals with the Dark Angels’ eternal hunt for the Fallen, the traitors of the First Legion from the days of the Horus Heresy. As such, the plot is very predictable but of course, predictability can have its own advantages. This is one of the best short stories in the anthology because Steve Parker keeps this ages-old theme alive by mixing in a really suspicious Inquisitor who is always hot on the tails of our protagonist, Interrogator-Chaplain Artemius. The Falls of Marakross is executed well, the pacing is good and while you know how the story is ultimately going to end, Steve Parker makes the journey of getting there just as vibrant and lively as anything else. The best thing about the story is of course that the Dark Angels have to achieve their mission right under the noses of the Inquisition and have to keep their true objectives a secret. The only thing I did not like about the story is that the Dark Angels’ names don’t jive with the chapter’s naming convention of using the names of fallen angels from christian mythology and the like. They are too Gothic. But other than that, this is one of the best in the anthology.
Next up is C.S. Goto’s Vindicare which tells the story of a female Imperial Assassin on a mission. Extremely predictable and very unsatisfying from start to finish. The letdown of Vindicare is that you never truly get a feel for just how a Vindicare executes his/her mission. The story itself is just nothing more than a commentary about the the last stand of the last defenders of the planet Orphean Trine. Assassins are one of the most underused factions in Black Library fiction and while this story had a lot of potential it ultimately went nowhere. I just couldn’t connect with the protagonist at all and neither was I drawn in to the larger conflict that she is witnessing. The way the narrative unfolds, it is more like a 2-3 page text in a codex. Even the ending is very unsatisfactory and makes me go what the hell just happened. The thing is that Nyjia, the titular Vindicare, is presented as too perfect, with the author taking the theme of “getting that one vital shot” to the extreme. Vindicare is definitely nowhere near the best of Goto’s work and it is also one of the worst short stories in the anthology.
Then we have Graham McNeill’s The Prisoner which is the story of Erebus, the First Chaplain of the Word Bearers legion, and one of the oldest Chaos Space Marines still alive. For me, The Prisoner is the absolute best in the anthology and definitely among the best of Graham’s work. It is intensely fast-paced, insidious and keeps you utterly hooked from the beginning to the end. Also, the ending is something totally unexpected because it portrays Erebus at his best: playing games within games for extremely high stakes. Inquisitor Lord Osorkon and Justicar Kemper are also portrayed quite nicely and the fact that the setting is a prison complex just adds to the enormous fun of the story. This short story also shows that Graham is really good at getting across his characterisation, whether it is for a short story or a novel. I would very much like a sequel to the short story because I think that aspect of The Prisoner has a lot of potential and as the details of the Pyrus Reach Sector setting unfold, it is quickly turning into quite a rich world to set stories in.
The fourth story in the anthology is Dan Abnett’s The Invitation, a Sisters of Battle short story that is quite unique in its promise but fails to deliver. Dan generally writes excellent narratives and his novels and short stories are usually quite good, but just as with his first Space Marine novel, Brothers of the Snake, The Invitation feels very much like an experimental piece, sometimes blatantly so. The mystery and suspense of the plot are lackluster and the ending is also abrupt and unsatisfying. There is just no reward for the reader here and the story just smacks too much of convenience. Its a decent enough story, just not my cup-of-tea. And I far prefer James Swallow’s take on the Sisters rather than Dan’s.
Next up is A Balance of Faith by Darren-Jon Ashmore. This one left me scratching by head by the end of it. I think this is quite a subtle story and the message of it has just passed over my head. I talked to a couple people about this story and they had no problem with it so I guess its just me that doesn’t get it. The story revolves around a Sister Hospitaller who is having a crisis of faith and her “mentor” is an injured, and possibly dying, Dark Angels Librarian. A Balance of Faith appears to be another experimental piece and while the story definitely didn’t work for me overall, I think it still is quite strongly written, but I’m just not the target audience for it because subtleties usually pass me by on jet engines.
The sixth short story is Mike Lee’s Gate of Souls and this is another one that I definitely enjoyed reading. Incidentally, it is another Erebus-centric story so that might have something to do with it since Erebus is a character that I find quite thrilling to read about, never mind that I absolutely loathe the character himself. Mike’s characterisation of this ten-thousand year old Astartes and that of Inquisitor Alabel Santos were very enjoyable to read about and I must say that the way he has written them, I would very much like a follow-up story to see where Erebus’s motivations take him next and what happens to the good Inquisitor herself. Just as with Dan’s Eisenhorn and Ravenor or with Graham’s Osorkon, Mike’s Santos is very believable and with her he has managed to capture the defiant and loyal aspect of the Inquisition quite nicely. One of the best in the anthology for sure.
Coming in second-to-last is Matt Keefe’s Fate’s Masters, Destiny’s Servants. This one falls somewhere between The Invitation and Vindicare for me. That is to say, I didn’t enjoy it one bit since the story was mind-numbingly obvious after the protagonists encounter certain corpses. The problem with the story is that it is an attempt to use a widespread SF plot cliche and set it within the Warhammer 40,000 setting. It just doesn’t fit. Even the execution of the cliche is unsatisfying in that things just happen for no reason. That doesn’t make for an interesting story and in my case, I’m just left shaking my head. Being an avid watched of SF shows like the various Star Trek shows, Andromeda, Stargate, Farscape etc, the author’s attempts at subtleties just didn’t work for me. There was nothing interesting about the plot hook really and therefore the story to me is an indifferently mediocre one.
And finally we have another entry by C.S. Goto, Tears of Blood. This short story is a sequel I believe to the Eldar Prophecy, a novel that I attempted to read some two or three years ago and just could not get through. The Eldar in either the novel or the short story just don’t act like Eldar and the author’s attempts at making them seem alien and different to humans fall flat since there actually is no difference here at all. If anything, Goto’s Eldar are too self-destructive, too secretive, too rebellious, and too open to the dangers of Chaos and the Dark Eldar way of life. More than any other entry in the anthology, Tears of Blood left me just massively disappointed. The fact that the story is such an obvious continuation of events and plot threads from Eldar Prophecy means that few people will understand the gist of it. The setting of the Pyrus Reach Sector is just a convenience tacked on to the plot and nothing more.
Overall, I’d have to give the anthology a 7.5/10. The excellent short stories from Steve Parker, Graham McNeill and Mike Lee are the best thing about Tales From The Dark Millennium while C.S. Goto’s two shorts are what drag it down. That said, I would still recommend the anthology to everyone because of the sheer diversity of stories and the different aspects of the Imperium that are covered by the seven authors.