BOOK REVIEW: Treacheries of the Space Marines edited by Christian Dunn
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of short stories focused on the dastardly deeds of the Chaos Space Marines, with contributions from promising new talent.
PROS: Sarah Cawkwell and Andy Smillie’s short stories are the best to be found in this anthology.
CONS: “Throne of Lies” by Aaron Dembski-Bowden is largely pointless and “The Long War” by Andy Hoare lacks purpose.
BOTTOM LINE: Treacheries of the Space Marines is a mixed bag but worth paperback price for sure.
The Black Library has a surplus of talent at the moment. There is of course the old guard, names like Abnett, McNeill, Counter, Swallow, and King that have put Warhammer 40,000 fiction on the map. Then there is a new crop of skillful authors that are just now testing the waters. I have high hopes for these writers, names like Dembski-Bowden, Cawkwell, Smillie, French, Zou, and Sanders. The Black Library needs such new perspective if it is to remain fresh and appealing. I’m happy to say that there is little risk of the Black Library stagnating and Treacheries of the Space Marines is proof.
“The Masters, Bidding” by Matthew Farrer
In this story a Warsmith of the Iron Warriors invites representatives from four different traitor legions to come and bid upon a special treasure he has acquired. In order to gain the prize the traitors must win the Warsmith’s approval with an accounting of their battle prowess and offer a gift of significant worth. I appreciate the way in which each traitor’s story reflects the unique aspects of their perspective legion. I also enjoy the way in which Farrer brings to light the sometimes contradictory viewpoints between veterans of the “Long War” and their younger brethren.
“The Carrion Anthem” by David Annandale
I believe that in essence a good short story is all about irony. Don’t quote me on that, I’m no short fiction aficionado, but Annandale supports this theory with “The Carrion Anthem.” The beginning is more than a little unsettling, as Chaos should be. The Imperial Guardsman Corvus is quick to act and he adapts to a changing scenario to the best of his abilities. I won’t ruin the ending but I will say that there is a (un)healthy dose of irony. I’ll be sure to be on the look out for Annandale’s name from here on out.
“Liberator” by Jonathan Green
I’d say this one falls in the middle ground, not awful but not great. This is a story about a marine’s fall from grace told in reverse. The backwards storytelling was disorienting to begin with. It wasn’t exactly expected and it didn’t provide a tremendous amount to the plot but I am grateful Green tried something different. The actual tale of the fall is gradual but Green spends too long explaining why Constantinus turns from the Emperor’s light. I will say that it proved to be a good way to condense a long period of time for the sake of page length.
“The Long War” by Andy Hoare
This is the straightforward tale of an Iron Warriors assault on a stronghold. The Warsmith in charge is a veteran of the Long War and suffers from flashbacks to previous engagements. Other than this underplayed aspect the story is pretty uncomplicated and uninspiring. Hoare writes a decent enough siege but “The Long War” suffers from a lack of purpose. This is the sort of story that suits the Space Marine Battles series just fine but leaves me feeling unfulfilled.
“Throne of Lies” by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
This takes place between the events of Soul Hunter and Blood Reaver of Dembski-Bowden’s excellent Night Lords series. “Throne of Lies” was originally released as an audio drama. I was excited at the opportunity to read this instead of listen to it (the Black Library audio dramas are priced pretty high) but unfortunately this was the weakest addition to the anthology. The story is written well, Dembski-Bowden knows how to write, but the plot is largely irrelevant as it has no real impact on the series at large. I have a feeling this was added to the collection to boost sales given ADB’s reputation and fan-following but I don’t feel like it belongs.
“Bitter End” by Sarah Cawkwell
And we go from my least favorite story of the collection to my favorite! Wow! Writing a story about a figure so infamous as Huron Blackheart the Blood Reaver could not have been a small task. The thing is, Cawkwell knocks it out of the ballpark. Cawkwell tells and interesting and important story, all while conveying the true nature of the Lord of the Red Corsairs. I really want to read more stories about this guy and I hope that Cawkwell is the one to write them.
“We Are One” by John French
It seems like every anthology the Black Library puts out these days has an Alpha Legion short story in it. I’ll start complaining about this when those short stories stop being so darn good. This is the tale of an Inquisitor obsessed with an Alpha Legion marine by the name of Phocron. I think that the reason Alpha Legion short stories are so prevalent is the nature of the Legion itself. These stories really convey that sense of irony I mentioned earlier. I like a good twist and French provides just that.
“Torturer’s Thirst” by Andy Smillie
Eeek! It’s a Smillie short story! And it is about the Flesh Tearers! What more could I ask for? Smillie continues his streak of telling tremendously awesome adventures. I have to say that if anyone writes a Flesh Tearers novel it needs to be Smillie. He has made the successor Chapter his own, much as McNeill has planted his flag on Ultramarine Mountain. If you are wondering why I get so excited about the Flesh Tearers you need to read this story, it is probably his best work yet.
“Vox Dominus” by Anthony Reynolds
Word Bearers! This one is more of a novella and fans of Reynolds’ Dark Word trilogy will be well pleased. What a great way to end an anthology focused on Chaos Space Marines. Gripping and bloody with plenty of mystery. If you’ve been missing the Dark Apostle Marduk than this should be a sweet reunion. Plus there are Plague Marines! What more could you ask for you greedy git?
Treacheries of the Space Marines isn’t the best (or worst) anthology ever. There are some really great stories and some that are less so. It is about what I’ve come to expect from collections published by the Black Library. I would say that the good outweighs the bad and these authors show a lot of promise. Cawkwell, Smillie, and French are all extremely impressive and worth keeping an eye on.
Filed under: Book Review
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