Black Library is 15! Review Collection

Posted by DarkChaplain at 4/03/2012
If you ended up here, on this site, you'll probably have noticed that the publisher of Warhammer-based novels, the Black Library, has just recently turned 15 years.
15 years ago, it all started, this increasingly impressive range of novels set in the grim darkness of the far future and the tales of the old world.
To celebrate this important anniversary, the Black Library has gathered their active authors to contribute short stories of about a 1000 words each (with exceptions, I might add), which have gone on sale one after another, with every passing day, starting at this 15th annual milestone.

Every day surprised us with yet another exciting, if short story, which allowed the authors to experiment and let us see the grim darkness and fantastic world of Warhammer in a slightly different light than usual. There's some really exceptional stuff right there, worthy to attend the celebration.

If you can't wait to pick them up yourself, go visit the Black Library -
the eShorts are £0.79 / 1.00€ / $1.25 each.

Now also available as a single ebook at £11.99 / 14.99€ / $18.99!

Day One
Kill Hill
by Dan Abnett

Priad of Damocles, of the Iron Snakes of Ithaka, reaches the end of a long and gruelling campaign against orks. All he has to do is survive to reach Kill Hill…

Kill Hill is loosely tied to Dan Abnett's Brothers of the Snake from 2007 (Harcover; Paperback in 2008). It has long been out of stock, however, so your only option to pick it up is by searching through second-hand stores or buying the ebook. Hence I have never read it, or anything about the characters before Kill Hill. To my relief, I did not find that necessary to enjoy this story.
This eShort shows just how incredibly superhuman a Space Marine truly is, and with which indifference they might reflect on what might seem like an eternity for us mere mortals. Kill Hill is a cinematic, highly detailed yet short depiction of just a few moments in an Astartes' prowess. What could possibly stand against Priad of Damocles?

There actually isn't much to say about it, since it is a rather straightforward, self-contained story, even though it makes you wonder... will we see more of Dan's Iron Snakes in the future?I would not mind, as Dan's approach on the Iron Snakes seems highly interesting and unique.

Day Two
Blood Blessing
by Sarah Cawkwell

Approached on a blood-soaked battlefield by the terrifying, yet enthralling, Valkia the Bloody, a dying warrior is offered a choice: a bloody end or a life of eternal slaughter.

Valkia the Bloody by Sarah Cawkwell is one of my most-anticipated novels of the year. Ever since I first heard of Valkia, her character intrigued me, and knowing that it's Sarah who's providing her entry to the (so far excellent) Warhammer Heroes series makes me jump for joy.
Using this opportunity to experiment a bit further, Sarah has crafted a truly powerful first-person story. She herself calls it a 'one-way conversation', which holds true. The way this conversation is presented leaves the reader with no doubt that Valkia is more than just a pawn of Khorne. She is Khorne's chosen queen.
The story's point of view and style immidiately set you into the position of the fallen warrior the Bloody is addressing, and it is left to the reader to give his reply to the Blood God's chosen avatar.

What will it be? Eternal slaughter in Khorne's name or salvation in death? Either way, I'll be picking up Valkia the Bloody as soon as possible.

Day Three
by Andy Smillie

Most men only die once. Some are not so lucky. Hear the last confession of one of the Emperor’s Angels, a Space Marine of the Flesh Tearers, as he meets his final end.

Andy Smillie impressively shows the tragic fate of a Fleash Tearer - dying once is not enough for a Marine of Sanguinius's bloodline. From the Marine's fall to the black rage to his rebirth, entombed in a dreadnought; This eShort shows just what it means to serve even in death, and Andy Smillie pulled this rarely described twist of fate off very nicely and crafted it into a satisfying story.

If you ever wondered what the unlucky men of the Death Company felt and thought about their fall from grace, or what it is like being entombed in a body that is that of a warmachine, this story might be just perfect for you. You might also want to pick up Beneath the Flesh for more action from Andy and the Flesh Tearers.

Day Four
Blood Sport
by Josh Reynolds

Gotrek and Felix visit a trading post where the locals use a captive hippogryph in vicious pit fights. The Slayer seizes a chance to find his doom and challenges the beast…

A Gotrek & Felix eShort, Blood Sport has what you'd expect of a story featuring an oath-bound poet and a dwarf in search of his own doom. While I once again mourn that this story didn't make it into the recent Anthology, it was indeed a great read, and turned out to end in a rather unusual way. I won't tell anything more about it, however. Read for yourselves!

Josh Reynolds really caught me off-guard with Blood Sport, and is slowly becoming the most dominant among the crowd of authors to have contributed to the Gotrek & Felix cycle, which brings a question to bear: will Josh take Nathan Long's place (who took the place of William King, who has just recently returned to the Black Library, delivering Blood of Aenarion) and continue the franchise with his fresh ideas? Only time will tell, I'm afraid.
For the time being we all should enjoy his G&F stories as best we can. If you liked Blood Sport the way I did, I urge you to pick up Josh's Charnel Congress.

Day Five
Only Ash Remains
by Nick Kyme

An underhive gang ambushes newcomers to their territory. But the interlopers are deadlier than the gangers can imagine. They are Salamanders Space Marines, and they are on the hunt…

I must admit, I have not yet had the pleasure of reading any of Nick Kyme's Salamanders novels - the closest I have come to one is a short story in some anthology and listening to the Audio Drama Fireborn and the Audio Short Vulkan's Shield, none of which I could really get into due to having no actual relation to any of the characters. They're tie-ins to the novels, so that was to be expected, I guess, and I am indeed planning to pick the novels up at some point (hopefully in an Omnibus).
Now, the Salamanders series consists of a trilogy and an upcoming anthology of all these spread-out fragments so far, with a new trilogy in the planning, for all I know. The Tome of Fire story-arc has ended, and Only Ash Remains supposedly is the first link to the upcoming Circle of Fire arc.

For all I understood about the story, a group of Salamanders is hunting a comrade who's supposedly turned traitor. On their short trip down into the underhive of some planet to pursue their quarry's trail, a group of gangers makes the foolish mistake of challenging the Astartes, and quickly pay the price before the Salamanders continue on their search.

While the actual encounter was enjoyable to read, and showed fantastically just how superior even a single Astartes is to the normal human, this story alone left me with a sour aftertaste. Not because it was bad, or that it wasn't enjoyable, but because I could not actually relate to the Salamanders, or their task. If you ask me (which you obviously do since you're reading this post), I would not recommend this shortstory as a stand-alone read. I am fully aware of its teasing nature and that it probably makes fans of the series anticipate the continuation's release even more eagerly, but if you haven't read the Tome of Fire trilogy at the very least, you might be found wanting, just like myself.

Day Six
Easy Prey
by CZ Dunn

Brother Terach of the Dark Angels finds himself in a desperate life-or-death search for the hiding spot of a sniper, before he becomes the shooter’s next target.

Easy Prey surely is one of the surprise hits I took this time. Even while I just finished reading (and reviewing) Descent of Angels, I went into this story not knowing what exactly to expect.
What I got was quite a different view on the Dark Angels.
The Emperor's finest had been sent to purge a world by the Inquisition, which meant leaving nobody alive. The story's main character Brother Terach is shown with a detached, emotionless relation to their mission. Due to the planet's vital ressources, Exterminatus was out of the question - this world would not be eliminated from orbit, but from up close, with the Dark Angels as bringers of Imperial judgement.
In total contrast to the noble way Space Marines, especially Dark Angels, are usually depicted, Terach and his squad show no mercy and the Angel does not even shed a thought for the civilians he kills in this purge. But all of a sudden, his Brother in arms was killed by a precisely-aimed bolter round, and the detached executioner becomes the prey instead, finding himself at the wrong end of an Astartes' weapon...

I really enjoyed this story, especially since I cannot recall having read another story by CZ Dunn, who is usually editing Black Library novels and anthologies. He's got an Audio Drama up in the pipes, however, which also features the sons of the Lion, and I do hope it has at least some ties to this short story of just a thousand words.
The story smartly asks the reader what the Emperor himself would think about the destructive deeds done in His name, and even brings up a figure shrouded in mystery, whose appearance will be a source of excitement for fans of the 40k lore and especially the Dark Angels. Well played, Mr. Dunn, I applaud you!

Day Seven
by Darius Hinks

As the dissolute Captain Zelter considers drastic action to secure his future, he hears a tale that blurs the line between reality and fantasy, of a rat king and the Cankerworm.

Judging from its cover, Cankerworm promises an exciting Skaven-tale; for those unfamiliar with the term 'skaven' - they're ratmen, nasty beasts that dwell in the underground and curse humanity (and everything else), and only their own cowardice usually keeps them from invading the surface.
Interestingly, Cankerworm did not approach the skaven directly, but presented the tale of the 'Cankerworm' and a certain rat-warlord named Longfang, in a dialogue between a captain of the armies of Ostland, a province of the Empire, and his, seemingly mad, aunt. While he finds himself in dire financial trouble, facing the threat of being expelled from his regiment, he resents the fortune of his aunt, and considers to set up an accident. The woman, seemingly being around too many animals, has the habit of talking to her little friends, and when the both of them descend into the villa's cellars to fetch a new bottle of wine, the captain sees his chance.
While trying to find the resolve necessary for his vile deed, his rich aunt tells him the story of Longfang and the Skaven, and only during the closing of the story does the man realize, that he would share the same demise as the warlord...

At two thousand words, Cankerworm is by far the longest of the eShorts - you could argue that you'd get the most bang for your buck. Indeed, the story is one of my favorites out of the bunch, as it gave both an interesting insight on Skaven-history as well as a tale of pure treachery. While reading this eShort, I was constantly on edge, trying to guess what might happen next, but when the end came I found that I did not see it coming before it was too late.
The story itself feels just as dirty, gritty and grim as Warhammer should feel. Hinks surely has a solid grip on the world of Warhammer Fantasy, which makes me wish I had already started reading his Warhammer Heroes novel about Sigvald. This man gets Warhammer, which I am truly thankful for.

Day Eight
For the Fallen
by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

A historian visiting the ruins of Rynn’s World has an unexpected encounter with Crimson Fists Space Marines that will change the way he looks at history forever.

For the Fallen was quite the opposite of what I'd have expected of an AD-B story. In this eShort, nobody dies, nobody strikes at anybody. It is the story of a quiet remembrance, witnessed by a historian who traveled to Rynn's World to get a closer, more personal view on the Crimson Fists and their fallen heroes. What he finds would be more than he had ever hoped for.

This story comes along at roughly 1600 words, which I felt were doing the scenario absolute justice. Longer than the other stories yet still shorter than Cankerworm, For the Fallen covered just the right amount of space to make a deep impression on me, which moved it directly to my favorite 40k stories until this very day. The calm nature of the story, the deep bonds between brothers, all this short depicts is well placed, incredibly well paced and left me in awe. It breaks the mould of constant, grimdark action in the 41st Millenium, but still feels so grim and immersive, you can't help but appreciate this more emotional side to the universe. It reminds the reader that the shared brotherhood between Space Marines is a thing to last even beyond death.

Day Nine
by David Guymer

Take a glimpse into the twisted psyche of infamous skaven warlord Queek Headtaker as he plots and schemes between battles – but just who is telling his devious plans to...?

Now this is a Skaven-tail (haha) that actually has a ratman-protagonist - the legendary warlord Queek Headtaker, no less! David Guymer not only managed to make Queek appear just as violent, arrogant and, quite in the contrary to normal skavenfolk, eager to fight the man-things himself, but also added a new twist to this character: the Headtaker is insane. He hears the voices of his victims, speaking to him from the head-trophies he collected.

What can I say, it works incredibly well! This trait is giving the warlord much more depth while making him appear even more aggressive, violent and unpredictable. This is the Queek I'd love to see serialized. An utterly violent, unpredictable, insane anti-hero? That would most certainly pull the right strings for me (for the record, I am still praying for a continuation to the Malus Darkblade series), but I guess I should be content with C.L. Werner's Dead Winter being just ahead...
Nevertheless, David Guymer gets my seal of approval for more vermin-madness!

Day Ten
The Weakness of Others
by Laurie Goulding

A terror stalks the cold night, killing foe and friend alike. As his tally of skulls rises ever higher, one warrior earns the name that will follow him forever: Khârn the Betrayer.

Khârn. The once noble and level-headed Captain of the World Eaters, who more than once stood up to the rage of his Primarch Angron. The Betrayer. Bearer of one of Angron's own chainaxes, Gorechild. The Champion of Khorne, the Blood God.
Of Khârn we have known for a long, long time, that his madness would drive him to wiping out most of his own Legion during a battle against the Emperor's Children. When night on the planet Skalathrax fell, the World Eaters were looking for shelter to protect them against the extreme cold the world was known for, despite victory already being upon them. Khârn, however, did not accept his Legion's cowardice, and with his axe and flamer he burned down the protective buildings. His comrades turned on one another, desperate to secure a place for themselves inside the few buildings still standing, but Khârn went out to kill. Both friend and foe fell to his axe, as he showed no mercy for his former brothers.

This story came as a surprise for myself, as I wouldn't have expected a Khârn story written by anybody else than Aaron Dembski-Bowden (see: Butcher's Nails or the upcoming Betrayer, both parts of the Horus Heresy series) or Anthony Reynolds (see: Chosen of Khorne), but this one was written by Laurie Goulding instead.
Now, did this new author pitching his views on the Betrayer disappoint me? No, he did not.

The story is roughly set after Khârn finally snapping - flamer in hand, he sets out to kill. Interestingly enough, this makes for a fantastic contrast to the Khârn seen in Butcher's Nails or Tales of Heresy and is the first time I have read about the truly mad Champion of Khorne. We even get a closer look into Khârn's way of thinking, his hate and the old traditions of the Legion when it was still called War Hounds. Khârn even faces old shame while his memories drift back to his time as a neophyte of the Legion, and makes clear that the World Eaters were already taking skulls long before their fall to Chaos. They have been collecting skulls for the skull throne all along, unknowingly...

The Weakness of Others cleverly gives Khârn's rage purpose, direction and allows us to take another glimpse at the road he has taken. The way Goulding wrote it, I found it easy to immerse myself in the setting and see the blood dripping from Gorechild in my mind's eye. I very much enjoyed Khârn's perspective on the carnage he was wreaking and am eager to hear more about this side of the Betrayer later this year in Chosen of Khorne, but I sure wouldn't mind more stories by the hands of Goulding either.

Day Eleven
Gilead's Craft
by Nik Vincent

In the aftermath of battle, Gilead Lothain remembers his recent deeds and reflects upon the events that led to him practicing his deadly craft.

This is, like Only Ash Remains, one of those stories that I cannot really relate to. Having read neither Gilead's Blood nor the currently being serialized Gilead's Curse, the characters mentioned in the eShort mean nothing to me. Yet, it was not quite unenjoyable.

Gilead the elf is shown in the process of retrieving his used arrows, collecting their heads and crafting new ones from the pieces. Indeed, all that actually happens in the story is Gilead crafting his tools for the hunt, everything else are events he reflects on during his work. While the elf takes his time and puts an incredible effort into the making of his arrows, he thinks about the men and women he shot with them just recently.
We never really get to see the action, yet the memories feel vivid and the task of the elf feels both natural and realistic; you can easily retrace his steps and imagine every single one of them.
I'm not going to lie, Gilead's Blood still is not on my to-read list, but Craft certainly brought the series a step closer to getting on it. I am not as oblivious to the tale of Gilead anymore as I was just yesterday, and if by chance I get to pick up Thunder and Steel, Gilead's story will be the first I'm going to read.

Day Twelve
All is Dust
by John French

To their foes, Thousand Sons are automata, deadly walking armoured suits who feel no pain or fear. But what is it like to live inside that armour, a spirit divorced from flesh?

This story clearly was a risky move. The Thousand Sons once suffered from severe mutations due to a fault in their gene-seed, and to fix this error, one of the Legion's brightest, Ahzek Ahriman, studied the Book of his Primarch Magnus, and found the solution to end the Thousand Sons' misery: A spell he would name 'the Rubric'.
While the spell certainly stopped the wild mutations rampant in the Legion, only the most potent sorcerors of them were able to retain their bodies and souls - the less fortunate legionaires lost their fleshly existance, and their minds were torn to shreds, condemned to an existence as walking automatons, one with their armor. While it stopped the inevitable flesh-change, it made them unchanging figures, bound to the powers of their betters. Ahriman was expelled from the Legion, but is still roaming the galaxy in pursuit of knowledge. Some think he might be looking for a way to set things right again, and bring salvation to his old Legion...

Now, how should one imagine what it is like, being nothing more than a broken soul bound to an almost eternal body? John French asked himself that question and used this anniversary's opportuity to experiment on that field. He achieved something which I felt was both very satisfying and tragic to read. The way he depicts our silent protagonist sounds all the right tunes, and even sets the struggle against nothingness in a context with the Thousand Sons' old nemesis, the Space Wolves.
All is Dust is as close as it can get to showing the life of a Rubric Marine, and the understanding of their eternal damnation makes it clear, just what unimaginably high toll Ahriman's Rubric has taken on this proud Legion.
Where once they lusted for knowledge, they now struggle to maintain even a tiny fraction of their own selves...

Day Thirteen
Evil Eye
by David Annandale

A tortured prisoner on an ork warship is protected by a fellow captive. But what manner of man dares to stand up to a mighty ork? Only one man: Commissar Sebastian Yarrick.

'Evil Eye' Yarrick. The Hero of Armageddon. The 'Old Man'. Commissar Sebastian Yarrick got many names to go with his reputation.
It speaks a lot of one's strength, willpower and character to not only be on the frontlines at all times while there's an Ork invasion going on, more so when it is led by what might be the biggest, meanest and strongest Waaaghboss alive - Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka.
Yarrick, however, did not only manage to lead the Imperial Forces to victory, inspiring them to new heights, but also stood face to face with Thraka himself. While the battle cost him dearly, mainly one of his arms, he managed to beat Ghazghkull and took the mighty Ork's Power Claw as a trophy. Only afterwards did he pass out, while the Orks were retreating. The Claw was later refashioned to serve as Yarrick's own, new arm, and he dedicated his life to hunting down the surviving Ghazghkull.
Among the Orks, however, spread a rumour. Not only were they impressed by Yarrick's sheer strength which allowed him to beat their boss in combat, but they also started the rumor of the Commissar's 'Evil Eye', which was supposedly able to kill an Ork with a glare. When Yarrick later lost his left eye, he made this tale a reality, using a bionic implant that served as a kind of laspistol. If they thought his glare could kill, then they should die by his Evil Eye!

It is not entirely clear when the story is exactly set, since the events of Yarrick losing his eye and his capture by the Orks are only loosely lined up. This, however, is nothing one has to worry about with this story, as the few lines above are all one could wish to know before reading this shortstory.
The story is written in first person, of course from Yarrick's point of view. He's a slave among an Ork warship, caught between hard labors under the watchful eyes of Ork overseers and short breaks of rest when too many other slaves already lost consciousness. Yet Yarrick refuses to show weakness. He endures these hardships and shows courage of a kind which even the Orks find impressive.
With determination beyond comparison, Yarrick makes uses of the rumors surrounding his 'Evil Eye'...

The story has been easily one of the best stories out of the bunch (which says a lot already), and makes me eagerly wish for a full trilogy about Commissar Yarrick in the near future.
The Black Library's question on the accompanying blogpost, whether or not we'd like to see more of David Annandale's Yarrick could only have one answer, which I can only hope to utter with as much determination as Yarrick has shown countless times: YES!
This short alone had a power to it that is worth of the Hero of Armageddon, and I'd rather not wait too long for more tales about the Evil Eye...

Day Fourteen
Army of One
by Rob Sanders

As civil war blazes across the galaxy, the hive world of Proxima Apocryphis turns traitor and Malcador the Sigillite despatches punishment in the form of a living weapon…

This story is part of the Horus Heresy series, although it is only loosely tied to it. For the second time, we get a story focused on the assassin clades, with the spotlight going to a specific Eversor assassin this time. A short clip of the assassin's life before going through the process of being remade into the killer he would become, and his mission to revisit his old homeworld make up this eShort. While it confused me in terms of internal chronology, after reading it a second time I now hold this story in high regards.
A thrilling story, quite different from what Sanders has written for the Age of Darkness anthology with The Iron Within, yet still a quite fantastic read. It shows precisely why you should not step onto an assassin's toes... they won't forget.

Day Fifteen
Sword Guardian
by Graham McNeill

Emperor Sigmar rides for Reikdorf, summoned by his sword-brother Wolfgart on a matter of the greatest urgency. Will he arrive in time? And what could be so important?

The Legend of Sigmar got another contribution on the final day of the celebration. Sword Guardian plays after the battle against Nagash in God King, but that does not mean Sigmar is growing complacent! The individual Sigmar novels from the Time of Legends series have been standing on my shelf ever since they were released, but - shame on me - I never honestly started reading them far enough. Sword Guardian, however, did not feel out of place as a one-shot at all; it had everything you'd need to enjoy the story, and delivers a tale, however short, of duty, brotherhood and friendship. The way the eShort is set up is intriguing right from the start, and I smiled broadly when I reached the end - this is one of those little things I'd like to read more of! But then again, Graham McNeill's tie-in shortstories were always interesting and evoked satisfaction for all I can tell (the Ultramarines-shorts come to mind).

Sword Guardian has given me more than enough incentive to finally go over to my shelf and pick up Heldenhammer, and I think you'll feel quite similar, if you have any interest in the Warhammer Fantasy setting.

That's it, folks, these are the 15 eShorts released over the last 15 days to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Black Library! I hope you enjoyed reading these short reviews and are eager to read the stories for yourselves - I've quite enjoyed almost every single one of them, and I can tell you there's certainly something for everyone's taste to be had. If you're anything like me, you'll find more than enough things to pick up next. Now excuse me while I'll get onto my couch to read the tale of Sigmar Heldenhammer...

Black Library is 15! on the Black Library Website

About the Author
DarkChaplain is a big nerd who spends too much time reading and thinking about books, organizing them on his ever-growing shelves, and yet increases his backlog by the month. DC is also an avid Gamer and owns more PC games than he'll ever be able to play. He is certainly spoiled for choice!
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain

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