Review: Architect of Fate

Posted by DarkChaplain at 6/15/2012
Architect of Fate is the first Space Marine Battles anthology. I am sure, it won't be the last we'll be seeing, since eShorts and audio dramas tend to end up in print rather sooner than later. However, AoF is special in one regard: all four novella-length stories are related to the anthology's core character, in one way or another.
Kairos Fateweaver, the Oracle of Tzeentch, is shaping the Space Marine's fate in this anthology, and slowly the pieces fall into place, revealing just another grand scheme of the Lord of Change...
The Story:
"The Space Marines stand against the darkness, and yet on countless battlefields they play unwitting roles in the schemes of Fateweaver. From the doomed world of Ilissus, through the embattled corridors of the Endeavour of Will, to the borders of the Eye of Terror itself – friend and foe alike follow the great plan that he set in motion many thousands of years ago. But not even the Architect of Fate himself can foresee the destiny that lies in wait for him..."

Collected for the first time, all four parts of the Architect of Fate novella series are presented in a single printed volume. The infamous Kairos Fateweaver, greater daemon of Tzeentch and master of manipulation, has discovered the limits of his power – even one so prescient as he cannot divine beyond the event horizon at the end of the 41st Millennium.

General Information
Architect of Fate is the first anthology in the Space Marine Battles series to date. It includes four novella-length stories, more or less linked to a central topic: Fate. It is fate that lets the Star Dragons and Blood Swords tread on the damned floors of the Accursed Eternity, just as it was the Relictors' fate to fall from grace. It was also fate that saw the space fortress Bastion Inviolate being violated by a powerful data-daemon. But even the Fateweaver is not exempted from the twisting threads of destiny, as this anthology shows.

Kairos Fateweaver, Greater Daemon of Tzeentch, his Oracle, able to stare into the future - something his Lord and Master could not do without doubt. One head always lies, while the other speaks the truth, but how to find out whose words will lead to salvation, and which mouth utters your death sentence?

All stories featured in this anthology are self-contained, picking up threads of the background and weaving new patterns into the lore. Most of the featured Space Marine Chapters have been barely explored by official sources and thus make for a nice introduction to the series, or even franchise, while the established Chapters and characters are getting nicely illustrated in ways which don't make it hard to get familiar with them at all. Aside from Space Marines, Imperial Guard and, of course, Daemons, three of the featured novellas also have Inquisitors joining the cast, all of which are interesting and show various aspects of the fractioned Ordos of the Emperor's Holy Inquisition.

Architect of Fate should be easily understandable to novices of the franchise, even though fans will of course get the greatest mileage out of reading it. I personally would even go as far as to say that this anthology is a fantastic introduction to the Imperium's struggle against the forces of Chaos.

Accursed Eternity
by Sarah Cawkwell
"Space Marines of the Blood Swords and Star Dragons Chapters are enlisted by Inquisitor Remigius of the Ordo Malleus to storm the infamous daemonship known as the Accursed Eternity. But all is not as it first appears, and what should have been a relatively simple mission rapidly devolves into a hellish warp-spawned nightmare – the stage is set for a galaxy-spanning tale of Chaotic intrigue and of a war which has lasted for ten-thousand years..."

Having this story introducing the anthology was a good decision. It quickly builds up a certain sense of conflict and tension which it sustained til the very end. My only regret regarding this story would be that the end came way too soon, leaving questions unanswered, or rather open to speculation. Accursed Eternity was such a good concept with satisfying execution, I'd have loved to read at least 50 more pages about the twisted horrors the ghost ship throws at its uninvited guests. The scenario's potential simply exceeded the story's roughly 100 pages.
In fact, speaking of horror is quite accurate, since the horror elements featured in the novella are one of its strongest points. From the moment the Star Dragons and Blood Swords enter the halls of the Accursed Eternity onwards, a psychological thriller unfolds, tying the reader to the pages (or screen). Questionable loyalties, distrust between allies and the nagging presence of something utterly wrong in the back of one's head drive this story on more than just one plane of existence. Of course, there surely was something utterly wrong on board the daemon ship in general...
Until the very end I did not know who, if any of the loyalists, would possibly survive, and as soon as it was over, I got stuck thinking about the novella's implications, especially the revelations regarding the Accursed Eternity, the warp-entity controlling it and the imperial Containment Fleet Kappa, that shaped the final chapters.

The cast of characters was quite excellent; an Inquisitor, two Astartes Chapters lacking everything beyond a few descriptive lines of background material and a bunch of daemons make this an exciting ride. I was a bit disappointed by some great characters, like the Star Dragons' Astropath, Kerys Jabiru, not having a greater role in the novella, and am hoping that Sarah will come back to these two Astartes Chapters somewhere along the line. I found myself instantly taking a liking to her characters and felt like they had a very enjoyable, fresh air around themselves. It was indeed very easy to get into the story, seeing the events unfold in my mind's eye without effort.

Sadly, due to the supposed novella-length, a few of those aspects didn't come across as well as they could have, if given enough room for exploration. But I guess that could not be helped, and was to be expected. It was still a damn good read, and I'd love to read more about Sarah's Star Dragons and Blood Swords rather sooner than later. Next up, however, will be Valkia the Bloody - I can't wait to find out how Sarah breathed life into the Gorequeen...

Sanctus
by Darius Hinks
"The Relictors are sent by the Inquisition to loot the repositories and libraries of a world on the cusp of annihilation. With the countdown to Exterminatus looming over them, they realise that even the Chaos Space Marines of the dreaded Black Legion are not the worst threat that they will have to face before they can escape, and that their true enemy may lie elsewhere."

Sanctus plays out on two layers, one telling of a squad of the Relictors Chapter of the Space Marines, down on the surface of a doomed planet bordering at the Eye of Terror. The Relictors, deemed traitors to many imperial authorities, are using whatever means necessary to fight the enemies of mankind. Alien technology, occult lore, they are actively searching for artifacts that would see even an Inquisitor branded a radical. No matter how good their intentions are, their Chapter has been paying the price for their obsession with forbidden knowledge, but they are not entirely without friends.
Inquisitor Mortmain, leading authority over fleet Sanctus, has given the Relictors a short timeframe to find out what really happened on the planet's surface. A terran navigator house has taken too much interest in seeing the planet destroyed, and Mortmain would not put a whole world to the torch without unveiling all of the mysteries surrounding its fall from grace. But when the daemon Cerbalus breaks free of his host, the Inquisitor is forced to act more quickly than expected, for the daemon learned of it all. Exterminatus cannot wait any longer. Cerbalus is unstoppable.
A battle against time itself ensues, with the Relictors hurrying towards their goal, oblivious to the events in orbit, and Mortmain hurrying to begin the orbital bombardement.

To date, I have only read Darius's story Cankerworm for Warhammer Fantasy, which was released during the Black Library's 15th Anniversary celebration. While his Warhammer Heroes novel Sigvald has been sitting on my shelf for far too long, I absolutely loved Cankerworm. Hinks got talent, and this also became apparent in Sanctus, although the story got overshadowed by the restrictions imposed upon it by being part of a thematical anthology like this one.
Sanctus plays with a very tzeentchian theme - the flow of time. The beginning of the story marks the end, with the chapters in-between telling the actual story which led to the events in the looped timeframe. Fittingly, Sanctus is written in present tense, leaving no hint on whether these events played in the past or are yet to happen - for all intents and purposes, it is happening, maybe not even for the first time, while the reader is flipping the pages. I felt that Hinks pulled this off very nicely, and especially the implications of the ending - or beginning - made it an enjoyable and satisfying read.

While I personally quite enjoyed Sanctus for all it delivered, I am not so sure that it fits well into the anthology. As Bane of Kings stated in his own review for The Founding Fields, this story could have easily filled a full-length novel or might even have worked better as a stand-alone novella due to its lack of actual references to Tzeentch, Kairos and their likes. Certainly not a bad story, but it got massively held back by the novella's restrictions and feeling out of place in this Space Marine Battles volume.

Endeavour of Will
by Ben Counter
"Chaos Space Marines of the Iron Warriors Legion launch a devastating attack upon their hated foes the Imperial Fists, crippling one of their principal starforts. Unperturbed, the heroic Captain Darnath Lysander withdraws his warriors to a second stronghold, the Endeavour of Will, to weather the rest of the assault. But as the Iron Warriors’ methods are revealed, critical and desperate decisions must be made, lest their insidious techno-contagion spread throughout the Imperial Fists’ fleet and beyond..."

Without a doubt, Endeavour of Will was a good story. It had suspense, tension and was quite unpredictable. I dare say it was a bit too unpredictable, however, almost shouting 'Deus Ex Machina at the reader. While we all love plot-twists and surprises that break the mold, especially in action-heavy stories, I felt like some things about this story didn't match up as well as I had thought they would, and at times it seemed like Ben Counter was a bit too liberal with the background material. A few things simply irked me about it. Some of these things were rather silly mistakes, like describing the Imperial Fists' heraldry as a "red fist", when it has always been black on a white background (the Crimson Fists' heraldry is red, however). There were a few such inconsistencies to be found in Endeavour of Will, which makes me wonder; Ben Counter has written six whole novels about the Imperial Fists' successor Chapter, the Soul Drinkers, which heavily featured both Imperial and Crimson Fists, so I would expect him to have a complete grip on the Chapter.

Counter tries a range of things with Endeavour of Will.
The way the machine-spirits of the twin star-forts Bastion Inviolate and Endeavour of Will are depicted is entirely unique. I have never read a 40k story that showed the machine-spirit in such a way. Considering the vast amount of time both forts have spent in space, processing data and growing over the millenia, I can well believe that their artificial intelligences would develop a certain character, and bond with their crew. However, once again, this is a novella, so there was not much bonding between crew and machine, and in fact not much screentime for either of them, despite being a vital part of the story. The old rivalry between Imperial Fists and Iron Warriors is being shown mostly through the views of Darnath Lysander and the Iron Warrior's leader, Warsmith Shon'tu. Ben played these cards well, trying to show the similarities between the masters of fortification and those of siegecraft, and both sides outsmart each other throughout the novella just as much as they go toe-to-toe for thick action. Sadly, the story plays out mostly between the two leaders, with other Fists or Warriors getting little actual attention aside from notes on dropping dead during the battle. Interestingly, though, Lysander's past, namely his disappearance, got covered in an interesting way, bringing up both questions for the reader and making room for Shon'tu's daemonic allies, connecting the story to the tzeentchian theme of the anthology.

However, there are quite a few bits I did not like. While the other featured Architect of Fate stories felt limited by their permitted length, Endeavour of Will truly had too much going on. It seemed like Counter tried to cut-down a whole novel concept into a quarter of the usual pagecount while maintaining all key-elements but drastically shortening the overall level of detail, character development and buildup. I've never been into Imperial Fists, believing them to be the most boring loyalist faction of the Space Marines; while this Endeavour made me care a lot about Lysander, I couldn't find it in me to actually give a damn about all the other imperials. The only exception to that was the Tech-Marine Hestion, who didn't fare all that well.
Endeavour of Will had massive potential, but also wasted massive opportunities by the way it was executed.

Quite honestly, I am completely torn about this novella. I enjoyed it for the fast-paced action, the load of twists it delivered and the insights on Captain Darnath Lysander of the Imperial Fists, who had been a well-known special character on the tabletop for ages, but there were certain aspects about the story that made me want to put it away. Trying to do something rather unique, or adding new layers to existent pieces of the overall lore is something I usually appreciate, but this time it made for a bag of mixed feelings.
It is too bad that it turned out like this, since Endeavour of Will had a range of brilliant scenes and ties to other parts of the franchise. Don't worry too much about this story, however - it is certainly entertaining and worth reading, but better take it with a grain of salt.


Fateweaver
by John French
"The White Consuls Space Marine Chapter answers a distress call, only to discover that the source of the signal is far more terrifying than the message it relays. As a psychic backlash sweeps through their astropathic choir, the infamous Kairos Fateweaver, greater daemon of Tzeentch and master of manipulation, reveals his final hand in a game which has lasted since the beginning of time. Destiny awaits."

I felt like I really needed something great to recover from my disappointment regarding Endeavour of Will, and hoped for Fateweaver to deliver. Bearing the name of the Oracle of Tzeentch, this story just had to be worthwhile, I hoped.
The story mainly focuses on Epistolary Cyrus Aurelius of the White Consuls and how he leads his brothers into what might appear like a trap. Following in the wake of the Inquisition, witnessing dead worlds that fell victim to the judgement of Exterminatus and hearing whispered warnings uttering the word Fateweaver, the White Consuls set out to prevent fate repeating itself on the astropathic relay station Claros. Cyrus, however, does not just follow a distress signal, but also his own visions - visions of his own death, fighting warp-spawn. But when the Consuls arrive at Claros, nothing seems amiss.
Fate, however, is inevitable, so the daemonic incursions the signal reported and Cyrus dreamed of eventually begin taking their toll. It is a battle that would see the station destroyed without a doubt, if Cyrus cannot grasp the meaning of the false distress call before it is too late. 'Fateweaver' - what does that name mean and why did countless worlds utter it while breathing their last breaths?

Fateweaver is, without a doubt, the best of the featured stories. It has everything; from a perfect pacing, growing foreboding and excitement to a meaningful ending which is not only full of action and sacrifice but also incredibly satisfying to experience. I am impressed at how French managed to build up on Sarah's efforts while raising the stakes even higher and higher while his story progressed. His characters are incredibly interesting and easy to connect to, and even those poor souls that get sacrificed along the way were artfully crafted, making me, as the reader, regret their loss. For tabletop-generals fielding Daemons onto the battlefield, there's even a meet&greet with the Changeling, which got presented awe-inspiringly well and true to the lore.

There could not have been any better way to end this anthology.
John French successfully incorporated the events from Sarah's Accursed Eternity into his Fateweaver, turning this anthology into a full cycle. While neither Sanctus nor Endeavour of Will are being mentioned in any direct manner, I felt like the fate of Inquisitor Mortmain from Sanctus was being hinted at (but do not take my word for it, it might not have been intended), making this a perfectly fine selection of novellas.

"It is what we were made for", a line which describes this novella all too well. Fate has its hold on every character in Fateweaver, and while some struggle to resist falling prey to their future, others embrace it. But despite that, at no point did I feel like things were set in stone, like this novella was predicable or growing dull. Quite the contrary; it has been a ride I am all too eager to repeat in due time, and I am convinced that the revelations made will blow my mind again.
Call me biased, but this story earned a spot in my personal favorites, just as was fated to happen. I hereby bow my head and tip my hat to John French. This novella was absolutely fantastic, captivating and conclusive. I hope you will agree, once you reach this anthology's grandiose conclusion.

Final Words & Verdict
Overall I quite enjoyed this anthology. Some stories might have had their downsides, Endeavour of Will doubly so, but the package you get here is one I wouldn't want to pass on. Indeed, it has been worth reading for Accursed Eternity and Fateweaver alone, which make up the core of the anthology.
My only real negative points about the collection would be that the first two stories were way too short for what they could have delivered with their massive potential, while Ben Counter's contribution might just as well have been scrapped altogether, at least removed from this anthology. Fateweaver, however, dealt fantastically with its restrictions, and worked perfectly the way it played out. As I stated elsewhere in this review, giving both Sanctus and Accursed Eternity 50 more pages each would have made them shine much brighter, and leaving Endeavour of Will for a stand-alone release would have made that entirely possible. Don't get me wrong, I do not want to trample down on Ben's story, but it just didn't work here, and it disappoints me that the Space Marine Battles-logo on the anthology's spine wears the colors of the Imperial Fists, when the real diamond in here was John French's story featuring the White Consuls.

But alas, nothing I can do about it, and it certainly isn't anything that should scare you from picking this book up. You'll get your mileage out of it in any case. I clearly recommend getting your hands on Architect of Fate.

It's taken me a while to get another book done and reviewed, but I hope to finish Aaron Dembski-Bowden's The Emperor's Gift over the weekend. Yes, I know, yet another AD-B review is coming, but what can I do? I just cannot resist...

Architect of Fate on the Black Library Website

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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