Anathemas Or Apologies?

Black Library continues their output of Warhammer Horror short story anthologies with Anathemas, the follow-up to Maledictions and Invocations. Whereas Maledictions had 11 stories split between 4 Age of Sigmar tales and 7 Warhammer 40,000 stories, Invocations flipped the proportions somewhat, providing 12 stories with a 5 Warhammer 40,000/7 Age of Sigmar split.

The pendulum swings back in Anathemas, and if anything it swings further: of its 14 stories, 5 are Age of Sigmar pieces and 9 are Warhammer 40,000, which only further cements my view that Warhammer 40,000, since its baseline axioms are darker and less prone to epic heroism than Age of Sigmar, is a bit of a more natural home for horror than Age of Sigmar – at the very least, it seems like the creative juices are flowing a bit more freely on the Warhammer 40,000 side of the equation.

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Invocations Or Impertinances?

Invocations is the second in the series of short story collections in the Warhammer Horror series which were kicked off by the preceding Maledictions. As with Maledictions, what you get here is a brace of stories, some in the Age of Sigmar setting, some in the universe of Warhammer 40,000, but this time around there’s a notable attempt to include more Age of Sigmar content: whereas in Maledictions only 4 of the 11 stories were based on that setting, here 7 of the 12 stories are based on it.

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Age of Slasher

The Warhammer Horror line continues its second wave with Castle of Blood by C.L. Werner, the first full-length novel in the line to be based in the Age of Sigmar setting. The premise is pretty simple: the ancient Count Wulfsige von Koeterberg has lived for years in isolation in his castle of Mhurghast, overlooking the town of Ravensbach. Decades ago, Count Wulfsige’s errant son died, and since then the Count has been stewing in his own resentment of those he deems responsible, and has been making his plans for revenge.

That revenge is announced at a dinner party he calls at Mhurghast, to which he summons his intended victims – and their children, all of whom are adults of about the age that young von Koeterberg was when he died, give or take. That’s important for the Count’s plan – for, by arranging the dinner in a ritual fashion, he ensures that the children become acceptable vessals for a dire demon of Khorne – a spirit of mass murder and destruction, forcing the parents into a terrible situation where once the demon is unleashed they’ll be forced to kill their own children in self-defence or face destruction at the hands of their offspring.

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Unearthed Texts From the Old World and Far Future

Black Library’s extensive bibliography of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 fiction, for the most part, consists of conventional novels and short stories, but from time to time they’ve produced texts of a different nature – books which are written entirely in-character, presented as artifacts from the settings in question. In recent years, Black Library’s produced some welcome reprints of some such books which they’d allowed to fall out of print a while back – one from the far future of Warhammer 40,000, and one bridging its setting and that of the Old World of Warhammer.

The Imperial Infantryman’s Handbook

This is a reprint of two books previously printed separately – the Imperial Munitorum Manual (by Graham McNeill) and the Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer (by Matt Ralphs). Both of these are internal documents from the Imperial Guard of Warhammer 40,000; the Munitorum Manual is a guide to its internal bureaucracy, logistical processes, equipment, medals, procedures and so on, whilst the Primer represents the sort of propaganda that its frontline troopers are bombarded with as a matter of course.

Presented as a convenient little pocketbook – and including a delightful section at the end providing a selection of prayers to the God-Emperor, modelled on the sort of condensed hymnals produced for the front line in the British Army, the Handbook – much like the constituent books that make it up – is an amusing read by itself, given that it highlights the dysfunction of the Imperium and the utter lies offered to its fighting forces via the disparity between the statements offered in there and the facts which the reader knows from other sources to be true.

In addition to this, it’s a nice prop for anyone into the 40K tabletop RPGs, or who plays LARPs inspired by the setting. One of my fondest experiences of the Death Unto Darkness LARP was playing an Ecclesiarchy priest leading the PCs in a stirring morning prayer, using the prayer section in the Uplifting Primer for fodder.

Liber Chaotica

First published as four separate books – Liber KhorneLiber SlaaneshLiber Nurgle and Liber Tzeentch – before being reprinted with a new Liber Undivided section of additional material at the end under the Liber Chaotica title, this is presented as a compilation of research on the nature of Chaos by Richter Kless, a scholar given special dispensation by the Grand Theogonist of the Church of Sigmar to plumb the Empire’s archives in search of forbidden knowledge. (The actual authors were Marijan von Staufer, for the Khorne and Slaanesh books, and Richard Williams for the remainder.)

What this actually amounts to is a gorgeous coffee table book of artwork, sketches, and little essays on Chaos, with flavourful scribblings in the margin and the like. In principle, this is a reprint of a reprint – the original combined Liber Chaotica having fallen out of print years ago – and part of me wonders whether some of the edges of the pages have been missed off here, given that some of the text spills off there. In addition, some of the random scribblings are incredibly hard to read, and being unable to check against the original I am not sure whether this was a deliberate aspect of the original books or an error that has worked its way in through the reprint process.

Still, nonetheless the book is here more for eye candy and the occasional little story than for any other purpose, and in that light it’s pretty neat. Whilst focused on the Old World of Warhammer (the setting which was blown up to make way for Age of Sigmar), there’s occasional insights into the Warhammer 40,000 universe via the medium of Kless utterly tripping balls. For Warhammer Fantasy Role Play purposes, this is a nice source of ideas for adventures, or a book you can just dump on the player characters and let them damn themselves with the information therein; there’s a few references to the End Times metaplot which brought an end to the setting, but not overwhelmingly so, and it doesn’t feel too out of place in the WFRP interpretation of the setting (which has a somewhat different focus from the wargame).

Maledictions Or Malapropisms?

The undignified, blubbering, grumpy weeping on the part of certain Warhammer fans when it comes to the Warhammer Adventures line of kid’s novels set in the Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40,000 universe certainly involved a lot of utter bullshit being spouted. The entitled self-appointed gatekeepers of the hobby couldn’t be honest and direct about some of their objections – such as the prominence of girls, PoC, and girls who are PoC in the proposed fiction series – so they had to talk a lot of nonsense which was demonstrably untrue.

An oft-repeated claim, for instance, was that the settings in question weren’t suitable for kids – this despite the fact that the books are pitched at a reading age of 8-12 year olds, an age which happens to match a good many hobbyists’ first encounters with Warhammer in its various flavours more or less exactly. A related complaint, equally unfounded, was that the Warhammer Adventures line would herald the Bowdlerisation of the settings, with disturbing material excised by dint of being not suitable for kids.

The latter complaint was especially ridiculous, since it could only sustain itself if you only paid attention to the Warhammer Adventures announcement and didn’t give any consideration to the other new fiction line Black Library had announced at more or less the same time. This line was Warhammer Horror, an imprint for stories set in any of the Warhammer universes which put a particular emphasis on their horror-oriented aspects – of which there are a great many. This is precisely the material which dullard nerd gatekeepers would have us believe Games Workshop was about to censor forever for the sake of capturing an 8-to-12-year old demographic which, so far as I can tell, they’ve rarely actually lost.

Maledictions is part of the first wave of Warhammer Horror releases – an anthology of short stories (with, concerningly, no editor credit) offering up a range of all-new horror stories in the Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar settings. Although the book doesn’t separate the stories out into a 40K section and an Age of Sigmar section, I will deal with the stories from the two sections separately anyway because my level of exposure to the settings differs greatly.

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Desperately Seeking Slaanesh

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Black Library authors working in the Warhammer fantasy setting are, it’s fair to say, working under far tighter constraints than those working in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It’s true that in both cases there are things which the authors in question cannot do – the Emperor mustn’t be killed, the Empire must not collapse, Chaos cannot get the ultimate win (well, not unless the story in question is explicitly set in the future of the relevant setting as an account of the End of Days). But there are advantages to having an entire galaxy to play in rather than one planet, especially when you consider that most Warhammer novels are only set in one particular area of said planet (the local Holy Roman Empire equivalent).

The major advantage is that you can just crank everything up to eleven and blow up the world when you’re writing for Warhammer 40,000. Sure, you can’t blow up Holy Terra, that’d be naughty, but except under very particular circumstances (probably involving the Horus Heresy series) you’re almost never going to be setting your 40K novel on Earth, or indeed on a world which plays a major part in the canon. If you’re at all sensible, you’re taking advantage of the extremely large canvas the Imperium provides you with and setting your story in a corner of space you’ve made up yourself. Not only does this give you an opportunity to go to town with your worldbuilding whilst still retaining sufficient connections to the wider Imperium to keep the place feeling like part of the 40K universe, it also means you can blow up a planet or two without treading on someone’s toes. In the more cramped surroundings of the Warhammer universe, however, you really have to work to make sure your story doesn’t really have any big long-term ramifications outside of the immediate area it unfolds in – and if you’re in a major city of the Empire, maybe even that’s too much.

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Never Turn Your Back On A Dark Elf

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The vast majority of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 fiction published by the Black Library focuses on the human (or superhuman, in the case of the Space Marines) factions of the game. This is a deliberate policy of theirs, and it is a sensible one. Having taken care to establish exotic and alien backgrounds and psychologies for the various nonhuman creatures in the relevant settings, Games Workshop don’t want that undermined by stories which treat the groups in question as just human beings in funny costumes. They try their best to make sure that those few novels and short stories they do publish from a nonhuman perspective are written by authors who truly “get” the faction in question, and can write about them in a way which gets across the essential differences between them and humans and which is true to the atmosphere, philosophy, and general theme that the faction is based around.

Unfortunately, accurately replicating the psychology of a particular faction doesn’t always lend itself to telling a rewarding and interesting story.

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A Rare Vintage

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Brian Stableford, under his pseudonym, was one of the contributors to the earlier line of Warhammer tie-in fiction – the one administered at first by Games Workshop Books and then by Boxtree before that particular arrangement fell apart. His Orfeo trilogy was later reprinted by the Black Library – but that’s nothing special, since they’re reprinted more-or-less the whole original Warhammer Fantasy fiction line. What’s more special is that the Black Library invited him back to write a few more stories for them, a courtesy they didn’t extend to all the early Warhammer authors. (David Ferring, author of Konrad, has never been seen since, thank goodness.)

The Wine of Dreams is Stableford/Craig’s contribution to the new Black Library line of Warhammer novels, and it’s excellent. Hyping up the air of paranoia, mystery, and conspiracy that surrounds the secrets of the Warhammer world, Craig nearly inverts the cliches of the fantasy coming of age story to tell the tale of an innocent tempted by the wiles of Chaos. The innocent in question is Reinmar, scion of the Wieland line dynasty of wine merchants. Reinmar, like all fantasy protagonists who commence their story in their late teens working a dull and mundane job in a sleepy rural town, is bored of his drab everyday life, and yearns for adventure and excitement. This wanderlust would, in any other fantasy novel, lead to a wonderful jaunt to save the land from dire peril, in which the restless youth comes of age, defeats the dark lord, and gets the girl. In the Warhammer world, however, the desire for new experiences makes you bait for the Chaos Gods…

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Heart of the Slayer of the Storm God’s Rage

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner. After establishing themselves as producers of (initially unofficial) Dr Who audio dramas, Big Finish Productions have pretty much cornered the market on audio adaptations for an impressive array of SF and fantasy franchises, from Dr Who to Judge Dredd and beyond. It seems odd to me that Games Workshop and the Black Library, intent as they are on dominating all forms of media everywhere in the name of the God-Emperor of Mankind, haven’t reached a deal with Big Finish long ago, but at long last Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000-themed audio adventures are beginning to trickle out. Hopefully these first two timid efforts are the first of many.

I was mildly disappointed to find that Slayer of the Storm God and Heart of Rage aren’t the sort of two-CD audio dramas Big Finish are usually known for; instead, they’re just single-disc audiobooks, the equivalent of slightly expensive short stories, albeit short stories read by professional voice actors that you can listen to in the car. The narration is generally free of studio manipulation, beyond the odd sound effect or snippet of music in the background (usually during fight scenes) and the occasional voice effect for the dialogue of some characters; the packages themselves are fairly bare-bones, with little detail offered in the CD booklet beyond brief biographies of the relevant voice actors and authors.

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The Reading Canary: The Vampire Genevieve

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The Reading Canary: A Reminder

Series of novels – especially in fantasy and SF, but distressingly frequently on other genres as well – have a nasty tendency to turn sour partway through. The Reading Canary is your guide to precisely how far into a particular sequence you should read, and which side-passages you should explore, before the noxious gases become too much and you should turn back.

Jack Yeovil: Haunting the Old World

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of early Warhammer tie-in novels, many of the first series produced by Games Workshop Books were written by fairly successful SF, fantasy and horror authors under pseudonyms. Kim Newman comes from a horror background, and is known for novels such as Anno Dracula, a peerfic of Dracula depicting a world where Van Helsing’s posse failed to drive Dracula out of England, and the Count ends up ruling the country. It’s not surprising, then, that the stories he wrote for Games Workshop under his Jack Yeovil pseudonym emphasise the more horrific aspects of the Warhammer world, as evidenced by the presence of Genevieve Dieudonne, a centuries-old vampire who does her utmost to resist the baser instincts of her kind and appears in many of the Yeovil tales – enough that Games Workshop and the Black Library have consistently presented her as the main protagonist of the Yeovil stories, even though that’s really not the case. But while the stories that she’s the mascot for are widely-praised by those who follow Warhammer tie-ins, can Genevieve offer anything to outsiders?

The spoiler-free answer is “Yes, but only about half the time”; for the detailed answer, read on.

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