Mini-Review: Just Say No To the Waaaagh, Kids!

War of the Orks is the fourth and latest volume of Cavan Scott’s Warped Galaxies, part of the Warhammer Adventures series of Warhammer 40,000 novels for kids. The story so far: having picked up some navigational clues, the kids and their Rogue Trader friend Amity are now travelling around to try and figure out which of several candidates might be the “Emperor’s Seat” where Zelia’s mother said they’d rendezvous. Ruling out Terra (because surely she’d have just said “Holy Terra”), they decide to check out the world of Weald, in whose dense forests a group of Ultramarines carved a statue of the Emperor out of a mountain to commemorate a victory.

When they get there, they find no sign of Zealia’s mother and an absurd number of Orks – two groups of them, in fact, some of whom rely on naturalistic weapons leveraging the flora and fauna of the jungle and some of whom fiddle around with tech for optimised dakka. What follows is essentially an extended slapstick sequence, in which the various core cast bounce around and are alternatingly chased and captured by the different Ork tribes until they’re finally brought together.

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Though mostly known for the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, focusing on the Imperial Guard, and the Eisenhorn and Ravenor series, focusing on the Inquisition, Dan Abnett has occasionally written other standalone Warhammer 40,000 novels dealing with other aspects of the setting, such as Brothers of the Snake (Abnett’s meditation on the Space Marine concept through an invented Chapter of his own) and Titanicus.

Titanicus addresses the Titan Legions – the Adeptus Mechanicus forces who pilot enormous grimdark mecha on the battlefield against the giant robots of other forces like the Eldar, Orks and Chaos. The novel is set on Orestes, a planet jointly ruled by the Imperium and the Adeptus Mechanicus (who are not actually part of the Imperium but are a separate human space empire in their own right with a long-held alliance with the Imperium). Orestes is a Forge World – one dedicated to the manufacturing of high-tech goods in generally, and specifically Titans – and since it provides various support services for the forces off fighting the Sabbat Worlds Crusade (the war front of the Gaunt’s Ghosts series) this makes it a tempting target for the forces of Chaos: take out Orestes, and you hamper the entire Crusade, and so the forces of the Dark Mechanicum invade – including terrifying Chaos Titans, refitted and warped to suit the needs of the Dark Gods.

With its local Titan Legion (the Legio Tempestus) depleted due to shipping so many of their forces off to the Crusade, Orestes is unable to face the Chaos Titans unleashed by the invaders on its own. As luck would have it, another Titan Legion – the Legio Invicta – is passing through on its way to join the Crusade, and is more than happy to lend a hand in return for an MOT and a tune-up for its Titans. Shit gets complicated when, as part of the process of trawling through ancient Mechanicus records to try and find schematics for the Chaos-hijacked Titans assaulting the planet, a historical nugget is uncovered which threatens to throw the relationship between the Imperium and the Adeptus Mechanicus into disarray.

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Mini-Review: Shambling Towards the Word Count

Nick Kyme’s Sepulturum, another entry in the Warhammer Horror series, reads less like a fully-developed novel and more like a novella which didn’t make the cut for The Wicked and the Damned and then got padded out to novel length thanks to side-stories with minor characters with little bearing on the main plot, thick margins, wide line spacing, and a short page count. Nick Kyme and Black Library really seem to have sweated to stretch this material out over 200 pages so they could sell it as a novel, but not done that much in the way of polishing beyond that.

It’s a shame, because the baseline concept – ie what I presume was the premise of a shorter piece that has been padded out to this length – is pretty good. Morgravia Sanctus is an Inquisitor of the Ordo Sepulturum, a minor subset of the Inquisition with the specific role of addressing what they euphemistically call “plagues of unbelief” – zombie apocalypse outbreaks, in other words.

And that’s about all Morgravia knows – her memories having been shattered and largely sealed away from her after an encounter with, she assumes, the targets of one of her investigations. To try and sort her head out, she decides to make contact with the Broker, a mysterious dealer in illicit information and services who happens to be able to put her in touch with an equally shadowy rogue psyker, the Empath, who might be able to do the job. But, of course, it will take the Broker a lot of convincing before she gives an Inquisitor the Empath’s details – and when a zombie plague (28 Days Later variant, specifically) breaks out in the hive city, the Broker and Morgravia’s negotiations become much more complicated…

That’s not a terrible premise for a story, but as I say it’s weighed down by a lot of side stories about characters we don’t especially care about and who don’t turn out to be enormously important to the central matter. Part of me wonders whether it was even originally intended as a Warhammer Horror piece, because it’s very much on the action movie side of the zombie apocalypse spectrum, and the more a Warhammer 40,000 story leans on action the more it feels like vanilla 40K rather than Warhammer Horror. I got about 100 pages in, got bored, flipped ahead to work out what was going on with the Inquisitor’s memories, wasn’t especially excited about it, and gave up.

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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A House of Hidden Depths

On the backwater world of Ceocan, a suspicious shuttle crash has claimed the life of the governor and his eldest son. As a result, Ashielle Matkosen, Governor Ruprekt’s daughter and eldest surviving child, finds herself in at least nominal control of the planet. However, Governor Ashielle is not secure in her post: she knows that whoever arranged the assassination of her father and brother is still out there, and will want her to either play ball or suffer the same fate, and she’s near certain that the ultimate culprit is the Vaneisen family, whose matriarch Esilia serves in a sort of second-in-command role in the planetary government and who stand to take the Governorship should the Matkosen line perish.

This puts Ashielle in great danger – for her younger brother Hanrik, by virtue of having entered the service of the Adeptus Arbites (the Imperium’s interstellar police force), has disqualified himself from the succession. As a result, the only thing between the Vaneisens and the Governorship is Ashielle’s heartbeat – which the sadistic Tanzeg, eldest son of the Vaneisens, wastes little time in attempting to silence. As Ashielle flees an audacious assassination attempt, she discovers a hidden vault beneath her ancestral home of Darcarden, in which a sinister entity has been kept bound. For aeons, the rulers of Ceocan have had the right to command this entity, as a result of an ancient covenant – should they choose to exercise that power.

Ashielle isn’t stupid – she knows that to use this power would be considered heresy and anathema, and see her destroyed by the Imperium should any of its bodies discover she has used this gift. But with her life on the line and her world on the edge of falling into the hands of a family of sadistic criminals, can she afford not to call on the old covenants?

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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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Mini-Review: The Sabbat Worlds Crusade

The Sabbat Worlds Crusade is to the Gaunt’s Ghosts series what the Dune Encyclopedia is to the Dune series, if the Dune Encyclopedia had actually been written by Frank Herbert himself and hadn’t been rendered non-canon by later developments. Penned by Dan Abnett and gorgeously illustrated throughout, it is a history of the grand military campaign which forms the background to the Gaunt’s Ghosts books, allowing the reader to see the wider context against which the exploits of the Tanith First-and-Only and their leader, Commissar Gaunt, take place.

Written as though it were an in-character document from the universe of Warhammer 40,000, the book originally came out in 2005, after the Saint plotline had wrapped up and when Abnett was kicking off the plot arc which would become The Lost. With this new release, he’s taken the opportunity to update it with further material, bringing it all the way up to date and showing us the state of play as of the end of the latest plot arc, The Victory. (The in-character explanation for this is that the book is an unauthorised update of the previous official history of the Crusade, drawing heavily on that material but also including extensive secret data which the Inquisition and Imperial Guard aren’t entirely happy about being set down like this.)

Complete with a really gorgeous fold-out map of the Sabbat Worlds and fun details on both the Imperial and Chaos forces vying for control of it, this new edition of the book will be of interest both to fans of the series who want more deep background (and perhaps a flavourful way to get a bit of a recap of the action, if you are coming back to the books after a long break) and to those who want to mine the background for gaming purposes. For instance, if you wanted to make a Warhammer 40,000 army inspired by the Sabbat Worlds forces, you can mine this for paint schemes and iconography; likewise, if you wanted to play one of the tabletop RPGs based in the Warhammer 40,000 setting in the Sabbat Worlds, this could be a big help. (It’d be an ideal fit for Only War, for instance.)

The Fall of the House of Strock

Back in April I covered the initial (original) books to come out from the Warhammer Horror line from the Black Library – a new imprint dedicated to the spoopier side of the various Warhammer settings – in the form of a short story collection and a triptych of novellas. (The early line was also filled out by a welcome reprint of Kim Newman/Jack Yeovil’s stories of the vampire Genevieve.)

Evidently, this initial experiment has had positive results. Not only have Black Library embarked on a somewhat more ambitious second wave of Warhammer Horror releases, but they’ve also announced Warhammer Crime – an imprint dedicated to stories set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which I guess would make a sensible home both for material inspired by the more sleuthing-based entries in the Eisenhorn or Ravenor series, or more police procedural-oriented material like the Enforcer trilogy. (Incidentally, if Warhammer Crime wanted to start with a bang, I’d say that a fourth Shira Calpurnia novel would be very welcome.)

The fact that they’re doing this suggests that not only do Black Library realise that there’s a substantial audience for Warhammer-related stories which do not focus on the full-blown warfare, combat action, and adventure fiction which makes up the backbone of the Black Library line, but they also realise that their range has now become sufficiently expansive that it’s become increasingly difficult for that audience to find what scratches their itch. If the proliferation of these imprints leads to an overall increase in the range of different types of stories offered by Black Library, that’s all to the good.

However, before Warhammer Crime debuts I’ve got some fresh new Warhammer Horror to enjoy, and in particular the first all-new full-length novel to be released in the line. This is The House of Night and Chain by David Annandale, who’s become something of a stalwart of the line, having contributed both to the Maledictions short story anthology and to the novella collection The Wicked and the Damned.

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Mini-Review: Just Say No To the Greater Good, Kids!

Cavan Scott’s Warhammer Adventures: Warped Galaxies series of Warhammer 40,000 novels for kids continues with its third episode, Secrets of the Tau. The kids have finally managed to get off the freezing, Genestealer-infested world they were stuck on since the closing sections of Attack of the Necron, having hitched a lift with Amity, a mysterious Rogue Trader who is very keen to avoid questions about why she has no crew left beyond the servitor Grunt.

Zelia, Talen, Mekki and their jokaero friend Fleapit still don’t really have a plan for what to do with themselves beyond rendezvousing with Zelia’s mother at the mysterious “Emperor’s Seat” – and checking Amity’s star charts revealed that in the course of their adventures they’ve ended up inadvertently flung to the other side of the galaxy entirely from where they started out, more’s the pity. Taking pity on them – and perhaps taking into account the potential archaeotech reward from Zelia’s collector mother – Amity takes them to Hinterland, an independent space station where humans and xenos rub shoulders in an uneasy truce, and where a cartographer friend of Amity’s just might have the information on where the Emperor’s Seat is…

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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).