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).

Mini-Review: It’s Grim and Dark For Kids 2

So at the end of Attack of the Necron, Zelia, Mekki, Fleapit and Talen found themselves stranded on an ice planet; for the purposes of Claws of the Genestealer they spend most of the book stuck on the planet trying to avoid the titular beastie, until eventually someone comes along to evacuate them.

In terms of actual plot developments, then, this is a filler episode; on the whole, the book is less concerned with advancing the party’s search for the mysterious locale known as the Emperor’s Seat (where Zelia’s mother has promised to rendezvous with them) so much as it is Cavan Scott taking a moment to make sure he’s got the interpersonal chemistry within the party clearly worked-out and communicated. It’s a fun episode, but I expect more significant developments will come in the followup – Secrets of the Tau – due in August.

The Name of the Rose, With More Dakka

Despite being released shortly after the introduction of the new Warhammer Horror line, Requiem Infernal by Peter Fehervari – a Warhammer 40,000 novel of death, terror, corruption, and the disintegration of objective reality set in a storm-lashed citadel run by the Adepta Sororitas – isn’t billed as a Warhammer Horror release. This, given the general tone of things, seems to be a mistake – I mean, look at that cover art for one thing, that rendition of the protagonist glancing over her shoulder against a dark background hardly suggests the sort of battle-happy guns-blazing military SF which Warhammer 40,000 novels tend to go for.

The protagonist in question is Sister Asenath Hyades; the former name a nod to Lovecraft’s The Thing On the Doorstep, the latter a nod to Chambers’ King In Yellow. Asenath has lived many lives and filled many roles in the Adepta Sororitas – taken in and raised as a hospitaller medic, before winning her spurs as a Battle Sister and being chosen to accompany the mysterious Father Deliverance on a missionary expedition to an unreclaimed area of space, followed by various other roles in the wake of that before returning to the role of a hospitaller… and perhaps something more.

See, initially Asenath was a member of the Order of the Last Candle, a splinter group of the wider Order of the Eternal Candle. The Last Candle are an insular lot, having sought a remote artificial archipelago – the Ring – on a remote world to establish their convent, and spend much time meditating on the mysterious teachings of their founder. When Asenath joined Father Deliverance, she left the Last Candle, and is now a member of the parent organisation – and the Eternal Candle wants someone to check that the Last Candle hasn’t drifted into heresy in its deep isolation.

Asenath is that someone, but she’s not travelling alone. Following a nightmare encounter with an unknown foe, a mangled-up unit of the Exordio Void Breachers are coming with her, the wounded and ailing men’s only hope for recovery being the medical care offered at the Ring of the Last Candle. There’s a man called Jonas Tythe who dresses like a preacher, but in fact is an unwilling heresiarch, his faith in the God-Emperor shattered by the eldritch fate of his world and by his mysterious link to a book which fills itself with his own pessimistic philosophy. And there’s the otherworldly presence which has latched itself onto Asenath, which you could regard as her guilty conscience were it not for its very particular capabilities and interests…

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Wickedly Fun and Damnably Entertaining

You can see, almost, the thought process behind The Wicked and the Damned. You’re working on setting up the Warhammer Horror line and want something fresh to release alongside Maledictions and the reprint of Drachenfels. The phrase “Warhammer Horror” naturally makes you think of Hammer Horror and other classic Brit-horror studios of yesteryear, and that in turn makes you think of the old tradition of the portmanteau horror movie – a set of short and essentially unrelated short films strung together to feature length by a framing story offering a context in which each story is told in turn.

In the case of The Wicked and the Damned, the framing story is set on the cemetery world of Silence, to which three people have been drawn under mysterious circumstances. These three people are the protagonists and narrators of the three novellas framed by the framing story; they aren’t sure how they came to Silence but they feel compelled to tell their stories. Gosh, what could the secret of them being brought here be? (They’re fucking dead and it’s so obvious they’re dead that this barely counts as a twist.)

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