Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tales of Heresy (Horus Heresy Book 10) Review

Next up in my Horus Heresy Review Series is Book 10, Tales of Heresy, a collection of seven short stories by assorted authors. I really liked the format as it allowed for glimpses into multiple legions and story lines. As with my Mechanicum review, I am not going to avoid spoilers in this review, particularly since the short-story format requires spoilers for any real discussion I believe. After the jump, I will go through each story in turn with my impressions, how I think it fits with the rest of the book, and any interesting hints or story lines.


I sincerely enjoyed this book. It was a good change of pace and allowed for showing things that couldn't be shown as a standalone piece. There were only two stories I didn't feel shed some light on one mystery or another of the Warhammer universe and the Horus Heresy, and one of those I felt provided warning signs worthy of further exploration. "Scions of the Storm" by Dan Abnett was probably my favorite, closely followed by Graham McNeill's "The Last Church." Both deal with the issue of religion versus the Emperor's desire for secular truth.

"Blood Games" by Dan Abnett
The collection begins with this piece, which begins with a bit of mystery about just who the protagonist is. The story has two real arcs, the mystery assassin arc, and then the operative arc. Unfortunately, once it's revealed that the protagonist is a Custodes and is testing security around the Emperor by attempting an assassination, the story seems to lose a little of its intrigue and interest. That's not to say the second part is bad, but just that for me, the debate on just who or what the protagonist is was the most interesting part of the story. When it becomes clear we are getting glimpses of the Emperor's palace, the setting becomes as intriguing as the character. The second half is interesting in that it shows some of the politicking and intrigue on Terra during the heresy, but it is mostly a story to show just how awesome the Custodes are (not that there's anything wrong with that).

"Wolf at the Door" by Mike Lee
I've always had a little special place for Space Wolves, so this story was fun. The story itself had little to do with the Heresy or any of it's major plot points, though it did show the 13th Great Company before they were lost. The story is an enjoyable one reliant on a good amount of action and suspense from running a guerrilla campaign against Dark Eldar raiders with no way off the planet. Several times in the story I was actually reminded of the Halo series - following a gruff, powerful protagonist leading a small elite unit short on supplies against hopeless odds.

"Scions of the Storm" by Dan Abnett
This is one of the more important and interesting stories of the book in my mind. The story follows the Word Bearers while they still wore grey, and gives brief glimpses of some of the biggest players of the Heresy - Lorgar, Kor Phaeron, and Erebus. While it follows a different Captain, the story is excellent in that it really gives insight into just how powerful the Word Bearers' faith is and how important a tool it could have been if it was embraced openly by the Emperor. This story gives glimpses to the root of the Heresy, when the Emperor scold Lorgar for teaching faith rather than the Imperial Truth. The end of the story has a delightfully ironic revelation that Lorgar wrote the Lectitio Divinitatus. The implication of course is that Lorgar is the architect of both the Heresy and the Ecclisiarchy of the God-Emperor, at once shattering the Imperium and holding it together.

"The Voice" by James Swallow
Swallow's story picks up sometime after Flight of the Eisenstein, following the ongoing story of the Sisters of Silence and Amendera Kendel and her novice Leilani in particular. The story was certainly interesting in that it divulged a little more about the Silent Sisters, what their roles and abilities are, and how they function as a group. I'd generally thought of them as precursors to Sisters of Battle, and there seems to be elements of that, particularly in Emrilia Herkaaze's speech at the end of the story. While SoB, as far as I know, are not nulls, Herkaaze's fanaticism as well as willingness to break her vows of silence, to me, indicate a precursor to what SoB could be born from. That said, I only have a fairly superficial knowledge of SoB fluff and background.

I'm not sure of the implications, but it was certainly a little interesting and confusing that, if The Voice is to be believed, Leilani was able to make a bargain of some sort to not only send a warning back in time in the warp, but also become or use extremely powerful psychic tools. Of course, because of Herkaaze's zealotry, that warning would never be heard. I'm honestly not sure what to take away from this aspect of the story. All the fluff I've read up to this point makes me believe that any voice from the warp cannot be trusted. That said, the revelation of it's nature, even if false, allows Leilani to achieve her enlightenment, just before she is killed.

"Call of the Lion" by Gav Thorpe
As with "Wolf at the Door," this story was interesting though I didn't feel that it had the implications and backstory of "Blood Games," "Scions of the Storm," and "The Voice." That said, I am particularly unfamiliar with the Dark Angels' background except what was in Descent of Angels. The mystery and intrigue of the Legion has always piqued my curiosity a bit, but in this story, both of the Chapter Master characters annoyed me. I gathered that there could be implications in their strained interactions and vastly differing approaches. Belath's desire to make war without asking questions first seemed ominous, particularly from a commander who felt he had the backing of their primarch. Also, the lack of camaraderie for fellow legionnaires, even those who had never met, seemed like an interesting twist that I'm not sure would work for anyone besides Dark Angels.

While Astelan seems to be the supposedly reasonable one, he is more or less a jerk when first meeting Belath, who despite any questions of age, should be his equal. This was something I think was well done; the reader is given Astelan's view of Belath, which paints him as too young, impetuous, hot-headed, and so forth. This makes it hard for the reader, as it clearly is difficult for Astelan, to give Belath any credit. Seemingly any other time we've seen ranking officers (with the notable exception of Eidolon), other marines who don't know them assume that the man deserves the rank he owns. For this reason, Astelan's more or less dismissal of Belath as an equal is telling of some potentially stark rifts within the legion that seem sharper than even Garro's division from the "younger" members of his Legion.

"The Last Church" by Graham McNeill
This story is important first and foremost because we actually see the Emperor and get to hear him speak for more or less the entirety of the story. The story also contains in microcosm the war between Secularism and Religion that was explored predominantly in Books 1 and 2. In the end, we are given the Emperor's mostly unassailable arguments against religion, but there is still something wrong. The priest sees this, is able to foresee that Religion, faith, and belief are necessary for societies, and that the stamping out of all religion can only lead to worship of the Emperor. He sees through the Emperor's grandeur for just a moment, but it is enough to make him literally walk through fire to get away from the Emperor and stay in his old ways.

There was definitely a lot to take in here. One fun note was that the fresco on the church ceiling includes a scene of what we know through Mechanicum to be the Emperor defeating the Dragon he then imprisons on Mars. As someone who doesn't have a strong religious background I surely missed things, but I did find it interesting that although as a reader we clearly understand that the stranger is the Emperor and quasi-divine, he does not act the same as beings with divine knowledge act in other stories I've read where they confront a non-believer or an opponent. Typically I would expect the conversations between mortal and a beneficent god to be predominantly kindly, with the "stranger" revealing just enough of their divinity along with an important consideration to allow their opponent to have a divine realization and change of heart. Instead, the Emperor is mostly hostile and derisive of the priest, belittling him and his beliefs. His tactics in argument and discussion seem to match his tactics in battle of using overwhelming force and brute strength. He seemingly can have tact, but generally doesn't need to.

"After Desh'ea" by Matthew Farrer
The final story in the collection, this shows Angron's first interactions with his Legion, and make more sense of Horus's comment in, I believe, False Gods, possibly Galaxy in Flames, that Kharn is helping keep Angron in check. Kharn becomes the Legion's representative after every ranking officer above him went to meet the Primarch one by one and was killed. The interaction, in which Angron pummels Kharn but begins to listen, begins to show actual depth in the characters. Previously, Angron specifically and World Eaters in general were rarely shown outside of battle, and even then were single-minded and war-like. Throughout the conversation, we see Angron fighting his own artificial rage and thinking through concepts, applying tactics and generally having more than a single dimension. Both he and Kharn reference and show that they have considerations of honor, particularly in war. Kharn's revelation that the Legions' enemies are rarely worth knowing or remembering is telling both for Space Marines as a whole, and World Eaters specifically and why they act as butchers - there is a reason, it's not purely rage.