This collection of short stories (or are they novellas) is set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. You do not need to be familiar with the game or the setting to enjoy this book, but you will definitely gain more out of it if you are. Equally if you are not familiar with the Horus Heresy series some things could be a little confusing, but not overly so.
I have a confession to make at this point, and it is heretical in nature. I am not a huge fan of Graham McNeill. I know that I am in the minority of 40k fans but I can’t help it. His work just doesn’t quite do it for me. I don’t know why and can’t explain it in any rational manner as his books are well written, just not for me.
The opening story is about the Emperor’s Children Legion and is by Graham McNeill. This story was a pleasant surprise for me. In my mind it expertly captured the hedonistic search for perfection that sealed the fate of the III legion. The vanity of Fulgrim is quite something to behold and is reflected in each of his warriors. I was fascinated by this story and if the new Chaos Codex had been released this week I’d probably have spent a lot of money on Chaos Marines. I think the highest praise I can give this story is that I am now thinking of going back and giving some McNeill novels a read and that is something I would not have considered before this.
The second story is about the Iron Hands and is written by Nick Kyme. I had high hopes for this story as I like the Salamander books. Although well written I did find this to be the weakest of the four stories. Maybe the stoic Iron Hands are just too aloof and machine loving for me to empathize with. I also found the physical and psychic storylines didn’t quite mesh together in my mind. The jumps between the two did not quite flow as well as I’d hoped. I did like the idea of referencing Vulkan (the Primarch of the Salamanders Legion) that were added for colour.
The third story was the one that I was most looking forward to. I have a HUGE soft spot for the Dark Angels or the First Legion as they are also known. So no pressure on Gav Thorpe here then. The 3rd Edition Dark Angels codex is still one of my favourites so I had high hopes for this. The Primarch for the Dark Angels is called Lion’El Jonson. Think about it. You read those 19th century poems right? Lionel Pigot Johnson was the author of a poem called Dark Angels. This is why you can detect a lot of monastic catholic feeling in the iconography of the Legion. Add to that an almost American Indian history and outlook and you get a truly enigmatic group of holy warrior priests. The patience and sacrifice engendered by the Lion and his followers is clear throughout this story and can be summed up quite nicely by quoting the last line of the poem.
“Lonely, unto the Lone I go;
Divine, to the Divinity.”
I really enjoyed this story and would have bought this book purely for this story.
The final story is About the Alpha Legion (The 20th if you are counting). This Legion is unique in having twin Primarchs. Alpharius and Omegon are the same and yet different. Different sides of a coin if you like. What I really enjoyed about this story was the sneaky long game that they play, even with their own allies and brothers. I hate to say it but I think this is probably the best story in this collection. The ending in particular is genius. So fitting for the story and the Legion.
Overall I found this a good read. I would recommend it to any 40k player or reader of 40k fiction. The one thing that all four stories have in common is that they really show the essence of the Primarchs and how that affects the Legions. I thought the roughly 100 page per story format worked well.