Friday, 5 December 2014

Tales of Heresy - A Horus Heresy short story review

Well, it’s been roughly an ice age since I wrote a book review, and here is why.

Battle for the Abyss again killed my will to read. It’s such a diabolical awful book that my enthusiasm for the project wen’t up in smoke, I limped through Mechanicum, but then I just couldn’t stick with it.

However, recently I picked up Tales of Heresy and re-read it. This review will be a little different as Tales of Heresy is a short story compilation, so I can’t really use the established format. So instead, I’m going to talk about each story briefly,
And remember, spoilers abound in these reviews. If you don’t want spoilers, go elsewhere.

Blood Games

Starting off with Dan Abnett is a good move, the man can simply write well. This story starts out incredibly strongly with a compelling narrative of some super-powered assassin dude sneaking into the imperial palace on Terra to try to attack the Emperor. It’s really tightly written and really tense and the reveal that it’s one of the Emperor’s bodyguards doing a test run on the security is excellent.

I love the concept. And it’s great to see a little more about the Adeptus Custodes, as in the 40k universe, these guys are pretty much stuck in one room doing not a lot. In 30k however, they are the super-secret service.

The second half of the story, investigating corruption on Terra is less interesting. But it’s still an insight into the custodes role as counter intelligence operatives with the Emperor’s safety as paramount. I like that Abnett explores politics and intrigue on Terra, as previously it has always felt as though terra was 100% behind the Emperor.

All in all, a great short story, but the first half is so good it makes the rest of the story feel a little flat.

Wolf at the Door

I really liked this story, and here are the reasons.

  •          The Space Wolves in the story weren’t caricatures of Norse beserkers, they felt like soldiers first, and Nordic heroes second, which was nice for me as I’ve always found the Space Wolves a little “one-note” in that regard (see Battle for the Abyss). They suffer, they struggle, and in the end they fight a good fight for all the right reasons (from an imperial point of view)
  •          The Dark Eldar make a nice change of pace as a villain in the 30k setting. It’s easy to forget, that with the heresy and chaos going on, that the good old Dark elder are still out there pillaging planets and turning farmers into hood ornaments. They are such a cartoonishly evil bad guy group, but it works for the story quite well.
  •          The locals have an interesting story, and it’s a sad “Morlocks and Eloi” story. Centuries of constant predation from the Dark Eldar have made them docile and cowardly, and it’s understandable if you’ve had your ass kicked ten thousand times that it’s best just to roll up and hope for the best. But they find their steel and mettle through the example given by the Space Wolves. Which leads to….
  •          The finale, the wonderfully written final page. Where, after finding their spirit to fight, they refuse compliance. At which the Space Wolves immediately turn from liberators into conquerors. It wonderfully demonstrates the single-mindedness of the Crusade and the soldiers fighting it.

Mike Lee does some good work here, and I have a much more favourable impression of this story compared to his Dark Angels work.

Scions of the Storm

First Heretic is a compelling story about a devoted son whose love for his father is turned to hate when his affections are rejected. It’s a compelling story about a complicated character, it is everything Scions of the Storm is not.

Ok, so it’s a short story, but it’s the second time the Word Bearers feature prominently in a Horus heresy book (after Battle for the Abyss) and they are still cartoon villians, and not in a good way.  

This is a weak story, and it covers ground that will be explored a lot better in first heretic. In short, it’s a story that adds very little material, and doesn't do a good job of showing its characters. It’s 80% action scenes and the dramatic reveal material seems rushed and ham-fisted.

This brings me to an important point about Heresy short stories. I believe they should explored non-central elements to the story, they should look at the side stories, and give extra depth and breadth to the overall Horus heresy story. Scions of the Storm fails to do this, as it treads over the same ground that will be explored in much more detail and depth in First Heretic.

You can really skip this story without losing anything.

The Voice

So, I just said that short stories should explore side characters and work to improve the depth and breadth of the setting.

The Voice is a perfect example of this mentality and is a great short story. It focuses in on the Sisters of Silence, an order of psychically negative nuns who run the Black Ships that capture, contain and transport rogue psykers.

It’s an Event Horizon style story. A black ship has gone missing in the warp and a group of sisters is sent to investigate the horrors within. The exploration is told in a tight, claustrophobic style that clearly conveys just how crazy and horrific the final moments of the original crew were.

The sisters themselves are given more depth and the nature of their order, their role in society, and the interesting foibles of a silent battle order are well covered.

The finale is a singular moment, and, while this story seems to have limited impact on the overall plot of Horus heresy it covers two major themes, the increasing religiousness of the Imperium towards the Emperor, and the willful disregard of warnings to that effect.

Just a good story, I’m glad the sisters got more screentime.

Call of the Lion


This is another pretty pointless story, so let me sum it up for you quickly.

The Dark Angels have an internal conflict, from those who were with the Lion on Calaban, and those who were part of the Legion beforehand from Terra.

The two characters in this story represent those factions, and the young turk from Calaban is a toolbox and the old guard Terran is a fuddy duddy.

That’s about the story. They go to do a compliance, the Terran want’s a peaceful approach, the Calaban undermines him and slaughter occurs. The end.
Seriously, this is a nothing story that adds nothing to the mix. Such a waste

Oh, so it turns out the Terran is a minor character in "Fallen angels", so this is the origin story for a bit part in the next book. Cool.....  

The last Church

Boy, am I conflicted about this story…. But that’s a good thing.

You see, it’s a really clever story that deals with matters of faith and fact. It’s told in the form of an exchange between the last priest on earth and , what appears to be the guy from the Imperial bureaucracy who is shutting down all the churches.

Now, with any discussion of maters of faith things get a bit tricky. But what I found interesting, as an atheist, was that I was pulling for the Priest and thought the bureaucrat was a smug self-righteous douche the whole time. He comes across as that sort of “internet atheist” that gives atheists a bad name by telling faithful people they are childish and infantile. And the priest is such a wonderfully flawed man, a man whose faith actually has made him a better person.

Of course, the reveal is that the man investigating the Church is the Emperor and that the miracle that inspired the Priest was just the Emperor using his awesome psychic powers. This still doesn’t shatter the Priests faith though, what destroys his faith is that the Emperor is a giant douche.

The Emperor wanks on about how religion has done X and Y evils, and then says “Oh yeah, I’m making an army of super soldiers to conquer the galaxy and anyone who gets in my way will get spanked”. The priest rightly calls him an autocratic douche who will damn humanity.

Yep, Priest guy is right.

Great story, Uriah the priest is a great character and I think the Emperor is at maximum douche here. He’s just a complete cockbag.

After Desh’ea

Speaking of the Emperor being a giant douche, after Desh’ea is a story about what might be his single worst move in the whole Horus Heresy (ok, he make millions of bad moves, but this is a big one)

A good short story focuses on a tight group of characters, and like “the last church” this is really just the interaction of two characters around one major narrative. It’s Angron and Kharn, meeting for the first time after the Emperor teleported him away from his army on Desh’ea and left him with “the war hounds” (The world eaters original name), without telling him who he was or what had happened.

Angron is a mess, a broken confused and enraged man who has just lost everything and does not know why. Kharn has the unenviable task of trying to talk the single most dangerous killing machine in the galaxy down and explain to him who he is, and what has happened.

It’s a tall order and the story is told extremely well, you can’t help but feel for Angron. He’s been through so much, and if the Emperor had just taken some time with him, he may not have butchered half his new command staff.

The portrayal of Kharn is also great, a loyal, yet level-headed solider who is bound by oaths and loyalty, having to do the impossible task of reasoning with his insane Primarch. It set’s him up for his own books later, and I must say that Kharn is the single biggest surprise of the whole Horus Heresy. Many other characters who become villians in 40k have been presented as thin one-dimensional hacks (Abaddon, Lucius, Bile), but Kharn is a deep character with convictions and conflict. I love how he has been treated (asides from Ben Counters treatment in Book 3, but Ben Counter sucks)

The final word on this story though, is the first word. The Emperor, what a douche.


5 good stories and 2 forgettable ones, this is certainly a short story compilation worth picking up.

Recommended reading if you are reading the series, but not required.


  1. Keep up the amazing reviews mate I'm on fulgrim right now and I've agreed with all your reviews

    1. Awesome, I love when people agree with me :)

      I've dug out my copy of nemesis and will start re-reading it.

  2. Dude, despite only reading a quarter of the books you have reviews, I absolutely love reading your reviews.

    1. Cheers, being out fo work for a while I should be able to do some more :)


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