Abhinav's Reviews > Shadows of Treachery

Shadows of Treachery by Christian Dunn
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's review
Sep 16, 12

bookshelves: black-library, cosmic-sf, science-fiction, warhammer, military-sf, grimdark, audio-drama, action
Read in August, 2012

You can find my full review over at The Founding Fields:


Shadowhawk reviews the latest Horus Heresy anthology, containing two brand new novella-length stories, as well as several reprints of old audio dramas and a formerly exclusive short story.

“One of the best anthologies that Black Library has put out, each story a perfect thematic fit to each other.” ~The Founding Fields

Shadows of Treachery is the fourth anthology in the Horus Heresy series, following on from the highly successful Tales of Heresy, Age of Darkness, and The Primarchs. It also marks a slight departure in terms of content from these anthologies, for where the first two contain only short stories and the third only novellas, this one contains two novellas and five short stories, an eclectic mix of tales from across the Heresy lore, both old and new alike. And so the stage is set for what promises to be a really great anthology, despite my earlier reservations as about a good 45% of the anthology is reprint of older material.

The lead-in story is Crimson Fist by John French, an Imperial Fists novella through and through by the man who gave us the downright excellent The Last Remembrancer in Age of Darkness. John French is among the newer crop of Black Library authors and has yet to have a novel of his own published, but given how good his short fiction has been so far, I’m sure one is in the works. Crimson Fist is a tale of two halves, the first dealing with the vengeance fleet that Primarch Rogal Dorn dispatched to Isstvan after learning of Warmaster Horus’ betrayal in Flight of the Eisenstein, and the second deals with Dorn himself, and his favoured son, the legion’s First Captain, Sigismund the Templar.

What struck me the most about Crimson Fist is just how well John has captured the personalities of Sigismund and Dorn, making these into so much more than they have been before, except of course in the excellent short stories (formerly audio dramas) by Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill that are also contained within the pages of this anthology. The scenes on Terra as Dorn begins the preparation of fortifying the Imperial Palace to deal with the traitors’ eventual invasion, are laden with emotion as John gets into the head of the Praetorian, Dorn. The interplay between him and Sigismund is well and truly that of a father and son in a galaxy of war, and is a very personal relationship rather than some of the more impersonal ones we have seen so far, like Horus and Abaddon which is a one-way trip of unbridled admiration and fraternal love. Dorn is someone who cares about his genetic sons, much in the same way that the more compassionate/passionate Primarchs like Sanguinius do.

And as was later revealed, John really did his homework on this part of the story, for these scenes fit in extremely well with Dan’s The Lightning Tower and Graham’s The Dark King, in terms of the mood, the various references to characters and places, etc. Definitely the best part of the novella.

The second part, told in first person through the eyes of Alexis Polux, one of the remaining senior commanders of the vengeance fleet, and the future first Chapter Master of the Crimson Fists, is written well, but it does not match up to the novella’s second half. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the insight into what happens in the Phall system, one of the more defining battles of the Imperial Fists prior to the Siege of Terra (and some might say the only one of note undertaken by the legion), but it was still lacking in a few places. For one, the actual void battle doesn’t happen until much later in the story and that disappointed me somewhat. The cover sets up a really fantastic look into what went on in Phall, but the event itself is rushed through. Its even more disappointing for me as when I had first seen the cover, I had expected this anthology to be anovel about Phall, which I think would have been a bloody fantastic job, but unfortunately not so. Still, this is a pretty good entry into the series, and one of the better ones in fact.

Rating: 9/10

Next we have The Dark King by Graham McNeill. This is one of the older stories in the series, possibly the oldest alongside The Lightning Tower. And it used to be an audio drama too. I found this to be a truly fascinating story because of the fact that this one really gets into the head of Primarch Konrad Curze of the Night Lords legion, one the traitors during the Heresy. It marks that final rift between Dorn and Curze, the one where the latter murderously assaults the latter, and essentially goes renegade, until he marks an appearance at Isstvan as part of the second wave of attackers and betrays the legions of the first wave. This is a story that is all about the relationships between the Primarchs. Curze is confronted by first Dorn’s apparent naivete (in Curze’s eyes) about the goal of the Great Crusade and the legions’ place among it, and then is betrayed by Fulgrim to Dorn where Curze’s prescience is concerned. It is an almost heart-breaking story, almost because even though this is set in the 31st millennium, it echoes the full mood and atmosphere of the relentless 41st millennium where treachery and war are supreme. This also shows off Curze’s other psychic power, the one that grants him power in darkness and over shadows, to use as he sees fit. Ultimately, it is about the dichotomy of the Primarch, his frailty where his prescience is concerned, and his lethality where his physical prowess as a hand-crafted warlord is concerned. Well and truly a Heresy classic story.

Rating: 10/10

Then we have Dan Abnett’s The Lightning Tower, which is quite possibly the best Heresy short story to date, although Matt Farrer’s After Desh’ea, John French’s The Last Remembrancer and Graham McNeill’s The Kaban Project are strong contenders. This is another story that concerns Dorn and is all about him coming to terms with his worst fears about the Heresy. This is a somewhat concurrent story to John French’s Crimson Fist, but more towards the other extreme of the timeline therein. With nothing but Malcador the Sigillite’s counsel at his disposal, the Emperor being busy in his deepest vaults within the Imperial Palace, Dorn is a conflicted man because he cannot grasp what it is that could have turned Horus traitor. And I loved this story start to finish. This is a character study about Dorn, one where we really get to feel and experience what he does, his hopes and dreams and his nightmares. Together with the other two stories so far in the anthology, it forms a trilogy that is bound tightly in its themes and characters. It might as well have been subtexted “Shadows of Treachery” for Dorn has to come to understand and wrestle with that concept where it concerns his traitor brothers

Rating: 10/10
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