Wednesday, 9 June 2010
‘Legends of the Space Marines’ – Edited by Christian Dunn (Black Library)
Regular visitors to the blog will know that I’ve got a real thing for Black Library books at the moment and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. They’re all a lot of fun to read and fun is what I’m after when I’m stuck on the tube of a morning :o) Regular visitors to the blog will also know though that I’m not too keen on the way that the genetically engineered Space Marines are treated in these books. Nine foot tall, covered in power armour and packing enough fire power to make even the nastiest alien think twice. There doesn’t seem to be anything that can stop them and that doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying story at times. I mean, where’s the suspense? You can imagine how I felt then when I was confronted with a whole book full of short stories dealing with the adventures of humanity’s finest. You could probably even take a guess at how I felt when I put the book down…
The funny thing is though, you’d only be half right. It turns out that not only do Space Marines sometimes fail in the face of the opposition but sometimes they can even be hamstrung by their own traitorous kind (or themselves)... A ‘Legend’ doesn’t necessarily mean good things in this case; you can easily be remembered for all the wrong things. All of a sudden this was more the sort of thing that I was after. Obstacles that actually mean something when they are faced down, that’s what keeps me interested and wanting to read more. All of the authors on display do a fine job of showing us what’s at stake on the battlefields of the 41st millennium and the resolve of the Marines who are the Imperium’s best defence against the encroaching darkness. They also all get it spot on in capturing the ‘Gothic’ feel of the Warhammer 40K universe, you know what you’re reading here!
That’s not to say that this is a perfect read though; there are some blistering highs but I also found that there were certain stories that fell short of the others for one reason or another. As a result, the collection as a whole lacked the cohesiveness that would have made it a truly excellent read. Don’t let that put you off too much though. On the whole, ‘Legends of the Space Marines’ is an entertaining read full of bite sized chunks of warfare in the far future.
The contents were as follows…
‘Hell Night’ – Nick Kyme
Sometimes you’re all geared up to deal with a certain kind of enemy and you just can’t get your head around the fact that it might be something else entirely… Nicky Kyme kicks things off with a bang with his tale of the Salamanders Chapter and their intervention in the Vaporis campaign. Kyme cleverly leads you to certain conclusions and then sweeps them away, introducing a revelation that paints everything in a new light. If that wasn’t enough, I got to meet old friends from that particular company of Space Marines. An engaging read that had me looking forward to the rest of the book.
‘Cover of Darkness’ – Mitchel Scanlon
‘Cover of Darkness’ was a little more straightforward in it’s approach with the White Scars Chapter engaged on a mission and another mission that only one of their number knows about… The stand up fights are suitably spectacular but I was looking for something with a few more twists to it and this wasn’t it. ‘Cover of Darkness’ was entertaining but not much else.
‘The Relic’ – Jonathan Green
The Armageddon Campaign has many tales and Green’s tale of a Dreadnought taking on an Ork Horde sounded like it could be a lot of fun. It was a shame then that Green let things run away with him, miring the story in an excess of descriptive prose when things really needed to be a lot sharper to do the story justice. Read Green’s ‘Ulysses Quicksilver’ books if you want to see him on top of his game.
‘Twelve Wolves’ – Ben Counter
Counter’s tale stands out from the rest in that it is an established legend rather than the tale of a legend about to be born. It also shows how the Space Marines (in this case, the Space Wolves) all have an Achilles Heel that they must be on guard against, just the kind of thing I wanted to read about. ‘Twelve Wolves’ enjoyed a nice, crisp delivery and a pivotal moment where the teacher is taught a lesson by his student. Brilliant.
‘The Returned’ – James Swallow
Once I stopped laughing at the name ‘Doom Eagles’ (I mean, who thinks of some of these names…?), ‘The Returned’ was a surprisingly poignant tale of a returned Marine’s struggle to be accepted by the Chapter that thought him dead. Legends are born but sometimes no-one wants them to be… Swallow writes a harrowing tale that contrasts violently with Tarikus’ steadfast wish to simply be allowed to fight alongside his brothers. One of the highlights of the book.
‘Consequences’ – Graham McNeill
It only seems like yesterday that I was bemoaning the lack of character detail for the Ultramarine Uriel Ventris. In one of those moments of random chance, Graham McNeill handily filled in some of the background for me! I really got a feel for Ventris and the events that led to his trial; you could really feel the gravity of that particular event in the story… ‘Consequences’ is more about the birth of a legend than the legend itself. I’m glad I took the time to give this one a go.
‘The Last Detail’ – Paul Kearney
The only work I’ve read of Paul Kearney’s is ‘The Ten Thousand’ and I really need to read more if ‘The Last Detail’ is anything to go by. His language may be brutal and to the point but Kearney shows his readers, in great detail, just how the sparks of legend are born. By the end, the main character wants to become a Space Marine and you can kind of see where he’s coming from…. Like I said, I need to read more by Paul Kearney and if you haven’t then you need to as well.
‘The Trial of the Mantis Warriors’ – CS Goto
The story of Chapter Master Neotera’s trial is one that demands a level of background knowledge, of the Warhammer 40K universe, greater than that of the casual reader. My WH40K trivia knowledge is minimal and as a result I became totally lost in the shifting politics of mutiny. By the time I’d worked out what was going on the story had ended and I didn’t have the energy to go back and give it another go. Possibly a great story for the long term fan and Goto certainly handled his characters very well. Not one for the likes of me though…
‘Orphans of the Kraken’ – Richard Williams
I liked what Williams set out to do here, a Marine Chapter dying on it’s feet has to decide whether to perpetuate it’s existence or go out in a blaze of glory… Given the ultimate decision it’s a shame then that the story dragged and the pace came nowhere near to matching to ambitions of its principal characters. I wonder if this would have worked better as a full length novel where there would have been more time to explore certain themes at a more appropriate length (instead of having to jam everything in to a few pages)…
‘At Gaius Point’ – Aaron Dembski Bowden
‘Legends’ not only kicks things off in style but signs off with a bang as well. Dembski-Bowden’s tale of a hunt across the battlefields of Armageddon feels rushed at times but he really captures what’s going on for his characters and shows us that Space Marines can be legendary for all the wrong reasons. Despite this, you can’t help feeling for Zavien and how his story ends (even if that’s how it has to end)…
Eight and a Quarter out of Ten