It was the short stories in 'White Dwarf' magazine that really got me into the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 settings. By the way, when I say short I mean it; some of those tales might only be a couple of paragraphs long and could probably be better described as 'passages'. What I loved was the way that these passages were all windows looking out on a particularly bloody moment in time (I was that kind of teenager...) that begged to be explored further. And I did, and here I am now.
Black Library's 'e-shorts' series is like an opportunity to step back in time then, for me, and there's nothing I like more than getting all nostalgic these days. When I was offered the chance to read/review a few of these I was eager to get going.
A warning note for newcomers to Black Library e-reading. The three stories I read all made for nice little bite sized chunks of Warhammer 40k reading; they were just the right size for 'phone reading' and are a great way to check out an author before you buy more of their books. Having said that, 'The Carrion Anthem' can be found in the 'Treacheries of the Space Marines' anthology whilst I think 'Hunted' and 'The Strange Demise of Titus Endor' can be found in the 'Hammer and Bolter' collections. Basically, do yourself a favour and make sure you're not buying the same story twice (unless you want to of course).
But onto the stories themselves...
‘Hunted’ – John French.
‘Hunted’ is a difficult tale to talk about at length, not only because it is so short but also because it is so good at what is does; getting to the point really quickly and delivering two killer twists that totally threw me. Thaddeus’ journey back across enemy lines is full of an urgent energy that makes the plot speed along quickly, likewise Tarl’s mission to find and extract Thaddeus. What happens when these two men meet takes ‘Hunted’ to another level entirely and will have me keeping an eye out for more of John French in the future.
‘The Carrion Anthem’ – David Annandale.
I spent most of ‘The Carrion Anthem’ thinking that I was sure I had read it somewhere before. It turned out that I had (see above) but I was still happy to read it again. ‘The Carrion Anthem’ (where a new kind of chaotic plague strikes the Imperial World of Ligeta) is a lot more straightforward than ‘Hunted’. There were no real twists at all here but what you do get is a sense of horror that grows as Corvus realises the true extent of what he has to face. It’s all topped off with a battle between beleaguered Imperial Forces and Traitor Marines that sums up life in the forty first millennium. Brave men go out shooting but, in the end, it makes no different at all.
This tale of Inquisitor Titus Endor’s last days is one that grows on you slowly; almost too slowly for me. I also had to try and remember who Titus actually was before I could get the most out of this one. As I read on though, the questions that Abnett poses to his reader suddenly cast the tale in a whole new light and made it essential reading. Is Titus Endor a washed up ex-Inquisitor slowly drinking himself to death? Is Titus in the final throes of a cruel dementia or is he about to uncover a plot that is truly horrific? The only certainty is in the title and ‘The Strange Demise of Titus Endor’ is a tale that still has me pondering even as I’m writing this. It’s my pick of the bunch and, at only £1.50, more than worth picking up if you don’t have it already.