Age of Darkness – Christian Dunn

Title: Age of Darkness
Author: Various Authors/Short Story Anthology
Published byBlack Library
Publication date: 16th April 2011
Genre: Science Fiction/War
Pages: 426
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal Collection

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Blurb/Synopsis

After the betrayal at Isstvan, Horus begins his campaign against the Emperor, a galaxy-wide war that can lead only to Terra. But the road to the final confrontation between father and son is a long one – seven years filled with secrecy and silence, plans and foundations being formed across distant stars. 

An unknown history is about to be unveiled as light is shed on the darkest years of the Horus Heresy, and revelations will surface that will shake the Imperium to its very foundation…. 

Review

Age of Darkness is the 16th book in the Horus Heresy and the 2nd short story anthology. Sadly, my review of Tales of Heresy seems to have vanished into the unknown, but this review of Age of Darkness will follow a similar format. I’d very much like to thank Dave over at Wordaholic Anonymous for holding my hand and getting me through this book. Not that it’s a bad collection of stories, I just took my sweet time getting through them.


‘Rules of Engagement’ by Graham McNeill 

A highly entertaining read about the Ultramarines trying out new means of tactical warfare. Very ambiguous to the who is who element that leaves the reader guessing all the way to the end of the short story. It’s an absolutely cracking, action-packed first story in the anthology and sets the tone for the rest of the book. Rules of Engagement is somewhat standard affair when it comes to Warhammer novels in terms of action,, but it’s a great rendition of it with some rather quirky characters to meet along the way. The final part of the story is wonderful to read.

I did find the placement of this story somewhat confusing as it mentions that Calth has fallen – which I am assuming is a pretty big event in the Horus Heresy – yet that hasn’t happened in the ‘main storyline’ books yet. So, for those going into the Horus Heresy blind, there’s pretty big spoilers for events to come. The threat of this event is mentioned in Battle for the Abyss, but nothing near being resolved – which I believe happens later on in the series.

‘Liar’s Due’ by James Swallow 

Liars Due sees life on the extreme fringes of the Imperium. How they function away from the eyes of the Emperor, his Sons and the Heresy as a whole. It illustrates the importance of such worlds and the roles that they, and their citizens, play throughout the Imperium. I was most impressed with the humanity within this book and how easily they can be subverted. Their lives are tools to be used by certain factions of the Imperium and/or Horus to suit their needs and Liar’s Due shows this with expertise.

There is an overwhelming sense of paranoia that increased throughout this book and the grinding crescendo of tension is masterfully written, it helps to drive the story onwards with clear, up-beat pacing.

‘Forgotten Sons’ by Nick Kyme 

Salamander Heka’tan and Ultramarine Arcadese are broken relics of their respective Legions and as such are given the back-water jobs unsuitable to anyone else. They’re sent on a political mission, investigating the desertion of previously compliant world that Horus has sent an envoy to try and tempt the world to his cause instead.

Although I am uncertain of the Space Marines overall sense of purpose in this short story, I did find the prospects of them fascinating. Do Space Marines ever truly get broken to the point that they no longer fit into their Legions? If Forgotten Sons is to be believed, then the answer is yes. The lead characters in this story are what makes it so enjoyable. There is a weakness to them that puts them back on par with being human. An interesting concept for those that are deemed trans-human.

The story itself is enjoyable for it’s political ramifications as much as its action and one of my personal highlights in the book.

‘The Last Remembrancer’ by John French 

This is a pretty special little short story as it brings us back to Iacton Qruze of the Luna Wolves, who we’d met much earlier in the Horus Heresy. Also introducing the Rembrancer Solomon Voss and the role that he had played during the Heresy’s early days. As the title suggests, Voss is the last surviving Remembrancer and his words carry a weight that no longer fit the damaged Imperiums purposes. Therefore it is up to Imperial First Primarch Rogal Dorn and Iacton Qruze to decide what to do with his ‘confession.’

I’m a fan of these sorts of stories within the Warhammer setting as I believe they bring a bit more to the table than ‘gun goes bang.’

I felt like this story, closed a few doors and answered some of the lingering questions that have been left at the back of my mind.

Also, reading a bit more about Dorn was a bit of a treat.

‘Rebirth’ by Chris Wraight 

I have very little recollection of the intricacies of this story. It featured Thousand Sons and ties into A Thousand Sons and Prospero Burns though.

‘The Face of Treachery’ by Gav Thorpe 

This is a very short story, even for a collection of short story. I feel similar to the previous story, it didn’t really stand out. There was nothing wrong with the story per-say, it just didn’t have that ‘wow’ factor in it like other stories in the book does.

There’s a nice little twist towards the end of the story that made me smile and the tension between ship crews is pretty neat, but that’s about it.

‘Little Horus’ by Dan Abnett 

Much like The Last Remembrancer it was great to go back and revisit characters that were introduced earlier in the series. Horus Aximand, being a pretty central character in the first three novels in the series that dropped off the radar as the series branched out. How Little Horus has been shaped since the Heresy is a real treat to read; in this story he is looking for replacements to fill the holes in the Mournival – while doing other suitably Space Marine-y things. It’s a great short story that reminded me of the quality of the characters in the original trilogy, something that has felt in rather short supply, beyond the Primarchs, in some of the other larger stories.

While the story features Little Horus, there’s something about his character that doesn’t quite seem to be the Horus we once knew. There’s a lot of references about what happened to his face that makes him diminished in himself somehow.

‘The Iron Within’ by Rob Sanders

Sadly, I really struggled with this story. I found the writing style really bloated, the over use of words where one would have worked was challenging. It’s a shame, because it had a really great plot concept; the last loyal Iron Warriors against a swarm of their brethren set throughout the key-positioned stronghold.

As with a lot of the Legions throughout the Horus Heresy series, the Iron Warriors have their own unique flavour. Seeing as this is the first time we see the Legion in action, it would have been great to have some sort of context for the various labels for each individual’s rank within the Legion. Much like the Dramatis Personae that’s at the front of each of the longer Horus Heresy books.

Maybe I am just being a bit salty as I really wanted to like this story but the combination of bloating writing style and confusion of characters titles just left little for me to truly enjoy.

‘Savage Weapons’ by Aaron Dembski-Bowden 

Savage Weapons is an absolute belter of a story. It’s the story that makes Age of Darkness worth it! It details the cat and mouse chase between Lion El’Jonson and Konrad Curze and ends up with their inevitable vicious outcome.

This is such a gritty, visceral story. It’s barbaric and brutal and so very enjoyable!

The fight-scene between brother Primarchs feels so raw and the emotion conveys between the two is glorious.

It’s an absolutely stellar short story that I recommend reading for the context it brings to the Massacre of Istvaan and the relevance to the Horus Heresy as we know it so far.


Age of Darkness was a decent enough collection of short stories, each adding their own flavour to the Horus Heresy.

The general consensus between Dave and I was that the stories all felt a little out of place. Right from the first few pages there’s a general confusion as to where some of these stories come in the overall time-line of the heresy. Some things mentioned within the short stories haven’t happened within the main story arc and this led to both confusion and frustration. Sadly, it’s all a little disjointed and there’s not a common thread throughout the stories to help the reader make sense of what is what, but each of the stories themselves are generally enjoyable, with some real stars in the collection; Savage Weapons and Forgotten Sons being my personal highlights.

The Heresy now feels a lot larger and known by the Imperium as a whole. Horus is most definitely painted as the ‘Big Bad’ of the whole thing and even in the worlds where the Heresy is lesser known, this is the general opinion. This feels a bit of a rapid jump compared to the previous book in the series; Prospero Burns, where everything was still building up to the events on Isstvan, it took a bit of getting used to and I am somewhat eager to know if this jump in time translates to the next book in the Horus Heresy series; The Outcast Dead, which Dave and I shall be tackling in due time.

Summary

A bit like the rest of the Horus Heresy series, Age of Darkness is a bit hit and miss with the stories in it and some are going to resonate with different readers depending on their preferences towards different Legions/Chapters. Overall, not a bad collection of short stories, but not a book I could easily recommend as, for me, there was a bit more miss than hit.