Shadows of Treachery: A review

I don’t know how I missed the release of this one (actually I do- it’s the announcement of a special limited edition at around the same time as this was released) but the local GW had it on the shelves on Saturday when my boyfriend and I went to pick up this month’s White Dwarf so we bought it then.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to make of this book, the stories are all very good but I could have told you that about three of them months ago as the book includes three stories that have previously been released as audiobooks: The Dark King, The Lightning Tower and Raven’s Flight. All three are excellent stories and I really enjoyed reading them but I have to admit feeling more than a little bit cheated when I realised that they were re-releases of existing material.

The Crimson Fist by John French is the first story in the anthology and is one of two novellas included. It is the story of the fleet that Rogal Dorn sends to Isstvan and its leader Alexis Polux. The fleet does not reach Isstvan, instead it is trapped in an abandoned star system, Phall, following a Warp storm, the escaping of which destroys a large part of the fleet, leaving the injured Polux the  Master of the Fleet. The marooned Imperial Fists cannot get any message out or receive any in turn.

The story switches between the fleet and interactions between Rogal Dorn and Sigismund back on Terra.

I really, really enjoyed this story. The doubt of Polux is very well written, the arm motif throughout the story is present but not jarring and weaves together Polux’s past and present (and I guess future). Meanwhile the tension that grows between Dorn and Sigismund is believable and understandable and is a microcosm of the general sense of tension and betrayal that the Horus Heresy has brought. The Crimson Fist is an excellent start to the anthology and a brilliant story in its own right.

Despite The Dark King and The Lightning Tower being disappointing in that they were previously available as audiobooks, they are both good stories and I enjoyed reading rather than listening to them. They don’t lose anything from the translation to paper and are gripping reads.

The next story is The Kaban Project by Graham McNeill and it is a prologue of sorts to Mechanicum. It involves some of the same characters and a certain artificial intelligence. It’s an interesting story, nicely written and adds to the lore surrounding the Mechanicum. It reminded me a little of the classic robot stories by Asimov in tone although the conclusion is considerably darker.

This is followed by another former audiobook story, Raven’s Flight by Gav Thorpe. I really like this story as an audiobook and it holds up very well as a printed story. It doesn’t quite fit in with the other stories character wise but tonally it does work well with the other stories in this anthology.

Unfortunately Death of a Silversmith fits in less well. It feels like it would have fitted in better in one of the earlier anthologies, or even as just a stand alone download from Black Library. It’s not a bad story per se, it’s just missing something. As a stand alone story it may have shone, but in this book it just fades away in comparison to the other offerings.

The anthology finishes with another novella, Death of Crows by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. You can pretty much guarantee that any story by Dembski-Bowden will be good and that any Night Lords story will be excellent and this one does not disappoint. The story follows Sevatar, the aforementioned Prince of Crows just after Curze has been wounded, apparently fatally by the Lion.  Dembski-Bowden has made the Night Lords his own and the portrayal of the legion as a band of dysfunctional, antisocial, sociopathic killers is in sharp contrast to portrayals of other legions elsewhere. The only slight niggle with the novella is the Dark Knight like portrayal of Curze. It is inevitable though, given the back story and the similarity is not always unwelcome as it gives an anchoring point when trying to understand the Primarch. I could have happily read a novel length retelling of this story but I also can see that it is the right length as it is so I’m not going to sulk. This novella alone makes Shadows of Treachery worth buying.

In the end, despite my disappointment with the inclusion of three previously published stories (I’m not counting Crimson Fist here as although it was available as an e-book a few weeks back, it’s not been available as easily as the others), I honestly enjoyed this anthology. I feel that Death of a Silversmith really did not fit with the other stories, although it does technically fill the brief as a shadow of treachery. However it isn’t a bad story. What bothered me more was a slight lack of variety in the choice of stories. McNeill wrote three of the stories: The Dark King, The Kaban Project and Death of a Silversmith, and while they were all well written, it may have been nice to have had a story written by somebody else. Black Library has a large pool of really good authors and their anthology collections are a perfect way of showcasing their talents. It’s a pity that Shadows of Treachery does not do this. However nearly all the issues that I have with this collection are editorial, the stories themselves are all very much worth reading and for that reason I can strongly recommend this book.

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