Of all the ‘exclusive’ products Black Library have released, perhaps the one most likely to rouse the anger of fans is Meduson – a venue-specific Horus Heresy anthology that can only be purchased in person from Games Workshop’s headquarters in Nottingham. Released to celebrate the re-opening of Warhammer World and the dedicated Black Library shop within, it’s a move designed to draw out the diehard fans and encourage visitors, but is bound to annoy those fans not willing or able to make it to Nottingham. Exclusivity aside, any new Heresy release is always going to be of great interest to fans of the series, and this is no exception. With a selection of brand new stories from some of Black Library’s most respected authors, this review is a little longer than usual in order to give as clear a picture as possible of the anthology.
A 270-page hardback anthology featuring stories from eight authors, Meduson is more obviously themed than most recent anthologies (such as Legacies of Betrayal or Blades of the Traitor), focusing solely on the Shattered Legions fighting back in the wake of the Dropsite Massacre. It looks primarily at the Iron Hands, under the leadership of Shadrak Meduson, but also features Marines from other legions, both loyal and traitor, with a range of new characters complementing a few familiar faces. This isn’t the first we’ve seen of the Shattered Legions, having been covered in various short stories and novellas, as well as David Annandale’s The Damnation of Pythos, but what this does is put their actions into context, going into a bit more detail on what their resistance means to the both sides, and what impact they are having on the wider war.
The pacing and sequencing of an anthology is often the key to its success, and Meduson is for the most part an absolute success. It’s bookended by stories from Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill, between them setting out a rivalry and a conflict that really brings the Shattered Legions story arc into focus, providing the stories in between with a greater power for having much more riding on them. Dan Abnett’s story, simply titled Meduson, introduces the man himself in the immediate aftermath of Isstvan, as the Iron Hands attempt to reorganise and get back in the fight. A typical Abnett character piece, it’s a fascinating look at the stresses placed upon the legion, and the way in which Meduson starts to temper his legion’s rigidity, with Meduson coming across as driven and insightful, his reluctance to lead being the very thing that makes him suitable to do so.
With the scene set, the following stories provide detail on the various elements of the careful, complex battle that Meduson and the Shattered Legions are fighting, before Graham McNeill’s story The Either switches things around and shows the conflict from the perspective of the Sons of Horus. We see through the eyes of Tybalt Marr, a character introduced early on in the series and now returning to the forefront of the story, who gives us the chance to see how the traitors view the effects of Meduson’s guerilla tactics. Intent on the destruction of the few loyalists remaining after Isstvan, he sees the threat posed by Meduson but has to battle his own legion’s arrogance in order to demonstrate just how important it is to finally deal with the Shattered Legions. With Meduson and Marr leading the two forces, this particular arc is left poised and balanced, begging for more to be written.
Overall the standard of stories here is excellent, the seven stories in between those two bookends looking at a diverse range of characters and events. Guy Haley’s pair of interlinked tales (Unforged and Unspoken) explore how it wasn’t just the Iron Hands who were damaged emotionally and psychologically by Isstvan, but the Salamanders too, a brace of genuinely dark stories matched only in tone by John French’s The Keys of Hel. A continuation of his previous story Riven, it looks at the brooding, fatalistic side of the Iron Hands’ psyches and the damage done to them by the death of Ferrus Manus, driving them down a path from which they will never really recover.
David Annandale’s The Noose sees the Iron Hands and Emperor’s Children engaged in a cat and mouse game of traps and bluffs, the blunt and unsubtle Iron Hands apparently forced into increasingly desperate measures to try and survive against their arrogant, decadent foes. Stories from Chris Wraight (Grey Talon) and Gav Thorpe (Deeds Endure) both deal with the ways in which the Shattered Legions are having to adapt in order to survive, their individual natures not always making for an easy balance, but proving effective when their relative strengths are combined to best effect. The only blip comes in Nick Kyme’s story (Immortal Duty), a twisted tale that emphatically portrays the confusion and brutality of the battle above Isstvan while the massacre was taking place, but twists a bit too far and never really explains itself, the purpose of the story remaining unclear. It offers an interesting look into the workings and mindset of the Iron Hands, but feels unfinished and unresolved.
What Meduson offers then is a focused, themed anthology packed with all the usual action that you might expect but also a real sense of scale and importance, pulling the narrative of the Heresy back to take a longer look at a really interesting period in the series’ timeline. It does feel like it should have come earlier though – we’ve got so far past Isstvan in the main series that it feels odd to be looking so far back, so much later. It can be hard to remember who the existing characters are and what they’ve been through, and it’s hard not to think that this anthology should have come out a year or two back for it to have made the most sense. That being said, on its own merits this is a top quality release that fans of the series should find rewarding and worthwhile – it’s just a shame that it’s currently limited to only a small audience.