Call of Chaos

Black Library Advent Calendar 2015 – Recap

With Christmas over for another year, Black Library’s 2015 Advent Calendar has come to a close in a flurry of bolt shells and Tzeentchian spells. It’s been a little different this year with the combination of Black Library and Warhammer Digital, but as usual I’ve been concentrating on the fiction as opposed to the gaming supplements, and while the standard has been pretty good across the board I’d say that there has been a little bit of a sense of disappointment compared to 2014’s Advent Calendar.

Perhaps the reason for that disappointment is down to the lack of variety – while 2014’s Advent Calendar contained written fiction and audio, 40K and Horus Heresy, and a mixture of different factions and storylines, in 2015 it felt a little more restrictive. Sure there were both 40K and Age of Sigmar stories, but the Call of Chaos theme began to feel a little limited as the days went on, not least because every single Age of Sigmar story was written from a Chaos perspective. Maybe it was just down to my personal preference, but I’ve certainly been a touch underwhelmed by the series as a whole.

That notwithstanding, it’s still largely been an enjoyable month of reading. Here’s the Advent Calendar series in numbers :

  • 24 days of new fiction, with 12 Warhammer 40K stories and 12 Age of Sigmar stories, of which :
    • 9 were micro-short stories priced at £0.99.
    • 14 were longer-length short stories priced at £1.99.
    • 1 was a longer-length short story priced at £2.49.
  • 19 authors contributed 1 or more stories, of which :
    • Graeme Lyon contributed 3 stories.
    • Robbie MacNiven, Guy Haley and Rob Sanders contributed 2 stories each.
    • 15 authors contributed 1 story each.

From a value perspective, if bought individually as they were released these 24 stories would come to a total cost of £39.26 – to be fair that’s not too bad for a month’s worth of reading. However, now that Advent is over, Black Library have provided two ebook collections for anyone wanting to purchase just the 40K stories, or just the Age of Sigmar stories. These are better value still, working out as follows :

  • 40k – £15.99 (saving £1.89, or 10%)
  • AoS – £18.99 (saving £2.39, or 11%)
  • Total – £34.98 (saving £4.28, or just under 11%)

Small margins admittedly, but the bundles work out even better – a little under £35 for 24 short stories is pretty good value all told. Sure, £35 would get you a lot more words/pages/metric of your choice if you spent it on ebook novels, but that’s not really the point – novels are still available if you wish, and it’s up to each reader to determine whether they want to spend their money on short stories. What’s particularly pleasing though is the fact that Black Library are not only offering discounts for buying in bulk but are giving fans the opportunity to tailor what they want to buy, and providing options. It’s good to see them at least making the effort, and hopefully suggests that they’re listening to the fans’ comments.

As with 2014 I’ve already reviewed each of the individual stories, so if you would like to have a look at the reviews you can find them all on my overall 2015 Advent Calendar post. Keeping true to Black Library’s spirit of splitting out 40K and Age of Sigmar, you can alternatively click through to the reviews by following these links, broken out by setting :

Warhammer 40,000

Warhammer Age of Sigmar

If you’ve already read the reviews, or just want more of a subjective opinion, here are my highlights and overall thoughts from the series as a whole :

The Usual Suspects
It’s hardly going to come as a surprise that stories from Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, Aaron Dembski-Bowden and Chris Wraight are some of the standouts across the series, considering the usual standards that those authors tend to write to. In this instance Midnight Rotation by Dan Abnett was probably my personal favourite, with it’s wry narration and man-on-the-ground feel really getting across both the darkness of the 40K setting and Dan’s characteristic take on Imperial Guard stories. Not everyone’s going to be a fan of this type of story, with its focus on the small details as opposed to the grandeur of battle, but if you’re an Abnett fan then this should please.

In terms of the other stories from those authors I felt that Without Fear was a brave and striking choice, allowing Dembski-Bowden free reign to interpret the Ultramarines in his own unique way, and demonstrates just how varied it’s possible to make these stories. Chris Wraight’s Siegemaster was typical of his character-led stories and ability to delve right into what makes each chapter or legion tick, while McNeill’s Staff of Asclepius was just a straight-up fun and satisfying story with a good twist that taps into a great legacy of dark and desperate 40K stories.

New Names
Okay, so technically only one of the Advent Calendar stories was an actual Black Library debut, in the shape of In Wolves’ Clothing by Ian St. Martin, but among the nineteen authors can be found four who are pretty new to the fold, with the addition of Andy Clark, Chris Dows and Robbie MacNiven. It’s obviously nice to see new (or at least newish) names cropping up, and while the results in this series have been a little variable, there’s definitely a sense of potential with these latest additions.

Of particular note has been Robbie MacNiven, whose three stories so far, including his two contributions to the Advent Calendar, have been outstanding. Both A Song for the Lost and Blood and Iron were character-driven, inventive and showed serious promise from such a young author, and I don’t think I’m the only one looking forward to seeing what comes next from him.

A Familiar Face (For Me)
Anyone who attended 2014’s Black Library Weekender probably remembers the handful of super-keen (and well-heeled) fans who forked out for the Gold and Platinum tickets, entitling them to – amongst other things – the chance to be immortalised in a Black Library story. A few character names have jumped out to me over the course of the 2015 Advent Calendar, such as ‘St’phen Tylr’ in Andy Smillie’s Divine Will, and ‘Ghaar’eth’ in Nick Kyme’s The Unending Storm, but without asking the authors directly I can’t be sure whether those are Weekender attendees.

I can however say with some certainty that ‘Lord Antonidas Hajos’ from Ben Counter’s Gift of the Gods was indeed named after a real person, specifically one of my good friends from the London Heretics reading/gaming group. Even if the story had been disappointing it would still have been a thrill to see a friend written into a Black Library story, but I was pleasantly surprised with Lord Hajos of the Dire Claws and his evil plot to find favour in the eyes of the Chaos gods. I suspect this particular champion of Chaos may be finding his way to the gaming table at some point in the future, so kudos for Ben Counter for providing an inspiring character.

Age of Sigmar
So with the focus of the 2015 Advent Calendar being the Call of Chaos, and the Warhammer World having been killed off earlier in the year and replaced by the various realms of Age of Sigmar, it was interesting to see the variety of stories being told. As I said earlier my personal feeling is that it was a bit limiting to keep things focused so tightly on Chaos, and it would have been even more interesting to see the focus widen out even further across all the possibilities of Age of Sigmar, but working with those constraints I’d say the authors have largely done a good job. For what it’s worth, I suspect the stories were restricted in that way simply because Games Workshop haven’t revealed much more of the Age of Sigmar world yet, and are wanting to keep from showing off the other races until more of the game has been released.

Overall, while some of the Age of Sigmar stories felt a bit weak I felt that one thing came across really strongly – just how crazily versatile the new setting is. With the old Warhammer there was only so much that authors could play with without things starting to feel a bit inappropriate for the overall Warhammer vibe, but with all the scope provided by the different realms it’s like they have been given a whole new set of toys to play with. From the gemstone-littered islands of Rob Sanders’ Daemon of the Deep to the self-contained sphere of the Thousand Portals in Gav Thorpe’s Lord of the Cosmic Gate, via flame-wreathed valleys, crystal labyrinths, cities built on light and mountains that move in minutes, there’s a mind boggling array of cool new landscapes in which to set stories in the Age of Sigmar. As yet I’d say the setting doesn’t feel properly bedded in, and lacks a lot of the connection that we as fans have with 40K and perhaps had with the old Warhammer World, but a start has at least been made. Hopefully we’ll see more of the same invention as more and more stories are written and released.

Summary
So, that’s another Advent Calendar read and reviewed. Overall? I’ve had fun, especially with the 40K stories, and despite a few mild disappointments I think it’s been a pretty good set of stories. Obviously I haven’t reviewed any of the gaming supplements, but from a Black Library perspective it’s been an interesting month, all leading up to the release of the latest Horus Heresy book – Pharos by Guy Haley (a review for which will be posted in due course).

Thanks should go once again to all of the authors whose hard work has gone into creating these stories for all of us fans to enjoy. Whether we as readers enjoy a book/story/audio or not, it’s worth remembering that without the authors and the incredible amount of effort they put into their work, we wouldn’t be able to get our fix of grim darkness. And so – to Andy S, Nick, Ian, Rob, Ben, Guy, Christian, Chris W, Josh, Graeme, David A, Robbie, Andy C, Chris D, Dan, David G, Aaron, Graham and Gav…thanks again, and please keep it up!

Here’s to 2016 and another year full of Black Library goodness.

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