The Warhammer 40,000 Legends collection from Hachette and Black Library has officially launched, and I’ve got my hands on Issue One to take a close look at, featuring fan favourite The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Before we take a look at the book itself though, let’s take a step back and talk about the collection as a whole…
Back in April 2016 a photograph started circulating online of a new Warhammer 40,000 partwork series, and much internet enthusiasm ensued. To cut a long story short that turned out to be from an early test run of the Warhammer 40,000 Legends collection, which caused some consternation among the online fan community, but fast forward to September and the collection is now up and running properly – hurrah! You might have one question at this point, however…
What is a partwork?
Good question. First of all let’s do what all sensible people do in this situation – let’s ask our friend Google:
There you have it – that’s a nice clear definition. If you’re still not 100%, how about this – do you remember those adverts on TV for a magazine collection where over a period of weeks and months you collect enough small pieces of plastic to make a whole dinosaur skeleton, or an exact replica of a nineteen-something vintage car? That’s a partwork.
In this case however, instead of collecting pieces of a model you can collect books! Warhammer 40,000 (and Horus Heresy) books, to be precise – 80 of them, to be released fortnightly.
Sounds good, tell me more…
I thought you’d never ask. With Warhammer 40,000 Legends you can build up a collection of 80 hardback novels from Black Library’s back catalogue of 40k and Horus Heresy books, each of which comes with a teeny bit of a massive great piece of artwork on its spine. Line them all up on a bookshelf and you’ll get the full picture – according to Hachette, this is *brand new* artwork, which is pretty cool. That being said, you’re going to need a big bookshelf – at a rough estimate I reckon you’ll need something in the region of a 3m-long shelf to be able to hold them all in a line!
It’s worth pointing out here that although these are Black Library novels, they’re being distributed independently by Hachette. That means you won’t find them (in this format, anyway) on the Black Library website or in Games Workshop stores, but rather in newsagents alongside the magazines. Alternatively you can head over to http://www.warhammer40klegends.com to subscribe to the whole collection, or (until Tuesday 20th September) head over to this awesome competition to win yourself a subscription!
How much is this going to cost me?
That’s another good question. Partworks are renowned for being quite pricey, often with an ‘introductory offer’ price for the first issue or two before the full price kicks in. In terms of the intro price this is no difference, the first issue coming in at a mere £1.99 before rising to £9.99 for subsequent issues. That means if you stick with the full collection and get all 80 books it’s going to cost you a little under £800…which is a pretty big number!
However…don’t forget we’re talking hardback books here and not pieces of a plastic dinosaur, and your average hardback tends to retail for somewhere in the region of £20 if bought from a bricks and mortar bookshop. Even from Amazon you’re unlikely to get a standard size hardback for less than a tenner, so £9.99 is looking like a pretty good price per book.
Ok, so what’s the quality like?
Now you’re asking the right questions! I’m pleased to say the answer is…pretty damn good! Issue One comes with a thin A4 booklet containing information about the collection which folds out to form a nice poster showing Ultramarines facing up against dark eldar – it looks like a Hardy Fowler piece, in keeping with his lovely new covers for the Uriel Ventris series. It’s a nice little extra, but judging by other partworks I suspect subsequent issues will just contain the novel. Speaking of which…
It’s really rather nice, a large hardback format that’s a little taller than the Horus Heresy hardbacks and noticeably bigger than the Black Library standard used for things like the Legends of the Dark Millennium series or the Age of Sigmar books. In fact it measures up nicely with the average hardback size for normal fiction books, which is presumably the bookselling industry’s standard. It’s got a nice hefty feel to it, and a smooth finish that’s heavy on the black with highlights picked out in silver. The cover is a moody black and white version of the original Neil Roberts artwork contrasted with a with pulpy but quite cool blood splatter, while the back cover contains the exact same blurb as the original.
Opening it up there’s a simple but attractive set of endpapers showing a sort of abstract star chart, followed by a Collection Curator’s Introduction which talks a little about the book and what its themes are. Occupying the middle (ish) of the book is quite a chunky colour section which includes a full-colour version of the original cover art, a 40k timeline, a little text talking about the warp and then a range of artwork including a couple of lovely Forge World colour scheme images. This ‘bonus material’ doesn’t set the world on fire, but it’s a nice touch.
The paper that the book is printed on is smooth and clean, a little thinner and lighter than what Black Library normally use but still of a perfectly good quality. It uses a different typeface to Black Library as well, so there’s a subtly different feel to reading this – the paper, typeface and book size combine to make an enjoyable experience, just slightly different. The only weird thing is the sixteen or so extra blank pages at the end, which don’t really intrude but just seem a bit strange really.
Why is this the first book?
If you sat twenty Black Library fans down in a room and asked each of them to pick the best book to open a 40k collection with, I fully expect you’d get twenty different answers. Would The First Heretic have been my choice? Probably not. Thinking about it however, it’s actually quite a good call despite being a) a Horus Heresy novel and b) the fourteenth book in that series. After all [SPOILER ALERT] this is a book which opens 40+ years before the start of the Heresy and also takes us right back (albeit briefly) to one of the most important events in the history of the Imperium. As the introduction says, it’s “a book about beginnings and change.” It’s certainly a brave choice, in that it might not be the easiest place for a new reader to start, but then Aaron Dembski-Bowden is one of the most beloved Black Library authors, so it certainly isn’t the riskiest of choices.
Last question. Should I buy it?
Honestly…yes. At £1.99 it’s an absolute steal, especially for such a good book as The First Heretic! Assuming the rest of the collection continues to this standard, I wouldn’t have any hesitation recommending it for £9.99 either – bear in mind that hardback editions of Black Library books generally retail at either £15 or £20. I know the final figure of £800 seems a lot, but that’s for 80 books – if you went to Waterstones right now and bought 80 full price paperbacks it would set you back something in the region of £700, so in my mind this collection is pretty damn good value.
I’ve not talked about the actual story of The First Heretic here, as I wanted to concentrate on the standard of the production above all else. I’m sure I’ll get round to re-reading this and posting a review at some point (unsurprisingly I’m very tempted even now…), but for the time being if you haven’t already ready this (which you should do, it’s wonderful) then you can get a good idea of things from its Goodreads listing. An average rating of 4.2 from almost 2.4k ratings is a good indicator, I’d say!
If you’ve got this far and haven’t yet entered the #my40klegend competition, you can do so by having a look at this page. Keep an eye on the blog for more information about the Warhammer 40,000 Legends collection as a whole, as well as a look at Issue Two in the upcoming weeks.