Collecting together stories about the boys in blue from five different authors, Legends of the Dark Millennium: Ultramarines features two novellas, prose versions of two audio dramas, and five further short stories. The emphasis is on named characters, with such Ultramarines luminaries as Marneus Calgar, Chaplain Cassius, Cato Sicarius, Torias Telion and Varro Tigurius shared out across four stories by Graham McNeill, two by Nick Kyme, and one each from Steve Lyons, Josh Reynolds and Gav Thorpe. Lyons’ novella Knight of Talassar is exclusive to this collection, while the remaining stories are available elsewhere as well.
Of the featured characters Sicarius gets the most attention, beginning with Kyme’s Veil of Darkness, which – along with Master of the Watch – follows on from his novel The Fall of Damnos. It’s typical Kyme stuff, heavily focused on the psychological effects of what happened on Damnos and emphasising Sicarius’ headstrong, reckless nature. McNeill’s Two Kinds of Fool shows a slightly different side to Sicarius with an enjoyable Space Hulk boarding action, while Lyons’ Knight of Talassar feels like the odd one out in the collection. Featuring a younger Sicarius, it not only includes non-Ultramarines viewpoints in the grim shape of the Death Korps of Krieg, but it feels much more interesting and effective when dealing with the Guardsmen than the Marines. It’s the least successful depiction of the Ultramarines, but worth reading just for Lyons’ Death Korps.
Gav’s novella Catechism of Hate delves into Cassius’ rage-fuelled method of waging war, pitting him and his brothers against the implacable tyranids; it’s heavy on the action but there’s plenty of insight into Cassius and his approach as well. Josh Reynolds tackles Tigurius in Shadow of the Leviathan, a tie-in to the Shield of Baal arc, a short but satisfying story dealing with the dangers of overconfidence in the face of the Hive Fleets, while Calgar gets a quick run-out alongside Tigurius in McNeill’s dialogue-heavy micro short Lord of Ultramar. That leaves Telion, whose two similarly named stories (both by McNeill – Eye of Vengeance and Torias Telion: The Eye of Vengeance – weird, right?) see him battling against the Bloodborn in tales linked to the Uriel Ventris series. Telion is an instantly entertaining character, suitably heroic and nicely written by McNeill, and provides perhaps the most immediately compelling stories.
While a couple of the Legends of the Dark Millennium books are novels, most – like this – are anthologies which aim to tell a range of stories about a single faction. To that end, bringing together stories about these characters – Chapter Master, Captain, Chaplain, Chief Librarian, Scout Sergeant – is a sensible idea, as they nicely cover various ways the chapter goes to war. There’s a good variety of writing styles too, each story representative of its author’s style – Kyme’s slightly feverish psychological studies, McNeill’s heroic storytelling, Gav’s character exploration, Lyons’ impressive grasp of the Death Korps (sadly, not so impressive handling of the Ultramarines), and Reynolds’ deceptively subtle characterisation. They’re not going to change anyone’s opinions on these authors, but there should be something here for everyone.