Part of Black Library’s Space Marine Battles series, Architect of Fate is made up of novellas from Sarah Cawkwell, Darius Hinks, Ben Counter and John French featuring various Space Marine chapters and members of the Inquisition battling against daemonic plots and manipulations on the fringes of the Eye of Terror. Four quite different stories told in each author’s distinct style, they nevertheless fit together nicely with common themes, the occasional bit of connective tissue, and a consistent tone.
Different though they may be, three out of the four novellas heavily feature timey-wimey complexities that reward patience and trust in the author, while the fourth – Ben Counter’s Endeavour of Will – still deals in themes of fate and determinism despite a more straightforward style. Two of them, Sarah Cawkwell’s Accursed Eternity and John French’s Fateweaver, come at a shared concept from different angles; in Accursed Eternity a mixed group of Star Dragons and Blood Swords join an inquisitor in an attempt to banish the entity at the heart of a bizarre daemon ship, while in Fateweaver a White Consuls Librarian leads his brothers in the defence of an Imperial outpost after receiving a mysterious astropathic signal. Both are enjoyably complex, quickly and effectively introducing characters from unfamiliar chapters before putting them through hell.
Hinks’ Sanctus also plays with concepts of time, as a squad of Relictors battle Black Legion and strange, twisted priests in a desperate search for knowledge and power before the world they’re on is subjected to Exterminatus by the Inquisition. There’s not too much detail about the Relictors’ background but the few snippets hint at interesting ideas, while Hinks builds tension by rapidly switching between the events on the surface and the power struggle between the inquisitor and his dangerous allies in orbit. In contrast, Counter’s Endeavour of Will feels like a simpler story with fewer twists and turns than the rest, with Captain Lysander of the Imperial Fists leading the defence of an Imperial star fort against an infamous Iron Warriors Warsmith. It’s classic Counter with all-action Lysander, an ever-so-slightly underdeveloped Warsmith Shon’tu and some massive, over the top goings on, but not only is it great fun, beneath the bluster there’s still a bleak undercurrent of manipulation and a question mark around Lysander and his actions.
Each of these novellas would have made excellent full-length novels had they been extended and developed (although Counter did sort of do so with the so-so Malodrax), with really strong core stories that are powerfully delivered here, but arguably might have been even better if allowed to breathe. That notwithstanding, they’re all brilliantly (and, arguably, unexpectedly considering the series) creepy, from Counter’s bonkers daemonic manifestations and Hinks’ desperate, rage-filled Relictors to the atmospheric, horror-tinged plotting of Cawkwell’s and French’s stories. There are no happy endings here, either – it’s all very bleak stuff. Despite the cover, don’t expect Kairos Fateweaver to be the out-and-out antagonist, and likewise don’t expect every question to be answered by the end. This is a complex and tricksy book, the four novellas coming together into a varied but enjoyably consistent book. It’s not the usual Space Marine Battles fare, but if you prefer your battles leavened with clever plotting and twisty Tzeentchian darkness then you’ll enjoy this.