As Black Library’s Horus Heresy series rolls inexorably onwards, reaching thirty novels with the release this year of The Damnation of Pythos, the authors’ output seems matched only by the appetite of the fans for new stories. The latest release in the series is Death and Defiance, a collection of five short stories from Nick Kyme, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Guy Haley, Andy Smillie and James Swallow. It’s a novella-sized collection, of a similar length to Sedition’s Gate, but unlike that and The Imperial Truth, which were limited-edition event-only releases, this is in the same ‘Collector’s Edition’ hardback as the novels are now initially released in.
It’s a good move from Black Library to make this a general release – bear in mind that of the eleven stories from the previous two limited-edition anthologies only two have become available subsequently. Even more so than with those anthologies, the stories here feel as though they are setting events in motion that will be followed up in future Heresy novels; it only seems fair (and indeed sensible from Black Library’s perspective) that as many of the fans as possible get to read these stories before the next books are released. It would perhaps be a spoiler to be specific, but one of the stories included here is in fact not only a foreshadowing of events to come but also a direct follow-up from an earlier Heresy novel.
Each author covers a different legion or force, and while some pick those with which they are most often affiliated, others make interesting choices in who to cover. Aaron Dembski-Bowden looks at how a certain few Space Wolves react to being chosen for a mission lacking in honour, while Guy Haley takes over the reins of the black-humoured Night Lords to introduce some new faces who are sticking their noses into the business of the Ultramarines. For Andy Smillie’s first foray into the Heresy he takes a pugilistic view of a couple of high-ranking Blood Angels, roping in another pair of familiar faces for a sort of Space Marine version of Celebrity Deathmatch. James Swallow takes us into the bowels of the Vengeful Spirit with an assassin planning a risky mission to kill off the Warmaster Horus, and Nick Kyme appears to be in reflective mood as a pair of primarchs have a tête-à-tête over a game of regicide.
Notably lacking in massed battles or void warfare, Death and Defiance nonetheless lacks for nothing in the excitement stakes or in its dramatis personae. Featuring five primarchs, a handful of fan-favourite Space Marines and a brand new drily-melodramatic Night Lord, there’s plenty to keep the action-hungry fan happy, including a truly brutal fight scene courtesy of Andy Smillie. Not only that, but there are some nice juicy insights into the thoughts and mental states of various characters at different stages of the Heresy, not to mention a real “ooh, but that means…” moment. It’s a fine addition to the series and well worth a read.