While Black Library’s raison d’être has always been to provide tie-in fiction to expand upon the worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40k, some books tie in closer than others with new Games Workshop releases. One of those is Assassinorum – Execution Force, a novella by Joe Parrino which accompanies the new board game of the same name. It follows the progress of a team of Imperial Assassins, dispatched in a rare show of force and cooperation to stop a sorcerer of the Crimson Slaughter from enacting a ritual that could spell doom for the Imperium.
The words ‘tie-in fiction’ are heavily loaded, and often associated with by-numbers novelisations of big budget films, which retell the same story but largely without any of the character or flair of the film itself. Thankfully, Execution Force is very much an expansion of the story provided in the game, and Parrino focuses on developing the characters of the different assassins as opposed to just walking us through the basics of the story. With multiple strong personalities having to work together to achieve a shared goal, we get to see the cracks that naturally appear, and watch as the assassins fight to adapt to working together despite their differences.
It’s a pretty simple story really – bad guy enacts sinister plot, good guys team up to stop him, lots of fighting ensues. It’s a 40k book so there’s obviously going to be plenty of action, which is vividly drawn and suitably violent, but Parrino breathes life into not just the different assassins (the Eversor’s constant fight to retain a little of his own identity, the Vindicare’s feverish grip on his faith) but also Severin Drask, the Chaos sorcerer protagonist, who comes across as impressively disturbed and with a colossal chip on his shoulder. It’s paced well, with plenty of time for the characters to develop in the calm moments before all hell breaks loose, and a couple of little twists that add some variety to what might otherwise have been a little too straightforward.
There’s nothing ground breaking here, and the novella length means that there’s only so far that Parrino can take things, but it’s inventive and clever enough to be a really good fun, atmospheric and evocative story. It’s not without its flaws – an odd subplot involving two of the assassins’ murky history never really gels properly, for instance – but largely it’s another example of the promise shown by Joe Parrino, and ticks all of the boxes for a 40k story. Well worth a read.