Tuesday, 8 May 2012

‘Architect of Fate’ – Edited by Christian Dunn (Black Library)

The Warhammer 40K game is all about pitched battles (what with it being a dark time for humanity and all…) so it makes sense not only that the tie-in fiction will follow the same lines, in general, but that there will be a ‘sub-series’ focussing solely on recounting certain ‘famous’ battles from the setting.
It makes sense, to work along those lines, then but I’d argue that perhaps it hasn’t worked out all that well in terms of the end product. All the best Black Library writers (Dembski-Bowden, Wraight, Abnett and so on) are successful because they know that a story about warfare isn’t just about the act of blowing things up; there’s important stuff like plot and characterisation to take into account as well. The ‘Space Marines Battles’ novels tend to focus on just the combat and as a rule (with some notable exceptions) have felt a little flat because of this. After all, there’s only so much you can do with the recounting of a battle isn’t there?

It made for a bit of a refreshing change then to see that the latest ‘Space Marine Battles’ novel took things in a slightly different direction with the usual ‘one big scrap’ being replaced with four slightly smaller ones written by four different authors, all under the banner of one unifying tale. A very different path to take then and one that I was hoping would end in good things. As it turned out, I loved the concept but I’m not sure how well it worked here…

Of the four powers of Chaos, seeking to bring an end to Mankind, Tzeentch is perhaps the most dangerous with its labyrinthine scheming encompassing the workings of an entire galaxy. Everything happens according to Tzeentch’s grand plan and the more convinced you are that you control your destiny the more likely it is that you are trapped in the coils of plans laid millennia ago… If this wasn’t bad enough, the lesser daemons of Tzeentch are also working to further their own schemes and ‘Architect of Fate’ focuses on one of these, the demon Fateweaver.
Four battles then and one daemon behind the scenes, moving pieces on the board in tune with its own designs. Is the final outcome in any doubt? It might just be…

On their own, the four stories in ‘Architect of Fate’ are eye catching affairs that do not fail to stir the blood. I found it very easy to get into each one and just kept reading at a steady pace; before I knew it the book was over and I was a little bit in awe of the ending. Something didn’t feel right though and it took me a little while to get my head around what had been bugging me…

I guess the bottom line is that if you’re pushing a book on the basis that its four stories are interconnected then you’d best be damn sure that those stories live up to that promise. ‘Architect of Fate’ failed on that score, at least as far as I was concerned.

Sarah Cawkwell’s ‘Accursed Eternity’ and John French’s ‘Fateweaver’ dovetailed very well to be fair with events in ‘Fateweaver’ forcing me to look at ‘Accursed Eternity’ in a whole new light (which I’m sure was the intention). ‘Sanctus’ (Darius Hinks) and ‘Endeavour of Will’ (Ben Counter) though…? I couldn’t see the connection at all to be honest, other than a very brief mention in ‘Fateweaver’ which felt like it was put there just so people could say that there was a link. I’m sorry but I’m after something a lot more concrete than that… What I got then was a book that felt that it was only doing half the job it had promised it would do. The other half of the book felt disconnected from the main plot and I couldn’t help but wonder what the point of the other two stories actually was. Like I said, nice concept but one that was adhered to only half-heartedly.

As a whole then, ‘Architect of Fate’ didn’t work for me but (strangely enough) taking each story on its own individual merits tells an entirely different story. The four stories may not add up to what was promised but they all make for gripping reading on their own. What really sold it for me, in this respect, is that the fact that each author has less room to work with than normally. Because of this, it feels like each author has to work harder at making the story a story rather than just recounting a battle. There’s more to that in each tale here and that can only be a good thing.

Sarah Cawkwell’s ‘Accursed Eternity’ not only gave me a little more insight into how the Inquisition is regarded, in the 40K universe, but was a nice little slice on horror in what I’ve always seen as predominantly a sci-fi setting. For those of you who enjoyed ‘Event Horizon’ (What? ‘Event Horizon’ was a great film…) ‘Accursed Eternity’ offers more of the same with a joint Marine/Inquisition mission onto a haunted star ship with lethal traps for the unwary. Very unsettling at times.

Darius Hinks has built up a bit of a reputation for chucking everything at his work, ending up with novels verging on the manic in their intensity. ‘Sanctus’ is no different with a hell of a lot happening in a very short space, making for a tale that powers along like all four Chaos Gods are snapping at its heels. I’m still not a hundred percent sure what’s happening here but I’m going to give ‘Sanctus’ the benefit of the doubt and say that this was intentional. The questions you are left with at the end were certainly the right kind of questions.

Ben Counter’s ‘Endeavour of Will’ was positively staid in comparison with events playing out a lot more like you would expect in a ‘Space Marines Battles’ novel (a stand up fight between Imperial Fists Marines and their treacherous counterparts the Iron Warriors). Luckily there’s a lot more to ‘Endeavour of Will’ than that though with the notion of sacrifice being thoroughly explored and pushing our protagonist down some unexpected paths. I for one wouldn’t mind seeing Lysander’s story being explored a little further in the future.

John French’s ‘Fateweaver’ rounds things off in some style with the events of ‘Accursed Eternity’ thrown into more clarity amidst a flurry of daemonic incursion (its movements through the bowels of the ship made for gripping reading) and the ultimate heroism of the one Marine who can stand against it.
Maybe things were signposted a little too clearly but the rest of the tale made up for this.

‘Architect of Fate’ is an odd one then. As the sum of its parts, the book fails to deliver but each of those parts makes for great reading. Confusing but entertaining all at the same time…

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten


pnorl said...

So, Graeme, for someone who hasn't read a whole lot of warhammer 40K, what would you recommend to set me off and get me hooked? I'm intrigued by the whole universe but feel a bit overwhelmed..

Peter / TheBleakShore

Graeme Flory said...

If you click on the 'Black Library' tag, on the right, you'll see all the BL stuff I've reviewed. I guarantee there'll be one there for you :o)
Off the top of my head though... Try the Gaunt's Ghosts series (Dan Abnett) or Aaron Dembski-Bowden's 'Night Lords' series or Chris Wraight's 'Battle of the Fang'. They're all good :o)

I've heard that Abnett's 'Inquisition' books are worth a look but I (still) haven't got round to them...

Anonymous said...

Hey Pnorl, Just get started on the Horus Heresy Series. Then branch out from there.