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The Horusian Wars: Divination

john french french horusian horusian wars black library divination convenant

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#1
Roomsky

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Anyone else crack this open yet?

Also, feel free to discuss the Horusian Wars in general here, I don’t feel like bumping the old Resurrection thread.

 

The Horusian Wars: Divination – John French

 

I believe that whoever decided to have this anthology drop after 2 novels was the same “mastermind” behind having Sword of Destiny Published in English over halfway through the Witcher saga, and you can’t convince me otherwise.

 

Yes, Resurrection gives you a general idea of who the characters are, but it’s clear French intended for the shorts to hold proper character introductions for Covenant’s retinue when that book starts. This is coming from someone who enjoyed Resurrection anyway: read this first (or good luck remembering much about who someone like Koleg is). While not all the stories are pre-Resurrection, any references to spoilers are so oblique you won’t know what they mean until they happen in the novels. I’m aware some of these are new, but having this be the proper first entry with a bit of schedule-shuffling would have vastly improved people’s outlook on the series, IMO.

 

Moving on from the book’s functional value, this is the strongest entry into the series as well. Limp-wristed shorts are a trap even the best author can fall into, but there’s none of that here. While I’m not in love with every entry, none fall below a solid “good,” it might be one of Black Libraries strongest anthologies ever. The character work is superb. The conceptual stuff is outstanding, building a world as deep as so varied an empire as the Imperium should be. And, as always with French, the oppressive atmosphere of the 41st millennium (and beyond) is on full, horrifying display. Nor is any of it simple brain candy, each tale is as much a thematic encapsulation of the Imperium’s various facets as they are character pieces.

 

The standouts are definitely Mistress of Threads and Father of Faith. Each is a tale with minimal violence and lots of big ideas. Viola was already a fascinating character in the novels once she got appropriate focus, and none of that is lost here. Josef too was never lacking for charm, but Father of Faith adds some further tragedy to his character I hadn’t expected.

 

I don’t have much in the way of criticism. I’ll admit Absolution of Swords and Blessing of Saints didn’t catch me as much as the others, unfortunate as they bookend the collection. That said, their content works well to frame the character pieces between them, and provide some wider context into why the Horusian Wars are happening, and how.

 

Must Read, even if you dislike the novels

9/10


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#2
A Melancholic Sanguinity

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I enjoyed this one much more than Resurrection, and I think French does stronger work with short story formats than novels.

 

I still hold to one of my criticisms about The Horusian Wars in particular (and honestly, fiction in general), which is that it's lazy and poor craftsmanship to prop up shortcomings in one work by referring your audience to another. All of the shorts in Divination do much-needed character work and thematic world-building, but any given novel ought to be able to stand on its own in that regard (and I liked Resurrection too, enough to pick up Incarnation and this one).

 

Mistress of Threads is the stand-out in this collection. The message log format is a great usage for a short story, something that probably wouldn't work as an entire novel, and is wonderfully immersive. I'd love to see more stories done like this.


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#3
Knockagh

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I’m reading it at the moment! It’s brilliant. Outstrips the main novels by quite a bit. Hopefully holds like this to the end. Was really pleasantly surprised, I’m not usually very good with compilations.
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#4
DarkChaplain

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I'm just gonna say that I appreciate the annoyance over Sword of Destiny. It was even worse than that, wasn't it? Wasn't it released just before Lady of the Lake, aka the finale? It's a perpetual sticking point with the way the English market ignored The Witcher til the games popped off. We had them translated to German waaaaay before that.

But we have a similar situation with The Darkness in the Blood and Mephiston: City of Lights going on here too, I suppose.

 

The stories I *did* read from Divination leading up to Resurrection were pretty intriguing. Disjointed little character pieces with quite a lot to like. I still wasn't enamored with Resurrection, but comparing shorts and the novel, it's clear where the characters weighed more.


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#5
Xisor

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This is pleasing to hear as I've not read it yet. (And I'd kinda like it as a super-fancy edition to go with the other two...)

 

But it also gels nicely with the third-wheel (err, fourth wheel?) in the Ahriman trilogy: Ahriman: Exodus. It's Ctesias-focussed, but I think really underpin's John's excellence in short format stuff. His novels work wonders for my tastes, but I often think he might strike a balance better even for himself if he approached his novels more like "doer-uppers". 

 

Traditionally they're shorts that kinda get bodged together to become a novel, but I rather wonder if a lot of authors' appetites for what they want to achieve in a novel (and readers' tolerance for an author's foibles) might be managed best in doer-uppers: linked short stories.

 

Each thing can be short and distinct, but feed into the others and offer a more 'natural' conclusion to the little story pockets, and also allow for much more sprawling, convoluted 'big plot' to be explored without having to also fit the normal structure, pacing and appetites served by a novel.

 

Heck, I think if more authors did that, I might be a very happy reader indeed.

 

(Not that I don't enjoy novels, but I kinda resent the fashion that novels fit - it's not always the best package for the story, but I don't want the author to starve because publishers won't commission a fifteen-book epic series of mostly short stories.)


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#6
Knockagh

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@xisor, I’m with you on the special edition for this. The Horusian wars have received some of the finest limited editions yet. Nothing as nice as a series of beautiful books

#7
DarkChaplain

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I feel like that's an approach that Josh Reynolds was somewhat pursuing with his Eight Lamentations for AoS. There's only a single novel, the second was listed on Amazon but clearly canceled. There were, however, an audio drama, a short story tying into the Sylvaneth stuff, a linked short to that one iirc, a pretty standalone auction-gone-wrong short about one of those mythic weapons that establishes them from a different angle and feeds back into the meta narrative, and then the whole thing was first teased in some of the earliest serialized shorts/the Black Rift novel, and then brought up in more depth in the Realmgate Wars' 7th book.

 

Basically, while there was a clear adventure narrative going on through the novel(s), he seeded a lot of world and character development in adjecent stories, some clearly labeled as linked, and others just part of his own niche in the setting.

 

I also feel like he did something similar with Fabius Bile, albeit to a lesser extent and more clear linkage. The trilogy has 4 shorts iirc (one of which still hasn't been republished outside the original Primogenitor limited edition), but also a short audio that sets up the climax of The Talon of Horus in its own way, and of course the Fulgrim Primarchs novel. But then, Josh in general seems to love this kind of storytelling, as should be evident from his Royal Occultist stuff. It's very much a pulp approach.

 

Even Gav Thorpe had an adjacent anthology to his Legacy of Caliban trilogy, with gap-filler or alternate perspective shorts that elaborated on the cast and events. And then you have Fehervari...

 

I'd definitely second that these kinds of collections and story-pastiches are desirable. My struggles with anthologies are definitely lessened when the overarching theme of the anthology happens to be linked like with Ahriman: Exodus. You get to take away much more from each story, and the author can contextualize characters with much more freedom - even without an ongoing, big narrative fit for a trilogy. You escape the restraints of a steady timeline, or freely visit strange locales. You can experiment stylistically. You can simply brush aside characters you'd have to address with much more care and attention in a novel, and solely focus on one perspective, if you so choose.

 

It honestly baffles me that this kind of thing isn't done more often by BL, or at least to a larger extent than these 1-3 shorts you may get along with a trilogy, usually in close proximity to each book's release for the sake of marketing / external setup - or worse, limited edition exclusives, yuck.


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#8
Sandlemad

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It honestly baffles me that this kind of thing isn't done more often by BL, or at least to a larger extent than these 1-3 shorts you may get along with a trilogy, usually in close proximity to each book's release for the sake of marketing / external setup - or worse, limited edition exclusives, yuck.

 

It's an aside from the specific subject of Divination but absolutely. There's some genuine artistic merit to this approach: Roomsky mentions the functional use for character development here but here French was, I think, also doing something with the symbolism of the tarot? (I only read some of these as shorts and not together  in Divination so I may be off) That themed anthology approach you mention. Doing the odd short here and there seems common enough as a writing exercise and maybe these rework pitch material

 

But aside from this artistic merit, there's also surely immense commercial potential. Plenty of ways to look at it - DLC, extra features on a DVD, the pulp fixup heritage you mention, Abnett's concept of "holographic storytelling" - and I feel like other big franchises/IPs have done similar things. For BL though it seems largely limited to the odd snippet sold as an e-short or the odd story they can slip into a £50 hardback edition, which is missing a trick. A Fehervari Dark Coil anthology is a thing to dream of.


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#9
Xisor

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But aside from this artistic merit, there's also surely immense commercial potential. Plenty of ways to look at it - DLC, extra features on a DVD, the pulp fixup heritage you mention, Abnett's concept of "holographic storytelling" - and I feel like other big franchises/IPs have done similar things. For BL though it seems largely limited to the odd snippet sold as an e-short or the odd story they can slip into a £50 hardback edition, which is missing a trick. A Fehervari Dark Coil anthology is a thing to dream of.

If I were to put my money down, I'd say it's a double-bind from the entire publishing and book-buying marketplace.

 

Most readers think they want novels, most publishers think readers want novels, everyone things only novels are worthwhile (unless it's an omnibus, in which case extra novel for your buck).

 

There's a sense - unspoken and unarticulated more than people are saying this and holding us back! - that short fiction is somehow lesser than novels, that a short story is just a novel that wasn't good enough, or a novella something that wasn't quite trusted enough or well-thought-out-enough to be a novel.

 

Maybe it's wrapped up in 'the fact' that novels go viral. Short of Borges, I can't think of a renowned prose author who never wrote novels

 

(Then again, outside genre stuff, novella length books get a lot more traction. The Old Man and the Sea or Of Mice and Men aren't exactly of the same heftiness as Abnett's The Magos now, are they? :D)

 

---

 

Incidentally, and again linking to Divination explicitly - I really wish Dan Abnett had followed that style for the Magos. Not 'not written the novel', but instead of going on to write a coherent novel - if he'd just spun of short fiction after short fiction to the entire length of a whole extra anthology - e.g. the length of a novel.

 

Not that I didn't enjoy The Magos - I kinda loved it - but the sheer joy of those early passages with Drusher, and given his presence in the earlier stories - I could have stomached anthology after anthology of those. Eisenhorn and co's story perhaps developing and sliding in alongside them could be nice, but I'd have loved to see what Abnett would do with that.

 

Would it offset the feeling that Abnett's work has a tendency to abruptly finish and botch the landing? (Not by ending badly, but far too suddenly for little specific benefit.)

 

An ongoing, unending flood of short stories might be invariably more palatable.

 

---

 

Damn it, I think Divination might be one of those books I have to buy twice - once to get stuck into it now, and again when it comes out (it must!) in super fancy edition.

 

Damn damn damn. I've not got the money for this delicious foolishness.


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#10
DarkChaplain

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I was actually really disappointed in a way when it turned out that The Magos, or rather, the Casebook part of it, was just reprinting old short stories - some of which were in the old omnibuses to begin with - and not actually new cases.

Heck, I was similarly disappointed when Thorn & Talon, the 2-CD audio drama, was one disc with two new - brilliant! - short stories, but the second was "just" a dramatized adaptation of Thorn Wishes Talon.

 

A full anthology of new Eisenhorn and Ravenor cases, spread throughout their careers, would spark joy for me. Have one novella with a bulkier story that draws on the shorts leading up to it, a few shorts after to round things off on some loose ends, and I'm happy. Getting to see more cases like The Keeler Image would be nice, and certainly, Gregor and Gideon have been up to a lot of shenanigans since their last outings, before Pariah. Ravenor in particular has some pretty large gaps between trilogies.

 

I think John French did a good thing here - especially since it's another Inquisition trilogy. You can do a lot of different things thanks to the retinue cast alone. Cases don't need to be world-shattering galactic adventures - they can be mundane, almost boring, if not for the way they're presented and raising the tension (see: Master Imus's Transgression, which is a very routine case with the "big" repercussions happening off-page, but still oh so compelling). Short stories tackle those thematic explorations very well.

 

Here's hoping we're gonna see another Ianthe audio drama before long. Those I enjoyed a great deal, but then, I'm a sucker for first person framing.


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#11
Bobss

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How does this series stack up to the Vaults of Terra series? Different authors, different styles, different settings - sure. But. What makes Vaults of Terra so excellent is the strength of the supporting cast. Guys like Revus, Hegain and even Gorgias add layers and sides to Crowl and Spinoza that we otherwise wouldn't get. You can include the Fabius trilogy into that considering how it's topical right now. Ignis, Ctesias and Iobel propelled the Ahriman series in the right direction as well, even if half the cast were binned off at the end of Sorcerer


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#12
Noserenda

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Oooh yeah the main Horusian wars are still on my backlog but ive read a few of the shorts and loved them, ill frequently binge through a swathe of short stories, the rapid pace is different to a novel and just as good imho. Though BL does have a habit of padding anthologies with some utter dross unfortunately that breaks that pace up.

I think all the major inquisition teams especially do really well with short stories, one and done cases or character focuses/back stories really add something, much like a TV show having the odd a or b plot entirely focus on a character :) Hell, short stories can be the monster of the week episodes compared to the meta arc novels ;) 

 


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#13
Roomsky

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How does this series stack up to the Vaults of Terra series? Different authors, different styles, different settings - sure. But. What makes Vaults of Terra so excellent is the strength of the supporting cast. Guys like Revus, Hegain and even Gorgias add layers and sides to Crowl and Spinoza that we otherwise wouldn't get. You can include the Fabius trilogy into that considering how it's topical right now. Ignis, Ctesias and Iobel propelled the Ahriman series in the right direction as well, even if half the cast were binned off at the end of Sorcerer

 

 

The easy answer would be that Vaults of Terra is the better series (though Divination is absolutely on the same level of quality), but oddly enough, I wouldn’t really compare them. The Horusian Wars is doing something very different from Vaults, from presentation to content. Vaults is as much about fleshing out Terran life as anything; it’s a smoother read, better constructed, but doesn’t really dig as deep as Horusian Wars. French’s inquisition is a sort of halfway between Vaults and Fehervari’s Dark Coil, it doesn’t reach the heights of either but brings a new flavour to the table. Resurrection and Incarnation can be flat and rather opaque at times, but at others offer some fantastic depth and creativity.

 

Characters are hard to compare. Vaults wins if you compare 2 novels to 2 novels, but now we have Divination I’d say Horusian Wars wins in that department. Covenant’s crew is numerous, and they’re now largely well-sketched in a way they wouldn’t be off the novels alone.

 

So the REAL answer to anyone debating is read both, but gun to my head I’d still say Vaults.


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#14
DarkChaplain

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I'd contrast them this way: Vaults of Terra is a more "conventional" Inquisition adventure whereas The Horusian Wars, on the whole, are more "experimental".

 

The way each author approaches worldbuilding, character development, plot, twists etc is almost fundamentally opposed.

 

For example: If you read The Carrion Throne, you'll get the entire package deal of world, cast and plot basically gift-wrapped in an exceedingly pleasing, if not earthshattering, package. With Resurrection, you'll get something less complete, albeit fascinating. There are many glimpses of revelations, character moments and worldbuilding, but - at least to me - few of them felt fully realized to the extent where I'd call it close to on par with The Carrion Throne as an individual offering.

 

Wraight has short stories for Vaults that support the books (including the excellent Interrogation of Salvor Lermentov!), they aren't really essential reading. Their exposition and added character work complement the novels, but can also be enjoyed on their own - and if you miss them, you're not going to miss much in the wider context.

French, meanwhile, builds crucial aspects into the short stories, foundational character development, world building and so forth. Not reading them will, in my opinion and experience, seriously diminish what you'll get out of Resurrection and Incarnation. Where Vaults are a simple package deal, John externalized a lot of the legwork into the short stories that were released sprinkled around the books, some before, some after Resurrection, some since Incarnation. Divination, as such, is a fundamental anthology that can't be left out without effectively hamstringing your enjoyment of what John is going for with the trilogy.

 

I'm torn on the approach even still. It certainly allows a great deal of experimentation, both narratively and stylistically, and it trims fat from the novels. But it also creates dependencies that will not be immediately apparent to the reader, especially newcomers or those who only buy print and thus had to wait nearly 3 years on Divination, as the third released book while the preceding two kind of expect you to know various things from the included shorts. It's a shortcut that doesn't necessarily work with BL's publishing model and schedule, whereas - to pick up the comparison to Fehervari - the Dark Coil uses each story as an additional piece in the wider puzzle but does not require or expect you to pick them all up just to get satisfaction out of any given piece you may pick up - especially the novels.

With the Coil, you can bounce back and forth as you please - although obviously, some story links click more easily in certain directions, or the second time around - whereas with Resurrection, it can feel like a chore with very distant characters you're asked to care about with little basis, as the basis itself isn't part of the ongoing narrative but was instead released some weeks or months before the original hardcover release as a digital-only short story on BL's store.

 

To wrap back around, looking at it from this angle, the Vaults of Terra quite simply win based on being hugely more accessible to begin with. Their appeal is more self-contained, the narratives follow more traditional curves and the books let you into the characters' heads far more easily. With The Horusian Wars, there's more of a deliberate distance between the reader and (certain) characters that can be hard to get behind, especially without the external pieces. Whereas Vaults is - for all its whacky aspects - a more mundane series, The Horusian Wars are quite arcane, more esoteric.

 

On more than one occasion, I also felt a difference between the way The Carrion Throne and Resurrection "hide" information from the reader. With The Carrion Throne, certain reveals and twists are part of the dramatic arc, with hints and foreshadowing, or nudges to the lore for the invested fan. Getting the truth out of the cast and events is part of the investigation. With Resurrection, there were numerous instances where information was conveyed to characters, but not necessarily the reader. Where the characters were in the know, but didn't let the reader catch up with what they knew. Where scenes would sometimes end rather dramatically or abruptly, just before things would need to be spelled out. That led to somewhat of a disconnect between me, as the reader, and the characters within the story that I was expected to root for. Instead of figuring things out alongside the Inquisitor and his retinue, I was made aware of the Inquisitor having a much better grasp on things than he let on to me, while thinking I myself was left with deliberately incomplete, or nebulous, information.

 

On top of it all, I think that The Horusian Wars are generally catered more towards hardcore fans who have been following the setting for a long time and are more than passingly familiar with its intricacies. References to obscure lore are a dime a dozen. Certain elements exist that have been debated, or even retconned, generations ago and may seem like they come out of left field within the narratives. With The Carrion Throne, by comparison, while it does take some lore references as a core component of its narrative, something for fans in the know to look forward to, it gives the reader enough on those things to keep them in touch rather than close the book and go wiki things up.

 

While both trilogies obviously have wider stakes in play, and are heating up for big climactic third parts, I believe John French is gambling for the higher, bigger-scale payoff or revelation than Wraight is. Chris seems more content with painting in gaps in the setting, exploring seldom-trod roads and doing so via cracking narratives that allow him to look behind the curtain and delve into the seedy underbelly of Terra, French probably has the potentially more impactful series on his hands, for the setting as a whole, with more moving parts that could influence the setting going forward. His narratives are deliberately constructed within the spectrum of his plans and will most likely require full reading of the series for a real payoff, I'd say, whereas Wraight's books, despite overreaching aspects and most assuredly some big reveals in book three, seem more concerned with telling a compelling, enjoyable, intriguing story in the moment, in the book you're holding by itself.

 

And... then there's the obvious difference in prose styles. Wraight is more straightforward, accessible (again) and clear, whereas John French can get very... flowery, esoteric and sometimes convoluted. His style here is fitting perfectly to what he's doing, but it can also make the trip harder to get through, as the complexities of the narrative itself and the prose can easily have a cumulative effect to slow you down or even confuse you in some scenes..


Edited by DarkChaplain, 26 June 2020 - 10:15 AM.

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