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Let's Review the Black Books!

Review

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#1
StrangerOrders

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So I asked about doing this a while ago and was told it was better to start a new thread to discuss the Black Books in a review format.
 
I am posting this here because I think there is alot of good fluff to tap here and I dont see the books often discussed for their narrative value or the sheer amount of stuff in them even for those uninterested in the game itself. So I am posting them here (with mod permission) rather than on the 30k section in part to bring them to the attention of folks that are not interested in 30k as a game but enjoy the HH books. 
 
So I am going to structure this by sections, since I tend to think that the subjects are very different and warrant discussions of their own.
 
Anyhow, enough preamble, here it is.
 
Black Book One: Betrayal
 
Chapter One: The Age of the Emperor
 
Otherwise known as: Here is literally everything you need to know about the Great Crusade, the Imperium and their Modus Operandii. 
 
This section is alot of things really, a good intro to the setting (arguably the single best way i have seen of introducing it to someone with only a periphery knowledge) and to a degree a Q&A as to how alot of things a Vet might not know work.
 
Why do Astropaths go Blind? Turns out that 'Soul-Binding' is basically the Emp performing mass-scale brain surgery with Biomancy and its really hard to not screw up the optic nerves when you are at it.
 
Where did the Astronomicon come from? A massive building project commissioned during the Unificiation Wars. Carried out by a population pretty thrilled to have been cured of extremely common mutations.
 
Why do distances not work right in alot of books? Here is a handy-dandy rough map of Warp Currents that shows you that its actually not a straight-line deal. 
 
How did the Imperium work so well for so long? Simple, they practiced the novel idea of ruffling as few feathers as possible, giving away tech and swapping out existing fleet personnel with a taken planet's military in an infinite domino effect that got everyone of note considerable skin in the game.
 
This is also the section of the book where you start seeing some of the best parts of the Black Books. Where they rub and push against the narratives of the BL HH, sometimes in the wrong (as the narrator is basically working off of (extremely detailed) court records) and sometimes showing how unreliable the BL PoVs can be.
 
To take an example, Kelbor's claims that the Imperium did nothing for Mars become extremely hard to take seriously after you see example what they gained from the Treaty and how bad a state they were in beforehand (for example, they had lost their navigators and were essentially starved for resources). 
 
Overall, a pretty darned good start.
 
Chapter Two: The Legiones Astartes
 
And now we get a nifty and extremely detailed prologue to the Legions as a collective entity, their (little-mentioned) issues and their strengths to the cause of the Crusade.
 
I liked this section because it introduces alot of the foibles that the Primarchs and their Astartes would reasonably ignore due to either arrogance or a willing inability to cope with weakness.
 
We learn that without a Primarch to revitalize Gene-Seed periodically, the stock begins to wear down and rapidly degrade (a good prelude to the issues we see in 40k) which combined with the sheer brutality of the Crusade meant that the Legions would have died a rather unpleasant death if the super-manchildren were never found. (An angle Wraight draws on rather cleverly to motivate a certain character in a certain work). 
 
This section also introduces two factors that rationalize two of the big issues folks note with 30k. Why were there so many Astartes and why so many Indoctrinated supersoldiers fell so easily to Chaos compared to 40k.
 
Quite simple, a workaround to the lack of Primarchs was introduced which both rapidly decreased recruitment time at the cost of accelerating Indoctrination to the point of being partially ineffective. A short-term measure which no Primarch saw fit to curb and the book itself notes seems to have been most present in the Legions that fell to Chaos.
 
A short section, but well worth the read.
 
Chapter Three: Istvaan
 
Otherwise known as 'literally took 30ish pages to write a better Galaxy in Flames'.
 
This is where the BBs start actively tackling the HH from a different and frankly much more coherent PoV. We see the Betrayal played out from a macro-level which paints both a much more interesting and logical vision of what the battle looked like. This is helped in no small part by the pretty-competent author stating both his sources and speculating as to the reasoning behind a number of choices.
 
These include things like Horus not bombing Angron into oblivion because Angron's fleet happened to be in 'make a bad situation considerable worse' distance to the SoH elements to having the entire operation be rushed and haphazard due to the almost unprecedented nature of the battle.
 
There is a real sense of shell-shock from the accounts we have of the survivors and it goes out of its way to really press home the fact that Astartes are not used to really fighting each other and how it messes with their entire understanding of war. 
 
Bonus points for the Mechanicum kicking butt despite the Traitors making extremely poor decision to think it would be easy to push the Magos out of the way.
 
On the whole, again, a good read.
 
Chapter Four: The Sons of Horus
 
Someone remembered to actually give some characterization to the XVIth after it got shot out back.
 
Amusingly, said character is best summarized as 'Personality Cult'. Betrayal is interested primarily in taking a look at how a Legion is defined by having had a Primarch from day one and being gradually worn down by said Primarch's extremely controlling tendencies (something the BBs really develop over time to retroactively give Horus some character nuance). 
 
The book details who the Luna Wolves seemed to be beforehand, which is frankly really reminiscent of early Republican Roman self-perception. Misfits and outcasts gathered up and remade into an entity of iron will and discipline. The book makes an attempt to display what is meant by the oft-repeated idea of 'controlled savagery' by showing their gene-seed as seeming to kill alot of driving factors in them aside from a raw aggression which in turn needed a considerable amount of will to keep in check.
 
This sort of cold bluntness then puts Cthonia and the ritualism that would later come in the same interesting place as Horus. Both are introduced as surface-level complements to the joyless and taciturn Legion with Horus's charisma, military acumen and the complementary ruthlessness of the Cthonians (which the Books tries but still fails to make remotely interesting, although thats hardly new). But the author notes that over the centuries both served as a slow poison within the Wolves that seemed to erode alot of the rigid control they had once had.
 
Things like the slow bleeding in of ritual and trophy-taking from the bottom while Horus ruthlessly dissolved rank and hierarchy from above, until they seemingly met in the middle for the Sons. Rather than an abrupt shift, the book paints a slow and useful decline into the Barbarian Horde they would someday become and justifies it readily. 
 
Horus wanted careful control because he had a talent for assessing who is best used? Then its an impediment to have anything above Captain. There is a need to for flexibility? Best to de-emphasize specialism and make more tacticals. Need some ways of retaining status? Markings and titles to boost moral! 
 
Lastly, this is best exemplified in the first of the 'Exemplary Battles' Section which serve as a wonderful illustration of this decline. From the first battle of Luna where the Wolves went in like an avalanche but stopped at exactly the point commanded with an almost professional eye for targets and objectives, to the somewhat vanilla Gorro Hollowing to the extreme over-slaughter of the Castigation of Terentius. The last being superbly executed but with a certain temperamentally grotesque and pettiness that while reminiscent of Luna in execution is utterly at odds with the 'control' and detachment we started this section out with.
 
Its a slow and devious decline into a barbarian cult. Still the second-weakest of the four Legions covered, but C'est La Wolf.
 
Chapter Five: The World Eaters
 
The start of the real characterization for the Twelfth (this came before the legendary Betrayer and I think ADB really jives with this) and but a bit weaker than the Luna Wolf section. 
 
Where the previous section was a slow decline into madness, the Warhounds decline went from 90 to 100 at the speed of an angry Angron launched from a Nova Cannon. 
 
The Twelfth are shown to have always been monstrous bastards, monsters so vicious that even during the Unification Wars allied generals had a golly gee moment just seeing them in use. But they were extremely effective monsters, characterized by an ability to cripple enemies as powerful line breakers even when the cost inflicted on them was horrific. Although this forced a harsh discipline among them which they were all to eager to inflict on mortal auxilia which didnt meet their standards.
 
It also shows how much, for lack of a better word, protection Angron received from the public eye. The things he did to his Sons didnt just go unreported, knowledge is actively suppressed. The most hilarious example being the author ominously noting that he couldn't find any trace of what became of the former Legion Master and noting how odd it was given that he was such a successful and respected officer.
 
The decline of the Eaters is also explained from a political angle. Angron was from the first brutal in the extreme, melting away resistance and almost immediately replicating his childhood in every WE through arena combat and fratricide before he even embarked but this is hinted to have been collateral. Predictable but the book draws two interesting observations, the first being that this was unusual since previous custom was for a Primarch to either shadow a senior brother or the Emp himself before assuming full control and the second being his effectiveness.
 
The book actually makes Angron a surprisingly competent general to a degree almost at odds with the BL works. The book notes that Angron for all of his brutality actually took steps to ensure a streamlined command echelon was put into place and orchestrated a number of simple but also effective campaigns to make the most of his increasingly unstable Legion.
 
It also shows his having the backing of Horus (which fits well with what the above taught us about him) and, shockingly enough, Jaghatai of all people. 
 
This brings us to the Golgothan Slaughter, their singular exemplary campaign and a very well written one by my mileage. Detailing a war to put down an extremely aggressive and raid-happy group of Xenos and to free the Forgeworld of Sarum. Its quite a good part by my take, showing how Angron used the assets he had at hand to manipulate the battlefield into favoring his tactics and showing that a mostly-lobotimized Primarch is still a force of nature as a war planner. 
 
On the whole I liked this section, but I think ADB and later St.Martin due better at injecting some tragedy into the Legion. But it still does two things I really value, making Angron competent and showing how he got away with his tantrums. 
 
Chapter Six: The Emperor's Children
 
Where the tide began to turn for the EC's characterization I believe, given the bad one-note joke they had been before this.
 
This section does a good job at showing why the EC became monsters and why that is something to be mourned.
 
We see who they began as, proud warriors scions known for having an aptitude for working with Mortals which so many other Legions did not. It also shows us why that bit them royally in the rear, as said mortals were quite happy to begin removing the EC's contributions from battles they won just as quickly. This is important since its an angle which really builds as you go through this section and into Reynold's work.
 
The EC are arrogant and self-aggrandizing but this is where the idea starts that it is in part a reaction to being starved of glory. 
 
Another interesting note drawn from early on is that the EC were seemingly designed to be perfectionists, not as a flaw but as the means to make them ideal tools at the Emp's hand for that sort of delicate control of mortals and acting as heralds. The EC could be trusted as commanders and envoys for the simple reason that they took no liberties with orders beyond their exact, bleeding, point. 
 
These things seem pretty minor at first glance, but then the book hits you with something that is only off-handedly discussed in BL but here becomes a perfect blow to undercut the IIIrd in a way they never recovered from. The Blight, a contagion that functionally destroyed their means to reproduce and their effectiveness as a Legion. Yet they were still used and pushed until the Emp stepped in to stop the bloodline from going extinct entirely.
 
Thats the context the book places their reconstruction, pride and obsession in. Everything is about clawing back glory, everything is about trying to bury the past in countless laurals, everything is about climbing back after falling from being the Emp's personal tools to being a gloried Company. The EC became obsessed with competition and worked themselves bloody, the result obvious from their pre-Fulgrim history.
 
After all, what happens when you take being designed to be exact and meticulous and proud and then kneecap them at the gate? The section is exceptional I think at showing you the deep scars that the EC seem perpetually racing to outrun. 
 
Fulgrim in this book comes across as oddly caring, he defended his sons from their dismissal for their size. He thought for the right of Chemosans to enter the Legion despite their lack of martial heritage and he always strove to find the exact place in the Legion where each son best fit. Its very positive perhaps but it makes sense when you consider that, mildly put, his characterization before this was negative to say the least. 
 
The Three Exemplary battles do three key things for the Legion characterization, the first being to establish golly gee 'perfect' is supposed to mean, the second being a more humble aspect to their honor culture and the sort of arrogance that doomed them all showing the sort of weird stuff I love from the BBs. The Defense of Tranquility shows us the EC fighting aliens of living crystal shapes while drastically outnumbered, winning by a mix of insane preparation (having mapped out every last cranny of the planet) and having plotted out each potential move so that each warrior could wage their individual battle as part of a greater mechanism. They might be arrogant but this battle really shows you the 'why' of their confidence.
 
The Extinction of the Katara on the other hand shows us the more somber and honorable dimension of the Legion, showing us their 'war' with a warrior race of abhumans which sound extremely cool (being elongated and wearing armor of obsidian glass). The quotations are due to the nature of the war, which was more like a series of one man assaults against the Astartes until a single champion came forward and challenged the Lord Commander. His defeat lead to their entire race killing themselves. Not out of hate or resistance, they simply wanted to be best on their terms (a duel) by a superior opponent. I am not doing justice to it but the beauty of the way they're described to fight and their oddness is oddly touching. The EC didnt take the worlds afterwards, they simply summarily extended their protection to the entirety of the Katara territories and left their worlds untouched as a monument to the honor of the warriors shown. The EC only took the weapons of those they had slain as momentos and entombed the slain champion with honors.
 
Lastly, the Praxil Compliance. The EC suffered setbacks facing a human civ as augment, clever and perfectionist as they were ad the War Council was not impressed and so summoned the BA and IF to aid them. This battle shows the cracks in the EC, it did not matter that the two reinforcing Legions placed themselves beneath the EC's command or that it was generally agreed with while their force and idea won the victory it was only because the EC had refined them to perfection. It did not matter that everyone acknowledged the EC's contribution then or that their forces had shown themselves to perfection (so much so the Guilliman and Raldoran would both praise the EC commander as a genius for having devised it) or that the Praxil would prove a loyal and productive part of the Imperium, the EC left before the final ceremony of surrender. That Lord Commander would never accept credit or a part in that campaign, because the fact that he had needed help and that the commanders explicitly said they did not want to offend his ego (when the BA commander was Raldoran) had already made the campaign an utter defeat for him and the EC.
 
I liked this section, its what got me to start collecting EC. Its also what made me a touch bitter at the realization of how one note they had been beforehand.
 
Speaking of one-note.
 
Chapter Seven: The Death Guard
 
Man, where all of those I have reviewed before show the starts of a correction to greater Legion identity BL more or less just ignored the depth shown here.
 
Do you ever hear about what the Dusk Raiders were actually like beyond their Dusk gimmick? What the DG were good at other than poisons and being tough? Anything remotely sympathetic beyond 'sucky Death World #3714)?
 
Well, here is the section for you. And I really am not sure how to review it beyond 'read it' because there is so little I can draw on from other material to compare to or to speak of. This section tried to give the DG the character they are frankly starved for pre-Chaos and to give them real depth. 
 
It did it too, it tells you about their tradition as not-English armored heavy infantry and their skill at armored breaththroughs and infantry excellence. It tells you about Mortarions exemplary generalship and his talent for manipulating the flow of battle with preternatural skill.
 
It draws lines between the brutality of the DG as opposed to the old meticulous honor of the Dusk Raiders and what those two things looked like. But it also shows the idealism that drives Mortarion and the sheer conviction he has in its necessity.
 
I wish this had been built on more. Because this BB makes Morty as sullen and bitter as he has always been but it also makes him unshakable commited and almost idealistic about the Crusade's cause in a way that makes so much sense. Almost as if there was something more to him than petulance, hypocrisy and racism. Heck, he openly trusted and respected his sons to give a full accounting of his history to each new member (especially since this book clarifies that details about Barbarus are super-duper forbidden from being publicly known for obvious reasons).
 
Speaking of competence, it also establishes logical quirks for the Legion that BL also tossed out a window for more plague-memes. The examples including a highly infantry-focused Legion with high attrition tactics logically going out of its way to cross-train as much as possible so that everyone knows how to swap gear to plug holes in the line of battle as needed.
 
Only one exemplary battle here, The Conquest of Galaspar and boy is it good. It essentially details how the DG took a Hive-World which was the capital of a small empire. This empire holds the distinction of being our first case of a 'yikes thats worse than the Imperium' civilization, with a small bureaucracy controlling a slave population that was literally not allowed names or to live past middle-age. Mortarion, seeing a big red bulls-eye on the tyrants, rammed his fleet straight past the empire and onto the Hive World. I do mean straight by the way, aside from the core of his Gloriana, he had another Battle Barge that had the unique ability to land and attack the Hiveworld. I could go on and on about how cool this fight is, from Mortarion and his Legion marching across the rad-wastes between spires to how Mory gradually neuters their defenses to the way Mort's overkill ended up being less 'liberation' and more 'instill a new myth of horror' into the 'freed' people.
 
Quite liked this section, but it does make you bitter at how much potential is wasted with the DG.
 
Fun easter egg, that famous quote Typhus claimed to be BS in LoS? It turns out its in the court records, just your regularly scheduled reminder that Wraight does his research and that Typhus isnt just literally full of it.
 
Chapter Eight: The Legio Mortis
 
The first, shortest and worst of the Titan Legio sections. Nothing is really exceptional or likable or really even that interesting here. Doesn't help that it is only a page long.
 
Overall
 
This is good stuff. Really good stuff.
 
8/10
 
I know alot of this is gushing but then again I would not have made a thread if I didnt think this stuff was both excellent and worthy of further discussion. 
 
Hope folks are up to review the book and the others, I will throw on Massacre after a fresh reread!

Edited by StrangerOrders, 21 August 2020 - 07:17 PM.

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#2
byrd9999

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Absolutely brilliant write-up. Thanks!

 

I'm so keen to read these, but I never will because (a) I don't play 30k, and (B) they are very expensive. Hopefully one day they will be published as soft-bound, lore-only releases.


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#3
WrathOfTheLion

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Oh, I will read your review after I've written one up as well. I don't want it to affect what I think, so I am purposefully not looking at it.

The prose of book 1 though is quite awesome. From a gaming perspective, Istvaan III is literally the perfect place to start though, so it will get an honourable mention for the perfect setup there. Having the introduction basically get the loyalist/traitor halves of 4 legions gets so much bang for the buck as the opening to the historical recounting that the campaign is.


Edited by WrathOfTheLion, 22 August 2020 - 02:54 AM.

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#4
Crix

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I really enjoyed Massacre. It’s the only one I got, as the cost was very tough to swallow; a box of guys or a book for a game I don’t play...

I’d really like to pick up the Raven Guard one tho. I look forward to your review of that one!!
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Kelborn

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Great review!

 

Eager to read the following ones.

 

My personal favorites are:

 

- Extermination; imho the best and most interesting Legion fluff they've in those covering multiple Legions (it made me enjoying Imperial Fists and that's something), it is also the one I've reread the most

- Conquest; for the introduction of Knight Households and the great overall narrative campaign

- Inferno; Prosperro was my absolute fav conclift right from the start and it covers some of my absolute favorite factions Vlka, Sons and Custodes


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#6
Fedor

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A lot of the themes of the EC that were embellished on in Betrayal were already there in the Index Astartes article from the early 00s. As well as the Blight (then just referred to as a mysterious accident with the geneseed) it also had given Chemos and Fulgrim's revival of it through masterful central planning and the way he organised the legion an interesting "working man's hero"/socialism gone wrong into top down controlled personality cult vibe.

 

It got across very well in a short space of time that Fulgrim and the legion had been corrupted from an originally very different and genuine view of improving and bettering humanity, so i wouldn't agree that Betrayal was something that stopped them from being one-note. Rather it's a work that very much uses the IA as a base. Granted the IA wasn't perfect and the actual specifics of the fall were barely touched on, but it did provide a believable background with enough weaknesses in the armour for one to have taken place. mcNeill just opted to take it and go in the least subtle possible gonzo direction with it.


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Great post StrangerOrders, you've made me want a lore compilation of these even more than I already did. Could it be, a reality where Heresy era Salamanders, Death Guard and Dark Angels are cool? Be still, my heart.

 

Would you say there are any elements of the novel series that outdo the Black Books?


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Kelborn

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The battle of Chondax is far superior than what we've got with Malevolence.

It's not that FW gave the Alpha Legion such a big role or added stuff but rather that they somewhat retconned the events themselves and some of the additions contradict Chris' version.
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The battle of Chondax is far superior than what we've got with Malevolence.

It's not that FW gave the Alpha Legion such a big role or added stuff but rather that they somewhat retconned the events themselves and some of the additions contradict Chris' version.

Malevolence frustrates me because its campaigns constitute the series's first real failures of imagination. The BA campaign could've been the voyage to Ultramar, and as for the Scars, Wraight left two years open with some tantalising, Kessel Runesque references to build from.

And the Scars' campaigns would've offered a chance to bring the EC and Sons of Horus back to the fore, instead of tipping the Alpha Legion's presence into overkill after good, interesting appearances in Extermination and Retribution.

Edited by bluntblade, 22 August 2020 - 07:47 PM.

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StrangerOrders

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A lot of the themes of the EC that were embellished on in Betrayal were already there in the Index Astartes article from the early 00s. As well as the Blight (then just referred to as a mysterious accident with the geneseed) it also had given Chemos and Fulgrim's revival of it through masterful central planning and the way he organised the legion an interesting "working man's hero"/socialism gone wrong into top down controlled personality cult vibe.

 

It got across very well in a short space of time that Fulgrim and the legion had been corrupted from an originally very different and genuine view of improving and bettering humanity, so i wouldn't agree that Betrayal was something that stopped them from being one-note. Rather it's a work that very much uses the IA as a base. Granted the IA wasn't perfect and the actual specifics of the fall were barely touched on, but it did provide a believable background with enough weaknesses in the armour for one to have taken place. mcNeill just opted to take it and go in the least subtle possible gonzo direction with it.

I will politely disagree as well.

 

Not that I question the merit of the IA, but the simple fact that the work is both comparatively ancient and had next to no currency in the current narrative. 

 

Before this, the popular conception of the EC was what McNeil (and frankly, Abnett) had made of them. Most people never read the IA in the hobby and to be frank next to no readers outside of the 30k players read this.

 

What did they read? The Fabius Books, increasingly The Palatine Phoenix, Chirurgeon. 

 

Those are the books that started bucking the strawmen that the EC had become, and regardless of what else you cannot debate that their interpretation as useless fops more or less overwhelmingly crushed their narrative. 

 

And those books draw heavily from Betrayal. So much so that all of the major EC from the books by Reynolds are references to characters only shown in this book and Massacre. Quinn, Abdemon, Flavius, Thorne and the like all started out from these pages and the authors have mined it heavily.

 

I might credit Wraight for Path of Heaven if he didnt completely drive a dagger into the fledgling heart of anyone taking them seriously with that crass joke from Scars. Thanks to him the questions you see come up about Fulgrim are never about his childhood, his flaws or his life.

 

Its all a mix of increasingly tasteless gay jokes with an extremely uncomfortable dimension given how seriously Fulgrim took the 'father-son' dynamic. Its also something that bugs me because nothing about Jaghatai elsewhere makes him the kind of guy that would use sexuality or horrible degenerative disease as a means to mock someone. 

 

Also, the book doesnt really take an angle I would equate to socialism, its honestly more in line with a perversely genuine sense of Noblese Oblige. The EC genuinely were mostly nobility and were quite proud of it but they have this abidding sense pre-Chaos of actually living up to the hype or at least ruthlessly trying to. In fact, his weirdly chimeric social nature is one of the weirder and funner things about Fulgrim in better books. He is a guy who has been the top and the bottom and has seen issues with just about every approach. 

 

It makes him believable as a perfectionist to me, since he has considerably more reason to be critical about social structures than most Primarchs (who usually dwelled in one extreme (Guilliman, Dorn) or the other (Angron, Morty)).

 

 

Great post StrangerOrders, you've made me want a lore compilation of these even more than I already did. Could it be, a reality where Heresy era Salamanders, Death Guard and Dark Angels are cool? Be still, my heart.

 

Would you say there are any elements of the novel series that outdo the Black Books?

 

 

The battle of Chondax is far superior than what we've got with Malevolence.

It's not that FW gave the Alpha Legion such a big role or added stuff but rather that they somewhat retconned the events themselves and some of the additions contradict Chris' version.

Malevolence frustrates me because its campaigns constitute the series's first real failures of imagination. The BA campaign could've been the voyage to Ultramar, and as for the Scars, Wraight left two years open with some tantalising, Kessel Runesque references to build from.

And the Scars' campaigns would've offered a chance to bring the EC and Sons of Horus back to the fore, instead of tipping the Alpha Legion's presence into overkill after good, interesting appearances in Extermination and Retribution.

 

I will get to it on both counts but I bizarrely enough disagree.

 

Chondax is a mixed bag for me, I frankly find neither version to make Jaghatai come across as intelligent as he usually is. Malevolence at least justifies it a bit by generating difficulties with communicating insystem and elaborating on the circumstances. 

 

Meanwhile I find the retelling of Signus to be so much better than FtT that it feels crushing. Sangi comes across as considerably more intelligent, Signus comes across as outright terrifying and the BAngels put on a hell of a show. 

 

Scale is also considerably better. I love BL HH stuff but sometimes it feels like literally only a handful of people in an organization 100k strong on average have a darned opinion, which is incredibly troubling given that we are supposed to believe that each Legion had at least a hundred commanders who could be trusted to competently lead a vast fleet for decades if not centuries at the time. 

 

And, hot take, it makes Russ seem considerably brighter to send a chapter to try to kill a Primarch with a heavily armed warship and Custodian support than ten buffoons who can (and have) just be ejected out an airlock. 


Edited by StrangerOrders, 22 August 2020 - 08:37 PM.

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#11
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I will get to it on both counts but I bizarrely enough disagree.

 

Chondax is a mixed bag for me, I frankly find neither version to make Jaghatai come across as intelligent as he usually is. Malevolence at least justifies it a bit by generating difficulties with communicating insystem and elaborating on the circumstances. 

 

Meanwhile I find the retelling of Signus to be so much better than FtT that it feels crushing. Sangi comes across as considerably more intelligent, Signus comes across as outright terrifying and the BAngels put on a hell of a show. 

 

Scale is also considerably better. I love BL HH stuff but sometimes it feels like literally only a handful of people in an organization 100k strong on average have a darned opinion, which is incredibly troubling given that we are supposed to believe that each Legion had at least a hundred commanders who could be trusted to competently lead a vast fleet for decades if not centuries at the time. 

 

And, hot take, it makes Russ seem considerably brighter to send a chapter to try to kill a Primarch with a heavily armed warship and Custodian support than ten buffoons who can (and have) just be ejected out an airlock. 

 

The Chondax section was done by Anuj Malhotra as far as I know, and the Signus section bears a lot of the hallmarks of Neil Wylie (who also wrote most of the Inferno campaign section, along with who knows how much else). Neil is actually probably the most consistent black book contributor around now and you'll find him credited all the way back to Book II. So Malevolence's Signus campaign maintaining the quality and tone should make sense.


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#12
bluntblade

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My issue is that the Chondax take needlessly complicates the original which was over nice and quickly (and also ensured that the Scars had yet to really fight an enemy and pick a side), but also doesn't stick to the theme of the book. The Alpha Legion aren't really doing anything Warp-wise, and we've seen a lot of them in the books already. It would be much more appropriate to have a post-Prospero campaign where the Scars go up against Traitor forces who've been corrupted.

 

And the Signus one... it just didn't grip me.


Edited by bluntblade, 22 August 2020 - 09:40 PM.

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#13
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i like these, though i find i can only read them in short bursts.

 

i just wish there was more original artwork, especially for the featured characters rather than the variations on the template space marine image that gets reused in slightly altered ways. but i'd guess that would drive the price of these already expensive volumes through the roof.


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#14
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My issue is that the Chondax take needlessly complicates the original which was over nice and quickly (and also ensured that the Scars had yet to really fight an enemy and pick a side), but also doesn't stick to the theme of the book. The Alpha Legion aren't really doing anything Warp-wise, and we've seen a lot of them in the books already. It would be much more appropriate to have a post-Prospero campaign where the Scars go up against Traitor forces who've been corrupted.

And the Signus one... it just didn't grip me.


To be fair, the FW write-up is all written in-universe. It’s understandable that there are contradictions from the “correct” Black Library source, as the writer of the FW books quite literally doesn’t have all the info, and is piecing what they can together from recovered data, debriefs and interviews.
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#15
bluntblade

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My issue is that the Chondax take needlessly complicates the original which was over nice and quickly (and also ensured that the Scars had yet to really fight an enemy and pick a side), but also doesn't stick to the theme of the book. The Alpha Legion aren't really doing anything Warp-wise, and we've seen a lot of them in the books already. It would be much more appropriate to have a post-Prospero campaign where the Scars go up against Traitor forces who've been corrupted.

And the Signus one... it just didn't grip me.

To be fair, the FW write-up is all written in-universe. It’s understandable that there are contradictions from the “correct” Black Library source, as the writer of the FW books quite literally doesn’t have all the info, and is piecing what they can together from recovered data, debriefs and interviews.
There's contradiction, and there's "none of this is in Scars and it would make Jaghatai's reasoning look profoundly flawed."

And again, it doesn't cover the ground which Malevolence ought to be covering with its campaigns. Not to mention that you'd have more scope for Tsolman Khan to rock if you build a campaign for him from scratch.

Edited by bluntblade, 23 August 2020 - 08:50 AM.

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#16
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Warning; ramble forthcoming...

It could also be the persona writing the black books is just telling lies and inventing stuff too; that's ok - the very strengths StrangerOrders likes about them for can also be the "fictions" of the books, the exaggerations, justifications and stories told to make the legions and primarchs appear better than they were (both as shocking villains ultimately defeated by the loyalists and the amazing strengths of the loyalists who did defeat them).

I'm a historian, no history is objective - indeed history *is* "story" or "narrative" - and I know how much historians necessarily look at evidence, reinterpret it according to their own understandings and then tell it in their own - they are not literally telling what happened. When Bligh, French, Wylie et al followed the tradition of FW books as histories, especially one with a seemingly clear editor or writer persona (or personae), they were embracing fully the unreliability of their persona(e)'s voice(s) and view on history. That means everything in them is overtly subject to bias, misunderstanding, invention, misappropriation and even falsity.

It honestly makes them really good works of historiographic fiction, especially compared to the genre of the codices, which maybe have a covert authorial nature which assume an "objective" and often omniscient *lack* of authorship - but no one inworld has access to all that "knowledge", I can never view them as "in-universe" and as such of a completely different media from the black books.

This is similar to the novels and shorts and audios, with few exceptions (ie those with first person elements). These again don't have an overt authorship and their author doesnt seem to be in-unverse - but then what does that matter? Especially as they contain so much that is embedded in the setting.

But how do you view the prose fiction and more codex-like sourcebooks? Ultimately I wonder - nothing *needs* to be true, nor - shock - do things need to exist in the same continuity :D

More so, it's a strength we can have different tellings of these events - just like how we have lots of different history paintings and renditions of the same stories, giving different interpretations and retellings of it, just like the "Historia" or "istoria" as redefined by Alberti and his contemporaries in the 15th century, each pleasing with their own inventions and differences.

Edit: tidied up some typos and repetition.

Edited by Petitioner's City, 23 August 2020 - 09:51 AM.

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#17
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As an alt-Heresy writer, I'm fond of this too, and it's something Bligh got into, but with some reservations. In Conquest a lot of the info in-universe comes from two wrecked ships, one containing Draykavac's personal archive. Meanwhile with Bodt, Mor's motives are only guessed at - and this sort of thing bothers me in Malevolence because the narrative tries to tell us the Primarchs' thoughts instead of keeping a distance.

For me the feeling is very different, in a way that makes me wish they'd actually attributed this book to a different author in the text.

Edited by bluntblade, 23 August 2020 - 09:54 AM.

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#18
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I too wasn't crazy about the major inconsistencies with Scars.

I think we may have to assume a lot of Alpha Legion misinformation was adopted as truth or probable truth by AK. IIRC, AK is using The Unbalanced Scales as his main source. That work was composed by the AL. Maybe Tsolmon Khan didn't even exist for all we know.
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#19
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I too wasn't crazy about the major inconsistencies with Scars.

I think we may have to assume a lot of Alpha Legion misinformation was adopted as truth or probable truth by AK. IIRC, AK is using The Unbalanced Scales as his main source. That work was composed by the AL. Maybe Tsolmon Khan didn't even exist for all we know.

But even then, it's just less interesting to me than the White Scars' battles against corrupted Traitors. Heck, it might be another chance to showcase competent Eidolon and his merry band of depraved murderers.

Edited by bluntblade, 23 August 2020 - 09:42 PM.

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#20
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Could it be, a reality where Heresy era Salamanders, Death Guard and Dark Angels are cool? Be still, my heart.

Just finished the “Disciples of Flame” section of Book VI: Retribution. <nods>

Edited by Kelborn, 23 August 2020 - 09:02 PM.

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#21
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Great post StrangerOrders, you've made me want a lore compilation of these even more than I already did. Could it be, a reality where Heresy era Salamanders, Death Guard and Dark Angels are cool? Be still, my heart.

 

Would you say there are any elements of the novel series that outdo the Black Books?

(Thinks wistfully of the Thramas book in his head, the Fall of the Death Guard novel that Wraight was setting up and... actually I'm not sure what to do with the Salamanders)


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#22
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Could it be, a reality where Heresy era Salamanders, Death Guard and Dark Angels are cool? Be still, my heart.

Just finished the “Disciples of Flame” section of Book VI: Retribution. <nods>


Shame on me.
How could I forget the incredible Retribution in my list??

It gave us one if the most intriguing and fascinating aspects of the Heresy: Blackshields

Best addition they've done thus far, imho.
Also the campaign are really top notch. Firedrake, Nemean Reaver, I love them all.


It's possibly my fav one along with Extermination and Inferno.
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#23
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Warning; ramble forthcoming...

It could also be the persona writing the black books is just telling lies and inventing stuff too; that's ok - the very strengths StrangerOrders likes about them for can also be the "fictions" of the books, the exaggerations, justifications and stories told to make the legions and primarchs appear better than they were (both as shocking villains ultimately defeated by the loyalists and the amazing strengths of the loyalists who did defeat them).

I'm a historian, no history is objective - indeed history *is* "story" or "narrative" - and I know how much historians necessarily look at evidence, reinterpret it according to their own understandings and then tell it in their own - they are not literally telling what happened. When Bligh, French, Wylie et al followed the tradition of FW books as histories, especially one with a seemingly clear editor or writer persona (or personae), they were embracing fully the unreliability of their persona(e)'s voice(s) and view on history. That means everything in them is overtly subject to bias, misunderstanding, invention, misappropriation and even falsity.

It honestly makes them really good works of historiographic fiction, especially compared to the genre of the codices, which maybe have a covert authorial nature which assume an "objective" and often omniscient *lack* of authorship - but no one inworld has access to all that "knowledge", I can never view them as "in-universe" and as such of a completely different media from the black books.

This is similar to the novels and shorts and audios, with few exceptions (ie those with first person elements). These again don't have an overt authorship and their author doesnt seem to be in-unverse - but then what does that matter? Especially as they contain so much that is embedded in the setting.

But how do you view the prose fiction and more codex-like sourcebooks? Ultimately I wonder - nothing *needs* to be true, nor - shock - do things need to exist in the same continuity biggrin.png

More so, it's a strength we can have different tellings of these events - just like how we have lots of different history paintings and renditions of the same stories, giving different interpretations and retellings of it, just like the "Historia" or "istoria" as redefined by Alberti and his contemporaries in the 15th century, each pleasing with their own inventions and differences.

Edit: tidied up some typos and repetition.

These are very good points but I would quibble with a few points.

 

Yes, bias is inevitable but I am sure you know that no small amount of... 'uniquely minded' folks have taken up that particular banner to justify extremely shoddy writing, especially and infamously those that take it to mass market. There is a reason why alot of people who take history in University spend as much time being deprogrammed of Tropes and pop history than as they arguably do learning. 

 

And I think you run the risk of overstating the value of interpretation. You can argue the hows and whys until the stars wither to dust but no one will take you seriously if you come out tomorrow and argue that Tokugawa Ieyasu was actually the peak of male fitness and was indeed a direct descendant from the Minamoto. 

 

But this isnt a 'real' history, so I want to address it for its value to the setting.

 

The problem with 'glorifying' the Primarchs as a critique is that... with respect its alot like arguing that not enough safety measures to prevent hurricane damage on mount Everest. BL really messed up with alot of Primarchs to the point that the whole Molech angle makes the Emp seem like a simpleton for seemingly having stolen nothing but the raw essence of incompetence from the Warp.

 

We are expected to believe, and no in any book has ever even hinted this is wrong, that the Primarchs made a significant effort in the Crusade and were fantastic nut-crackers. Can you buy that with most Primarchs having just read the BL stuff? Genuinely?

 

AK also doesnt have fanaticism in their prose, quite the opposite. If you read his stuff critically, you can tell that there is one burning question behind their prose; why, why, WHY?

 

AK seems broken, I mean that genuinely. Every glowing article ends with a somber note that might as well be 'and what did it get us?'. Every triumphant moment ends with a bitter sense of irony or a foreboding hint at its pyrhic nature.

 

They are loyal to the Emp to be sure but their notes of loyalty seem forced at time with the entire first section of Malevolence (on Daemonology and the Warp) is literally AK trying very hard to figure out if the Emp was just an idiot or not. 

 

Not to mention that alot of the stuff is immensely critical of everyone. I dont think a single Primarch, human department or even the Emp escape at times scathing criticism. 

 

Sure, it could all be made up, but the genuine question is if it passes the smell test and what we know happened (Like the xenos races and either bringing human-occupied planets into compliance or destroying them if they resisted.' class='bbc ipSeoAcronym'>GC conquering a fairly enormous part of the Galaxy)? 

 

And they do, overwhelmingly and uncharitably (respectfully I find alot of the dissatisfaction that comes from them is that they often butt-heads with the more kind reads of people that we as a base like to Lionize). 

 

Most people dont want to hear how shady Magnus was, how delusional Lorgar is, how totalitarian Guilliman and so on. Fun note, Guilliman references them in DoF and is actually rather impressed with them which honestly screams Augustus to me (since he famously figured it was better to let people complain publicly than sharpen knives privately).

 

Overall? AK is a good character with their biases pretty obvious, but what they are is what makes me trust them. They are a bitter, cynical person who lives with everything they trusted reduced to ash and trying to understand how by reducing everything down to its pieces.

 

The AL section everyone questions is amusingly what sells me. Everything it references they provide three to four conflicting theories for with a tone of both obvious frustration and an air of 'look, I'm doing my best here'.

 

Heck, the tagline at the start of each book is them stating their exact reasons for writing this all down. Someone has to remember because otherwise its all pointless.

 

Frankly, I'd love Wraight or French to write a sort of biographic novel on our mysterious writer.

 

I would love to see your full review though, either now or after you've had a chance to glance them over again. (EDIT: Anyone else as well, this won't be very fun or very good for selling folks on their value if its just discussing my personal review or making reference to a specific part in the latest book! sweat.gif )


Edited by StrangerOrders, 23 August 2020 - 11:53 PM.

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#24
b1soul

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Yes, it struck me as odd they didn't go with the Khan's four-year hit-and-run campaign against four Traitor Legions, with the noose inexorably closing around the Khan's wild riders. That's the type of stuff begging to be expanded upon in a Black Book. Sadly, the authour(s) of Malevolence says they don't have records of the Scars post-Chondax pre-Siege (but they have records of stuff like the Ashen Claws in Nostramo).
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#25
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@ bluntblade

Yes, it struck me as odd they didn't go with the Khan's four-year hit-and-run campaign against four Traitor Legions, with the noose inexorably closing around the Khan's wild riders. That's the type of stuff begging to be expanded upon in a Black Book. Sadly, the authour(s) of Malevolence says they don't have records of the Scars post-Chondax pre-Siege (but they have records of stuff like the Ashen Claws in Nostramo).

Eh, they did say that they plan Crusade to be the halfway mark.

 

So... the Scars campaigns seem like great material for that, especially for smaller releases like IV and VI. Heck, its a great chance for them to 'guest star' all over the place. Steal the AL's BB Gimmick away from right under them :P

 

Jests aside, there is more than enough space to be hopeful, especially since the BBs have shown a fondness for exploring fairly vague stuff and battles. 


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