The latest anthology of tales from the 41st millennium titled, appropriately, Fear the Alien arrived for me this morning and ive just finished it as I start this review.
Gardens of Tycho
The first story is titled Gardens of Tycho: A Magos Drusher Story by Dan Abnett. Set on a backwater world the story follows the unlucky Magos Biologis Valentin Drusher who is picked up by the Magistratum Martial Order Division to aid them with a serial killing case, although it quickly turns into more then just random killins.
This was quite a good short story for its well-paced action, humourus moments and a twist ending that was quite well-done. And a brief hint to Eisenhorn with the appearance of something that readers of the series will definitely recognize.
I give Gardens of Tycho a 3.5/5, and I hope we have not seen the last of Magos Drusher.
The second story Fear Itself by new Black Library writer Juliet McKenna centres around the Alnavik 'Stone Bears' Imperial Guard Regiment during a Tyranid invasion. The story follows Catmos, the chief surgeon, as he must patch up the wounded and send them back into the slaughter, and must also deal with the psychological scarring that many suffer from the horrors of the Hive Fleets.
This was a good stand-alone story that portrays the Tyranids quite well and gives a new and interesting Imperial Guard Regiment the Alnavik 'Stone Bears' that are "Hard enough to eat rocks and shit gravel!", as the guardsmen put it. However while it was good it did not wow me, this is a solid entry but its not gonna win any awards.
I give Fear Itself a 3/5 and look forward to Juliet Mckenna's future work.
The third story is one that many will recognize. Yet another Salamanders short story by Nick Kyme. Prometheus Requiem is set in-between Fireborn and Firedrake and features Tsu'gan on another mission with the Firedrakes. Tsu'gan and the Firedrakes join up with another Firedrake sergeant on a mission to a Space Hulk, and face the ghosts of their pasts and must determine what enemies are real and what are false, while the true enemy stalks the shadows on the hunt.
This was quite a good short story, definitely better then the other Salamander short tales. Featuring an overlap with ADB's The Core the appearance of Lucoryphus and his Bleeding Eyes was quite cool, especially when they tore a Firedrake apart piece by piece. Plus seeing how both stories affect each other was nice.
I give Prometheus Requiem a 4/5 and look forward to Firedrake, which I am attending Games Day solely to get it early.
Mistress Baeda's Gift
The fourth story was a very interesting one for me. Mistress Baeda's Gift by Braden Campbell follows the Dark Eldar Archon Malwrack as he attempts to win over, and dominate, the widow Baeda who has stolen his affections. However to win such a beauty he must dig deep into his resources and come up with the perfect gift, and that will cost more then he expects.
This was an interesting story. Rather then being set around a huge battle or a deep conspiracy it follows the daily life of a Dark Eldar, and deals with a more emotional side to the twisted kin. While not up to the standards of Anthony Reynold's Dark Eldar, but then again what is, it was definitely enjoyable and another step towards getting the Dark Eldar the attention they deserve.
I give Mistress Baeda's Gift a 4/5 and look forward to more Dark Eldar, we really need more of them.
The fifth story Iron Inferno by C.L Werner is a first for Black Library, the very first story written from the perspective of an Ork. The story follows Kommando Kaptain Grimruk Badtoof, a Blood Axe Ork, who has joined up with a WAAAGH! that is rampaging through the Izanagi sector and has made planetfall on the capital world Yamato. Grimruk and his Kommando's have their mission and will carry it out, regardless of the risk. A Blood Axe knows two things. One, sometimes you've gotta pull out of a fight to get the job done. And two, there's more to winning then getting killed in a big fight.
This was a very enjoyable story and contained some great Orkish moments. The PDF's strategy was sound but I knew instantly how the Orks would react to it. They made one critical mistake, they assumed an Ork thinks like a human. The only thing that disappointed me was the total lack of Ork dialogue, the speech was never used directly. While Orkish dialect is tough we still love hearing, 'Smash dem gitz boyz!, WAAAAGH!'.
I give Iron Inferno a solid 4.5/5
The sixth story Sanctified written by Mark Clapham follows Magos Kaspel as he repairs the ship Sanctity after its crippling by the Necrons. However the Dark Eldar have slipped aboard and are intent on capturing the ship and taking it back to Commorragh, Kaspel must rely on his technological skills to defeat them and save the Sanctity.
This was quite a good story, and more Dark Eldar which gives me hope for their future, and was a solid entry for the anthology. The skills used by Magos Kaspel to defeat the Dark Eldar was surprising and fitting for a Mechanicus Engineseer.
I give Sanctified a 3.5/5 and look forward to Mark Clapham's future work.
The seventh story Faces by Mathew Farrer, the writer of Shira Calpurnia was an interesting one. Set on a mining rig a group of humans have lost their identities and are acting as different people, memories that are not theirs of a great war, broken promises and hatred between brothers and sisters, are being told through their bodies. And the true actors of this epic play are returning, and do not take kindly to their roles being usurped.
This was, ill admit, a slog to get through. Its confusing at the start and seems to drag on but halfway through it starts to get a lot better and the Harlequin's appearing at the end and retaking their masks was very entertaining. Plus it was a fun challenge to guess which roles the human's were playing based on their words and actions.
I give Faces a 3/5 for a good story but a slow start.
The eighth story Unity by James Gilmer was a very interesting take on a xenos race. The story follows the Guard sniper Tam and the Raven Guard Gesar as they trek across a planet to escape the Tau forces hunting them. Dealing with the sting of betrayal by another regiment who have defected to the Tau. Both of these unlikely partners will see a dark side to the enigmatic Tau that show their true xenos colours.
This story was interesting because of its portrayal of the Tau and their Kroot allies. The Tau are shown to be uncaring of humanity and will gladly sacrifice them to preserve their Tau forces while preaching that their deaths are for the Greater Good. And to keep the Kroot sweet they pay them off with live prisoners and dead bodies for feeding.
I give Unity a 3.5/5 for a good story and showing the true dark side of the Tau. It was only a matter of time.
The ninth story The Core by Aaron Dembski-Bowden returns to the Night Lords in a preview of the future. Set after the upcoming novel Blood Reaver the story follows Talos who now has his own ship the Strike Cruiser Echo of Damnation and is in command of the 10th Company. Taking the advice of Tech-Priest Deltrian the Night Lords infiltrate a Space Hulk hoping to be off with much salvage and something that Deltrian wishes to harvest from the hulk of a Mechanicus craft, locked deep within the hulk. However they pick up more then they bargained for and run into an old enemy.
This is my favourite story of the anthology for obvious reasons but also because it is the first glimpse of big changes ahead for the Night Lords. The Exalted and his Atramentar are nowhere to be seen, although their fate is not confirmed, and the Covenant of Blood is gone as well. Newcomers Lucoryphus of the Bleeding Eyes, a Night Lords Raptor who is a remnant of what he once was, and Variel the Flayer, a former Red Corsairs Apothecary and an original Astral Claw. And the overlap with Prometheus Requiem by Nick Kyme was very cool.
I give The Core a 4.5/5 for an enjoyable story, a well-written overlap, and managing to entertain us and at the same time not give anything huge about Blood Reaver away. I look forward to Blood Reaver even more now, and I hope The Exalted burns.
Ambition Knows no Bounds
The tenth and final story of Fear the Alien is Ambition Knows no Bounds by Andy Hoare. Following the junior Rogue Trader Brielle as she and her team venture into an ancient tomb system to plunder and loot what they can. However once inside they face the tomb's guardians and learn that its occupants are not as dead as they assumed.
A good story that gives us some pretty cool Necron action and shows us that ultimately, humans are greedy and stupid, and will disregard danger and the safety of others for a chance at profit. The Necron Lord was awesome and it was nice to see the traditional Necron method that I always imagined they kill people with, disintegration.
I give Ambition Knows no Bounds a 4/5 for a good story and an interesting lesson on humanity's failings.
Overall Fear the Alien has proved to be my favourite anthology with many classic stories and fearsome xenos to threaten mankind. The Dark Eldar getting two appearances and a full short story about them is sweet and promising for their future, and the first Ork story was a success in my eyes and hopefully C.L Werner's next work will be a Ork series, WAAAAGH! ye grots and squigs!.
I give Fear the Alien a 9/10. My next review will be Andy Hoare's Hunt for Voldorius, this is my first full novel by Mr Hoare and features Kernax Voldorius, one of my favourite 40k characters that hadn't been fleshed out until now. I can't wait to start reading.