Legacies of Betrayal (Book Review)

For someone who was once as invested in the Horus Heresy as I was before I took a break from all reading, coming back to such a vast trove of stories is made easier when you have an anthology the likes of Legacies of Betrayal to ease you back in. Full of reprints of short stories, micro-short srories and audio dramas and novellas, Legacies covers the length and breadth of the ongoing Horus Heresy, giving you a great snapshot of what terrors are being wrought across the Imperium and the futile-seeming efforts of the heroes to stave off the worst. Highly recommended, especially if you need to ground yourself in the hows and whens and whats.

Note: This is a longer review than usual since there are nineteen stories of varying length in the anthology. Settle in for a long ride.

The first entry in the anthology is Chris Wraight’s Brotherhood of the Storm here. I have previously reviewed the novel , so you may read that review of it to get my thoughts on the novella. It was a fantastic read, even better than I remembered and with the help of hindsight I see also how it stands as one of the best examples of the relationships between mortals and Astartes depicted in the Heresy. And of course, the bonds forged in battle between different brothers of a Legion, before those bonds are sundered by treason and mistrust. And if you ever want to see Jaghatai Khan in action, then this should be your first stop for sure.

Rating: 9/10

Then we have John French’s micro-short Serpent which is a very brief snapshot of a Chaos ritual being performed by a priest of one of the Davinite Cults. We met the Davinites for the first time in Graham McNeill’s False Gods, the second novel in the series, when Horus was wounded during a battle on Davin and was attended to by the seemingly innocuous religious healers of the planet. Not quite sure what the relevance of the story is, but it is a decent look into the bloody rituals of those who have given away their all to the powers of Chaos.

Rating: 7/10

Guy Haley’s short story Hunter’s Moon is next. This one tells the tale, in first-person no less, of what happens when a Space Wolves Legionary crash-lands on an inconsequential world and is saved from death by some mortals. The fisherman Tidon makes for a wonderful narrator as he tells the audience of the final fate of the Space Wolves squad sent to the Alpha Legion to keep watch over them. After Magnus the Red defied the Emperor’s Decree Absolute and caused psychic mayhem on Terra itself, such squads of veteran Wolves were sent to all the other Legions as spies and watchdogs. We know little of the fate of most of them, but here in Hunter’s Moon we learn some grim tidings, and the resolution of the story packs enough of a punch that I’d say it is one of the best I’ve read in the series. Guy has a good command over his characters and there’s plenty of twists and bolter-action to keep you entertained.

Rating: 9/10

Then we move to the micro-short Veritas Ferrum by David Annandale as we are thrown back to the final stages of the Dropsite Massacre. Arriving late to the conflict, the Iron Hands vessel Veritas Ferrum finds itself fighting for survival among the treachery of four of the seven Legions sent to Isstvan III to bring Horus Lupercal and his fellow traitors to account. Captain Durun Atticus must face a stark choice in the middle of the massacre in the void: save a few desperate survivors of the Dropsite Massacre, brothers of his own Legion and cousins from the Salamanders and Raven Guard, or get out with his men and his ship intact. I remember reading this back when it was released and it was as awesome then as it was now. It is a haunting story of fighting against desperate odds and I loved it. This is also a prequel to David’s novel Damnation of Pythos.

Rating: 9.5/10

John French returns with Riven, which continues some of the themes of Veritas Ferrum before it. Back on Terra, First Captain Sigismund of the Imperial Fists enlists the help of an Iron Hands warrior to seek out survivors of the Dropsite Massacre and bring them to Terra to lend a hand in the defense of the throneworld against the inevitable invasion by Horus Lupercal. When Crius, First Vexilla of the Iron Hands, learns that his gene-father and patriarch Ferrus Manus is dead, something inside him just… breaks. That’s what John French deals with in this story. It is artfully done and focuses on how desperate and cold the Iron Hands have become following the betrayals of Isstvan and the death of Manus. The psychological trauma runs deep and for the exploration of that alone I recommend this story highly. There are some instances where one of the mysteries at the heart of the story become rather opaque to the understanding, but I think the ending is worth it all.

Rating: 9/10

The micro-short Strike and Fade by Guy Haley is next which tells the story of a small survivor squad of Salamanders on Isstvan V itself. Jo’phor, Hae’Phast, Go’sol and Donak have struggled since the massacre to strike back at the traitors, causing mayhem for their enemies wherever they may be. It is a touching story that speaks to the strength and character of the Salamanders in face of great odds. Quick and easy read for something like this.

Rating: 10/10

Gav Thorpe’s Honour to the Dead then takes us to the war-torn fields of Calth, the world-that-was. It was at Calth that a massive host of the traitorous Word Bearers ambushed the entire Ultramarines Legion, striking a major blow against the defenders of Ultramar. Honour to the Dead tells the story of how loyal Titans of the Legio Praesagius, the True Messengers, take the fight to the disloyal engines of Legio Infernus, the Fire Masters in the ruins of Numinous City. And along the way we also follow the trials of a squad of Ultramarines who were caught in the city when the Word Bearers launched their ambush.

This is a superlative story that gives you two distinct perspectives into the battle for Calth, an all-out Titan-on-Titan skirmish and the regrouping of the XIIIth Legion warriors who call Calth home. Full of some absolutely great moments, Honour To The Dead was first released as an audio-drama and you can read my review of it here.

Rating: 9.5/10

Then we have Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s first entry in the anthology, a reprint of the audio drama Butcher’s Nails. As the name implies, this one is focused on the World Eaters Legion under Angron. Formerly the War Hounds, once the Legion was reunited with Angron during the Great Crusade, they underwent a severe transformation, and much of this story focuses on the implications of that transformation, which are both physical and psychological. As the story of the Horus Heresy rolls on, I get the feeling that neither the Primarchs nor the Legions were perfect as we were led to believe, for each of them harboured some kind of a deep psychological flaw and the larger narrative is all about how these flaws ruined the Imperium at its inception.

I’ve reviewed the audio drama before, here, so I won’t go into much detail here. Suffice to say though that this is among Aaron’s best work. He explores the relationships between both Lorgar and Angron, as well as their Legions and he tells a story that’s about ordained destinies and pathological violence. Loved it, want more. This is also a prequel of sorts to Aaron’s novel Betrayer, so that’s some follow-up reading for those interested.

Rating: 9/10

Up next is John French again with another micro-short, Warmaster. We have seen so much of the Warmaster Horus Lupercal before this point, whether through the eyes of those around him or from his own perspective, rare though it has been. Warmaster is everything that I wanted to read about Horus and his thoughts on the galactic war he has set in motion. The Primarch of the Sons of Horus confronts some of his deepest fears in this story, and establishes himself as a much more well-rounded character than what some of the earlier stories led us to believe. That John could capture all of that in just a thousand words or so is spectacular. And there’s a particularly delicious twist in the final few words that hearkens back to Graham McNeill’s Fulgrim. Really well-done stuff.

Rating: 10/10

Graham McNeill makes his entry into the anthology next with Kryptos, which once again continues the story of the Shattered Legions: the Iron Hands and the Raven Guard and the Salamanders. Taking place at some point after the Dropsite Massacre and the horrors of Isstvan V, it tells the story of how a team of two such warriors, Nykona Sharrowkyn of the Raven Guard and Sabik Wayland of the Iron Hands, infiltrate the Word Bearer-held world of Cavor Sarta looking for a key of sorts that could let them hack the galaxy-wide communications of the traitor forces.

It is a really cool story that is very much of the kind that authors don’t get to tell in Warhammer 40,000 and I’m really happy about this one. It did seem to be a bit weird at times though, and I confess that some of my grievance comes because of the names of the characters, and the fact that both Sharrowkyn and Wayland have an altogether too easy of a time getting in and out of Cavor Sarta, but beyond that, the dynamics of the short story were good. It’s a buddy-cop story set against the backdrop of the Heresy in many ways, and that’s refreshing to read.

Rating: 8/10

Then we have Chris Wraight’s Wolf Claw which is one of my favourite stories in the anthology. Another micro-short reprint, but so so good. It revisits the character of Bjorn the Fell-Handed, one of my favourite characters from the Space Wolves lore. We first met him in the Heresy in Dan Abnett’s Prospero Burns and now he returns for another short adventure. Having lost his biological hand during the conflict, he wants one of the Chapter’s Iron Priests to give him a new bionic one but the Iron Priest declines. And so he has to find a replacement with immediate effect. This is a very brief look at an iconic character and kind of establishes how the warrior behind the myths that have grown around him in the unthinkable span of ten thousand years first got the epithet of Fell-Handed. Really cool stuff.

Rating: 10/10

Graham McNeill then returns with the reprinted audio-drama Thief of Revelations that takes us to one of the most conspicuous of Legions till now: the Thousand Sons, and their Primarch Magnus the Red. A great span of time has passed since Prospero was burned by the Space Wolves in McNeill’s own A Thousand Sons and here we have the beginnings of the Legion’s Chief Librarian, Ahzek Ahriman’s, great work to rebuild the Legion and cure it of the flesh-curse that has afflicted it since its earliest days. There are many wonderful twists and turns in the story.

This too has been reviewed by me before, here. It is a fantastic story that bridges the gap between A Thousand Sons and Graham’s latest Heresy novel, The Crimson King, so I’d also consider it required reading. You learn a lot about Ahriman and Magnus here, much that forms the basis for what is to follow.

Rating: 9.5/10

Continuing on, we have Gav Thorpe’s entry in the anthology, The Divine Word which carries on the storylines from The Raven’s Flight and Deliverance Lost featuring Marcus Valerius, an Imperial Army commander attached to the Raven Guard Legion. Taking place some time after Deliverance Lost, in this short story  Gav explores further the doubts and misgivings and the secret that Marcus has harboured since the events of The Raven’s Flight. It is a somewhat straightforward story that is all about the loyalist regiments of the Imperial Army fighting off traitorous Army regiments and explores Marcus’ faith in the Emperor and His divinity. It is a very different take than what other writers have done with Nathaniel Garro of the Death Guard or the remembrancer Euphrati Keeler, but is no less effective. I’m always up for more Marcus after Gav’s previous two outings with the character, and this one delivered in spades. He is fascinating in all the right ways and I definitely want more beyond this.

Rating: 9/10

Graham McNeill’s Lucius, the Eternal Blade is another bridging story, this time from Angel Exterminatus to The Crimson King. Still smarting from his defeat at the hands of Nykona Sharrowkyn, Lucius travels to the Planet of the Sorcerers within the Eye of Terror, searching for the warrior who might offer him a true challenge and to prove to himself that he’s the best swordsman in history. Graham captures his fight against Sanakht, a senior officer of the Thousand Sons, really well and having already read The Crimson King, there’s a lot of good setup stuff in this micro-short, especially since it features a particularly good cameo.

Rating: 8.5/10

Anthony Reynolds’ The Eightfold Path is next and this one focuses on Khârn of the World Eaters as one of the most infamous Heresy characters tells us in his own words how far his Legion fallen over the course of the Heresy, and where it will go next. Set some time after Betrayer by my reckoning, Anthony explores how the Legion is changing following the changes that have been wrought on its Primarch. We get a snapshot of honor duels aboard the Legion’s flagship Conqueror, in the famous gladiator-pits, and there is only one outcome here for whoever faces the warrior who will go on to become one of the most favoured sons of the Blood God. It is an interesting look at how the Butcher’s Nails are beginning to affect the World Eaters, almost morbid in fact, and is all the more enjoyable for it.

Rating: 8.5/10

Gav Thorpe is next with Guardian of the Order. This one focuses on the Dark Angels, particularly Zahariel and Lord Cypher, two of the most important officers of the First Legion during the Heresy and whom we first met all the way back in Mitchell Scanlon’s The Descent of Angels. I’ve read this one before, and I confess that I was rather confused by the turn of events in this one. The ending didn’t make sense to me, and I’ve read of the Dark Angels in the series has been less than interesting so I regrettably don’t remember much of it either. There is some great mystery at hand here, and I suppose that I’ll have to re-read all the old stuff before I forge ahead. We shall see.

Rating: 5/10

Aaron Dembski-Bowden returns for a second round with Heart of the Conqueror which focuses on quite an unexpected character: Mistress Nisha Andrasta, navigator of Angron’s own flagship, the Conqueror, when it had still been the Adamant Resolve under the Legion’s old name, the War Hounds. Aaron tells an almost-emotional tale of how the Emperor himself choosing her as the navigator for the warship, a unique vessel of which only twenty were built, a direct reference to the Primarchs. Given the brief length of the piece, it isn’t long before we get into the meat of things: the Heresy is broken out and Nisha is faced with a choice: to stay loyal to the Emperor and the Imperium or forsake His favor and throw in with Angron and Lorgar. The story is set just before Horus Lupercal’s forces begin their invasion of the Sol System and it is magnificent. We get some much-needed insight into a type of character we haven’t seen much of in the series so far, and it is pretty much just perfect. Another home-run.

Rating: 10/10

The penultimate story is Censure by Nick Kyme, another reprinted audio drama. This one takes us back to Calth and is set just after the events of Know No Fear which detailed how the Word Bearers ambushed the Ultramarines in the Veridian System. It brings back into focus Sergeant Aeonid Thiel of the Ultramarines, who once faced censure by the Primarch Roboute Guilliman himself and wore that openly in the form of his red-marked helm. As we learned from Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear however, Thiel’s creativeness and insubordinate behaviour ultimately saved Guilliman and his mark of censure became a mark of his pride and his achievements.

This story however tells us of what happened after when Thiel joined the Ultramarines forces on the surface of the war-torn irradiated planet to defend it against the cruel and relentless forces of the Word Bearers. This has also been reviewed before, here, and is another solid bit of lore for the larger Heresy. It is a fantastic story that builds on the character’s inventiveness and unorthodoxy and also shows a rare moment of connection between an Astartes and a mortal. Loved it. Time has certainly aged it well and I’d definitely rate it a little higher than I did previously. As part of the larger collection in Legacies of Betrayal, it gains some interesting context that adds to the overall experience.

Rating: 9/10

The honor of penning the final story in the collection goes to Chris Wraight for Lone Wolf. Astute readers might guess from the name alone which Legion the title refers to, and they wouldn’t be wrong. A lone Space Wolf, the last of his pack, goes into battle against the worst that the treacherous Warmaster Horus can throw at him and he writes a saga in the blood and corpses of his enemies. It is a fierce story, made all the more fierce and exciting when the identity of this lone wolf is revealed, bringing us full-circle with another short story above. There is a nice gradual ramp-up to the pace here, and while just a brief vignette it only adds to the overall character and psychology of this warrior, of whom we are bound to see much more of as the series progresses. In the meantime, enjoy this one, which has the anthology entire going out with a massive bang. More vignettes like this would be awesome.

Rating: 9/10

Overall rating for the anthology: 9/10

More Horus Heresy:

  • Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill (Review)
  • Brotherhood of the Storm by Chris Wraight (Review)
  • Legacies of Betrayal (Review)
  • Fear To Tread by James Swallow (Review)
  • Garro: Burden of Duty by James Swallow (Review)
  • Garro: Oath of Moment by James Swallow (Review)
  • Garro: Legion of One by James Swallow (Review)
  • Grey Angel by John French (Review)
  • Know No Fear by Dan Abnett (Review)
  • Promethean Sun by Nick Kyme (Review)
  • Shadows of Treachery by Various (Review)
  • The Devine Adoratrice by Graham McNeill (Review)
  • The Outcast Dead by Graham McNeill (Review)
  • The Primarchs by Various Authors (Review)
  • The Raven’s Flight by Gav Thorpe (Review)
  • The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett (Review)
  • Thief of Revelations by Graham McNeill (Review)
  • Vulkan Lives by Nick Kyme (Review)
  • Mark of Calth by Laurie Goulding (Review)
  • Templar by John French (Review)
  • Censure by Nick Kyme (Review)
  • Honour To The Dead by Gav Thorpe (Review)
  • Butcher’s Nails by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Review)

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