Book Review: Black Library Celebrations 2018 Short Stories

When I was younger, and first discovered the dystopian worlds of fantasy and sci-fi created by Games Workshop, the only publishing they did was to print rulebooks, army expansions and a monthly magazine called White Dwarf. The back stories and folklore to the worlds they created, and the races that inhabited them, reserved purely to bulk out these tomes. The idea of delving furthering into the history of the characters, and the battles they rage, in their own standalone novels, yet to see the printer’s press, as it were.

This predating of the start of the Black Library – named after a fabled vault of books within the Warhammer 40,000 universe – seems somewhat scary when you realise that 2018 saw them celebrating their 20th birthday! The passage of time really is a cruel mistress, and to mark the anniversary, along with a branded the bookmark (which I got for buying Brothers of the Snake by Dan Abnett), they had also printed a celebratory collection of short stories, which you were given for simply entering the store!

You could argue that this free book was just a cynical marketing move. The book contains 6 short stories, two for each of the three major story arcs they print – Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Age of Sigmar, and the Horus Heresy – and I’m sure was designed to tease you into buying more books, reading more stories and thus, making Games Workshop more money. But for me, that idea may well backfire, because, rather than being the “best of the best”, a showcase to another side of the Warhammer hobby, the stories never really ignite or catch fire, they never leave you gripped with tension, fear or passion. They all just feel a bit monotonous and familiar and I don’t think many people will find them the start of a lifetime reading the rest the library has to offer.

As mentioned, the first problem is that the individual stories just don’t feel different enough from each other. You’re presented with the different time frame each is meant to exist within, but the world of sci-fi doesn’t feel different enough from the world of fantasy to actually set them apart. The central spine to every story is just too close, too overlapping, for you to delineate them in your mind. It felt like each story was just a rehashing what has gone before, with the technical information tweaked to fit the requirements needed. Guns may become swords, but the battles in which they draw blood are still fought in the same way. And it all got a bit boring as a result.

This lack of individual clarity isn’t helped either by the fact that the language and names used are too technical and, within the confines of a short story, impossible to expand and explain. The stories are designed to draw you into these worlds anew, to make you crave reading on, but they fail because, unless you have prior knowledge of what is being explained, you can’t get beyond their surface. My mind would wander quickly when I lacked that knowledge when I couldn’t understand or picture the descriptions being lightly explained. I’d drift away from the story as it became nothing more than words and noise on the page.

My second problem, however, is that each short story doesn’t even feel like a short story! It feels like a chapter from a longer book. They don’t seem to have the true beginning, middle and end structure you’d expect of something capable of standing alone. Rather, they each feel like a stolen glimpse, words lifted and forced into independence from a position where they were never meant to be. And I never managed to fully shake off the feeling that this wasn’t true, I never fully trusted the motives of the stories on offer and even expected a few of the tales to end with the line “…to continue this tale buy X book”, but thankfully, they never did.

This mistrust in the collection’s origins is only heightened by the fact that each tale is very short. They may be “short stories”, but when they only take around 30-45minutes to read, you have to question exactly what level of detail and depth they expected to achieve. They are just too shallow, too much like a clipped version, rather than a fulfilling window to the worlds within, to be really engrossing, to draw you in. I usually dislike short stories, because, just as you become invested and befriend the characters they stop, abruptly; but even that doesn’t happen here. This book almost feels unfinished, a collection of ideas in need of polishing and developing, rather than printing and publishing.

I didn’t expect much from the collection before I read it – after all, it was given away for free – but I didn’t expect it to be as narrow and limp as it turned out to be. I’ve never read an Age of Sigmar or Horus Hersey book before, I’d hoped this would ignite these worlds and give me a route into their worlds and investigate them further, but it hasn’t. If anything, it’s turned me away from them. I become so lost and detached from the stories that I’ve lost any desire and intrigue to read on. And that’s such a shame. Part of me wants to believe this isn’t a true reflection of what potentially could await, but it’s all I have to go on and sadly, once bitten, twice shy as they say.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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