Again the Black Library denies us any forward momentum of the main Heresy story arc and instead offers an anthology of short stories, most with little if anything to do with the actual 'far from' Civil War. But this can be forgiven when, for the most part, the stories are of such fine quality and provide new insight into ideas and institutions of the 31st Millennium, so often drowned out by the thunder of Bolters.
Blood Games by Dan Abnett
No one does openings quite like Dan Abnett, in a few brief lines he illuminates the surface of ancient Terra giving detail to various geographic regions and at the same time plunging the reader straight into a gripping piece of espionage and assassination where all is not as it seems. The story fleshes out the crème Del la crème of the Emperors forces, his personal security detail, the Adeptus Custodes and in 50 pages we are treated to information on them, the Throne Worlds preparations for war and the surprisingly diverse nature of culture and politics still in existence there.
Wolf at the Door by Mike Lee
Set right at the end of the Great Crusade, this is a compliance mission featuring the legendary 13th Company of the Space Wolves. Now I've never really been a fan of the Wolves of Russ but Mike Lee's tale won me round very quickly banishing thoughts of drunken Vikings and replacing them with stoic, cunning and hard as nails warriors. The story is a nice little taster for what I hope is to come with A Thousand Son's and Prospero Burns and it places itself firmly in the lead up to those events. It features a nasty (now very popular) Xenos enemy and deals with the conflicting nature of the Crusades objectives.
Scions of the Storm by Anthony Reynolds
A hefty slice of the more traditional world burning Astarte conquests here and the story with the most direct relevance to the main thread of the Heresy. Anthony Reynolds focuses on those book thumping Word Bearers and their first action following Lorgars censure by the Emperor. The action is standard fare and I found it to be overly drawn out but the underlying tale touching on one, if not 'THE' great ironies of the Warhammer 40K universe is interesting, if a little clunky in its delivery.
The Voice by James Swallow
My faith in James Swallow had been severely dented by his Blood Angel books and I was half tempted to skip this one completely, after all a story focusing on the mute Sisters of Silence was going to be a hard sell; but it has links with his far superior work The Flight of the Eisenstein and so I pressed on. I was glad I did as the author regains some of his form delivering a Dark Millennium slant on the Ghost Ship story, meanwhile adding more detail to the Sisterhood. The ending conflicts a bit with what I understood to be the effects of the Pariah Gene but gives a sad and knowing nod to the consequences of blind faith and the future path of the Sisters.
Call of the Lion by Gav Thorpe
One of the weakest stories of the anthology in that it really doesn't bring much to the table; it features the Dark Angels and is set during another compliance mission of the Great Crusade. Gav Thorpe's writing isn't the problem here, it's the Chapter itself, which has suffered from constant reinterpretations of both its basic make up (Deathwing being Indians and Ravenwing riding Jetbikes, oh those were the days) and it's dark secret; all to the detriment of what should be a very interesting history. Other than underlining the growing division between the Terrans and Calabanites within its ranks and thus firming up Thorpes take on the Great Betrayal, this story goes nowhere in particular.
The Last Church by Graham McNeill
In contrast this is one of the strongest and most interesting of the anthology despite there being no real 'action' to speak of. It is essentially a dialogue between two characters with opposing views of the age old debate of faith versus science and in that, the basis of the entire Great Crusade. Graham McNeill weaves an enthralling and powerfully emotional story, avoiding what could so easily have developed into sermonising. He challenges the reader to question both sides, delivering a great twist and providing fresh insight into both the old order of religion and the secular architect who seeks to eradicate it.
After Desh'ea by Mathew Farrer
A brutal and somewhat confusing tale of Angrons introduction to his 'soon to be' World Eaters Legion that is probably a better read for those fans of the Chapter. It's hampered by the fact that Angron is a tormented madman with all the social grace of the Hulk and thus it's quite hard to develop any connection with him.