Damocles is an anthology book, meaning that it is a series of short stories within the Space Marine Battles line of 40k novels. If you’ve been keeping up with my exploration of Warhammer and the tiny people that inhabit it’s Universe (they are life-size models, right?), then you’ll know that the Tau are one the factions I’ve started collecting and this book is all about the Imperium fighting the Tau, so I was immediately intrigued. I think it’s fair to say that when you have a collection of stories like this, the quality or your preference is bound to move and shift with each one. For me, I found that I thoroughly enjoyed one story, found two good fun and a third fell a bit flat. With that in mind, let’s talk through the battles of the Damocles Gulf and the ongoing conflict between the Adeptus Astartes and the Greater Good.
The first story in Damocles is Blood Oath by Phil Kelly. As the opening story to the book, I found it to be an engaging, if shallow, read. Blood Oath focuses on the White Scars chapter and the Tau’s Commander Shadowsun. As my first foray into the Tau story, it got a good feel for their different ways of fighting and Shadow Sun’s ways of war. The descriptions of the battles did at times feel a bit blow for blow but there were some suitably adrenaline-fueled fights using an array of Tau units that I, personally, really enjoyed. I can see if you’ve been around a bit that this story could come across as extremely shallow and I didn’t like the depiction of the White Scars (another faction I know very little about). Shadow Sun’s constantly bringing up ‘the traitor Shoh’ in almost all of her scenes was a little annoying but again as somebody with very little knowledge, I found this intriguing more than anything. I would have liked some more depth and a little more than the few nuggets we get about her and Farsight’s relationship and training together but I get why that isn’t there. On the whole, if you want some cool Tau fight scenes, then that is what Blood Oath provides. If you want some more depth, then you’ll need to wait for the next story in this anthology.
Broken Sword by Guy Haley is a fantastic story. It centres around humans who have taken up the offer of the Tau to become part of the Greater Good and gives you a real insight into the inner workings of the Tau culture and Sphere expansions. All of the characters are rounded and have a level of depth missing from all the other stories in this anthology (not that any of them are bad but they pale in comparison). Broken Sword has a decent mix of action and slower-paced world-building that makes you want to keep reading. We follow a man who has decided to fully embrace the Tau and thrown off the Imperium. Broken Sword paints the Tau as liberators who are there to offer freedom to a Universe of oppressed peoples. Their opposite in this story is the Raven Guard who have been tasked with the capture of the Water Caste Tau leading the conversion of humans to the Greater Good, and it shows a merciless chapter who employs stealth, misdirection and subterfuge to get the job done. The battles that there are within Broken Sword are skirmishes of the kind seen in Kill Team rather than full-blown open warfare and this gives each clash a tension and urgency that compliments the overall story excellently. This was definitely my favourite of the bunch.
I struggled with Black Leviathan by Ben Counter. Perhaps it was the slower pace, the fact that it felt removed from the other stories in the Damocles anthology. It centres around a world that was inhabited by nomads before the Imperium’s arrival and how they have allied with the Tau to overthrow the empire of man. This time we have the Jade Dragons and the Ultramarines battling the Tau to prevent them from capturing the planet. While I enjoyed some of the Jade Dragon parts, I still can’t seem to get on with anything that involves the Ultramarines. The sons of Guilliman have never managed to spark any interest from me and today wasn’t the day my mind was going to be changed. This story again centres around subterfuge like Broken Sword but in a far less interesting way, and while it also explores the politics and how good intentions can lead to less good consequences, I found none of it engaged me anywhere near as much as Broken Sword. This was my least favourite of the stories.
And finally, we have Hunter’s Snare by Josh Reynolds. This tale is a sequel to the first story in this book, Blood Oath. It once again sees Commander Shadowsun and the White Scars chapter battling one another. However, this time we see things far more from the White Scars perspective and the focus shifts away from the larger conflict to back and forth between Shadowsun and Kor’sarro Khan, the White Scars Chapter Master. The whole story is like one giant fencing match with ripostes, faints and deadly blows. Whereas in the first story, I didn’t like the White Scars, this time they grew on me. We get a decent insight into the Chapter and there are a few moments of humour that go a long way to humanise the Astartes. Hunter’s Snare feels like the perfect end to this anthology as it ties together a lot of what happened in the first story and it has a suitably epic climax.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. Some stories fell flat and others that ignited that spark that makes it hard to stop listening. Oh, yes that’s right. I forgot to mention before but I listened to this as an audiobook read by Johnathan Keeble. The narration was brilliant and meant that even though I didn’t enjoy Black Leviathan’s story the narration kept me engaged. As is probably obvious, if you like the Tau then you’ll get a lot out of this anthology. The same might be said if you are an Astartes player who collects one of the mentioned Chapters. Outside of that, if you just want some fun stories in the 40k Universe, then I think you could do a lot worse than Damocles, and Broken Sword is a fantastic read for anyone.
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