Crusade and Other Stories is positioned as an introduction to Warhammer 40,000. It’s meant to have stories about the various factions and races that will get you interested and want to learn more. And all of that intent and positioning doesn’t mean much when you don’t have a context or a base understanding. I’m not saying that these short stories are bad (although some of them aren’t great), just that this isn’t a great starting point. And here’s why.
Firstly, there is context. As these are short stories, they can’t take the time to introduce all the characters and events that have led up to this moment. Instead, they often jump right into the action and hope you can keep up. Others that are less action-orientated and take a slower pace, are worse. At least for the action-packed stories, you can enjoy some fun battles but when it comes to those that explore a character or set up a future event, you are left with little context around who or what is happening. This means that it can be the best-told story in the world but as you don’t understand the implications it’s pointless. And unfortunately, this happens a lot in Crusade and Other Stories. If you have the context of what is happening to these characters, most of the time you are going to enjoy the story. You’ll at least get something out of it.
Secondly, some of the stories are just not that engaging. There is a risk with a short story that you don’t have the page space to fully develop and flesh out the characters on the page. However, good short stories take advantage of this limited word count to tell stories that wouldn’t work in a full-length novel. In the case of Crusade and Other Stories, some of the stories don’t give us the time to care about the characters, the events or any of it really. This is disappointing because Warhammer short stories can be great (see my review of the Damocles Anthology). There are some examples of excellently told stories in this anthology but they are few and far between.
Let’s take the titular Crusade. On the surface, I should love this story. It’s about the Death Guard and the Ultramarines, and as someone with a steadily growing Death Guard army, I enjoyed every word spent with them. However, when you consider this the actual story is incredibly shallow and none of the characters on either side is any more than either stoic Ultramarine hero or disgusting Death Guard villain. And this an incredible disappointment. And the same is true for many of the other stories, unfortunately.
That being said, there are a few gems among the rough. The Lightning Tower by Dan Abnett about is an intriguing peek into one of the Primarchs during the Horus Heresy. It managed to get me intrigued about Rogal Dorn of the Imperial Fists, a character a knew basically nothing about. A Sanctuary of Wyrms by Peter Fehervari spins a tale of terror featuring the Tau water caste. Finally, Extinction by Aaron Dembski-Bowden sucks you into what happened at the end of the Horus Heresy what is come with the forces of the Traitor Legions and Chaos. All of these were engaging and interesting stories that took my by surprise.
You might find other stories interesting depending on your personal preference but for me, these were the only ones that I would happily listen to again. If I hadn’t listened to it in audiobook form, I doubt I would have made it through all the way through.
One of the other main drawbacks of this book is that none of the stories links to each other. It is the nature of what they were going for but it does mean that it feels disjointed and stilted. Rather than starting here with this book, I would suggest starting with a faction you are interested in, the Horus Heresy opening books (like I did) or something like Dark Imperium. Unfortunately, Crusade and Other Stories is not going to give you as much exposure to what Warhammer 40k is about as it might lead you to believe. You can get far better tales elsewhere but if you want a few good stories between some less good ones but I don’t think it’s worth it.
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