Invocations

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Dec 2019

Member Reviews

An interesting, engaging collection of horror and suspense fiction, set in the Warhammer science fiction and fantasy worlds. Atmospheric, creepy, and featuring varied protagonists, this is a solid anthology. I enjoyed it.

Four of these stories were available previously as eBook shorts, released during the Warhammer Horror Week mini-event. The rest are new to this collection. Here's the full table of contents:

[ToC]

Each of these stories offers an intriguing, often chilling look at just a small part of the Age of Sigmar or WH40k settings. Be they strange goings on in the various Mortal Realms (fantasy) or the far corners of the Imperium and reaches of space. Invocations works well as a horror binge-read, but equally as something to dip into between longer books. The stories do a good job of casting a pretty wide net, in terms of faction focus and type of horror story, too. Allows the collection to avoid feeling same-y, and kept my interest up throughout.

There were a couple of stand-outs for me. First, David Annandale's "The Hunt" was a twisty story about a Witch Hunter who seems to have made a terrible decision years ago, when his home region was under the control of the forces of Nurgle. It's an interesting tale, one that dangles a couple of potential terrors and fates for Devan. Good, fiendish twist at the end.

In "Blood Sacrifice", Peter McLean brings readers back in the lives of some of his characters that have survived his previous stories -- such as the excellent "Baphomet by Night", a story whose atmosphere and content brought to mind the worst small-scale atrocities of the Vietnam War, filtered and exaggerated through the lens of the grim far future of WH40k.

"After Baphomet, he was redeployed. There was no respite in the Astra Militarum, no end to the killing. Not ever."

As the story opens, Corporal Cully and the Reslian 45th are on non-combat duties, helping to dig trenches and reinforce territory. It's unglamorous, and kind of pointless (in their eyes) to be wasting veteran soldiers on such tasks. As a result, he and his comrades are bored and restless. "Luckily", one of them has been offered a freelance gig in the Hive -- good for some income, and also something to do. What could possibly go wrong? It's a very good story, with great characters. McLean has a real gift for making characters feel very real, and make readers invested in their continued survival. (You won't always be happy about this...) He remains one of my favourite new authors playing in BL's sandpit.

As I've mentioned before with regards to the Warhammer Horror imprint, there are definitely times when I'm not sure what separates the "horror" fiction from much of the regular Black Library fiction. This collection does a good job of helping provide something of an explanation -- there air of menace and potential threat is enhanced, but not through action or battles. Rather, it is the small moments of personal and small-scale horror that take place between the larger-scale madness of warfare on such a huge scale. In other words, even away from the battlefront, life in the Mortal Realms and in the Imperium are... well, not my first choice. Don't expect happy endings.
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Warhammer Horror stories? Count me In! There is a little bit for every one in this anthology. I am very happy that Net Galley accepted my request for reading this before hand.
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Some really good stories in the Black Library and worlds for Warhammer And, because I've been gaming for 27 years, it was like saying hi to places I was familiar and happy to go back to.  New perspectives, but still familiar and rich and wonderful in their own way and the horror stories are just delicious.  The first sets the tone, a few are slightly weaker than the other, my favorite had to be tied between 'The summoner of shadows' and the slightly better, but only just, 'Flesh and Blood'. 
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for a review
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Dark, brutal, and utterly addictive. This anthology is riddled with intrigue, suspense, and balls to the wall action and horror. Simply incredible.
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Black Library’s second Warhammer Horror-branded short story anthology, this features twelve stories from ten different authors, four of which have previously been released as individual digital-only shorts while the other eight are presented here for the first time. All twelve explore the darker corners of the 41st Millennium and the Mortal Realms, with established names like David Annandale, Justin D. Hill, Nick Kyme and CL Werner joined by newer (to Warhammer) but still familiar authors Lora Gray, Peter McLean and Richard Strachan. Meanwhile Ray Cluley, Jake Ozga and Steven Sheil all make their Black Library debuts.

Depending on your outlook and tolerance levels, these stories aren’t necessarily overtly scary, but rather the sort that leave you feeling uncomfortable, saddened, on-edge or disturbed (sometimes all at the same time), and that stick with you for at least a while afterwards. Taken as a whole it’s not exactly an uplifting anthology, favouring a bleak and dour tone over the excitement, adventure or glory that Warhammer fiction often provides, but then that’s the point really, isn’t it? If you’re interested in exploring the sinister fringes of 40k or Age of Sigmar, chances are this excellent anthology will provide exactly what you’re looking for.
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Invocations: A Collection of Warhammer Horror Stories

Black Library

Nothing seems to to closer to the very centre of a Venn diagram of this blog's title than the titles of the Warhammer Horror imprint; and as I'm a big Black Library fan, it seemed only natural to read and review all of the Warhammer Horror series as they're published. I was excited when I learnt that Black Library were planning a Horror-focused imprint, and I was somewhat skeptical that Horror fiction could be differentiated from the already-grimdark nature of the Warhammer settings, especially Warhammer 40K. However the first publication, the triptych The Wicked and the Damned, thoroughly impressed (and horrified) me and made me realize that Warhammer Horror could indeed be a distinct imprint. I dived into the other releases in the first tranche of the imprint - the anthology Maledictions, the audio dramas The Way Out and Perdition's Flamers - and realised that here was an imprint that I both loved and wanted to succeed. Therefore I decided to make sure I reviewed each title as it was released, regardless of the format. Reviews of that first tranche will be forthcoming in the future, but for the moment I'm focusing on the latest anthology Invocations, having received a copy through Netgalley. The Table of Contents listed a great blend of veterans and newcomers in the Black Library stable, and the distinctive and eye-catching cover art by Rachel Williams made me eager to begin reading.

[Note: As always with my reviews of anthologies and short story collections: to keep my reviews as brief as I can, I only focus on those stories that I particularly enjoyed, or which resonated with me in some special way. This is not necessarily a reflection on any authors whose tales I do not discuss, or the quality of their work; it is simply a way to ensure I don’t ramble on forever about a single book.]

I'm a huge fan of David Annandale, and his contributions so far to Warhammer Horror have been some of my favourite stories in the imprint, so I was glad to see the anthology open with The Hunt from his pen. I haven't come across many stories told in second-person, and I know it can be a difficult point of view to pull off; fortunately Annandale is more than capable of pulling it off, using it as an engaging and chilling framing device for portraying a Witchhunter being haunted by terrifying screams and wails that emerge from the darkness each night, joined by strange flashes of unlight that only Bered Davan can see. Annandale's mastery of atmosphere and descriptive prose only ever seems to grow with each story he writes, and he uses it here to effortlessly portray a growing sense of horror as Davan watches his spectral doom approach his quarters. Add to that a terrible decision made in the past that gnaws at the Witchhunter at every opportunity, and you have a genuinely creepy and unsettling tale, with a gut-wrenching twist in the ending. It's easily the highlight of the entire anthology and well worth the price of purchase alone.

The Confessions of Convict Kline by Justin D. Hill is set in the familiar grim darkness of the 40K universe, and sees a Confessor reviewing the crimes and confession of a psychopathic killer, a man who carved his way through several Ecclesiarchy apartment blocks before being captured. Hill captures well the feel, the atmosphere, the flavour of a 40K interrogation with its overbearing religiosity and presumption of guilt until innocence is proven. It's also a fascinating look into the 'art' of producing a confession, and the attitudes of the fanatical religious zealots employed to undertake that task. The casual brutality and attitudes to death, and yet implicitly rote nature of condemning yet another criminal to Imperial 'justice'. The horrifying irony that penitence and being 'saved' means a far worse fate than just being executed; and the perhaps inevitable fate of those involved in such service. It's all first-class atmosphere, added to good writing and an engaging plot with some nice twists and turns.

Setting a horror tale in and around the feastday for a returning monarch is certainly an original and intriguing concept, and it's one that Lora Gray uses to great effect in He Feasts Forever. There's some good characterisation with the relationship between protagonist Dedric, cook in the King's court and his older brother, a foul-tempered hunter. As if his brother's mood wasn't bad enough, there's the unexpected present of a fine deer for the feast, and then the appearance of a strange young child in the kitchens while the deer is being butchered and prepared. There's some intense imagery in this story as Dedric considers his past prior to service to the King, some of which made me feel queasy, not an easy achievement given how much Horror fiction I've imbibed the past few years. A quietly horrifying tale that bodes well for Gray's future as a Black Library writer.

Stitches by Nick Kyme has a fast-paced opening that was certainly a change of pace compared to other stories; and you can tell Kyme is a veteran storyteller from the way he efficiently and effectively sets the scene - a worn-out medicae on a war-torn world the Imperial Guard are struggling to pacify, and a flood of wounded and crippled men who are often infected with things that require a flamer to deal with. The keen isolation of dirty white walls and endless slabs with crippled and dying men is deftly evoked, and there's a wonderful sense of sanity slowly being lost as the medicae begins to see dead men come back to life. A potent blend of psychological horror as well as physical - almost splatterpunk in some parts. Both a great Warhammer story and a great horror story - perfectly stitched together.

Blood Sacrifice by Peter McLean is a continuation to several of his 40K stories, including one in the Maledictions anthology, and confirms my belief that Warhammer Horror seems to be a natural place for McLean to write in. Once again Corporal Cully and One Section are fighting the enemies of the Imperium, this time on the Hive World of Voltoth. It's a grim, depressing place but a vital one, churning out the endless food supplies the Imperium of Man needs to hold back the tides of xenos and chaos for another day. It's under siege by Orks and needs to be held at any cost. Cully is a fascinating character, and something I don't think we've seen before in an Imperial Guard story: a Guardsman explicitly affected by the horrors inflicted by all the campaign's he's survived, with McLean openly highlighting things like PTSD and self-inflicted wounds. I imagine it's only an imprint like Warhammer Horror that would allow McLean to flourish like this, and Black Library are to be commended for that, as he's a fantastic writer. He really brings home the fatalistic nature of service in the Imperial Guard in a way I haven't quite seen before, combined with some great action scenes, a firm eye for characterisation, and a terrifyingly vivid imagination. There are far too many people who seem to take the Imperium of Man as the 'good guys' in the 40K universe, and McLean's stories are a timely and powerful counter-punch to this attitude.

The concept of pagan rites is always a good concept for a horror story, from the Wicker Man to Midsommar, and Richard Strachan puts his own unique Warhammer take on it with The Growing Seasons. I enjoyed the slower pace of the story and the infusion of those pagan practices and the sense of thousands of years of history weighing down on the inhabitants of this small valley. Their peace is interrupted by a former inhabitant of the valley returning unexpectedly, and things begin to go badly wrong in this isolated backwater. Strachan seems to positively revel in the rot, decay and general chaos that he inflicts on the farmers, and artfully depicts the slow but inevitable disintegration of a farming community.

Jake Ozga is another new author I hadn't heard of before, but he certainly seems to know what he's doing with the Warhammer setting from the look of Supplication. An old man journeys from his isolated farm after the death of his wife and attempts to return to the tribe that he abandoned so long ago. But the further he progresses, the more he realizes that the forces of Chaos have won their battle against humanity and taken root deeply. Ozga's writing is deeply atmospheric and his descriptions of a forest turned to Chaos is wonderfully vivid and detailed. That and a slow-paced, almost painful story of the old man discovering what has happened to his tribe and family makes an excellent tale, with a shocking twist and bittersweet ending. Ozga really nails the feel of Chaos, and I'd like to see more Chaos-orientated tales from him.

Quietly horrifying in its concept and also an excellent mystery tale, From the Halls, the Silence by David Annandale is reminiscent of something like the old Eisenhorn tales by Dan Abnett, or the Inquisition Wars by Ian Watson. Here we have an Inquisitor attending an aged and infirm confessor, who wishes to make a confession - but ironically one that can only be heard by an Inquisitor. Annandale weaves a classic tale of Inquisitorial investigation, with the old man once an Inquisitors accomplice; they examine accusations of heresy made by one ancient clan against another, only for the Inquisitor to disappear under sinister circumstances. This story merely added more evidence to what I already knew - Annandale really does seem to be the reigning monarch of Warhammer Horror.

C.L. Werner is another veteran Black Library author I'm a big fan of, and in particular his Old World tales, like the Blighted Empire trilogy with its compelling blend of politics and mystery. The Old World may be dead (for now) but the Age of Sigmar setting has succeeded it, and it's here that Werner bases his tale, A Sending from the Grave. Yuri is an amateur ironhunter, using a Duardin-forged rod to hunt meteoric iron in marshlands, in the hope of making his fortune. Unfortunately he discovers something more than some scraps of meteor, something that brings death to the citizens of the wonderfully named Sigmarograd. I'm unclear if ironhunting has been featured in Black Library titles before or if Werner invented it, but regardless he deftly uses it to develop the background of Sigmarograd and its culture, moulded around the starfall hunting. That gives the depth of background needed to make the bloodshed that follows more insidious. The monster Werner unleashes is original in concept and all the more terrifying for how alien it is and unlike other things that lurk in the Warhammer settings. It also ties into some of the more intriguing and darker themes in the new Age of Sigmar universe, in particular the Stormcast Eternals, and I'd like to see Werner develop this into further stories. Vivid, unsettling and thoughtful - all one could ask for from a horror story.

The anthology closes with a short vignette from David Annandale, The Summons of Shadows, set in the dull world of Administratum bureaucracy, of ancient records transcribed pointlessly and then forgotten about instantly, yet never allowed to be ignored by the bloated weight of the Imperium. That particular anonymous, grinding and utterly tedious existence has always been one of the grimmest parts of the 40k universe for me, and Annandale evokes it perfectly even before he introduces the ghosts haunting an Administratum clerk. Ghosts that demonstrate the futility and pointlessness of Imperial service, where a mere translation error can kills tens of thousands and then be lost in moldering paperwork. It's short, sharp and shocking and serves as a perfect ending to the anthology.

Invocations is an absolutely first-rate anthology from Black Library, and one of the stand-out titles in an imprint that is already producing some high-quality titles. All of the stories it contains effectively use the various Warhammer universes to develop unsettling, horrifying and often even outright disturbing tales that build on the grimdark foundations of the setting. Particular praise should go to Annandale, Werner, McLean and Ozga for stories that stood out even amongst the general high quality of their peers, and I would hope to see more from them in Warhammer Horror.
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Loved the stories. I dont know if this is a spoiler or not but I noticed a pattern in the stories as the anthology went along. The one about the cook was my favorite. It had an ending, that surprised me.  Cant wait to read other anthologies in the warhammer horror genre.
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Invocations is a collection of short stories from the Warhammer universe. But there's a slight twist. These are all specifically from the Horror side of the Warhammer world, and they all certainly fit the bill. 
	A bunch of different authors got together to make this collection what it is. And the end result is something truly chilling. Lora Gray, Ray Cluley, Richard Strachan, David Annandale (he actually wrote three), Steven Sheil, Nick Kyme, Peter McLean, Jake Ozga, C. L. Werner, Justin D. Hill all wrote short stories for this collection...and they are memorable ones, to put it mildly. Individual reviews of each short story can be found below.
	I adored this collection of shorts. They were terrifying and bone-chilling. They were graphic when needed, or unafraid to rely on imaginations at times. In short, they were as varied as they were dark – which is saying something. 

The Hunt by David Annandale
	The Hunt is the first short story in this collection, and it's the first of three written by David Annandale. This piece truly sets the tone for the entire collection. It's chilling, and more than a little bit disturbing.
	This is the tale of a man haunted by his past. So haunted that he isn't at all surprised by what comes for him. In fact, he makes some naturally obvious conclusions about the reason why he's being hunted.
	As a start of this collection, this short story was seriously bone-chilling. In some ways, it felt like Warhammer's version of the Cask of Amontillado. And I absolutely adore that. More of this, please!

The Confession of Convict Kline by Justin D. Hill
	While the Hunt set the tone for the collection, The Confession of Convict Kline truly freaked me out. It's a chilling tale, taking it's time to set the scene before diving into the horrors within. Okay, that's not entirely true – the scene itself is fairly horrifying. It just manages to surpass itself by the end.
	Justin D. Hill wrote an elaborate tale here, which is impressive given how short it is, relatively speaking. His words seem to pop off the page, which is slightly terrifying, given what is happening. The tale that unfolds is of Confessor Thanaton and his terrifying abnormal day. Though even his normal day would be terrifying to most of us.  

He Feasts Forever by Lora Gray
	He Feasts Forever is the third story in this collection. It is simultaneously the most brutal and ephemeral story in this collection. Lora Gray wrote a terrifying story here, one that leaves readers with so many questions. But that's okay because I don't think we'd like the answers.
	Where the first two stories were chilling, falling somewhere closer to thrillers, He Feasts Forever is as graphic as it is brutal. There's no hiding from the gore within these pages. It is unashamed of what it is, and what is it? Will leave you with some nightmares.

Stitches by Nick Kyme
	Stitches is the perfect followup to He Feasts Forever by Nick Kyme. It is also high on the end of graphic nature, but it takes a completely different turn from the last tale. Butcher is one of the many field doctors out there, and in case his name didn't give it away – he's not the sort of doctor you want to end up with. Not if you want to have a chance of surviving.
	But something strange happens within his tent. This strange event changes things on a permanent level for Butcher. It's just too bad he wasn't able to put the pieces of the puzzle together as quickly as his cadavers. 

The Healer by Steven Sheil
	The Healer is perhaps my favorite short story in this collection, introducing us to a tale that at first feels very different from the rest. In this scenario, there's a traveling healer. She's beloved by all the towns she passes through, as she will either heal or make comfortable all of their injured and sick. And that's so much more than they could ever hope for normally.
	But, this is a collection of horrors. And thus nothing is quite as it appears. What unfolds is terrifying and dark...yet it also made complete sense in the end. I loved how chilling and disturbing this one was. I loved what Steven Sheil did with this piece, and would really love to see more like it. 
	
Blood Sacrifice by Peter McLean
	Blood Sacrifice is a short story that lives up to its name. It's deliciously dark, while also not feeling rushed to tell its story. Instead, Peter McLean weaves us a slowly unfolding tale. One that will set you on edge as you wait for the other shoe to drop. Or at least, that was how it felt to me while I was reading.
	The Astra Militarum sees no end to the war. No end to the bloodshed or the dying. And thus it's the perfect setting for what is about to follow. It's dark and while not unexpected, it is still as disturbing as they come.

The Growing Seasons by Richard Strachan
	The Growing Seasons was perhaps the most surprising short story in this collection. Perhaps that just means I need to read more Warhammer novels though, so who can say. I will say that I was delighted with the setting for this piece, and more than a little bit curious to see how it would all unfold.
	Richard Strachan's tale is one carefully balanced. It's the tale of a small town and a small town's superstitions. But it's also a piece of horror, showing how quickly a small town can fall to the evils of the world. 

Supplication by Jake Ozga
	Supplication was one of those tales that completely surprised me by the direction it took, and I absolutely loved that about it. It started in one manner – a dark and foreshadowing moment. And by the end managed to come up with even more surprises. And yes, they were as dark as you might expect.
	This is a tale of a man who lost everything to the encroaching darkness and infection of the world. He held out for as long as he could, alongside his wife. But like all dark horrors, when things go downhill, it does so quickly. 

From the Halls, The Silence by David Annandale
	From the Halls, The Silence is the second short story in this collection that was written by David Annandale, and it's dramatically different from the first piece. Personally, I really enjoyed the way this story was told.
	It was a tale within a tale, with the main character confessing his moment of weakness. And of his desperate hope for somebody to believe him and do what he could not, all those years ago. It was a chilling tale, for all the lack of evidence that remained about it. Or perhaps it's because of that lacking. 

A Sending From the Grave by C. L. Werner
	A Sending From the Grave is another favorite of mine from this collection. Written by C. L. Werner, it's a slow-building tale. One that takes it's time to set the scene – and telling us the whole story of the monster that hunts during the night.
	Having the outside perspective on this piece, it was easier to see how it all fit together. But knowing that actually made it more chilling, rather than less. It was beautifully written, designed to be as heartbreaking as it was alarming. 

Flesh and Blood by Ray Cluley
	Oh boy, Flesh and Blood was perhaps the most graphic tale in the series. But not in the literal sense. What was truly graphic was the amount that was left unsaid. Ray Cluley had a clear understanding of how strong out imaginations can be, and thus knew how to take advantage of it.
	This was a disturbing tale, showing how far people can go in order to try and gain their own safety. It was also a reminder that those measures will usually not work out in the long run. As evidenced by the events that unfolded here. 

The Summons of Shadow by David Annandale
	The Summons of Shadow is the final short story in this collection, and the third piece written by David Annandale. There was something so eerie and beautiful about this tale. Maltenus is a man who was willing to give everything to his empire – including his family. He rested well, thinking they were off fulfilling the duties asked of them.
	But then the visions begin. Slowly, with each passing hallucination (or so he hopes), Maltenus' life begins to unravel. It's a tale with a poignant reminder about knowing what to value in your life, but that just added to the impact of the tale.
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