Genestealer Cults in the Black Library!

Hey everybody,
It feels like it’s been a long few weeks as I’ve been reading some Genestealer Cults stories – or re-reading, that should be, as I have actually read both of these before, I’ve just never talked about them on the blog! As I’m still on the Cult kick at the minute (although painting has stopped due to lack of brushes!) I thought it was appropriate to get in the mood, and all that!

Cult of the Warmason is first on the list, and shows a Cult uprising on the shrineworld of Lubentina while the besieged Sisters of Battle attempt to put them down. There is a lot of story here, as we see the battle sisters defend the Warmason’s cathedral against the cultists. The Warmason of the title, Vadok Singh, was the man who helped design the defences around the Imperial Palace on Terra during the Heresy. The Ministorum clerical staff refuse to call for aid until it is too late, and when they think that the Adeptus Astartes have arrived to answer their call, instead it is revealed that the Iron Warriors have arrived to reclaim one of the relics in the cathedral. The cathedral becomes a nexus of the fighting, as the Astra Militarum, the Sisters, the Cult and then the Iron Warriors all converge upon it. The Cultists get the relic first, and so the Iron Warriors follow them into the catacombs below the surface, followed closely by the Sister Superior while all goes to hell up above. The Iron Warriors confront the Patriarch of the Cult, and eventually recover the relic, which turns out to be one of Perturabo’s flawed creations. In keeping with their primarch’s wishes, the launch the device into the sun, and leave the planet. While the world burns, the Sister Superior escapes Lubentina with the genestealer infection…

Like I said, there is a lot of story here, and it almost needs more space to be told at times, as the narrative feels a bit like it jumps around a bit too much. I love the inertia of the ruling Ecclesiarchy and Ministorum council, and there is something wonderfully gothic and very 40k about the flashpoint being centred around a monumental cathedral. However, the story did feel a little bit like it shouldn’t have been constrained by a page count, which is something a lot of Black Library books almost have in common. Perhaps if the Iron Warriors storyline hadn’t been included, things would have had the room to breathe a bit more? I believe that plot links in to the Space Marines Battles novel Siege of Castellax, also by CL Werner, which is on my list to investigate at some point, so maybe I’ll think differently when I’ve read the background there!

However, I also think the novel suffers a little from comparisons with the next book that I read…

Cult of the Spiral Dawn is the rebranded novel from Peter Fehervari originally published as part of the Legends of the Dark Millennium series, back (I think) when the original Genestealer Cults codex came out at the end of 7th Edition. There are a lot of similar ideas to the Warmason book; Sisters of Battle and Astra Militarum fighting the Genestealer Cults uprising on a remote world, but there the similarities end. Spiral Dawn is somehow a lot more complex, and yet also a more compelling read. It starts with the genestealers besieging the abbey stronghold of the Sisters of the Thorn Eternal on the planet Redemption 219, then fast-forwards a century to the arrival on world of a group of pilgrims seeking the light of the Emperor through the Cult of the Spiral Dawn, an officially-sanctioned sect of the Imperial creed. However, when the pilgrims land, a hundred are pressganged into the Vassago Black Flags regiment of the Astra Militarum, who are on some obscure guard duty, though nobody has explained to them what they’re guarding. The tension mounts from the Imperial side, while we get some glimpses into the activities of the Cult and their kindred followers, until it all boils over with the emergence of the Primus war-leader. The colonel of the Black Flags is almost seduced by the Magus, but in so-doing he learns of the existence and location of the Spiral Father, and launches an assault with his ogryn bodyguard while the on-world Inquisition presence also launches its assault. Despite the carnage of the assault, three of the purestrains manage to escape Redemption for deep space…

Also included in here is Cast a Hungry Shadow, a short story that takes place within the narrative of the novel, dealing with the early years of the genestealer infestation and filling in some blanks around the betrayal of the Sisters. There are some interesting threads in the story, which felt a little confused towards the end, but ultimately it is the tale of the cult securing their hold on Redemption, the discovery of an untrained psyker hiding beneath one of the spires who is taken in by the genestealers to birth their Magus. There are some interesting scenes in the story, particularly involving another cult, called the Scorched Creed, which may or may not be a Chaos Cult dedicated to Khorne.  

I do think that Cult of the Spiral Dawn is one of my favourite 40k novels. I hadn’t really realised that I’d read it before – I mean, I knew that I’d read the Legends hardcover, but I didn’t remember which one that book was. It’s a really good story – some of it could perhaps do with a bit more meat for the bones, and help to further the atmosphere, but it’s still a really good story. It’s also my first exposure to Peter Fehervari’s Dark Coil … series? I’m not sure if you could call it that, but all of the 40k stories that he has written are linked in subtle ways, either with shared characters or worlds, etc. It’s an incredibly interesting way to write in a shared universe and carve out a niche without limiting yourself to staying in a random corner. The links in this book to the Fire and Ice novella, for example, give the sense of history without feeling forced, if that makes sense. It’s really good, anyway – I like it a lot! And will no doubt be investigating more of these stories in the not-too-distant future!