Inside Pulse 12

Book Review: Assassinorum: Execution Force (Warhammer, 40,000)

Assassinorum: Execution Force (Warhammer 40,000)
Publisher: Games Workshop
Cost: $9.99 (Digital)/$17.50 (Physical)
Page Count: 128
Release Date: 05/02/2015
Get it Here: The Black Library

Assassinorum: Execution Force is the novelization of the new Games Workshop board game by the same name, that came out on the same day. Games Workshop usually does novelizations for its boardgames or boxed sets. Unfortunately, those novels generally aren’t very good. I’m still reeling from how bad Dark Vengeance was. The novelizations are the canonization of the events of the boxed sets/board games though, so for diehard 40K fans, it’s nice to see how the events actually went down, compared to how you played them. Even though I do tend to find the vast majority of 40K fiction to be terrible, I still took a chance with Assassinorum: Execution Force, because I do love the various assassin temples and the figure design. I wasn’t willing to spend $125 on the board game, since I only wanted the four assassin minis, but dropping ten dollars on a book didn’t seem too exorbitant to me. So was the book worth picking up, or like the board game, is Assassinorum: Execution Force too much for what you get?

If you’re expecting Assassinorum: Execution Force to be like the board game or akin to a series of battle reports, you need to get that notion out of your head right now. The novel has a lot more enemies than the scant few you encounter in the board game. So many that you have to wonder why only a quartet of assassins were sent instead of an entire legion of Space Marines. Especially since, if the bad guys succeed, the Long War is over and Chaos wins. Game over for humanity and its Space Marines. For some of you, the massive increase in enemies and the sheer level of damage done by them (they obliterate a whole planet) will mean your suspension of disbelief will be lost almost a quarter of the way through the book. It won’t seem “right” or believable compared to how the Emperor’s forces usually do things. Remember though, this is a novelization of a BOARD GAME, so you have to give the book (and its author) some leeway.

That said, the book does a lot of things the board game can’t possibly do. It fleshes out the four assassins really well. Each of the four representatives from their respective temples is given a lot of depth and personality. There is more characterization of these four characters in this novella than you see in most full length novels. Even better, the novel spends a lot of the early chapters focusing on Severin Drask, the Chaos Sorcerer whose crazy scheme is at the center of this tale. You get to know him and some of the nameless grunts that your assassins take down in the board game. You also get to see some Chaos Space Marine politics at the very beginning of the book, showing that some things never change, even if you become a mutant infused with demonic energy. Once you get past the first third of the book, little to no attention is actually paid to the Crimson Slaughter viewpoint. They become two-dimensional boogeymen with no personality. Even Drask, who is wonderfully written up to this point, just becomes a nebulous boogeyman. This make sense, because the last two-third of the novel take place from the assassins’ point of view rather than the Chaos Space Marines, but it is a disappointment to see both side getting equal billing and attention, only to drop off without warning.

I should also warn you that if you read last week’s White Dwarf, it kind of spoils who lives and who dies in this book. Interestingly enough, the battle report of Assassinorum: Execution Force ends exactly how the novel ends. Same exact ending. Same PCs dying. Same everything. This is not the first time I’ve noticed where a battle report in White Dwarf ends exactly the same as book events, so I’m come to believe that the magazine staff don’t actually play the games they are writing about, but just crib the ending or write some fluff as if they actually spent time playing a game. Kind of like professional wrestling – the battle reports are booked and predetermined. Anyway, don’t read the magazine if you don’t want spoilers.

Assassinorum: Execution Force is divided into five parts. The first is the Prologue, which sets the stage for how and why Severin Drask and his Crimson Slaughter break-off sect (Drask’s side worships Tzneetch while Kranon’s worships Khorne). Here you learn about his plans to finally end the war against mankind. His plan is to travel to a planet known as Achyllus Prime and unlock a hidden mystical MacGuffin location known as the Temple of Shades. There he will perform a powerful ritual which will unless the full power of the warp right in Earth’s backyard, letting humanity suffer its greatest loss ever. This leads into Part One: “Operation,” which consists of seven chapters.

Of course, Drask and his Crimson Slaughter reach the planet and wipe out the entire population (along with a lot of Imperial Guardsmen), but not before a powerful psyker (telepath/mage guy for those of you new to 40K) gets a warning off to the Imperium of Man. For some reason, instead of sending a large attack force to wipe out the Slaughter, the High Lords contact the Officio Assassinorium and request a full Execution Force take care of the problem. A Execution Force being five people – one from five different assassin Temples (guilds). Five against several hundred/thousand. Yep, THAT makes sense. Like I said earlier, don’t try to think too hard about it. It’s only going to hurt your brain. Again, it’s a novelization of a board game. Just accept this one particularly large flaw in the book. The rest is pretty good.

In “Operation” it’s here where we get to meet our five assassins. There is Kurei Adamata from the Vanus Temple. There is no figure for him in the Assassinorum: Execution Force board game, or for any Vanus assassin in 40K at all that I could find. This is because they are mainly risk analyzers and strategists. They plan rather than take part in the actual combat, which explains why Adamata is in the novel but not the game. You have Sylas Torq of the Eversor, more of a drug-addled kamikaze death machine than the stealthy assassin one tends to think of. Make no mistake, he is a berserker. You have Klara Rhasc of the Callidus, who is dexterity made flesh and also able to shape-shift. There is Viktor Zhau, the religious sniper from the Vindicare who has a unpleasant past with Klara Rhasc. Finally you have the Culexus Noctus Kord, who doesn’t appear in the novel until about halfway through due to the bizarre nature of his special abilities. It’s these four against half of an entire Chaos Space Marine legion with the fate of mankind at stake. Pretty terrible odds, eh? What’s worse is that these four usually work alone (like all assassins) and have to form some sort of a cohesive team in order to survive.

The next section is “Infiltration” and it consists of ten chapters. Here the assassins must make their way onto the planet, through the forces of Chaos and to the entrance of the Temple of Shades. The action is hot and heavy here, and you get to see each of the assassins showcase their special abilities. Of course, in an actual game of 40K, the events of this section would unfold quite differently because of the sheer difference between point values and the number of figures on each side. That’s part of the fun of a novel though. You’re not locked in by mechanics or what the dice and rulebooks say are possible. Here you get to have four bad ass assassins killing Space Marines and daemons at levels most of your armies would be jealous of. Of course, it’s not like the assassins are Goldberg the Crimson Slaughter. They take some damage, and one is fatally injured in the Infiltration chapters.

“Extermination” is the penultimate part of the novel, as well as its climax. This section lasts a mere five chapters, but it’s of course what you probably most want to see – the assassins in the Temple of Shades, akin to the boardgame itself. You can probably guess the ending. It’s not a spoiler to say Drask fails at his task and the assassins succeed. You knew this going in. Otherwise the internet would be ablaze with rabid 40K fans. Games Workshop is not going to do an “End Times” to 40K, announced in a board game novelization to boot. No, what matters is how the end comes about, and it is a doozy. I will say that the end is extremely grimdark, even for 40K. I was not happy with the ending at all. I felt it a terrible letdown, if only because I grew to really like all five assassins in my short time with them, but it did make sense in the scheme of things. This is Warhammer 40K. There are no good guys. There are no happy endings. This is a pretty bleak moment, and while it was well written, it will leave many readers unhappy or disappointed in how things turn out. It’s still a fine story though, and by far the best direct game novelization I’ve seen for 40K, well, ever.

Finally we have the Epilogue, where the one survivor reports back to his commanders and we see once again that the Imperium of man is not what I would call the good guys by any stretch of the imagination (Well, except for the Guardians of the Convenant. Those guys are Space Templar/Paladins and then some.). It’s a somber way to end the story, and it makes me sad that this team won’t have further adventures together, but at least the author provided a small out in case people (or Games Workshop) want to see some of these characters again. All in all, a very fun novella and one of the better 40K fiction releases in some time.

So the bottom line is that if you are interested at all in Assassinorum: Execution Force, you might want to go this route instead of the board game, as you get a fine story out of it and save over $100. Honestly between the White Dwarf preview and this novella, I found that I wouldn’t want the board game version of Assassinorum: Execution Force. It’s too much like the 4e D&D board games, and now that I’ve read the novel, I think a lot of fun of playing Assassinorum: Execution Force would be lost on me since I know the characters so well now, and more importantly, what their end fate will be. This would probably be my issue with Warhammer Fantasy except all the name characters I have didn’t actually die in The End Times. Still, I definitely recommend the novel version of Assassinorum: Execution Force to 40K fans, as it’s a fun read from beginning to end. It’s not great literature by any means, but it is one of the better 40K fiction pieces I’ve read in several years.

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