The Black Library hardback premium novella ‘The Masque of Vyle’ struck me as an excellent opportunity to get a taste of what Andy Chamber’s new Dark Eldar series novels (launched in 2012 with Path of the Renegade and followed last month with Path of the Incubus) would be like.
After ‘The Masque of Vyle’, I definitely want to read more Dark Eldar stories by Andy Chambers. He clearly knows his Eldar and he knows how to write about them. The plot, paying homage to Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death’, doesn’t work 100% for me. It serves the purpose of getting the Harlequin-action started, however, and ‘The Masque of Vyle’ delivers there.
I doubt there are Eldar fans out there who wouldn’t enjoy this book.
Even amongst the eldar, the Harlequins are a capricious, mysterious breed. When a troupe of these deadly warrior-performers discovers a dead Craftworld festering in the webway, they are determined to find the one responsible and exact punishment. Using the ancient craft of their Shadowseer, the trail of destruction leads the troupe to the Sable Marches, a fringe realm of the dark eldar. With several possible suspects of this heinous crime, the Harlequins decide to draw out the guilty one by staging the Masque of Vyle for the archons, a performance that will expose the truth and lead, fatally, to the perpetrator.
#1 – Format – An Andy Chambers Premium Novella
In previous reviews, I often complained about Black Library’s 125 page, premium hardback novellas for £ 12,-. They are pricey for what you get, and so is this one.
On the other hand, I believe they do offer a unique advantage that other, “full” books by Black Library do not. They allow me to check out new Black Library authors such as Andy Smillie or David Annandale without committing, at first, to a full book.
The same goes for authors such as Andy Chambers. To say that Andy Chambers is “new” to Black Library or Games Workshop would clearly be wrong. His 40K credentials go back all the way to 2nd Edition. He’s also written, nearly a decade ago, novels like Survival Instinct for Black Library.
Nevertheless, he’s clearly been out of the Games Workshop-loop for a few years doing Starcrafty things and only recently picked up the pen again for his Dark Eldar series of novels. The first book, Path of the Renegade, was released in March 2012.
Anyhow. The Masque of Vyle is 125 pages for £ 12.-, hardcover. Unlike Flesh of Cretacia or Chains of Golgotha, there are no inlays, maps or colour inside pages either.
Know what you’re buying (or not buying).
#2 – Story – The Masque of the Red Death in 40K
The blurb on the back of the book (see above) pretty much gives away the entire story. The book starts with a troupe of Harlequins arriving, one by one, on a dead Craftworld they “found” drifting in the void. Andy Chambers uses this set-up to introduce the different “characters” (in just about every sense of the word) of the Harlequin troupe.
Once assembled, they follow a “trail” to the Sable Marches, a rather medieval fringe realm in the Webway, where two Archeons are about to hold a lavish 3-day banquet in a castle besieged by the subjugated, but starving (non-Eldar) Xenos-population of the realm.
At that point, the parallels to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” come to the fore. The two Archeons lavishly dine each night in differently coloured rooms, while the “uninvited” Harlequins simultaneously provide entertainment and try to expose the Dark Eldar responsible for the looting of the Craftworld.
At one point near the end, the Death Jester of the troupe even quotes Poe’s famous closing line “And Darkness and Decay and
the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
That said, “The Masque of the Red Death” in Warhammer 40K doesn’t work for me here, as much as the work of Edgar Allen “Nevermore” Poe fits the dark mood of Warhammer 40K.
- In Poe’s story, uninvited “Red Death” is utterly mysterious. They story is told largely through the assembled nobles. The Masque of Vyle partly inverts this by following the Harlequins on their “detective mission” to prove the Archeon’s crime.
- The “inevitability” of Death – even behind walls – that underpins Poe’s story is – I feel – at odds with story that is ultimately about bringing a criminal to his deserved justice.
#3 – Verdict – Read it for the Harlequins and Eldar Myths
Ironically, the parts I enjoyed most where those that didn’t try to homage Poe.
The opening scene of the Harlequins dance in the gloomy Craftworld-Space-Hulk is brilliant, precisely because it is so much more out of place in a drifting void-wreck than at a castle-banquet.
The few lines after Poe’s closing line, which give the reader a glimpse into the twisted relationship of the Harlequins with the Solitaire and, ultimately, She-Who-Thirsts, make a killer-ending.
Indeed, Andy Chambers’ portrayal of the Harlequins and their “theatrical” interactions makes for an awesome read. He really nails a set of characters that I would’ve thought to be some of the hardest 40K-figures ever to get right in a novel (or novella).
Andy Chambers knows his Eldar Gods and Myths. For a brush-up on Isha, Asuryan, Kurnos, Khaine, Cegorach and – of course – She-Who-Thirsts, this novella is infinitely better that the current, rather dry and sterile (at least as the fluff goes) Eldar and Dark Eldar Codices.
For Eldar fans, or Warhammer 40K fans in general, who enjoy this niche of the Warhammer 40K Mythos, The Masque of Vyle is definitely a great book.