Dorn, The Arch-Betrayer
So that's why I was excited to hear that Bolter and Chainsword just released their first e-document, and it's focused on a really cool and interesting topic: the Alternate Heresy. Their premise is simple- what would have happened if the loyalist and traitor legions had switched places? From this simple question the writers have created a series of Index Astartes articles on the whys, wheres and hows of this alternate reality... and it's both very different and very familiar to the Grim Darkness that we are used to.
First, the production values on the 82 page document are top notch. If you've already read the IA articles on some of the alternate legions you're still in for a treat with amazing artwork, extra quotes and more information about the legions spoiled already. The artwork stretches across a variety of styles, from cartoony to line drawings to frankly spectacular works of art that easily rival anything that Games Workshop has produced.
As for the storyline, I would compare it to the works of Harry Turtledove. Now, I'm a huge Turtledove fan, but he's got a few key memes running in his alternate worlds. While the names and tools used to create the history are different, oftentimes the exact same scenarios play out as they did in our history, just with different means and sometimes different ends. This is often the case in the Alternate Heresy. Certain key events replay themselves almost word for word- the Istvaan Drop-Site Massacre and the Burning of Prospero being the two primary events guilty of this sin. Even then, though, they lead to widely different outcomes and are engaged for interestingly changed reasons, making them fun to read about.
There is also the case that names that we have in our continuity seemingly force their way into the alternate history, often rather clumsily. I would have personally wished that ideas like the Black Legion and Black Templars had stayed out of it and new names taken their place, but that might just be me. And of course there are the seemingly necessary asides where the primarchs, marines and other characters wonder what would have happened had they not made such-and-such a choice... but really, in an alternate history work these memes are to be expected and chuckled with rather than at.
Each Legion gets a picture of its version of marine... sometimes VERY different from what we see in the Codex: Astartes
Each of the different legions get their own article, and each article is written mostly from their point of view by a limited omniscient 3rd person narrator. This is key, as it allows the reader to better understand why the legion made the choices that it did. Often the catalyzing change from "real" history is slight- the primarch grows up in a different population or makes a different choice than in our continuity. The great thing is that most of the time this change makes sense given the circumstances. They also often follow many of the arguments that people have made to show how the Emperor could have stopped the Heresy... and often lead to the other legions turning traitor instead. There is a clunker or two that have little justification given what we know about the primarch (*cough* WORLD EATERS *cough*), but overall I like how they handled things. To add some depth to the legions there are numerous quotes and asides in each article from simple marines, the primarchs themselves, and others who offer useful insights to private moments, the legion's attitudes and other fluffy tidbits.
There are still many questions left unanswered, such as the specific reasons that Dorn turned to chaos, why Horus is such a chump in this reality, and really anything about the Death Guard and a few other legions as they seem to be mostly missing from history... but I hope that's just because this is only the first half and that these questions will answer themselves when the other legions get their IA articles.
Overall I would definitely recommend downloading the pdf and giving it a read. I personally read straight through once I got it and loved most of it. If nothing else it will give you some great conversion ideas, like Slaaneshi White Scars or the faceless loyalist Thousand Sons. Hats off to all who helped put the articles together- it's definitely a good one, so go and download it today!
All images belong to Bolter and Chainsword and are used without permission.