Man, I have been putting this off. I was intending to do a quick snappy review of Mark of Calth when I got back from holiday… that was nearly three weeks ago! But I felt the need to gush about the latest Horus Heresy offering from Black Library, and gushing is what I shall do.
Mark of Calth is one of the Horus Heresy anthologies, similar to Tales of Heresy and The Primarchs. Mark of Calth is different from these other anthologies though, as it is awesome rather than mediocre. Each short story in the anthology is set after the events of Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear, a book so good it gives me an inappropriate nerd-stiffy. What does that mean? Well, Calth, the once-glorious jewel in the Ultramarine’s private little kingdom, is now a blasted, post-apocalyptic landscape thanks to Chief Dickface Kor Phaeron blasting the sun.
All that’s left on Calth are the Ultramarines, some unlucky civilians and mortal soldiers, and the Word Bearers who were left behind. A long and bitter war of survival begins, with deeds both heroic and atrocious committed. Let’s dive in, shall we?
The Shards of Erebus (Guy Hayley)
Erebus, First Chaplain of the Word Bearers, forges new anathame blades from the original athame sword he used (indirectly) to wound and ultimately corrupt Warmaster Horus, and presents them to the Word Bearer commanders who will be leading the assault on Calth. Erebus also learns more sorcery from the tribes of Davin, learning how to do the “Subtle Knife” trick of slicing a hole in the universe for a bit of sneaky teleporting. Aaaand… not much else happens. Oh, there’s a nice bit of character building between various Word Bearer characters, and it’s good to know exactly how Erebus learned these new powers. The story’s well written but ultimately a bit dull. Not a great start to the anthology, but I’ve read much, much worse.
Calth That Was (Graham McNeil)
The title of this story always makes me think of Firefly. I was initially wary of this story, as it’s written by Graham McNeil, who… isn’t exactly to my tastes. The last book of his I read was Thousand Sons, which was… okay? I wasn’t impressed with his stories in the other Horus Heresy anthologies, and I skipped The Outcast Dead entirely on the advice of a friend. I’m not hating on McNeil, not at all, it’s just that there’s something about his style of writing that I’m not fond of.
Calth That Was has forced me to reconsider my opinions.
It’s the longest story in the book, and it’s great. It mostly follows Remus Ventanus and the Ultramarine equivalent of the Inglorious Basterds, going around and kicking in the teeth of Word Bearers. On the other side, you have Maloq Kartho and Hol Beloth of the Word Bearers trying to wipe out the Ultramarine resistance, though Kartho has plans of his own… An awesome bit of fiction; this is the anthology’s bolter-porn, chock-full of classic Warhammer 40,000 stuff; daemons, crunchy, visceral action, kickass Space Marines, the works. Excellent stuff. McNeil, you’re back on my list.
Dark Heart (Anthony Reynolds)
So we go from an awesome story to… urgh. I’ll be blunt; I can’t stand Anthony Reynold’s “Dark X” books. I read Dark Apostle back in the day, because I’ve always loved the Word Bearers and Dark Apostle was pretty much the only fiction for them. It was… fine. Then I tried to read Dark Disciple and gave up about a third of the way through. I just had an issue with Marduk, aka Mr Massive Fucking Mary Sue. So, guess who the main character of Dark Heart is? Because, you know, god forbid you write about a different character with some actual personality.
So, what happens? Nothing of any real consequence. Marduk is inducted into a veteran assault squad because he’s so super-special-awesome, and then he effortlessly kills a bunch of Ultramarines, then he team-kills his mentor using some secret daemonic sorcery that only he knows because he’s so super-special-awesome. Then he talks smack to Kor Phaeron because he’s such a badass and OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE.
The Traveller (David Annandale)
I haven’t read Annandale’s stuff before, but this was pretty damn good. The focus is on the civilians of Calth who are surviving in the arcologies, and how very much it sucks to be them. This is more of a horror story than any other in the book, with all the ingredients to make a tasty terror pudding; paranoia, madness, and sudden spurts of senseless and horrific violence. Admittedly, you can see the twist coming from a mile off, but it’s always refreshing to have a story set during the Horus Heresy that isn’t focused on the Astartes or the Mechanicum, but instead the people who have to deal with the consequences.
In Part 2, I’ll ramble on about the other four stories in the anthology; A Deeper Darkness, The Underground War, Athame, and Unmarled.